“There are few advantages in life that one can have that are more helpful than to be underestimated.” Steve Edwards, Prosecutor, Preservationist,
I am having a struggle today. I hesitate to write about it because in comparison to people I know, (and basically the whole rest of this seemingly Godforsaken world) I have many blessings to count. Matter of fact, I’ve been counting them all week since Monday when I found out my driver’s license was suspended. Guess what? Even motherf@#%ing GHANDI had a blue day. I’m having one, and I’m going to throw a leash around it and take it for a $#@damn walk.
First, let me tell you a little sad story from childhood to set the tone, and also because I will refer back to it later as a metaphor for all of my #wompwompwomp, aka Muc, short for most unfortunate circumstances. Nobody has immunity.
One day, while playing at a neighbor’s, a dog came up to me from behind, put his happy little paws up on my shoulders and festively started hopping. “Weeeee!” thought my lonely innocent young child mind, “Cha cha cha cha cha ChA!” And I gleefully giggled in delight as me and my little buddy conga’d our way across the yard, that is until the mother came out, wiping her hands on an apron as if she had been whisked away from baking , and yelled over to me, “Valerie, don’t you let that dog do that to you!” in her perfect New England accent. In that moment my joy melted into shame. I was only 6 ,and I didn’t know that the dog was trying to hump me, or what that even was. I just knew that it was wrong. This memory is crystal clear. A most unfortunate circumstance, indeed.
While I have made great strides in my recovery lately, I am not without trials. I feel a country song welling up in me. A very awkward country song.
Let’s talk about stuff you should not play with due to the risk of painful consequences, shall we? Number one, horny dogs. This applies to both the canine and human variety. Number two, Poison Ivy. Especially if you are highly allergic with a natural flair for the dramatic, like me.
I had brought a bunch of sticks and dead vines home from the farm to create my next sculptural project. I was enamored with the way the vines coiled and threw myself into placing them just so, thinking they really added something special, like little decorative flourishes. I was all kinds of up in it, let me tell you. I spent an entire day happily enjoying my work and giving thanks to God for all the good feels.
Later, I began to itch. Mind you, I had just come off a round of Prednisone and antibiotics for a nasty infected itchy rash caused by holly leaves. I hate to feel itchy more than I hate puking. At least when you throw up you feel some relief. The only thing that would quell my discomfort and very vocal misery was another trip to the Dr’s office and another round of steroids, this time with a Cortizone shot. When I realized I had been playing with Poison Ivy, (yes, even the dead vines contain the oil that causes the reaction…who knew?) I felt the same kind of shameful embarrassment that I had as that naive child, and when telling my boyfriend what I had done I said, “I may as well have been rubbing the f@#$ing sh!% all over myself! I’m just gonna go find me a horny dog now and conga around the neighborhood!” to which he laughed. Humor helps me keep from pity-partying-till-I-puke, and ain’t NOBODY wanna see that, especially while burdened with an itchy rash!
During this time, my Mom had another surgery to remove a small tumor in her bladder, I fiercely battled my fear and Anxiety, realized I was doing a job that did not utilize any of my skills, and questioned how I was going to make ends meet. Then there was the Wonder Woman-shielding against the crazy-making chaos of a certain family member who was telling me I needed to see an allergist, because I’m probably allergic to everything, like her. Um, no. Just some plants and her lack of boundaries and verbal abuse, thank you very much.
I now hate oral steroids or any kind, for that matter, because they made me angsty and super snacky, like The Hungry Hungry Hippo. I’m still working through my vanity issues, so feeling like a big ol’ fatty didn’t help matters. What could be a better time to give myself bangs? Oh yeah. I went there. My awesome hair stylist did her best to fix my mess, but despite her magic skills, at the end of the day it was just me. With. BANGS. I had sworn them off years ago, realizing I did not have the face for them. This is how I knew I was not myself. It was another most unfortunate circumstance- Fatty Bananas with bangs, no steady income, getting my Moms will done the day before her surgery, driving a car on it’s last leg, 80 miles round trip to the farm and back several times a week, and struggling to get out of bed. The bangs, though. Ugh. At least I was getting out of bed.
