Believe

Last year I volunteered to help at an event during the annual Sundance Film Festival that takes place in Park City, Utah.

The reason I was helping was because, at the time, I was friends with the person who asked me to. I had already worked a long day at my job during the film festival and I was definitely tired, but I told him I would be there; so I went.

I was supposed to work the front door with another girl, to make sure the right people were getting in who were on the list. After everyone made it inside, I stood by the front door leaning against the bar.

The event was not all that interesting to me, and I was counting down the minutes until I could go home and go to sleep. As I stood there an actor approached the bar to order a drink, and then casually started making conversation with me. In all honesty, I had no idea who he was, but he seemed nice at first.

However, he became a little too forward for my liking. He started off by asking if I was an actress, and I said no. Then he commented on how beautiful he thought I was, and that I should consider getting into the industry. I laughed it off, and hoped he would walk away soon – but he didn’t.

“So, you single?” he asked, giving me a real hard look up and down for the 50th time.

“Nope.”

“Oh, you gotta man? Is he here?” He looked around real quick to see if anyone was watching him.

“No, not a man; I’m dating myself. It’s a very committed relationship.”

I was hoping my sarcastic yet fairly obvious answer that I wanted to be left alone would stop his efforts, but they seemed to challenge him to try harder.

Things escalated very quickly, because he began to proposition me to go into the backroom bathroom with him where he guaranteed to “show me a good time” because he always “satisfied the ladies with no complaints.” He also tried to grab my hand to lead me back there.

I jerked my hand away. “Please leave me alone and don’t touch me, I’m not interested.” I was literally backed into a corner of the bar and the wall next to the front door, and felt slightly panicked. If he managed to drag me back there, would anyone even notice or care? The music was super loud and it was very crowded… maybe he really could?

He laughed and waved his hands in front of him as if trying to signal that he was stopping, and he reached into his coat pocket to retrieve his wallet and pull out a business card. “Why don’t you give me a call when you change your mind and want to have a good time,” he said as he proceeded to shove the card down my shirt into my bra. I snatched it immediately and ripped it up in his face, and left him with some very choice words as I ran to find my friend to have this guy kicked out.

I went and found him, and told him what happened. I expected him to be more upset, to go have security kick him out, and to have my back. But unfortunately, he didn’t. He looked first at my chest, because I had a low cut shirt on, and then he said, “Well, look at what you’re wearing.”

That’s all he said.

Because this actor was apparently a ‘somebody’ who mattered and was important, and I was this lowly little ‘nobody’ that didn’t matter. I was furious, disgusted, and disappointed.

The Blame

Society continues to put the blame and the shame on the survivors and not the attackers. In that moment, when my friend pointed out that I had a shirt that showed a little cleavage, he was telling me “because you are wearing something that shows a little skin, he has the right to try to force you to have sex with him in the bathroom.” And this gross logic of thinking is something that many in the world share.

So, let’s test this logic then, shall we?

Historically, women have been raped since the beginning of time, right? Think back to the dark ages, where women had to be covered from pretty much their necks down; Yet, rape was still happening. Interesting, considering they were mostly covered up.

Think of the Muslim women who wear Burqas, where literally everything is covered on their body except their eyes. Do you think that stops rape from occurring in their communities? No, it doesn’t.

Or, do you remember those supposedly cute little scenarios that often show up in any cartoon portraying the cave men? You know the one, where the male clubs the female over the head and then drags her into his cave by her hair? I have to wonder that the cavewoman was probably minding her own business, trying to forage and gather food in her animal-fur outfit just trying to stay warm and alive; not wanting any sort of sexual conduct with that caveman hiding in the bushes with his club. Yet, he took what he wanted when he wanted it.

My point is, the clothing that someone is wearing does not give someone else the right to rape them, or sexually assault them.

Yet, for centuries, we are blamed for “asking for it” with the way we dress. Fairly stupid logic, since even when we do fully cover up it seems to still happen.

You know why? Because clothing does not rape people – rapists rape people.

And putting the emphasis on the way women ‘need’ to dress and ‘should’ dress is putting the blame even more on us:

Well if you dress immodestly, you’re making us have impure thoughts, then we act upon those impure thoughts… and whatever we end up forcing on you, well that is your fault for how you dressed.

Is there a scenario where any of this makes sense? I haven’t found one yet.

The Shame

Back to Sundance…

I was beyond disappointed with my supposed friend’s response to what happened to me. I told him later in the car that just because I have a low cut shirt on does not give anyone the right to touch me or proposition me to have sex in a bathroom.

I don’t give a damn who that man was – he had absolutely no right to do what he did. And I am grateful that nothing beyond what did happen, happened. Because to the movie industry in Hollywood maybe he is a “somebody”… but so am I! Shaming me into silence or letting him do whatever he wants because of who the world thinks he is wrong. Every survivor of sexual assault and rape is a somebody to someone! We all matter! 

We can’t keep shaming people who come forward, and then supporting those who attacked them. Why does society immediately believe the accused rather than the one accusing? Everyone immediately thinks they are lying for attention, instead of being horrified about what they are actually claiming happened.

It makes me sick that society is always more willing to believe the attacker over the survivor. And that we then try to shame them to remain silent. And if they ever do find the courage to come forward and try to report it, no matter how long its been, they are always ridiculed and cut down.

If you’ve never been in the shoes of surviving sexual assault, then you’ll never understand how scary and difficult it is to come forward to tell someone what happened. Look at what we have to fight against just for people to believe us!

When Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward with her allegations against Judge Kavanaugh, everyone ridiculed her for coming out now. Why now? Why did she wait so long to come forward about it? To many in society, it seemed just a smear campaign to ruin his run at becoming a Supreme Court Justice.

But, right now was the time. Because if her coming forward can help stop such a man from gaining more power, and protecting the future generations, then it is indeed the right time.

If we keep filling important and powerful positions in our government at this rate, we will eventually be ruled, governed, and groomed by Brock Turners, and Trumps, and Kavanaughs. So, Blasey-Ford stepping forward now will hopefully prevent that from happening. I stand with her, I believe her, and I want this to be another stepping stone on this #metoo campaign to continue to change the world.

“May our daughters have none of her trauma,

and all of her courage” – Jessica Clarendon

Believe

We all deserve to live in a world where we feel safe, loved, believed, and heard. Yesterday,  Blasey-Ford bravely testified in court about what happened, and she had the support of millions standing behind her holding her up. Her voice carried the silent voices of so many victims before her, who have never had the chance to speak their truths to try and take down their attackers.

Unfortunately her testimony did not stop him from being voted into the supreme court. Even so, I am still hopeful that maybe… just maybe… this will still be a good stepping stone to help us be heard.

As I’ve said before, I am a survivor myself. And I refuse to ever be silenced again about it. Because maybe there’s nothing I can do about my own rape that happened 15 years ago, but my courage to speak out may help someone else find justice for themselves. My voice may bring comfort to someone struggling with their own painful darkness. My words can help calm someone who is feeling triggered through all of this being blasted in the media right now.

To anyone reading this now, just know that you are not alone. Together we rise through this, and together we will break down the walls that oppress us. Because enough is enough. Keep going, keep fighting, and hold each other up. #timesup #believesurvivors #metoo

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It’s Just a Phase

If you know me, you know something that I love is the moon.

It always fascinated me as a child; I remember staring at it out the car window or my bedroom window, watching the phases grow larger and then smaller.

And it’s the phases of the moon that have particularly become most relevant to me in my life, the deeper symbolism behind it all.

The reason I have come to relate so much to the phases of the moon, is because of my history of cutting (and yes… I promise I will make the two connect!)

For those of you suddenly feeling uncomfortable about the topic of self-mutilation, self-harm, cutting etc… I’m not going to say sorry about it, because mental health needs to become less of a taboo topic and more freely spoken about. So for that reason, I invite you to keep reading. The more we know, the more we can understand and help those in our lives who are struggling!

The Beginning Phase

My own thoughts to cut started back when I was in middle school in the suburbs of Philadelphia. My mom had been diagnosed with terminal cancer the year before, and I was still struggling everyday because of it all.

I had no name or even an idea yet of what these internal, emotional issues I was dealing with every day were. How could I? I was only 13 so at the time I still didn’t fully know what depression was supposed to look like or feel like; or that those awful bouts of feeling like the world was ending and I couldn’t breathe and I thought I was having a heart attack were really panic attacks.

Sitting in health class one day in 7th grade we were in the part of our curriculum where we learned about eating disorders, depression, suicide, and self-mutilation (which for the record: suicide and self-harm are two separate things. However, sometimes self-harm can morph itself into suicidal thoughts and tendencies; it’s just good to know they are initially two separate, but both very serious, things.)

There it was, I finally had a name to the dark face I was dealing with.

It was scary and relieving at the same time to finally know that what I was feeling, this urge to cut myself, was called -self-mutilation; and it was something so many people also dealt with! So I wasn’t going crazy like I worried about all the time.

Once I knew what it was, I did some research in the school library (because yes… I’m old and this was before the days of Googling everything…) and I felt more able to handle all of the feelings I was dealing with in a healthier outlet.

Now I don’t recommend this at all, because I think everyone should talk to someone in their family or a friend or a teacher, or whoever if they are feeling the urge to cut themselves, or are very depressed, or having panic attacks and/or anxiety. But just for me, I didn’t feel like I could talk to anyone about it. At the time, my sister was dealing with her own emotional demons stemming from my mom’s cancer, and my dad was so stressed and busy and sad with it all too, that I didn’t want to bring that on him. My older brother was currently living in France as he served a Christian mission for the LDS Church, so I couldn’t really talk to him about it either. And of course, I didn’t want my mom to know, because she was the one with cancer. And honestly, for most of the time I didn’t even know what the hell I was feeling or how to even express it, even if I wanted to.

So, brave little 13 year old me decided to deal with things on my own, and I internalized it all. I created ways to calm myself down when I was feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, or the dark thoughts of grabbing any sharp objects in my house and cutting myself. I’m not even sure how I figured it out at such a young age, but I figured out a way of what I can only call meditating, to ground myself when my thoughts began spinning and spiraling to dark places.

Honestly, I can only attribute it to God – hearing my constant pleas for help and peace. He saved me more than I think I’ll ever even know.

The First Cut

Now, fast forward to about 3 years ago.

I was deep in the belly of the beast of my miserable marriage. My husband was a narcissistic, abusive, alcoholic. We had a horrible fight the night before, similar to most nights, and I was feeling worn completely raw from the physical and verbal abuse and trauma.

Standing there in the kitchen, I was food prepping for my new Whole30 diet I had decided to start a few weeks prior, because I felt like the only thing I could control in my life anymore was food. I was cutting some sweet potatoes and I accidentally sliced the top of my middle left finger.

Instantly it hurt and the blood went everywhere on the cutting board. But in a strange way, it made me feel a little better. It sounds so weird and so barbaric, I know, but feeling that sting of the cut and then seeing the blood released from me made me feel better. (Which is actually from the dopamine and endorphins that are released in your brain when you cut yourself. This is your body’s way of trying to trick your mind into not feeling the pain you’re feeling; instead you feel that quick shot of happiness from the endorphins and you feel “good” from the dopamine.)

So… I cut another finger. I only just barely sliced the top of my left index finger, but again I felt that almost euphoric feeling.

Then, I panicked and was like HOLY SH*T WHAT AM I DOING? and I cleaned my hands off and bandaged both fingers. I felt weird, and I felt ashamed for doing that I had just done… but I couldn’t shake the feeling of relief I felt when I did it.

