WHAT IS IT LIKE REMOVING YOUR HAIR COVERING FOR THE FIRST TIME AFTER SO MANY YEARS?

Uncovering one’s hair is a really big deal. It’s like telling someone who has never worn a bikini to strip off and wear one.

Oh. And do it publicly.

It must seem strange to those of you who have never covered your hair for religious reasons that the analogy is stripping off!

But that’s what it feels like. Like you’ve left the house and forgotten to get dressed!

Throughout my childhood there was never the option of not covering my hair. It was more about which covering I would want. Would t be a snood, a bandana or a wig? A hat wasn’t something I ever considered.

Hair covering usually goes according to what your mum wears. So in my family it was a wig. My mum wore terrible wigs 😂😂 and I always hoped to wear something more natural.

As I became an older teenager and marriage was on the horizon I began to think about the day I would have to cut my hair. I had beautiful long dark brown hair to my waist.

Interestingly enough I never resented the fact that it would happen. It was just an inevitable part of growing up and getting married and then cutting your hair and wearing a wig.

If you consider that all the women I knew covered their hair with a wig it was no surprise that it seemed totally normal to wear one.

When I got engaged I started looking at wigs and kept getting told that my hair was too long to fit under a wig so I would have to cut it, even just to try them on. I resisted. I wanted to hold onto my hair for as long as possible.

After looking around I found two long brown wigs which I loved. They were similar to my hair. And I hoped I’d be able to wear the long one after my wedding.

Sadly my hopes were dashed when my ex saw them and agreed to allow me to wear it for my wedding only and I had to cut them short the following day.

A few days after my wedding he insisted I go back to the “sheitel macher” (the lady who cut and styled wigs) and tell her the side of my hair was visible and she has to make sure it’s covered.

He had told his rabbi that “my wife’s hair can be seen by the ears” and he said “even one hair that is visible to men is a terrible sin so she has to cover it up”.

Apparently wearing the wig itself wasn’t kosher enough!

So I went to the sheitel macher who told me the only option, which many women do, is to shave “your sideburns. Your hairline is low so just shave that part.”

I told my ex what she had said and he insisted I go ahead and do it.

I did.

It was awful.

Taking a razor to my hair was just the worst feeling.

I felt like I no longer had an identity.

Like all that mattered was whether one single hair could be seen.

And not how I felt about it.

I did continue shaving for about a year until I one day decided enough was enough.

And just like that I stopped.

Over the years I hated my hair. It was dry. Lifeless. Dull. Changed colour. The front part where I had to plait it became permanently bald. It didn’t feel like me.

17 years later and no hair cuts in between other than myself cutting my own hair in the bathroom mirror. And I wanted to uncover my hair.

But I was terrified.

This stage was making a big statement.

It meant I was officially “OTD”.

No longer religious.

Initially I would wear a hoodie and have my hair underneath. And when I was out the area I would take the hood off.

The breeze in my hair. The air to my scalp was just an unbelievable sensation. I hadn’t felt the air on my head for so many years. It was amazing.

I got braver and braver and after some time I would take the hood off partly. But this got me frustrated. I couldn’t understand why it was such a difficult thing to do.

One day my brother (also OTD) told me to just feel free and do it! There and then I took my hood off and he cheered! It was a magical moment.

I went to the mirror by the front door and told myself I’m a good person and religion does not define me. Wearing a wig or not doesn’t make me a good or bad person.

I haven’t done anything wrong. I was just following my dreams and my heart. And my truth.

I can do it.

I will do it.

I took my hoodie off and went outside.

My neighbours looked in shock and herded their kids inside.

Women peered behind their front doors.

Curtains twitched.

But I was okay.

I did it.

I left the house in jeans and a vest top.

No hair covering.

And I whispered to myself

This Is Me.

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The Grandparents No One Wants To Visit #childabuse

I remember hanging the wet laundry in the cold dark basement late at night.

All alone.

I had jobs to do.

Everyone was asleep.

I had to finish.

Eyes stinging

As tears would roll down my cheeks…

Fear in my heart.

Pain.

Sweaty palms.

And anger

That was the overwhelming emotion

Deep

Red hot

Anger

Bubbling inside me

Not knowing how to deal with it

How to get rid of it.

I would stamp my legs

In frustration

Pinch the skin at the top of my legs

Punch the walls.

Anything

To stop the anger.

Then I would swear.

And I’d feel really naughty.

I would say “fuck her and fuck him”.

I’d curse too.

I’d pray to god that those hurting me

Would

Die.

I felt death would be better

Than the living hell I was in.

I begged god to create a car accident

Or a murder.

Something that would appear

Like it wasn’t my fault.

And then I’d feel terribly guilty

For daring to think those thoughts.

Many times as I crept back to the main house

And climbed the stairs

I would hear the baby cry.

There was always a newborn baby

In our house.

They were always too tired to wake up

And the baby would scream

And

Scream.

I couldn’t sleep

So would go into their room

And try to calm the baby down.

I couldn’t.

