Reclaiming Sweet Freedom: 23 Things That we Need Not Explain, Justify or Defend.

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woman dock water free summer alone

I once did a language experiment that changed me in ways from which I never recovered.

I hope I never do, because the freedom on the other side is too good to discard.

I gave up trying to control what others thought of me and my life, the story they told about me to confirm what they needed to believe about themselves, the barometer of approval and disapproval. What I found was a quiet revolution inside me, strong enough to become the foundation from which to build a life I get to call my own.

It was shortly after I left an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship, the kind that twists and distorts, where doubt and fear, accusations and invasions are routine and become so familiar you almost forgot what it was like to live a day without worrying about how something would be perceived and later misrepresented, and so you have shrunk so far inside yourself that you don’t know how to recognize the sound of your own voice.

And so you finally leave.

finally left.

Then came the aftermath, like purging poison from memory and veins.

The work of reclaiming myself and going deep into the dark to grieve the parts of myself lost and the tremors of still remembering what it was like to live so censored and small.

And so, the choice to change my language.

The experiment was this: for two months I stopped defending myself, as if my life required an explanation or apology. I would watch the compulsion surface in me, to explain because I was afraid of being misunderstood, or to offer further details as to the reasoning and why, or to give a whole big story on what I was feeling as if it wasn’t enough just to be in the presence of its passing through.

I would watch the impulse arise, which I learned was far more often than I had even imagined, and I would choose to not justify myself…which usually meant I just stopped talking.

In the quiet, I watched as the truth of my experiences and point of view, my feelings and my choices, came to take up all the space, standing still and strong in the center of a room, no longer requiring a defense and detailed reasoning.

The freedom was exhilarating, bone-deep safe and provocative in its subtly, like the small slip of skin exposed when a woman crosses her legs without saying a word. Letting go of the need to be perceived in any certain way, to achieve or maintain permission from anything outside myself, my life now belonged to me.

It turns out, I was good with who I was, and loved the woman I had been and was becoming.

After two months, there was no reason to stop because the learning was so good. So two months became two years which simply became part of my ways of doing and being. It is not exactly the same as it was those days and weeks when my ear was trained to hear the moment the fearful justification slipped from my mind and into my mouth.

Now it is simply integrated into my experience of being here human, free to live.

For you, for me, for all of us—here’s a love list for self-liberation.

These are things for which you need not explain, justify or defend.

1. Feelings.

The good ones and the ugly ones. The knotted nest ones and the simple smooth water ones. The fear like a fist in your throat and the terror that lives on the underside of the rib cage from horrors that happened a long time ago and yet never go all the way away.

The ecstatic eruption and the distancing of disappointment. The impulsive smile waking up next to her and the restlessness of not knowing what comes next. Sublime joy. Irrepressible longing. Sick skin of shame and weight of regret.

Sad that comes for no reason and finds comfort only in open roads and wide expanse of space.

Stair tumble and released wings of falling in love.feelings are a kind of language and can allow for the most aching intimacy when shared with another. But they exist as weather, coming and going, loving and leaving. and they are yours, belonging to you, not requiring a defense for the way they decided to show up on your doorstep and invite themselves inside. Fully feeling them, without demanding you explain them, is like walking out into the rain and letting it wash all over you, sinking into your cells nameless knowing.

2. Who you love and how you love.

3. What you eat.

Why you don’t eat carbs or why you chose to start eating meat again. Your love of sugar or your juice fasts, your shopping carts and your refrigerators.

The obsession with food and the fear of food has created an entire culture that feels compelled to explain to everyone around them why they are eating what they are eating or not eating, and the way their food or lack of food changed their life. but really, it’s your body and you get to decide what to put in it, for your own reasons, because it belongs to you.

4. Your “no.” 

It is a complete and full sentence, all on its own.

5. Your needs.

We all have them, and sometimes it is a frightening thing, to have needs, to name needs, for fear we won’t be met and will fall into a void of intolerable absence. And yet they are the one thing that also connects us. Because though the needs may be distinct for each individual, we cannot escape their existence.