Then Monday happened. I have not been able to drive for a week now. My dear friend is dying in hospice. I’ve been consumed with thoughts of her and the pain that her family and friends are dealing with. I have wanted so much to hold her hand and send her off with my love. Feeling helpless is not a good place for a person with Complex PTSD. The resulting avalanche of triggers has left me paralyzed. Warrior down, people!F#@*!
It is just my luck that I answered a question on my license renewal form honestly, never realizing it would raise a red flag that would entail having two Drs fill out paperwork that has been denied two times now because neither Dr knew anything about that ONE time I dozed off at a traffic light. I called the DMV and they said all they need is a note faxed on letterhead corroborating the date and that I am no threat as a driver. (Glad they can’t consult with my daughter, who thinks I suck at almost everything.) I was told to call them as soon as she faxed it and everything would be cleared up. I made this known, at first, by a call to her office, and followed it up with an email. It is now Friday and I have yet to speak with her directly. Not for lack of trying, as you can imagine. Several calls a day and a few more emails and today after trying FOUR times it went straight to voicemail. This is my psychiatrist! She of all people knows that feeling helpless is my biggest trigger!
I finally sent one last email today, saying that I was no longer apologizing for inconveniencing her, for the consequences weigh much heavier for me, and that her refusal to take my calls or do the right thing and call me, was very disappointing and unprofessional. Then I asked the DMV how she could back me up on the date if I never told her about it, but they said it didn’t matter, because they just need her to write the note to put in my file. They said it should be simple for her to do. As of 5:46 today (Friday) they have received nothing.
To top it all off, the one thing that I had to get excited about was a complete bust. Seven inches of snow predicted last night and we got nothing. A frigid cold slap in the face! An opportunity to see my horse and the farm in the snow, because Smithfield did get some, squashed. Unable to do the only thing that sustains me through rough times, I am officially at my limit. I want to go to sleep until all of this cruelly unnecessary trigger BS passes. I want so much to be rid of these afflictions.
I can do nothing other than realize that healing is a journey, and it’s fine to shutter down in order to save myself from the storm. And looking on the bright side, it’s a good thing that I can’t drive right now, because if I went to the Walmart and had to fight to get those stupid #@$!%$#@&%$#@× plastic bags open, while the stupid #@!$^&^$#@× register tells me to “please bag your items”, that would surely be the end of me.
Hello, little black cloud. Goodbye, will to decline the pity party invitation. But $#@! it. “V” is also for VENT, and I am already starting to feel better.
Where do I begin? No, seriously. I have had this book to write all my life. I was given the title, as if by magic, from the mouth of my 4 year old child, 13 years ago.. It was brilliantly absurd and I knew when I asked her to repeat it that it was a gift from an angel, and I got the chills. Of course I immediately wrote it down. It has taken me all this time to get to this place. I started this blog as a means to get myself in the habit of writing. It has been a wonderful outlet for me, but I decided that now is when to begin writing my book. I am writing this as a warm up, a way of working through this last niggling remnant of fear. Also, I am trying to determine where I should start.
The greatest thing about blogging is that there is no pressure. It was the best step for me as a longtime journal writer who never wrote continuously in one at a time, but several. One journal may contain a small period of time, but from beginning to end it can span a decade or more. It seems sort of schizophrenic, but it came naturally to me. I have never been one to do things a certain way just because I was taught that it was the only way, or the “right” way. I realize that is simply the hallmark of being an artist, but that doesn’t mean I don’t second guess myself. I am a walking paradox of angular plushness.
My life is very much like the bunch of sticks and limbs that were recently woven to create a sculptural sanctuary in Jacob’s Woods, at Mill Swamp Indian Horses. The idea came to me out of the blue at the end of December as I looked around at the land that was being cleared to make way for a new pasture with different forage for the animals. The cut trees and limbs were being placed in a long line of brush piles that would serve as a sanctuary for other small, wild animals. As a college student working as an intern at MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Arts, I was greatly inspired by an artist whose installation I worked on, who was a sculptor of sticks. There was this small clearing in the brush that spoke to me. I set to work one day, and over 8 separate days, I arrived at sunrise to work until there was barely any light left.
I just now realized that I am using my blog as a distraction today, but in doing so I fully believe it will propel me toward making this critical first big step. Beginning to write my book does not, after all, have to start at the beginning of the story.