Well, that was the gateway cut for me, to begin a short lived but very dark period in my life. Quite honestly, I think that for sure was my rock bottom. I was beyond depressed, I had been isolated by my partner from my family and my friends, and I had no outlet or way to deal with all the trauma and pain.

I continued to randomly cut my fingers, because it was easy. Eventually, I started using razor blades to cut on my upper right hip, and then moved to my inner left elbow. I’m not sure why I chose where I cut, it was just where I felt inspired to do so in the moments it happened.

And when I say “inspired” it was not an uplifting thing, it was quite the opposite; it was as if my body were taken over by a very dark presence and I was out of my body watching myself do it. It’s so hard to explain.

Finally, one night after I had cut my arm, I broke down completely in tears in the bathroom, and was afraid I would wake the sleeping drunken beast in the room, so I went downstairs. I felt so crushingly alone, as if the entire universe were pressing down on me. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t even think straight.

I texted the one person I knew would answer, and I knew would be there for me in that moment: my twin sister.

I can’t remember exactly what I had texted her, but it was something along the lines of “I’m Ok, but I just wanted to reach out to someone and let you know I cut my arm tonight. I’m just feeling really sad.”

Of course, immediately she called me. It was around midnight from what I can recall. The worry and panic in her voice made me feel ashamed for what I had been doing, because I felt awful I was hurting her by hurting myself. She talked to me for awhile, and listened while I cried, and I promised her I would never do it again; and if I ever felt the urge to do it, I would call her. The most important thing she said, though, was that she loved me and would always be there. That snapped me out of the isolated gas-lighted prison I had been trapped in, and I realized she would always be there for me; and had been this whole time. All I needed to do was reach out. I hadn’t been alone, like I’d been manipulated and controlled to feel… of course my rock, my twin sister, would never leave my side.

Having her keeping me accountable, definitely helped me control my urges to cut. It made me think more logically about what I was feeling, and then of course I never wanted to hurt her again by having to tell her I had cut myself again.

It made me think of this quote I heard once…

If you can’t tell your best friend what you’re                                                                    doing, you probably shouldn’t be doing it!

Now, again fast forward to the present. The last time I cut myself was what I just described, 3 years ago. Granted, the urge to do it still rears its’ ugly head every now and again, but I have the emotional stability and strength to not go there again for relief.

Also, I attribute a lot of my recovery to therapy, self-love, and making an effort to only surround my life with positive and uplifting people and activities. I also finally plan on starting EMDR therapy, which specializes in PTSD  and trauma specifically. I will definitely post about that when I start!

Just a Phase

The reason I love the moon so much, is because of the symbolism behind the phases.

The moon constantly fluctuates from being whole, to diminishing into completely darkness. Yet, no matter what, it always phases back to become whole again, and back to it’s full light potential.

This resonates with me, because that part of my life, that uttermost darkness I was barely surviving in; it was just a phase. It was not my forever.

So I have been able to slowly build myself back up, to come back from the darkness, and become whole again in the light. It’s symbolic of reincarnation, a new beginning. An ever forward moving cycle of life.

Because of this, I have been considering for a long time about getting a tattoo in that spot on my left inner elbow (which I briefly talked about here) which would help me remember where I am now, and not remember that dark phase before. I have a tiny scar there, and wanted to put something there that would inspire me and strengthen me, and remind me that I am in a new phase of my life, a wonderful and amazing phase; instead of remembering how sad and hurt I was when I created that scar.

I finally went, a month ago, and got my tattoo. If you’re in the Salt Lake area, Alex Gregory is fantastic and I recommend her to anyone!

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This is the day I got it! Right when I walked out of the tattoo parlor

If you, or anyone you know, are having thoughts of cutting, suicide, anxiety, depression, and feeling impossibly alone… I urge you to please reach out to someone! Don’t deal with it alone like I did, there are so many resources and so many people who love you and want to help you!

Also, if you are in an abusive and/or dangerous relationship, there are resources for you too. There are places you can go to be safe.

I will list a bunch of hotline numbers you can reach out to you, and I beg of you to please do. Also, I know many of you don’t know me, but I am here as a resource too. I will help you as best as I can, and get you directed to where you can go for the best advice or care possible. My email is: aly.paintedwithgold@gmail.com

Remember, it only needs to be a phase. It doesn’t need to be your forever. The darkness can always change orbit again, and you can become full and whole again in the light.

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National Hotlines:

 

Utah Hotlines:

  • The CrisisLine : 801-587-3000
  • Utah Domestic Violence Coalition : 1-800-897-LINK (5465)

 

 

 

Rwanda Part 2: Lake Kivu, Kibuye, & Kigali

(Read Rwanda Part 1 here to catch up!)

June 15 Lake Kivu in Kibuye – The Cormoran Lodge

Waking up under the large mosquito net on our king size bed that Heather and I shared, I rolled over and could see the sun poking through the closed curtains from our balcony. I got up and opened them, letting the full views pour into our room.

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View of the other tree houses from our front balcony 

This spot in the city of Kibuye at The Cormoran Lodge, overlooking Lake Kivu, was one of the most beautiful places ever! We woke up quite early (not by our own decision) because Steve and SueAnne were talking pretty loudly out on their balcony below us around 6 am, but with a view like that I couldn’t really complain.

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The view from our back balcony onto Lake Kivu

After breakfast in the resort restaurant again, our group split up: Steve, SueAnne, and Anne headed into the nearby town to do some shopping. Heather, Poppa, and myself walked down to the dock to catch a boat with Mr. Kirenga.

Our destination was: Napoleon Island, so named because of how it’s shape resembles the hat Napoleon famously wore.

The motor boat was small, with a roof overhead, and could fit about 8 people. Our driver was a cute local triathlete named Ken. Hoping to see him in the Olympics someday!

The ride to the island was so great, stopping first to see some local fisherman unpacking their boats from a long night of fishing on the lake.

Then turning out towards the open water, we passed some other resorts currently under construction on a nearby hill, and a gigantic private home which is apparently owned by a man from Germany, and houses the king when he comes to Lake Kivu. It was pretty impressive.

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The private home where the King stays

We stopped at a small island covered densely in trees, when we saw a cute little furry face pop up from a branch. It was an adorable Vervet Monkey, and as we came closer he also came closer. When we reached the shore he hopped right onto our boat and checked us out.

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Waiting patiently for treats

According to Ken, he is notorious for visiting the tourists on the boats because he is hoping to get some treats. He walked around the boat, looking into all of our eyes hoping we would feed him. He sat patiently for a moment or two, and then when he realized we had nothing for him he left looking very disappointed, and watched us pull away from the trees.

As we got closer to Napoleon Island, Ken told us about a local farmer who brings his cows to the island everyday to graze. The amazing part though, is he ties them to the back of the boat and they swim behind it! I had no idea cows swam!! Plus they were really cute cows 🙂

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Blurry from the boat.. the farmer and his swimming cows!

Ken led us up the hiking path, which would bring us to the real reason we came to the island: the fruit bats!! The hike was pretty steep and rocky, but it only took us a few minutes to reach the bats.

But don’t worry, you can hear them the minute you get on the island, because there are over 5 million fruit bats living there!

Once we reach a good enough spot, Ken started clapping his hands and ALLLLLL the bats woke up and started screeching and flying around. It was incredible!

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After watching them for awhile we hiked back down to the boat. I ended up slipping once and fell right on the edge of a rock, which bruised my lower back pretty good. Poppa also ended up falling too! Heather and I were pretty sad we couldn’t prevent him from falling, but he assured us that he was just fine!

Going back to the lodge, we ate some lunch and then all went to take some nice long naps. Heather and I then decided to put on our swim suits and go down the the little sandy beach area and enjoy the sunshine. We didn’t dare swim in the lake though, because Poppa scared us pretty good about the parasites in the water that will get into your skin and cause itchy uncomfortable bumps, kind of similar to swimmers itch.

Everyone eventually joined us down by the water, except for SueAnne who went and took a late nap. The others decided to all go kayaking, so Heather and I watched them from the shore on our lounge chairs.

We met a few girls who were also staying there, who all work for the UN and are stationed in the Congo. I was so inspired by them and their work, and their passion to help those in the Congo.

Later after dinner, when everyone else had gone to bed – Heather, Poppa, and me talked for awhile just the three of us. We talked very intimately about our birth mom Sherri (Poppa’s oldest child) and when we were conceived and then put up for adoption. I had never heard the story from Poppa’s point of view, and it was such a tender and wonderful moment to have with him and Heather. I will forever be grateful for Sherri and her ability to make the best decision for us at the time, which was to put us up for adoption. She and her entire family hoped that one day we would return to find them, and when we did 4 years ago it was such a magical moment I will never forget. The Hales are just another extension of my family now, and I feel so blessed to have all of them in my life again.

June 16 Back to Kigali

The next morning we left the beautiful lodge on the lake to head back to Kigali. We stopped first at the local market to SueAnne and Anne could pick up their dresses they had made by one of the seamstresses. Their dresses were cute!

While in that market, a younger boy, in his 20’s I think, tried to pick pocket me. I noticed immediately, and he was not successful. I just smiled at him and walked away. It was so funny because I wasn’t angry at all, I honestly felt sorry for him that he felt the need to steal from me. I wished I could have just given him some money, but I didn’t want to start pandemonium with all the little kids who were following us “mizungus” around (white people).

About an hour into our ride home several of us needed to pee, so we pulled off into a small village. We each took turns running into the awful, dirty toilet room; held our breath and peed as quickly as possible over the open hole on the ground.

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This lady selling mangos right outside the “bathroom” we stopped at

Walking back to our car, a very handsome local man named Iman started talking to Heather and Anne, and offered to show us the market located just above the bathroom on the hill. We said “YOLO” and followed him, because we wanted to experience a local market without any touristy items.

We were definitely the spectacle in that market! Everyone stared at us immediately, and then wanted us to come look at their goods! Iman kept talking to everyone in Kinyarwanda  and we were pretty sure several times he was making jokes about us because they kept laughing at us! But it was all in good spirits so we couldn’t help but laugh at ourselves too.

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I bought a few of these African bananas in the market.. they were one of my favorite things to eat in Rwanda! Soooo much better than normal bananas! 

SueAnne ended up buying 2 drums covered in spotted goat skin. When she started drumming on them with her hands an elderly Rwandan lady got quite a kick out of it, and laughed so hard at her! We honestly must have seemed so strange and out of place to them!

The drive back to Kigali was beautiful, passing by many villages, seeing so many hills, and a gorgeous waterfall.

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We also made a brief stop to see the famous Hotel Rwanda once we got back to Kigali. Now, it’s actually called Hotel des Mille Collines  and has been renovated since the genocide in the 90s.

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The manager of the hotel during the 90’s, Paul Rusesabagina, helped hide and save over 1000 Tutsi refugee lives. Although now it is just a renovated hotel, it was still important for us to go there and see it.

If you’ve never read or learned about the genocide in Rwanda, do yourself and favor and study it. Just like the holocaust, and any other genocide that has occurred, it is important to educate ourselves about it so that we never forget and change history from ever repeating itself.

I will write more about the genocide in my final post about Rwanda, when we visited The Kigali Genocide Memorial.

We checked back into The Flame Tree Hotel around 2 pm, and decided to go meet by the pool for a swim with Poppa because it was incredibly hot and humid outside.

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However, the pool was ice cold! Poppa was the bravest of us, and went all the way under and swam two laps. I couldn’t bear to go past my waist!

Since Poppa had been the bravest we decided he had earned himself some Fanta Fiestas! He was pretty disappointed when they said they were sold out and only had Fanta Lemon, so he settled for those instead.

We all ordered soup for dinner and called it an early night.

