Community

All Your Broken Pieces

I am a part of a running group that chooses a cause or charity every month as their focus. Everyone in the group donates towards that cause. We get a ticket in a raffle for every mile, or 20 minutes worth of exercise we do each day. At the end of the month, the tickets are drawn for raffle prizes. It is called “good running” because we are using our running to work towards bettering our world.

Everything I do is an attempt at improving the world around me, and this is just one way.

I volunteer for Hospice. I share my triumphs and my struggles. I express my gratitude and apologize for my mistakes. My main goal in life is for the world to be a better place because I am/was in it.

Many people don’t realize this, but my self-care is an integral part of my effort to have a positive impact on the world around me. I believe is was Rumi who said, “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today, I am wise so I am changing myself.” This has become my philosophy. In order to be of any use to anyone else, I must first address my needs. Also, I AM changing the world, by starting with myself. Believe it or not, I have seen that have a HUGE impact on those around me.

This week’s celebrity suicides have brought to the forefront of our minds the issues of mental health, suicide, stigma, and survival. It just so happens, that this month’s cause in my Good Running group is mental health. As someone in recovery from addiction and an eating disorder, and as someone who struggles with the affects of a mood disorder, and the lingering effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, these issues are always in the forefront of my mind. This is my every day battle. This is why I try to go to bed at a reasonable hour, and get plenty of rest. This is why I wake up each morning and make my bed. Why I organize and take my meds religiously. Why I try my darnedest to eat a balanced diet and practice moderate, regular exercise. Why I go to AA meetings, a psychiatrist, a therapist, a dietitian, and work diligently as both a sponsor and a sponsee. This is my life. This is my every day. Even when the suicidal thoughts aren’t present, I am working tirelessly to make sure they don’t have the environment they need to appear or grow or fester in my mind. My mind is like a garden that I tend to each day. And my body and spirit are just as important, in keeping my mind a healthy place. They are all intricately connected. It is hard, constant work, but it is so amazingly worth it.

Words cannot convey how worth it, it is. But let me tell you this… if you’ve ever seen the change of the light in someone’s eyes, when they finally grasp and really begin to pursue recovery, you’ll know. Something changes. It is just as palpable as a corpse once the spirit has departed. Only this is the opposite of that. It is like, for the first time, someone is finally ALIVE!

I have so much love in my life! I cannot REALLY look around at the people who surround me and not start to get choked up. Runners, artists, teachers, caretakers, addicts in recovery, patients who devoted their lives to becoming the counselors, survivors of sexual violence, those who’ve conquered their eating disorders, those who’ve taken back their power, and declared victory over their lives. I’m surrounded by them. Supporters. And when I struggle, a single post on Facebook sends them the battle cry. And they step up. They always step up. They are always there. To run with me. To go to a meeting with me. To combat ed’s voice with me. To remind me to keep going when I just want to sleep. To ask me if I’ve taken my meds, or written recently, or called my sponsor, or had a hug. I’m blessed.

And the exciting thing is… THEY. ARE. EVERYWHERE. And they will help you too. Because that’s what they do. They’re helpers. And when they’re the ones in need, and you’re the one who is able, you return the favor. You can’t keep what you’ve got unless you give it away. That’s how this works.

This is community.

There is a wealth of hope and resources and people ready and willing to tell you how much you matter, and how worth the fight you are. And you are. There are so many just waiting to offer a hand, to lift you up and walk with you into hope. So, don’t give up. Let’s figure out a way to surround you with these kinds of people too. Because life can actually be so fucking incredible. I promise.

Read this as if my life depended on it…. because it just might

It has been so long since I wrote a blog post, that WordPress has changed their format, and so I’m writing in a completely unfamiliar page. Which is great (sarcasm), because this may be the hardest blog post I’ve ever had to write.

I had a really awesome blog once, with incredible writing. I suspect the writing was so good because I was completely uninhibited about what I wrote. As I have grown more mature, have become a Christian, and am now newly aware of the vast-spreading nature of the internet, I am a lot more careful about what I write, because I never know who my audience might be.

This post is going to have to be on the more uninhibited side, because I’m writing about something painfully personal, and on a topic that many people do not wish to discuss.

At the same time, I recently discovered that I can no longer access that deliciously uninhibited blog I spoke of, because I don’t remember the password to it. I don’t have any proof of ownership either, so I can’t find out the password or reset it. With my motivation to write being seriously lacking, realizing that I’ve once again (this happens regularly) lost a great deal of my favorite writing does not help the situation. I am, however, writing this post purely out of necessity. I genuinely feel like my life could end up at risk, if I do not say what I have to share today.

