Coming Out the Other Side…

It’s been a very long time since I have been able to convince myself to write. The last several months have been an uphill battle for me. I’ve spent many days on my couch and many nights crying. I have woken up with my eyes practically swollen shut. It’s hard to write while you are in the midst of an internal storm. It has been really hard for me to find the joy in life. With help from amazing people in my life that have really put up with a lot from me, I’m finding my way out of the dark.

It started when I found out my kids wouldn’t be home for Thanksgiving. I had invited them for dinner, as I knew we wouldn’t have the normal family gathering and I would be alone. They informed me they would be staying in State College. That started a downward spiral for me. Feelings of loneliness. Feelings of being a waste of space. During these times, our worlds have all changed. When the lockdown first started I was doing video chats with friends and family. But then, I started realizing that seeing everyone through video just made me miss them more. I miss the face to face contact. I miss the hugs, the touches. I almost felt lonelier.

I started pulling away from everyone. I started to feel hurt and angry. And then people would tell me, you’re not the only one going through this. Believe me. I know I’m not. But that doesn’t make me feel better that other people are also struggling. We are all in this ocean, but we are all in different boats. Some days, my life raft is on a sunny ocean with a nice breeze, while someone else may be in the middle of a massive storm. Or vice versa. We are all going through it. But make no mistake, our boats are different. I don’t think mine is worse than someone else’s, but I am not about comparing. That does no good.

As Thanksgiving got closer, my mood got worse and worse. The anticipation of spending a day alone, when it’s always been a huge day of family football and food, was unbearable. But, the night before Thanksgiving, I found joy in one of the most unexpected places. I got a call from my kids’ stepmother. She and my ex-husband invited me over for Thanksgiving. I think one of my kids told them I would be alone. I declined and decided, with the weather being decent, I would go to my parent’s for dinner and eat with them outside. But, on Thanksgiving morning I got a call reminding about the invitation with my ex and his wife. When she called, she said her daughter was so excited to see Fifi’s mom and picked out a special outfit for me. How could I resist. So, I decided to go up there before dinner and hang out with them for a few hours.

When I walked into their house, I can’t tell you how amazing it was to get this huge hug, holding nothing back, from a 6 year old. I didn’t want to let go. It was amazing!!!! And hugs from the rest of the family were great too. I have been missing that physical touch so much. You don’t realize how much you need it until you don’t have it anymore.

Thanksgiving ended up being way better than I anticipated. I could feel myself doing better. But not all the way there. I knew I still had Christmas and New Years alone. But Christmas Day is normally a day alone. The anticipation wasn’t near as bad as Thanksgiving. But the days themselves were pretty hard. A couple weeks prior to Christmas, we had a huge loss in our family when we had to say goodbye to our family dog, Spyder. I felt angry that I couldn’t be with friends or family. I wasn’t really angry at them, but at the situation. I have been a bear to deal with, and I know it. And I am sorry for that. But, I have also found some joy during this season that has been unexpected. After Thanksgiving, I have spent more time with my ex-husband and his wife. We got through the loss of our family dog together. We spent a day decorating cookies when my daughter got home from school. It’s been a blessing.

I have had a wonderful time visiting with my kids. Oh how I had missed them. It had been way too long since I had seen them. My daughter caught me in a bad moment of tears. She was amazing. She helped me to realize I had lots of tools to get through these times, but I had to readjust how I used my tools and find soe new ones that work through social distancing. So, I am committing to journaling and exercising and taking care of myself more. While feeling better won’t happen completely over night, at least I can be more in control of how I respond to my emotions.

What I have learned from the last couple of months is that I won’t feel bad for having all the feels. I know others are struggling to. It’s not a competition for who has it worse. Let’s just all acknowledge how difficult this is for all of us and try to wrok together. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to feel alone. It’s okay to realize your emotional toolbox needs to be adjusted becauses not all your tools may work anymore.

Coming Out the Other Side…

It’s been a very long time since I have been able to convince myself to write. The last several months have been an uphill battle for me. I’ve spent many days on my couch and many nights crying. I have woken up with my eyes practically swollen shut. It’s hard to write while you are in the midst of an internal storm. It has been really hard for me to find the joy in life. With help from amazing people in my life that have really put up with a lot from me, I’m finding my way out of the dark.

It started when I found out my kids wouldn’t be home for Thanksgiving. I had invited them for dinner, as I knew we wouldn’t have the normal family gathering and I would be alone. They informed me they would be staying in State College. That started a downward spiral for me. Feelings of loneliness. Feelings of being a waste of space. During these times, our worlds have all changed. When the lockdown first started I was doing video chats with friends and family. But then, I started realizing that seeing everyone through video just made me miss them more. I miss the face to face contact. I miss the hugs, the touches. I almost felt lonelier.

