Depression, mental illness

Out in the Darkness

Last year I made my New Year’s resolution to write a blog every week. The perfectionist in me felt that this was doable. It’s only fifty-two posts after all. For the first half of the year I succeeded. I wrote a post every week. Even as I went out to Hollywood, and then Tennessee, I made sure that I had something written for the week. My desire to be my best, to do more, to be everything to everyone pushed me forward. I couldn’t give up, I’ve come to far. Then, out in the distance I saw more of the same.

An overwhelming sense of darkness fell over me, and I was unable to care about one of my favorite things. I have gone years without writing. The torture of having words trapped in my head, with no place to go was enough to keep me stuck. Self-sabotage. It is one thing I mastered early in life. If I could make myself feel miserable, no one else could. I could deprive myself of joy, and the darkness could linger. I didn’t like the darkness.

I believed that to be true until recently as I watched the days, and then weeks pass by without allowing myself to release the words, and find joy in doing something that I love. Secretly, I craved it. I long for the normalcy of the miserableness. Changing what you know is a layered process. I wanted it to be fixed now. I didn’t have time to wait for it to go away.

I lit a candle to illuminate the darkness, to give the appearance that it was gone. This worked for a while. But the real issue wasn’t being addressed. The desire to be all and do all takes too much of me. I give, and empty myself, but no one replenishes what they take. I smile, and push ahead. The smile is much like the candle. It hides the truth. It shows what people want to see.

I was trapped. Stuck. The depths of darkness held me tight. Whispering….shhh…and erasing all the creativity that I had. The longer I waited for the words to release, the stronger the hold of the darkness was. I couldn’t shake it off of me, even now I struggle with finding the words. Breaking the silence, and freeing myself from the weight of the shadows.

I know the darkness will always be there. I know that the light will always come. Knowing is half the battle.

To the darkness.

To the light.

Depression, mental illness, Uncategorized

#MentalHealthAwarenessMonth

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

#MentalHealthAwarenessMonth

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I almost let the month pass me by without mentioning it. Maybe, because I try so hard to act as though there are no struggles, so if I ignore it, it might just go away. I have found this not to be the case, and the reason why we need a whole month to bring awareness to Mental Health.

As a child I grew up with two mentally ill parents, and spent my whole life trying to prove I was not like them. I knew that mental illness carries a stigma, and we had to be quiet about what was really going on.

My dad was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. He never believed this diagnosis, and never sought treatment. My mom, on the other hand never let me forget about his condition, and made sure I knew it could be inherited. Every time my dad did something evil, she blamed it on his illness. She would warn me, that if I misbehaved, I would be like him too. I didn’t really understand what it all meant, only that I knew I did not want to be like him…or her.

My mom was diagnosed with depression and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). At times, she was meaner than my dad ever was. She was vacant for many of my memories, sleeping, under her covers for days at a time. Her body was there, but her mind was not. I never saw her as sick, until many years later. I assumed depression was a normal part of life. And PTSD, I thought it couldn’t be that bad…I mean, that was from events that had already happened. (I know this belief was false now, and understand how real, and debilitating it really can be.)

The downplaying is what gives mental health the stigma. I didn’t intentionally do it, and I knew others don’t either. It is the lack of understanding and compassion that adds to the pain and misconceptions. The not knowing is what made me afraid. I lived in a home, surrounded by different diagnoses, but I did not understand any of it. I just knew I didn’t want to be like them.

I didn’t want to be mean. I didn’t want to sleep my life away. I didn’t want to weigh so much, that I couldn’t get out of bed. I didn’t want to think people were after me or out to get me. I didn’t want to call my kids names, or beat them. I didn’t want to be evil or crazy. I didn’t want to blame my problems on everyone else. I didn’t want to live off the system. I didn’t want an addiction. I didn’t want to be so angry, or so sad. I didn’t want to die.

All of my fears came from not understanding. That is where a lot of the fear comes from. People are so quick to judge without the facts, without information, without seeing people as…people. I wanted information. I wanted to understand.

I took all the classes I could in high school and college to help me understand. I even went back to get my Masters in Mental Health Counseling (more so to understand myself). Information is power, and key to ending the stigma.