So maybe we could stop apologizing for having them, and let each other meet them.

6. The relationship you have with your child.

Parenting is hard, and sometimes it is so meaningful in its messy reality that I want everything to stop and freeze so I can sit and memorize every moment and how his hair kept falling in his face and instead of brushing it back he just kept shaking his head to the right until it tumbled off his eyes.

There are a great many ways to be with your child and to love and to make and create and sustain family. We get to send our kids to public school or unschool them, co-sleep or tuck them into their own bed at night, breast feed or bottle feed or both, have rules or no rules about screen time and cursing and barbie dolls.

We get to try things, and learn, and make mistakes and say we are sorry. We get to not know all the answers and burn all the systems and wander around feeling half way lost. We get to love them, these people we are choosing to walk through this life with connected in shared narratives and meaning made and left behind.

We don’t need to explain why we do any of things or none of things.

We can just love our kids instead.

7. Your weight.  

Your weight loss, your weight gain. your number size, your curves, your muscle tight beneath skin, your thin shoulders and cup size, your wrinkles or sudden lack thereof, your jeans that no longer fit.

8. Your feminism.

9. Your body hair.

Waxing, shaving, leaving it alone to grow as it grows.

The choices as well as your body belong to you, and being asked to prove your femininity or sexuality or empowerment against the porn industry is all controlling and it’s bullshit.

There is nothing to prove.

There is just you, being you, doing what you want and what feels good.

10. Your marriage.

Your divorce.

Your staying; your leaving.

Your hurt heart and your waves of relief.

Your questions and your coarse fear. your choice, your choice, your choice.

11. What you wear.

Your lipstick or the length of your heel or the burning of your bra.

Your men’s jeans or your inked skin or your fishnet stockings. Whatever meanings others want to project upon your presentation and performance of gender, it is not something you are required to dissect for them or defend.

12. Changing your mind.

13. Your writing.

Your words. Your art. Your expression. Your creation.

Your evolution.

14. Your choice to have children, or not have children.

To terminate a pregnancy or carry a pregnancy to term. How you birth, Where you birth.

Who you want present at your birth.

Telling a woman what she needs to do or has to do or should do with her own body is oppression. Choosing to do as we do, make our own choices within our own values and needs, without defending or justifying those choices, is to refuse to participate in our own oppression.

15. Your personhood.

Do you feel this? How sometimes it seems we are asked to explain our very personhood, our right to be here, embodied, occupying our own space and lives. How the living can come to feel like an apology just for breathing and being.

Your personhood is irreplaceable. You matter. You matter. You matter.

16. Your expression of your own sexuality.

Who you have sex with and how you like to have sex and how often and where and in what way.

17. Why you left for two months to walk with other pilgrims.

The name you gave yourself.

What you saw on the other side of the woods that night.

18. Your want.

The taste of it and how it comes scratching at the door, slipping inside the open window like a cat coming home after prowling through the alley at night.

The unexpected rush of it, when you were just going about your day, standing there sipping your coffee in the elevator and then the door opened. The swell of it when standing by the lake, watching water blur with sky.

The shape it takes, the feel of it in our hands, palms exposed and clutched tight. The impossibility of it and the awakening. the terrible vulnerability it reveals in its shadow, how no matter what we tell ourselves we think, in the end, we want what we want. And we can choose what and where we go with it, but we don’t choose it’s presence or its substance. is anything more voluptuous or terrifying? and yet it’s here, and it’s yours, and it does not need a defense.

It just wants a witness.

19. The relationships you want to give your very limited time in this world to.

The work you’re willing to show up for no matter what, and the joy.

20. Your boundaries.

Taking time to explain yourself from love can be so very lovely. But if someone is continually asking you to explain in detail the reasons and whys of your boundaries, it’s usually an indication that they are not honoring them.

21. The second (or third, or fourth) cup of coffee.

Stay. Linger.

Come back to bed with me.

22. Your past.

The choices you’ve made that brought you to here.

The regrets and the extraordinary perfection of the days you spent painting your bedroom in the summer heat, eating sweet strawberries by the carton full.