I started pulling away from everyone. I started to feel hurt and angry. And then people would tell me, you’re not the only one going through this. Believe me. I know I’m not. But that doesn’t make me feel better that other people are also struggling. We are all in this ocean, but we are all in different boats. Some days, my life raft is on a sunny ocean with a nice breeze, while someone else may be in the middle of a massive storm. Or vice versa. We are all going through it. But make no mistake, our boats are different. I don’t think mine is worse than someone else’s, but I am not about comparing. That does no good.

As Thanksgiving got closer, my mood got worse and worse. The anticipation of spending a day alone, when it’s always been a huge day of family football and food, was unbearable. But, the night before Thanksgiving, I found joy in one of the most unexpected places. I got a call from my kids’ stepmother. She and my ex-husband invited me over for Thanksgiving. I think one of my kids told them I would be alone. I declined and decided, with the weather being decent, I would go to my parent’s for dinner and eat with them outside. But, on Thanksgiving morning I got a call reminding about the invitation with my ex and his wife. When she called, she said her daughter was so excited to see Fifi’s mom and picked out a special outfit for me. How could I resist. So, I decided to go up there before dinner and hang out with them for a few hours.

When I walked into their house, I can’t tell you how amazing it was to get this huge hug, holding nothing back, from a 6 year old. I didn’t want to let go. It was amazing!!!! And hugs from the rest of the family were great too. I have been missing that physical touch so much. You don’t realize how much you need it until you don’t have it anymore.

Thanksgiving ended up being way better than I anticipated. I could feel myself doing better. But not all the way there. I knew I still had Christmas and New Years alone. But Christmas Day is normally a day alone. The anticipation wasn’t near as bad as Thanksgiving. But the days themselves were pretty hard. A couple weeks prior to Christmas, we had a huge loss in our family when we had to say goodbye to our family dog, Spyder. I felt angry that I couldn’t be with friends or family. I wasn’t really angry at them, but at the situation. I have been a bear to deal with, and I know it. And I am sorry for that. But, I have also found some joy during this season that has been unexpected. After Thanksgiving, I have spent more time with my ex-husband and his wife. We got through the loss of our family dog together. We spent a day decorating cookies when my daughter got home from school. It’s been a blessing.

I have had a wonderful time visiting with my kids. Oh how I had missed them. It had been way too long since I had seen them. My daughter caught me in a bad moment of tears. She was amazing. She helped me to realize I had lots of tools to get through these times, but I had to readjust how I used my tools and find soe new ones that work through social distancing. So, I am committing to journaling and exercising and taking care of myself more. While feeling better won’t happen completely over night, at least I can be more in control of how I respond to my emotions.

What I have learned from the last couple of months is that I won’t feel bad for having all the feels. I know others are struggling to. It’s not a competition for who has it worse. Let’s just all acknowledge how difficult this is for all of us and try to wrok together. It’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to feel alone. It’s okay to realize your emotional toolbox needs to be adjusted becauses not all your tools may work anymore.

Fake It, Fake It, Fake It…(Screw it, I suck at faking it)

My kids told me once that they hated it when I said “fake it ’til you make it.” My thought was, pretend I am strong and eventually I will be. Don’t tell a soul what I am going through. Sweep it all under the rug and it will evaporate or dissolve. The truth is, sadness is not water, nor is it sugar. It won’t evaporate nor dissolve. I also learned that hiding my sadness created tension in relationships and increased my anxiety. My behavior would become passive aggressive and I found myself alone and just expecting people close to me to recognize something was wrong. I found myself alone and anxious.

To say that I have solved all those problems would be a complete lie. It would also be a lie to say that I don’t struggle with falling back into those patterns. It’s a constant internal battle. I find it so much easier, at the time, to say something passive aggressively, then to say the hard things, like why am I struggling. My thought process is that if I am putting it out there, I am being a drama queen or I am being needy. I never want to bring people around me down.

Basically, what I am trying to say is that my pride gets in the way. I want people to see me as strong and not as needy. It’s taken me a long time to learn the practice of humility. To come off my high horse and say, “I am struggling today. I might need some help getting through this. I might need a shoulder to cry on. I might need you to just hold space for me and hear my sadness.” So, give me a moment as dismount my horse named Pride…

It’s been a little over a week that I have been struggling. It’s no surprise, as the holiday season can be difficult for many. I have had my Christmas tree up since before Thanksgiving. There is not a single ornament up, nor are there any other decorations up in my house. I have some presents, but really no inventory of what I have nor what I need still. I have been working my day job and I have been working my Saturday job in the evenings, during the week. Between all the extra hours and the stress, my body hurts. And it’s not the good kind of hurt, like the day after a workout or after a good “playdate” with my guy. I feel as though I was run over. My legs are throbbing and my shoulders feel so tight it hurts to move. I cry at the drop of a hat and I feel like the Grinch. This will pass and I know it will. On December 24, when my family celebrates Christmas, I will feel my body sink into a chair and relax. All the stress and anxiety will leave my body. But that’s not for another 9 days. Let’s be honest. In sadness time, that is eons. Nine days of fighting my pride. Nine days of saying, “I am struggling.”

