The Horse Who Showed Me The Way

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I love this artist’s simple, gestural drawings and words of inspiration. This particular one has caused me to reflect on the impact that one horse has made in my healing journey.

FB_IMG_1561724275548 It’s no secret that I have a special love for one horse above all others. Ta Sunka Witco came into my life 2 years ago, when I first discovered Mill Swamp Indian Horses, after several months of asking Steve, “Who should I ride today?” I had enjoyed Roxy’s smooth gait, and was clear about not wanting to ever deal with any potentially challenging steed that could land me another broken limb. Once in a lifetime was good enough. After all, I hadn’t ridden in 20 yrs, never thought I would again, and was learning to do it as if it were a totally new experience. I had worked as a horse trainer apprentice and barn manager at a quarter horse farm when I had my traumatic accident, but it was wonderful to erase the past and begin anew, especially since I was new to Natural Horsemanship.

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From the moment I got on him, he felt unlike any other horse. He had a majestic strength that gave me chills, and I felt an immediate deep connection with him. Not much for fanfare, “Shunk” as we call him for short, was very sure of himself, but not in a cocky way. Perhaps not the most handsome or regal horse on the lot, he possessed a quiet confidence that made me feel safe, and until very recently, he was the only horse I rode.

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Shunk is an older gelding. He is a Choctaw Colonial Spanish Mustang who’s grandsire was a famous Medicine Hat stallion named Choctaw Sun Dance. A Medicine Hat is a paint with special markings. As described by Vicki Ives, his beloved owner, “A paint with particular spot over ears like a cap, spot over taihead to protect from enemy behind, shield over chest to protect from enemy in front. Native Americsns believed a warrior who rode a Medicine Hat could not be killed in battle of  hunting due to the special magic of his horse.”

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Magic runs in Shunk’s bloodlines. It wasn’t long before I realized this. Not only is he a descendant of the horses famous for carrying the Choctaw Indians on The Trail of Tears, and The Pony Express, he has a unicorn spirit. This was something that I felt was very strongly communicated to me. In my life, he is a creature unlike any other, Heaven-sent to carry me and lead me in many ways. He has taught me to trust. He has taught me to believe in myself as a leader, and to find my voice. He has taught me how to walk through fear, and to recognize my worth. He has taught me when to hold on tight and when to let go, and given me the wisdom to discern what is needed in any given situation.

He is not without a ” bad boy” past. He was once a mighty stallion who could not be contained, but is now a devoted, protective herd boss who is very particular about who he accepts. Unlike me, he is not given over to folly and maintains a fairly formal, “business-like” attitude. He has a job to do and he takes it very seriously. I am animated, adoring, and chatty. We both learn from each other. Sometimes I get a very clear message that I need to stop talking. I can’t begin to tell you what helpful advice this is. That’s not to say that he doesn’t indulge me my whimsy. No no. On the contrary, he understands and accepts me as I am, even if I am too huggy and demanding of kisses. He is not showy with his affection, and exhibits no favoritism. He is just there for me, fully present in his role as teacher, healer, faithful unicorn steed. He is a magnificent horse.

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His strength and steadfast endurance make him the most handsome creature to me, but his magical abilities have the power to transform any trepidatious rider and build their confidence too. He has taught me that showing up, unwavering in support, is the greatest form of loving.

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My boyfriend may be a bit jealous of the time and attention that I give to Shunk, but he knows the value of it. Putting my trust in a wild Mustang has paved the way for me to, at long last, trust in his devotion and love for me.

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This past Sunday, my beloved gave me a gift no amount of money could buy. It was an act so selfless and poignant, that I never again will doubt his commitment to me. He took my mother to my stepfather’s memorial service in my place He refused to stand by and watch me be guilted into doing something I had solid resolve to avoid.

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He stood in the gap, and I let him. There is no more waiting for the other shoe to drop, so-to-speak. If I hadn’t had these years of building trust with Shunk and getting to better understand myself through things only a horse with unicorn magic can teach, I would not have this elated, joyful release of knowing I am deeply loved, and SAFE.

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A favorite Bible verse that comes to me often is 1John 4:18 PERFECT LOVE CASTS OUT Fear. There is no fear in Love. Showing up with unconditional love is a gift of divine brilliance no diamond could ever outshine.

