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)

 

 

 

10 Habits of a Boss Babe

You might not think that 106 degree weather in the Arizona desert sounds like much of a vacation, right?

Well, for me this past weekend in Scottsdale was just that!

Planning months in advance, our annual girls trip finally happened this weekend and I was so excited to see some of my best and closest girl friends. Some I haven’t been able to see in years!

And the time in the desert was just what my heart needed; 106 degrees and all!

Now, this isn’t any ordinary kind of girls trip. These woman, these 7 incredibly strong, brave, hysterically funny woman; they might never know how much I adore and look up to each of them. They are amazing each in their own way, and have all influenced my life for the better. These girls are essential members of my powerful Pride of Women that I explained in this post.

There’s a saying I heard back in the day that the people you meet in college will be your friends for the rest of your life, and with these women it could not be more accurate. I love these warrior women so much and I was so excited to spend an entire weekend with them!

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The real OG’s standing in the lobby of The Scott Resort before we all said goodbye

We were lucky enough to have found an incredible deal on newly renovated The Scott Resort (formally known as FireSky) in Old Town Scottsdale, Arizona. Since we were there for their re-opening weekend celebrations, they definitely rolled out the red carpets!

This resort was SO adorable! All of the decors was cute and thoughtful, and had the coolest vibe to it. It was definitely right up my aesthetic alley!

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There were amazing light fixtures everywhere
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One of the fancy pool cabanas

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Such thoughtful decors details all over

If you ever find yourself in Scottsdale, I highly recommend this place. The service was excellent (not to mention they offer a free shuttle service to and from the resort within a 3 mile radius which saved us TONS on money that we would have had to spend on Ubers!) Plus, the location was perfect for everything Scottsdale had to offer.

We spent our time laying out in the sandy beach at their pool, shopping at Fashion Square Mall right down the street, eating at so many delicious close by restaurants like Postino, and just spending some good quality girl time together.

On our last night, we were all hanging out in one of the many cute cabanas they had on the grounds. We were girl talking and taking turns answering questions to “get to know each other’. Even though we obviously already know one another, it’s a fun way to learn more about one another and get even closer. I laughed so much that my abs were literally sore the next morning!

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All but 2 of us hanging in one of the cabanas

One of the questions we asked was for each of us to say what we thought people came to us for, and then we would take turns going around the circle saying what we each went to that individual girl for. As we went around the circle, we each expressed the love and adoration we had for one another, telling each other what we needed and came to one another for.

One we go to for wise advice about health, food, deep convos, and funny embarrassing stories. One we go to for plants and crystals, cool vibes, and is beyond thoughtful. One is generally our leader when it comes to organizing plans and trips, gives logical advice, and is makes everything fun. One is the best listener, and has the biggest sweetest heart; not to mention is funny without even trying! Another has the ability to make you feel like the most important person in the world while she talks about you and learns all about you, and has the best sense of humor. One of the strongest-willed women I know, and despite it all continues to work hard and has the ability to always see the good on the horizon. The last is incredibly sweet, kind, and has a feisty hidden personality that we all love!

When it came to me, I was so touched by the heart-felt sentiments they expressed about me too. I honestly teared up!

As a collective whole, we are one amazing and powerful group of women. My heart was replenished, recharged, and is feeling so full after seeing all of them! I am counting down the days to our next girls trip, just like Stanley counts down until the next Pretzel Day at their Scranton Dunder Mifflin office.

Success Supports Success

There’s a quote I read the other day that I loved:

Behind every successful woman

is a tribe of other successful women,

who have her back

I love this, because we as women definitely need to continue to support and raise each other up! Sometimes girls and women can be so catty, negative and cruel to one another it just blows my mind! It’s hard enough being a woman in today’s world, can’t we all just support and love one another??

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Going along with that quote, my tribe of women all support each other, and have all helped one another be stronger; whether or not we have even realized it! We are total #bossbabes. Don’t know what that is? Here’s the definition (in my own words):

A successful woman who owns a business, or owns her own life ‘like a boss.’ She isn’t afraid to get what she wants, she is in control of her life and makes no apologies or excuses for who she is. 

So, I’ve put together a list of 10 things I believe every #bossbabe woman should be doing in order to be more successful and much happier in every aspect of her life. Each one was inspired from my girl tribe from this weekend!

10 Habits of a #BossBabe

1. Have a Personal Mission Statement

This one may sound a little odd, but if you have your own mission statement, it really does help you be more successful!

Think about it, every company or successful person seems to have one:

Walt Disney – “To make people happy”

Amazon – “To be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers

can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and

endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices.”

Google – “To organize the world’s information and make it universally

accessible and useful.”

So, why wouldn’t you, a successful boss babe, have your own equally great mission statement?? Am I right?

The reason having a mission statement helps you, is because it forces you to have a purpose, and to clarify what is important to you. Through it, you express what you value most and what your aspirations are.

Also, seeing and repeating it to yourself everyday helps to drive you towards those goals, and to becoming that boss babe you know you can be!