Since my childhood, I have found my way to more people, with more diagnoses, and I learned that people are more than the label given to them by an illness or disease. Under the layers of labels, and challenges they bring, people bring stories, and gifts. When you look past all the other stuff, there is so much to gain.

I learned that I also have PTSD, and at times have struggled with depression. When I was able to accept what was happening inside of me, I was able to understand it, and learn from it.

We all have our struggles, and challenges. We have stories, and lessons. We have the potential to shine. Life’s greatest lesson I have found: Don’t be afraid to be who you really are. Our stories matter. Don’t let shame or fear keep you silent.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Through my love for Tom Petty, I met a creative couple, who have a story of their own. They make beautiful jewelry out of recycled guitar strings, and help raise awareness for mental health by sharing their story. Please, check them out, and take time to read about their journey. ReThrive Guitar String Jewelry.

 

 

Depression, Grief and Loss, healing, Hope, Love, mental illness, Uncategorized

The Gift of Belonging

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Continued from: Trauma Camp

Waking up the first day at Onsite brought excitement and anxiety. I was still unsure what to expect, and still uncomfortable about sharing in front of such a large group. I made my way out of the cabin and to the mansion for breakfast, where I tried to find some familiar faces to sit with. We made small talk and walked over to the Carriage House for the morning meditation.

Meditation is something I have always struggled with, and I felt myself squirm in my seat as others found their seat. As I thought to myself, I don’t know how to meditate… The voice from the group leader announced, “It’s okay if you don’t know how to meditate, or if you can’t stop your thoughts, just do your best, and notice where your thoughts take you, and then focus on your breath.”

Relief washed over me as the expectations were lowered. I sat quietly for the fifteen minute meditation, bringing myself back to my breath after thoughts of my inadequacies and what was ahead of us circled in my head. When I opened my eyes, I noticed that I did feel more relaxed.

Three group leaders joined the front of the room. They were breaking us into smaller groups. More fear left with this discovery. Each group leader read off a list of eight names. The kind woman from the night before read my name off her list, with seven other women. We were the only group of all women. More apprehension left.

We made our ways to our group rooms. img_7483Where we found eight pillow chairs lining the room, as soft music played. One by one we found our way to a seat and grabbed a blanket to keep warm.

I looked around the room. Beautiful women filled the spaces. I felt out of place. What if I don’t fit in? What if I’m not like them? What if they don’t like me? What if my trauma isn’t that bad? I couldn’t stop the thoughts and tried to stay to myself, so no one would find out that I didn’t belong there.

When everyone was accounted for, we were asked to stand next to the emotion that best decried what we were feeling as we began the week. I found my way to scared, and backed myself as close to it as I could.

Scared. Anxious. Worried. Unsure. All these feelings swirled inside of me.

As I looked around the room, I noticed there was a mix of emotions from the others. We were all feeling something. We all seemed unsure of what to expect. As we took turns speaking about our feelings, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one struggling. My feelings of not belonging lessened as the day went on.

The more the other women talked, the more I felt connected. What happened in Group Room 3 is only for the members to know. Our words, our feelings, our tears, our growth are sacred. For our eyes, ears, and hearts only. What I will share is how the process helped me. To be honest, a month later, I am still processing what took place in Group Room 3, and at OnSite .

The first thing I noticed while at OnSite, was the feeling of belonging. This is a very rare, if not unknown feeling for me. I have walked through my whole life searching for belonging, to be understood, to be loved, to be heard. All of these things happened at OnSite. I was never turned away when I approached a table full of others. I was included, and not expected to talk or share if I did not wish to. No one made fun of me when I didn’t have anything to say. No one picked apart my lack of self confidence. But people loved. Strangers became family, old wounds were allowed to see the light of day, and healing from the soul up began to take place.

I did not notice it happening all at once. I even felt that nothing was happening. I felt like I was wasting my time as I retold my story of past trauma. I had told it, written about it, even went on Dr. Phil to talk about parts of it. What more could happen from sharing the same old stuff again? I volunteered to share my story first after I drew my timeline of traumatic events. A page for every decade.