Who, me? Distracted? 😁
It started as an archway that began to morph and undulate with a dimensional curve that became a small tunnel/entryway into a cozy little nest of a space. It was quickly identified as a sacred undertaking that was divinely inspired. The frenzied delight from which I couldn’t wait to return to in creating this structure filled me with intense joy and satisfaction. On the second day in, blissed out in the solitude of my surroundings, I found myself frustrated over the sticks that would refuse to bend and ended up breaking, believing them to be an impediment to the flow of it all, and cursing each one. It was messy, and very organic, not perfect and streamlined. Then a voice came to me and said, “There are no broken pieces.” In that moment I was overcome with emotion and awe as I was shown the significance of each limb, stick, and twig that I had so carefully and deliberately woven with love, knowing that it was to become something of great magnitude. It was a symbol for the creation of me, every life experience and the way they shaped me, represented like arteries in a vein. Some of us have messier lives than others, and I’m here to represent.
ar·ter·y/ˈärdərē/Learn to pronouncenounplural noun: arteries
- any of the muscular-walled tubes forming part of the circulation system by which blood (mainly that which has been oxygenated) is conveyed from the heart to all parts of the body.
- an important route in a system of roads, rivers, or railroad lines.
God was showing me that what I considered broken pieces were part of a greater system that created the strength and shining light in me that He considered His own brilliant work of art. When I was asked what I would name it, I had no answer. I figured the name would come to me, which it did.
I had continued to build around the space inside and after a particularly exhausting day, found myself curled up on the forest bed, giving thanks and meditating on the deep meaning of it all. That is when I realized that I was in The WOMB. The totality of the significance of it all absolutely felt like a rebirth. I became the stick. Every awful thing that has happened to me in my life, all of what I’ve considered little deaths, are the very things that have paved the way for me to fulfill my purpose in helping others to find their way out of darkness. When a stick broke, I tucked it in. It was a part of the process.
This is all of us. It is about looking beyond what we have perceived as being broken to the greater understanding that we are all a work in progress. Death is not just about a door closing. Every little death, those circumstances we thought had broken us, has the ability to open new doors. It is my experience that once I leaned into whatever each moment had to offer, in complete, unwavering faith, it became easier and easier to hear the voice that would guide me toward becoming everything I am meant to be, sharing my gifts with the world and seeing the masterpiece in myself that God sees. There are an infanitesimal number of doors from which we can choose to open. We may hear the siren’s song and be fooled along the way, but it is The Almighty who whispers in our ear to tell us to try another door.
P. S. Giving birth is exhausting.
I had the incredible opportunity to go on a night ride with a couple of friends on Thursday, under the last full moon of this decade occurring at 12:12 on the date of 12:12. It came following a day of intense emotional out cries due to family dysfunction, which I released with the same force that pushes a child into this world. It took so much out of me that I couldn’t utter a word the rest of the day. I knew that I was being led to rest, and I put firm boundaries around this time.
Since we left for the ride at 6, the moon was just rising, spectacularly, over the horizon, which made the first 1/4 mile or so through Jacob’s woods like navigating as if we were in a velvet painting worn down through time.
It was decided that we would have a silent ride, enabling our senses to have reverence for the wisdom that this auspicious moon would impart. I marveled at the way our horses carried us through the hazy blackness, through and around a maze of trees and limbs both upright and fallen. I thought of the
potential dangers, but instead of having fear, those thoughts became a part of the melody of a piece of music from an old player piano; notes strung together in perfect sequence to create something beautiful. Nothing could have kept me from the understanding that this night ride was a sacred journey, the idea of which came over me as a driving impulse like breathing.
Down the sand path littered with puddles from the recent rain, we rode to the old saw yard road. The exhilarating sensation of trotting and cantering with minimum visibility could not be marred by the hard whip of a tree branch that stung my face in the cold night air. I was leaning into my prospective fear with wild abandon, in full faith that any pain along the way would give rise to a sensation of triumph analogous to surviving the hardships of a lifelong battle, to see justice by way of a cleared path to happiness, success, and prosperity. In other words, everything I’ve earnestly yearned for.
