Category Archives: Uncategorized

Love The One You’re With

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I’ve been thinking a lot about love. What defines it, what it looks like, where that “spark” comes from between two people who have found a connection with each other that they just don’t have with anyone else. What does love look like over time? What does love mean when the best of times become the worst of times?

These questions and so many more have been on my mind and tugging at my tender heart. I don’t have all the answers to these questions, but one thing I know for sure: You have to love the one you’re with, and the one you’re with through everything, regardless of what comes is…yourself. It is not possible to fully love another person unless you first love yourself. When you are able to love yourself and feel sure of your own place in the world, you can be free from the baggage which so easily encumbers those who look to others for their fulfillment and happiness. You can love freely, able to give of yourself with abandon because the well from which you draw never runs dry. The more you love, the more you’re able to love, and it begins with looking in the mirror and being able to say with sincerity that you love the person staring back at you.

Getting to a place of fully accepting and loving myself has not been an easy road for me. I am quick to criticize myself. I have an entire committee of voices in my mind that are quick to speak up when I begin to feel comfortable with who I am, reminding me of past failures and things I’ve screwed up beyond all recognition, telling me that those elements of my past define me. Slowly but surely, I am learning to tune out these thoughts and embrace myself as the amazing, spectacular, glorious, flawed, broken, but incredible human being that I am. The things from my past that could so easily have broken me, the mistakes I’ve made which have cost me so dearly, have only made me stronger and smarter, better able to navigate through this life.

Perhaps the greatest measure of my progress has been in my ability to look at pictures of myself as a little girl and think, “I love this girl. I want to protect her.” Seeing pictures of myself as a child used to break my heart. I would see my big blue eyes looking up at the camera and think, “That poor child had no idea what was coming. Look at the trust in her eyes. She had no idea…” and I would look away.

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Me, in the second grade. Wasn’t I adorable? :)

The little girl in the pictures didn’t know that the world was not always a kind place. In the years following the picture above, I would experience bullying that ripped my childlike soul to shreds. I was made fun of for everything from my clothes to my name, and beyond. School became a torment. In the years during which I endured the worst of it, I learned to find solace in books. Books became my friends. Regardless of what else was happening in my world, I knew I could always lose myself in a book, and for that time, all was just as it should be.

Over time, I stopped expecting people to treat me well. I had grown so accustomed to being made fun of and mistreated, it became part of my identity. When I was hurt by someone, my reaction was, “Well, of course they hurt me. It’s me. I shouldn’t expect anything different.” This attitude is one which followed me through my teen years and well into my adult life, casting its shadow over many choices I made in life. I didn’t expect the best for myself because I had come to believe I didn’t deserve the best. The little girl inside of me trembled. She only wanted to be loved. That was all she ever wanted.

As I get older and experience more of life, I see that this little girl is still there, still wanting to be loved. Still afraid sometimes that she isn’t worthy. When I look at pictures of myself as that trusting, innocent, beautiful little girl, my instinct is no longer to look away. My instinct is to say to her, “Come here and let me hold you for awhile,” much like I say to my son if he’s having a rough day. Sit in my lap and let me hold you for awhile and tell you how amazing and loved you are, and that nothing that happens in this world is going to change that. Let me tell you the world is full of miraculous things, and the miracle…is you.

As I get stronger, I am better able to help heal that little girl who still lives within me, whose blue eyes still peer out at me when I look in the mirror. I am able to tell her that she is so much stronger than she thinks she is, because she possessed the strength to weather many storms and still greet the world with a smile and an open heart. I am able to tell her that she is worthy of love, and that her heart is one that grew to understand compassion and empathy because of all she endured. I see her eyes and I remember how she used to feel bad for the toys that didn’t get played with as much as the “prettier” toys, so she made a point to play with all the toys so none felt left out. I remind her that in her childlike innocence, there lived an old soul who came into the world well equipped to handle all that life was about to throw at her, and the things that hurt her and could so easily have destroyed her only made her heart stronger.

I tell her she is precious, she is loved, and I am grateful for her. I don’t look away from my pictures anymore.

Of course, the little girl has become a woman. As a woman, I still feel that vulnerability sometimes that says, “Please love me,” as I hold my heart out with trembling hands, hoping it will be accepted and well cared for. Unlike the little girl I was, though, I do not wonder if I am worthy of that love. I know I am. I know I have something of value to give the world, and I know my presence here is not by chance. My life may not have been what I ached for it to be up to this point, but it is within my power, indeed, within my responsibility, to make the changes necessary to shape this life into what I dream it can be. Unlike the little girl I once was, the woman I now am understands that I do not have to settle for scraps. I have all the makings of something extraordinary, if I choose to seize the day.

This Easter weekend seems a perfect time to write about rebirth and renewal. We are reborn every morning. Every day is a chance to start fresh and make a change if we don’t like where our lives are headed. Rebirth and renewal can be messy. Springtime in northern Michigan is muddy, cold, sometimes dreary, a blend of hope for new things to come and mucky reminders of the winter that has ended. As the snow melts, all manner of deleterious reminders of the death winter brought begins to come to the surface. It’s ugly. It’s unpleasant. It can even be gross. However, it’s a necessary unpleasantness in the process of renewal. We have to get through the muddy, slimy part of the spring thaw before we can get to the growth of fresh green grass and the blossoming of gorgeous flowers.

So it is with life. Renewal is difficult. It’s messy. It’s unpleasant at times, but the unpleasantness is necessary. I am at a place where I believe I have come through the muck of the process, and now I am ready for growth. Again and again, I am being reborn into a better version of who I was made to be.