So I would stay awake on the stairs

Just me

And a screaming baby

Eyes closing

Till eventually he would sleep

And I could sleep too.

I would be so exhausted

From chores

And hunger

And working during the night

To do things they said I must do.

And I had school the next day.

I had to pretend

All was okay

But it is wasn’t.

Sometimes I want to yell

And tell them what they did to me

How much physical and emotional pain

I went through.

But then I think to myself

They don’t deserve to know…

I won’t share this with those

Who hurt me most.

Believe me they have lost so much

Because of what they did to us…

They will forever be the people

No one wants to visit.

Child abuse involved food deprivation

I was hungry.

Permanently hungry.

I watched people eat.

I wasn’t allowed to.

“Go to bed without dinner”

Was something I heard

Over

And

Over

Again.

I would hear my stomach rumble

Night after night.

I dreamed of food.

Something.

Anything.

But I was empty.

Apparently I was a bad girl

And that was a suitable punishment.

Sometimes I would wait till

Everyone was asleep

And creep downstairs.

I would take an apple

And run upstairs.

I held that apple as if it were

The worst thing I could do.

It felt like I was a terrible person

For stealing

And I was always taught

Stealing was super bad.

At times I took frozen cake

Imagining that wouldn’t be spotted.

But I’d have to wait for it to defrost.

Or eat it frozen.

My biggest fear was being caught.

Sometimes I was so weak

I couldn’t stay awake to eat the apple.

Or the cake.

I would wake up the next morning

Apple still in hand

And hide it on top of the wardrobe.

I would go downstairs

and get ready for school.

Starving.

Weak.

Lightheaded.

And the threats would begin.

Then the physical abuse.

Sometimes it was all too much for me

I would pass out.

I was too weak to stand

I would crumble on the stairs.

When I came round

She was still yelling at me.

Still abusing me.

I would somehow manage to grab a couple of slices of bread and shove it in my schoolbag

Before she noticed.

Then I would walk to school.

I’d give myself a pep talk.

Come on.

You can do this.

Pretend you’ve eaten.

Imagine you were someone else.

Wipe your tears.

Chin up

Shoulders back.

And don’t

Ever

Let

Anyone

Know

What

Is

Going

On.

When lunch time came

I’d take out my bread

And slowly eat it.

So so slowly

Hoping it would fill me up.

Several times I had

Nothing

All day.

People would ask why

And I’d lie.

“I’ve eaten already”

“I’m not hungry”

I didn’t want anyone to know

My secret….

That the abuse I was going through

Involved depriving me of food.

Sometimes I did things just to survive.

Things I’m not proud of.

Illegal things.

But it was that or starve.

I’ll talk about that in another post.

Sometimes I wonder why no one noticed what was going on with me? Why did no one spot the signs of abuse?

Did teachers not realise??

What about my neighbours? They no doubt heard the screams through the walls. And no one ever knocked on the door to check up on us kids.

It seemed that the world of adults had all but ignored me and my secret cries for help.

Teachers – if your student asks for help please help them. You may be their only chance to escape their abuse…

When I was 10 I decided to tell one of my teachers in the Lubavitch school I was at about the abuse going on in my life.

I chose her carefully thinking she would be able to do something.

What I didn’t consider was that she was only about 18 herself with little or no qualifications or experience, and indeed training in this area.

So although this was my one time I tried to get help and actually plucked up the courage to ask for help, it was basically a waste of time.

I waited till my class had left the room before break time and asked to speak to her. She seemed bored and disinterested. And like I was wasting her precious coffee break.

I kept it short.

I didn’t cry.

I made it matter of fact.

Perhaps that’s where I went wrong. I don’t know. Or perhaps she failed me. And my siblings. I told her I needed her to help me.

When I finished she told me to “pull myself together and go to the playground”.

I never spoke to her again about it.

And she never brought it up again either.

And all these years later I’m wiping the tears away as I write. And I’m not even sure why.

Perhaps if she had done something the horrors would have ended when I was 10 and not continued for many more years?

Perhaps if she had just said she didn’t know what to do but will ask someone else?

Perhaps if she had just said “I’m so sorry this is happening to you and I’ll do whatever I can for you?”

And maybe.

Just.

Maybe.

If she would have believed me the abuse would have stopped.

Domestic Abuse isn’t only about physical violence

I hate the question “was he ever physically violent to you”?

It’s as if emotional, sexual and financial abuse are no big deal. If he didn’t beat you up then what you complaining about??

Coercive control.

Emotional abuse.

Mental manipulation.

Gaslighting.

Marital rape.

Sexual abuse.

These are not “physical” in the way most people think of domestic violence.

And in no way are they any less damaging and painful.

Sometimes they can be worse because the scars are on the inside.

The wounds are in my heart.

The bullets in my mind.

The words trapped.

Invisible.

Don’t be scared to run away on your #wedding day if you’re scared of the person you’re about to #marry

I was watching a documentary the other day about couples falling in love, all the usual struggles of forming meaningful relationships and ultimately their wedding day.

One such couple were Paul and Kay. Paul was a neurotic man in his 30’s who had an extensive criminal record and had spent time in jail. He had been arrested for assaulting an ex girlfriend.