When riding a horse through dark woods, in order to get the full benefits of one’s endeavor, there is no room for doubt. To be one with a horse requires mutual trust. If I had spent this magnificent hour second guessing every move or potential benefit outweighing the risk, I would have sacrificed the miracle of the purest meaning of faith that surpasses all understanding. It is not the belief of faith, but faith in action.
Our bodies are wired physiologically, to respond to trauma as a means for survival at the most primitive level. There is no time to reason over what course of action to take in a potentially life-threatening situation. When one experience’s trauma the most important areas of the brain involved are the prefrontal cortex (PFC), known as the “Thinking Center”, the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), known as the “Emotion Regulation Center”, and the amygdala, known as the “Fear Center.” Take note here that there are THREE areas. In order to understand the spiritual significance of the number 3 and how it relates to the number 12, here are a few references:
I am writing this upon waking, two days after the full moon ride, which turned out to be a night in which I was so charged from my experience that I could not sleep a wink. The sleep I woke from this morning felt like the best sleep of my life. I was smiling. I felt weightless. I praised God in loving, humble gratitude. Proverbs 3(yes, THREE!) says, Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.
I followed a divine impulse to roar out my pain and sorrow and my steps in the days that followed felt exactly like my full moon ride. When I went to look at my app that records the distance, this is what I found-
I’m sure I don’t need to explain the significance of the triangle, but I will just share a few more pictures taken on a mystical beach day in September to illustrate how the Divine manifests in my life through impulse and synchronicity. It is these kinds of signs that occur with increasing regularity which continue to erase my debilitating fear and tendency to doubt.
And here’s one more, taken on my recent trip to Massachusetts in the woods beside the house I grew up in, where I was significantly raised by trees.
Oh, and if you are into astrology, my life path number is 6! And yesterday someone graciously did a Tarot card reading regarding my career that dramatically confirmed what I already knew, but have been struggling with in doubt.
I AM WOMAN HEAR ME ROAR! That makes me giggle because an abusive ex used to, in a derogatory way, call me Helen Reddie, who is famous for that anthem. My name may not be Helen, but you best be damned sure, I’m READY.
Bring it, 2020.
I found this most delightful treasure while beach combing in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It was a glorious morning and you can’t imagine the joy this brought me. God is said, in the Bible, to know exactly how many hairs are on our head. I don’t doubt it. I mean, He IS all-knowing after all. I had just been through the darkest days of my life, coming closer to the thought of dying from my brokenness than ever before, and here was this little plastic elephant, making me smile.
I am really just an assemblage of broken pieces thrown together that wound up looking like a thing; echoes of ancestors whose own sins and tribulations still linger through generations, the immense force of suffering catapulting them through space and time to culminate in me.
Who am I, this “me”? I can look at my life from a different place than the spirit who animates my physical body, at war with ego and struggling to make sense of this world, as if the essence of my soul resides in a higher realm and is using my earthly being as a game piece that was carefully chosen. Like Chutes and Ladders. Either climbing to reach higher wisdom by one choice, or being thrust downward into repetitive misery by another. I can’t remember the game’s path that connects the players to a succession of fates by the roll of dice. This game is unlike Chutes and Ladders in that fate is determined by our intentions, understanding that there is no attachment to “up” being positive and “down” being negative. Our spirit-self knows exactly when climbing the ladder or sliding down the chute is of the most benefit. I’ve heard it referred to as the “higher self”, or more poetically, “the better angels of our nature”. I try not to over-think it. This world is complicated.
The plastic elephant that washed up at my feet at the dawn of a new day was a sign. Just one day earlier I had felt swallowed by an angry sea of emotions, and the lying siren’s call for me to succumb had ushered me into a deep sleep from which I knew not how to awaken.
God knows I love the randomness of finding things that appear where you would never expect to find them, and even more so that it would be a particularly personal object of delight. I knew when I saw it, after my childlike giggle of recognition, that this plastic elephant had also been helplessly drawn into the punishing sea, pounded by waves. And yet there it was with a meandering trail behind it as if it had fought its way back to the shore, lifted and carried to safety, as the morning tide receded.