June 17th Kigali

This day was a Sunday, so we decided to go check out the local LDS Church. According to Poppa; the current President of Rwanda, Kagame, had abolished all practicing religions from taking place. This was because there had been many different “pastors” and “bishops” who had come in after the genocide to start new congregations, and took these people’s money and disappeared. As if the Rwandan people hadn’t been through enough! In order to control his people no longer being taken advantage of, Kagame just abolished all publicly practiced religions.

So, in order to continue meeting every church had to abandon their original churches and worship houses, and find other places to do so in secrecy.

For the LDS congregation, they were sharing a space to meet inside a local hotel’s conference room with 2 other Christian churches. However, every month or so they had to change locations so the government wouldn’t shut them down again. These people are faithful to keep moving around just so they can worship together!

The meeting we attended was interesting, but so full of love and kindness. The members of the congregation were welcoming and friendly, and almost all of them made an effort to come say hello to us! I myself was pretty obsessed with this little girl who was sitting on the same row as us, with a matching dress and headscarf just like her mama! She was too shy though and wouldn’t come see me or Heather, much to our dismay.

Leaving church, we went to a few markets. There was not much else to do in Kigali that day, so we thought we might as well shop!

We stopped first at a smaller market, but it was where we ended up all buying things. Each little “store” basically had the same items, but with small variations. I was very picky with what I wanted to buy and lug all the way back on the long flights, so eventually I decided on a cute basket that I would hang over my bed at home.

We went to another market, this one specializing in fabrics and seamstresses. It was an absolute MADHOUSE. It was inside a giant warehouse, and literally from the floor to the ceiling, each small “store” was covered with all different bright patterns and colors. The vendors were almost ravenous to have you come buy from them, pulling you in all directions to come see their stuff.

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It’s super blurry but gives you the idea! Those rows of fabrics go back further than the eye can see! It was insanity! 

Immediately I felt overwhelmed with anxiety, feeling so closed in on all sides. While SueAnne became engulfed in a sea of vendors, Heather and I broke off from the crowd and went into a less enclosed aisle. I ended up buying a cute head band from a local vendor named Tom, who Poppa also bought a cute pair of pants from for Dianne back home.

Figuring the Alders would take awhile, Heather Poppa and I went back to the hotel since Poppa needed to connect with one of the local residents at the Kigali Hospital where he would be working the next week. We ordered some grilled cheeses and Poppa shared some fun medical stories from all of his career in the international  infectious disease medical world, while we waited for the resident to show up. Unfortunately for us, it is normal for Rwandans to add mayonnaise to grilled cheese, so I was worried we would become sick from it. (Spoiler Alert: none of us did!)

Leonardo the resident finally showed up, and Poppa gave him the laptop and cords he had brought for him from Utah. He seemed in awe of Poppa, and was so honored to be working with him. Poppa is just amazing!

Then we helped Poppa pack his things into a taxi, and headed down the street to the MTM building to get some money from an ATM machine, and get some ice cream. Because if there’s one thing you need to know about my Poppa, it’s that he loooooves his ice cream!

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It was delicious! We all chose chocolate.

Dropping us back off at Flame Tree, we said our goodbyes to Poppa. He would be heading to his fancy hotel by the hospital, where he would be working with the residents for the next week.

I knew I would miss him on our next adventures heading to Akagera National Park, and then to the volcanoes to see the gorillas, but I was so excited for what lay ahead for us!

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#sorrynotsorry

Why do we live in a world where we constantly feel like we need to say sorry?

“Sorry I’m late”

“Sorry I missed your call”

“Sorry for if what I said offended you”

“Sorry for telling the truth”

“Sorry I made a mistake”

“Sorry I’m not good enough”

“Sorry I can’t afford that”

“Sorry I can’t make it”

I mean, the list can obviously go on and on.

Why do we say sorry so often? Why has this become a core factor in our communication?

The Bad Day

I started thinking about this the other night, Monday night, after I had an epically frustrating and awful day. It was one of those days where everything seems to go wrong, and the universe seems particularly focused on making you suffer. Things had also been building up for a few days that had been wearing on me, and finally it just broke me.

Because of everything seeming to go wrong, and that had built up, I ended up being in the worst mood. I was easily defeated and frustrated, and had the worst attitude about everything. I snapped at people. To say the least, I was not the most pleasant person that day.

After such a day like that, I felt like I had been an emotional tornado ripping through everything and everyone I had crossed paths with, and I felt this intense guilt and need to apologize for being in such a foul mood and having had the worst attitude.

Later that night, I was hanging out with a few girlfriends and one in particular brought up the subject of how we as a society, especially women, feel the need to apologize too often and when its not even necessary.

She said something so simple yet so profound, and I thought about it so much since then:

Don’t apologize for being human, and for what you’ve done. Embrace who you are, accept what has happened in that moment or in that day, learn from it, and move on. Own who you are, own your choices and your mistakes, and let them refine you.

So no… I did not in fact owe anyone from that day an apology. It is only human to have a bad day, to be in a grumpy mood sometimes, and to every once in a while lose my cool.

In essence I did nothing wrong, but why did I feel such strong guilt about needing to apologize for the way I handled it that day? In reality I just had a bad day, and everyone has bad days. Instead of feeling sorry or saying sorry, I needed to adjust my perspective and just learn from the ways I reacted and move on.

Tired of Being Sorry

So the truth is, I’m tired of being sorry.

Why am I allowing society dictate how I should feel? How I should act, or what I should be doing?

I don’t believe I was given this life, just to have to apologize for it constantly. Should a fire apologize for burning? Or the water for being wet? No. So why then, do we feel like we should apologize for being human?

I’ve made a resolution that from now on I will live unapologetically as my authentic self. At least I will try my best!

No one gets to decide when I’m “too much”; no one gets to tell me when I’m “too loud” or that I’m “wrong”, or decide my passions in life.

It is my humanly given right to make mistakes, to have control and ownership of my choices, to be messy and sometimes reckless, to be a bit wild and untamable; and I won’t apologize for it anymore. This is me, take it or leave it.

That being said, though, of course this does not include instances where I do end up making a choice or mistake that does hurt someone else. Then of course I will own that and apologize to them. I’m not a monster, people 🙂

Things We Need to Stop Apologizing For

I’ve compiled a list of things I think we all need to stop apologizing for, especially we as women. I’ve also included some examples to help clarify the points behind them:

01. Your Personal Priorities

They are yours, and you get to decide what is important and what is not. The end.

02. Your Flaws

We are all uniquely made, and given unique purposes and skills. So something we end up lacking or failing at, shouldn’t be something we have to be sorry for. It just means we are one step closer on our life path to discovering our true selves. So flaws should be celebrated because of that, and not something we should be shamed for.

03. Following Your Dreams and Passions

Just like 01, your dreams and passions are not up to anyone else. You get to decide! So never allow the world to make you feel sorry or ashamed of what you want and how you’re going to achieve them. You want to put your blood, sweat, and tears into starting a new business but your friends/family are giving you grief because you’re ‘never around anymore’ or ‘never return their calls or texts’? Tell them you can’t keep people in your life that don’t support what you’re working your booty off to achieve.

Ain’t nobody got time for negativity!

Or, someone tries to tell you the thing you want most in life is stupid or not worth it? Or that you’ll never be able to reach it? That’s not their decision, and not their right to dictate to you how you should spend your time and effort. It’s your life, it’s your passion, and your dream; never be sorry for going after what your heart wants. Even if you fail, at least you tried, you learned, and you will continue on your life path.

04. Saying No

This one is a big one. People always try to convince to me go do something I don’t want to, and then make me feel guilty or bad for not wanting to. Why has this become OK?

If I don’t want to go to a party or an event, no one has the right to make me feel like I’m a ‘bad friend’ for not wanting to go. Doesn’t that seem hypocritical, since they’re technically being the bad friend for trying to shame me into going to something I don’t want to?

Its OK to say no! Never apologize for standing up for yourself, and saying no. Say ‘yes’ to saying ‘no!’ You will feel so much more in control of your life and your happiness when you stop allowing others to choose or tell you what you should do.

05. Telling The Truth

Just like the saying goes, the truth hurts sometimes. But in the end, the truth is more important than sugar-coating things or telling white lies to avoid offending or hurting someone’s feelings.

Now, don’t go around purposely being mean or nasty, but stop lying. Lying never leads to anywhere positive or good. Just tell the raw, honest truth but do it in a nice way. I promise it’s better! But… stop saying sorry when you do it. The truth needs to be said.

06. Loving Someone

And here’s another popular saying, “It’s better to have loved, and lost, than to have never loved at all.”

It sucks, but it’s true, people. We need to allow ourselves to be open to loving others, even when it ends up breaking our hearts, because that is also a continual rite of passage and path of growth as humans that we must travel on.

Yes, we all have at some time or another loved someone we maybe shouldn’t have. Me? yeah, I’ve done it twice. But I won’t apologize for it, even if the world wants me to feel bad or even stupid for doing it. “Well, you should have known better,” the world might say. Or, “Don’t make that mistake again.

But, in all honesty, I don’t regret anyone I’ve loved, even though both of them hurt me tremendously and broke me down to almost nothing. I don’t regret it and I will not apologize for it. The beauty about choosing to love, despite the potential of rejection, pain, heart-break, and sometimes trauma; is that it opens us up to love on new levels that we only can reach through choosing to love someone. It’s the necessary evil our hearts need to experience.

So, even if it ends in a heart break, it is always worth it to love someone, and it’s never something you should apologize for.

07. Standing Up For What You Believe In

This has been one I’ve felt like I need to apologize for my whole life. I am a member of the LDS Church, or better known as, I am a Mormon. I grew up outside of Philadelphia, where the members of my church were far and few between. In high school, my twin sister and I constantly dealt with feeling ashamed or having to apologize for what we believed in because of our religion. “Sorry, we don’t drink.” “Sorry, we don’t have sex.”

Etc, etc, etc….

It’s ironic that as a society we all want to believe in something; yet if that something we choose to believe in is not up to “society standards”, then we feel like we should apologize for it.

Why are we being so straight up #savage to one another guys??

If you believe in something (granted it’s not something hurtful to others, extremist and/or violent, hateful, or anything of that nature,) don’t let the world make you feel sorry for it.

One of the most beautiful things about everyone on the planet is how we all believe in different  things, yet we can (sometimes) find ways to coexist and support one another.

If we all believed in the same thing, conformed to the same ideals and standards and thoughts, this world would be a boring, awful place.

08. Being a Strong, Intelligent, Confident Woman

Historically, we as women have been apologizing since apparently the apple situation with Eve. We’ve needed to apologize for having voices, for wanting power, for wanting to show some more skin, for having emotions, for wanting to vote, for wanting to not need a man in order to have worth.

In more modern day scenarios, we live in a world of business tycoons and a world catered to men, who want us to live in a certain check-listed set of ideals or else we need to apologize for not being that type of ‘woman.’

Just like the whole feminist supportive uprising and #metoo movement that has recently been gaining momentum, we are finally standing up for being assertive, powerful, intelligent women; and we don’t want to apologize for it any longer.

There is nothing wrong with being confident, feeling sexy and beautiful in our own skin, and being a go-getter business woman. Stop apologizing for it.

Ladies, we need to stand up for ourselves, speak our truths, and go do the damn thing! We do what we want, we work hard for what we want, and we won’t say sorry anymore about it.

09. Having Emotions

For some reason, it has become socially normal to make people, especially women, feel ashamed for having emotions.

Personally, in my ex-marriage I was told I could never show my emotions in front of my ex, and that if I needed to cry I could do so in our closet upstairs with the door shut. You’re probably thinking I’m making that up, and I wish I was!