What do I need during this time? Not much. There are times of sadness that we find we need to be carried through. This isn’t one of those times for me. I just need some open space to say what I am feeling. No advice, just safe space. If I tell you, “I’m fine.” call me out on it. That shouldn’t be confused with, “I will be fine.” I am very aware that what this is is temporary. A little extra hug, but if you see a tear, ignore it. Maybe some humor. Laughter is the best medicine. Just an extra message saying hey. My texts tend to get shorter, maybe a little colder, less fun emojis. I am not mad, I am not pulling away. But I am fighting dumping everything on the people around me. Ruminating on the feelings does no good, only perpetuates them.

I am so strong and have come through so much. But I still have a ways to go. We are all works in progress. I find that I write so much about strength and happiness. I don’t want to be a hypocrite and pretend my life is all that. I have tough seasons too. We all do. We can accept those seasons and learn how to run through them. And I don’t mean take a leisurely jog. Run through those bad mother fucking times like a defensive lineman runs through the O Line to get to the quarterback. Plow through that sadness. Straight through it. Own it. Feel it. Use the help of the rest of your line and break through. Sack that sadness and do that victory dance with your teammates. If that was only the first down, get back on that line and do it again. Look next to you. You are not alone on that line. It’s a team effort. Don’t let your pride forget you have a team. Be humble. Let them carry you when you need them. Or, let them just make the space for you. Whatever you need, use your team.

Don’t fake it. Own it. Say, “This shit is hard today!” My kids were onto something when they said they hated the saying. I am learning the power of owning my emotions and expressig what I need.

Meet the Real Me

Yes, my story is real, and the strength I have gained from my experiences in life is very real. But, my story…my trauma, my anxiety…they don’t define me. I DON’T HAVE anxiety, I live my life despite it. I am NOT a victim, I have survived through trauma. There is a huge difference, and for a long time, I let both define me. What I learned is that you get stuck in those definitions and it becomes who you are. It was incredibly freeing when I learned that I didn’t have to be defined by these labels.

Growing up I was a bit of a trouble maker. Just ask my parents or my sister, especially my dad. Boy did I know how to push his buttons. I was a happy kid. I had friends in the neighborhood. We were usually bouncing from playground to playground. I loved spinning on the tire swing, at the playground behind our house, and looking up at the sky as we spun really fast. And the regular swings. Remember trying to swing so high you went all the way around the top bar? We tried, but never succeeded. I used to ride my bike down big hills with my hands to the side, feeling the wind rip through my hair. And I would steal kitchen spoons so I could dig to China in the backyard. I never quite made it. I would have always preferred bare feet to my tennis shoes. But my parents always caught me. And dancing, oh how I loved to dance. I enjoyed the feel of the bass as it ran through my body.

My sister and I would build blanket forts. They were always amazing. We would build forts with separate rooms in them. We used so many blankets. But the minute my sister made me mad, I would yank that fort down. When we went to the local elementary school to play tennis, I would pound my racket on the ground if I wasn’t winning. In elementary school, my friends and I would walk to school. But we usually walked the way our parents told us not to. In school, there were many times I was removed from the classroom because I was causing trouble.

On the weekends, my friends and I would watch scary movies. My hands would be in front of my face and I would be plugging my ears at the same time. But we loved scary movies. I was me and I never apologized for that. I always wanted to be outside and, in the summers, I would stay out as late as I could, until my mom put the front lights on. I was a free spirit. It had a way of getting me in trouble. I didn’t like rules. But, when I look back, I really like who I was.

I let my fear of what others thought of me get in the way for a very long time. I let my anxiety define me. I let myself play the role of the victim and expected others to nurture me and take care of me. I thought that was who I was. I let my experiences define me. I stopped watching horror films because they increased my anxiety. I stopped trying to dig to China and I stopped trying to make that swing flip over the bar. And…I stopped dancing. Oh how I missed dancing.