I am going back to school, with classes starting in a couple weeks. It’s exhilarating to think of where I was a year ago, and where I am now. A year ago, I was a shell of who I was born to be. I was fearful. I was in the throes early recovery. I was doing well just to get through the day, let alone plan anything for the future. Now, I am going back to school, picking up where I left off, planning for the future…and the future is looking bright. My heart is full. Everything is mine for the taking, so long as I am operating from a place of love. The little girl in me is protected and nurtured, and I am grateful for her existence. The woman that I am is strong, becoming more fearless every day, taking on a world that once used to frighten me into paralyzed silence.

I have learned to love the one I’m with. I have learned to love me.

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A Stephanie selfie. I still see the little girl peering through the eyes of the woman.

Just Like A Knife

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Here’s the truth: Love terrifies me.

As much as I long for it, dream of it, yearn for it, and want it in my life, it terrifies me in a way nothing else can. It leaves me at once trembling with both fear and desire. I ache to know what it is to be swept away by love’s unyielding force, yet I fear the torrent, so I cling to what I have known up to this point in order to keep myself safe on solid, if lonely, ground, as if I could fight the current if I just tried hard enough.

The problem rests in the fact that I do not know how to love someone only a little bit. I don’t know how to have feelings for someone that go only so far and no further. Maybe some people have that ability, but it’s not a power I have ever possessed. I go all in. When I fall, I fall hard. It’s all or nothing. The one my heart loves will never have to wonder if I care for him, because he will be shown that I do, in many different ways, all the time. I couldn’t help that even if I wanted to. It is something that becomes instinctive. “How can I make him smile right now, in this moment?” My driving force would be imagining his smile.

Love means losing all sense. The brain says, “You’re falling fast!”. The heart says, “I know, and what a thrill!”. Falling in love is an exhilarating ride. It is terrifying. It is intoxicating. It’s mesmerizing and captivating. It somehow stops all reason. Otherwise well-grounded, intelligent people become fools, forgetting their names, dropping their books, smiling dopey smiles every time a thought of their beloved drifts through their mind, which is about every ten seconds. Falling in love at once makes a person the strongest person in the world, because the force of love makes them believe they can conquer anything, and the most vulnerable person in the world, because their heart is in another’s hands. Falling in love is at once a glorious and terrifying experience, a free fall into wonderment.

If you’ve ever read Alice in Wonderland, you know that wonder can be exquisite in its beauty, and awful in its terror. I think falling in love feels a lot like that. It’s beautiful. It’s terrifying.

Yet, for all its inherent danger, for all the vulnerability it entails, I wouldn’t harden my heart to it. I welcome the thrill of the free fall. I welcome the stumbling into beautiful and paralyzing wonderment. I welcome the yearning to spoil the one I love, day in and day out, if only to see him smile and feel his happiness. I welcome the way seeing that smile would lift my spirit to even greater heights, giving momentum to my falling, building a safe place for both of us to land as our hearts join in the fall together.

I welcome it.

It scares the hell outta me, and I ache for it.

Falling in love is easy, and really can’t be helped. Whatever you might have felt for others before, when you find that one person that was meant for you, the one your soul knew even before you met them, it knocks you flat and makes no apologies. Everything from that moment on is different.  When you meet that person who turns your world upside down, changing everything about your life to such a degree that there is a marked “before” and “after” you met them, you have little control over what your heart will do. Your heart is carried away, you fall, and keep falling, and it feels amazing. It’s a natural high. Everything becomes more beautiful. Colors become more vibrant. The song the birds sing becomes more melodic. The people you meet become more interesting and lovely. Everything about this world of ours and her inhabitants becomes dappled in sunlight even on rainy days, and breathtaking joy is found everywhere. It’s an amazing feeling.

The time comes, though, when love is a choice. Conflicts arise. Arguments happen. Life can become difficult. Life can become infinitely worse than difficult. In those moments, you find out what this love you have is made of. If it isn’t more than sweet notions and happy feelings, it isn’t love that lasts. If it is sweet notions, happy feelings, and the understanding that sharing life with someone comes with its share of complications, even under the best of circumstances, and you bounce back to normal quickly after said complications arise, it’s love that can stay the course for the long haul. Falling in love is the easiest thing in the world. Staying in love is where the challenge comes in.

I heard once, “You marry someone because you love them. Then, you love that someone because you married them.” In my experience and observations, there is so much truth in this. Love is more than a feeling. Love is messy. Love in the real world means that the happily ever after we are promised in fairytales comes as a conscious choice and  concentrated effort by the lover and the beloved. Love isn’t always a smooth road. Love means facing the bumps in the road, the unexpected twists and hairpin turns, the unforeseen obstacles that could easily thwart a less formidable couple, and facing them together with the commitment and the knowing that you will come out on the other side of the struggle together. This is where all the tokens of love and affection used to build a safe haven for each other gets put to work, and this is where you learn what you really mean to each other.

And this is perhaps where the fear comes in. Falling in love is frightening, though perhaps not for the reason we often read about or see in movies. Perhaps the underlying fear isn’t that the beloved will reject the lover at first glance, but will accept the lover at first glance and reject them when the road gets bumpy and the way ahead is unclear. Perhaps the fear is acknowledged that out of the billions of people in the world, the two of you happened to meet. At some point, you chose each other to share the journey with. Perhaps the fear is that, at some point, the beloved will no longer choose the lover. Love is a choice sometimes, and what if the choice is to walk away when life happens?

For me, my heart’s message to my beloved, with every token of affection I would give him, with every smile I work to see light his face, with every touch, kiss, embrace…my heart would be saying, “I choose you. Again and again, I choose you. Choose me. Again and again, choose me.” I have a lot of experience with proclamations of love that arrive with poetry and romance. I do not have experience with love that stays after the flowers die and poetry doesn’t come easily.

And this is the ultimate terror of falling in love…that it won’t lead to staying in love. Falling in love is a brilliant free fall. Staying in love is a hike on sometimes rough terrain. It takes commitment, step by step choices, diligence, and a “want to.” Falling in love is not a choice. Staying in love is a million little choices, all for the desire for very best for the one the heart loves. I yearn to have someone to make such choices for. I yearn to be the reason someone makes such choices. And it scares the hell outta me.