What’s my mission statement? I’ve been thinking about it ever since I started outlining this post. For now, as it is still a work in progress, I think mine is this:

Redefine Yourself – Recover Your Pieces – Rediscover Your Life

This quote is on my main page of my blog. It sounds more like a mantra, but I think a mantra and a mission statement can be one in the same. I like it, and those are definitely things I want to accomplish in my life, and they are things I value tremendously right now.

What’s your mission statement? Feel free to share it with us in the comments below so we can see it! 🙂

2. Recite Positive Affirmations Daily

I’ve talked about positive affirmations a few times, but it’s because I really believe in them! The mornings that I read them I feel more confident, and feel more ready to take on my day. Sounds cheesy… but it’s true!

Improving your relationship with yourself is a major key when it comes to success, self-confidence, and being happy! And when you literally recite positive things, like affirmations, to yourself, you are making yourself happier by doing so.

According to the CBT (Cognitive Behavior Theory) your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all related. So if you are reciting and implanting those good thoughts and vibes into your mind, you are essentially going to make your behaviors and feelings equally as positive. The result? You are happier!

It’s science people.

What are some of your favorite positive affirmations? Here are some I’ve been reciting lately:

I have the power to create change

I am worth everything

Just be kind and brave. That’s all you ever need 

Know some good ones I can add to my list? Leave em in the comments!!

3. Recharge & Refocus

Life is pure chaos sometimes. So often I find myself feeling like I am in this insane wind tunnel, trying to focus on all the things I have to do and I can’t!

The thing that we forget to do is to recharge and refocus ourselves, so that we can have the energy and the dedicated mindset to focus on our tasks. If you are on 3 hours of sleep and needing to write a well punctuated and grammatically correct email for work, is that going to be easy for you? Probs not.

That whole “I can sleep when I’m dead” mentality may have worked when I was 21 in college and pulling all-nighters, but now in my ripe old age of 33 I know I need more sleep. Otherwise I can’t function, and I may as well be dead; but more like the walking dead because I’m a zombie.

It’s not just about sleep either though; recharging and refocusing can also be personal mediation. It’s important to take time for yourself very single day, to do some mediation. And it doesn’t need to be literally sitting cross-legged on a yoga map with your eyes closed chanting things in your head (although sometimes that is definitely needed and so helpful!)giphy-1

No, you can honestly just take the time for yourself everyday to just stop and slow down, and re-organize yourself. Think of it as a time-out during a crucial final quarter of a football or basketball game. Sometimes it gets a little hectic and they take the time out to regroup the team, and figure out their next plays; as well as going back in the game with a fresh mind-set.

So, take a time-out! 

Use time for yourself everyday to refocus your goals and your priorities, and recharge yourself!

4. Invest In Yourself

The most important investment you will ever make is in yourself.

That’s right; you need to invest more into Y-O-U!

For example, think about investing into buying a house. You shopped around and finally bought your dream home! You’ve poured so much money into filling it with beautiful furniture and things, making an necessary repairs or upgrades, and up-keeping it so it stays beautiful and feels like home forever!

Well, you are like that house. Except much… MUCH… more important!

So, to fully utilize your important investment in yourself, you need to take the right steps to keep up the value of said investment. How do you do that? There’s a lot of different things you can do:

  • Never stop learning! Take education seriously, even if you never go to college or earn a degree, just never stop learning! Because knowledge is powerful! And the more powerful you are and the more things you know, the more confident and successful you will be.
  • Fill your heart and soul with lovely, positive things. Pray, meditate, recite mantras and affirmations… whatever makes you happy!
  • Learn how to shake off the shame culture. Forgive yourself more easily, and move on. You’re going to fail and you’re going to mess up; it’s a part of life and it’s not worth holding onto. Let it go!
  • Take care of yourself on the outside too! Workout, eat healthy, drink lots of water, and sleep!
  • #treatyoself. That’s right, I said it and I meant it! If you want to treat yourself to hair extensions, lash extensions, or splurging on some expensive clothes or shoes… DO IT! Not all the time, you must have self-control, but sometimes you need to treat yourself! It will make you happier to every so often treat yourself to something nice. Also? Life is short.. so eat the damn donuts.

The bottom line here, is you are an amazing and wonderful investment, but you have to believe it and take care of yourself to continue adding more and more to your already incredible value.

Invest in yourselves boss babes!!

5. Read More – Screens Less!

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If you know me, you know I love to read books! I currently have about 5 books on my night stand I’m trying to read simultaneously… because I’m a nerd.

But, reading is important for your sanity and for your success! Here’s a list of 24 books successful people read just for some examples if you’re looking for something to read!

According to this article about Reading and Life Success :

The act of reading, particularly engaged reading, as opposed to the mechanics of reading, is a powerful predictor of life success by any measure. It is the best predictor of who goes to university regardless of socio-economic background. It is the best predictor of life income, career options, even life partner choices. And neuroscience is proving that reading fiction is one of the most powerful means of developing sympathetic individuals, with better social skills and higher levels of self esteem, resulting in increasing self improvement and prosocial behaviours.

My new goal lately has been to read more books and use my screens less – meaning my phone, laptop, and tv. It’s tough sometimes, I’ll admit it! But isn’t it scary to anyone else how reliant we are on just our smart phones alone? It’s like we can’t function as humans without a phone glued to our hands anymore.