Without making any eye contact I looked at my drawings on the wall and told my story, in a matter of fact kind of way. As I was telling my story in the thirty minutes provided, I started to think that my story isn’t that bad. I felt like I was wasting the rest of the groups’ time. I skipped over some major events, and added some things that I had not shared with anyone before. Things came to the surface, that I had buried so deep, even I had not remembered them before. Even still, some of these memories were not shared, for the shame they evoke inside of me.

My voice broke as I neared the end of my story. Silence filled the room before I could go on with the part where Gram, Uncle Doug, and John left me. All at once, stolen from this world, to leave me dangling in the darkness. The feelings from that time came back as I remembered how distant I had become through the grief. Guilt poured in as I finished, remembering all the ways I had let others down, how my life had been wasted, while others did not even have a life left to waste.

I sat back down on my pillow seat, covered back up with the blanket and looked down at my knees. A quick glance around the room let me see the tears from others while they listened to my story. I picked three women to write parts of my story as I told it, so they could read back to me the facts, the feelings, and the beliefs. As the women read back what I had said, I heard my story differently. I finally, for the first time, heard that my story was that bad. I had been through a lot, overcame a lot, and survived. I survived so many things that I shouldn’t have. The trauma did not swallow me whole. I was not only surviving, but I was thriving.

As I listened to the other stories in the room, I understood on a whole new level the saying “Everyone has a story.” I understood how much alike we all are, no matter how different we seem. I saw how much trauma can change people. I saw how strong we are, and how little we give ourselves credit for. I saw myself as whole. As complete. As messy, and beautiful. As strong, and vulnerable. As trusting, and open. All of my broken pieces were molded back together, shaping me into a perfectly, imperfect woman.

The day after telling my story my body began to detox. I had heard this was possible, but did not expect it. I still felt as though I was doing work that I had already completed. Learning new things along the way, but getting a refresher course. I woke up unable to catch my breath. I could not breathe deep enough to feel as though I was getting enough oxygen. Even in meditation I was unable to breathe. I felt nauseous and lightheaded. I went to the bathroom every chance I could and eliminated black stool (TMI, I’m sorry!). I even threw up. It was quite noticeable that I was struggling, and the group leader took a few moments with me to explain what was happening. “Your body is detoxing all that old trauma.”

I was trying to remember to trust the process, but I was still holding on to a bit of skepticism. I tried to breathe deeply with her, but still could not catch my breath. Even, as I tried to fall asleep that night I struggled with my breathing. I wanted to go home, and give up. This was scary, and I need my normal back. This was only day three.

When I woke up the next morning, I was able to breathe  normally again. I felt fine, and bathroom business returned to normal. There was no way that I could be a skeptic now. Things were happening inside of me. Deep down. Trauma that I had worked on in the past was now being released. I was finally giving permission to let it go. Not just with words, but with action. I knew now what trust the process meant.

As the days progressed, I saw myself differently. I saw that each person who was there knew what it felt like to be different, feel broken, unloveable, and unworthy. I belonged. And not just at OnSite, but in the world. If every person there knew what it felt like, it was not too far fetched to believe that everyone else did too. It is true, everyone has a story, and it is also true that everyone has experienced trauma. If you are living, you have suffered. The people who pretend that their life is perfect are actually hurting under their fake smile. The successful person you envy, struggles with self love too. We are all fighting a battle to some scale. There is no perfect.

This discovery energized me. It filled me with hope, and a new sense of wonder. A new mission to help others see what I have learned. A new goal of self love and acceptance. I gave myself permission to be human, to own my faults, and honor my strengths. I am able to see how far I have come, while keeping my eyes open for the road ahead. Everyday brings new struggles and new gifts. It is a constant choice whether or not I beat myself up over the mistakes, or cherish the lessons. I choose to tell the negative thoughts to STFU (another lesson I learned at Trauma Camp).

OnSite introduced me to my true self. The experience gave me hope, that anything is overcome-able. It showed me that I am strong. We all are. We are all worthy of love, especially our own. The mirror before me continues to be cleaned off, and I can see who I really am. The detox is still happening as the years of anxiety, pain, and trauma escape my cells, and I remain open to trust the process.