And now, a song. Remember this one?

It’s One of Those Days

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I don’t know if it’s the weather, the lack of good sleep, or what it is, but I woke up this morning feeling on edge and a little sad. Maybe it’s all the “hurry up and wait” of the changes happening in my life, changes that are happening at a snail’s pace when I would prefer they possess the speed of a cheetah. Once I have made up my mind to do something, I want it done yesterday, so all this waiting is incredibly challenging for me.

Time is relentless, though.  Tonight, I have to go to a meeting for all the parents who have children entering kindergarten next fall. It seems somewhat unbelievable to me that we are already at this point. Sometimes, I still feel like I just had a baby and  have no idea what I’m doing in this “motherhood” role. Every day,  I feel like I’m flyin’ by the seat of my pants on this, and I’m just hoping I get things right. It is difficult when there is no one here to talk to about things, celebrate moments with, laugh with when things don’t go quite as planned, and cry with when things go wrong. Single parenting is not for the weak, I know that much. There is nothing about it that’s easy. Parenting is not a job anyone was meant to do alone. Yet, here I am, along with so many others who find themselves alone for whatever reason. It’s not an easy place to be in.

That’s not the reason for the knot in my nerves, though. I am not sure why that’s there, exactly. If there was someone I need to sort things out with, I could go to them and help alleviate some of the knottiness. There is no one I am having any issues with, though. No one I can look to as being at least somewhat to blame for how I’m feeling. Isn’t it interesting that we always want someone to blame? It’s easier to blame someone outside of ourselves when we’re feeling like shit than it is to sit with how we’re feeling and accept that we are the author’s of our own misery a lot of the time, and there’s no one to blame for it but the person staring back at us in the mirror.

If I were having a problem with someone, I wouldn’t write about it. Isn’t that strange? I write copiously about other things going on in my life, but when I am having an issue with someone, I don’t write about it. I don’t mean that I just don’t write about it here. I don’t write about it anywhere. If I am having a difficulty with someone, it’s easy for my opinions of the moment regarding that person to be less than complimentary. I may feel frustrated with them, think they are making poor choices, doing things I would never do with people I would never do them with, or whatever the case may be, and my opinions of them in the moment may not be that great. I opt not to write about it anywhere, not even in my journal, because writing about something gives it a permanence it otherwise wouldn’t have. I understand that the way we see someone in a bad moment does not necessarily reflect who they really are or even how we may feel about them, and I choose not to write it down because I don’t want to give energy to any negative perceptions I have about someone in my life.

It’s true, the pen is mightier than the sword. Even if the person or people we are taking issue with may not ever know what we wrote, we know what we wrote. The act of writing it down leaves an impression in our soul, and alters how we perceive the person, even if the alteration is ever so slight. The reality is, none of us are at our best when we’re in times of difficulty in our lives. We may not always make the best choices in times of conflict, whether the conflict is within our circumstances or within ourselves. It is my hope that when someone sees me at a time when I am not at my best, they will extend grace, respect my humanness, and show me the same treatment they would like to receive themselves if the tables were turned. Therefore, since writing is such an elemental part of who I am, I choose not to memorialize the shortcomings of those in my life by writing about them, privately in my journal, or publicly for others to see.

But that’s not why I have a knot. The truth is, I think the knot is everything and nothing all at once. It’s the grey weather we’ve had for the last several days. It’s loneliness and longing. It’s wanting change to happen at cheetah speed instead of a snail’s pace. It’s having words to say, but no time or place or ability to say them. It’s having a lot of love to give, and no one special in my life to give that love to. It’s so much. And it’s nothing. All at once.

One of the books my son and I like to read is Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst. This classic children’s book follows poor Alexander through an entire day in which nothing goes right for him. From start to finish, his day is bad. He spoils the sweater he wanted to wear to school, his breakfast cereal box only had breakfast cereal in it and no toy, his best friend decided he wanted a different best friend, and…it was just a bad day. Throughout the book, he says from time to time, “I’m moving to Australia!”. His move to Australia represents to him something that will make life perfect, and he will never again suffer a bad day. At the end of the book, when the day is finally done and he can go to bed, he once again declares that it has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. He says, “Mom says some days are like that, even in Australia.”

I’m sure even Aussies have the occasional bad day.

This story is one that gives me some comfort on days like today when nothing seems quite right. There are no quick fixes or solutions that would make my life indefinitely perfect. There is no “Australia” I can look to as my beacon of hope and embodiment of a struggle-free life.  Bad days come and go. Every bad day, no matter how difficult or “off” it may feel, eventually does come to an end. If we can’t figure out why the day is sucking donkey nuts so badly, that’s okay, we don’t have to. Eventually, the day ends, we go to bed, and we start fresh in the morning. Good days and bad days, they all come to their end. On good days, we cherish the good moments and smile. On bad days, we get through the day the best we can…and smile.

This song, and the angel singing it, are a comfort to me today. If Michael Jackson, of all people, could find a reason to smile, I think I can, too.

A Scandalous Book Recommendation

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Recently, I began reading Scandalous: Things Good Christian Girls Don’t Talk About But Probably Should by Emily Dixon. Now, let me state clearly, I am not claiming to be a good Christian girl. I am mostly a good girl, and I don’t call myself a Christian and haven’t for some time. This book, however, is a book I recommend for its honesty about things that people in Christian circles simply do not talk about.

Christians generally don’t talk about sex. Oh, sure, there is the typical, “No sex until you’re married” talk that every kid in a Christian home gets. Beyond that, though, sex remains a mystery. Kids are not talked to about what their bodies are doing, the fact that their bodies respond to certain stimulus is not shameful but natural, and that certain things can and should feel really, really good. Christians do not talk about masturbation, except to say that it ought not be done, and Christians don’t talk about the benefits of orgasm.