The world, just like my scenario, wants us to hide our emotions as well. If you cry you’re weak and vulnerable,  or if you get upset or angry you’re a crazy bitch.

Emotions are another beautiful part, built into our DNA, that allows us as humans to love, to feel, to enjoy, and to grow. Feeling ashamed of them and apologizing for reacting a certain way or feeling a certain way is literally going against the way we are designed. We have emotions for a reason!

So if you want to laugh at something inappropriate, do it. I do all the time! Cry if you’re sad or hurting, and get upset if you need to about that guy that just broke up with you after a year in a weak, selfish text message (because hellloooo that’s so lame!)

Emotions are beautiful, they are cleansing, and they are necessary. Stop saying sorry for them!

10. For Not Being Perfect

We all seem to be trying to live up to impossible standards, and then feel the need to apologize for not achieving them.

“Sorry I’m wearing too much makeup,” “Sorry I’m not skinny enough,” “Sorry

I’m not smart enough,” “Sorry I’m too feisty,” “Sorry I have too many opinions.”

It’s a vicious and exhausting cycle of empty sorries and never met ideals. This one definitely correlates with 02, and quite honestly anything I’ve listed here, but sometimes it is the hardest one to break the habit of.

If we make a mistake, we feel shame and guilt, and feel like we are no longer good enough. If we can’t reach a certain standard we feel defeated.

We have to stop feeling and saying sorry for not being “perfect”, and instead embrace ourselves the way we are, and celebrate the things we do achieve and the things we do have. Comparison is the true thief of joy, and we can’t keep measuring ourselves up to the social media picture perfect agenda that is constantly shoved down our throats.

Life is not all kittens, rainbows, donuts, and incredible vacations like we see on our feeds; its messy, dirty, painful, and awful sometimes but that is why it is amazing.

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So how do we avoid saying sorry? It seems kind of hard, but that’s because we have habitually been saying sorry for everything. An easy way to try and break yourself

of the habit, is to replace a “sorry” with a “thank-you.”

   –  Instead of saying, “Sorry I’m late,” say, “Thank you for waiting for me.”

   –  Instead of saying, “Sorry I missed your call,” say, “Thank you for understanding that I

      have a busy schedule and needed to call you back when I had time.”

    – Instead of saying, “Sorry I made a mistake,” say, “Thank you for understanding I am

      not perfect, and for helping me learn and grow from my mistakes.”

 

See? I dare you to try it.

I’ve been doing it since Monday and I’ve noticed a HUGE change! It’s very freeing to not feel so constricted within this awful apology society we have been living in.

If we keep saying sorry, even for the things we aren’t even sorry for, we are continuing to enable to societal problem, and digging ourselves deeper into this shame/guilt culture.

Like are you really sorry Carol, that you’re late to lunch? I don’t think so, because

you’re always late! If you were sorry, you would change your behavior and not be late

anymore. How about instead of apologizing every time you’re late, just embrace that

you’re an always-late-kinda-person and just show up when you can and say, “Thanks

for waiting guys!”

Don’t be like Carol, guys. Just own who you are an stop handing out empty apologies.

#SorryNotSorry

Back to my original story about this past Monday, and my awful, terrible, no good mood.

I decided that night as I laid in bed and replayed everything I had done in my head, and all the stupid reactions I had had, that I wouldn’t feel sorry for it.

Instead, I contemplated how I could have better handled the stress, the frustration, and the maddening amounts of flights I had to change and angry emails and texts I was getting blaming me for things that were not my fault… instead I would choose to react differently next time and just let it go and move on. I would learn and grow from it, but not be sorry for how it played out.

 

The only thing I will be sorry for from now on, is not being sorry. I own who I am, and I unapologetically embrace and love the woman I have become. I didn’t walk through the hellfire I’ve experienced just to be sorry for the incredible strength I’ve gained and the places it has led me to. This is me, and I’m not sorry for it.

maybe one day we’ll finally
learn to love ourselves and
stop apologizing for the things
that make us who we are
-r.m. drake

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Fool’s Gold

Have you ever stopped to think about what exactly it is you’re chasing in life? What are your dreams that you are seeking in the end?

I think these days it’s very easy to become distracted by everything that’s going on, that we can sometimes end up chasing something that we might think we want in the moment, but in the end it’s not really what we intended to find.

Treasure Hunters

Pondering over this last night, after a dinner with a dear friend where we talked about what we both want in life,  a story popped up from a memory long ago from college when I was studying Chaucer in one of my Lit classes…

…Particularly, The Pardoner’s Tale.

Basically, there are three men who go out seeking to find and kill Death. They come across an old, sad man who tells them he wishes Death would finally come visit him; then goes on to tell them they can find him in a grove nearby under a tree.

What they find there instead is a large pile of gold. They plot to take it for themselves, but need to wait until nightfall. The youngest is sent to town to buy some food and wine. While he is gone the other two plot to kill him and split the money between them. He has a similar idea, and laces 2 of the 3 bottles of wine with poison.

When he returns, they jump out and kill him. In celebration they both happen to drink the poisoned bottles of wine, and soon join him in death.

Like, real uplifting story right??

The moral of this tale is that sometimes we can become distracted or even mesmerized by the “gold” that may be under a nearby tree, and we become willing to give up everything else for it. But this treasure in the long run might not be worth what we give up for it; and it might not even be treasure at all.

Don’t give up something you want, for something you want right now

 

Fool’s Gold

Just like those men in the story, we can find some “gold” in our own lives and think that we need it, and need to do whatever we can to have it. In the end, it’s fool’s gold because we end up losing things that really matter to us to obtain it. So was it even worth it?

Fool’s gold is different for everyone; maybe it’s wanting to build a giant new home, lusting after an expensive sports car, or desiring to be in a relationship with a certain person.

I’m not saying any of these examples are necessarily bad, but if we are seeking them out for the wrong reasons, they will become our own pile of treasure under a tree that could potentially make us lose more than we bargained for to obtain it.

To me, the gold that I am seeking has drastically changed over the last few years. There was a mental check-list I had when it came to looking for a significant other, and I thought I had obtained it all with my former marriage.

Well, as I’ve gone over before, it was not what I hoped it would be. And that’s not blaming him entirely, it was also partially because I was so obsessed with this idea I had in my head of what I thought I wanted; because it was what socially around me everyone else had and told me I needed too. And I was willing to do anything to make it happen.

Seeking to take that gold from under the tree for myself, I nearly lost it all just like those men did in the story. And looking back now with clear hindsight, I see where I went wrong. And that’s why now almost 2 years out of it, I have made huge shifts in my life as to what I want to chase after.

The Real Gold

In life there is treasure everywhere, if we choose to really see it. Its just a matter of deciphering which piles of gold are worth our time, and worth our effort. Or, to be honest, which ones we need to just ignore and pass by.

I no longer want to be the idiot chasing fool’s gold that won’t make me any happier, and possibly make me lose more than I’ve already lost.

Last night after returning home, I got out my trusty journal and I wrote out a new list of goals I want to obtain in my life. Some are long term, and some are short.

It was fascinating to see how much my values and ideals have shifted even just in the past 2 years since my divorce. Honestly, I think losing everything and literally starting over on my own with nothing was one of the best things that could have happened to me. Sounds crazy to say, right? But it’s 100% true.

So for those of you even reading this, I challenge you to reevaluate what it is you’re seeking in your lives; what treasure is worth it for you to keep going after, and which ones will end up just being fool’s gold?

Don’t lose a true diamond by chasing glitter

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Rwanda Part 1: Kigali, Butare, Nyungwe Forest

Looking back on our incredible trip to Rwanda, it sometimes feels like a dream that we even went and experienced what we did!

My heart is so full and grateful for what we saw there – and I am forever changed because of it too. Not to sound too cheesy, but this was a place and an experience that changed my life for the better.

June 9, 2018

Heather and I decided to drive ourselves to the airport, since all the Uber drivers close by were charging a ridiculous $75 rate. With that type of payment, we decided we might as well park at the airport ourselves since it would cost us about the same in the end.

We met up with our biological grandfather Devon, or Poppa as we call him, and met our fellow travelers – Steve and SueAnne Alder (very close and dear friends of Poppa and our grandma Dianne) and their daughter Anne.

We didn’t know it at the time, but the Alder’s would become some of my favorite people on the planet, and I think some lifelong adventure friends!

We boarded our flight which was departing at 10:45 pm. I was feeling a little nervous since Heather and I were not able to sit by each other on this leg to JFK, and it didn’t make me feel any better when we took off and flew through some of the worst turbulence I’ve experienced on a flight! The poor Japanese couple sitting next to me probably heard about 20 straight minutes of unadulterated swearing that would make even the most weathered sailor blush.

June 10

Needless to say, we made it in one piece. We landed at JfK at 6 am, had a 3 hour layover, and then boarded our next flight on Qatar Airlines. The flight was 12 hours to Qatar, but it was one of the nicest planes I’ve been on! Even in coach the seats were large, had spacious leg room, nice tv’s with thousands of things to watch or listen to, and more food than I could eat.

I did sleep for most of the flight, thanks to my Xanax. But somewhere along the way my eyes swelled horribly from my eyelash extensions I had done the day before. I seriously looked like an alien, and I frightened the flight attendant to the point where she brought me bags of ice constantly to bring down the swelling.

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I’m in the hat. Trying to hide my swollen alien eyes ha ha

We landed in Doha, Qatar in one the most luxurious airports ever! Apparently it’s the 5th largest in the world! We had a brief 1 hour layover, and then re-boarded and landed 5 hours later in Entebbe, Uganda. We were almost there!

June 11

Kigali

From there we flew to Kigali, Rwanda and landed local time at 2 pm.

Customs was a breeze, and the visas were cheaper than we had originally thought ($30 instead of $50.)

We hailed 2 taxi vans, and headed to our first hotel in the city. Our drive through the streets was so eye opening! I loved the energy of the people, the modernness of the buildings against deep rooted culture; there were amazing people everywhere in bright African patterned clothing carrying enormous items on their heads, lots of traffic of cars and Moto taxis, and sweet babies wrapped in cloth on their mother’s backs! It was wonderful, I couldn’t wait to see more.

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One of the many down town market areas. Lots of traffic and people!
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These Moto taxis were nuts. I would have tried one, but I was worried about getting fleas or lice from the helmets that you have to wear! Also.. probs would have died on one in an accident so there’s that too!
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I was so impressed how the things the Rwandan women could carry on their heads while also carrying a little one on their back!

Flame Tree

We arrived at Flame Tree, and were pleasantly surprised with how nice it was! I honestly had no idea what to expect with anywhere we stayed, but the entire hotel grounds was beautifully decorated and landscaped, and each room was a private town home with 2 floors, a full kitchen, 2 bathrooms, and wonderful AC (it was so humid!).

Heather and I took a brief nap, then showered off from all the traveling. It was one of the those showers that just rejuvenates you (even though Heather’s shower was ice cold!)

We met up with the group for dinner in the dining hall. I ordered vegetable soup and some bread because I was worried about trying anything too risky just yet. It ended up looking like pureed baby food, but honestly was so delicious! Poppa ordered pizza and I also stole a small slice.

And the bread… can we talk about the bread in Rwanda?! It is to diiiiieeee for! The Belgians colonized Rwanda in the 20’s and they must have shared their bread making skills with the Rwandan people or something!

We went to bed around 9 PM. And when I say went to bed, I literally think I passed out as soon as I laid down!

June 12, 2018

The Drive to Butare

We woke up early the next morning around 7 to eat and then meet up with our tour guide for the trip Mr. Kirenga, who would be driving us that day to Butare. I highly enjoyed my oatmeal with cane sugar, as well as some deliciously smooth hot chocolate.