Hope had returned. If I were meant to die, I would not be here now. Sometimes my emotional pain is so great that it completely shuts me down, physically and mentally. Other times I allow it to wash over me in angry waves, releasing the deluge of salt through tears. It can be difficult to recall the immense joy of feeling happy and carefree. When I am in one of those blissful states where I surrender all my fears, I think to myself, ” This is what makes life worth fighting for.”
So I will never stop remembering how good happiness feels, or counting the many blessings I have that no dark struggle with lingering memories of a tormenting past can ever take away. And I expect miracles, because I am one. I am one in a million, and so is everyone else who continues to stay and fight for a better way to exist with and work towards healing the painful wounds of a past that we will never change.
About twenty three years ago, I worked as a horse trainer apprentice and barn manager at a Quarter Horse farm. I had answered a classified ad in the paper after my job as lead singer in a house band aboard a dinner cruise ship had just ended. I went from dressing fancy six nights a week, and getting paid well to live a Diva lifestyle, to five days a week, twelve hour days, dirty and dead tired, for $25 a day. Horses equaled happiness, and I was spiraling into Depression after losing my job, my dog, and all hope for the success of my crumbling marriage at the time. I felt defeated, and it seemed like a miracle that might help revive me.
On my first day, I was one of fifteen women who came out to vie for this position. We were set to task with the work increasing in difficulty, as if it were a competition to see who was the toughest. The old man singled me out and tried to break me like he did his horses. He would stand over me and bark belittling criticisms at me, as if I were at Marine bootcamp. His wife found me in a stall, crying and shaking.
I confided about my marriage and Depression. She told me her own similar story. She told me that her husband was only trying to toughen me up, and if I really wanted the job, to hang in there. Dreams come true. He was her happy ending. At the end of the week, I got the job.
I had walked into a familiar landmine when I dusted myself off that first day, and felt the determination to prove myself to this man who was wickedly abusive to me. I wanted a father figure so badly that I sought his approval, like a monkey swinging to the next vine, convinced that I could re-create the one I never had. It turned out to be both heaven and hell. But there were horses, and I loved them.
There was a beautiful, pedigreed chestnut mare there named Honey, who was in foal. I had held the twitch on her lip the day she was force-bred to a well-known, blue-ribbon stallion whose name I can’t remember. There are lots of memories I have tried to block out from my time there. But Honey was special, sweet, and silly.
Fast forward to now. There is a horse named Honey who has returned to Mill Swamp after being away for ten years. She was a special horse to Steve, and her return was a welcome surprise. Honey is a registered Paint mare, all white, with a large chestnut colored spot on her right flank and belly. She has crystal clear blue eyes like large marbles. I had the pleasure of riding her on Sunday.
That is the back story to a story I have been attempting to tell for two days. It has continued to disappear or fall apart so many times that I’ve lost count! I didn’t consider sharing it until I saw a friend make a comment to Steve on Facebook, saying that Honey came there for a reason. Suddenly, I recalled my experience earlier in the day and put all the pieces together, knowing that I was part of Honey’s reason for coming back.
I realize that sounds self-agrandizing. Maybe that is why I have struggled to put what I want to say about Honey and what her being there means, into words. Honey present and Honey previous connected in a very cool way to show me something extremely valuable.
I had shown up, thinking I would ride Shunk, but he was in endurance prep mode with another rider, so that is how I met Honey. I had no reservations about riding this new horse, who apparently is not considered to be a comfortable ride, by those who knew her from her earlier days. When I met her she felt familiar to me. She had a special sweetness about her. As I was riding, a memory and lots of long-buried feelings came flooding back to me as I thought about old Honey. It was a traumatic experience that had been filed away because the cumulative awful things that had happened to me during my time at Clark Quarter Horses had such a negative impact, that this one event had to be forgotten for my sanity’s sake.
Part of me was enjoying the connection to Steve’s Honey as we took a leisurely ride, while my mind replayed a certain day’s unfortunate events.
