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It Really DOES Get Better

Take it from someone who has been there, it really does get better.

For those of you who don’t know the It Gets Better Project all started in 2010 when Dan Savage, in response to a rising number of suicides linked to bullying, made a youtube video with his partner to inspire hope for young people facing harassment.

The It Gets Better Project’s website says: “The It Gets Better Project’s mission is to communicate to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth around the world that it gets better, and to create and inspire the changes needed to make it better for them.”

The idea is great, but I also believe it is universal.

It doesn’t just apply to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth, nor victims of bullying or high school students.

Whoever finds this post and is struggling:  It really DOES get better.  I promise.

I’ve recently been following the heartbreaking story of Rehtaeh Parsons, a young woman who was raped, then bullied until she decided to take her own life.  I wish this message had found her.  Because it does get better, even for those of us who have lived through the most devastating, terrifying, and degrading form of violence there is.  Even for Rehtaeh, it could’ve gotten better.

I’m in tears as I write this, because I didn’t make it to this conclusion for lack of trying to kill myself.  I had two life-threatening attempts, but somehow lived to know that these things come out on the other side.

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the light at the end of the tunnel

Life isn’t as hopeless and painful as it can, at times, feel.  I know there is plenty of pain to be felt, and despair to be trudged through, but I know something else too.  I know that as dark as it can get, it can get that much brighter.  I know that these feelings that consume, even they will fade away and make place for new ways of feeling.

I used to be so certain that the darkness would last forever.  For me, it was a good 28 years or so before the clouds started to part and make way for light.  I can look at that time now and understand what growth came from it.  I know that I am that much stronger because I went through it.  And I see now how my experience can benefit others.

That’s everything this blog is about.

Sometimes, in my darkest moments, I had a twinge of hope that kept me alive, even when I wanted so badly to die.  My hope plagued me, because it seemed to work against all the hurt I knew in my life.  I just wanted to let go, and sometimes, I did.  But I know something about that nagging particle of hope still imbedded somewhere deep within.  It was a glimpse.  It was a glimpse at what could be.  And for me, what now is.

I wish Rehtaeh could’ve known this.  There are so many people out there right now, who I wish could know this.  I don’t even know your names.  I didn’t even know Rehtaeh, but right now, I cry for her like she was a dear friend.

If you’re looking for some shred of hope, a reason to stay alive, I pray the words of this stranger can be that for you.

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clouds parting, making way for light

I don’t believe suicide is selfish or wrong, because I know it is not an act entered into lightly.  I know the despair it takes to bring you to that decision.  But it cannot be an option, because your life has worth, and meaning, even if you don’t believe it.  The anguish doesn’t become extinct through your death, it is simply passed on to others.  To those you loved most.  No, the anguish is defeated only through living a meaningful life.  Through sharing your struggles with others.  Through finding your joy.

None of us are as alone as we sometimes feel.

It may feel like it is taking to forever to get there.  But you WILL get there.  It may feel like more than you can bear.  But you CAN bear it.  You may think no one understands, but I do. You may think this darkness is all you will ever know, but you will live your fair share of joy as well.

It really DOES get better.  I promise.

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 IF YOU ARE IN CRISIS, CALL: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Contact the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for more resources.  

Plenty of people are waiting to help you at any time.

Farewell California, Hello Home

I’ve always wanted to live in California, and swore I’d never live in the midwest.   As I get older, however, I find my priorities are changing.  Over the past year, I have had the pleasure of being in a year-long season of summer, here in San Diego, California.  I couldn’t be more grateful for my time here.  I do believe I have been pretty spoiled.  The twelve step community here is vast and supportive, probably the best in the country.  The weather is almost always sunny and mild.  There are constantly resources galore at my fingertips.

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Coronado in all its SoCal Goodness

And now… I’m saying goodbye to it all.

For the midwest.

I came to California straight from residential treatment in Chicago.  I had 5 and a half months of treatment, and California was the place and I made a home.  I got connected right away with meetings, and built a safety net of support around me.  I have an amazing dietitian and an incredible sponsor.

As I have processed this move, I am starting to really take in all I will be saying goodbye to, and it has me asking, “is this the right choice?”

The YMCA here is incredible.  With one membership, I have access to 4 different Y’s.  They have classes like NIA and Meditative Yoga.

I can order Thai delivery.

Seriously, it is almost always sunny.  And I have a tendency toward seasonal depression.

Who would leave this?

