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)

 

 

 

My 5 Truths and No Lies About PTSD

I knew I needed to go to therapy; in fact, I’ve needed it for years. But, especially after all of the things I have experienced in the last few, I definitely needed to finally go.

For some reason, I found it so hard to make the appointment and go. Maybe it was a mixture of the whole social stigma surrounding ‘needing therapy’; but I know for a fact it was also because I just wasn’t ready to go.

These demons and monsters, buried deep inside my emotional subconscious, are scary and blood-thirsty. I knew once I started drudging them up to my surface that it would be difficult to fight through them, to say the least.

But, a few weeks ago I was finally feeling prepared to go face them.

I won’t go too much into my therapy as of yet – but I will say that I am glad I finally got up the courage to go. I think anyone can benefit from going to see a therapist! It’s nice to have someone unbiased listen to you and give you good feedback to help you work through whatever it is you are struggling with.

After my initial appointment, my therapist warned me that working through such dormant emotional traumas came with the potential risk of triggering PTSD.

For those of you who don’t know what that is, PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. You may have heard about it pertaining to anyone who has served in the military or armed forces, has witnessed violence or death, or has been a victim of sexual or physical assault. According to Wikipedia:

In the United States about 3.5% of adults have PTSD in a given year, and 9% of people develop it at some point in their life

Unfortunately for me, I fall into a few of those categories myself, and as I start to unwind the complex strands of the trauma nooses that are bound around me internally, I am also beginning to experience certain side-effects from my own PTSD.

So today as I struggle to make it through work on about 2 hours of sleep (due to a fairly traumatic PTSD triggered episode) I wanted to write about something to help bring more awareness to this topic. It shouldn’t be something NOT talked about, and there needs to be more support for those who are suffering through it. Just like all forms of mental illness, this is one that is best treated with support and understanding. So here are 5 things you need to know about PTSD.

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Photography: Michelle Madsen 

1. Stop the Stigma

Just as I said, there is a stigma surrounding all forms of mental illnesses and disorders. I’m not really sure why the world has always had such a hardened heart towards these things.

Back in the “olden days” of Ancient Greece and Rome and Egypt, things were actually fairly humane when it came to treating these conditions. Mental disorders were thought to be connected directly with the person and the Gods; a true reflection of a fight between good and evil. There were special meditation rooms in their temples, herbal treatments, and ceremonies all specifically to help bring back the “balance.’

As time went on, things became less humane and more barbaric. Up until as recently as the 1950’s, lobotomies were still being performed as ‘treatments’ for mental disorders. People were locked away in asylums, children abandoned, electric shock therapy was done; so many horrific and terrible ways people considered as treatments to help.

Nowadays, treatments have progressively become more effective and especially more humane. However, there still remains this stigma about mental health. People suffering are afraid to talk about it or seek treatment, are made fun of for being “crazy”, and according to society should just be able to “suck it up” and “get over” whatever it is that is  affecting them.

This stigma around mental health needs to stop. Even I struggled with just deciding to go to therapy (which I DESPERATELY have needed!) because in my mind I felt like I could work through all of the trauma on my own. Its not true, and I waited longer than I should have because of social stigmas.

So a word of advice to you, someone who does not struggle with depression, anxiety, PTSD, being bi-polar, schizophrenia, or anything else under the mental illness spectrum: be as open minded and understanding as you can towards those who are. Don’t tell them to “just get over it” or that it’s “all in their head” and that they can easily feel better if they work out or eat better. NONE OF THAT is helpful, or even true. (Yes, working out and eating healthy can possibly help with some symptoms, but if someone is truly suffering they need actual help and actual support.)

2. Not All PTSD is the Same

While over 8 million Americans suffer from PTSD, not every case fits into a cookie cutter mold.

Because every case and cause of PTSD varies, so do the symptoms, and the treatments that help. As you venture through these turbulent waters of recovery, just like I am right now, listen to your body and mind and see what helps you the most. There are many different medications, meditations, therapies, and techniques out there. Do what works for you!

3. Not all Triggers are the Same

Going along with #2, everyone is triggered differently and from different things.

For instance, I get triggered often from nightmares. Last night I had a terrible nightmare that someone was physically attacking and choking me, and I woke up inside my closet shaking and coughing as if someone was strangling me.

I also suffer from a newly formed social anxiety when I am around people I don’t know, or large groups (which, for the record, I never used to have issues with until after my marriage.) Panic attacks also plague my nights as well, keeping me awake or causing nightmares like the one I described.

While we all have different triggers, once we realize what they are we can begin the work to overcome them or help lessen their severity. If I have anxiety in large groups, I should definitely avoid large groups when I’m feeling triggered or feel anxiety coming on.