Mr. Kirenga has known my grandparents for several years, since they used to live in Rwanda and went on many expeditions through his tourist and birding company. He seemed like a very nice man, and we packed all of us and our bags into his giant 8-person Land Rover safari jeep, which he had rebuilt from the 1970’s.

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Mr. Kirenga is on top loading things up with the help of an employee of Flame Tree. Steve Alder is waiting patiently to get in the truck.

We were so excited to start our journey!

The drive south to Butare took about 3 1/2 hours, and took us through some beautiful country roads and villages. Rwanda is called the land of 1000 hills, and I could definitely see why with all of the rolling green hills.

Seeing first-hand how these people live in pretty poor conditions was a bit disheartening, yet they were some of the kindest and happiest people! We felt like celebrities, because we stuck out like sore thumbs there and everyone would smile and wave at us as we drove past.

The children started shouting, “Mizungu” at us. We asked Mr. Kirenga what it meant, and he said it means “white person.”

The King’s Palace

Poppa insisted we make a brief stop on the way to Butare, at The King’s Palace. We walked through the reproductions of what these incredible huts used to look like, finding the customs very fascinating. They were also incredibly smart about the way they built and designed the huts!

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While the King’s Palace was cool, I was way more excited to see the King’s cows!

Their horns are MASSIVE!! I wondered how in the world they held their heads up! But they were such sweet docile creatures, and they have the cutest faces! The handler walked around with this sage smudge stick to ward off the pesky flies from their faces. He also sang to them, which whenever he would sing they would all stop what they were doing and walk towards him. It was so cool!

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Gotta take a selfie with these cows! Also.. notice the still swollen eyes…

Butare

We arrived in Butare, which is one of the largest cities in Rwanda with the largest University. It was very busy!

We ate at the famous ‘The Chinese Restaurant’ that Poppa loved when he and Dianne lived there. They lived in Butare in 2014-2015. Our eyes were larger than our stomachs, and we ended up ordering most of the items on the menu! It was delicious but we couldn’t finish it all.

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Heather had the great idea that we box up the leftovers and she gave them to a woman who was begging by the gates of the restaurant with a small child on her back. She didn’t speak any English, but we could understand her gratitude as she kept patting her hand over her heart and had tears in her eyes.

As we walked towards the local market, there was another woman who was literally crawling on her hands and knees because her feet were crippled and she could not walk on them. The image of her crawling through the crowds will forever break my heart.

The market was insane! And clearly they were not used to having Mizungus there! Also, I had shorts on (almost to my knees) and apparently they are not used to seeing that much skin either because everyone stared blatantly at my bare legs!

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The tall building was the inside market; each floor filled to capacity with vendors and items. It continued out back, with food and everything you can imagine for sale.

People sold everything there; utensils, fabric, food, furniture, toilets, clothes, and jewelry. One merchant pulled Poppa aside and said, “Hey Poppa! I have something for you!” and pointed to some extravagantly designed boxer briefs. We had a good laugh about it.

The Drive to Nyungwe Forest

Light was fading, so we needed to head towards Nyungwe Forest where we would stay the next 2 nights.

This drive was one of the worst of our trip. It was 4 1/2 hours through windy jungle roads, most of them unpaved or riddled with giant gaping holes. There was also construction halfway up the canyon that caused so much chaos.

One section in particular has very uneven, dusty, and crowded with villagers. A gigantic dump truck that was filled beyond capacity with what looked like mattresses, drove by us and nearly tipped over on top of us!

The windy roads made us all a quite car sick.

Finally, we made it to our hotel called The Top View Hotel. We were relieved to be out of the car, and at such a nice 5 star resort again!

Heather and I headed to our room, which again was a separate town home. We were in #1, Volcano. Ours was all the way at the end of the walkway, on the edge overlooking a valley down below. It was night time, so we were excited to see it in the morning.

Our large king size bed was covered with a mosquito net, we had a good sized bedroom, and a door that opened onto a deck overlooking another side of the canyon.

As we laid in bed we heard wild African dogs howling all night in the jungles surrounding us, but we quickly fell asleep again; and an especially nice surprise? The hot water bottles placed at the feet of our bed under the covers to keep our feet warm and toasty!

June 13, 2018

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Waking up the next morning at 6 am to see the sunrise was the best decision we could have made. The light coming up over those jungle hills, the sky water colored with red and orange hues; it was absolute magic. I stood there and almost became emotional, wondering how I was so lucky to be in such a beautiful place as that.

In the daylight we could finally see the grounds of the resort too, which were equally beautiful.

We had a luxurious breakfast on the veranda of the main building; more hot chocolate, some African spice tea, toast and jam, and cheese omelettes.

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We drove back into the jungle, to head to track the Colubus Monkeys. At the Nyungwe Forest Visitor’s Center we met up with our guide, Christof. He was a handsome young man from Rwanda who received his education in France and returned back to work.

Back into the truck and towards the large tea fields we went, and turned off onto a small dirt road heading directly towards the jungle. We got out and walked towards the tree line and were very lucky because the family of Colubus Monkeys was right there!

These black and white monkeys are so cute! It was a good sized family, with 2 adorable little babies!

It was apparently time to eat, because they were climbing and jumping around the trees, stuffing as many of the tree fruits into their mouths as they could! It was pretty funny to watch them. The babies were entertaining as well, jumping and wrestling with one another all over the trees. Their tiny squeaks they would make sounded like a dog squeaky toy!

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They looked SO soft! And they had the cutest little faces

Christof told us that they whole family helps to raise and take care of the babies. But, whenever a male would grab them and try to hold them they would squeak out loudly and wriggle free from them. I asked him if they were hurting them, and he said “No, the males just do not know how to hold the babies and they don’t like it.”

Sounds… pretty accurate!

After watching them to our hearts’ content, we headed back to the hotel for a lunch of sweet corn soup and rolls with goat meat. I of course, declined to try the goat meat.

Heather and I took a 2 hour nap, and then met up again with everyone to go do a jungle canopy walk. Driving an hour further into the jungle we pulled off to the canopy headquarters.

Here we were placed in a hiking group with a cute couple from Denmark, a strange girl from the Netherlands that currently lived in Jamaica, and our creeptastic tour guide named Dauph who would NOT stop licking his lips and staring only at me when he talked to the group. (Like STOPPPPP though!)

The hike was completely downhill to get there, so I knew heading back would be challenging for Poppa and SueAnne and Steve.

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The entire hike was beautiful

Making it to the canopy walk, I felt like we were staring at a bridge that had been constructed in the 1920’s; it looked old and I wondered if we would be the last people to ever walk across it!

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But, our group motto had become “YOLO”, as I had taught everyone the night before. So, we yolo-d our way across. (Or as SueAnne said it, “Yellow!”)

The first section of the canopy walk was shorted and not as high off the ground, so we made it to the first tower no problem. The second section across was incredibly shaky, and about 300 feet off the ground!

It also didn’t help that Poppa was shaking the bridge on purpose (trouble maker!)

My hands shook and I definitely got a little light headed, but it was really exhilarating to walk across there, and to look down into the jungle!

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Dauph told us we could keep going the way we were to get back to the hiking trail, or we could go back across the bridge. We hesitated for a moment and Poppa decided to tell us that “No one I’ve ever brought here has ever taken the sissy way back… but if you guys really want to we can.”

So of course we turned around and went right back over the bridge! We refused to be the sissies!

The hike back up was quite strenuous, and Poppa took it slow and steady.

Then on the way back to our hotel, Mr. Kirenga’s truck broke down. Anne, Heather, Steve, and myself got out and push started it for him then walked the 5 minutes to the hotel. We worried the truck would not be able to drive us the next morning to go see the chimpanzees.

We had another delicious dinner, and then all went to go get some sleep. While Heather and I walked to our room a GIANT moth flew in front of us and I screamed and ran like a crazy person because I was convinced it was a bat! Ain’t nobody got time for rabies y’all!

June 14, 2018

Tracking the Chimpanzees

Waking up the next morning at 5 am was rough. We met in the lodge sleepy eyed, enjoying some hot chocolate, African spice tea, and some butter cookies.

Mr. Kirenga’s car was not able to drive, as we feared, so he rented us a car with a driver. Now when I say car, I mean… a tiny awful thing that we all had to cram into.

It was a Toyota Picnic. What the hell kind of car is that?

The back seat needed to fit 3 people when it was very clearly only meant for 2, so it was not a pleasant 2 hour drive east. We were all a bit grouchy to say the least.

My favorite part of driving through the remote village was seeing all the adorable school children in their uniforms on their way to school. They all waved at us! We were once again the stars in the Mizungu parade.

Despite the uncomfortable driving situation, we were going to track chimpanzees so  we were still excited. We pulled in front of a mall building which had a small store with souvenirs, and this was where we were to meet our porters. Christof was our guide again, which we were happy about because he was fantastic.

A group of porters stood by with walking sticks, all hoping they would be picked for our chimpanzee trek. It is customary for every woman to use a porter, but of course all of the men in our group got one too so they could pay them.

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Anne, Heather, and I joked that we felt like it was The Bachelorette, having to hand our bag to the porter of our choosing and ask, “Will you accept this backpack?” I chose a young man named Varun, and he was very helpful! I tripped quite a lot over the vines and underbrush of the jungle when we trekked through.

And when I say trek, I mean we literally ran at times! The trouble with chimpanzees is they are very wary of people and like to avoid them. So we started out slowly hiking upwards into the jungle to where the trackers were radioing in on the walkie-talkies. The trackers had been following this particular family of chimps since the night before.

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The jungle was amazing! Just being there was incredible

They were heading right for us, so we stopped and waited silently for them to pass by us. It was so interesting how quietly they moved through the trees, because we literally did not hear them coming until they were nearly on top of us!They came within about 20 feet, and the male in the lead turned his head and looked right at us! Then they RAN.

So of course, we ran in pursuit! It was quite exciting to run full speed though the jungle after this elusive little family of chimps. (And this is where I tripped a ton!)

We made it back to the main road, and Christof had us stop because he said the family would be crossing the road to get to the other side of the jungle and we would be able to see them very clearly.

2 minutes later they crossed about 10 feet in front of us, and it was breathtaking to see them! They were much larger than I expected, and unlike the chimps you see in movies or at zoos these ones were all black, even their cute little faces. There were 6 adults and one little baby holding onto its’ mama’s back.

The chase was on again, and those chimps are stupidly fast! We were running full speed again trying to keep up with the trackers, Christof, and doing so while trying to not trip and sprawl out into the jungle! It was so exhilarating!

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This is what we ran through. See how it looks like there’s no path? It’s because there wasn’t! This is why I tripped constantly!

We caught up to one of the males, who had separated from the family and was chilling up in a giant Ficus tree, feasting on the fruits. Apparently they are like oranges, and he was stuffing as many as he could at a time into his mouth.

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I know this is a terrible quality photo.. but it was so shadowy where he was I had to lighten it up to see him!

We sat down and watched him for about 30 minutes, enjoying seeing him in his natural habitat. He put on a show for us, climbing around, hanging by one arm, and even peeing for a steady 2 minutes with an impressive stream off the tree! We were all very impressed.

My favorite part was that Poppa in all of his years spent in Africa had never tracked a chimpanzee before. So seeing his face light up as we watched him in the tree was worth it all for me

We finally left our friend, and made the hike back up to the road. It was very steep going back up, so we sent extra porters to help Poppa.

Heading to Lake Kivu

We packed the newly fixed truck, and said farewell to our resort at the top of the hill.

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Steve suggested to Mr. Kirenga that we find a place to eat in a local non-touristy town so we could see some of the culture without tourist traps.