When it comes down to it, California just isn’t a reasonable place to live, especially for those of us who are not gainfully employed.  Becoming a resident of California isn’t cheap, gas isn’t cheap, taxes aren’t cheap.

But that isn’t really why I’m leaving.

See, two years ago today, my sister gave birth to the most adorable little guy ever.  (Not that I’m biased)  She and I had been marching forward arm-in-arm in the firm resolve that neither one of us would have children, and then, as if in a single day, she changed her mind.  It wasn’t just a day actually, she gave more thought to it than I have ever seen a person reasonably consider such an option.  She did not make the choice lightly, and I respect her for that.

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meeting Sven for the first time

When he came along, my life changed.  As I faced this baby, I faced the realization that this may be the closest I ever come to having a child.  And I wanted to be a influential part of this child’s life.

As my moods and my troubles ebbed and flowed, I was almost always tangled in my own darkness.  The October before I went into treatment, I missed a chance to visit my nephew due to being hospitalized.  I insisted that I come see him before going to treatment and my sister told me that she’d rather I not be around him at the time.  As much as it broke my heart, it was my sister’s wishes, and I respect her more than anyone.

When I was in treatment and I needed motivation, my sister and my nephew were the ones I was working to get better for.

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my sister and my nephew

Now that I am doing well, I have the opportunity to move close to my nephew and be a full time aunt.  For him, and for the new baby, who is due in August.  🙂  I get to help raise mini-feminists! Haha…  Hey, they might not have listened if it came from a parent, but from a crazy cool aunt, maybe they’ll take in what I have to offer.  You never know.  I may never have kids of my own, but I will have a hand in raising some little beings into some incredible people.  That is invaluable.

So, I’m leaving all of the conveniences that are California, for small town life.  Part of it is a sacrifice, but mostly it is a privilege.  I’d rather be the full time aunt, than the twice-a-year aunt.  Not that there’s anything wrong with the twice-a-year aunt.  But if this is the closest I’ll come to children of my own, it is best I be vigilant.

To be honest, SoCal wasn’t a great fit for me anyway.  I’ve always been a country girl, so with the almost 4 million people in this county it is a bit crowded.  Everyone here is skinny, and hell-bent on staying that way.  Not a good place for eating disorder recovery.  And really, the weather is too warm for my taste.  I miss seasons.  And after all, who needs a YMCA membership, when you’re chasing around two little kids?  Or doing baby lifts?

I’m closing a chapter of my life and starting an incredible new one.  I’m moving somewhere I plan on staying for a while.  I’ve got a good 13 or so years before I’ll start considering a new home.  (Teenagers are a whole different ballgame!)

I may not be employed yet, but I already have a full time job: Loving Aunt.  And I plan on doing my job most diligently, and with the greatest of care.

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Surviving Elementary School

“Seeds of faith are always within us; sometimes it takes a crisis to nourish and encourage their growth.”           ~Susan Taylor

I don’t typically watch the news.  I have a computer and a T.V. without cable, or even basic access.  I stick to Netflix, and I get my teeny bit of “news” from Philip Defranco, on YouTube.  That’s about as much as I can take.  In 2009, I had a therapist tell me to stop watching the news.  I took her advice.  I had, at the time, become overwhelmed, baffled, and distraught over the Shaniya Davis story.

I couldn’t understand how, someone could do that to their daughter.  I couldn’t understand how someone could do those things to a 5 year old.  I was starting to drown in a sea of headlines and news reports of just how evil this world is.

And it is true.  This world can be a very evil place.

I have spent a good chunk of the past few years overwhelmed by an issue that the rest of the world seems underwhelmed about: sexual violence.  Such violence is beyond an epidemic in our world, and repeatedly, our response is victim blaming, and sweeping it under the rug.  It makes me cringe to know that 1 our of 4 girls, and 1 out of 6 boys will be the victims of sexual abuse by the age of 18.  How do people walk around in their own little bubbles, oblivious of something so heinous?

I don’t know, they just do.

In some of the work I have done, I have teamed with people who had similar experience and ambition, wanting to do something on the matter.  What have I found?  That there are victims out there working toward solving a problem, without even having dealt with the issue in their own lives.  It is like someone with a still gaping and bloody bullet wound trying to fight for gun control.

First, you need to address your own trauma.

The hard part is, no one else is stepping forward to solve the issue.  All of those people who’ve never had to suffer through the trauma have no interest in dealing with something so dark and ugly.

This is just what I have found.

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I look around me, and I see people becoming passionately driven about the issue of guns and asking themselves, “what could of we have done to prevent the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012?”