Until this book, anyway.

While I do not necessarily agree with everything she writes, I love this book because it provides an honest, blunt, to the point discussion of all the taboo subjects Christians don’t like to talk about, but their kids are going to find out about anyway. Here’s the reality: Whether we talk to our kids about sex or not, they are going to get their information from someone. Even if you don’t allow your children to watch certain tv shows or movies because of their sexual content, chances are that the parents of some of their friends are not so strict and your little angel is going to see a simulated sex act play across a screen somewhere. They are going to learn from someone that kissing feels good, and leads to things that feel even better, and it’s normal. They are going to find out from someone that it is possible to give themselves an orgasm, and that an orgasm is quite possibly the greatest thing they will ever experience. They are going to discover that their own thoughts are enough to arouse them. They are going to learn that a word from the right person can cause their nether regions to tingle, and a touch can cause a near explosion (or the feeling of molten lava between their legs, for the girls) in their pants. They will learn all of this and so much more from someone, and if you want to give your children real guidance, they will learn these things from you. Simply giving them an instruction like, “Don’t have sex until you’re married,” is going to do nothing to quell their curiosity about their bodies and that of the object of their affection. The questions are there, and they will be answered by someone, whether we as parents choose to answer them or not.

When I was growing up, the subject of sex in any honest terms was utterly taboo. Parents, you have to understand that your children are not stupid. They know you’ve had sex at least one time for every child born into the family, so any notions you are entertaining about keeping the fact that you have had sex the person your children call “mom” or “dad” are not based in reality. At least at a rudimentary level, your kids understand that you’ve had this mysterious thing called “sex.” So, talk about it.

As for me,  I was given rhetoric which told me that I should wait until I was married to have sex, and that when I finally did have sex, it was going to be a mind-blowing experience. The first time I had sex, I was profoundly disappointed in every aspect of the experience. Having no real understanding of sex, except in the most primitive elements regarding what goes where, I did not understand what went wrong. What was the big…or not so big…deal about it?

Now I am older, more experienced, wiser, and I know exactly what sweet seduction can feel like, and it doesn’t start in the bedroom. I know I don’t want to have sex. I want to make love. That requires a relationship. I have to be in love, or the deed is not done. As it is, the deed hasn’t been done for nearly six years, and I miss it…everything about it…but I know enough now not only about sex itself but my own heart to know that it is not part of who I am to have sex just for the sake of having sex. If love isn’t in it, it isn’t for me.

Regarding  talking with my son about sex, I believe in honesty. I do not shame him for his curiosity about his body. I call his penis a penis, not some cutesy term that sounds like something a baby might say. I understand that he is already beginning to realize that he can make himself feel very good with nothing but his own hand, and I do not make him feel ashamed of that. I explain to him that it’s something to be done privately and he needs to go into his bedroom. This conversation usually happens after he declares, “Mom, my private parts and my whole body just want to be naked right now!”. I am all for nakedness, with the appropriate amount of privacy. Our home is a No Shame zone, and I am mindful to never say anything to my son that would make him feel embarrassed or ashamed of his sexuality.

That being said, I do hope there is a man in our lives by the time Jaden is a teenager. I would love it if he had a man to talk to about sex and women and relationships. Why? Simply because men and women are so different. We think differently, communicate differently, experience relationships differently, interpret things differently… I want him to have someone he can talk to for a man’s perspective.

And, I want someone to experience sweet seduction with. So, you see, having a man in the house would be of great benefit for all involved, even said man…I promise you that. I have had years to think about this, and let me tell you…I have plans for him. Oh yes, I have plans.

I have plans, I have desire, I want a man in my life and in my bed. I want to be touched, tasted, and teased, and I want to touch, taste, and tease, and that is normal. It is a natural desire. Our bodies are meant to experience pleasure. If we can’t experience it with someone else, we can experience it through masturbation. God apparently has no problem with us doing that, either, because God said…let’s see…nothing about not doing it. It’s not a good permanent substitute for pleasure experienced with another person, but if you don’t have another person, masturbation will work for the time being. I am putting all this out there because it’s time to stop acting as though we do not have urges, as if sex is something that happens but doesn’t really happen, and it’s something we just don’t talk about.

People are having sex right now. Someone just had an orgasm. Did you feel the earth move?

This is the thing…sex is part of the human experience, and the more honestly we talk about it with our kids, the better able we are to give them guidance in a positive direction, and to trust that if they have questions, they will come to us, not just listen to what their friends are saying or trust what they read online. For this reason, I recommend Scandalous. Even if we cannot agree on everything, we can agree that not talking to our kids about sex in terms that are real and honest is a disservice to all concerned. So many pitfalls are avoided if we open the floor for honest, shame-free questions and answers.

No blushing.

P.S. Dear Sis…I am getting you a copy of this book. I have three beautiful nieces who will benefit tremendously from the wisdom therein contained. Love, Auntie

For further insight regarding my particular views on sex, the purity movement, and the general disservice typical Christian “sex talks” provide to kids, please read:

Let’s Talk About Bananas

Pure Balls

Becoming Muchier

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Alice Kingsley: Wait! You can’t leave me here!

The Mad Hatter: You don’t slay? Do you have any idea what the Red Queen has done? You don’t slay.

Alice Kingsley: I couldn’t if I wanted to.

The Mad Hatter: You’re not the same as you were before. You were much more …  “muchier.” You’ve lost your muchness.

Alice Kingsley: My “muchness”?

The Mad Hatter: (Points to Alice’s heart) In there.