I am worthy. I am loved. I am enough.

#Onsiteworkshops

Depression, healing, Hope, Love, mental illness, Uncategorized

Trauma Camp

Continued from: Healing Trauma

2

 

I did not know what to expect when I packed my suitcase for a week away at Onsite. I talked myself out of going more times than I can count. I spent hours looking online for information on what to expect, I came up almost empty handed. The few reviews I did find were all positive, but I wanted more. I wanted to know what I was getting myself into before I committed to going.

I knew nothing more than what a quick (alright, hours of searching) search produced. The phrase that kept coming back to me was, “Trust the Process.” For a person that has a difficult time trusting, this was not that helpful. As the days grew closer to April 13th (Friday the 13th to be exact), I wanted to trust the process. I had done a lot of work already, I was hopeful that this could help. It couldn’t hurt. Right?

I prepared some meals to leave behind, wrote some letters to mail before I left, packed my bag, and rode to the airport with George riddled with anxiety. I wasn’t sure what I was the most nervous about. Leaving the outside world as I knew it, spending a week with a bunch of strangers, or opening up old wounds that I thought I had healed.

As I walked through the airport doors, tears in my eyes, I wanted to change my mind, but I didn’t. I walked up to the ticket counter, got my tickets, made small talk with the lady behind the desk and tried to smile. “Business or pleasure?” Hmm…Good question.

“A little of both, I guess.” I said as I faked a smile.

I made it through security, all the worries I had been trying to shove out of my mind came crashing back down over me. The small, young family in front of me caught my attention as their little one was so excited for their trip. The mother looked at me, “You look familiar…are you an author?”

Whoa…I didn’t expect that! “Well, kind of.”

“Everyone back at home is going crazy over your book. I can’t wait to read it.”

“Really? That’s great! Thank you so much for sharing that with me. That was just what I needed to hear today.”

My above response, “Well, kind of,” was exactly why I needed to go to Onsite. I have always had a hard time believing in myself, or seeing myself as others do. My lifelong dream was to be an author, and even in a moment like that, I could not own it. This. This was what I needed to change. This was why I had to get past my fear and trust the process.

I am a firm believer in things happening for reasons, no coincidences, and messages. This encounter was what I needed to help remind me of what I needed to work on. It was my view into the outside of what people see me as. Our short conversation helped ease some of my anxiety and replace it with excitement for things to come.

When I arrived in Nashville, TN I had an hour to wait for the shuttle to Onsite. As I waited outside I looked around to see if I could spot others that I would be spending the week with. I had no idea what I was looking for…I mean…what does a person who needs to heal past trauma look like? People came and left as the minutes passed by. And then, at 3:00pm on the dot a black van pulled up with a small white sign “Onsite.”

I rolled my bag to the door as a man with a clip board greeted me. He took my bag and I boarded the van. I found a single seat, so there was no chance I would have to make small talk until I had to. I texted people to let them know I was safe, and on the way to the program. More people entered the van as we waited for the last person on the list to arrive. When we were all loaded up, we were on our way to heal our past trauma. The hour and a half ride was uncomfortable, and almost silent, except for one talkative guest, who kept herself entertained.

The battery 0n my cell phone was fading fast as I tried to get all of the last minute conversations in. Seven days without my screen. Without talking to the people I love. Without watching the news, or checking the weather. Seven days.

The van drove up the long driveway and parked in front of one of the buildings from the website. We were told to go inside for orientation. We each got off the van, still in silence as we entered the building and sat in the chairs that were placed in a circle. We were given a bag with a name tag, water bottle, binder, and room key, and then given a tour of the campus while they delivered our bag to our rooms.

After the tour, we were allowed to go to our rooms and explore…and keep our phones until after dinner. I found my room in one of the cabins, that I was to share with two other women for the week. The room was cozy and comfortable, but it was not home. I unpacked my things and called home one last time to let them know that I was safe and able to have my phone for a little while longer. The kids and George wished me well and we counted down the days until I could call again…Thursday night at 4…things were starting to look up…a day less than expected.