I will begin by acknowledging that I have lived through some very difficult traumas. When one lives through trauma, we know what it means to live through a situation where your main objective is just to survive through it. And for many of us, we become stuck in survival mode, with our bodies and our minds functioning as if we are living out that traumatic situation every moment of every day, until something stops it. This is why I now realize that when I was living out a pattern of self-destructive behaviors, I was a survivor of trauma. When it happened, I was a victim, and in the years I spent in limbo, I was a survivor. I did whatever I could do cope with the reality in which I lived, and it was killing me.

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I spent the majority of my time in residential treatment, trying to overcome these patterns of self-destructive behaviors, substance abuse, self harm, eating disorder, etc. That time was utilized to stop the survival mode I was stuck in. Once we had accomplished that, my treatment team and I set out to address the traumas themselves. While we made a significant effort, it was all brought to a halt when insurance decided to stop paying. I spent the year that followed, trying unsuccessfully to find a therapist in my area.

Luckily, upon moving to where I now live, I immediately met a therapist who was a perfect fit for me. I have been seeing her about a year, and this month we began, once again, to start addressing the trauma I have experienced in my life.

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Me at 5 years old

As a child, I was sexually abused. I would try to skirt around that fact in this post for the sake of saving my family any embarrassment, but a dear friend who I have been in a abuse support group with recently confronted me about the fact that I had never stated this to the group. Am I avoiding it? I thought. How could I be avoiding something without even realizing it? When I went to my therapist a few days later, I thought that I would cleverly elicit a reaction from her to see if she too thought I had been avoiding the topic. When I came in that day, I plopped down on her couch with exasperation and said, point blank, “Well, I guess we should address the trauma… I’ve kinda been avoiding it.” Her response? “Yes, I know.” I was shocked! Even my therapist thought I was avoiding it, so it MUST be true. So, therefore, I must say it. I cannot avoid it any longer. That does not aid in my recovery. I want to be an active part of the solution, not the problem.

I don’t think I ever drew the lines before when I was addressing my trauma in treatment, but it has come to my attention that a common feeling comes over me as I address my childhood sexual abuse. I have an overwhelming, almost paranoid feeling that no one is listening, and no one wants to be bothered with hearing about what I am going through. I now realize that this is must’ve been how I felt as a child whenever I tried to tell anyone about what was happening to me. As valid as it was then, it is very possible that this feeling is irrational in my current situation. I do know that I have plenty of people who hear me, and who care about what I have to say. But even with those loved ones, I have a sneaking suspicion from time to time that they are annoyed by me, or tired of hearing about it. The feeling overcomes me, and it is impossible to ignore. I now recall exploding with verbal outrage on people who talked over me, or who I felt were not listening when I was in treatment. I became very defiant and more determined to be heard at any cost. I realize now that there is still a child inside of me who is dying to be heard.

Now that I am safe, I am recalling these things from an adult perspective, and I have asked myself, “What can I do now to ensure that I am having my needs met in a way I could not have done as a child?” The realization that I have come to is this: I now have a blog and an ability to write. I now know how to ask for help. And I now know exactly what to ask for.

That is my purpose for writing this post. I’m directing it specifically at people in my life.

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It is very important in any interactions with me, at this time, and especially when I am speaking about my trauma work or how it makes me feel, that I am heard and validated. This can be as simple as saying, “I hear what you are saying.” or “I care.” or “Your feelings are valid.” They seem really simple and direct, and I know people in treatment who poo-pooed the whole “you’re feelings are valid” line, but I have always felt that there are so many instances when that is ALL people need to hear.

When I reflect upon all of this now, I realize that this could be a core root of why I spent so much of my life suicidal. I felt unheard and ignored… like I was a bother or a burden. Honestly, when I thought of taking my life, I genuinely believed I’d be doing my family a favor. That is why I feel like it is so important, at this moment, for me to hear the things I did not hear as a child. I spent the other night in tears, because I was feeling that same way, and it is so easy for me to come to the conclusion that no one cares, and everyone would be better off without me. I know it sounds extreme, but I have a pretty extreme mind. I’m doing the work I need to change, and it would also be really helpful if the people around me could do what they can to help me in this process.

So, that is what I need. I was a victim, then a survivor, and now… I am trying to thrive. And for me, this is part of the process. Thanks for reading, and for participating in my recovery. Hugs and love.

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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.

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Resources:

Post Traumatic Growth

NY Times PTSD Article