That you said yes, that you knew what you needed.

That you knew when it was complete and time to be released.

The year you spent reciting promises to yourself while practicing your back bend and every time you opened the door after you had done the deed and come away more broken but still better. The catwoman you claimed as your protector and the wolf woman whose instincts saved you and then released you to your life. the two nos and the one yes.

The storm chasing and the driving after him in a truck, screaming and cursing and the unending laughter of true loving even when you knew you were going to leave and not come back. The choices made and how your skin still has the scars that speak of your undoing. the complete and utter conviction that you would do all of it, every last moment, again, to come to right here in this moment where the first thunderstorm of the season came and shook sky and bodies, surrendered to what feels good.

23. The present.

This day. This moment. Your life.

The hard cider and the hot bath. The big X marked on the wall and the questions that just won’t leave.

The fog and the steam and the way the water rocked. The white shirt and the words that wouldn’t come.

The comfort with discomfort in not having assurances, but lavished in conviction in what is real and true and belonging to you. The stories you intertwine with the telephone pole and the fear of dependency and the clack of typewriter keys and the rose water.

How you sometimes still sing mass and you somehow forgot how many homes you’ve lived in and there are moments when you remember the very first words she ever wrote to you and you open your eyes.




More awesome from Isabel:

How to be Whole.

21 Unexpected Ways to Say I Love You.

The Buddhist Four Reminders:



Author: Isabel Abott

Editor: Renée Picard

Image: Shanon Wise at Flickr 

The Elephant Ecosystem

Every time you read, share, comment or heart you help an article improve its Rating—which helps Readers see important issues & writers win $$$ from Elephant. Learn more.

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Isabel Abbott

Isabel Abbott 
writer. activist. corporeal artist.
sanctuary in birth, sex, and death.
author of salt + honey: secular psalms for the human and hedonistic hearts. You can also find her at here.

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anonymous Sep 17, 2015 11:57am

Thank you, Isabel! I found this very applicable to me and in relationship with others. Yes, a man can agree with all of this, too! 🙂

    anonymous Sep 21, 2015 9:37am

    you are so very welcome.
    i'm glad you found yourself in the words and that it was a space to enter more deeply into relationships with others.
    thank you, for reading, and for taking time the connect here.

anonymous Sep 16, 2015 7:58am

Thank you Isabel for your beautiful and touching words. I know I will return to this and read it often. I really enjoy your writing!

    anonymous Sep 17, 2015 7:46am

    thank you for reading and receiving.

anonymous Sep 15, 2015 12:31pm

What you eat is a personal choice

Who you eat is not

    anonymous Sep 17, 2015 7:45am

    thank you for sharing your perspective here, adding your voice to the conversation.
    it is so appreciated.

anonymous Sep 15, 2015 10:29am

You are an amazing writer. 3 times in and still feeling the depth. Keep it up

    anonymous Sep 17, 2015 7:45am

    why thank you. what a lovely reflection to receive.
    i'm honored.

anonymous Sep 15, 2015 8:26am

Beautiful beautiful.. I set off reading this thinking ah, yes , hmm , got that.. , oh, which progressed into moments of bigger oh’s and then a pulling in my heart and then tears and then a rush of boundaries with anger and then swept in rolling waves of words that I will need to print this off , If I can , and re read…. Thanks Isabel. That was a lot to take in… And very useful for me. Hx

    anonymous Sep 17, 2015 7:45am

    it is all such an unfurling, isn't it?
    sometimes gentle and sometimes brutal.
    i'm so glad this essay was useful for you. may you take it, and all of life, in only in the ways that serve and sustain, free to walk away from all the rest.

anonymous Sep 15, 2015 3:39am

Thank you. I never put comment on what I read but I just needed to say that is beautiful and you are beautiful <3 hope to have a coffee with you one day in Mexico 😉

    anonymous Sep 17, 2015 2:45pm

    that would be utterly fantastic!

anonymous Sep 14, 2015 11:20pm

Amazing. Thank you for sharing this gift.