Flashback to a weekend alone at the Quarter Horse farm, when I was left in charge while they were away at a horse show. It was evening, and the mares had not come in. There was a long rectangular fenced area that lead to 4 different pastures, with a small gate connecting each one. Usually they were all there at feeding time, ready to go back to their stalls. I saddled up and rode out to gently herd them back. I was walking behind them when something spooked my horse, making her leap into a canter, and causing the eight or nine mares to charge through the gate at the same time, in a frenzy. I watched as Honey got impaled by the fence post. I managed to get her to the barn and put her in cross ties while I called the vet. I was terrified that she may lose her baby or not survive herself, and felt so guilty. When I looked at the huge, gaping hole, bigger than a baseball, and saw the level of distress she was in, I almost lost it. All I wanted to do was comfort and console her, and tell her how sorry I was. If anything happened to her or her foal, I would be in big trouble.
After what seemed like forever, the vet arrived. I can’t remember anything else, except that Honey and foal were going to be alright, but intense daily cleaning was necessary.
My body did not respond to this trigger, although I was feeling all the fear and sadness that would usually cripple me. By the ride’s end, I had watched the footage of that traumatic event play out vividly in my mind, but I forgave myself instead of self-loathing. It was so empowering, taking my demon slaying to a whole new level. I thanked both Honey’s to myself, for their role in bringing this memory out of the shadows and into the light. It was Sunday, and this was my church. I pondered the immense significance of the day’s events the whole way home.
Later, “Honey obviously came back for a reason” became clear to me. Honey’s one chestnut spot is in the exact location where dear old Honey had been wounded by the post.
So, she did come back for a good reason, through time and space, to give me the closure and strength I needed to continue shining a light in all my dark places. She had a perfect, beautiful and healthy foal and lived happily-ever-after. (because they moved away from that horrible man, and his wife was soon to folllow).
I used to wonder what I would feel when my stepfather died. On June 8th, around 2:30 am, I received the call that he had passed.
My mother was asleep in the room next to ours. I had picked her up earlier that Sunday. Before going to my house she asked me if I would mind taking her by the nursing home for a quick visit. There were times that I would have made an excuse not to, but on this day I easily obliged. She was in and out within 15 minutes, and was concerned because she could not wake him and he hadn’t yet eaten his food. I made dinner and we watched a movie, but all night she kept saying that it didn’t seem right that she could not do anything to rouse him from sleep.
My mother does not spend the night often. The fact that she was here, where I could immediately console her and take care of all the things that needed to be done was no coincidence. I don’t believe in coincidences. It was divine timing. It was God, angels, and loved ones gone before us that ordered the events that unfolded, and it was an answer to prayer.
I had forgiven him and come to the place where I didn’t wish for him to linger, suffering. He had asked for my forgiveness throughout the years. I know it didn’t change who he was, but it did help me in terms of learning to release the pain and trauma that my body was constantly reminding me of.
I felt peace. I felt a huge burden had been lifted, and the air I was breathing seemed new and energizing, as opposed to recycled from a painful time in my past.
My CPTSD attacks have lessened dramatically, and when depression or anxiety creep up, I surrender through prayer and meditation, asking what it is I am intended to learn through it. God has rewarded me for my faith by bringing me to this new place of hope and strength from which I can confidently march through these valleys, knowing that new blessings and opportunities are coming my way.
Time used to pass differently when I was young. Whenever I was overlooked or mistreated at work I always knew that something bigger and better would come around, and it always did. Soon into my 2nd failed marriage, time seemed to stand still, and I was hanging by a thread. I didn’t see it then, but I was falling back into the same victim/perpetrator dynamic so familiar to me, and I spent the next 20 years in survival mode.
The level of dissociation and sheer madness and sorrow reached its apex this past spring, and as I began to see my way out of the darkness, I was also more acutely aware of the spiritual signs that were harnessing what was left of my faith, as I let go of the judgements of others and graciously accepted the long months of poverty, and paralyzation, instead recognizing them as a time for gentle healing, to relinquish my fears and just “be” Valerie.
Ed’s death had given me closure.
This week there has been a full moon in Aquarius and something major happening astrologically, called the 8/8 Lions Gate Portal. It is a time of increased cosmic energy flowing between the physical and spiritual realms. It has been observed and honored since Ancient Egypt as a time of great energetic influx and activation. I have experienced the greatest amount of sustained peace and joy I have ever felt. I have been brought to my knees in tears over the manifestation of my heart’s longings, and just as quickly, bitch-slapped by potentially triggering circumstances. The difference between how I used to react, (waiting for the other shoe to drop-syndrome) and how I have, instead, responded to these incidents, is also divinely guided. I have felt the presence of angels and such intense heavenly love, through a voice connected to a beckoning in my heart.
