Never Forget Who You Are

“Never forget who you are or where you come from. Never forget the blood that runs through your veins or the journey that blood has taken to survive. No matter how hard others try to destroy or challenge you, know that you’re in the moment for a reason. If you can gain knowledge from it, do so. If it can raise your fighting spirit, allow that to happen. For if you don’t, you just might be forgetting who you are and who you were meant to be.”

-Unknown

This Is One Of My Lines- Do Not Fucking Cross It

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I don’t write about religion often. Usually I mention it in passing, not as core subject matter. I believe that we are all entitled to our personal beliefs, so long as we aren’t hurting anyone. However, when I DO write about religion, it’s because something has pissed me off, which brings me to why I am writing this. There’s a reason.

Nine times out of ten when people meet me, the first words out of their mouth are “What part of Italy are your parents from?” or “What part of Puerto Rico are you from?” (My brother also gets pegged as 100% Italian or Puerto Rican, except he has olive skin and I can totally see it in him, especially when he’s tan.) I stare at them, dumbfounded. For the record, my Italian ancestry is from Rome and Venice and my Spanish ancestry is from Spain and Argentina. To read about additional aspects you can read more here Ancestry, or ask me. Not that I think it is important, it’s not.

For clarity, let me set the stage for you: I am the palest white girl you might ever meet. My natural hair color is a dark brown that I call espresso (It is currently blue-black because I wanted a change.), and my eyes are hazel-green that are predominantly green. They change color depending on what I’m wearing and the mood I’m in. There is not a single thing about me that is distinctively any racial ethnicity over another, but I always get pegged for one of the two, and occasionally people assume I’m Irish (I think it’s my complexion.). I have no problem with any of that, but when I say “Actually, I’m Jewish and my ancestry is blended.”, people audibly gasp as if I just announced I am the reincarnation of Hitler and Stalin and I’m planning on world domination.

There is an awful lot of inter-religion racism that I find deplorable, and I discovered it within my family last year. While we might be related, however closely or distantly, we don’t all have the same facial features, for obvious reasons. I was talking to a cousin and her exact words were “No one thinks you’re Jewish because you don’t have the Jewish nose that walks into the room five minutes before you do, like mine.” My jaw was on the fucking floor at the disgust I heard in her voice. She openly admitted that she thinks it’s ugly, but that she doesn’t believe in spending the money on plastic surgery or she’d do something about it. All I could think was “There are things I don’t like about myself too, but I don’t look at my face that way.” I mentioned it to someone else and they told me “You don’t know what it’s like to go through life as an ugly person.” Again, I was floored. I have NO IDEA what they see that I do not.

I don’t possess that level of self-hatred for quirks of nature that make each of us unique. I treasure the fact that I inherited high cheekbones that both of my Grandmothers had, that I am the last of the hazel-green eyed women in my family (for now), and that I got my maternal Grandmother’s and mother’s full lips and widow’s peak. I am an amalgamation of three different generations of women, perhaps more, all with distinctive genetic blends. I don’t see myself as any one thing, but I do see myself as me.

But I digress.

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About ten days ago, a friend of a friend sent me a Facebook request. Unlike most people, I do not accept friend requests simply because A knows B. I decided to do a little research. It took less than a minute to learn that the woman who wanted to be my “friend” is a 27-year-old Filipino woman, friends with someone I’ve known for a long time, who is married to a 70+ year old British man who is 100% anti-Semitic. Strike One.

His Facebook wall is full of BDS posts, anti-Israel posts, and all kinds of hate messages against Israel. Apparently every Jew on this planet “needs to be eliminated immediately” because “they’re all terrorists”. WOW! I stared at the screen, utterly speechless. This is who a young, pretty girl is married to?! Surely she can do better. I mean really, she’s stunning and appears to be sane. What is wrong with her?

He posts this crap in England and she’s asking him, in the Philippines, if this stuff is “true”. (That’s right, they don’t live together. Does this sound familiar?) His answer is “YES!”, along with additional colorful hate speech. Strike Two.