 

 

Complex PTSD; Anatomy of a Trigger

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I have wanted to talk about triggers, the anatomy of a panic attack, and what that looks like for me as a person living with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, for some time.

Having been feeling very optimistic and experiencing a beautiful reprieve that drastically improved my attitude and strength was so blissful that I began to feel I had truly turned a corner in my healing journey, and though I knew it was still an important thing to share, I was not ready to revisit my suffering just yet. I wanted to give myself time to swim and splash in the healing waters. Sometimes the universe, (God) has different plans.

It is hard not to get angry. I have held onto my faith, even if by a thread at times, and I will continue to do so. Belief takes action. Anger is a default. I am willing to do whatever is necessary to change that. I start by not feeling guilty that I don’t want to communicate with my dysfunctional family who have no understanding of how this illness affects me, by not making excuses for declining social invitations, or answering phone calls. I am putting myself first.

During these past few months I have watched potentially triggering things on TV and been able to point them out, stay in the moment, and watch them pass. I have successfully dealt with a panic attack on the trail while riding by talking about my trigger with someone who would listen and allow that wounded child’s voice to be heard. But sometimes the painful memories, or the feelings of sadness and helplessness that they trigger, rise up from deep in the body in a manner in which they cannot be contained. My adult self disappears, as if suddenly held captive by this trapped energy that only allows me to see, hear, and feel as the child who survived this trauma.  I am blindsided. 

Dealing with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a challenge made bigger by the lack of information and support available. The difference with the Complex label has to do with the age and duration that the abuse took place.

The first thing I want to do when processing my painful, debilitating, triggered episodes, is to find comfort in knowing my symptoms are shared by others. This is so important to me because I feel like a freak in that fugue state following the trigger. Coming up empty in my search, I decided it was critical to explain what I experience, not just for other survivors, but for the people who may witness me in the midst of one of these episodes, as well as loved ones who struggle to understand.

There are two distinct responses to my triggers. One involves cumulative, excessive stress that I strive to overcome. I am determined to power through it, no matter how much it depletes my stores until something, either a situation, or words that hit the “no going back” trigger, causes my body to completely shut itself down. If I am standing, I will immediately slump to the ground and “freeze”. This is called the faint and freeze response which is the opposite of the fight or flight response. This happens in the wild when an animal fears inescapable death. They freeze, or play dead. In this state respiration slows, eyes become fixed, I am unresponsive, having retreated deep within myself where the harrowing enormity of what caused this can cause me no further harm. This usually lands me a visit from paramedics and a trip to the ER where Dr’s  and staff crowd around me, poking and pinching, using painful attempts to get me to “come to” . With each failure to get me to show signs of life, the methods increase in force, as they all stand by, utterly perplexed. One important thing to note is that I can see and hear everything going on around me. I cannot speak, I cannot move or even blink. I am paralyzed, trapped somewhere safely, deep inside, where I can wait until the threat has passed. I can feel the pain, it’s just a matter of enduring it so as not to be forced from that safe place. 

It takes a decent span of torture time before I make my way back  at the sharp prodding of a toe so excruciatingly painful that I bolt upright gasping for air and hyperventilating, as if  rising from the dead. It’s as if they have never witnessed any such thing. I must be the only person who has ever displayed such symptoms. I question my own sanity. 

One time a Dr kept applying very painful pressure to my sternum in an attempt to make me tell him my name, telling me they would not help me if I did not comply. Even with tears streaming out the sides of my eyes, there was no empathy for me. At that point they could have cut off a finger and I still wouldn’t have made a peep. 

There was one very kind older Dr during one of these trips. He seemed to understand what was going on. He spoke gently as he held my hand, and reassured me in a most loving way, that everything was going to be alright. I fell into a deep sleep after that, not from any medication being administered, but from the soothing nature of his words, which had been directed at the trapped, wounded child in me.

Western Medicine, particularly as it relates to ER protocol and training, is USELESS in helping people suffering from all forms of PTSD, and mental lillness in general. No wonder the suicide rates are so high. The pain generated from the flashbacks and memories of suffering trapped inside the body feel like unbearable torture. To know that there is absolutely no-one coming to rescue you from that battlefield is like fearing imminent death. In my usual state, I know that this threat holds no power over me.

