“The Den Mother”—that’s what my boyfriend calls me within my friend group. He says that because I somehow, without even trying, became a major support system for several of my friends. And I’m glad to be one! Look, I’m no therapist and I wouldn’t claim to be. They go through extensive (and expensive) schooling to earn that title. But I’ve been through many tough experiences that women often face, and I believe I’ve come out of them stronger. I had a terrible eating disorder for years. My dad had a secret second family and that threw our entire family into a turbulent state for a long time. I was in a deeply toxic and emotionally abusive relationship once.
These scenarios may all sound extreme, but honestly, it’s pretty common for a woman to experience some degree of at least one if not all of those issues in her life. Getting into a relationship with a bad dude? Who hasn’t done that? Struggling with body image stuff and taking matters into your own hands in an unhealthy way? I think almost any woman out there can say that at one time or another, she did that. Having some serious drama come up in the family that shook everyone to the core? It’s pretty common. It’s not always a secret second family situation but there could be a gambling issue, alcoholism, infidelity, long-lost siblings…Sh*t happens in families.
My point is that, I know many women who are just now going through many of these things for the first time. They’re scared. They feel like they’re in the dark and will never see the light again. I know that isn’t true because I’ve been where they are. I can’t stand back and do nothing when I notice a woman struggling with something I’ve been through. I feel compelled to try to help. I think every woman out there should share her wisdom, in these ways, when she can.
To fight back against society
Society may have made us feel deeply insecure about our bodies and put a tremendous amount of pressure on us, but I’m not going to let it win. If there are women I can help—just be a support for or a buddy to call—who are going through body issues, I will be because I’m not going to let society just pluck us off, one by one, killing our self-esteem.
Knowing you’re normal is important
Though sometimes, being “normal” isn’t what you want, when it comes to mental health, it is. And when I see a woman struggling with some difficult emotions or thoughts that she probably thinks she’s alone in, I tell her she isn’t. I tell her the very same kind of thoughts and feeling I once had (or still have) so that she doesn’t have to judge herself for what she’s feeling. Tackling tough emotions is hard enough: we don’t need to judge ourselves for them on top of that.
It’s nice to just have someone to text
It doesn’t have to be a whole thing where you schedule regular coffee dates with the women you want to help. It’s amazing what an impact you can have on someone if you’re just there to text when they want. I’ve done this for women struggling with eating disorders a few times—in addition to suggesting they seek counseling, I’ve also said, “You can also just feel free to text me when you’re having a hard time.”
Someone did it for me, with the food stuff
When I was anorexic, I made a great friend in a woman about a decade older than myself who recognized what I was going through. She reached out. She wasn’t pushing her advice onto me. She just gently made some comments that let me know she saw what I was going through, and she gave me her number. I didn’t heal over night, but there were so many times that phone number was a lifeline for me, when I felt completely underwater with my eating disorder.
And someone did it for me with relationship stuff
I also had a guardian angel come my way when I was in an emotionally abusive relationship. I had a woman come along, recognize what I was going through, and tell me what I needed to hear. It saved me. I may have still been in that relationship today if she hadn’t come along. If I can do that for another woman, I will try my best.
Nobody prepares us
For the controlling boyfriends who try to brainwash us and change us. For the comments about our body that destroy our self-esteem and drive us to a place of binging and purging and starving ourselves. For the male bosses who walk the line of sexual harassment without ever crossing it, putting us in a tricky position. There’s no handbook for that stuff. The only thing close to a handbook available is the stories from other women.
I owe it to my helpers
Remember how I mentioned several women have reached out a hand to me in the past? Well they did so on the contingency (sometimes unspoken, and sometimes spoken) that I pay it forward one day. I honor them when I offer the type of help to other women that those women offered me. They were just passing on some of the power their group of women had gathered, but the understanding was that I needed to keep recruiting women to this powerful group. And I do that, by helping.
I want to make stronger women
I want to take part in putting forward a generation of strong women. In some way, I feel like it’s my duty. I know the sh*t we put up with—the misogynistic male bosses and the mothers who make us feel our only job is to create kids and just all of it. The things that put us down. I want to be surrounded by strong women who overcome that stuff, so we can gradually say goodbye to that type of BS in future generations.
Our mothers don’t always help
Speaking of mothers, though our moms love us, sometimes, they don’t know what’s best for us. They do come from a different generation. Furthermore, they have their own baggage and their own stuff they project onto us. My mom didn’t have a career, and has many times insinuated that my career won’t work out and I should just marry someone rich. I bet there are other women out there dealing with the same messages. If their moms won’t send them the right messages, I’d like to step in. And I have for female friends I see with mothers who aren’t lifting them up.
We aren’t competing
I want to obliterate this feeling that women are in competition with one another, and I think a great way to do that is to, when I see a woman struggling, lift her up in any way I can. Look: if women are in any competition, it’s against the rest of the world, so we need to have each other’s backs. If I can make one woman a day feel that we aren’t all actually working against each other, I’ll feel good about that. And I think I do that by willingly sharing my wisdom.
We represent each other
We do. Whether we like it or not, the world judges our whole group through the individuals. I know women are powerful as all hell, intuitive, intelligent, generous, and fierce. I like to try to help women, in any way I can, bring out those qualities and present those to the world.
We need professional allies
Even though I’ve had to deal with a lot of frustrating men in my career and had to be diplomatic in the face of misogyny, I don’t wish that upon any other woman. I don’t feel like that’s a part of paying dues or any bullsh*t like that. I want women to feel, more and more, that there are women in their corner in their industries.
We need to know men don’t control our careers
I don’t want women to fear that they have to put up with misogynistic men in power because nobody will stand with them if they don’t. Or that nobody will help them in their careers if they don’t take the help from male superiors who hit on them. So when I’m in a position to help a woman in her career—if I in any way have a platform to stand on that I can lift her up to—I will. I know what it’s meant to me when I was able to receive professional help from a female superior who I knew wouldn’t cross a boundary with me.
It’s in my best interest, too
It’s only in my best interest to lift up the women around me. They’ll be my support system one day. We may work together. We will be there for each other in many ways. So when I help them develop tools to get through life, I’m just making my entire crew stronger, and in that way, I’m making myself stronger.
Sometimes, it’s all you have to offer
Right now, wisdom is all I have to offer. I can’t give someone a job. I don’t have much money to donate. I don’t have a huge social media platform to promote anybody on. The only thing I really have to offer to better the female condition is my hard-earned wisdom, gathered through the hellish experiences I’ve had. So I share it. And, in that way, it makes all the stuff I went through worth it.