Set boundaries for yourself so that you can avoid feeling triggered. If you don’t want to go to a social activity, then don’t go! You shouldn’t let anyone make you feel like you need to do something if you know you won’t emotionally be able to handle it. Listen to yourself and what makes you feel safe, secure, and in control.

So for those of you in my life who have given me a hard time about me being ‘anti-social’ lately… this is why. I’m doing my best to get back to being my old self, and I’ll come to things when I can! You have to be patient with me, just like I am with myself.

4. Know How to ‘Ground’ Yourself When You Feel Triggered

I came to know the term of ‘grounding myself’ back when I was married and dealing with emotional and physical stress and abuse on a daily basis. And no, it doesn’t mean I sent myself to my room to think about what I did… it’s a mental technique I learned from my sister to help ease the oncoming triggered anxiety or panic that would crash over me like a tsunami.

She deals with panic attacks and anxiety every day, and she explained that in order to feel more grounded she would go through her 5 Senses to help reign in the spinning thoughts or racing heart, and panic that was beginning to take over. I have started calling it “5 Senses in 54321“, but I’m sure there are other names for it too:

5. Name 5 things that you can see around you (a chair, trees, a succulent…)

4. Name 4 things you can feel/touch around you (the grass, wind blowing on your skin…)

3. Name 3 things you can hear around you (traffic driving, birds singing, music…)

2. Name 2 things you can smell around you (perfume, food, flowers…)

Now when it comes to the last sense (taste) if I am not able to name 1 thing I can taste currently, then I would supplement it by reciting a positive affirmation or mantra to myself. Here is my current mantra of choice:

I am strong, I am resilient, I am a survivor

Doing this technique helps to bring me back to solid ground, to feel balance and in control. Seriously, try it out next time you’re feeling overwhelmed or panicked.

Another grounding technique was one I learned from my energy healer from a few months ago. She showed me how to ‘clear away’ or ‘break off’ any energy surrounding me that I didn’t want to be a part of. Like if there was negative tension in the air from a fight between 2 co-workers, I would simply hold my hands out in front of me, palm forward, and swipe them in unison in circles towards my center and back up into place. Essentially, the right hands moves in a counter-clockwise circle and the left is clock-wise.

Now, this energy grounding technique can feel a little funny, especially if done in public (because honestly when I do it I feel like I am trying to mimic Dr. Strange from Infinity War with all his fancy hand gestures and ‘wizardry’ according to Tony Stark). But, when I focus in on my inner energy and want to feel fully grounded, sometimes it honestly does help to physically break away the negative energies that are poisoning my own.

5. You Have the Right to Detox Your Life; of People, Places, and Things

Life can be filled with all different kinds of toxicity; whether its a frenemy who likes to spread mean rumors about you or others, a place that might trigger bad memories, or an activity that gives you social anxiety.

Whatever it is, you have the right to cut it out from your life.

For me, right now all I want is to feel in control of my life and to feel emotionally secure. There was someone I used to hang out with that just was not a good influence on my energy and on my emotions; they were bringing me down when I just want people who raise me up right now (… and I know y’all started singing Josh Groban’s You Raise Me Up in your head when you read that.. don’t lie!!)

So, I cut them out of my social life. I wasn’t malicious about it, and I still see them and consider them a friend. But, I don’t need to let their toxic energy affect me and bring me down.

Same goes for any place that might trigger bad feelings or memories, and send me spiraling into a PTSD/anxiety episode. I avoid all the places my ex and I used to go together, because for now it still stirs up emotions I can’t handle. It’s not that I necessarily miss him, it just makes me sad and hurts me to remember it all.

I also avoid anything that feels negative or toxic to me right now. Generally I love dark, twisted movies and tv shows but right now I can’t seem to handle them. Like the new season of The Handmaid’s Tale just dropped on Hulu, but I just can’t bring myself to watch them just yet.

And you know what? It’s ok to cut these things out and avoid them. Because at the end of the day it doesn’t matter what other people think or say you should do or be doing to be happy; all that matters is how you feel and if you really are happy. Because you wouldn’t keep eating something if it was filled with cyanide and slowly poisoning you, right? So same goes for toxic people, places or things; cut them out!

Listen to yourself and what you need to feel in control, secure, and of course happy.

Live Your Life

The good news in all of this, is that PTSD is a totally manageable thing. You just have to put the work and effort into managing it.

On the days that I am more consciously making the effort to feel good energy and be positive, I notice a huge difference. It’s not easy by any means, but it’s definitely doable.

