Interviewing the #UndauntedWoman: Elizabeth Brico

Welcome to this second post in my Interviewing the Undaunted Woman series! In these monthly interviews, I'll be talking with women YOU nominate, asking hard questions about how your favorite undaunted women became the strong and admirable humans they are today.

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I've been so looking forward to posting this second interview! Elizabeth and I connected through a bloggers group we were both part of on Facebook, and I'm so glad I found her blog at just the right time in my life. When I found Betty's Battleground, I was still pretty fresh in my transition to mental health blogging and talking so openly about the things I've been through. Her blog gave me comfort and company, and since we first connected, I'm glad to say that through the craziness of life we've been able to keep in touch - she's nominated me for a blog award, and I've guest posted (and been interviewed) on her blog. So let's go ahead and say hello to September 2017's Undaunted Woman, Elizabeth Brico!

1. Tell me about yourself - what's your story, and how did you become an undaunted woman?
When I look back on my life, which I try not to do as much these days, I feel like the cards were stacked against me from the start. My life wasn't as bad as some--I didn't have some of the childhood traumas that other people experience, but I also grew up without a sense of family, and a deeply imbalanced sense of self-worth that still affects how I view myself today.

I was the product of an affair. My father was married, and my mom was his busty Latina sidepiece I guess, though I don't think she thought of herself that way, of course. He had four kids with this wife, and the ones who still lived in his home treated me really badly. I was an only child at my mom's house. So in one house I was mostly ignored or told I was a mistake who shouldn't have been born, and in the other house I was pampered (as much as someone under the poverty line can be), told I was a gift from God, and eventually basically treated like a child prodigy. It was very confusing.

I might have worked through all that, but nobody was equipped to deal with how much it affected me as a teenager. I started using drugs, got into an abusive relationship...and that was it. He manifestation of evil on this planet. I really believe that. I seriously can't believe in the inherent goodness of all living things because of this man. How many teenage girls has he held hostage? Raped? Strangled nearly to death? His cruelty is boundless. Now I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and some days it makes me want to die, but other days it makes me marvel at what I've overcome. I'm stronger than him now, that much I know.

2. Have you ever struggled with confidence and/or self-worth? If yes, how did you overcome that struggle - and if no, how did you avoid it?
The weird opposing dichotomy of my two households has really set me up for a weird view of myself. There's a part of me that thinks I'm the greatest writer ever, and a part of me that thinks I'm the living incarnation of shit. Of course, neither are true, but I have to actively remind myself of both things all the time. And I don't really know a healthy way of doing that. Any time I get a compliment on my writing, I temper it by thinking "but also you're garbage," and anytime someone treats me badly, I remind myself "but at least you're a really good writer."

3. It's weird how much I relate to that, actually. So, what is the one thing you've survived that makes you feel most like an "undaunted woman?"
I think the only thing that could make me feel that I'm an "undaunted woman" is that I've survived at all. I've been strangled to the point of seizure numerous times by my ex-boyfriend, I have survived numerous overdoses, some of which were intentional and some of which I still don't know how I survived. There are days that I want to just run away, or die, or stop time, but somehow I keep waking up each and every day. It's maddening and thrilling and thought-provoking. I've recently been thinking a lot about the infinite worlds theory and the inherent aspect of eternal life.

4. And what aspect of your current life do you find most rewarding?
I have been writing articles about opiate addiction and recovery lately...I've been sharing my own experience but also that of others. This past week I wrote about methadone patients who struggled to get their medicine during Harvey. They had to experience the devastating flooding while also being in severe withdrawal, and it was basically due to stigma. Even some of the most liberal people draw the line at heroin or pill addiction. It's so weird, because addiction is a disorder with both a genetic and social basis. Yet somehow the people afflicted with it are punished? I've been talking to the mother of a woman who relapsed because she was forced off of methadone, then arrested due to the relapse. She's pregnant, and they are threatening to force her off of methadone again once she has the baby. So she was arrested due to her disorder, and being further punished because of her disorder. So giving voices to these stories in particular has been rewarding, if scary, because it's meant "coming out" about my own heroin addiction, which I'd been quiet about for a while.

5. It's always a huge deal when you bring something that's been such a protected secret into the forefront - but it is definitely rewarding. Being so open not only gives comfort to others who felt alone, but also assuages our own sense of aloneness, I think. What's your favorite successful strategy or coping mechanism for dealing with challenging people or situations, and how is that strategy impacted by what you've survived?
Dissociation rules my life. It has its benefits and detractions. I'm able to deal with abusive or challenging interactions by dissociating from them, but I'm also unable to enjoy my accomplishments because I'm so heavily dissociated. Derealization is my strongest form of dissociation. Mindfulness is a great way to combat both dissociation and other challenges, but it can bring me too strongly into the present, and force me to inhabit a body that's been through far too many trials.

