Depression, Grief and Loss, Hope, Love, poetry

The World Keeps Turning

Today is the twenty-sixth anniversary of my dad’s death. He was thirty-seven. In eleven years, he will have been gone as long as he was alive. That thought is hard to wrap my head around. Everyday is a new day, that he does not get to live. Everyday is a new day that I get the chance to make it count.

Some days are harder to remember the gifts set before me, and they are easily taken for granted. Days pass by, and things are left for tomorrow. It is easy to forget that tomorrow may not come. It is easy to forget life has an end point, and that we do not get to know when it all stops.

The last few days, I have been paralyzed with emotion. Not depressed, more like observing. There have been so many things that have happened, and so many things that I wanted to write about. Good things, hard things, memories, feelings, accomplishments…and no words were able to escape. Even today, writing this, I feel the distant block of the words that want to come, but can’t.

Life doesn’t wait,

Like the tide crashing into the rocks.

Like the sun setting behind the mountain.

Life keeps moving,

Even when we are not.

Days pass by,

The sun rises and sets.

The seasons change,

Whether we do or not.

We can wait until the perfect moment,

But life keeps moving.

Stuck in the past,

The present doesn’t wait.

It comes everyday,

And there is nothing that will halt it.

We can be at a standstill,

For days,

For months,

For years.

But life keeps moving.

It is up to us to catch it.

To live it.

To love it.

To find joy in the misery.

To find purpose.

To find balance.

Keep moving.

Embrace the gift of life.

In Memory of Russell Hall

November 12, 1954-June 14, 1992

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.

 

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

Grief and Loss, healing, Hope, Love, Uncategorized

I Will Love You Forever

Nine years. Nine long years since she crossed over. When she died, I did too. I was lost without her in this cruel, lonely world. My days went black, and darkness surrounded me. I wallowed in my misery.

For seven years. And then, I started to live again. After seven years of pain and suffering, I allowed it to escape my grip. I let go. With letting go, I was able to feel her love as it surround me. It was always there, but I was too tightly wound up in the depression to allow it to sink in to me.

When her love began to replace my dread and worry, I started taking steps toward my healing. I shed a layer of pain, and began to live again. To love again. I knew she would want me to live, and would have been upset with me for letting so many days pass by me. We only have one chance at this life, and I was reborn into a new life.

As I stepped out of each layer of hurt and sorrow, I began to feel lighter, and the dark spaces began to illuminate. My gram was my cheerleader, even in death. When life felt overwhelming, I felt her push me forward. If I held onto fear, she held my hand as I tackled the new challenge. When I cried, she was there to wipe them off my cheeks. When I had something to celebrate, she was there to witness my joy.

As a child, it was her that made me want to do my best. It was her that I wanted to impress. It is still her that makes me strive for new goals. She built me up in a sea of people who tore me down. And, now, as always, she is by my side, making sure I have what I need.

It took me a long time –seven years to be exact, to understand that she gave me the tools I needed to survive. While she was alive, and still. She taught me everything I needed to know, guided me toward greatness, and loved me without exception. Before she left this Earth, she made sure I was going to be okay. Being okay did not mean never struggling again, but it meant that I would be able to overcome any challenge thrown at me. It meant never giving up. It meant finding love within myself, and trusting enough to find it in others.

I am okay. I will always have what I need because I have her love.

Thank you Gram. I will love you forever.

gas lighting, healing, Hope, mental illness, Uncategorized

Gas-Lighting and Perspective

Recently I have been thinking a lot about my past. Writing my memoir, The Monster That Ate My Mommy only scratched the surface of my story. Even after completing it, and receiving feedback, I still did not fully understand the magnitude of the abuse that I endured. I still told myself, “It wasn’t that bad.”

It was only recently that everything shifted and I was able to see. To really see. The dots began to connect. Everything that I had tried to brush off as “not that bad,” began to reveal how bad it truly was.

My entire childhood was filled with psychological warfare, and the baton was passed to my ex-husband to continue to keep me under the spell. I didn’t see this before. I forgave so intensely, that I did not allow myself to fully understand the damage that had been caused.

I existed my whole life in their made up reality. And yet, I never fell completely. I never gave in, but my world was altered. I believed untrue things about myself as I was fed their poison.