I would never venture to claim that this question is not important, pertinent, or should not be asked.  I do, however, think that it is too soon to be torn apart by these issues.  Our hearts are still breaking from what happened, and the details that continue to unfold.  Our stomachs are still twisted by what the children of Sandy Hook must’ve witnessed that day.  Chills are still shooting down our spines to imagine what evil it takes to commit such an act.

How have we allowed this to lead to a divide?  What the survivors need right now, is a community to come together in support around them.  They certainly have a long, tough road ahead of them.

Repeatedly, through the past several years we have witnessed tragedy and allowed it to, even for a short time, bring us together in mourning and solidarity.  For the first time in my life, I have witnessed the opposite happen.  That is what breaks my heart now.

I think ALL of us will agree that something has to be done to attempt to prevent these massacres from happening again, no matter what side you’re on.  What that “something” looks like will start to materialize as we work on the matter.  I trust that.

At this point, I don’t care what that “something” is just yet.  I am still far too stricken with grief to start thinking strategy.  Am I alone in this?

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I look at the faces of the victims, and my throat starts to tense.  I hear their stories, and my eyes are filled with tears.  I cannot look at December 14th with a hard heart.  I find peace in my belief that these children are safe and happy now.  I find strength in the stories of heroism in the adults that fought for these kids with their very lives.

I remember too, those who survived, and I give them this message: you can overcome your trauma and live a fulfilling life.  This may be a struggle, but it does not have to defeat you.  This dark moment in your lives can become a place of strength, and a place of motivation.  You are in the thoughts and prayers of so many, and we will still have your hands when the heavy realization hits you of just how blessed you are to have faced and survived a trial that many will never even have to face.

To the rest of us, I say: stand down.  This is not a fight.  We are worn and we are weary.  We have faced far too much as a country this year.  Yes, we must address this issue, but please, for God’s sake, can we take a moment to grieve first?

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To all of us, I plead:  Do not let this destroy us.  We will march forward and we will advocate for the changes necessary to prevent such tragedy in the future, but first allow yourselves to grieve.  Before you stand up to fight, address your own trauma.  Make sure that when your time comes, when your voice rises, that you are in a place where you are strong enough to argue your side.  So many times, I have seen angels fall short here, and lose the drive to carry on.  We can heal.  We can overcome.  But first, we must grieve.

A heart must finish breaking before you can begin to mend it.

It is true that this world can be an evil place, but what is also true is that each of us has the ability to contribute to the good.  If you are going to pour fervently into this world, be sure that what you are pouring is positive.

mended heart

Resources:

Post Traumatic Growth

NY Times PTSD Article

You Intended to Harm Me

April is sexual assault awareness month.  I have a group of friends, who are all survivors, who live all across North America.  We keep in touch and share our struggles with and fight against the issue of sexual violence.  This month, we’ve decided to share each other’s blogs as we post about S.A.A.M. and what it means for us.  One of those friends/survivors is Sheena.  Here is her Facebook page.  Here is her blog.  She sent me interview questions, which I answered, and decided to share on my own blog.

Before I get to the questions, I want to share the shirt that I made last night, as a part of a survivors group.  It is for the clothesline project.  You can find out more about The Clothesline Project here.  It was started as a grassroots effort to give survivors the forum to speak about their experiences as an aid in the prevention of and awareness around violence against women.  Survivors are encouraged to make t-shirts conveying their “testimony to the problem of violence against women.”  As I watched women all around me, I tried to think of what I wanted to say in regards to the issue.  I wanted to express my pain and anger, but I also wanted to share my hope that we have the power to turn things around.  I drew an image of a bird coming out of a heart, but the words continued to evade me.  Then a bible verse popped into my head.  It is Genesis 50:20 and it says: You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  I think it adequately expresses the fact that we have the power to turn around what has been done to us and stop the cycle, a theme that was common as I answered the interview questions from Sheena.  Here is a picture of my shirt:

Ok, and now for the interview!!! Enjoy:

1.   Who are you?

Noelle: Freelance Writer, Future Banjo Prodigy, Recovering Addict, Self-Proclaimed Rock Star, Christian Feminist Slam Poet, Survivor

2.   Does Sexual Assault Awareness month and Childhood Sexual Abuse Prevention Month hold any significant meaning to you? If so, why?

Yes, because I’ve experienced both and I think they are both completely unacceptable and unacceptably quiet experiences in the lives of far too many people.