So read more and use screens less, and you’ll find more success! It’s honestly that simple!

6. Accept Your Challenges Head On

This weekend my one girlfriend reminded me of one of her most recent Instagram posts about challenges and trials. Here’s the link if you want to see it, or below is part of it quoted:

I am going to take a lesson today from how buffalo and cows handle storms in Colorado.
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Only the strongest storms come over the ridge of the giant Rocky Mountains to the east. When a storm comes the cows see it & start to run from it. Seems logical, but the problem is they don’t move fast enough & before long the storm is over them, moving in the same direction as they are maximizing the pain & hurt
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Buffalos react much differently. They see the storm, gather together, and turn HEAD ON STRAIGHT into the STORM. Seems illogical at first thought, BUT they go the opposite way the storm is moving & make it out of the storm faster with less harm taking it head on in the long run.

If only we could be brave like the buffalo, and head straight on into our trials instead of trying to outrun them and avoid them for as long as we can.

In the long run, it’s better to face them head on. Sometimes its not easier to do so, but it is better and makes us stronger.

Just like in this post here I quoted, “What challenges you changes you.” At the time it may suck, and it might hurt, but in the end we will become a better and more successful person because of it.

Through challenges we grow, we learn, and we become stronger. So be a buffalo, not a cow, and handle those challenges like a successful #bossbabe.

7. Make Socializing a Priority

I will be the first to admit that I am the worst lately when it comes to being social. In fact, I always warn people about how I’m anti-social and to not take it personally! I’ve talked a lot about how much easier it is sometimes for me to stay home and not go out (with all my PTSD anxiety and such I explained in this post) but I know I need to be more social because it’s for my own good.

Not to mention, the more social you are the more successful you will be in life!

As humans, we need connection, affection, and communication to feel normal and happy. If you tend to be more like me, Ms. Hermit McHermitsen over here, you will feel more detached from the world the more anti-social you are. It’s just not good, you need friends and interactions!

Part of being successful in any aspect of life is having the ability to talk to anyone, anywhere, and to make connections with them. Networking is not just some word people throw around for fun, it’s a real thing! And it’s really really important for success.

Apparently your success depends on the people you know, and that could not be more true! The more people you socialize with, the bigger your network reach is, and the bigger your success potential is!

So go socialize already! Make new friends, go outside your comfort zone! Network outside of your own work circle, be spontaneous, and build up your social network! All you’ve got to lose is that dent in the couch you’ve been making thats forming around your body every night you stay in and binge watch shows.

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Successful people socialize, and they’re happier too!

8. Focus on One Thing at a Time

Easier said than done these days, right? There’s always so much happening at once.

But, if you can, try to just focus in on one thing at a time.

This weekend in our round-robin of girl talk, we each said one thing we wanted to work on in our lives. I said I wanted to start making smaller goals to accomplish at a time, instead of trying to focus on one huge goal that seemed impossible to ever get to.

I think I nailed it with that, because too often we have our eyes on the big prize at the end, instead of realistically focusing on the smaller prizes that will each act as a stepping stone to get us to the end.

In the wise words of Bob (Bill Murray from the movie What About Bob?), “Baby steps!” Or can we actually change it up? How about “boss-babe steps.” Sounds better 🙂

If we can take the time to re-prioritize our goals into smaller, more realistic and obtainable goals, we can get ourselves to the bigger ones later.

And, don’t forget to celebrate yourself when you hit your goals! Go back to #4 and TREAT YO SELF!

9. Smile

I know what you’re thinking, “Smile? That’s it? That’s so easy!”

Well yes, my friends, it is that easy.

Smiling makes you feel better, and gives you confidence, and it can be shared! Have you ever done the simple test of smiling at everyone you see? Every time I do it, they almost always smile back at me. And you know what? They probably keep smiling at other people too, and so on and so forth… therefore,  a smile and create hundreds maybe even thousands of other smiles!

Once you’ve mastered the whole smile thing, then you can go about the rest of your day feeling that boost of confidence. And what do confident people do? They succeed!

Yassss.

10. Have a Big Heart

One thing that I have tried to do ever since I lost my mom 3 years ago, has been to serve others to help my own heart ache to hurt a little less. And, after my own abusive marriage and broken heart, I have reached out even further to try and serve and help others as much as I can.

The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity — Leo Tolstoy

In today’s society I feel like treating each other with kindness and love is quickly becoming an outdated habit. The world can be mean, dark, and selfish. What better way to help bring back that light than to have a big heart towards others?

I also want to continue to serve others and give as much as I can, because so many people in my life have lifted me in my own times and helped me through desperate moments. I feel I must pay it forward and do that to others, to pass it along and help brighten up the world.

Each of those girls in my tribe from my trip this weekend has helped me so many times. They give without thought, they love, they support, and they comfort. It is so inspiring to be around them, and their loving energy. It made me want to come home and do more!

And that is how a true successful boss babe should be; always humble enough to remember that she was once in the shoes of the ones who need the help.