Instead of educating herself (There is NO reason anyone in this world should be THAT uneducated so as to believe such vile hatred about a country or a religion. You don’t have to be a Ph.D. candidate, you simply have to have a brain you utilize daily and not be ignorant.), she doesn’t question it. It’s coming from her husband, so she believes it. Strike Three. And get this: He’s a philosophy professor. Any university I know would revoke his tenure and fire him for that shit.

I immediately deleted her “friend request”. It would have resulted in an epic fight and I do not have the time, patience, or the inclination to educate someone who should be shipping off to an old age home sometime soon, as opposed to newly married to someone old enough to be his daughter who is either way too good for him, or maybe way too stupid.

If you want to believe that “Israel is plotting terror.”, do your fucking homework. It’s a tiny democratic country in the Middle East, home to Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike, surrounded by countries that all want to wipe them off the map because Israel is the only country in the world that is Jewish land, given to the Jewish people, so decreed by God.

I messaged my friend and explained the situation. She’s “friends” with both of them and I didn’t want to step on any toes because I didn’t know how close the relationship was or wasn’t. I’d never intentionally disrespect someone else’s friends. She agreed that I did the right thing, that the husband is crazy and that his hate messages bother her too, and she said she doesn’t understand his hate or where it comes from. And yet, her answer to dealing with him is to hide his posts on her Facebook wall, as opposed to outright deleting them OR telling him he’s wrong. That’s way too passive for me.

If someone says something derogatory to me because of my religion (or anything else, really), I call them out on their shit immediately. I have freedom of speech and I know how to use it. If you’re going to hide behind a computer and say stupid shit, I dare you to say it to my face. That’s the thing; these cowards NEVER actually come out from hiding and say a word to your face.

Sadly, the most hatred I have faced in terms of direct anti-Semitism has been from  my own people. My own family, and other Jews. I suspect that a lot of that is because I “don’t look Jewish”. I have no idea what that even means, because it is a wholly racist comment. I wouldn’t tell a white woman that she “doesn’t look African”, despite the fact that she just told me that’s where she’s from, so why would I brand anyone else as not looking like an image someone else is putting in one’s mind? That is incredibly ignorant.

Would you tell Behati Prinsloo, wife to Adam Levine, that she doesn’t look like an African woman (She is Namibian. I do my homework.)? No, I didn’t think so. Because not only is she white and a supermodel, but the last time I checked her English is better than most people born in this country.

In my mind, I don’t see color. I see people. Everyone is different, everyone is unique. There are religious differences, yes. The difference in Judaism is that we do not believe in Jesus or that Jesus is the son of God. There are dietary laws and some other historical and biblical differences, but the differences aren’t so enormous that one needs to argue about it. I can argue the two different Bibles with you until the cows come home, but does that really matter? No. To each their own, so long as you aren’t hurting anyone.

However, any form of hatred hurts us all. Hatred is taught. We are not born knowing hate. I grew up surrounded by other religions and cultures, never once thinking anything of it. As I’ve gotten older, I realize how incredibly sheltered some people are, and that is scary and eye-opening to me.

I don’t often wear a symbol of faith because it feels redundant, but the other day a woman came running up to me to ask about my Triple Goddess pendant. I had it custom-made about five years ago. In between the three phases of the moon that represent Maiden, Mother, and Crone are two Stars of David and a very large gemstone in the center represents the full moon. It was my first time wearing it. That is precisely who and what I am. I believe in duality of God and Goddess (this is represented in Kabbalah, but is represented as male and feminine aspects of God as opposed to duality.), but I am also 100% Jewish. And as a Jewish woman, there is no room in my world, or the world on a whole, for anti-Semitism or hatred. Make an off-color, stupid, or rude remark to or in front of me and we’ll see if you’re sitting and/or eating tomorrow. I am supremely polite, I believe we all have the right to practice whatever we believe in so long as no harm is coming to anyone, but I will never be polite in the face of hatred or ignorance, nor will I tolerate it.