At dinner I found a table of three strangers, who sat quietly until one of them made small talk. Two of the people at my table were there only until Wednesday, and were doing individual intensives. I was not aware that was an option, or I probably would have went for that (I’m grateful I ended up in a group though).

After dinner we all joined in the Carriage House, where about thirty-five people gathered in a circle. My anxiety returned as I looked around the room. How was I supposed to share my darkest secrets with this many people? The night continued with a few icebreaker activities. We had to place ourselves on an imaginary map from where we were from. I stood alone in the northern part of the room, as others congregated in small groups. I wasn’t surprised to be the lone person from New Hampshire.

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We were asked to walk around the room and find someone we did not know (which was easy to do, since I didn’t know anyone) and talk about the question that was asked. “If you could be any animal, what would you be, and why?”

This seemed like a harmless enough question. My mind went blank. “A dog.” It was the only thing that came to my mind, and then the tears began to fall. I looked around the room, and it appeared I was the only one crying. Great.

“Aww. Let them out. Tears are good. Why do you want to be a dog?” The kindness from this woman, this stranger illuminated from her. It helped take some of the awkwardness away from the tears.

“Because they love unconditionally.” I couldn’t make sense of what I was saying, or why, and then it was time to move on to the next question. I did my best to suck in the tears and try to find something to laugh about.

The next question came. “What are you most afraid of for the week ahead?”

The tears returned as I tried to spit out the words. “Of meeting myself.” Wow…I had no idea how afraid I was of this, or that I didn’t feel that I really knew myself. I was lucky that the receiver of these tears was also a kind and gentle person. He let me continue to cry, and then it was time to find our seats. I brushed away the tears and tried to put my fake it until you can make it smile on.

We were free for the night. One of my roommates invited me, and a bunch of other women to play cards. We found a game, and a space on the outdoor porch of the mansion. We talked a little as we played a few games until it was too dark to see and we all parted our separate ways to get some rest for the next day.

What had I signed up for? I still was unsure, but I told myself that I would trust the process, and give it my best shot. The people I had met so far all seemed nice, and for the first time in my life, it felt like others knew how it felt to be damaged or broken too.

 

#MeToo, Child abuse, Depression, gas lighting, Hope, mental illness, Uncategorized

Healing Trauma

 

img_7491Continued from  : An Adventure Awaits

When the show aired, a new level of healing came…but it wasn’t immediate. It took time for everything to ruminate, circulate, and eventually sink in…honestly it still is. The haze on my mirror was thick…after all, it had been gathering grime and dust for over thirty years.

When I saw my step-dad (from here on referred to as him) on stage I could not help but feel sorry for him. That was always my downfall –feeling sorry for the people who hurt me the most. I just could not understand how someone could or would hurt someone else intentionally. Why? There must be a reason behind it. That reason took away my anger, but it also took away my ability to see them as a danger.

A gift and a curse life gave me –to find the good in people. It was what kept me alive, but I now see it is also what kept me in situations that were unsafe.

As I heard him speak, I could not feel the anger I should have felt. I felt sad. I felt sad that he was alone. I felt sad that he did not understand what he did was wrong. I imagined his life now, and I wanted to help him. This empathy, or pity really, kept me from acknowledging my own feelings. It kept me from being able to own what he had done to me, to my sister, to my mom.

George sat with me as we watched the shows. His anger was visibly present. I still could not see what George saw. It had not sunk in yet.   As we talked after the show, about what was aired, and what was not, I still felt sorry for him.

“That’s what he wants. That’s what he’s always wanted.”

“Maybe, but I still can’t help it. I still remember the good parts of him.”

“After what he did to your sister? After what he did to you? Your mom?”

I could see there was nothing I was going to say to explain it. I didn’t even really understand it myself. “But, he didn’t understand what he was doing.”

“Did you not hear him only admit to what he was charged with? He knew what he was doing then, and he still knows.”

As George’s words hit me, I saw it. I saw that he did know. He admitted to only what he had gone to jail for. Nothing else. My pity turned to anger. For the first time in my adult life I could see him for who he was.