-from the movie “Alice in Wonderland” (2010)

I have written extensively on this blog regarding how I lost my muchness. If you’ve been reading for any length of time at all, you know that the several years have been difficult, to say the least. Somewhere in all of that, I lost my muchness. Or, at the very least, I became less muchier. I began living in a paradigm of loss, and this impacted every area of my life. Where I was once so strong, I became weak and dependent. All my “muchness” had seeped out, and I was left far less muchier than I had been a few years ago.

Here I am, though, in a place of reclaiming what I’ve lost. Much like Alice Kingsley, I am learning that my muchness does not come from anyone else…or a mushroom that makes me grow or shrink, depending upon which side of it I eat…or from a step by step guide on how to regain my muchness. I am finding that it has been here all along, hidden away under layers of grief and excuses. Certainly, I had valid excuses, but as I move further away from the events that so severely thwarted my life off what seemed to be the right course, the less valid those excuses become. I am realizing this now, and it is no small thing to swallow one’s pride and face the fact that you have allowed yourself the luxury of those excuses for far too long.

I think we are all so much stronger than we realize. Sometimes, our strength is like a glowing ember that is hidden by the ashes of what once was. We feel its heat, we see the faintest glow of its existence, but we don’t realize that it could once again set our hearts ablaze until we begin to fan the embers and add the kindling of daring to hope for something better for ourselves. Then, we first see smoke, then we see fire, and our passion and strength for forging a new existence has been restored. We’ve rediscovered our muchness.

I have decided to go back to school. I am chomping at the bit to start classes, but there are, as ever, steps to be taken to get there. Living in a rural area, attending a brick and mortar school is problematic, so I will be taking courses online for the time being. I’ve done it before, and maintained a nearly perfect GPA. How I managed that when I had a baby and a full-blown addiction, I don’t know, but I did it. If I can do it exhausted and stoned, surely I can do it rested and sober. I attempted to start classes about a year ago, but as I was so new in recovery, it was overwhelming within the first week. Now, however, I feel healthy, strong, and ready to take this on, so I am.

My original plan was to pursue a degree in early childhood education. I did well in my courses. Several of my instructors asked to use my papers and lesson plans as examples for future students, which was an amazing honor. I am a firm believer in the importance of early childhood education, and could easily cite a multitude of valid reasons why children should have the benefit of a quality preschool education before entering formal school. I am also a firm believer that I am not uniquely gifted with what it takes to be the early childhood educator children need and deserve to have. It takes an extraordinary person to be a preschool teacher. Preschool is not daycare. The teachers are not glorified babysitters. Preschool teachers are being trusted with helping shape the minds of children during a time in their lives when their brains are doing the most critical development their brains will ever do. To be trusted with those young minds is an honor, and it is a calling.

I adore the teachers my son has. Their compassion, patience, and understanding with my son has been remarkable when I consider the unique set of challenges he presented to them. Having teachers of such high caliber has enabled my son to exceed every academic benchmark, and show remarkable improvement in his social skills over the last year. I am forever grateful for the gift we were given in the teachers he has. That being said, seeing what they have gone through in grappling with the difficulties they face with some of the children put a very fine point on the fact that being a preschool teacher was not something I could or wanted to do.

I have always been drawn toward social work. I have always been one to root for the underdog, wanting to see someone rise to success when so many around them thought they were destined for failure. I believe in people. I believe in second…and third…and fourth…chances. We’re all works in progress. I have been through a lot of things in my life, and if I have learned anything it is that having the right people in your corner, cheering you on no matter how difficult things get, you’re going to be okay. It may take some time and a lot of not-okay moments before you’re really okay, but if you tap into the strength others are offering you, if you borrow their confidence when your own fails you, if you hold on tight to those who believe in you most when you have stopped believing in yourself, you can get through just about anything and be okay. With this in mind, I have decided to delve into school again with an eye toward becoming a substance abuse counselor.

My heart breaks for those caught in addiction. Addiction is a thief and a murderer. Far too often we hear of people who have every reason in the world to want to be present and fully connected to the love and goodness in their lives, but met an early death because of their addiction. When I hear of this, I don’t blame the person for being weak. I blame their addiction, for being so strong. As hopeless as addiction can feel, though, I know without a doubt that there is hope. If I can be someone who extends that hope to someone who feels so hopeless, I would feel honored and all the more grateful for everything I have gone through in my own life.

(That being said, if I see one more commercial featuring a picture-perfect guy from Malibu talking about how he has found the cure for addiction, and you can have it, too, if you come to his posh facility, I think I’m going to vomit. Recovery is a lifelong, day by day process. If there was really a cure for addiction, believe me, we wouldn’t keep losing people to the needle and the damage it does.)

I am eager to go back to school, get my credits transferred to my new degree program, and get this party started. I am in The Waiting Place discussed in Dr. Seuss’s profoundly appropriate book, Oh, The Places You’ll Go!. And someone as brainy and footsy as me does not do well with waiting, but sometimes, that’s all that can be done.

During the waiting, though, I am discovering other means by which I can reclaim my muchness, and not all of it feels as good as the prospect of going back to school. In fact, some of it feels downright awful.

It is easy to become selfish. Maybe we don’t make a habit of it, and maybe it isn’t something that defines us, but it happens in moments, and those moments can be ugly. I can be demanding. I can ask people for more than they can give, not realizing that what they were giving me, as small as it may seem to me, was something they gave not because they had to, but because they wanted to. When someone is leading an extraordinarily busy life and they have carved out time to spend in your company, it is a gift of priceless value, because that time could have been spent myriad different ways. It is a gift to be grateful for.

Yet, I can be demanding. I can be selfish. I can overlook the efforts made and the gifts of time given and instead focus on what I am not seeing, and that is an ugly truth about myself that I have had to come face to face with. It’s never pleasant to realize that you’ve treated others unkindly, taking them for granted and disregarding their strides to include you in their life because they didn’t do it like you thought they should. Worse yet, I have a way of saying things that I wish I could take back as soon as I say them, but once something is out there, it’s out there, and no apologies, however sincere, can reel it back in.  Carelessly spoken words can do untold damage, and nothing is ever the same afterward.