That brings me to my second trauma stimuli response. They are always brought on by a trigger. These triggers can take the form of sights, sounds, smells, or actions that seem to trip a switch in my mind. It feels like instantly being in a different reality. I am looking out through my adult eyes, but I am seeing a memory from the past through my child eyes that witnessed it, complete with the feelings of terror and desperate need for rescue. Sometimes I am triggered and experiencing a trauma from my adult life, but the child shows up because I have been piggy back triggered; a double whammy that starts off as a traumatic memory from adulthood that then triggers intense fear and sadness from a childhood experience.

One minute I am my happy, witty self, engaged in whatever it is I am doing, the next I am overwhelmed by deep sadness, fear, and helplessness. I cannot shake it off. It comes on like a tsunami and I begin crying uncontrollably, gasping for air, covering my face,  as if doing so makes me disappear. Other times I hide in my closet where I can make myself as small and undetectable as possible, or if in public, I sit and hold myself, rocking back and forth, inconsolable. It is extremely humiliating. I am unable to communicate as my adult self. I am held captive, as an observer, powerless until those emotions subside. It doesn’t end there.  Something happens in my brain, leaving me despondent. It feels as if a wire has been cut. I am deeply depressed and cannot hold back tears. Physically, I am exhausted, as if I had just run a marathon and been tripped at the finish line. This phase of paralyzation varies in length from one day to several weeks.

The longer it takes me to recover, the deeper into Depression I go. I cannot simply “snap out of it” . I am not wallowing. I think it is like being struck by lightening. There has been an electrical surge that has altered my chemistry. I struggle not to loathe my setback, regretting having felt so triumphant and shouting it from the rooftops. I feel raw, skinless, unprotected and vulnerable. And my body feels heavy like lead.

I know that this negative, trapped energy needs to be released. Unfortunately I cannot afford weekly massages, which I believe would be a tremendous help. This is where horses have had the biggest impact on getting me out from underneath all the weight. Whenever I feel my mental illness robbing me of all control, I know that it gets restored whenever I am able to ride. The harder, the better. When I can do something that brings me joy, that I am good at, it gives me hope. 

“At times, it seems as though the depth of suffering and blackness, the downgoing, penetrates the psyche and breaks the barrier between the human and the divine so that the grace of the divine may respond.”

From PREGNANT DARKNESS; ALCHEMY AND THE REBIRTH OF CONSCIOUSNESS by Monika Wikman

The Breakdown

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Breath; it is the essence of life, yet such an easy thing to take for granted. I have experienced emotional suffering so intense that it left me gasping for air. 

The deepest breaths I ever took were in pushing new life into this world, and it is that child who knocks the wind right out of me sometimes, as only a teenage daughter can.

I’ve tried my best to be the mother who protected her daughter at all costs guiding her in a way that my mother was not able to do for me. It has proven to be a task that has been sabotaged every step of the way, despite my will. Not only did I survive my abusive childhood and first marriage, but I survived a revictimization by the father of this child that grinded my heart, soul, and spirit to near dust. Allowing other people’s cruelty, ignorance, and lack of boundaries to shape my opinion of my success as a mother is exactly how I had grown up feeling about myself. It was the result of the behavior that had been modeled to me.

It is no small feat, coming back to life, learning how to move beyond desecration to a place of balance and forgiveness. If you imagine a ruler, with rage being at one end and forgiveness at the other, there are a whole lot of millimeters in between to get from one end to the other. Each one consists of all the stages of grief, and varying degrees of the “one step forward, three (or 5, or 42) steps back” thing. It’s the healing process, and it is just as painful and life-altering as the abuse was.

I am not sharing this story out of shaming or vengeance. I have forgiven every one of the people who have hurt me. In the process I have tried to hold them accountable, but how or whether or not they take responsibility for it is out of my control. Sometimes that forgiveness is an ongoing process. The only thing I realize that I can control is how I respond, including being triggered, which is the ultimate lack of control. Having CPTSD may be part of my reality, but I can choose to find the best way of dealing with it that facilitates growth instead of keeping me stuck, and remaining at the mercy of it. 