Tonight is the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. It marks the end of the year 5775 on the Jewish calendar and brings in 5776. It is one of the holiest holidays we celebrate. Many people have told me that this year, their temples have notified them of police presence and/or security for services, partly due to all of the anti-Semitism that has occurred all over the world over the past year. I think it’s smart, but it’s sad.

I, personally, don’t attend temple unless I am invited to something that calls for it. It has nothing to do with anything other than my attention span. Services are long, are almost predominantly in Hebrew or Ladino, and my brain can only listen for a certain amount of time before I space out and/or start to fall asleep, which is rude beyond words, so I prefer to pray throughout the year, light candles on my own, and take time to reflect and work on myself. It is emotionally heavy for me, so I feel it’s crucial to know my boundaries. Part of that is knowing myself. The holidays are tough on me, and going to temple isn’t going to ease that. I don’t have to be among other people to be what I was born, or to be what I believe. That makes sense for some people, but for me, it doesn’t help matters, so I tough it out.

Here’s hoping the new year will be prosperous and sweet. Let there be more understanding, more compassion, more concern for others, more helping people in need, because at the end of the day, there is no room for hate. It benefits nothing and no one.

L’Shana Tovah!

copyright © 2015 by Lisa Marino & Blackbird Serenity LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

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Once Upon A Time

Once upon a time, in an extremely bizarre reality, I was in a relationship I should not have been in. The warning signs were there, but some people burn so brightly that you don’t seem to notice you’re going up in flames and turning to ash. Immensely large red flares of danger were being sent up so I wouldn’t get burned. Did that stop anything? Not so much.

He was the quintessential “bad boy”, complete with motorcycles, fancy sports cars, tattoos, multiple drug addictions, and a boatload of issues. Maybe the maternal, nurturing aspect of me wanted to fix or heal him. I don’t know, but whatever it is, I’m thankful every single day that it is no longer a part of my life.

Initially there was no reaction or emotion from me towards him. He was just a guy, a guy all kinds of women fell for, but I prided myself on not adding myself to the throng of fools. Until one day, when I was seemingly drawn in like a moth to a flame. Except I wasn’t a moth, I was a butterfly, and yet, I suddenly had to have him. The pull was intense. He was crazy about me; The only person who challenged him, who questioned everything, and who was not impressed by anything. The problems though, they were simmering under the surface, just waiting to come out, one by one.

They started relatively early. I had never been told I was “too skinny” before. Even as a former gymnast that had experienced bouts of bulimia on & off for about two years after realizing that I’d never be an Olympic anything. I did not consider myself “too skinny” or “too” anything, really. I had the mouth of a Marine on leave, a writing career that had taken off in an amazing way, and a guy who told me he loved me, but to this day probably doesn’t know the meaning of the word. You’ll find him in the dictionary, somewhere between the words “Douchebag”, “Hypocrite”, and “Liar”, providing you’ve opted for a Webster’s upgrade.

His career allowed me the independence and space that I like in a relationship. I can’t have someone in my face 24/7, nagging, or standing over my shoulder like a watch dog. It drives me insane. He respected that, until the possessive behavior became more than just one or two phone calls a day. At first it seemed like he was going out of his way to surprise me and brighten aspects of my life, but that wasn’t it. Not at all.

The man could spit out promises just as quickly as he broke them, I just didn’t know he was trying to break me in the process.

The criticism I endured throughout the course of this relationship was harsher than what I dealt with from my family, and even though I had a comeback for everything he said, the words still haunt me…

I went from being vibrant, smart, confident, & 100% in control to depressed, unhappy, paranoid, angry, & jealous. I was reduced to questioning why I was somehow not good enough for him. It was irrational and insane. There was always an inner voice telling me “He’s not good enough for you. What are you doing? This man is poison. Tell him to go to hell and walk away.”

I remember crying one night to my best friend at the time, after a particularly shitty thing he’d lied about. Here I was, the strongest, toughest, most direct chick people knew, asking “Why would he lie to me like that? Why would he lie about something so important? Why am I not good enough for him?” I was devastated by the pathological way in which he’d lie.