I am learning to be more mindful of the things I say. I am learning to take things less personally. I am learning not to make assumptions, because there is always going to be some piece of information I may not have which would change everything if I knew it, and assuming without knowing makes me look foolish…and only causes further damage. These are painful lessons to learn, but necessary ones. We can be so careless with each other. We can hurt each other deeply, without intending to, when we don’t know how to step outside of ourselves and consider for a moment that maybe, just maybe, we’ve got everything all wrong about a person or a situation. Learning to suspend judgment, to avoid assumptions, to not take things personally, to know that there is always an explanation for things and we need to be mindful of our words/actions while we wait for that explanation…these are all lessons that are most often learned only after we’ve experienced the pain that comes when we fail to do these things.

Hard lessons, indeed. Words can’t be taken back. You can’t un-jump the conclusion you jumped to, and you don’t get a do-over. So often, we’re only given one shot to make or break a relationship with those we care about most, and what we do in that set of moments changes things. Finding the way back to a place of trust and understanding takes time. Realizing that the relationships we value the most come with the unwritten label, “Handle With Care,” is the beginning … the tiniest of beginnings … of that process. We learn to value people and their place in our lives so much more once we’ve carelessly spoken words we can’t reel back in, and people back away because our words and actions have hurt them. Hard lessons, but necessary ones.

Muchness requires the strength to be humble enough to know when you were wrong, and be willing to say it. Muchness means learning the hard lessons, taking them to heart, knowing you’ll do better next time.

What Is Real Beauty?

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I am just going to say it up front: I have a difficult time accepting it as truth when someone tells me they see me as beautiful. The idea of beauty is one I have struggled with for as long as I can remember. I don’t know where or when it started, but I distinctly remember that even as a child, I felt that I was not as beautiful as other girls my age. As I was not, in my mind, as beautiful as they were, I was not as worthy of love and affection as they were. For a child to see herself this way is a tragedy.

As I grew up, my struggles with the notion of “beautiful” continued to escalate. I looked at the girls on the glossy cover of “Seventeen” or “YM” and wondered what was so wrong with me that I couldn’t achieve a slim physique, perfect hair, and makeup that never needed touching up. I wanted to be beautiful, the way I saw other girls my age becoming beautiful, but it continued to elude me. I wasn’t tall and slender. My hair was not long, falling gracefully across my shoulders. I did not have perfect skin. I was the kind of girl described in the “DON’T” column of the teen girls magazines’ fashion tips. I just couldn’t seem to become what I so badly wanted to become: Beautiful.

By the time I left high school, I had gained a slightly greater sense of my own beauty, but the struggle continued. When I went to Bible college, a veritable hunting ground for those looking for a mate, I once again became keenly aware that I did not meet the nebulous standard of beauty set for women. Not only was I not tall and slender with a glorious crown of hair, I now was also not “spiritual” enough to be considered a beauty. Everything I believed was required to achieve and maintain a standard of beauty, I utterly lacked.

I went through a string of ill-fated relationships before finally marrying my son’s father. Of all the people in the world I should have been able to trust to help me feel beautiful on a day when I feel anything but that, it ought to have been him. Instead, he spent a fair bit of time telling me about his ex-girlfriend who had the looks of a model. When I learned I was pregnant and I told him I was worried about gaining a lot of weight from the pregnancy, he proceeded to tell me how the ex-girlfriend walked out of the hospital with her newborn, comfortably fitting into her size 2 jeans less than 24 hours after giving birth. His suggested method for helping me lose any weight I may gain from the pregnancy is far too humiliating to write about here. Needless to say, by the time I left him and began building a new life for myself, I felt more ugly and un-beautiful than I had ever felt at any time in my life.

That was nearly six years ago. I still struggle with the idea of what it means to be beautiful. I will never possess the flawless good looks of a model. I am not going to get any taller, my hair does not look good when it’s long, and while I have a healthy body, I am not thin. Daily, I deal with the battle to accept and love myself as I am, or strive to achieve an impossible standard of beauty set by photoshopped models who happened to win a genetic lottery. I was not destined to have drop dead gorgeous looks.

A few days ago, a friend of mine posted this on his blog. He gave me something interesting to consider, which is that the media machine routinely gives us horrible advice. In choosing to embrace the media’s notion of beauty as the standard for my personal beauty, I had set myself up to utterly fail, every single day of my life, because I had set the standard at a level impossible to achieve. I responded:

The most ungodly counsel I tend to listen to is in regard to definitions of beauty. I struggle…big time…with accepting my appearance as it is and seeing myself as beautiful. My body is flawed. My face is scarred. I am not model-thin. My skin changed after I had radiation therapy in 2007 and now my face looks flushed all the time. My teeth are not perfect, my hair is not thick and full and shiny…I possess NONE of the qualities that the media tells us makes a woman physically beautiful. Yet, I also recognize that the media objectifies women. I recognize the damaging impact of that objectification, and its far reaching effects on girls and women alike. Yet, I still struggle not to buy into the lie. It’s a daily battle.

In his response, he stated that he has to remind himself to be comfortable in his own skin, too. It really had never occurred to me that the media sets a standard for men as much as it does for women, and that there are men in the world who feel the pressure of that standard. I do not think men are objectified nearly as much as women are, as men are seen as whole beings, whereas women are viewed in parts: Breasts, butt, thighs, face, legs…We are not seen as whole people, we are seen only in parts that service the broader message of consumerism. Nevertheless, it surprised me to read what he said, because it made me more aware that the pressure to achieve the impossible is there for everyone.

So, if we know the standard is impossible, what do we do? How do we redefine beautiful? Where does beauty begin?