There was definitely something lost in translation between them, because he took us an hour out of our way to eat at what looked like a country club resort in a ton called Cyangugu overlooking the southern tip of Lake Kivu; right next to a big touristy market.

Steve was very grouchy about it, and to be honest we all were because he added extra time onto our trip to our next destination. But, the food was good and the view over the lake was gorgeous!

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View of Lake Kivu from Cyangugu

Across the water we could see the Congo, and it was mind-blowing to see how many houses and buildings were crammed against one another on the hills.

After we finished eating, we started our 4 hour trip to The Cormoran Lodge, our next resort on a northern part of Lake Kivu’s shores.

The drive was much prettier (and much less car-sick inducing) than the trip from Butare to Nyungwe Forest. we started throwing out our empty water bottles to kids on the road because they want them to use for drinking water. It was a fun way to pass the time, and they were always excited to get them!

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We finally pulled into our resort after the sun had gone down, and we were each led to our amazing tree house rooms. This resort to me, resembled the Lost Boy’s tree house from the movie Hook. You know what I’m talking about?? It was such a cool place!

We enjoyed some dinner in the restaurant (where Poppa discovered his new favorite Fanta flavor, Fiesta) and then we all headed to bed.

I was so excited to see what more adventures Lake Kivu had in store for us!

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(Next Up: Rwanda Part 2)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The letter

2 weeks ago, I sent a letter in the mail. That’s right, good old snail mail.

I hadn’t sent an actual letter in quite a long time, but for this particular situation I felt it was the best way to send the words I needed to express.

This was an important letter. Maybe one of the most important letters I’ve ever sent, or will ever.

This was a letter of true and genuine forgiveness… to my ex.

Between Both Worlds

I started to write this letter last year actually. I had this really cool epiphany about it while I was in Sintra, Portugal , last October.

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Looking down from the top of the Initiation Well 

At the bottom of the Initiation Well at Quinta Da Regaleira , I was on top of the tiled symbol of a compass overlapping a Knights of the Templar cross, which was thought to have been Monteiro’s herald and a sign of his Rosicrucianism.

The cross has many different symbolic meanings behind it historically; I see it symbolizing finding one’s truth.

There were 9 platforms we descended on the stairwell, which these represent the 9 circles of hell in Dante’s Inferno. Unlike in the story, I don’t believe we were to “abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

The 9 platforms also represent the 9 Spheres of Heaven, from Dante’s Paradiso.

So standing there, between the 9 Spheres of Heaven and the 9 Circles of Hell, you are meant to reflect on your life and your purpose. It is a place you are equally between both ends of the spectrum, and you contemplate the disconnection between earth and the heavens as you peer up to the sky from the darkness below; and also feel the haunting closeness of hell as you are so consumed in the darkness.

As I stared up towards the light, my eyes following the curving stairs upwards towards the open sky above, I wondered what truth I was still searching for. I was drawn to the light above me, but I also felt a heaviness lurking within me that connected me to the dark tunnels of the labyrinth that surrounded where I was.

There were lots of tourists in there with us that day in the well, but for that brief moment I felt like I was completely alone, and was hit with the overwhelming epiphany that if I was to ever feel fully connected back to the light at the top of my own life’s tower, I would need to let go of what was weighing me down to the depths of it.

And that weight, was forgiveness.

I needed to let go of the bitterness and the resentment of what had happened in my past, to truly let myself heal from the pain completely.

While taking the train the next day from Sintra to Lagos, I pulled out my phone and started working on what I wanted to express in this letter.

I’ll be honest, the first few drafts I typed up on my phone were not very positive. In fact, I still only really wanted to convey some pretty bitter sentiments.

So, I deleted what I had and didn’t think about it again, until about a month ago when I was in Rwanda. With all the changes I am working towards making in my life, this idea of forgiveness resurfaced.

To me, it doesn’t seem possible to be able to fully move forward with any aspect of my life until I do officially forgive my ex husband… even though the idea of it sounds impossible.

How can I possibly forgive him for everything that happened?

Writing It Out

When I returned from Rwanda, I got to my apartment at about 2:30 am MST. We had traveled for almost 40 hours and I was beyond exhausted, not to mention a little delirious. But the problem was, I had to be to work in about 5 hours and I was worried if I went to sleep that I would never wake up for work.

So, crazy me, decided to just stay up.

I did all my laundry from the trip, tidied up my room, binged some Netflix, and finally took a luxurious shower.

By that point it was almost 6, and I was struggling to stay awake. Needing something to do to keep myself occupied and alert, I drafted my forgiveness letter. It was probably the best time I could have written it, because I was in such a delirious state of mind that I had no inhibitions and I wrote freely from the heart.

I was surprised with that I said, and how naturally it felt to write out such forgiving words to someone who had completely broken me.

But also surprising… was how much relief and weight I felt lifted from me just from writing them.

What To Do With It Now

Initially, I never intended to send the letter. I wrote it out for me, to release the toxic emotions from inside me and let them go.

But, as the days went by and I continued to look over the letter… I felt a strong urge to actually mail it.

I wondered if maybe he needed to know that I forgave him; maybe to help him on his own journey of recovery from his past and from his addictions.

I’m sure maybe some of you will argue that he didn’t deserve forgiveness, and that it was stupid for me to give it to him. But I think (depending on the situation obviously…) everyone deserves a chance to be forgiven. Who am I to choose who does and doesn’t forgiveness?

Back when I first left him, and was living in my dad’s basement, the nights were long and painful. I literally felt as if my chest was going to explode open and the shards of my broken heart would tear through the walls of the house.

In my moments of what I can only express as absolute Godly sorrow, the only thing I could do to find relief was to crawl to my knees and pray for peace and strength. But in those moments of some of the worst emotional pain, I surprised myself by not praying for myself, but praying for him…

…my soon-to-be-ex.

I knew ultimately  I would survive the pain. I had family and friends who loved me and supported me locally and all over the country. I had survived and escaped the depths of my own personal hell, and I knew I would recover and resurface from those dark moments. But for him, I wasn’t sure what would happen, or what he might do in his very fragile emotional existence at that point in time.

I knew it wasn’t my responsibility to take care of him or enable his addictions any longer, but I still loved him and I hoped he would survive me leaving. So I did the only thing I could do in that moment, and I prayed for him – I sincerely, and whole heartedly begged God to help him, and to give me the peace of mind to not worry about him anymore because I literally and physically couldn’t handle it anymore- and it was mercifully lifted from me.

Sending It

The urge to mail this letter lingered within my thoughts, but in a good way not a bad one. I knew I needed to send it, maybe more so for him than for me. But whatever the reason was, I couldn’t ignore it anymore.

So… I mailed it. Without a return address.

I’ll never really know if he received it, or if he even read it. But all I know is I feel the peace in my heart now where bitterness used to reside. I decided to forgive, because holding onto it all would never allow me to move forward. There is so much hate and negativity in the world right now, I didn’t want to harbor any of that inside my own heart for anyone.

I think my ex needed the letter too. Even if he never reads the letter, at least my good intentions are out there in the universe, and maybe will help guide him on a better path.

All in all, I never hated him – I hated his disease, his addictions. I hated the choices he made, but I never hated him.

Truly, I hope he can find his way to sobriety and recovery. Just like everyone else, he deserves to live a happy life. And I honestly, genuinely hope he can find that happiness.

I may have forgiven him of everything, but I will never forget it. The fact is those things have changed and shaped me and my life into what it is now, and that’s something I will never be able to ignore. I am forever altered and changed because of it all.

I can’t say I’m grateful for what I’ve been through, as some people tend to say after a big trial; but I am grateful to have realized my true strengths and seen my ability to survive whatever is going to get thrown at me.

And the most beautiful thing out of this is, I can no longer claim that my heart is dead inside like I used to joke about all the time… because I finally allowed it to be revived to open itself to forgive the person who had deadened it in the first place. If there’s a silver lining in all of this, this is it.

I won’t share the letter completely, because most of it is too personal. But, I will share this section that struck me after it came out of my heart and onto the paper:

“Despite all of it, a part of me will always love you, because the heart can’t just erase what was real, true love; even if it was not meant to last forever. And it is because of that, I have been able to come to the place where I am now, to tell you something that I think both of us need:

I forgive you.

I hope someday you can forgive me too, for the ways I’ve hurt you and wronged you as well. I hope one day you can understand why I had to leave, and I hope you will always remember that I loved you.

Go be happy, because that’s all I ever wanted for you; even if it wasn’t with me. Most importantly, love yourself and forgive yourself – of everything in your past and finally let it go. Because you do deserve to be happy.”

Forgiveness is a powerful, incredible thing.

What is most important about it, is that choosing to forgive someone –  even someone who has hurt you and broken you – allows us to break free from the darkness that can weigh us down, and prevents their choices and behaviors from destroying our hearts.

If you take anything away from my ramblings, choose to work towards forgiving someone that’s hurt you, and let it go. Even choose to forgive yourself. I’m working on that part myself, everyday.

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PC: Alejandro Araos 

Balancing Act

Do you ever find yourself sitting at a table at a restaurant that is super wobbly?

Like so wobbly, that you’re worried  if you move anything, it will tilt and all the items will fall into your lap?

The problem, usually, is that one (or more) of the legs of that table are too short, and not even with the others. Without all legs being even and sturdy, the table will never be fully balanced.

Table Talk

So why am I talking about tables? It will make sense, I promise.

A few weeks ago, I started to feel the unbalances in my life completely taking over. Everything seemed unorganized, chaotic, and all over the place. It was stressing me out!

I knew something needed to change, but without knowing exactly what the problem was, I couldn’t fix it.

That’s when I started writing out to-do lists. For me, seeing it written down on paper makes it easier for me to focus on what needs to be done; and then check it off as I do! (Plus I’m old school and I love writing things in my planner instead of in a note on my phone.)

As I was working on compiling things into lists, I noticed there were 4 groups kind of forming on their own; 4 categories if you will. So then, the huge nerd that I can be, I decided to instead make my lists into a big chart, showcasing each category.

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And isn’t that so weird? It looks like a table… with 4 legs. 🙂

In order for the table (you) to be fully balanced, you need to care for and make each important category (table legs) even.

The Legs

As you can see from my image, my “table” has 4 legs, or categories. Each of us is unique, and so there’s not right or wrong amount of categories you need or want to attach to your table, as well as no expected category types.

I’ll run through my own categories to explain how I work on making them balanced, to give you an idea of how to balance your own!

Physically

My entire life, I have been a very physically active and relatively healthy person. I was a tom boy growing up, playing in the woods and the dirt, and doing every sport on the planet that I could possibly do!

Now, I make physical fitness and health a major priority. Here are a few things I focus on:

  • Currently I am on a meal plan and fitness plan catered to me, through L8r Lifestyle. Check them out, they’re amazing!
    • I work out 5 times a week, with heavy lifting and HIIT cardio. 2 Rest days.
    • My meal plan is catered to my height, weight, age, and what I want to accomplish. It’s real food, and meal prepping is a must!
    • I make sure I eat enough of the food my body needs, and also every once in awhile throw in a cheat meal. Because #treatyoself
  • I am a total grandma when it comes to sleep. I aim to be in bed by 10-10:30 pm during the week.
  • I’ve thrown my back out 3 times in the last 6 months. Yes, I absolutely feel like I’m old and falling apart!
    • I’ve been very smart about listening to my body, and when something is injured or hurting I rest and try to stretch, and do what I can to let things heal.
  • I stay active as much as I can outside the gym:
    • Hiking
    • Sand volleyball
    • Cycling
    • Basically anything outside!