Everyone has their own story. Not everyone is able to talk about theirs. Many have repressed the memories of their trauma or are actively numbing them through addiction. My healing has come from releasing these negative emotions that were woven into my core as a result of my experiences, as if my life were nothing but a bad tattoo.  I thought it was just an ugly stain that I had no choice but to live with. I never imagined that I could use what was there to transform it into something spectacularly beautiful, something that not only I would be proud to display, but that others would be inspired by instead of recoiling at.

I used to be so devastated by grief over my perceived failure as a mom that it led to a complete mental breakdown resulting in a week long stay at an in-patient crisis stabilization center. More than that, I had allowed years of brutish, insensitive, controlling behavior strip me of believing I could ever escape this cycle of abuse, and I couldn’t bear the thought of my own precious child growing up to find herself in the same situation. The pressure had reached its boiling point until one day it exploded. FB_IMG_1554078181185

The week leading up to it, I felt my stress level reaching its peak. I could no longer order my thoughts without a sense of impending doom so heavy that every minute I was awake felt like I was fighting a fire-breathing dragon, moving at a snail’s pace to escape and narrowly escaping it’s flames. If I was not sleeping, I was shaking in terror and wailing in fear. I pleaded for help. I let everyone know that I was not okay. I was supposed to work the day it all came to a head, but I had worked the day before and knew that I was incapable of  maintaining composure so I found someone to replace me and apologized to my client for having a family emergency.

My heart broke that I was incapable of keeping my child from witnessing me literally losing my mind, which served to intensify my suffering to the point that I said I was afraid I might hurt myself if I was not taken to the ER immediately. My plea went ignored and I don’t know how I survived the night without jumping out of my window. I don’t remember where my daughter was. Her Dad and I were separated and involved with other people, but still sharing the house, and I know that he did not want his plans ruined by my mental health crisis and likely took our child to stay the night at his girlfriend’s where she had a playmate.

I woke up the next morning, crazed and lashing out at the people who loved me and were trying to help. I felt as if they had abandoned me in my darkest hour, and at this point their assistance seemed too little, too late. In my recollection of what followed it’s as if some wiser, stronger part of myself or some angelic force took control. I packed a bag with clothes, pajamas, and essentials, including a blank journal, and walked, about 3 miles, to the hospital. I had not eaten or had any water in days. I was crying,  my face contorted with grief. I felt extremely weak and vulnerable. A large portion of my journey stretched through a part of town I should never have walked through, even in a healthy state, but even though there was a man attempting to get me in his car, I kept my eyes down and marched on with a supernatural strength and determination. That bag on my back was not light. I don’t remember how I crossed busy roads or avoided drawing any further attention to myself in this bedraggled state except to say that somewhere, deep inside, I knew it was all happening for a reason. I felt dead, but I somehow managed to get myself where I needed to be without the help of anyone else. I collapsed in a heap the moment I stepped through the hospital doors.

I found myself in the clean, empty space I so desperately longed for, that I needed in order to heal. A room with 4 white walls and two beds. I was lucky to have the room to myself for 2 of the 6 days I was there. I wrote in my journal feverishly, every available moment I had, but for taking the time to read an empowering memoir. It was during that time that I knew my own memoir was presenting itself to me. It took a breakdown for me to have a writing breakthrough.  20190331_193749

I always have at least 3 or 4 blank journals at any given time, but I believe the one I had chosen was pre-destined by a random sense of urgency that took place one evening while out taking a friend to run errands with my boyfriend. I was suddenly overcome by a need to run into TJMaxx to get something I said that I needed. Knowing that there is no such thing as a quick trip to my favorite store, there was hesitation as to the validity of this supposed necessity. After all, when asked what it was that I was in such desperate need of (with ten minutes until closing time), my response was  “I don’t know yet”. I ran in, went straight to the journals, and picked up one that said, Wherever YOU go, Go with ALL your HEART, written on the cover. That was the thing I needed. I didn’t know why, at the time, I just trusted my gut. 20190331_192440

Whenever I know, without questioning something, because it is a feeling that resonates deeply within me, that is my gift of intuition. I have had it as far back as I can remember. It began with the awareness at a very young age, of seeing the pain I was experiencing in childhood multiply and hold me back until mid-life, at which time I would learn to utilize my many talents.