anonymous Sep 14, 2015 11:07pm

I loved 6. The relationship you have with your child. Perfect! My husband is not the father of my children, and I often feel judged about not being “strict enough” with my boys when the truth is that I am just enjoying my kids…

    anonymous Sep 17, 2015 7:43am

    i have heard of this dynamic so much, and it's a hard one.
    and i so truly believe that we know in our guts and bones what are kids most need, and listening to that voice, though it can put us in conflict with others, is what matters most. that we not turn against ourselves. that we show up for them in the ways that work for us, and for them, and let the rest take care of itself.
    may you enjoy your kids fully and wholly.

anonymous Sep 14, 2015 10:59pm

The start of this article is exactly where I am at in my life. In an emotionally abusive relationship where I constantly feel the need to explain myself and I feel small (the exact word I used in a conversation today in fact). Thank you for sharing and validating my experience .

    anonymous Sep 16, 2015 4:05pm

    you are so welcome.
    may you know clarity and freedom in your own being, and in your loving as you find your way in this world.
    know you are so not alone.

anonymous Sep 14, 2015 9:27pm

Thank you Isabel. I really like these expansive ideas.

    anonymous Sep 16, 2015 3:46pm

    you are so welcome.
    thank you for receiving my words.

anonymous Sep 14, 2015 5:39pm

The very advice everyone should take. ❤ this is a beautiful piece of life advice, and is told so perfectly. Thank you for sharing!

anonymous Sep 14, 2015 4:26pm

Simply Beautiful! I know these things deep in my heart but so many other words covered them in my mind. Thank you for putting them together so eloquently.

    anonymous Sep 16, 2015 3:45pm

    they get covered and buried in me too.
    and so i write them out and down, so i can return them whenever i need. because we all need the reminders i think.

anonymous Sep 14, 2015 2:30pm

I needed that this morning. Thank you.

    anonymous Sep 16, 2015 3:44pm

    you are so very welcome.
    thank you for being here, for reading, for reaching out.

anonymous Sep 14, 2015 12:19pm


That. was. awesome.

Do not ever stop writing.


    anonymous Sep 16, 2015 3:44pm

    thank you so much!
    and i hope to continue writing for years and years and years. it's like food and water for me. and the ground where the green things grow.

anonymous Sep 14, 2015 8:57am

Your words are exquisite. They describe what my life was like before I left, and they let me know what I don’t have to apologize for. They remind me that I am a whole person. Thank you.

    anonymous Sep 14, 2015 8:04pm

    here's to our wholeness, the life that belongs to you. what a rich moment, when we waken to the knowing that were are already here, arrived, no apology needed.

anonymous Sep 14, 2015 4:57am

One of the best things I've read, ever. Thank you. Thank you, elephantjournal.

    anonymous Sep 14, 2015 8:03pm

    i am honored that you took the time to read my writing, and i'm grateful that it landed in you in such a way that there was meaning making happening. what a lovely compliment. thank you, so much.

anonymous Sep 14, 2015 1:58am

Loved this. Loved your perspective. Want to read more from you now x

    anonymous Sep 14, 2015 4:32pm

    oh wow. i am so honored. thank you for receiving my words and taking the time to read more. what a tremendous compliment.

anonymous Sep 13, 2015 11:07am

perfect. thank you. <3

    anonymous Sep 14, 2015 4:32pm

    you are so welcome.
    thank you for reading!

anonymous Sep 13, 2015 10:48am

Taking time to explain yourself from love can be so very lovely. – Funny – I'm asking you to explain something in an article about not explaining. But – I don't get this sentence and I really want to. Is it a typo?

    anonymous Sep 14, 2015 4:32pm

    hello hope.
    thank you for reading, and taking the time to comment.
    i view it this way. there are times, when someone asks a question as to why, or they don't understand and are asking because they truly want to understand. and when this happens, whether with my child or my partner or a friend or colleague, then i think taking the time to explain and converse is a loving thing. to work toward clarity and kindness in communication. and then there are times when i have said no, and the answer is not accepted, and the questions keep coming as to why, and in this case, i have found that i would rather choose to spend my time doing the relentless back and forth. my no, my boundary, my choice, does not need a defense. it needs to be honored.