Spiritually

This category in all honesty has felt a little depleted lately for me.

With everything I have dealt with the past few years, I hope it is understandable for me to feel this way.

And no, I wouldn’t say I am having a crisis of faith by any means; I’m just working on more ways I can feel closer to God in my personal life. It isn’t a crisis, just a phase of my life where I am transitioning and growing in this area – kind of like spiritual Feng shui, where I’m just moving things around inside myself to rebalance and feel harmonized again.

And it is just that; personal. Each of us will feel that spiritual closeness and balance in different ways.

  • I feel spiritual closeness in nature. Hiking alone is one of my favorite things to do, where I can go reflect in God’s beautiful creations about everything I’m feeling and wanting to feel.
  • I also feel spiritually close to God when I engage in very honest personal prayer. We have some real talk. He knows me and He loves me despite all of my flaws and shortcomings; and in my earnest and humble nightly prayers with Him I feel so much love and peace.
  • When I am doing service for others, I feel so spiritually balanced and my heart is so full. I feel the tiniest, most minuscule, fraction of a fraction of how much our Creator loves each of us. It is an incredibly overwhelming feeling.

If spirituality is one of your categories, do what makes you feel centered. There is no specific right or wrong way to go about it.

 Psychologically

This category has been a rough one. Anyone who has been through any sort of traumatic event, will understand.

As I’ve explained before about PTSD, it’s not something you can just flip a switch and be done with. It takes time, patience, and lots of work. Feeling psychologically unbalanced has many different repercussions, such as anxiety, depression, self-doubt, and fear of something triggering a past traumatic experience.

Self-care and self-love are two of the biggest things I have been focusing on to recover and rebuild my life after everything completely shattered.

  • Positive affirmations are amazing, and really do help! Read about them here.
  • I started going to therapy. I honestly believe anyone and everyone can benefit from therapy, but especially someone who has been through anything traumatic.
  • I take time everyday to meditate alone, even if it’s just for 10 mins. Finding that time to really zone in on my inner balance makes a huge difference.
  • I love to read, and have been reading any book I can get my hands on in regards to recovering, finding my true joys and passions in life, chasing my dreams, and overcoming the trials that I’ve been given.

Socially

If you know me, you know I also struggle with this category. Ever since being thrown head first with weights attached to me in the deep end of dating and being in the singles scene again, I have had to make a real effort to be social. It’s so hard guys!

But I’ve made some progress.

  • I only do what makes me happy. If I don’t want to go to something, I don’t. If I do, I go!
    • Why let anyone force me to do something I know will not make me happy? Life is too damn short to let other people decide it for you!
  • Hang around positive people who lift you up, instead of bring you down
    • A few years ago I hung out with a crowd that was negative, and they were so mean to me! Once I broke away from them, I was a lot happier.
    • Remember that it’s ok to not hang out with someone if they are toxic to your happiness in any sort of way.
  • I’ve grown to appreciate quality friends over quantity. The ‘popular’ ‘cool’ crowd is not always going to make you happy!

Balancing Act

So there you have it, my 4 table legs. When each of these categories feel balanced, then my life in general does as well.

If you keep focusing on balancing your life, than it will become so through your effort. It’s the whole “if you build it, it will come” mentality reminiscent from Field of Dreams; If you believe you can balance your life than it can happen!

Stay positive, prioritize what’s important, and focus on balance.

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PC: Vino Photography 

Finding My Passion

I still feel like I am recovering from the jet-lag from Rwanda, and I’ve been home for over 10 days now! I’ll start going through my journal and pictures to do a break down of my trip soon, so I can share all of my tips and adventures for you from such a magical and wonderful trip!

While reaclimating back to normal life and my routine here has been something of a challenge, the real struggle has been trying to readjust my focus in life to something with more purpose.

I don’t mean that to sound to vague, so I’ll explain what I mean below.

Poppa, the Rockstar Doctor

One of the coolest parts of this whole trip was getting to experience it not only with my twin sister, but also with our biological grandfather “Poppa”- who we have only known for 4 years (* I’ll have to post about the whole story sometime, but we were adopted and only met our birth mom and her family 4 years ago*)

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Heather Poppa and me outside our hotel in Kigali, Rwanda

He has lived his entire professional career working in the field that he has such a passion for – Infectious Disease. Traveling and living all over the world, he has made incredible impacts in the medical field of infectious disease and has touched so many lives in the process. Poppa and our grandma lived in Butare, Rwanda for a year in as he helped with the local hospital and medical program there as well as in the capitol Kigali.

To sum it up, it was amazing to see him return to the place where he lives his passion. He LOVES working in the infectious disease field, and meeting one of the local medical residents who admired him and looked up to him was so inspiring.

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Christoph our guide, Heather, and Poppa admiring a Colobus Monkey in the trees

Also getting to spend so much time with him in a place he loves so much, was such an amazing experience. This was his last trip to Africa, since he is geting up there in age, but this was his 37th trip over there! This trip literally exhausted me, I can’t believe he’s done this 37 times!

And some of the hikes we did were very difficult, and he handled them like a champ! Running through the jungle chasing a family of chimps in the Nyungwe Forest is no easy task, and when we finally found them he had the biggest smile on his face as we watched them up in the trees!

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Our group with our wonderful porters and trackers after the hike in Nyungwe Forest to follow the chimpanzees (Poppa is all the way on the right)

Not to mention, on top of a very funny sense of humor (with one of the best laughs on the planet), Poppa is one of the most patient and kind people I have ever met. He loves and accepts anyone and everyone, and I wish I could exude even a fraction of this type of love too.

Seriously, Poppa is a true rockstar! I look up to him and admire him in so many ways. Seeing just a small glimpse into Poppa’s life and experience in Rwanda, truly inspired me in my own.

How Can I Live My Own Passion?

This has been the question that has haunted and plagued me for the last 2 years. Figuring out what I really want to do in life.

But really though… how the hell do people figure this stuff out?!

I feel the way I did when I started college and was deciding on what to pick as a major. How was I supposed to know what I would want to study for the next 4 or so years, let alone do the rest of my life? It always boggled my mid that people knew already – some knew since they were little! I didn’t end up officially declaring a major until my junior year, switching from a journalist emphasis to Creative Writing/English. Even then, I still wasn’t 100% sure.

The thing I discovered on this trip, was that something inside me was forever different. Not to sound super cliche, but this trip literally changed my perspective on my life and life in general in the world. I had this growing desire to do something important, to do something that matters and changed the world for the better.

On our way home (an exhausting 41 hour total travel time) during our 13 hour leg from Qatar to New York City, I pulled out my journal and started to write. I was finishing up my entries about our trip and what we had experienced. But, then I started writing something new; the thoughts and feelings that had been stirred up from everything.

This entry became more of a list than anything.

The list was title “Things I am Passionate About”, and as I started to go through the list I circled my #5 item:

Making a Difference/Serving Others

I circled it, and even put a few stars around it. Because that made an impact, an impression inside me. This is what I needed and wanted to feel fulfilled in life, to push me to do more and to focus on.

The Moment It Changed

The funny thing about finding and following your life passions, is that they don’t just suddenly appear in some “ah-ha” moment. Generally, it is something that over time you realize has always been there but you hadn’t recognized it’s importance until the moment your heart realizes how much it means to you.

I’ve always found comfort and peace in serving others. That’s why through all of my own grief and brokenness I have found so much solace and recovery in volunteering and helping with charities and things that are helping humanity thrive.

But this trip, particularly as we drove through a small remote village on the way to Akagera National Park, something inside me changed. I realized how much I want to do to serve the world, to give back and to do more. The moment will forever be etched into my brain; a small clay-brick house we passed on the road with 4 small children outside in tattered rags chasing a black and white spotted goat. I can’t explain why this moment was the one to flip the switch inside me, but it was. And it has. And now I can’t turn it off, because now I know what it is I want to pursue.

Someday, somehow, I want to live my passion of serving others and making a difference. My true dream, is to travel the world doing many different humanitarian services and projects. I will find a way.

I can make a difference here as I can, but eventually – oh yes – I have very big plans!

Here are just a few ways I’ve been researching humanitarian service locally and interntionally:

Help International

Salt Lake Rape Recovery Center

Choice Humanitarian

Do you have any other good ones? Please feel free to share them in the comments!

How You Can Find Your True Life Passion

While I continue on my quest to live my true passions, here are some tips I used to help me figure out what is most important to me, and what I am passionate about.

  1. Make a list with 2 columns. One column is things you dislike doing, and the other is the thing you enjoy doing.
    1. Now, from the column of the things you enjoy, sit and meditate on each one – seriously – and decide if each one is something you could do everyday, for the rest of your life, and never get sick of it.
      1. Is it something you could read an 800-page book about?
      2. Is it something you could do without getting paid?
      3. Is it something you could eat-breathe-sleep-dream about and never get sick of?
  2. Ok, now you should have at least one thing from your original list that you feel is a passion. So what do you do?
    1. Remember that a passion does not necessarily have to be your job – in most cases it is more of a hobby or something you do on the side. But, it’s also Ok if it is something you want to pursue as your career!
    2. If it’s something you’re not particularly good at, or just sort of mediocre in, that’s also Ok! You do not have to be an expert to be passionate about it, you can still successfully reach your passions and your goal!
  3. Do some research, reach books, listen to podcasts, talk to people – who are related to your passion, or can help you towards your intended goals.
    1. Knowldge truly is powerful! The more you can arm your mind with, the better!
  4. Also, remember who you are and the impact you can put on the world.
    1. We can do so many incredible things! Each of us has amazing potential, if we can figure out what our passions truly are. Think of all the good we can put into the world! Even a little goes a long way.

I hope to one day live and follow my passion, just like Poppa. Hoping sooner than later I will be! Cheers to all of us dreamers chasing our passions and dreams!

PS. Stay tuned for my posts detailing all about Rwanda!

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Suffer In Silence

I’ve always hated crying. I think mostly, it’s because I don’t like feeling emotionally vulnerable. I have always liked to be the strong, tough girl.

It started back when I was 12, when my mom was first diagnosed with terminal cancer. At such a young age I was dealing with an incredible amount of sadness, grief, and fear. Those strong and overwhelming emotions were more than my little heart could handle at times.

So, I started to internalize things, and try to just silently suffer through it.

Mostly, I think I wanted to be strong for those around me who were also struggling; especially my mom. I felt like if I could be strong and not cry or show my fear, that maybe I could help her be stronger through it all too. I also wanted to be a strength for my twin sister, and my dad too.

It’s so interesting to me now, looking back, at how much that habit of internalizing my emotions has affected my life. Because it became somewhat of a toxic habit to silently suffer, and never ask for help or never let people in when I was hurting.

But, it wasn’t until I went to college that I realized how dangerous silent suffering could really be.

The Moment That Changed It All

I have briefly written about what happened to me when I was 18 before, here, but I wanted to bring it up again in this post for a specific reason. It’s difficult to do so, but I have felt very inspired to share my story in the hopes that I can help others who are going through something similar, or who might in the future.

As a freshman at Utah State University, located in the gorgeous mountains of Cache Valley, I was eager for what my future held for me. College is supposed to be fun, new, and exciting; and my 2 years spent in Logan definitely were all of the above.

However, there was one event that literally changed my life forever. Even now as I start to type it out my palms sweat, and I feel anxiety rising in my chest. I will never, ever forget those few moments. This moment literally poisoned my time in Logan with this thick, choking darkness that in the end forced me to move away and never return.

I made many friends in Logan, including athletes on various sports teams for the school. As an athlete in high school, and a lover of sports in general, I loved being around anyone else who shared my passion for sports.