When I started living on my own, I realized, who the hell cares what others think of me. I liked the kid I was growing up. Maybe not everything was perfect about her, but she was actually pretty awesome, and she was a force to be reckoned with. I started taking yoga. While I was no longer trying to flip that swing over the bar, I was doing some incredible poses that I thought I would be way too old to do. And, I got to be barefoot while doing it. Growing up, I knew exactly how to push people’s buttons. I believe some of that was because I could read people pretty well. I do not try to push buttons anymore. Instead, I use my ability to read people to support them and put a smile on their faces. I don’t try to dig to China, but I feel very excited about my new love for travel and hope I get to take a ton of trips. I enjoy watching scary movies again (just not by myself). And dancing…I love to dance again. I go out and dance, I stay home and dance, I cook dinner and I dance. I am the person that I am and I make absolutely no apologies. If I offend someone, it’s okay. They don’t have to like me. But I won’t apologize.

This is the real me. Not my trauma, not my anxiety. I returned to the person I used to be, only, more grown up. I like who I am now. I am more than happy to share my story with others, but I realized it was important for you all to know who I really am. I do understand that a lot of my strength comes from my experiences and I don’t discount them. I live with anxiety and I am a survivor, but really, I am so much more than that.

Fall…My Favorite Time of Year…But…

Fall is my absolute favorite time of year! I love the colors, the crisp air, the crunch of the leaves when you walk on them. And don’t even get me started on pumpkin spice and apple cider.

But…I have a secret to tell…this is when I find I struggle. I am still strong. I still put a smile on my face and now I will make it through the season. But, boy do I struggle. I haven’t seen my kids in almost 2 months, it gets dark earlier, when I wake up in the morning it’s still dark, the holidays are coming up (which I tend to dread), and I really don’t enjoy my birthday much.

I have missed my kids like crazy. Talking and texting with them a couple of times a week is not near enough. And as my time with them coming home for breaks gets shorter and shorter, I just want to hang on for dear life and enjoy the moments I have with them. Being a parent, and letting them grow up is one of the hardest things I have had to do. I try to give them space, but, at the same time, I want to make sure they know I am always there if they need me. I do hope they know that.

When I was younger, my anxiety used to get so much worse when daylight savings ended. The sky looked so ominous, and I felt like the world was coming to an end. I don’t feel that way anymore. But the feelings I used to get have really stuck with me, and it’s easy to get caught up in those memories. They consumed my life for so many years and I do believe that, while I don’t have that anxiety anymore, I still anticipate it. The sunshine always seems to make everything better.

Holidays, well, we’ve all heard that holidays tend to be the toughest time of year for some people. I am no exception. It’s a time for family and love. Don’t get me wrong. I have an absolutely amazing family and so much love in my life. But it’s so hard to be with intact family units by myself. I feel pretty alone, and no matter how much I anticipate those feelings, it’s still tough.

And my birthday, well, I have not enjoyed it for a long time. My family does everything to try to make it special. No matter how much I tell myself that I know they are not trying to make it special out of pity, it always feels like my own personal pity party. My kids aren’t home to celebrate. I get a happy birthday text and a quick phone call. My co-workers recently told me I am supposed to take my birthday off and celebrate. It just struck me, what am I celebrating? Years of feeling like I wasn’t important enough to celebrate? Honestly, every year I say I am going to celebrate me. And every year, as it gets closer, I start to feel that dread and insecurity, and just decide to try to spend the day acting like it’s not even a thing.

The thing is, I think most people have a time of year they dread. Whether it’s a birthday, the holidays, another type of date, or a whole fucking season…it’s okay. Take the time to really acknowledge your feelings. I tend to invest in extra tissues and take some extra time for myself. The most important thing, during these times, is to know it isn’t forever. You see, once I get through all the dread, I start getting excited for the first good snowfall. The brightness of the snow. Watching the dog leap through it like a kangaroo. And even shoveling snow. The darkness is not here to stay and I know that. I will continue to walk through life with a smile on my face and maybe a few extra tissues (I don’t recommend tissues with Vick’s for tears), because I know the light will return and I will feel so much better. If I hide under the covers, because I am afraid of the dark, how will I know when the sun is shining.

What’s Your Story…An Update

Early September I shared my story of trauma and anxiety, strength and empowerment. I shared my story with the hopes that I can reach out to others. I can’t lie. It’s therapeutic for me too. Blogging has made me look deep inside myself to really figure out me. It’s a work in progress, but we are all evolving. The goal is to be happy with where you are headed.

I was totally unprepared for the healing that I had no idea I still needed. Not that I thought I was completely healed. I thought it was a part of me I would carry. It would always be there but not take over my life. I have been in a great place for quite some time now. So imagine my surprise when I got a message from a friend that I have not talked to in over 30 years. She lived right down the block from me when we were growing up. After I posted my blog, I went to dinner with my parents. As I’m having dinner I get a very long facebook message from my friend apologizing to me. She has a memory of me sharing with her about the abuse. At 6, she didn’t know how to process that information and never said anything to anyone.