Kay knew all this but as someone who lived in Colombia she was desperate to live in the western world. She put aside the very disturbing behaviours he exhibited towards her for what she hoped was going to be a bright future.

Their relationship was tumultuous in every sense of the word. They didn’t speak each other’s languages so the communication was terrible.

Finally the wedding day arrived. Paul sits in the Chapel waiting for his beautiful bride Kay. He’s waiting. And waiting. And waiting. He’s getting jittery and a little angry with her delaying the guests.

The next scene is of Kay. She’s at the back of the Chapel looking absolutely stunning about to walk in. Suddenly she bursts into tears and tells her mother how scared she is to marry Paul. How terrified she is that the constant arguments and accusations will not stop, as he promised, and that she will be marrying a man she’s scared of.

Her mother weeps with her. Then she placates her and tells her Paul is a lovely man and he will look after her and everything will be okay when they are married.

My heart was racing. My palms clammy. I wanted to jump into the tv screen and pull Kay away and tell her to run away. Now. Before it was too late.

I watched the mother allow her 21 year old bride walk down the aisle towards the man who made her life so miserable and of whom she was scared of.

I watched this with my daughter. I cried. I explained to her what I wish someone had said to me all these years ago.

If you’re about to get married and you have any fears or concerns about getting married… if you’re scared of the man at the other end of the aisle…. if that man or woman has accused you of horrific things or has alienated you from family or friends because “I love you so much I want you all to myself” these are all huge red flags.

At no point should you be fearful of having the courage to say I’m not getting married.

Even if your future husband is at the other end of the aisle. Your dress is on you. Your hair and make up done. Your guests have come from far and wide. And they’re awaiting your grand entrance.

Even if the musician is about to play the first tune. The caterer has been paid and the food cooked.

If you’re scared of marrying that person then I beg you not to do it.

How many women have stood outside the wedding venue thinking I shouldn’t be doing this but I can’t let everyone down? And they go ahead and make the biggest mistake of their lives?

I wish someone had told me this. Every single word. And made me feel it was okay to walk away. Even when the guests were waiting inside the wedding hall.

Remember this – it’s never too late to say I’m not getting married. I’m terrified of him. Or she makes me anxious and I’m unhappy.

Do it before it’s too late.

He was a secret Alcoholic and why I dreaded Shabbat with him.

I used to dread Shabbat. The weekdays were hard enough but I had work and school to distract me.

As soon as Shabbat began so did my hell. No one would ever come to our house. They knew to stay away. The atmosphere was charged. Thick. Frightening. Unsafe.

Once my sister came over with her son. I was upstairs. I heard her come. And moments later I heard the door slam. She had left.

He had said some awful things to her and her son to make her feel as uncomfortable as possible so she wouldn’t come over again.

Shabbats were lonely. He drank. A lot. Way too much. Always swore he wasn’t an alcoholic. But we all knew different.

He would go from one shul to another on his way home taking shots of whiskey so by the time he got home he was totally drunk.

He would pass out at the table. Still wearing his streimel and bekishe. He would make noises. Totally incoherent ramblings.

He would say the most awful things about me in front of my kids. Their faces would break my heart. I wanted to protect them but I felt unable to.

When it got too bad we would leave the room and he would be asleep head on the table.

Often Shabbat dinner wouldn’t even happen. He would be too drunk to even make kiddush. .

One week he went to the bathroom and after a while I was concerned he hadn’t come back and there was no noise from upstairs.

I rushed upstairs and opened the bathroom door only to find him with his head down the toilet bowl vomiting, passed out. I was terrified.

After a few minutes he stumbled to his bed but couldn’t stand straight. He held on to the banisters for support and somehow managed to rip them out the floor.

Week after week this kind of behaviour would be going on. I would watch other families enjoy the weekends together, while I dreaded every minute.

The worst thing was when he would finally wake up later on, on Saturday afternoon, he had been so intoxicated that he could not remember anything that had happened.

He would accuse me of lying when I recounted what he had said to me. Eventually I would get the “I’m so sorry. It will never happen again” apology.

But that was an empty promise. Because it did happen. Over and over again.

When I remember those years I wonder how I lived like that for so long. I was too ashamed to tell anyone how bad it had got.

I felt I was partly to blame. If I was a better wife, a nicer person, a prettier sexier woman, he wouldn’t need to resort to alcohol.

It was only after we split that I realised none of this was my fault. Sadly too often people with addictions like to blame those around them for their problems.

But it wasn’t my fault. He had chosen to drink. And nothing I did or said would have changed that.

I genuinely regret the things my children saw during those years. I wish I could undo that. That hurts.

And nowadays this has affected me strongly in one area. Although I’m totally secular and have no interest in any religion at all, I know many people like me who still have some sort of traditional Shabbat meal.

I can’t do that. It’s too difficult. I often get asked to join friends and otd people but I can’t go. It’s hard to explain. I just want absolutely nothing to do with Shabbat and anything that reminds me of those painful years.