One friend in particular was a hockey player, a very popular and friendly one at that. He had friends throughout the campus, especially since that year the hockey team was playing particularly well and the student body enjoyed going to the USU Men’s Hockey games.

We would talk often, and I trusted him. He was funny, charming, attractive, and an all around nice guy.

Spring break came around that year, and my sister and I and a few of our closest girl friends decided to borrow a mini-van and go on a fun road trip through Las Vegas, and then to Huntington Beach in California.

After spending a few sunny days on the beach it was time to return back to Utah, but our friend (Mr. Hockey Player) offered us a place to stay outside of Las Vegas on our way home at his parent’s house. We went with him to a local house party with his friends, and it was there that he told us he would not be returning to USU because he had been diagnosed with testicular cancer and was starting treatments soon, starting with surgery the next morning.

We were all upset for our friend. We ended up going back to his house early, while he stayed out on his self-claimed “last night of fun” before the cancer treatments. We went to sleep in the living room, but I was woken up around 3 in the morning by him when he came home. He asked if I would come talk to him for awhile because he was nervous and scared about everything, and I of course agreed, because he was my friend.

It was very clear he was intoxicated, because he was stumbling up the stairs to his bedroom. Still, I felt no danger and followed him. I was worried for my friend and wanted to talk to him and help him through whatever he was dealing with. As I walked into the room and turned to say something to him he came at me from the door he had just locked behind him, and pushed me forcefully onto the bed.

He was normally not aggressive in this way, and I was beginning to feel panicked. He was very drunk, and much larger than me, and I was starting to worry about being able to get out of the room. He kept saying things like “This is my last night, I want to enjoy it”. He was also becoming more and more physical, not allowing me off the bed, and when I started to push back against him to get up he eventually held me down by digging his elbow heavily onto my chest, while holding my my hands down above my head with his other hand.

Many times I begged him to let me leave, telling him we could talk in the morning when he wasn’t drunk. When my pleas went unanswered, I started physically trying to fight him back. The more I pushed and started to fight him, the harder he held me down. He tried to kiss me and I bit him as hard as I could. It made him angry, and more aggressive. I started to think he was literally going to suffocate me because I felt like I couldn’t breathe anymore. I tried to scream out but since my chest was being pressed upon so forcefully I couldn’t get more than a whisper out.

And then just like a scene in a horror movie, that you never think will actually happen to you, he quickly ripped down my sweat pants, held down my hands again, and proceeded to rape me. Everything hurt, my entire body was tensed in my fight-or-flight situation, and I prayed to pass out at one point from not being able to breathe so I wouldn’t have to consciously remember what was happening. I was living a real nightmare, pure hell that I would never wish upon anyone.

In one last effort to fight back I was able to slide my right leg up just enough that I could knee him as hard as I could in his stomach. It shocked him just enough that he let up on my hands and I threw a right hook across his face and then kicked both of my feet into his chest and pushed him off of me. Due to how drunk he was he lost his balance and stumbled back across the room.

I had no time, I quickly jumped up from the bed, pulling my sweats up from my ankles as I ran down the hall. I found a bathroom downstairs by where all the other girls were asleep, I locked the door, and shook violently on the floor fearing he would come after me and drag me back upstairs. I also feared he would harm the girls sleeping just on the other side of the wall.

After what felt like an eternity, I hoped he had passed out upstairs when I hadn’t heard anything. That’s when I threw up twice. Afterwards I tried to pee and was horrified with how much blood there was everywhere down there and in the toilet. I laid in a ball on the floor and cried. I was still worried about making any noise, so I tried my best to cry quietly. I wanted to scream and let it out but I couldn’t.

I finally emerged from the bathroom some time later, I’m not sure how much time had passed, but I could see the sunlight starting to come through the windows in the living room. I checked on my sister and the other girls, and they were all safely still sleeping there. No signs of my attacker.

In a delusional haze, I laid back down next to my sister, and I remember snuggling up really close to her. I wished I could wake her up but I didn’t know what to do. I never fell asleep I just laid there up against her, shaking and fearing he would come down any minute.

Eventually everyone woke up, and thankfully we had planned to just get up and leave. Some of the girls went to say goodbye to our host, but I of course did not and immediately climbed into the van to hide.

I know my sister knew something was wrong, but she didn’t ask me on the ride home. I was quiet, and tried to sleep through most of it. At one point when we stopped at a rest area I noticed there was blood on the front of my sweats. I felt nauseous, and it all felt like some awful dream.

The Aftermath

I hoped it would all just disappear. I did tell my sister what had happened when we got home, but I decided since he was not returning to school because of his cancer, that I could just brush it under the rug and forget about it all.

I stayed silent and told no one besides my sister; I was afraid to tell my parents because I didn’t want to hurt them. I was afraid to tell my church leaders because I worried about being blamed for what happened, or getting in trouble with violating the chastity laws I was supposed to abide by. Because of the fear and the shame I stayed silent.

But, as cruel fate would have it, the following fall semester my attacker did return to Logan. I didn’t know he was returning until I literally ran into him on campus. It had been almost 6 months, but seeing him face-to-face brought me immediately back to that horrible night.

I panicked and ran from him, not knowing else what to do. I thought maybe I could just avoid him, but unfortunately for me that would not be easy since we had a lot of the same friends. He texted me and asked why I ran from him, and wanted to hang out. I just ignored him and hoped he would stop.

He didn’t stop though. He persisted on bothering me, sending me texts, calling, and eventually ran me down on campus about a week later. I asked him as bravely as I could to leave me alone, that I wanted nothing to do with him. He asked me why and I didn’t want to answer, but when he kept following me and asking I finally snapped and said something along the lines of, “Do you really need me to tell you why? You should know why.”

With a confused look on his face he said, “Why, because you’re embarrassed we had sex?” It was like a knife was stabbed through me when those words came out of his mouth; so nonchalantly, so casually, as if that night had not been the nightmare I had been replaying in my mind since.

“We didn’t have sex… You raped me.” 

When I said that, something visibly changed in his stance, and he responded with;

“Yeah? Well no one will believe you, because

I’m an athlete and you’re a nobody.”

I walked away, shaken to my very core. I hadn’t been planning on reporting what had happened, but I thought maybe I should. I was worried he would come attack me again, or start spreading the rumor that we had consensual sex. I talked to my sister about it all, and to a few of our roommates. Somehow, a friend of a friend of a friend (who was not my biggest fan) heard my side of the story and decided to tell the hockey player.

That’s when versions of my nightmare story spread across campus, and that’s when I became the center of a witch hunt. Because this guy, this popular athlete who played on the hockey team with the winning season record, had so much support around campus, and according to him I was a “nobody”. So who would care what this nobody says? This girl accusing one of their favorite athletes of something so horrific, so terrible?

To make a long story short, the rest of that year I was bullied almost every day on campus and on my phone by friends of his. I was called a liar, I was called a slut, I was blamed for it happening – people said I wanted it and I asked for it. I even heard a rumor that I actually took advantage of him, because he was drunk and I wasn’t.

To say this was a living hell is an absolute understatement. I feared for my safety anytime I left my house to go to class, which became the only time I ever really left towards the end of the year. I was so belittled and so beaten down that I remained silent and I never came forward and reported the rape. He got away with it, while I eventually decided my only option was to move out of Logan, Utah and start over new somewhere else.

I was bullied and shamed into silence. 

Silent No More

I refuse to ever remain silent again. I was silenced for so long, and now I want to share my story in hopes that someone else out there will find the courage to not be silenced. I hope someone else out there who is reading this will find the strength to report their rape, to turn in their sexual abuser, or to tell someone about the person who is sexually harassing or assaulting them.

Silence actually has noise; it is filled with grief, pain, despair, loneliness, and everything hurtful that can be imagined. It’s filled with voices wanting to be heard, women and men who are being abused and mistreated who want to scream out for justice for what’s happened to them, and stories of people who just want to feel safe again.

When we succumb to the silence we allow the rape culture that has taken over our world to win, to continue to enable this toxic and corrosive way of living.

So I am refusing to ever be silent again.

This is why I became involved with The Rape Recovery Center in Salt Lake City.

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It’s a wonderful sanctuary where anyone can go to receive help if they’ve been assaulted or raped – there is a 24/7 hospital team that accompany anyone.

There’s also a 24/7 crisis hotline with trained volunteers on the line waiting to help anyone who calls in. The number is:

801.467.7273

You can also speak to advocates at the office. Professionally trained advocates offer information and support to survivors as they navigate the impact of sexual violence on their daily lives.

Trauma therapists are also on-site offering help to survivors to address the long-term impact of post-traumatic stress on their health and wellbeing.

Survivors can also join in on a variety of group services, to help one another through the healing journey together.

This coming Friday (June 8th 2018) is the center’s annual Hope & Healing Gala, which I have been helping to organize the silent auction. All the proceeds go towards the services I have mentioned – it all goes towards helping survivors heal from the traumas they have been through.

If you would like more information about The Hope & Healing Gala, or The Rape Recovery Center please feel free to email me! aly.paintedwithgold@gmail.com

I am also here for anyone who needs help navigating their way through their own hellish nightmare like mine. I am here to help anyone I can, in any way that I can!

Breaking the Rape Culture

While my attacker will never be charged with what he did to me, I hope other survivors out there will be able to bring theirs to justice.

Once we as a society start making changes, then maybe the sickening amount of sexual assaults and attacks will diminish.

  • We need to hold the attackers accountable for their actions. No more victim blaming or shaming.
  • The trivialization of sexual assault needs to stop. No more of the excuse that “boys will be boys” that so often gets thrown around.
  • Too long have we become tolerant of sexual harassment. Why is it ok to treat anyone in such an abusive and demeaning way?
  • No more scrutinizing the way a victim dresses, blaming that for why they were raped. “She was asking for it, look at the way she was dressed.” It’s total BS. (I was wearing sweats and a t-shirt the night I was raped, definitely was not ‘asking for it.’)
  • Society in general needs to take rape accusations more seriously. So many times I have heard, “Oh, she probably made a mistake and slept with the guy and is trying to cover it up by lying that he raped her.”
  • Why do we continue to teach women how to not be raped? There are self defense classes offered everywhere. How about instead, we start teaching people TO NOT RAPE OTHER PEOPLE?

My list could go on and on.

Can’t Silence a Survivor

The #metoo movement was an incredible step towards preventing sexual violence, but it was not the reason why so many people have started to step forward. It gave survivors, like me, the strength and courage to finally feel brave enough to say something – because for once we felt like we had enough support on our side to do so.

That’s part of the problem too – so many people criticized the women coming forward with past assault and rape claims when the #metoo movement went viral online. Doesn’t that seem odd to anyone else? Instead of criticizing the people coming forward, maybe take a step back and see how horrifying it is at the sheer amount of people that have been silent for so long until now, afraid to come forward? That should be criticized.

Feeling that I have support from others, and knowing that someone else out there might also find courage to say something too – that’s why I chose to speak out now and break my own silence publicly.

I speak out for me, a survivor, and I speak out for anyone else who has also survived sexual assault and/or sexual violence.

If enough of us speak out, the silence of the survivors will become the loudest voice out there.

So speak out, find your support, report what’s happened to you, and start the healing process to let go of it all.

I continue to make progress towards never silently suffering again, and I invite all of you out there who read my words to do the same. You do not ever have to suffer alone again, in the toxic silence of sexual violence. Share your story, raise your voice, and be heard.

“You’re not a victim for sharing your story. You are a survivor setting the world on fire with your truth. And you never know who needs your light, your warmth, and raging courage.” – Alex Elle

 

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Photography: Troy Kolterman MUA: Julie Artistry