It is for that reason that the situation I am about to show a recording of occurred.
I was having lunch with my mother at our favorite spot when a man walked in. He looked straight at me. There was a vague familiarity about him. Part of me wanted to dismiss what I quickly realized, that this was the stepbrother who had molested me. He absolutely pretended not to see my mother and I as he bellied up to the lunch counter. I was overcome with intense emotion, knowing that this was ordained. I have never, ever, “bumped” into him before. The fact that this was happening in the midst of so much enexpected good fortune, made it easy to muster the strength needed to confront him. I am still reeling, trying to process my feelings around it.
I captured it with my phone. I am sharing it with the hope that it will empower others to step out of the shadows and break their silence. To pretend it never happened, to feel muted by other’s insistence that they simply “get over it”; to self-sabotage out of the deep shame felt over having no control of the abuse, is to give victory to the perpetrator. A part of the confrontation that cannot be heard was my stepbrother telling me that I was “just like (his sister) Lorraine, who refused to get over it and move on.”
What Lorraine refused to “get over” was being raped and impregnated by her own biological father and dealing with an abortion as a young teen.
I am putting this man’s shame out for the world to see, with no regrets or fear of retaliation. I would love to see him try to silence me.
For years I brushed his abuse aside and pretended my wounds were healed, going so far as to invite him to my wedding. It wasn’t until my CPTSD manifested after the stunning realization that I had married yet another toxic man, that I sought justice after learning from a counselor that there is no statute of limitations on sexual abuse in the state of VA. Twice I attempted to file charges, feeling so empowered. Twice I had to graphically re-call what had been done to me, and both times, though this man works for the City of Virginia Beach, I was told that they could not get in touch with him for a response. I even had a phone conversation with my stepfather recorded by the police, where he admitted to abusing me, and allowing his son to get away with it as well. I was forced to let it go, until Friday afternoon, August 16, 2019.
This is what unfolded –
Here is a replay, in case you missed what he did upon acknowledging me-
“We see your rants and everything on the computer.”
“We” being himself and his fiance’/girlfriend of 40 years, who is allegedly a virgin, saving herself for marriage. They don’t even live together. They are both approaching or beyond 60. She is somewhere between believing that I am a liar, and a seductive child-whore. I am not friends with them on social media. My mother is, likely, but that is a whole other issue. My point is that in order for either of them to see anything of mine, it would take some active stalking. I’m willing to lay money on which one of them is doing that. But I digress.
Forgiveness is empowering because it releases you from the burden of hatred and resentment, but it is an ongoing process. Just because I have forgiven does not mean that I will ever forget the hell I’ve endured. It means that I acknowledge that nobody is exempt from making horrible mistakes that hurt others, and I pardon the trespasses of others, as I too ask to be pardoned from my own. I know the Lord’s Prayer, and I live it daily. There is no escape in denial. It is like the wolf in sheep’s clothing, and it creates layer after layer of continuously mounting lies; lies so ingrained that a person actually feels emboldened enough to proclaim that God will judge the unrighteous, without even recognizing that person as himself.
I have no need to stutter or nervously use scripture as a shield to defend myself. And truly, God does know who the liar is.
To all the people who have taken advantage of me, who have projected their bitterness and insecurity, taking delight in my failures, disregarding my Phoenix-like strength to rise above any attempts to cause me undue strife:
DO NOT FUCK WITH ME.
I hereby proclaim myself to be unfuckwithable.
It is a glorious day, indeed.
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.
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, “Who should I ride today?” I had enjoyed Roxy’s smooth gait, and was clear about not wanting to deal with a challenging horse 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.
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.
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 horse with special markings. As described by Vicki Ives, his beloved owner, “A paint with a particular spot over ears like a cap, spot over the head to protect from enemy behind, shield over chest to protect from enemy in front. Native Americans believed a warrior who rode a Medicine Hat could not be killed in battle due to the special magic of his horse.”
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 displaced 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 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.
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.
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.
This past Sunday, my beloved gave me a gift greater than any amount of money. 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!)
Sometimes we need to be reminded of the things we take for granted. Just BREATHE.