6. I agree with that completely. Dissociation can be very effective at just getting us through - it's why we can use it without even meaning to. But I find it to be a sad thing in myself too, because it numbs me from things I wish I could feel. What other woman do you most admire, and why?
The writer Lydia Yuknavitch is someone I greatly admire. She was a childhood incest victim, who grew up and became addicted to heroin for a while. Then she suffered a stillbirth--the way she describes that experience in her book, "A Chronology of Water" haunts me. It's very moving. But anyway, she wrote that memoir, and she recently released a successful science fiction book. That's basically my dream--to be a successful literary sci-fi writer. She's overcome a lot of similar (or worse) things than I have and still accomplished the things I want to accomplish. Besides the writing success, she's a powerful, open woman, in a healthy loving marriage, with a really cool feminist son. So...yeah. Lydia Yuknavitch.

7. What one quality serves you best as an undaunted woman?
I've recently developed the ability to--for the most part--not internalize the BS people try to pile on me. It took me a good long while to develop. People like to pile crap on each other a lot, and when they know you've suffered abuse in the past, certain kinds of people target you. It's a sad fact of this world. But I've recently stopped giving these people credence.

8. I've been learning that in recent years myself - it's not always easy! What one quality are you most looking to improve in yourself?
The courage to be independent. Chronic poverty really robs someone of that ability. Knowing I can't care for my kids on my own makes me feel like I have no options. My marriage is not healthy right now. We're at each other's throats all the time, and he has a problem with blaming me for every little thing. I feel like I can't make mistakes in my own home, and it makes it difficult for me to be accountable, because who's going to admit to something when they know they will be yelled at? We're both under the stress of poverty. I don't know if we'd separate or try to work things out if we knew we had enough support and resources to be on our own, but knowing I don't makes me feel trapped. And feeling trapped is not a good starting point for trying to fix things. I think if I had the courage to leave no matter what the circumstances, even if I didn't actually do it, that would help me do what I needed to do in order to either have a better relationship, or to actually leave.

9. Actually, it's extremely courageous to put that out there, I think. The struggle for independence kept me in a toxic relationship for along time - I can relate to feeling trapped, and I would like to encourage you to seek small ways that you can change things for yourself. I'm still working on that myself, so I know it's easier said than done, but ... well, I just have to believe it's possible. I'm betting you can relate to that. But in the moment, if you could do any one thing right now to help other women become undaunted, what would you be doing?
The only thing I know how to do is what I am doing; offering other women platforms to be heard. It doesn't cure everything, but knowing someone hears you can be very powerful. I have Parenting with Mental Illness feature interviews on my blog every month, and publish guest posts frequently. Beyond that, I'm often reporting in my freelance articles on under-served communities, and sharing stories and quotes from other women that way. When you know you're heard, you know you're not alone.

10. Exactly, and it really does make all the difference. Just not being alone can sometimes be enough to start changing everything. If you could stand in front of every woman on the planet right now and speak into their hearts, what would you most want to say to them?
You have inherent value, and you're a person. That may sound weird, but as women we are so often taught that our bodies are objects or property, or that our value comes from what we do, or how we identify. Well, that's not true. We have our own value. We're people. We belong to ourselves - not our husbands, fathers, mothers, boyfriends, girlfriends, wives, employers ... We are our own.

I love that this interview ends with those words: "We are our own." They're words that have meant so much to me personally for so long - so much so that they found their way into one of my books. Years ago (before I finished my first novel) a friend of mine and I were talking; we were exchanging stories, and I marveled at how many of her stories were love stories. I marveled too, at how many of her love stories ended so peacefully and with so much goodwill. Men seemed to come into her life just when she needed them, when they needed her, and she seemed to attract the sort of men who knew what they were in her life for, and how to leave it well when their time together was up.

Somehow romance novels and heroes came up (duh) and she said it was interesting that I didn't have any hero stories (I had been saying how much I admired hers). I was hurt for a moment, and said I didn't think it interesting at all, but sad. And then she said something to me that changed my life. From that moment, a little something bled into my life that has never backed down since that moment. She said, "No, it's good - because you have learned to be your own hero."

Later, when I wrote a rape survivor with PTSD, I wrote her with a tattoo - given to her against her will. It said, "MY OWN" and was meant to be a permanent reminder, like a brand from her attacker. But she took it back - both her life and her body. She took that tattoo and had it remade, turned into a mark of reclamation.

All because of one conversation, one little simple concept. We are our own.

Thank you for taking the time to be here, Elizabeth, and for the reminder of such an important moment of change. I wish you the very best in your endeavors - and that you're blessed with opportunities that will give you the freedom you need to thrive.

Thanks for hanging out with Elizabeth and I today - I hope that if her story was one you can relate to, you'll also be able to take some encouragement from it. Strength prevails. Sometimes it's slow, but it happens. Strength prevails.

If you enjoyed this post, I'd love for you to drop a little encouragement in the comments for Elizabeth, and maybe even share some of your own stories with us! Click here to find out more about what it means to be undaunted - and how you can nominate your favorite undaunted woman to be interviewed right here on the blog! The first interview was a total success, I loved sharing this second one with you, and I'm already excited to introduce you to October 2017's Undaunted Woman!

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