Despite my heart being previously crushed, I will never let my love to serve others be diminished. It’s through that service I can truly heal it back to being whole again.

Total Boss Babe

Really, what it all boils down to, is you are the average of the 5 people closest to you. Looking at that aspect now, how successful, how powerful, how happy are you on average??

This weekend, my cup was running over with a 100% boss babe success average. And in my life I have so many other incredible and powerful women in my pride that fiercely love me, and inspire me to push through anything that comes my way.

With everything and everyone I have in my life, and I have no choice but to keep going towards becoming the total boss babe I know I can. And each of you can too, I believe in you!

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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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Go Jump Off A Cliff

Since the new year, I’ve decided that my new life mantra is to never let fear rule me ever again. So my solution to do this? I have been trying to do things that scare me, that the old “me” would have never done.

Granted, I am easing myself into it.

From spelunking, to rock climbing, to hanging over 1200 foot cliffs… I’ve been facing some fears!

Right after my trip to Lake Powell me and some of my friends stopped by Horseshoe Bend in Page, Arizona. I’ve always wanted to go see it, and it definitely did not disappoint! And I hung over the edge of the 1200 foot cliff to take this awesome picture!

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I’ll admit it was pretty scary hanging over the edge like this, but it was so worth it! (Plus my friend was holding my legs so I knew I wasn’t going to fall!)

Jumping Off The Cliff

I jumped off a cliff about 8 months ago, and ended up hitting the lowest rock bottom I’ve ever hit before. While it is a metaphor for me finally getting the courage to leave my miserable abusive marriage, it doesn’t mean it hurt any less than jumping off of a literal cliff.

I was badly injured, scared, and my life felt completely broken apart. I decided to opt out of any financial help or alimony (because I just wanted to be free from it all and not drag it out because I knew he would fight me in court), so my bank account was pretty broken too. There were moments I questioned whether or not I made the right decision, and fear was my constant and torturous companion.

However, I would come to find out that jumping off the cliff was the only thing that could save my life. The night I left my marriage, I jumped headfirst into the black abyss below, hopeful that I would survive the unknown.

The beautiful thing about rock bottom is that’s the place where you will find your true roots again, and build yourself back up even stronger than before. I quickly planted myself firmly on this new ground I had landed on, and decided then that I would never let fear rule my life. I had spent the last four years at the mercy of a controlling and hurtful spouse, and I made the commitment to myself to never let it happen again. I would start to climb back up, even if at times I would be hanging by just my fingernails.

I moved into my own apartment the day before my divorce was finalized, and I was excited to start over. Not many people get a second chance, and I knew I could’t let this one go to waste. I got a new job, started to make new friends, and felt like I was going in the right direction for the first time in a long time.

The Fear Returns

Fast forward now to last night, as I sat in my now empty bedroom in my apartment my old frenemy Fear showed up again. Change is always hard, and fear loves to accompany any sort of disturbance in my life’s routines.

I have been living alone since December in a one bedroom apartment, but ever since it was broken into 2 months ago I have felt the need to move to a new place with a roommate. I finally jumped on the opportunity a few weeks ago, when a friend of mine got me in contact with his friend who had just bought a 3 bedroom condo and needed a roommate. It all seemed to fall into place just when it needed to, and I finally get to move in and meet her today!

But last night, I came home to my empty room after some of my amazing friends helped me move my bed and my dressers, and for some reason I felt this sudden wave of emotions crash over me. This apartment had been my place of recovery, my place to find inner peace and balance again, and my place to learn to trust people again. I needed to be alone for a couple of months to reset, refocus, and recharge. Leaving it is bittersweet.

I laid on the carpet and shed some tears. I’m not embarrassed to admit it, because I’m a strong believer that sometimes all you need is a good old cry. I am ready to let this place go though, and move on. Just as The Raw Brunette said in one of her latest posts… fear is a damn liar.

Fear wants me to stay where I am, to not grow, to not pass Go and collect $200, and to stay stuck forever. Fear wants me to be alone, to be sad, and to never let go of my past that continues to try to haunt me.

Sorry fear, but I have to break up with you. It’s not me… it’s definitely you. #byefelicia

Really Though… Let It Go

Not to sound like I’m quoting Frozen, but sometimes it is best to just let things go. As I have been packing and preparing for this upcoming move, I have realized more than ever how meaningless “stuff” really is. Stuff is just stuff, and for the most part we don’t need to hold onto everything that we do.

I have thrown out and donated SO MUCH STUFF! Things I brought from my initial move from my divorce that I realize now, 8 months later, are things I don’t need to keep. It has been so rewarding and so incredibly therapeutic to let the emotional attachment and resentment that holds onto these physical items, and I feel 10 lbs lighter from everything I have shed.

Obviously, the same concept can be applied internally. We need to let things go in order to fully move forward. Why remain tethered forever to something from your past? There’s no point, and honestly it just isn’t healthy. If you continue to just brush things under the rug, you’re eventually going to trip over that big huge pile of crap you keep building under the rug. Face it, deal with it, throw it out, and let it go!

Bring On The Next Cliff

I am so excited for what is ahead of me. The best part is, I have so many options and opportunities, and I have the choice to go where I think is best for me. I am in control of my own life again, and that in itself is beautiful.