My best friend consoled me quietly, basically saying she didn’t know why he had lied or why he would, but months later she told me I was “Too smart, too pretty, and all around way too good for the likes of him!” She was furious that he would hurt me in such a manner and then behave as if all was right in the world, and her anger continued to fuel when he showed up at a work event we all attended with a married woman on his arm. “A friend”, he’d called her. More like a drug supplier he’d hooked up with. He was spiraling and wanted to take me with him, but I would not allow that.

For the record, I was already ass deep in alligators when I realized how big an issue the drugs actually were because they weren’t an issue at the onset. It went from being an old football injury to being an all-consuming, problem-inducing, complete lack of grip on reality. It started out small, as many addictions do, and escalated until it had to be confronted. I did not condone it in any way and refused to support the habit. I was not going to be in a relationship with an addict, period. I was the catalyst to get him into rehab, explaining in list formation all that he would lose if he did not get clean. But as most people can tell you, 30 days in rehab will detox you, it might even get you to talk about why you got into it in the first place, but it’s every single day after leaving a protected environment that matters most. If you have people who love & support you, you have a greater chance at remaining sober. You might slip up, recovery is going to be a constant for the rest of your life, but the effort you put forth is SO important. However, if you immediately return to the same lifestyle and friends you had during the height of your illness, it will revert you right back into it at some point, especially if you have no real desire to be clean, no willpower, and no real desire to live. It’s a way of committing suicide slowly, secretly hoping that one day it’ll all be over and you don’t personally have to do the heavy lifting, or deal with the aftermath.

Part of what saddens me about the relationship itself is that I defended, protected, and shielded this man. I was the epitome of devoted and loyal to the Nth degree. My love was genuine, and yet I was constantly criticized, going as far as to be told that I wasn’t good enough to be introduced to his parents, who for years, he told me were dead. I’d later find out he only wished they were. Our differing religions was the reason given when I questioned why I was somehow “not good enough” to meet his parents. Who the hell were these people? England’s Monarchy?! How isolated and ignorant were they to think their religion was the only one that existed in this world?! This was not the first time someone had taken issue with my religion and tried to make me feel guilty for it. I was considered “not Jewish enough” by one guy’s family, and now I was being made to feel like I was somehow inappropriate and shameful. And the worst part? He wasn’t religious, AT ALL. 

Suddenly, after years of knowing our religions were different, it became this big issue, and we fought about it a lot. Would I be willing to convert to Roman Catholicism? HELL NO. Would I sign a pre-nup? Whoa, where the hell did THAT come from?! You want to marry me. You’ve asked, I’ve accepted, but now you’re afraid I suddenly want to be with you for financial gain? Are you serious?! Anyone who knows me knows that I’ve always taken care of myself. He knew that. I don’t expect a man to pay for my lifestyle. I’m fully capable of making my own money, buying my own clothes, jewelry, etc.  I think you should want to take care of your partner and be a provider, but relationships are give and take. I did not expect to sit on my ass and be given anything, so I waffled back and forth on that little tidbit. It is a deal breaker if it’s not a document protecting both of us.

The ever-present “Would you please eat?!” grated on my nerves. He’d bring me food for several years of our relationship, but not in a loving, caring, concerned way (I do like it when I’m sick and a guy has the sense to bring me soup or Italian food. There’s something very nurturing about that.), but in an extremely controlling manner. As soon as I gained about 15 pounds from this constant influx of food, I was suddenly told the exact opposite. Now I wasn’t thin enough, I was becoming the woman who he didn’t want anyone else looking at. What was so shameful about being curvy? He’d have a fit whenever we’d be somewhere and someone else would check me out. I was not the one doing the looking, yet he was suddenly paranoid that anyone who checked me out was somehow going to end up in my bed. It was eye-rollingly ridiculous.