That’s when it shifted. That’s when the mirror started to become clearer. Nothing was what it had seemed. Nothing. It got worse before it got better as I went back through my life with this knowledge. It is life shattering to realize that your whole life was a lie. You are not who they told you you are. So who are you?

Who am I?

What if all of my memories were a lie? What if my gram wasn’t who I thought she was? What if I didn’t really know anyone as I thought I did? These thoughts took me down. Back down to where I had fought so hard to get out of.

When I was ready to stand back up, I saw the world differently. I saw myself differently. I understood that the trauma I had gone through as a child was worse…much worse than I had accepted before. Not only had I been abused physically, sexually, and emotionally…I had been forced to live in an alternate reality…and forced into believing that it was me that was damaged. This belief was still haunting me, causing me to see who they wanted me to be, and keeping me from seeing who I really was.

Imagine for a minute that your eyes are blue. Beautiful, sky-blue.

“Your eyes are brown.”

“No they aren’t, they’re blue.”

“No, they are brown.”

“No. My eyes are blue.”

“Don’t be crazy, they are brown.”

“No! They are not!”

“What, are you color blind? They are brown.”

“I am not! I know they are blue, I can see them.”

“Stop being difficult. You just want to make everyone out to be a liar, when we all know you are the liar.”

“No, I am not! I know my eyes are blue.”

“We all know they are brown. Tell her.” A nod of the head.

Maybe they are brown?  “They are blue…I think…I thought…”

“Go on, look in the mirror…see…they are brown.”

“Maybe I don’t know my colors. I do have brown eyes.”

“See, we told you.”

What color eyes did you have again? The above scenario is how my entire childhood was, and followed me into adulthood, when my ex-husband took over.

What I realized was that every person who had ever hurt me, had been introduced to me by my mom. My dad, step-dad, the man who raped me, my ex-husband…all were sent to me through her. Each and everyone of them shared this connection. As I took this in, I realized that the lies they told me were all similar, almost as though she had handed them the book, How to Keep Jessica in the Dark.

I learned who I was from that book. I saw myself only how they saw me. I beat myself up because I could not see myself in any other way. Even after traveling on my healing journey, even after being with people who told me how they saw me, even after sharing my story with others and hearing praise and encouragement –I still could not see what they saw. 
 
The spell that book carried left the day my mom died. It has slowly been lifted off of me, but the roots of damage are deep. I have to live each day shaking free from its hold over me. I look in the mirror, and I still have to take a cloth to clean the dust that settled back over it. It takes effort every single day to re-learn who I am. 
 
When I understood this. I understood why. I understood why I have such a hard time pushing the negative self-talk out of my head. I understood why I cannot accept praise, or kind words. I hear them, but it doesn’t feel right. It feels foreign. Slowly, I start to see a glimpse of who I really am.  
 
I had thought when my gram died, I did too. And maybe that is accurate, but I was not officially reborn until my mom died. With the spell lifted, I am now learning how to live without the lies, without the hurt. A whole new world. Each day is a new day.  
 
I am not who they said I was, and understanding why I believed all the lies so intently, I am able to forgive myself a little more. It was ​that ​bad, and I do not have to pretend that it wasn’t. The freedom that came from this helped me see how much I really did need to heal the past trauma. I had done a lot of work already, but new work was needed. It was time that I gave myself permission to love myself.  
 
The thought of being free from the spell, from the lies, from the negativity scared me. What if I was not worth getting to know? What if I was not worthy of love? What if the lies were the truth, and when everything is fully lifted, I will see that I am broken.  
 
Anxiety lingered as the days to go to Onsite grew near. My heart pulsed out of my chest, fluttering at the top of my throat. I couldn’t sleep. What if I wasn’t ready? If not now, when? I had been held hostage from my real life, my true life for too long. I was ready to try. 

Continued on: Trauma Camp

#TeamKimandJessica, Child abuse, Depression, mental illness, Sexual abuse, Uncategorized

An Adventure Awaits

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Going on an adventure!