3.   What is your story?

TBA  😀

4.   According to some statistics, very few people report abuse & assault crimes. Why do you think that is?

Because our legal and medical systems, as well as our entire society as a larger whole pressures those who experience such violence to stay silent.  Often times this pressure is carried out in the form of shaming and further abuse of victims.

5.   Do you think abusers, rapist, molesters, pedophiles and the likes can be reformed, healed or changed?

I think anything is possible.  Ask me if it is likely, and I will say no.

6.   What do you want others to understand about those who have been victimized?

That such violence is completely unacceptable.  That victims receive little to no support after such acts are committed.  That our culture allows and even endorses sexually violent behavior, and that it is EVERYONE’s responsibility to start examining the way we live and making a genuine and vigorous effort to change.  And that such violence is devastating in the lives of victims, but with support and dedication, such violence can be overcome.

7.   What’s been the most difficult thing to deal with as it relates to what you’ve experienced?

The most difficult part of my experience to deal with is how I was treated after I was victimized.  Again and again, I was either completely ignored or simply not believed.  I was belittled, accused, ignored, and silenced, not only by the legal system, but by my loved ones.

8.  How have you dealt with your own personal rage at the traumatic things that have happened to you?

Honestly… I haven’t.  I’m still working on simply allowing myself to feel the rage, because I spent my entire life trying not to feel any of it.  Whenever I do feel rage, I want to sit with it, embrace it, and express it.  I feel like I deserve that.

9.   What was an unexpected thing that aided in your growth and healing?

God.  It was very hard for me to get past the idea of God as a man, or that God had allowed these things to happen.  I was angry and full of blame.  What I realized was that I was misunderstanding God.  I had always listened to what others believed God was, and I didn’t like what they had to say, but I lived with that God for a long time.  Now, I realize that God is more personal than that.  God isn’t some giant angry white dude in the sky with a long beard.  I see God in a way that comforts me.  I also had to make the distinction that God and people are two different things.  People have free will.  People f*ck up, in major ways.  God doesn’t hurt us, God is there to comfort us when people have.

10.   What encouraging words do you have to offer for anyone who has ever been abused or assault?

Keep going.  Don’t give up.  We have the power to change things.  What happened was unacceptable and inexcusable.  Allow yourself to feel, and remember that everything you feel is valid.  Trust yourself.  This doesn’t have to break you.

11.   What have you learned considering your experiences?

Too much to write here.  So much.

12.   What do you think is the most important thing the world needs to hear?

We hold the power to turn things around.

13.   What brings you ultimate joy?

My future.  My nephew.  God.  My dog.  😀

14.   What’s your favorite quote?

“Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”  -Dorothy Bernard

15.   Who inspires you? Why?

My sister, because she taught me to question authority, and that you can make your own family without recreating the mistakes of your parents.

16.   Is there anything else you’d like to share? This is your space to say whatever you want to say unedited, unscripted and without any filters.

To Be Continued… 🙂

To Those We’ve Lost To The Current That Swept Them Away In The Silence Of The Night

One of my sister’s best friends from childhood was lost to suicide this past week.  You can find this story at this link.  I was going to post this comment on her blog, but I do understand that suicide is a more taboo subject than I sometimes realize.  (As Sinead O’connor recently pointed out on twitter.)  I’ve been meaning to post for sometime, about my own experience over the past couple of months, since I nearly lost my own life, but I’ve had a hard time forcing myself to do it.  Hopefully, I can muster up the strength to do it soon.

Her most recent post was titled “Will She Remember?” and contained a poem she wrote about her daughter, posing the question of whether she would remember these days of her youth.  The post is prefaced by this quotation: “In the happiest of our childhood memories, our parents were happy, too.” ~Robert Brault …and a photo of her daughter.

This was my response:

This is a very haunting question to have as a final post.  Amanda, my dear, I wish that I had words for these moments, but there simply aren’t any.  I have had many friends of friends who have been lost to this battle, but I felt pretty distant from each of those instances.  You were one of my sister’s best friends in middle school, and I remember that.  I also recall seeing you on the park and ride at UNCG, and pretending not to notice, because I’m sure you understand how awkward it can be to talk to people from your past whom you were somehow distantly connected to.  Now, I feel a slight twinge for not saying a simple “hello.”  It makes me wonder if we could’ve hit it off.  I almost died this past July 30th from a similar incident.  I was grateful and humbled by surviving, but now I’m left recognizing that some don’t survive, which makes me wonder why.  I know you are already missed terribly, I can see that from the memorial page they made for you on Facebook.  I also know that few will really understand.  I wish I could offer you that understanding, but I suppose it’d be of little value now.  My heart breaks for your daughter.  I want her to have the understanding of how much you loved her, and the understanding of why things happen as they do, without the pain of personal struggle.  I’ll pray for her.  My heart breaks for you too.  I know what it is like in those final moments, when the world becomes a dream, and you decide to slip away.  Sometimes you feel a stirring beneath your feet, as if the ground is about to open up.  Sometimes you feel nothing at all.  Every time I learn that someone has taken their own life, I pray for them.  I pray for them, just as I did for myself in the moments when the fear set in, the final seconds before you hear the door shut behind you.  I pray for their souls, though I can’t honestly justify the idea that a loving God could punish people so desperate, so consumed by the darkness… for caving under the pressure.  I pray they find peace, love, protection… and strength.  I prayed for you today, Amanda.  I heard the news at lunch, though my parents were afraid to say the words in front of me, my own past being so fresh behind me.  I had a moment alone to go to PetSmart for rabbit food, and I prayed as I walked into the store.  I almost felt as if I was floating, and I could almost feel your presence there.  I understand the loneliness.  I understand being overwhelmed.  I’m one of the few who can comprehend a moment of crisis, when you are certain you have no other options.  I don’t know why I’m here, and you aren’t.  I am torn between feeling blessed and feeling guilty.  I’m also left with a nagging fear that I could still lose the battle one day too.  I pray you are lifted gently to God without judgment or bitterness.  Most people don’t understand the desperation, mainly because they’ve never felt it.  I wish they could understand it without having to feel it.  I know a lot of people make promises to themselves, though, a promise that they would never do such a thing, but who is to say where life will take us?  How can any of us rest assured in what our future holds?  I wish I could stop it.  I wish, for everyone out there at this moment with a gun in their hand, a bottle of pills, a razorblade, on a bridge, or with something wrapped around their necks… I wish it would stop.  And for their sakes, as for my own, I wish it would stay stopped.  The truth is, it ebbs and flows, and we never know when the current may take us under, even when our feet seem planted, and steady.   I wish, when people heard of suicide, they didn’t place judgment.  I wish it allowed them an opportunity to stop and consider with gratitude, how blessed it is to live a life so distant from dismay that you can’t even comprehend such actions.  My heart goes out to you, that you are safe now, wherever you are… I pray you are finding respite.  My heart goes out to your family, friends, and students; that your life and their loss fills them with gratitude and allows them to realize the responsibility of support that is placed upon the stable who dwell amongst the troubled.  I know I never said hello, but I hope my prayers find you now, and you are warmed by my understanding and reassured by the numbers of hearts going out to you and yours tonight.

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If you, or someone you know is struggling with mental illness & contemplating suicide, there are options:

If you NEED HELP NOW… Call the NATIONAL SUICIDE PREVENTION LIFELINE: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

If you are a survivor or have survived an attempt, you can find resources from NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).

To take a stand against the stigma associated with mental illness, you can find out more from BRING CHANGE 2 MIND.

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You can find out about suicide prevention from the AMERICAN FOUNDATION FOR SUICIDE PREVENTION.

Please don’t wait until suicide affects you personally, find out how you can help.  The AFSP does a walk to raise funds for suicide prevention research called: OUT OF THE DARKNESS.  It is an 18 mile walk that ends at sunrise.  In 2012, the walk will be in San Francisco.  Sign up, raise money, train, and do something to not only save lives, but improve them as well.  I’m hoping to start a team, and do the walk in 2012.

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Please feel free to leave a comment.

Ask questions.

Share your story.

Do what you can to start the conversation, and take the first steps on the road toward healing.

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(this video was made to raise funds for the overnight walk that happened in NYC this past June)

Various Faith Discussion Resources :-)

these are just various resources that discuss faith and our purpose in this world… this may be an ongoing compilation…

(enjoy!)

p.s.–if you have people, quotations, info, or links you want me to add to this compilation–email me at: incurablehope@gmail.com

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Why I Believe in God (by LZ Granderson)    “If we could figure God out, he wouldn’t be that impressive.”

Anne Lamott on The Colbert Report   “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty”

“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

Nelson Mandela

 RELEVANT CINEMA:

“The Human Experience”

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“I Am”

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‎”Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work; you don’t give up.”

-Anne Lamott [Author of Grace (Eventually): Thoughts On Faith]