I don’t regret my jump from the cliff so many months ago. That literal leap of faith is what has saved my life, and given me a future that is bright and free and filled with so many possibilities.

Alone Time

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The Hike

A few years ago I was with a group of friends, and we camped on a plateau outside of Zion National Park, and then the next morning we hiked Angel’s Landing. I became sick overnight with food poisoning and threw up for most of the night, and most of the next day. However, I was determined to do the hike because I had never done it and was looking forward to it.

Despite being desperately dehydrated, and continuing to periodically throw up along the trail (sorry random hikers for having to see that…) I still pushed myself and finished the hike. I had a few pieces of charcoal from our campfire in my pocket that I nibbled on occasionally because the charcoal helps to settle an upset stomach. My friend Kallie who was with us had learned that trick as an outdoor guide a few summers before.

Angel’s Landing is one of the most difficult uphill hikes in Zion, and it is not for the faint of heart. If you are afraid of heights, it will push you to the edge of your comfort zone; quite literally since at the very end you are crossing a slender pathway along the spine of the mountain with over 1000 ft drops on either side of you!

The end is worth the risk and the terrifying drop offs. It is such a gorgeous valley, and you are standing above it all; it really is breath-taking.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago, where I decided to hike Angel’s Landing again. This time, though, I would do it alone (and this time I would definitely NOT be sick!)

While I say I hiked alone, there were so many other hikes on the trail that I wasn’t truly alone. This is one of the most popular hikes in Zion, so of course it would be a miracle to actually be the only person there. However, since I was by myself it was quite peaceful. Usually I would be talking the whole time to my hiking buddies, but this time I only had my inner diScreen Shot 2017-05-19 at 10.32.42 AMalogue to listen to.

As I pushed through the first steep switchbacks and up onto the spine of the hike, I never once felt afraid like I had the first time I’d d

one this hike. Holding onto the chains and looking down the 1000 foot drop offs surrounding me, I felt no fear and it was exhilarating.

 

Finally to the top, I found a secluded little section of the mountain, and managed to have about 15 mins by myself. It was so peaceful up there, looking out over the valley. I did some meditation, and some deep thinking. I also made a vow that I would never let fear rule my life again, like it had for the last 4 years. Up there, on top of that mountain I definitely recovered a piece of myself that had been missing and I am glad to have recovered it.

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How To Be Alone

So why is it important to be alone? These days, I feel like no one can stand being by themselves. Everyone feels like they have to constantly have plans, be with groups of friends, and always be busy. While of course it’s important to have people in your life and have plans, I think it has become a lost art of finding peace in alone time.

I’ve always enjoyed alone time, and in the past I have been criticized for it by those who I think were never comfortable with being alone. Alone time means you get to meditate, work through internal deep thoughts, find inner balance, and just unplug from the entire world.

Even if it’s just 30 mins a day, I think it’s important.

After my divorce, I moved in temporarily with my dad and his wife, and then when I was a little more financially on my feet I got a place of my own. I wanted a one bedroom apartment, and I found a great one nearby.

Some people expressed concern about me living alone, especially since I had such an unstable and violent ex-husband lurking about, but I knew I needed to be alone for awhile. For the entirety of my marriage everything I did was controlled down to even what I could buy at the grocery store. I wasn’t even allowed to decorate the house how I wanted to, because everything needed to be ultimately decided by him.

So, I wanted my own place where I was completely free to do what I wanted for a change. It may sound completely irrational, but I wanted to be able to be able to heal that part of myself that had been taken from me. So I had this whole apartment in which I could finally decorate the way I wanted to, watch what I wanted to, listen to loud music and dance if I wanted to, and cook whatever I wanted to without someone else shutting me down and controlling everything.

Alone time can be so healing, and rejuvenating. Think about how you feel when you take a bath. A wonderfully warm bath filled with scented epsom salts to detox your body, and cleansing bubbles to wash away everything from your day. That’s what alone time can be for your heart, and for your soul. And who doesn’t love a good bubble bath, am I right?

Alone Time From Dating

I have also been pretty hesitant about dating since my traumatic last relationship. A lot of opinions have pushed me to just get out there and date again and jump back into it, but really I wasn’t ready.

I think anyone who has been in any sort of abusive relationship needs time to heal, which means time to be alone. Some jump right back into the dating pool, and 9 times out of ten will end up in another failed relationship, or in another abusive one. The real trick is working internally through whatever has been lost from the previous relationship, and fixing and letting those things go so that it never happens again.

For me, I lost myself completely in my former marriage. I was co-dependent on my ex and his issues, and now as I get further and further away from it all I realize more how much I changed; and how much of myself I really lost. Alone time is the major key here. If I jumped into another serious relationship right now, all I would be doing is reverting back to what I had done with my ex; I would melt completely into his life and only be happy through him.

I need to be happy by myself before I can be happy with someone else. So in a sense, I have been dating myself for the past few months. I’ve started to do things I used to love again, going on hikes and adventures, doing yoga twice a week, working on finishing my novel again, having dance parties in my underwear, and just being carefree like I used to be.