I am, as I’ve said before, a late bloomer. To go along with that analogy I speak metaphorically. In order for a plant to bloom and thrive, there are conditions that have to be met. The soil must be rich in nutrients, and it needs sunshine and rain. Ground that is not fertile soil will not yield any gain. People are very similar. Repeating the same pattern of dysfunction that continues to  oppress them, because that is the behavior that was modeled to them since early childhood, strangles the ability for them to grow. It has taken me half a century to understand that I am worthy of success, joy, peace, and love. It has taken me all that time to truly grasp what love is supposed to feel like. I am with someone who found an old seed and saw the potential in nurturing it. I would never have been reunited with him if I hadn’t first been able to see that in myself. 

I have fought very hard to be where I am, against great odds. I have had my mental health struggles exploited and thrown in my face as a means of holding me down. I have never been able to understand why people do such hurtful things, but innately I know that those people are damaged or hurting themselves. I am looking back at all of my experiences and I finally see what an incredibly strong, BADASS woman I am because of them!  I never lost hope in love. I never gave up wanting to overcome my fear that bad people and negative circumstances would always find me easy prey.  It is with that same fierce determination that I will continue  moving forward, knowing that the road will rise to meet my every step. I will continue to draw amazing, uplifting, and healing people, especially men of integrity, into my life.   

I can breathe more deeply than I feel like I ever have before. Asthma, smathsma. And I have the app evidence to prove it. ( My oxygen is at 100%! Never seen that!) Screenshot_20190331-191955_Samsung Health

Sometimes we need to be reminded of the things we take for granted. Just BREATHE.

Unbridled Joy!

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This picture of my daughter and I was sent to me today out of the blue. It is from a photo shoot we did with a photographer friend titled 15/51. I’ve never seen this image, and it came to me as I was trying to tell someone how joyful I feel. The way it so perfectly illustrates the lightness of being I feel takes my breath away.

This past week I have experienced such miraculous synchronicities that have altered my consciousness. I’m still reeling. The rapid manifestation of blessings and the magnitude of their impact  is stunning.

The significance of coincidence is that it’s a serendipitous energy frequency, a means by which to wrap our heads around the connections between seemingly random occurrences. To me such happenings are Divinely ordered.

All my life I have struggled to feel worthy. Now, I know without a doubt that I AM. I absolutely deserve these amazing gifts that have been presented to me. I made a decision that I would combat all of my negative self-talk with love. I decided to reject the toxic energy of those who have no respect for my boundaries or themselves. I know that I have suffered long enough and I won’t let anything stand in the way of my happiness and success. I have dulled my spark and doubted myself for the last time. I’m not saying I am suddenly super-human and will never feel anxious or depressed again, or be triggered. I just refuse to give myself over to defeat. I will not make excuses anymore for anything I do or don’t do.

I know exactly where I’m headed and I don’t need anyone to tell me how or when I should arrive.

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Also un-bridled joy!

Naked In The Grocery Store

Spilling my guts out in near-gritty detail was like going through hard labor and ending up having to get an emergency c-section. I have been recovering ever since.

I had a professor in college whose work I loved, and who I enjoyed, partially because of his laid-back yet engaging way of teaching, (Printmaking and Design) and partially due to the fact that he found my creative brain entertaining. Evidently I was born to evoke strong emotions, delight being the favored one. There is a feeling of accomplishment and confidence that accompanies praise which fuels the passion for one’s pursuits. Being that I was constantly trying to prove my worth, these were the little victories that carried me toward my goal of success. He taught me the value of my ability to think outside of the box and be unabashed in wherever it led me.

For example, one of my early design assignments was to take 36 squares and inside those squares to draw a circle and a rectangle. My best friend and I, whose brains worked in synch, did the assignment together and showed up in class fairly proud of our individual interpretations.

Everyone put their work up for the class critique. When we saw what others had done we looked at each other with sheepish grins, our eyes cocked. What we saw was not at all what we had done. On their poster board were 36 squares placed neatly in rows, and inside each of those squares, a triangle and a circle placed according to their own creative interpretation.