As I get older, I begin to understand that beauty does not begin with a rigorous workout routine that leaves ones muscles pulled and strained and achy for days. It does not begin with the application of cosmetics. It doesn’t begin with wearing the latest fashion trends, having beautiful hair, being wrapped in flawless skin, or having a perfect smile. There is nothing wrong with any of these things, when they are kept in their proper place. We can and should take care of our bodies. We are only given this one body, and it has to last awhile. Proper maintenance is essential. I also think that putting forth one’s own personal best appearance is important. Wanting to look good is not the problem.

The problem comes in when we make appearances the sole standard by which we judge beauty. Appearances change. Whether it happens through the aging process, through an unfortunate accident, or the body is ravaged by an illness that leaves one weak, scarred, or disfigured, appearances change. If that is the sole standard by which we judge our beauty and, consequently, our value, we are teetering on the edge of a dangerous precipice.

I am fortunate to have people in my life who remind me what it means to be truly beautiful. A good friend reminded me just this morning that physical beauty is only one aspect of our lives, and it’s not even the most important one. True beauty, the kind that lasts a lifetime, begins in the heart. That is the kind of beauty that radiates from within and makes a person truly beautiful in all aspects, not merely pleasant in appearances. Our beauty is defined by the energy we share with the world around us, and that is something no cosmetics can create. Beauty is not created by making efforts to be impressive. True beauty, the kind that does not fade, is impressive in its own right.

It may be awhile yet before I can completely shed the long held beliefs regarding beauty. Today, though, I feel one step closer to complete freedom. I may not possess perfect looks, but I do possess beauty where it matters most. In my heart, I am gorgeous.

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The Greatest of Deceitful Things

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heart in hand

From the hearts of beggars

to the hearts of kings,

   The heart’s the greatest of deceitful things…

-from “Mr. Bailey’s Daughter” by Bryan Duncan (please be mindful of this if you look up this song: it was the 1990s. I was deeply immersed in the Assembly of God culture at the time. Be kind.)

That single quote has resonated with me since I first heard the song over twenty years ago.  Of course, Bryan Duncan wasn’t the originator of such wisdom. The lyric is based on Jeremiah 17:9, which reads, “The heart is more deceitful than all else, and is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” (NASB).

Who, indeed.

The heart is a complicated thing. The physical organ requires the work of well trained, highly educated specialist to treat it if something goes wrong. The emotional heart requires a bit of the same if something goes so terribly wrong that we are unable to handle it ourselves. In both cases, preventative measures can be taken to assure that the risk for heart trouble is eliminated, or at least minimized.

Yet, the heart is the greatest of deceitful things. Sometimes, we don’t do what we should, and we do what we shouldn’t, to these precious hearts of ours, and we pay the price. Be it through a physical heart attack or through emotional heartache, we pay dearly for disregarding these hearts we’ve been given.

I think I know my own heart pretty well. Yet, there are times when I feel hopelessly confused. We say, “the heart wants what the heart wants.” But what if the heart isn’t sure of what it wants? We say, “follow where your heart leads,” but what if the heart’s compass is broken? We say, “listen to your heart,” but what if your heart is just talking gibberish and is making no sense whatsoever?

The heart is the greatest of deceitful things.

And yet…and yet…I believe at the core, we all want the same thing: to love and be loved. The heart wants to be known, seen, understood, and cherished. To find another heart which resonates with your own, another heart with which you can seamlessly bond until your hearts beat as one, that is a rare and precious gift, and it is the one gift nearly every human heart seems to seek at all costs. Hearts are broken every day. Yet, those hearts also mend, and move on to love again. How do we do this? Where do we find this superhuman resilience? Heartache is by far one of the worst kinds of pain known to humankind. It can be devastating. We feel like we want to die. We want to give up. We want to hide away. It’s agonizing, and we just want the pain to stop.

We heal. We move on. We take the risk, and love again. How is it that we forget the pain of a shattered heart, and take the chance to love again? I am not sure how we do it, but we do. Again and again and again, humankind takes that chance, and again, and again, and again, we determine that love is worth the risk, because finding true love is such an amazing gift that it makes all the painful measures taken to find that love entirely worth it.

But, oh, the things we go through…

There are movies about it. Songs about it. Books about it. Blog posts about it. I should have a better understanding of how all this works by now, but it still baffles me. I understand my heart so well in every other aspect, but when it comes to this yearning for true love…I am endlessly hopeful, incurably romantic, and foolish enough to believe in real world fairy tales. I am one of those people who is genuinely crazy enough to believe that if two people are meant for each other, there is nothing that will keep them apart. Nothing. Not time, not distance, not circumstance. Nothing.

I cannot tell you how much anguish these ideas cause me.

Yet…I hold onto them, as tenaciously as I hold onto my sobriety, my desire to be the best mother I can possibly be, and my firm conviction that sweet and sour candies are often preferable to chocolate, except for one week out of every month when nothing will do except chocolate. I hold onto these notions about love because I refuse to accept that the one thing my heart yearns for above all other things is beyond my grasp.

As I said, the agony these ideas invite into my life is beyond words at times. In the last year, these notions have made holding onto my clean time an epic battle, because when there is heartache, the first thing you want to do is make it go away. You want to do something…anything…to make it stop. It is only by staying in the present moment and standing strong in what I know is true that I am able to avoid using. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it…although, sometimes, it feels like it’s worth it, but just barely.

Having given birth, though, I have learned this: When there is pain, it’s because something is happening. There is a process taking place. This process is necessary, something is being birthed, and the harder we fight to avoid the pain, the worse it can become. The thing to be done is to lean into it, accept it for what it is, sit with it, and, in a sense, make friends with it. There is a process happening, and it’s something to be embraced, not avoided.