Find Joy In Being Alone

The thing is, I am happy. I’m finally feeling like myself again, and it makes me so unbelievably grateful that I’ve had this second chance at my life. I have an incredible network of family and friends who all love and support me, and I could’t have done this without them.

Finding true happiness started back at rock bottom, when I was completely alone. There was one night at my dad’s house I remember just laying in a pathetic ball next to my bed, crying and feeling as if my broken heart would literally kill me. A thought came into my mind, that I was with the one person in the world who would never hurt me, and only wanted for me to be happy and to succeed and reach my biggest dreams and my true potential. That person was me.

Ever since that night, I’ve never looked back. I am happy by myself. I love myself! I love myself so much, in fact, that I was able to finally break away from my abusive marriage. I chose me, and every day I choose for me to be happy. Of course I’m out there dating, trying to make sense of this crazy technology based dating world, and I do hope one day I will find someone that I can be happy to share my life with. It’s my hope for the future 🙂

But first… you must find the joy in being alone. You’ll never be happy with anyone else until you are happy with yourself. I promise you won’t regret it.

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My Journey To Find My Pieces

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Hi! My name is Aly. If you haven’t read my This Is Me section, it is a more shortened version of that this post will describe. If you are ready for some serious soul depth details, then please keep reading:

Broken

I am a 32 year old woman whose life most recently was shattered into a thousand pieces. I’m talking it was turned inside out, chewed up and swallowed, burned to ashes, smushed into smithereens…. there are so many terms and yet none of them truly explain how I feel. Basically, for lack of a better term, I am broken.

I have had many breaking points in my life up until now, that have caused fractures and holes throughout me. But just a few months ago my frame could no longer sustain the damaging breaks, and I fell apart.

The First Few Pieces

Let me rewind to my young adult life, in Wallingford, Pennsylvania. I was 12, and my family and I had just returned from trip to Disney World together. My mom complained about her back hurting the entire trip, and could not really enjoy herself the whole time. She and my dad thought she just needed to see someone about realigning her back so they planned to do that when we returned home.

About a month later, I remember feeling as if the ground was pulled out from underneath me when I learned that my mom had been diagnosed with a rare form of bone marrow cancer, called Multiple Myeloma, which had developed as a tumor in her spinal cord in between two of her vertebrae and caused both to fracture. The diagnosis was terminal, as it usually is with this type of cancer, and she was given just a few months to live. This was my first major breaking point, when for the first time I felt true heart-breaking sorrow. The kind that aches painfully, and incurably,  deep inside of you. That was the first piece of me that broke away.

As my mom began her strenuous cancer treatments at Crozer-Chester Medical Center, I subsequently developed anxiety and panic-attacks which happened daily. Everyone in their own way copes with trauma differently, and this was apparently my body’s way of trying to cope with mine. Unfortunately I didn’t know what was happening, or why, and for years I struggled with these crippling panic attacks that would be triggered sometimes by the smallest things.

Many times I felt as if I were crazy, and couldn’t explain it to anyone, but I tried. I lived in constant fear of having one of these ‘episodes’ where my thoughts would race and I couldn’t breathe, and felt as if I would literally die.

In correlation with my anxiety, I also struggled with depression. There were a few moments over the next few years where I considered cutting myself, mostly to release the physical pain, because for some reason that made sense to me. I never went through with it (at least not until my recent marriage… but that’s for later in the story..) but I definitely thought about it often. I also considered once, on a very difficult and painful night, about cutting my wrists. Thankfully, I never even tried, but I wished I could have spoken to someone about it all. I just never felt like I could, so internally I tried to work through it all.

(For the record, I don’t ever recommend keeping something as serious as cutting or suicide to yourself. Please, if you are struggling with these thoughts find someone, anyone, who you can confide in. There are places you can go, support groups, and hotlines. You are not alone. Please just know that you are not alone!)

So for most of my young adult life, and into my late teenage years, my first few pieces were broken inside me. My mom miraculously entered remission in 2001, and for the foreseeable future things finally looked as if they would just continue to go up from there.

The Next Pieces

This next two stories are difficult for me to share, mostly because I have not really shared them with anyone (granted a small handful of close-close friends and my sister.) My heart pounds as I start to type, but I feel so inspired that sharing it will help someone else out there, to maybe cope with a similar situation. So deep breath, here it goes.

My first two years of college I attended Utah State University in Logan, Utah. Set in the gorgeous Cache Valley, amidst the Wellsville Mountain Bear River Mountain ranges.

There are two men who forever changed my life those years, and definitely not in a good way. I won’t really go into full details about either one, just enough to give you an idea. Maybe sometime soon I’ll write a full post, but for now this is what I can write about them.

These two men were predators; evil, selfish and manipulative people who preyed upon weakness and took what they wanted. Both sexually assaulted me, and both stole from me pieces of myself that I feared for so long that could never be replaced or repaired. Both of these assailants were my friends, and both attacked me and took advantage of me.

