Honey; Weaving A Tapestry of Healing Out of the Threads That Connect the Past to the Present

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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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Confronting My Abuser Before God and All the Patrons at Irwin’s Lunch Counter

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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 –

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“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.

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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It’s Like This

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Are you stuck having “one of those days” ? I’m talking you feel splayed out, face down, overwhelmed, every single day?

Let me ask you another question… Have you felt hopeless and paralyzed for so long that you cannot even remember the last time you were at peace with your life and the choices you make?

Oh HolymarymotherofGod, I have been there! I’ve been there so many times that it’s like punching an alternative time clock into a separate, familiar existence; a place where colors dull, and fear causes your surroundings to become somehow misshapen. Here it is summated in a Bible verse; Proverbs 26:11

Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats their folly.

It truly is as unpleasant and ponderous as that. I’m by no means judging here, but speaking from my own experience where I recently had the opportunity to, well… survive another one of these episodes and examine it. It’s ever so dramatically yet appropriately termed “the dark night of the soul”. It’s dark alright. It ranges from shades of gray to pitch blackness. It’s an awful place that I resent returning to and resigning myself to accept as a regular part of my life.

Like most people who suffer with Depression, I have falsely adorned myself with lugubria as a cloak, shutting myself down in order to protect myself, while shielding others from having to stand beside me in the rain. It makes perfect sense when I am in the thick of it. It’s likely one of those coping mechanisms born out of a deep need to feel secure. Deep it runs, which is why I refer to it as being at the bottom of the well.

Is it inevitable that I will return to that place? If that is my folly, I got a bum wrap! Although I suppose self-medicating with sex, drugs, and alcohol yield the same end results. (it just is much more fun in that setting…. until it isn’t) I don’t yet know if I can say that I will never return. I can say that I woke up one day and decided I’d had enough, that I desired the joy that I know longs to bust loose in me more than remaining stuck on the misery merry-go-round.

I don’t know if my Depression and Anxiety would be as bad as it is were it not for my childhood trauma. Abuse leaves a person with deep invisible wounds that bleed in conjunction with the process of accepting the unacceptable and embracing the healing. It’s like bloodletting. But how long do I have to do that and am I able to decide when it will stop affecting my quality of life?

I look at the word “healing” and know that it is a verb. I think that one action that needs to be taken is making peace with the darkness. It will always be there, but the degree to which it enslaves me becomes a choice once I acknowledge it. I will break it down using logic, a most useful tool.

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Can the darkness continue to exist if I ignore it? Yes, because it was written into the fabric of my life. Just because I ignore something doesn’t make it go away. (not that I haven’t given it my best shot, and not that I haven’t tried to pretend it’s not as ugly as it really is.) Has it killed me? Almost, a few times, but no. I’m still here, which means I have successfully coexisted with it, regardless of the struggle, my entire life.

To make peace or to acknowledge it is not at all the same as accepting defeat. It is a more spiritual reckoning of sorts where I lay down my weapon and understand fully that without the terror of darkness, I would not know how redeeming and glorious the light is. The work that needs to be done within me takes place in the day, where things are brought to light. It is the night, (darkness) that ushers in the dawn. It serves a most valuable purpose. I am tired of rehashing the pain from the memories that linger in the night. I am ready to see them clearly now, which means that they are residual energy from the past that no longer have the power to hurt me.

I tilt my hat to the darkness as a  formidable foe, but more so as a venerable teacher. After all, to the victor belong the spoils, and I am ALL about claiming the victory.

Not So Swell at The Bottom of The Well

e6d38ec8-28da-43ed-87ad-f6da7dbd2149_20180711141941691_20180711143823503_20180711145135428Depression is often like shadow boxing; it creeps up on me, and lingers just out of site, but I know there is a menacing presence from which I must defend myself. This is a shadow that can manifest on the cloudiest of days while disappearing altogether when it’s sunny. It plays tricks like that, making me question my sanity. I go about my day with the usual gratitude and acknowledgement of the many blessings in my life, wracking my brain to find the root of this discomfort, yet my search is fruitless and I find myself paralyzed. I am in a “which came first?” scenario of whether or not my *CPTSD has triggered my Depression and Anxiety, or my Depression and Anxiety has triggered my CPTSD. I hate it all. It is overwhelmingly invasive and it greatly interferes with my usually sunny disposition. There is nothing I love more than loving life and knowing that my presence makes this world a better place in some small way. I would never choose to battle this disease the way it has unfortunately chosen me, but I have to because the alternative is unthinkable. I am a stronger, wiser, more articulate and creative person because I have to find ways to out- wit my opponent, and my opponent’s ally- stigma. Some people deal with their mental illness by undermining those around them to make themselves feel better or more in-control, wearing a facade of self assurance that covers up an insecurity so deep that they would sabotage any person they perceive as a threat to this illusion they have created. I choose to walk in truth and integrity, which makes me a mirror with legs. I am sincere because it is the only way I know to be true to my heart, and because anything other than that just feeds the destructive nature of my disease. Sadness is not weakness, but strength laid bare.

 

*CPTSD