anonymous Sep 13, 2015 10:06am

Gorgeous & soul-stirring, Isabel Abbott!

anonymous Sep 13, 2015 7:44am

Love these words so much…stepping out of the old pattern of apologizing for each little thing has been my path for many years…I will be practicing what you have so eloquently described here. Love, love, love!!

    anonymous Sep 13, 2015 6:06pm

    i'm so glad you enjoyed it.
    thank you for reading, and for your kind words.

    anonymous Sep 15, 2015 7:13am

    I agree, such grand rules, and so beautifully written — every girl needs this handed to her at the age of 8, 12, 14, 18, 22, 30 — maybe after — but eventually, we'd all realize how devotion to our own person is our 1st responsibility, and the responsibility that makes everyone around you learn respect. Gorgeous prose. "The freedom was exhilarating, bone-deep safe and provocative in its subtly, like the small slip of skin exposed when a woman crosses her legs without saying a word." — whatever prompted this line (and others), whether it was self-respect or eating little babies, just this line alone makes you want to do it.

Mark LaPorta Oct 1, 2018 12:16am

devotion to our own person is our 1st responsibility, and the responsibility that makes everyone around you learn respect

Cognitive Behavioral Teamwork Oct 1, 2018 12:09am

A lot of truth, but don't get carried away.

Meridith McKay Jun 23, 2018 11:45pm

Simply Amazing. Thank you

Sandy Durgan Aug 24, 2017 7:19pm

Wow!!! Powerful! Moving! Speaks to my soul. Thank you!!

Gerry Keelan Jul 15, 2017 12:17pm

I too am experiencing many of the the truths I read in your article. Thank you! it is helping me move forward as my partner has decided she needs to move out having helped spend a huge alot of money on travel, etc. in the short 2yr. of our marriage. So after going through the grief over the loss of my first wife's passing after 41 yr. of marriage, picking myself up and remarrying after 3 yr from her deaf, I am again going through a separation process.. Great writing! and helps to reassure me andgive me the confidence to move on!

Madhu Seth May 8, 2017 2:55am

A very well written article with a lot of depth and understanding which comes with experience and contemplation!

Kathryn Anne Mar 15, 2017 12:21am

Beautiful. Words to live by. Thank you!

Lorraine Peck Mar 14, 2017 9:16pm

I found this article to be founded in self love, not hate of others despite what inspired you to dig down deep. It is inspiring and self revelatory. I swear, I could take it on as an entire religion. :) Perhaps I might.

Julie Kasperson Mar 14, 2017 2:09pm

So much awesomeness here. Thank you for writing this.

Philippa Jane Cass Mar 14, 2017 11:37am

Wow, just wow ! Loved this thankyou!

Mahvash MK Mar 14, 2017 6:01am

Truly amazing! �

Irene Chávez Mar 13, 2017 7:14pm

thank you

Lindsey Simon Mar 12, 2017 3:02pm

So beautiful, I felt it in my heart. Thank you �️

Kim Wheeler Valzania Mar 11, 2017 8:38pm

fabulous writing.

Andrea Thompson Mar 4, 2017 8:50pm

there is only 1 thing you need never defend.... yourself.

Judy Brye Swiftney Oct 27, 2016 1:41am

Love this!

Hila Bouzaglou Oct 25, 2016 8:14am

This is beautiful! Great writing!

Renée Wright Oct 24, 2016 5:35pm

I wish I read this 20 years ago. Insightful and simply exquisite.

Maria Squitieri Chassen Oct 23, 2016 6:32pm

I freaking love this! Author sounds fed up with the bs- like me!!

Alyssa Woodman Aug 15, 2016 3:54pm

Really enjoyed your article! There is so much that lies beneath the surface when we go through experiences that take our voice away. So much to pick apart and rid ourselves from. Very familiar thought patterns. Great to read out there!

Liz Vivion Aug 15, 2016 3:42pm

I need this I love this so much of this right now and yesterday and hopefully again tmrw

Bitty Bitty Aug 15, 2016 8:50am

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.