The rape culture that we face today was just as prevalent as it was 14 years ago. I was made to feel afraid to report anything, because I was manipulated to think that what happened was ‘my fault’ and that I had ‘asked for it to happen.’ Also, the one threatened me physically if I reported anything, and then proceeded to make my life the rest of that year a living hell on campus. He and his friends harassed me, called me a liar, and my anxiety became so bad that I chose to mostly stay at home. There was a period of one week that I didn’t leave my house once, and instead became a recluse hiding from it all and binge watching The O.C.

I couldn’t have survived those months without my rock, my twin sister Heather. She has always been my best friend, my saving grace, and the one who has supported me through everything.

And I did in fact survive, and vowed to leave Logan and never look back. So I transferred down south to Utah Valley University in Orem. I needed a fresh start, and to escape the things and the people who tortured me.

Losing Half Of My Heart

As I shared earlier, my mom was diagnosed with cancer in 1996. She was in remission for three years, from 2001- the spring of 2003. Her cancer reemerged, and it was what we had all been fearing in the back of our minds.

My mom was such a warrior, though. She fought bravely, and never EVER complained. Her back had been broken in 3 places since 1996 and yet she rarely ever would talk about the pain. She fell down our stairs in 2000 and shattered her hip, which was put back together with several screws, and yet she would never talk about how much it hurt her to walk, or sit for long periods of time. Her medications stole her sleep from her, and she became a chronic insomniac. Her taste buds were dulled to the point where she couldn’t even taste food anymore.

She was in oftentimes excruciating pain, she always felt nauseous, and was exhausted. Yet she hard ever said a word about it. My mom truly is one of my heroes, someone who I will always admire for her courage and her endurance through her immensely torturous trials.

The last year of my mom’s life was in 2014. Her cancer had spread into her neck, the base of her skull, and throughout most of her bone structure in her body. After doing a round of a clinical trial drug, it became obvious how depressed she was. She stopped eating, and we could just tell that she was no longer wanting to go through the IVs and the treatments and sickness anymore.

As painful as it was, because selfishly we all want our loved ones to keep fighting to give us more time, we had a family intervention with her where we expressed to her with full love and support that we knew she didn’t want to do treatments anymore. I loved my mom’s tenacity and her sassiness so much, and even in the end she fought us saying she would still keep doing them; even though we all knew, even she knew, that she couldn’t take it anymore.

That was on October 2014. Over the next few months we spent as much time with her as we could, not really knowing how much time was left.

Then the day came, February 17 2015. I was supposed to drive my mom that morning up to The Huntsman Cancer Institute in Salt Lake for a routine check up with one of her Drs.  However, we ended up at a different hospital. She had collapsed in the middle of the night next to her bed, and when I arrived it was clear she needed to get to a hospital immediately.

I rode with her in the ambulance to Utah Valley Regional Hospital. She was delirious from the pain, and throughout the next few hours she spoke to me sometimes as if I were my twin sister Heather, or even her friend Kay who had passed away a few years earlier. I knew deep in my heart this may have been the end.

Eventually she was admitted to the hospital when it became clear most of her organs were failing. She was having trouble breathing due to pneumonia that was collapsing her lungs. Those hours watching her struggle, as she weaved in and out of coherency and consciousness, were some of the longest and hardest hours of my life.

I made sure my siblings made it to the hospital, and phoned my dad to book it home from Bonanza, Utah where he was working that week. He unfortunately did not make it in time to see her, because once she started to go it happened very quickly.

Around 6 PM, with all three of her children by her side, my mom slipped away through the celestial veil and passed on to the other side.

That day, I lost half of my heart.

It’s difficult to put into words the grief you sustain from losing your mother. A part of me was relieved that she was finally no longer in constant pain. Yet I wished with every single cell in my body that I could have had more time with her.

I will do another post soon about grief. This was one of the biggest pieces of me yet to break apart; at least until my marriage ended.

Breaking Myself To Free Myself

Some people have asked me why I stayed so long in such an abusive marriage. Honestly, until you’ve been in an abusive relationship of any kind you won’t understand why we feel the need to stay tethered to these corrosive and poisonous people.

The truth is, I am an enabler. I seem to for most of my life been attracted and drawn to people who I felt like I could “fix” somehow. I like to help people, I like to be supportive and understanding. Which of course these are all good qualities to have, but not when they are most definitely being taken advantage of.

I’ve always been told that my biggest strength and weakness is how much I love people. When I love someone, I love them completely, with my entire self. I had so many pitfalls when it came to dating, and it was because I would give so many guys chances that never should have deserved my time or effort.

I had a major relationship when I was 21, with an emotionally unstable and abusive boyfriend. That one was really hard on me, and even when I did finally get the courage to break it off officially (which this took months and months…) he threatened several times to end his life because of me leaving. It was very emotionally stressful and traumatizing for me. In the end, you can only control what you do and not what anyone else does, so I chose to not let him emotionally manipulate me to stay with him.

My next serious, and even more abusive relationship, came with my ex-husband. I met him several months after his first divorce had been finalized. He was lonely and hurting for support and someone to take care of him, and that was where I fell into the “trap.” Like I said, I am an enabler and I enabled him to become dependent on me, and I on him. We were co-dependant and it was not a healthy relationship.