In January, I reached out to a producer at The Dr. Phil show. Within hours she emailed me back, and in seven days my sister and I were flying to Hollywood. We had a story to tell, and hoped that what we went through would help others. Similar motivation is what led me to write my memoir, The Monster That Ate My Mommy.

Bad things happened to us. One of the worst aspects was having to keep quiet about it all. We couldn’t talk. We were the perpetrators’ prisoners in more ways than one. They hurt us, changed us, and then stole our voice. We did not want to keep the secrets any longer, so we shouted them for the world to hear.

(My sister’s story stops here. We are on our own separate healing journeys, and she is the narrator of her story. )

I did not think past that. I did not know what preparing to go on the show, and being on the show would do for me. In preparation for the show we went through old family pictures and old court documents. Dust was brushed off of the things I had packed away. During our search, my sister found a college paper my mom had written about me. (I wrote an earlier blog about it, The Devil Inside). After reading my mom’s words things began to shift inside me, at that point, only to a small degree.

When we arrived in Hollywood it all became real. I wondered what I had gotten myself into. We kept ourselves busy between the demands of the show and touring the city, and sitting by Tom Petty’s star on the Walk of Fame. Anxiety pulsed through my body as I thought about what was ahead of me. Excitement that my book would be talked about on the show filled the spaces that fear left empty. When I wrote my memoir, I hoped my story would get to the people who needed it most, and this was going to possibly make that happen. Our story that was being discussed would also help others who have been sexually abused.

The mix of emotions filled my body with adrenaline. Excited and terrified. But this was our chance to change things. It wasn’t until the morning of the show that we were told that there was going to be a twist. My sister and her dad would be on stage first, while I sat back stage and watched. I was relived that I had some more time before I would have to be on stage with my stepfather. As I watched my sister talk with Dr. Phil, and then her dad my body began to tremble. I was not sure if it was from being cold or nervous –most likely a combination of both.

As my stepfather talked about the abuse he had done to my sister I became enraged…and felt the guilt creep in. As I tried to push the guilt out of my mind a photograph of our mom flashed on screen. The mom I remembered, the mom I longed to love me, the mom I desperately wanted to protect me. I was no longer able to hold back the tears.

Angry.

Guilty.

Sad.

Enraged.

The emotions switched back and forth inside me. It was time for me to join them. As I waited to enter the stage I heard my stepfather say the words I had read in my mom’s college paper. Jessica is severely mentally ill. She has no grasp of reality. She is a paranoid schizophrenic. I never touched her. She is a liar. His words bounced off me as my body trembled with rage and fear.

Even after thirty years, he still denied he ever sexually abused me. When asked how I could have accused him before he began the abuse on my sister, he said it was “convenient.” My accusations came, were denied, and then he admittedly sexually abused his own daughter, although he stated it wasn’t abuse. There was no way to make him understand how ludicrous it all sounded. There was no point in fighting. He did get it. He never would. My rage switched to pity.

I felt sorry for him. For him not seeing the truth. For being so sick that he doesn’t understand what he did. For being old and lonely. For not having a family. For so many reasons.

When he left stage, he fell into my lap. I could either catch him, or let him fall. As the old man fell, I had to catch him. How could I hurt him? His head brushed against my breasts and he looked up at me and his pathetic eyes were thankful. I saved my abuser, while he continues to harm me. Thankfully they edited this part out of the show, so only the audience saw.

After he left the stage, Dr. Phil offered my sister and I the opportunity to travel to Onsite –the worldwide leader in therapeutic and personal growth workshops, where he said we could work on healing our past trauma. Onsite is located in Tennessee. It would mean more travel, more time away from the kids, and George, and work. Before he was even finished talking, I had already came up with a hundred reasons why it wouldn’t work for me, why I couldn’t go, and how it wouldn’t help. I am healed. I had already worked on so much of my healing, and writing my book did tremendous amounts of healing my past trauma. How could it help?

The show ended –no mention of my book. The familiar taste of rejection filled my mouth. As I left the stage, I could feel tears running down my cheeks. Maybe my book wasn’t good enough to be mentioned. What if he hated it? What if it was trash, rubbish, pure junk? What if everything I believed was false. What if I wasn’t an author after all? My book and I were no good. There was the proof.