We had taken creative interpretation to a whole new level, one our teacher could not help himself from chuckling at as he leaned back, arms crossed, with a finger to his mouth as if challenged for words. Here is what he saw from my friend and I; on each poster board we had made a circle out of 36 squares and inside that circle of squares we had artfully placed our triangle and circle. We were commended for our work in surprising him with the unique way that our brains had executed the project. This still makes me giggle. Can’t remember our grades, but I definitely remember our momentary shame being turned into a feeling of pride that only helped us to further appreciate our senses of humor and individuality. Not surprisingly, we are still the best of friends.

Another critique took place in my painting class. The teacher was out sick that day and so the same aforementioned teacher was filling in. The assignment was to create a painting with a minimum size requirement depicting something personal. I had been really challenged by it. My painting style is not classic or traditional but more illustrative and whimsical, which was a stark contrast to what I was feeling at that time. I wanted it to be fantastic and pleasing but with two days left before it was due, I could not for the life of me figure out where to begin. All I had was a quite large blank canvas and supplies.

During this time, in my early 20’s, I was living with my sister and dating the man I would later marry. Our relationship was intense, codependent, abusive, and toxic to the point where I did not know where he ended and I began. It was blindingly painful. He was an obsessively possessive alcoholic I was determined to “fix” because I believed that love had that power. He would get verbally abusive toward me for any man who could not keep himself from looking at me, and call me a whore, as if I was to blame. I had to dull myself, watch what I wore, how I walked, who I talked to, how I talked etc.

I can’t remember the specific trigger, but out of deep anguish I was motivated to pick up my paint brush, and though it was a frenzied couple of days with little sleep, my pain manifested itself on that canvas, to my satisfaction.

On the right side was a large depiction of my face in black and white acrylic paint, screaming and crying in agony with my hands at my temples as if my head might explode. Below me was what looked like an audience, each person the same gestural image of a guy tilting his head back, guzzling from a bottle. In the midst of this audience rose a giant bottle of beer with the same guy being pulled out of  it by cherubs. He was besotted and his body, limp with the weight of it, proved too heavy a task to lift, but they were trying so hard. 

The background to my left and above me was like a sunrise of colors going from darkness to warm golden light. To my left was an image in solid black of a female form, arms and legs spread into an “X”, inside a cage, grasping onto the bars, desperate to be released. 

The rest of the piece was done in collage. Above the cage, a cut-out image of giant hands outstretched  with doves carrying a banner that said, Loving God brings peace. To the top right was a torn piece of sheet music for the song, “Tomorrow”, from the musical Annie. It read, The sun’ll come out TOMORROW, so I gotta hang on til…

Here is my teacher’s response to it-

He took a step back, once again with his hand to his upper lip and his other arm folded as he took it all in, and chuckled before telling me I had hit a home-run in creating a very personal image. He said it was like walking naked, in a grocery store, under fluorescent  lights. He said it was uncomfortable in that way, but powerful. He liked it.

I won 2nd place in my student art show for it. I wish I had a picture to share, but sadly my greatest breakthrough work of art was most unfortunately destroyed. I had it resting on my easel and one day I came home to find it had been stabbed in the eyeball and my face torn beyond repair. Not a good time. Well, it was never a painting that begged for display anyway. 

But I digress. That process of creating was also like a long painful labor ending in a C-section. I had no choice but to go through it. I knew it was going to be raw and hard to look at. I did with paint what I am now doing with pen in telling my story.

There is nothing on earth more cathartic than having the ability to express yourself without limitation, pushing beyond  the fear of judgement and criticism. I’m not here to offer some Hallmark story about overcoming my adversity that makes people feel warm and fuzzy so as to distract from the true ugly and insidious nature of emotional trauma and mental illness. I’m shining a light on the darkness.

My authenticity does sometimes make me feel like I am completely exposed, but it is  expressed with purpose and conviction. I’m not here expecting not to be gawked at, shamed, ridiculed, applauded, my sanity questioned. I know exactly how uncomfortable and insane it is to be standing naked in the grocery store, but I am here nonetheless, despite my discomfort.

I am the lobster. I refuse not to molt. It is only when life becomes unbearable that we feel motivated to find solutions. As long as there is fight in me I am surviving. I want other victims to know that about themselves. There is no right or wrong way, only productive and destructive ways.

At long last, I have this survival part down, but my soul craves so much more than that. I want to thrive and I want to show others that they can too.

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