I struggle with the image of myself. That is my one weakness. I did not understand why the barrier to my truth was so difficult to penetrate. I did not see what others saw. And then, it hit me. A tiny spot on the mirror was wiped clean and I began to see. I began to understand the extent of the abuse I was subjected to.

My reality was tested as I looked back on the past thirty-six years. The world as I knew it was rocked under my feet as I heard the voices from the abusers circle my thoughts.

8346-illustration-of-lips-whispering-into-an-ear-pv “You’re crazy.”

“You’ll never be happy.”8346-illustration-of-lips-whispering-into-an-ear-pv

8346-illustration-of-lips-whispering-into-an-ear-pv “You just want to get people in trouble.”

“You don’t know how to have fun.” 8346-illustration-of-lips-whispering-into-an-ear-pv

8346-illustration-of-lips-whispering-into-an-ear-pv “You’re worthless.”

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The words loomed over me, settled into my skin and became my thoughts. Even when life started to look up, I continued to be pulled back to these words. I beat myself up over the hold they had over me, which in turn, added to their strength. I found myself questioning their validity, and until recently I believed them.

That was until that slight peek into reality. The grime was lifted from the mirror. It began to become clearer. I heard the same words spoken by all of the ones who had hurt me in the past, and this time instead of believing it must be true, I finally saw it.

My mother had been at the center of it all. She fed the lies to others, and coached them into treating me the way that they had.

Every.

Single.

Person.

The people who had not hurt me, who had not caused me pain all shared a connection: they were not led to me by my mother. They were people I found on my own. The people who loved me, who saw the true me, were not my mother’s minions.

It was not good enough for my mother to abuse me, she needed help. When I did not break under her spell, she enlisted others. Child abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, rape, domestic abuse…all at the hands of people my mother introduced me to.

The caveat?

I was stronger than them all.

I believed their words. I bruised under their hands. I lost pieces of myself. But, I did not give up. I kept the fight alive.

With the help from the people I introduced to my circle, my strength began to intensify. Safe people. People who love me. People who believe in me. People who push me to find my true self. People who do not let me continue to believe the lies from my mother’s distorted reality.

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These are the people cleaning off the mirror. Washing the layers of dirt and grime off to allow me to see my true self. They push out the nonsense that made up my reality and offer kindness and love. They are patient and gentle as I learn who I really am–as I see myself as they have always seen me.

Thank you to my helpers. Thank you for your patience, your love, your kindness, your understanding. Thank you for never giving up on me. Thank you for never believing the lies that my mom told. Thank you.

I do still forgive my mom. I do understand that she had her own demons she was fighting with. I now no longer live in the make believe world she created. The spell has been broken. And I am free.

Depression, healing, Hope, Uncategorized

I Always Knew

Even as a child, I knew that I could not give up. There was always something pushing me forward, and making me believe that tomorrow offered something better. In the darkest of times, I knew that there would be light. I didn’t know when, or how, but I knew.

When I felt like giving up and taking my life, I knew that I couldn’t. I knew there was a life I needed to live. When my mom was unable to love me the way I needed, I knew I would be loved. I knew there was good in people. I could see past their fear, and anger. I could see a scared child, much like myself, hiding deep below the surface.

Even when others hurt me, I felt sorry for them. I wanted to understand why they behaved the way they did. I didn’t hate the ones causing me pain, but I continued to offer love. Hoping, that maybe one day they could see what I saw. I didn’t want to give up on them, just like I was unable to give up on myself.

I never looked at myself as strong or brave, I just did what I knew I had to. I struggled almost everyday, until recently. With so many struggles pushing me down, it was hard for me to see, or listen to anything else. It was this knowing that helped me survive. The knowing pushed me to safety, even when I sometimes led myself astray.

What took me a long time to realize is, everything I ever needed was inside of myself. I didn’t trust my knowing, but it was strong enough to finally get my attention. Through the darkness, through the pain and depression it never left me. It patiently waited for me to see. I believe, with everything that I have, that this is why I am alive today.

This knowing is what fueled me. Fuel for my soul. The spark of light never completely  extinguished, and now it encases me in a golden glow.

I believe we all have this. We all know. I believe this is what gets us through the rough patches. The hard part is trusting that we have what we need.

My challenge to you is to trust that you know. Live life knowing you have what you need within yourself. Don’t give up, even when you want to. Stop, and listen. It is there. You are strong. You are brave. You know.sky

Breathe.

Live.

Know.