I cannot explain the waves of emotions that followed. There was always the smallest piece of me that wondered if what had happened was a nightmare. I think that was because I was asked if I was sure it wasn’t a dream. I was positive, but there was a seed of doubt planted in my brain. Maybe the question was asked because my disclosure was years after the trauma. Either way, the question has always left me with the smallest sliver of doubt. So, when my friend reached out to me, it was like putting the last piece in a jigsaw puzzle. I didn’t realize how much that doubt weighed on me. But reading those words…”you and I”…”in your parents’ basement”…”and you talking about it.” Any doubt I had was completely erased. It had happened. I had told someone. I remembered that, but again, was that maybe a dream? Everything I was certain to be true was completely validated.

I got home from dinner and I cried. I cried and I cried and I cried. Not one part of me was sad. Those tears, they were cleansing tears. The tears from a ton of weight being lifted off my shoulders. I should never have doubted myself. So, while my friend is apologizing for not understanding my plea, words cannot describe the healing she gave to me earlier this month. How has my life changed in the last month? Well, there were times that my mind would take me back to those moments at 7 years old. That little voice in my head would start to whisper, “was it real?” I struggled to get past that. To trust my memories. I can honestly say, since she and I messaged, I have not revisited those moments again. I don’t look back and wonder if I said or did something wrong. So, while I will never forget what happened, I do not need to look back anymore and question. My past experiences helped create who I am today, but they do not define me.

So, I set out to share my story to reach others and make a difference. To my friend who reached out, Thank You!!!!! I will never be able to put into words what you gave to me by reaching out. I believe you were not meant to do anything with my disclosure when you were 6. It was always now. You were meant to tuck it away for that moment, earlier this month. That was when I needed it. Thank you for turning me straight ahead on my path so I can move forward and stop backtracking periodically.

New Friends,Old Friends, Girl Friends, Boy Friends

I have learned that being in love doesn’t necessarily make us stronger, or even happier, but having love does. I don’t mean the kind you have from a significant other. I am talking about the love you have from true friendships. The kind that last a lifetime. The kind of friends that include family or feel like family. I didn’t realize I had some of these friends until a few years ago. Friends I grew up with that I still connect with. Friends I may not see or talk to every day, for whom I would drop everything for if they were in need. And they would do the same for me.

I recently had dinner with one of my best friends we have been together since she was born, three days after me. we see each other two or three times a year. and, get this, we live three or four miles away from each other. The truth is, life can get in the way. At dinner, she aplogized for being out of touch. My first thought was, “no need to apologize because I am just as guilty.” We are at different places in life. She is married and has kids at home. I am single and live alone. But that does not make me value our friendship any less. We do less things together, but the love has not changed. And when asked about my best friends growing up, her name always comes up. And my response following that is, “and she is till one of my very best friends.” She is one of those friends that when we get together, we pick right up where we left off. I have a few friends like that, whom I can pick right up with.

I just went camping with another of those friends. We went camping together last weekend. Not glamping, not with an air matress or portable gourmet kitchen. But good old fashioned camping. Sleeping on the ground, cooking on the fire, peeing in the woods and no shower. Yeah, didn’t shower for a day and a half. We played games by the fire, we saw a bear near the campsite, and we fought off yellow jackets. But the weekend was fun anyway. Well, except that I shared my sleeping bag with my 68 pound dog. I think I need to invest in a double sleeping bag so I can share with Marshall. It was amazing to spend the weekend with a friend that I talk to on almost a daily basis, but hardly get to see. We talked about our kids and life. He is one of those friends I have known since high school, but didn’t realize how important he would be in my life until a few years ago. We have seen each other through some tough break ups, tough times raising kids, and exciting times raising kids. We have cried a lot together. I am so grateful that we were able to really reconnect and grow such an amazing friendship.

I have written about my tribe before, but I have been truly blessed to have them in my life. These women came into my life in the last year or two and it’s as if they were always there. When FaceBook pops up and says, “It’s your Friendiversary” I am surprised when it says 1 year, or 2 years. How is that possible? I can’t picture my life withouth these women. There are very few days when we don’t talk. These are the women I turn to when something happens with dating, being a divorced mom or dealing with an ex. I turn to them for so much more, however, they are the ones that completely understand the trials and tribulations of being divorced and single again. We straighten each others’ crowns and speak the truth, even if it hurts sometimes. We do game nights and girls’ weekends. An impromptu text to have a quick lunch during the work day. People always say that the challenges in life are not a sprint, they are like running a marathon. You have to go slow and steady to maintain strength for the full run. These women, they help me sustain my strength. They give me strength. I hope I return that for them. When one of us needs strength, those of us that have it, give it willingly.