They say that love is blind, and I have to disagree. I think love makes us choose to not see the reality of certain things, and ignore and justify gigantic red flags that may be waving right in from of our faces. So we aren’t necessarily blind, we develop ‘selective sight” and are ignoring and overlooking things instead. Looking back, I should have known immediately that my ex was an alcoholic and an addict, but I loved him and in my mind I thought could save him.

Once I realized the true severity of his addictions, 6 months into our marriage, I felt trapped and unsure what to do. When I began to try and talk to him about it, that’s when the rage awoke within him. He became verbally, physically, emotionally, and sometimes even sexually abusive towards me. (Yes, as crazy as it sounds, even a spouse can sexually assault a spouse.)

My life became a dark, lonely world where I felt isolated and trapped like a prisoner. Never have I felt more alone and I did in my marriage. I tried my best to help him, and get him to go to support groups and even rehab to control his addictions. I know people can truly overcome their addictions, but the people that actually overcome them do the work to do so; it does not just magically happen.

Unfortunately for me, the magic never happened, and while I was quietly hoping for a miraculous disappearing act to help me escape from my life, I was slowly feeling more and more trapped in my personal hell.

Many terrible things happened, many tears were shed as I cried myself to sleep too many times to count, so many nights spent shaking uncontrollably with fear living in my own house. I wasn’t perfect either, and I am not declaring that I am or was. We both made mistakes for sure. Yet I was remaining in a horribly abusive relationship and didn’t know how to escape. I loved him, and I wanted it to work, but at the same time I was miserable and knew I deserved more.

As I mentioned earlier, for a time I began to emotionally cut myself on those particularly hard nights. I’m not proud of those decisions, and I’m only mentioning them to bring up awareness about how real cutting is, and that if anyone else out there is suffering with these urges to please talk to someone and get help. It took me too long to finally reach out to my sister in my moments of weakness, and I will forever have those small scars on my inner arm to remind me of the darkness that tried to consume me. Cutting wasn’t about suicide, it was about releasing the emotional pain inside me that was suffocating me. What I really needed, though, was to escape my marriage and free myself.

It took me months upon months of real soul-searching and desperate praying to finally find the courage to leave my marriage. The day I received my definitive answer came several weeks after my ex had pointed a loaded gun at me and threatened to kill me if I left, and then himself so we could be together. In that moment I don’t remember being afraid, I stood squarely in front of him, the gun pointed at my face a bit shakily in his drunk hands, and I told him, “Go ahead and kill me. I’d rather be dead than be miserable here with you.”

I’m not sure where my bravery came in that moment to say that while a loaded gun was inches from my head, but the words I said echoed and vibrated inside me for weeks. Yes, I stayed for several weeks after that incident. Call me crazy if you want, but like I said you will never understand how hard it is to leave an abusive relationship until you’ve experienced it for yourself. The fear keeps you there. Fear controls everything you do.

I continued to pray constantly, sometimes just laying in a pathetic sobbing heap on the bathroom floor just praying silently through my aching weary heart. I needed to leave but I just didn’t know how, or when. I was afraid. Afraid of all the ‘what-if’s’ of the situation.

Finally I broke free from my fears, and I left him. I came home one night and he was passed out on the couch. I walked upstairs, and it was as if someone where in the room speaking to me, and the voice said, “You need to leave. RIGHT NOW.” It was a stern command, and one I’m grateful I did not ignore. As quickly, and quietly, as possible, I grabbed everything I could while constantly checking if he was still asleep. I managed to grab a bunch of my clothes, my dog Riley, and I left. For good.

The fear only remained for a few weeks afterwards, but when my divorce was finalized in December I finally felt free and hopeful about my future.

In order to save myself I had to break my heart completely and leave. Sometimes things need to be broken down before they can renew themselves and become stronger and more beautiful. Think of a seed in the ground that bursts apart and grows upward and breaks the surface of the soil to become the plant it is destined to be. Or a caterpillar that encloses itself inside a cocoon, leaving behind it’s former identity and eventually flying through the skies as a beautiful new butterfly.

Sometimes brokenness creates the most beautiful things, and brings about strength that wasn’t there before.

Searching For My Pieces

So here I am now, no longer living under the rule of fear. I chose to never let fear control me, so I’ve been making efforts to get out of my comfort zone and do things that scare me, and push me.

I got a new job, I moved into my own place, and I’ve finally been starting to pick up my pieces. Slowly, and one by one, but I am finding them and will continue to search for them.

The truth is when I lost these pieces of myself, I lost who I was. I didn’t laugh anymore, I wasn’t funny and witty. I didn’t go outside and hike and enjoy nature, or see the people who I loved and cared for the most. My identity had been sucked from me, and I felt like a ghost haunting my own life.

My journey starts now, to search for those pieces I’ve lost and replace them. Some will never be found, and in their place I’ll fit new ones. Using the concept of Kinsukuroi, like I explain here, each piece will be painted with gold and put back, and because I have been broken I will be stronger and my life will become more beautiful.

I’m ready to rebuild myself and recharge, this time I will come with built in armor, kind of like an armadillo; except without the leprosy (look it up… seriously they have leprosy!)

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