So, what was the I said earlier? I am healed…yeah…think again.

Self-hating thoughts would not leave my head for the first few days back home. As with many other events in my life, what I expected and what happened were totally different. Disappointment lingered. I researched Onsite. I wanted to know more. I reached out to the admissions department and was interviewed. The program that would best help me was believed to be Healing Trauma. I completed an application and sent it to be looked over. I was told they would let me know if I was accepted into the program.

Suddenly, this place I had no interest in going to was now some place I had to go. They had to let me in, right? I checked my email every few seconds…still nothing…what if I was too messed up to go? What if the stuff that happened to me really wasn’t that bad and I was just overreacting my whole entire life? The thoughts returned…your book is no good…who wants to read about boring stuff anyway? Maybe you are crazy. Maybe you need more help than they can give you. Maybe…fill in the blank…you get the idea.

The email from Onsite arrived in my inbox…now I was too nervous to open it. As I clicked it open I read that I had been approved for the program in April. All the desire I had before to go turned in to uncertainty. For six days I would not be able to talk to my kids or George. I would not be able to be online, use email, watch the news, look at the weather, listen to Tom Petty. I would be gone from home for seven days. A prisoner of sorts, forced to work on all the past trauma. What was I thinking? Why did this sound like a good idea before?

It was too late, the plane tickets were purchased, the date was set. I was going to Onsite to heal decades of past trauma.

Continued on: Healing Trauma

Depression, Grief and Loss, healing, Hope, mental illness, Uncategorized

Survivor’s Guilt

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Seven years and ten days after my gram died, her daughter followed.

She left behind the Earthly prison of her body and mind to travel to joy and belonging. Within minutes of exiting her body, she was basking in the beauty of the sunshine–this was something that she had not been able to do for many years.

For years before her death, her wish was to sit out in the sun and feel it beat down on her skin. She rarely left the house due to her mobility, and as each day passed her by, she wished for better days.

Depression and guilt haunted her, and stole many pieces of her. She was barely able to exist some days. She had many dreams, many wishes, and the heart of a child.

One of her wishes, the one that I remember the longest, was to be a published author. She passed her love of writing to me; it was the one thing that we shared. Maybe my dream of being an author came from her–it was also the one thing I always hoped for.

When my book became a reality, I had a hard time feeling the joy it should have brought. I was sad. Sad that I was able to fulfill a dream we both had shared. Sad that I was able to find strength within myself to fight the depression and the blocks. Guilty that I lived to tell the story.

When I think back to the life my mom lived, a sadness comes over me. Her life was much like mine. We shared many of the same kinds of abuse, but we were never close enough to talk about it. There was a distance between us. I was unable to reach her in the places that I longed for.

I tried my best to save her, but I couldn’t. No one could. So I had to save myself. Through my healing, I think of my mom often. I struggle with knowing she was unable to find her own strength. Guilt overwhelms me when I think about all of her suffering. Shame shadows me as I think about the secrets I exposed.

I struggle with the reality of what was. I wish things could have been different. I long for her love, for her to see who I was. I dream of having a childhood, where I could have been a child. And then I feel guilty all over again. My insides cringe when I think back to how much my mom suffered.

But I suffered too.

Then, the cycle circles back to thoughts of why was I able to have a different outcome? Why was I able to travel on my healing journey when she wasn’t. These thoughts alone can take me to a place I don’t want to be. They interfere with my healing. I didn’t know what this was called, until I talked with my counselor. Survivor’s Guilt.

I felt guilty because I could crawl out of the trenches. I felt guilty because I could fight the demons. I felt guilty that I succeeded. I felt guilty that I am alive, living and thriving when she never did.

Giving these feelings a name helped ease some of the guilt. Understanding what I was feeling made me see that it was normal. It did not mean I was throwing away my healing, but that my heart held love for my mother.

I wish my mom’s life had of been different. I wish our life together could have been different. The past cannot be changed, but it can be learned from. I consider the lessons a gift.

Enjoy your freedom Mom. Until we meet again. Spring 2016 855