I cannot write about friends and people that give you strength without writing about my family. There is absolutely no way I would have gotten through all the things in my life without family. I am, without a doubt, loved beyond belief. I may not always deserve it, I may take it for granted, but I know it’s there and I do know just how blessed I am. My parents have helped me through a divorce, buying a new home, totalling a car, getting a new job, helping me with my dogs and thousands of little things around the house that add up to tons and tons of love. And let’s not forget two surgeries. My mom slept on a little chair after my last surgery so I wasn’t home alone. She helped me shower and had to help me take care of my incisions. Not a pretty job at all. While I may not always show how appreciative I am, I do know exactly how much they do for me and there’s not a day that goes by that I’m not thankful for them and that I don’t think about how much I love them. And my sister…She has no clue how strong she is. She has been this incredible rock for her family. At the same time as she was being so strong for her family at home, she was helping me through a divorce. She would come to my house late at night and soothe me as I cried myself to sleep. She and I have gone through very different challenges in our lives. I don’t pretend to understand what she has gone through. But I have seen how she has handled it. The grace with which she has handled it all. She has not been through the same challenges as me. But what she offers me is a listening ear. Not suggestions, not a knowledge of what I feel, but someone who accepts me for my challenges and supports me and just hears me. She is too humble to even see the impact she has had on so many lives. Girl, I know you’re reading this. The strength I have found, the strength your family has, it’s you.

I can’t talk about family without talking about my kiddos. So here’s the thing, when I realized divorce was the only option, I knew I wasn’t the only one that would go through it. My kids were going to have to go through it too. Their challenges were going to be very different from mine. I also knew I wouldn’t understand what they were going through. My parents are still together. What I did know, was that they were not going to be burdened with the challenges I faced from the divorce. I was not going to burden them with having to take sides. They should be able to love both me and their dad equally, without having to feel guilty or like they are hurting us. I never wanted them to feel as though they would need to be my rock through this difficult time. I needed to be their mom and love them and get them through their challenges. The kids didn’t talk much about the divorce. I didn’t force it and I tried to always make it clear that I was there for them no matter what. It took me a long time to really be able to look at my relationship with them and appreciate what I have. You see, teenagers are tough. Whether they are part of an intact family, a blended family, or with single parents, they present challenges because they are going through their own challenges, that they are not quite mature enough to handle all the time. I had to learn to not take everything personally. Now, I can gain strength from them too, and they don’t even realize it. When I get a first day of classes picture it melts my heart that they thought of me. When I get a surprise that one of them is home and wants to spend time with me. When they ask me to come to a college game to get that experience, I feel like a million bucks. The phone calls and text exchanges I have with my kids are becoming something I look forward to. I used to walk on eggshells being afraid to say the wrong thing. Now, I can let most things roll right off and not take it personally. I will say, my kids expressed to me a little over a year ago, that they wished I had opened up more to them about the divorce. I don’t know if it is because there dad was very open with them about his feelings, that they needed my “side” to balance it out so they didn’t feel pulled in one direction. I have stood by my choice to not share that with them. That is their dad. I will not say bad things about him to make me feel better. They are welcome to vent to me about him just as they should be able to vent to him about me. However, I will not join in and perpetuate the frustration for my personal gain. It doesn’t help them. I will support them and protect them and be their strength, but I will not talk bad about him to them. In sticking with my morals, I have found such a happiness, and the kids seem truly happy for me. And when I see them enjoying school, I am thrilled for them. Seeing them happy brings me so much joy.

This, this is what I have been craving my entire life. To have such amazing friendships. Everyone is so completely important to me and I am truly blessed to have them all in my life. I can only hope that I bring them even half the joy and strength that they give me. Because of them, I can live my life free from anxiety, free from fear of being hurt by an intimate relationship, without putting up walls. I can be my true self with anyone and I don’t have to give a flying fuck if someone doesn’t like it. I’m surrounded by people who love me and do like me, so others are free to walk away. People may come into my life that make me very happy. And I will not put up walls and I will let them into my life. And I can go into that without fear of getting hurt. Because I know if that happens, I’m surrounded by love, and my entire tribe will pick me up and I will be okay. Having friends is powerful. Probably one of the most powerful super powers. You don’t have to have a lot of friends. You just need to have the ones that will let you be unapologetically you.

