I graduated from college in May 1995 and immediately departed the East Coast for Wyoming, where I had lined up a job cleaning cabins at a dude ranch.
I had earned two degrees but had no idea what I wanted to do in the world, or what I wanted to say to the world.
The next month, Alanis Morissette released Jagged Little Pill. Later that year Natalie Maines joined the Dixie Chicks. Alanis and the Chicks – now they had something to say.
In November of that year, Monica Lewinsky had her first sexual encounter in the Oval Office with President Clinton. It wasn’t really sex though. Like all good girls, she knew the difference between intercourse and blow jobs.
In Wyoming, I was following those same rules. I wish I could say I screwed around with a wrangler or a cowboy. But no, he was the guy that ran the kid program. Twenty-two years later details about him are fuzzy, but some things I remember quite clearly: he was from Texas and the pleasure was all his. We were, after all, just “fooling around,” as Monica would later describe it.
Alanis Morissette understood these things. She sang:
‘Cause the joke that you laid in the bed
That was me and I’m not gonna fade
As soon as you close your eyes, and you know it
In 2003, nine days before the American invasion of Iraq, Natalie Maines told a London audience:
“We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States is from Texas.”
And with that one declaration, the Dixie Chicks were silenced, their platform snatched away as punishment for voicing their own thoughts.
Six months later my husband left me and our 4-day old son to fight that war. We had talked about him getting out of the military. I wish I could say I wanted him out because I did not want that war, that violence. But no, I simply did not want to parent alone. In the end though, his father, a Vietnam War veteran, convinced him to stay in. My need for a partner was dismissed in deference to national absolutism and an utter lack of imagination. It was “an executive decision,” as his father would later describe it.
Around this time Monica was in New York City, selling handbags. I ask myself now, why handbags? Who knows? Maybe she was trying to find a container – a place to put her story, something pretty to hold all the disparate pieces.
That year I choose a wine glass to be my container.
Alanis understood these things, too. She sang:
What part of our history’s reinvented and under rug swept?
What part of your memory is selective and tends to forget?
What with this distance it seems so obvious?
By 2008, Monica could not find work in America, so she moved to London to study social psychology. The Chicks could not find a tour sponsor, so they moved home to Texas.
The military moves came fast during that time so I was nowhere near home, studying parenting books with subtitles such as “Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children.” My son started his seventh preschool in 2008 – seventh. That number I remember, but other numbers and details from that time elude me. There were too many moves, too many separations to count. And there was no space to see the damage that the disconnect – from one another, from myself – was causing.
For all those years I sang along with Alanis and had no idea what she was saying. I mourned the Chicks and did not see how their manufactured silence perfectly aligned with my own. I judged Monica and did not recognize her as my sister. And while I felt alone in my story of disconnect, I do not think I was alone in my ignorance and mourning and judgment. We women are like fish swimming in water we don’t even know exists, pushed and pulled by currents not all of our own making. Unable to see the overlap and similarity in our stories, the silence and shame keep us separate and alone.
Part of remembering yourself is recognizing what is yours to deal with and what is not. It is looking at the totality of our experiences and teasing out behaviors from causes. Yes, we need to own our own shit. But not all of this shit is ours to own.
It took seven more years for these connections to come into my awareness. My mind – my conscious knowing – registered nothing. But my bones did. My soul did. Seven years passed and slowly, so fucking slowly, the connections became clear to me. The separation lifted. The remembering took hold.
In 2015, Monica gave her now-famous Ted Talk on The Price of Shame. The Chicks announced their first headline tour in ten years. Alanis, released a collector’s edition of Jagged Little Pill in celebration of its twentieth anniversary. And in August of that year, I finally put down my old story of shame and silence and began celebrating the release of me.
Finally, I have begun to see what I want to do in the world, what I want to say to the world. I join Monica in taking back my narrative. I join the Chicks in taking back my voice. And I join Alanis in a complete surrender to an unrelenting faith that, while I haven’t got it all figured out just yet, I know everything is just fine, fine, fine.
Erin Wickersham is the managing editor and lead writer for the SHE RECOVERS blog. She lives in Virginia where she has been working on and blogging about recovery since 2013. After years of trying to do recovery alone, she discovered the beauty of connection and friendship through SHE RECOVERS in 2017. You can find her here and on IG @erin_wickersham.
I am really interested in what you said about overcoming the judgement of other women – I have tried to look into the evolutionary biology of our response to each other… I suspect that, through no fault of our own, we are wired to see women outside our ‘tribe’ as a potential threat and treat them accordingly – it is probably about survival in a competitive world with limited resources. I am certain that this wiring can be overcome with the appropriate conditioning but we would first have to acknowledge that it exits before we could drive social change.
I love your writing – I love the way that you often don’t write to a resolution – it’s more stream of consciousness, with a beautiful vocabulary that is, at the same time, accessible and compelling. Your writing is sensitive and comforting – I have worn it like a blanket when I have been in great pain – but it doesn’t eschew the difficult stuff, it simply lays it out for what it is and tries to step around it. Thank you, I hope it flows through you and doesn’t ever become a chore.
Temora! Thank you so much.
Great article! I so relate and what was happening in those times, I was finding myself as a young woman finishing college myself!