He’d do something shitty, and I’d be “rewarded” with jewelry or flowers, sometimes both, depending on the situation. It got to a point where I began to loathe the pink & purple roses I loved so much. To this day if someone sends me roses, I cringe inside. He would promise to be somewhere I needed him to be, but was almost always off feeding his drug habit, or as I would later find out through a friend, a habit for other women.

It was demanded upon me that I be 100% faithful. That was not an issue because I’d never cheated on someone and wasn’t about to start, but because he was the one doing all the cheating, he started having people follow me to find out what I was doing every time I left the house. Stalker much?! It was sick. It was also an excuse.

I’d had enough after confronting someone he often had tail me, and I put my foot down. I’m not big on ultimatums, but he needed to hear what his behavior was doing, that it was unhealthy and damaging, and completely unwarranted and unacceptable. It came down to this: He needed to return to rehab, fully commit to it, and he then needed to be clean & sober for a year before I would agree to marriage. It was time for him to prove that he was worthy of me, not the other way around.

He went to rehab for a few months, coming back apologetic, and for a while things were simply tense. We talked, but clearly he was refusing to hear me. He was about to do something he’d probably been considering for quite some time, and simply hadn’t been man enough to say to my face. With marriage promised, it probably made me believe a slew of lies I was too smart to actually buy into in the first place, but there was something slightly blinding & intoxicating about it. But the truth of the matter is, it was just plain toxic.

The problem with relationships slowly turning abusive is that, initially, we think we’re in the right relationship with the right person, until suddenly, we’re not.

For years after this relationship ended I’d hear “Oh, LET IT GO!” whenever I mentioned how hurt, angry, or betrayed I felt; as if emotions could be turned on and off like a faucet. How could I not feel all of those things?! Saying “I love you” is not a cure-all. Actions speak louder than words. His actions were atrocious.

With a ring solidly on my finger, he married someone else, just weeks after saying we were good and moving in the right direction, that he was trying. I had to find out via an announcement his new wife was sending to friends & family. She was pregnant before they even said “I do.” He would go on to have several children with her, each time choosing names we had decided on for our future offspring. That was the icing on the cake. I seriously worried about my ability to be around him in any capacity after that, so I disengaged. I made sure that whenever he’d be around, I would not be present. Hurting someone you claim to love in such a manner is vile, but to then go on living your life as if said loved one never existed is even worse. I started to think I was losing my mind. If it had not been for the fact that I knew the relationship had occurred, and exactly what I had endured, I’d have felt like I was being erased, or replaced.

Up until a few years ago, he & I continued to have mutual friends. I finally got tired of hearing the lies and cut everyone off. “He asked about you.”, “He hopes you’re all right. He just wants you to be happy.”, “He cares about you.” PLEASE! He never cared in the first place, it was a fucking game to him. No matter how many times I would ask these friends not to relay anything he said about me, it would come up in conversation, until I finally changed my phone number and said “No more.”

Not one to eat bullshit politely with a knife and fork, I have gone out of my way to avoid him since all of this went down. I have nothing to be embarrassed about. I didn’t do anything wrong, except believe in a person I shouldn’t have given the time of day to, but hey, we all make mistakes. Avoiding him is my way of remaining a healthy, non-toxic human-being.

I know eventually, at some point, we will run into one another, and I pray that I am not carrying a loaded weapon that day or wearing particularly high heels because even though people tell me I’m not a damaging, harmful person to be around, and that I’d never willingly hurt someone, I cannot promise the desire to harm him won’t be there. Some of the rage goes away with time, but any time the relationship is mentioned or I come across something from that time period, I am flooded with everything I thought I’d already moved past. For me, that lets me know the damage runs deep. It does not, nor will it ever, mean that I care about him. I don’t. I wouldn’t spit on this man if he was on fire.

Once I no longer love/respect someone, my emotions will often turn to pity, anger (at myself & the other person involved), & my anger is a burning rage that can simmer and bubble for years until it is truly out of my system. If the anger is unjustified, it eventually dwindles and the flames put out, but if it IS justified, stay the hell out of my way. I can go from zero to bitch in about half a second.