What’s Your Story

I have been taking this amazing class for the last three weeks. It ended last week. That left me feeling a little empty. I felt connected with the class and was so grateful for all I learned. It was a class to become certified as a Peer Recovery Specialist. According to Tennessee’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services website, https://www.tn.gov/behavioral-health/mental-health-services/cprs/peer-recovery-services/certified-peer-recovery-specialist-program.html, the definition is as follows: a person who has lived experience of a mental illness, substance use disorder or co-occurring disorder, who has made the journey from illness to wellness, and who now wishes to help others. Being a trauma survivor and surviving years of anxiety gives me lived experiences to work with others who feel as though I can relate to their struggles.

Throughout the class, we would occassionally share bits and pieces of our stories. Each person in the class brought such unique gifts. I believe we were a pretty special class. On the second to last day, we all took turns sharing our story from beginning to end. We did not sit around and mope about the struggles in our lives. We each told a story of suffering that led to amazing hope and transformation. We briefly spoke of our bad experiences, but turned it around to show how we all became survivors of what life handed to us. While it was an emotionally draining day, I was so encourged by how resilient people are. And one thing that seemed to be universal, was that when the skeletons are let out of the closet, healing can begin. I have released my skeletons, but not for the whole world. So, here goes.

As a survivor of childhood sexual trauma, my control was taken from me at an early age. As I got older, anxiety set in. I was afraid of things beyond my control. I was up all night with an upset stomach and was distracted in class. There were so many times I felt like I was floating towards the ceiling and watching everything around me. At the time, my toolbox of coping skills was empty. I didn’t know grounding tools to help with the dissociation. I was stuck. Not sleeping led to depression. I either could barely eat or I couldn’t stop eating. I hated my body, I hated that I couldn’t concentrate in class, I hated that I felt isolated from friends because of my anxiety, and mostly, I hated myself.

My anxiety lasted from my third year in college (1993) until May, 2015. What changed? While I had talked a little about my childhood trauma, it still felt like a skeleton. The day I became single, was the day I found the strength to let my voice ROAR. Silence, no more. For me, staying silent meant staying a victim. That day, I did the Linda Carter spin and Wonder Woman was born. I took care of myself. I built a support network that was amazing and didn’t judge me. When I felt myself getting down, I used the tools my therapist gave me to get through. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t an easy road. I fell down a lot. It took another year and a half to start recovering from the depression and really thinking I am worthy of amazing things. I love what I see in the mirror each day. Some days I would like a little fewer rolls, or maybe a little extra time to get myself organized, but all in all, I look in the mirror and I am that little girl that used to run around in those awesome Wonder Woman underoos with so much confidence. I was always her. I just forgot.

Recently, I had someone ask why the hell I would have gotten such a big tattoo for my first one. It’s a reminder to never forget that confident little Wonder Girl who would grow up to be a powerful Wonder Woman and would change the world of some people for the better.

My road to recovery is unique. Just as anyone else’s journey is unique. My experiences will be different than yours. But we can all find ways to relate to one another. I would love to encourage anyone who would like to share their stories to please do so. I would love to hear the amazing things you have to offer. To hear about your amazing strength. And if you aren’t ready to share your story, know that there is nothing wrong with that. Again, this is your own journey. When you’re ready, your path will be paved for you.

“The strength of my soul was born on the backs of moments that brought me to my knees.” S. L. Heaton

Misery Loves Company, Happiness is Contagious

***I want to start by saying I do recognize that there are many people with mental health issues that cannot just simply change their thought process. Maybe this will be helpful and maybe not, but I am in no way minimizing your personal struggle. I’m simply sharing my journey for going through storms in my life.***

Yawn!!!!!! Did you just picture someone yawning? Do you feel like doing it now? Seriously, I am yawning now, as I am typing. If yawning is that contagious, just think about all the other energy we put out. It’s contagious too. And some people emit the energy much more than others.

When I used to work at the shelter, I always said, one person can change the entire atmosphere of the shelter. I had clients who were nice as can be, however, when I would walk out of my office and see that person, all the energy I had was sucked out of me. It’s wild how one interaction can do that. As an empath, I am able to really feel the emotions of others. Sometimes it is a gift. But I have also learned that my energy can be pretty strong too. If I’m down, the people around me will know it. If I surround myself with happiness, that will be very apparent also.

Have you ever noticed that when you sit around with friends and one starts talking negatively, most will follow suit. There may be jokes and laughing, but that underlying negativity is still there. Facebook is a great example. Someone posts something and someone argues. All the sudden, the conversation is about the negativity, not the post. People get sucked into drama. I don’t know a single person who truly enjoys having drama in their life. Yet, we surround ourselves with drama (tv shows, gossip, politics…).

