This morning, I opened up my underwear drawer and stopped — my husband and I currently live in a high-rise apartment building in Taiwan, and we’re also preparing to get a divorce.
It can be challenging to be sharing the same space with the person you’ve decided to part ways from, and we’re doing this as we’re figuring out next steps for moving back to the States or elsewhere.
Up until now, I’ve been super cognizant of staying in my lane. Of doing the right thing. Of showing up as the person I want to be, despite the behaviors I experience from him.
But today, this morning, I finally looked at all the empty squares in the underwear drawer that I had left there specifically for his things. It’d been a month since I arranged things this way and in all that time, I never even considered the fact that he not only didn’t care about the underwear drawer, but that he’d also never actually use it.
“Why the hell have I been trying to take up so little space in my own life?” I finally came realize.
This had been a symptom of our entire marriage, of my giving over my power to someone else in hopes that he would be the knight in shining armor I had grown up wanting to believe in.
I’m a smart woman.
A woman with double majors from UC Berkeley.
A woman who’s supported her family on her income.
A woman who’s traveled the world without knowing anyone and always ending up with the most remarkable of experiences.
But now, I became a woman who had pushed all her needs aside in hopes of keeping a family together with a marriage he didn’t want.
It felt good.
It was a small action, absolutely trivial in so many respects, but it got me to seeing how little I’ve taken up space in my own life for the last four years — and how I never want my daughter to repeat this pattern.
When I was 17, I developed an eating disorder. I thought that perhaps I could make myself so small that my parents would stop attacking me and each other. That in not making a mark, I wouldn’t be at risk for being a target. I thought that maybe, I could control all my life if I could simply control what I ate and the size of my clothes.
Years later, when I was 26, I’d finally enter into an intensive outpatient program in Los Angeles. I spent a year deep in therapy and support groups, then another five years continuing with my one-on-one counselor. I would eventually move to San Diego, where I began to lead support groups and work in both inpatient and outpatient recovery centers. Along the way, I saw how many of these women were sexually abused. How many wanted to disappear. How many were absolutely beautiful, compassionate, powerful human beings who were never taught how to shine their light and instead, whenever they tried, illuminated how the bigger people in their lives wanted to dim them for fear of what truths they were reflecting.
I couldn’t believe that now, at the age of 40, I still found myself not taking up all the space that I know I could. But today, that changed.
If we want our children to live into their greatest potential, it starts by creating a solid foundation from where they can feel safe.
From where they can feel safe to speak up.
From where they can feel safe to challenge us.
From where they can feel safe to make mistakes and know that they’re loved anyway.
It is so easy for women to fall prey to the nuances of culture and society, where we are constantly shown in subtle and overt ways that speaking up and taking up space in our bodies and our lives means that somehow, we become a threat to the status quo. To men. To what people falsely perceive as safe.
Here’s the thing: safety is an illusion.
We can do our best to protect our children. But, we can’t control life. Or, others.
We can do our best to have all the money in the bank. But, we can’t control the world economy or what we value one day and not the next.
We can do our best to be the most conscious parents in the world and yet, that one little thing we say can get interpreted inadvertently in a way that our children remember for life, setting them on an entirely different trajectory than what we anticipated.
The only true secure thing we can do is to stand in our power. To know our own resilience. To connect with our own truths. To choose courage over fear, bravery and boldness over bullying, and love over anything else.
I want my daughter to take up space in her world. In her psyche. In her relationships. In whatever paths she chooses to pursue, even if I have an opinion about it.
It starts with the small things. Like taking up all the space in your underwear drawer. And love it.