Unfortunately, there are so many different kinds of abuse in the world, that it’s sometimes hard to pinpoint if you are the abused or the abuser. Sometimes you are simultaneously both, even if you don’t intend to be.

Writing this makes me feel a bit like I’m back in Psych class, but I’ve been revisiting certain things lately, which is why I am writing about such a personal, private matter. If what I’m saying helps even one person get out of a toxic relationship, then that’s important and necessary.

If you’re in any kind of relationship where your words and feelings are being defined in an incorrect manner, where you are constantly insulted and berated, it is time to take a closer look at this relationship. Thinking this person is “the best you can do”, having low, little, or no self-esteem, or coming from a “people pleasing” type of family are all potential signs you’ve probably overlooked. Most people do. When you’ve been taught that everything around you is “normal” and a part of your daily life, you stop questioning things. You begin to lose your inner voice. Once you lose your inner voice, you start to become everything the abuser has defined you as. Your thoughts, feelings, actions, everything is now completely defined by someone else. Moreover, you question yourself and promise yourself you’ll be better for them, that you will do everything right, not realizing that your life is your own, and it is not owned by someone else.

I am a product of abuse. Not just from the relationship I am talking about, but from my childhood. I am very forthcoming about that fact when approached, but generally I keep such things to myself. However, when a person comes to me and needs help, I am the first person to listen, and the first to say something.

For many, many years I handled the abuse (verbal, emotional, and physical) by throwing myself into my writing and my singing. One day I snapped; I’d had enough. I was 100% committed in the fact that I’d kill the other person and spend my life in jail, but I believed in my cause because I was protecting two other people. I took the brunt of everything so they wouldn’t have to. To this day, one of those people denies that 99% of the abuse ever occurred. It must be nice living in such a warped bubble of false memories, but I know what I lived, I know what I saw, and it is sad for me to see this person deny the abuse and become the abuser themselves. If you correct this person, or disagree with them, they will say YOU are abusing THEM. It’s a vicious cycle, however, I know that by standing up and saying ENOUGH, and being committed to putting a stop to it, that I did the right thing. If I hadn’t, I’d be in jail now. Or worse.

People are often shocked to learn that I’ve been through such things. I don’t deny being strong and confident, and I don’t deny that I will say something is wrong when it is wrong, regardless of who is saying it. I will admit to being wrong on the rare occasion that I am. But I will not allow myself to live a life of abuse. I won’t allow someone to define me, to disrespect me, to use me, to tell me what I think, to tell me where to go, or tell me what I am allowed to do. When someone behaves that way around me, I am very happy to show them the door. I know I deserve better.

I look for different things in people now, and I always pay attention to my intuition. It is an immense part of who I am. If someone or something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. If something feels innately wrong, re-evaluate it and follow your instincts. Intuition will never lie to you, but the heart will. If your relationship involves young children, get out NOW. You do not want your child/children to be affected by the abuse inflicted upon their mother in front of them. I know people who have stayed in these relationships because they believed that taking their children out of the home during the formative years was the worst possible thing they could do. It’s not. The worst thing you can do is stay and allow them to think that what they’re hearing, seeing, and living is normal. If you get out early enough, you will save yourself and your child/children a fortune in therapy bills.

Once upon a time, I was a moron. It won’t happen again, because I am firmly committed to not allowing it. No one defines me, except me.

*If you need help getting out of an abusive/unhealthy relationship or are living with domestic violence and don’t know where to turn please go to any of the following organizations for assistance: http://soarinri.org/  http://leavingabuse.com/, http://www.thehotline.org/, http://www.nrcdv.org/dvam/,http://www.teendvmonth.org/, etc.

Do not be afraid to search the Internet or the Yellow Pages for additional resources available to you in your area/country. If your abuser uses the same computer, always be sure to delete your browsing history to protect yourself from additional harm, or go to the library if available and search for information there.*

“Once Upon A Time”, and all material herein, unless otherwise indicated and credited to its owner(s), is copyright © 2013-2015 by Lisa Marino & Blackbird Serenity LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.