I have learned that for me, it’s easy to be negative. That’s the easy way for me. And, if I am miserable, I typically find someone who will join me in my negativity. I mean seriously, if you aren’t happy, do you really want Happy Harriet coming up to you and saying, “Look on the bright side,” or “just think of the good that can come out of this.” Honestly, I would want to punch her in the face. But here’s the thing. If Happy Harriet can get past my negativity and keep being positive, that happiness will most likely start to rub off on me, and me negativity will soon turn into happiness. And, while it’s not as easy for me to let happiness take over, it feels better. So, I have tried to make a conscious effort to let happiness drive me.

In the last couple of years I have focused on keeping a smile on my face and trying to find humor in things that would normally bring me down. It has made such a huge difference in my life. I used to think I was a Negative Nancy…well, I was a Negative Nancy. But I also thought I was surrounded by negativity. It turns out I may have been bringing out the negative in the people around me.

As I started having a more positive outlook, my conversations became less and less negative. I began to laugh so much more. I forgot how good it was to lauch and let my dirty sense of humor out. I could feel weight just falling off my shoulders. And suddenly, the people around me were smiling and laughing too.

I used to say “fake it ’til you make it.” My kids hated that saying. I didn’t really believe it either, until I felt it. You can fake happiness until you find it. Happiness is so contagious, that it can put a real smile on your face. Now, I walk into a room with a smile on my face. Because, if I have a choice to bring people down or help them stand tall, I will always choose to help them stand tall.

You’re Only as Old as You Act

My ex-husband used to say this all the time. I never understood what he meant until we separated. When I was in high school, I had a good time. I went to parties, I flirted with boys, I would sneak out of the house (sorry Mom). But then I started dating my ex. It was amazing! We would go to the movies and to Harper’s Ferry. We took trips to the beach and went camping. But we were old. We went to bed before the sun went down, we didn’t go on trips with friends. It was mostly just us.

Soon, things began to shift. When I look back, they started to shift in college. I started having horrible anxiety in my 3rd year at Radford. I can remember lying awake at night terrified that I was dying. My stomach would hurt and I would just lie in bed. In class, I would almost feel like I was outside of my body looking down. I couldn’t focus. The anxiety was all consuming. I kept the anxiety to myself for months. Finally, I had to tell someone. So, in the middle of going to the bathroom (please don’t judge), I called my ex in to share my fears. He was pretty amazing about it. But something changed in me. I started feeling my self-worth declining. While mine was declining, his seemed to be increasing. I started feeling like I was lucky that he wanted to be with me, as opposed to us being lucky to have found each other. I love to dance, but we never went because he didn’t like to dance. I am close to my family and wanted to visit with extended family, however, it was always too far out of the way (although we did go way out of the way to visit a hunting buddy of his). Story behind that. The cousin I wanted to visit, she was only about an hour, each way, out of the way. She was several years older than me, but was always so good to me. I would always get excited when I knew I would see Debbie. Everyone else thought of me as a brat (I was). But she never treated me like that. I will always regret sitting back with my mouth closed when he said it was too far. Right after we separated, I started talking with Debbie about flying out to see her. It never happened. She passed away suddenly. My heart broke. I never got the chance to really tell her how much she meant to me. How amazing she made me feel. I never felt like this young kid just tagging along. She always made me feel welcome with her.

I found that I started letting my life revolve around him. I’ve already told the story. I didn’t nurture friendships and it all came crashing down when we separated.

But, while it felt like everything came crashing down, did it really? The moment my ex left the house for the last time, my anxiety disappeared. Yes, that anxiety followed me through our entire relationship. There were many sleepless nights and tears. And, I felt old. My ex had started training for marathons and taking care of himself. Me…I was too afraid that if I didn’t support him 100% and ask for no support in return, he would walk away. I was overweight, feeling old, and completely forgot who I was before I let myself be controlled.

The moment he left, the ton of bricks became feathers that floated off my shoulders. I was free. I’m not saying I was instantly happy. The separation and divorce were a horrible roller coaster that I would not like to repeat. However, I started reaching out to people and making friends. I love to dance. I found friends that would go out with me and dance. Live music…I love it. I had never been to the Tally Ho before. Not only have I been to the Tally Ho, but I got dressed up in my best 80’s gear, without being told how stupid it was. Slowly, but surely, I was finding myself again. And I began dating. And I found out that people liked me for who I really was. I don’t apologize for who I am. I don’t tend to make plans, I just do what feels right. I see myself as a free spirit. I enjoy my life immensely now. I’m having a blast. And I don’t feel like an old lady anymore.

My ex was right. You’re only as old as you act. I had to let go of that relationship to realize just how old I was acting and that my life was not over. I’m realizing now how young I am and how much living I have left to do.