Beyond medication there are plenty of ways I can help myself overcome and fight through the stormy waters of PTSD, beyond what I’ve already listed:

  • I have my person. The one who I can call day or night, 24/7, show up at their house in absolute tears, and the one who I can depend on to always be there for me. My person is my twin sister, Heather. I have talked about her a lot, and for good reason. She is my rock, my yin to my yang, and my forever voice of reason.
    • Designate your person, so that you always have that comfort and support whenever you need it!
  • Find creative ways to release your angst, your pain, and your voice. For me, it’s my writing. I have found writing to be so incredibly therapeutic, that’s why I started this blog last year! I journal privately, and I also write on my blog.
    • You could write, paint, play music, garden, dance… anything that helps you release everything building up inside!
  • Find a therapist you feel comfortable with who can help you work through everything internally. I promise you won’t regret it!
  • Go outside. Break away from being in your office all day, or from isolating yourself away from it all. Feeling distant from the world may help for awhile, but eventually it can end up being harmful to your emotional well being. So, go outside! Get some fresh air, go for a walk or a hike, or even a bike ride! The sun and fresh air will do you some good!
  • Every day, take some time for “you” time. It’s easier said than done, I know. But I feel a huge difference when I carve out even just 20 minutes a day to do something just for me, that I know will make me happy. I come home from work and like to unwind by reading, meditating, or honestly even just taking a 30 minute nap. Whatever it is, take the time for you! It’s not selfish, it’s taking care of yourself.
  • Remember that any road to recovery takes time, and to not be too hard on yourself. There will be plenty of bad days ahead, but there will also be good days too. Just be patient and don’t give up.
    • Just like breaking a bone and never getting it fixed; you have to go back to the Dr’s office and have them re-break it to set it into the right place. That is how you should see yourself as you are on this road to healing. You are re-breaking through all the old injuries, and re-setting them into the correct place.
    • Its gonna hurt like hell before it feels better. But it will eventually feel better.

Love yourself, take the time to heal, and you will eventually be to the place where you want to be.

Just as the Philadelphia 76’ers are saying these days in the NBA playoffs, #trusttheprocess !

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Photography: Michelle Madsen 

 

Together, We Climb

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for quite sometime, and I have been going back and forth in my mind about it; what I should even say, or if I should even share it.

I must say, I am so humbled when I see that anyone even reads what I write on here. Mostly, I write for myself, for therapeutic release. But, learning that someone out there may get something significant from what I write down, continues to inspire me to share my thoughts and feelings.

So, here I go into another very deep and personal post; and I’m hoping maybe someone out there who is struggling with the same thoughts or feelings can find some sort of peace or strength through my words as I have through others’.

The Pit

Slowly, but consistently, I was pushed further and further down towards the bottom of a dark pit; one where I felt transparent and like I was nothing.

It all started when I was raped my freshman year of college by a friend. I explained all of this in this post  here so I won’t rehash those details; but that’s when my descent into the pit began. I can only speak for myself about how I felt after what happened, but I think anyone who has also gone through that sort of trauma can relate to my struggle with feeling confused, scared, broken apart, and lost.

After months and weeks of agonizing over the guilt and shame I felt, being told it was my fault and I was at blame, my spirit was weakened and I felt like I lost my worth. I felt like a car that had been driven off the lot, and immediately lost a significant amount of value.

In the years since, I have consistently noticed that I was falling into a pattern of trying to feel self-worth or validation through men. Society manipulates us into thinking we as women are nothing without the attention or endorsement of men. This goes back to my recent post about being whole and happy on your own, and not needing to rely on someone else to complete you. But to me, I was trying to fill in those cracks and open wounds that I had sustained with nothing more than water; which eventually evaporates.

Following my destructive cycle of finding myself attracted to abusive men, I was in a major relationship with a controlling narcissist in my early 20’s, and then of course fell into the false arms of my ex-husband. The path that led me there of course was well lit with the best of gas lamps and empty words.

Breaking an Elephant’s Spirit

I watched this horrifying video yesterday, about the abuse elephants endure to be used as tourist attractions for rides in Thailand. They are stolen from their mother’s as small babies, never to see them again. For the majority of the rest of their life they are isolated, abused, beaten, shackled in chains, and starved. All to be ridden by tourists.

The video showed how stressed out, heart broken, and alone they become. There was footage of a young elephant swaying back and forth, almost as if it was dancing. But, really, the baby was showing signs of incredible anxiety and stress from being alone, and especially being mistreated. It also showed an adult elephant reaching it’s trunk back and holding it’s own tail for comfort. That image literally made be burst into tears. These animals are such family oriented and social creatures, and they are literally being beaten and reduced to nothing. The video at one point described it as literally breaking the spirit of these elephants. (So please… do your research before you go to a country where you can ride elephants, or spend time with any wild creatures. 99.99% of the time they are being cruelly mistreated and severely beaten!)

I could relate in a way to those elephants, because my spirit too was completely broken from what I had endured from my own abusive life.

Among many things, I was told I was never good enough constantly, in any aspect: he thought breasts were too small, he often commented on how he hated the way I dressed and did my hair, he criticized my dreams and told me I would never succeed, he tore down my religious beliefs, he talked down to me and called me every horrible word and name under the sun, he called me stupid and spoke to me like I was inferior, and at one point he even told me I deserved and probably even asked to be raped when I was younger.

To say my spirit was broken, was an understatement. There I lay after escaping my marriage at the bottom of the dark, and lonely pit of absolute worthlessness.

Worthless

Among my constant unwanted companions of fear and depression in those first few months after my divorce, I have also consistently received unwanted visits from the darkest of them all, worthlessness; who in fact unpacked their bags as soon as they arrived and seemed to have no plans to leave anytime soon.

Almost every day, they poke me in the back of my mind and remind me, “Hey, remember how worthless you are? K, cool, just checking.”

I was contemplating feeling worthless again last night in fact, when all those familiar painful memories resurfaced like emotional vomit burning in my throat. Then, as I scrolled through social media to try and fall asleep I came across the video that had been posted of Oprah’s acceptance speech at last night’s Golden Globe Awards.

If you haven’t watched it, do yourself a favor and take the time to do so now. You can click here to watch.

Not only is Oprah the first black woman to win the prestigious Cecil B. de Mille award, but she gave one of the most inspirational and powerful speeches, to go along with her incredible achievement.

Last night everyone wore black to support and continue to raise awareness for the #metoo campaign that has been quickly rising with powerful force over the last few months around the world. Oprah reenforced this movement with her own words, all of which struck deeply inside my healing heart.

She spoke of Recy Taylor, a woman who was brutally abducted and raped in 1944, and whose abusers were never prosecuted.

She lived as we all have lived, too many years in a culture broken by brutally powerful men. For too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dare speak the truth to the power of those men. But their time is up. Their time is up.

Their time is up. And I just hope — I just hope that Recy Taylor died knowing that her truth, like the truth of so many other women who were tormented in those years, and even now tormented, goes marching on.

And she went on to finish with this powerful quote:

In my career, what I’ve always tried my best to do, whether on television or through film, is to say something about how men and women really behave. To say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat, persevere and how we overcome. I’ve interviewed and portrayed people who’ve withstood some of the ugliest things life can throw at you, but the one quality all of them seem to share is an ability to maintain hope for a brighter morning, even during our darkest nights. So I want all the girls watching here, now, to know that a new day is on the horizon! And when that new day finally dawns, it will be because of a lot of magnificent women, many of whom are right here in this room tonight, and some pretty phenomenal men, fighting hard to make sure that they become the leaders who take us to the time when nobody ever has to say “Me too” again.

As I finished the video, and the tears rolled down my face, I was shaken with a strange new sense of strength and an urgency to make a change. Not just in my own life and perspective, but in the lives of others who are also victims, who also may feel worthless and lay at the bottom of their own despairing pits.

Together, We Climb

I know that in reality I am not worthless. But, feeling so victimized and beaten down for so long, it is difficult to shake such an unwanted emotional companion. But I am not worthless.

I am worth everything. I am the strong and resilient woman that my parents raised. I am worth fighting for; pushing against the dark tides that abuse and harassment of every kind carry in to drown us. And I am worthy to feel my worth; I will no longer let anything keep me down again. Because I am worth everything.

I have been progressing forward towards a new hope, and this new day as Oprah said. Or, should I say, I am progressing upward. I will rise from the ashes of the rock bottom of this pit and I will never return to it.

And this climb is one that many of us are making, many of which you probably have no idea. When the #metoo campaign first started across social media, I was completely heartbroken to see just how many people close to me posted about it, and I had no idea they were also victims of some sort of harassment, rape, or abuse.

Whatever it is that has led you to this overwhelming feeling of not being good enough, worthless, or carrying the heavy burden of shame or guilt for something that was not your fault; know that you are not alone anymore and that the climb is easier with another set of hands and feet helping you find your own footholds up and out. You are never, ever, alone.

I am excited and humbled to be able to help with a cause so near and dear to me in the next few months; my sister and I are helping with the upcoming Hope and Healing Gala for Salt Lake’s Rape Recovery Center. I want to help others, others who I have been where they are and have felt what they are feeling. If nothing else comes out of my own pain and suffering besides me being able to empathize and help someone else climb out of their own pit, then I am grateful to have endured it.

Again, in the words of Oprah, the time to live in the dark shroud of a world powered by manipulation, abuse, and harassment is up. And my old frenemy worthlessness? You are no longer welcome around these parts.

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