Ah, the heart … It’s a beautiful mess a lot of the time, the gate to pleasure and pain, exquisite joy and crushing agony. No matter how many times this heart of mine suffers, no matter how many times it’s been battered or bruised or broken, I still believe in love. It is one of the few things in this world worth fighting and living and dying for. It is a rare and precious gift, and one which I believe, in spite of everything, is meant for me to have.

I think perhaps the greatest deception isn’t within the hearts of humankind, rather it is within the expectations we have and the assumptions we make when we don’t tune out everything out there and listen to the truth which exists in the silence, in the quiet knowing we all have of what is right and wrong and how things ought to be in the world. We know how we ought to treat each other, to urge each other on to our highest good. If we truly did what we know in our heart of hearts is right, and treated others as we would like to be treated, so much of the noise that confuses our tender hearts could be dialed down to a quiet, soothing hum. I am still learning how to be still and silent and knowing. As I have said many times lately, I am a work in progress.

Matters of the heart are rarely so simple, though. Perhaps it is in the struggle through the bittersweet ecstasies of love and loss and healing and restoration and loving again that we are either refined and made able to love better the next time around, or our hearts become hardened and bitter, and we forget how to love at all.

Love…It’s messy. It means arguing and making up, and laughing and crying, and struggling. And sometimes it doesn’t seem worth it, but it is. And at the end, when you’re in love, no matter what happens, you forgive each other.

-The Knave, “Once Upon A Time In Wonderland”

One Year

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Today officially marks one year of clean time for me. As I consider this, I am grateful, humbled, somewhat in awe, and amazed.  I have learned so much about myself, other people, and my place in the world in the past year, I wouldn’t change any of this for anything. No pain is wasted. No tears are shed in vain. Everything can be infused with purpose, if we choose so. Our experiences can make us bitter people, or better people. I choose to let this experience make me a better person.

Often we say  that experience is the best teacher. I don’t believe that’s true. I believe evaluated experience is the best teacher. So, I have taken some time to look back and consider how I got here and what I’ve learned along the way.

I had to consider how it is I fell into addiction in the first place. I realized that drug addiction was only the latest in a long string of behaviors I have used over the years to avoid psychic pain.  Before drugs, there was alcohol. Before alcohol, there was self-injury, and I have a body covered in scars as a result. Before self-injury, there were possessions…shoes, handbags, clothing, whatever. All of these things were addictions, in one form or another. It wasn’t until I came face to face with my addiction to MS Contin, though, that I realized I had a problem.

Physically detoxing from the drugs has been the easiest part of this journey, despite the fact that by day 4 of detox, I was begging the heavens for death. I distinctly remember believing it would be less painful to chew my arm off than it would be to continue the living hell of detox. Even with medication to help ease the process, detox is brutal. DO NOT do it at home like I did. Get yourself into a facility where they specialize in treatment of addiction, and detox under the compassionate, watchful eye of those trained to help you. Detoxing alone, even with medications, is a living nightmare. Don’t do it.

Doing things the way I did, though, I realized that I am stronger than I thought I was. Although, when people tell me I am strong, it’s difficult for me to accept it as true. I do not often see myself as strong. I see myself as a survivor. I am strong because I have to be, not because I want to be or because it comes easily for me. I am simply too stubborn to accept defeat if I can help it.

While I was detoxing, as soon as I was able to hold a book and read for a bit, I read The Other Irish: The Scots-Irish Rascals Who Made America by Karen McCarthy. It helped me remember that those who came before me were also survivors, being strong because they had to be, finding a way through their difficulties with ingenuity, an indomitable will, and the ambition to see the other side of their troubles. Some people read religious texts during detox and find strength in that. I read about my heritage, found courage in recognizing that I am part of a heritage of strength, and found the will to see the excruciating process of detox through to the end.

As I said, though, the detox was the easy part. I haven’t had an arm-chewing day in a long time, but that doesn’t mean I don’t still struggle with cravings. When I am having a rough time emotionally, it’s very tempting to numb the pain. I know it would be so easy to drown my sorrows in whiskey, or get my hands on a few pills and numb myself that way. For a brief moment, I would feel great, life wouldn’t hurt, and all would seem well. However, on the other side of that are the consequences for that choice. On the other side of that awaits the dark abyss I have just climbed out of…a place where I am emotionally numb, mentally absent, unavailable for my son in any real context, and letting life pass me by because I am too checked out to give a damn. I don’t want to go back to that place. So, I “think through the drink”… or the pill-popping…and recognize that no amount of temporary relief from pain is worth what it would cost me.

Since getting clean, I have found myself capable of enjoying my sweet son like never before. I have always enjoyed him, but I was so checked out for the first few years of his life, I missed getting to know him. As I woke up from my years-long stupor, I had the joy of discovering that I have been given an amazing child. He is smart, creative, funny, sweet, compassionate, kind, mischievous, clever, tender…and so many more wonderful things. We have become so much closer than we ever were before, and I savor my time with him. I am an unbelievably blessed mom to have the privilege of raising this child. Single parenting isn’t always easy, but I believe the investment in our children is always worth it. I wouldn’t trade this for all the child-free time in the world!

I have learned that I am capable of deeply loving someone. That at once thrills and frightens me. Love makes us so vulnerable. When you love someone, no one else can hurt you quite like they can, even if it’s not intended. I used to believe that loving someone makes a person weak. For a long time after I left my son’s father, I put up walls. I lived in an emotional Fortress of Solitude, and while I wasn’t happy there, I was blissfully unaware of my misery because I was too doped up to care. In the year since getting clean, though, I have realized a longing for love in my life like never before. I became aware of the emptiness I felt, not because I need someone in my life to complete me. I am a whole person and becoming a stronger, healthier person every day. No, I long for true love in my life because two are better than one. I long to know and be known, to love and be loved. I think love is a risk, but one which humankind chooses to take over and over and over again, and it is a terrible risk that reaps great rewards for those who are willing to take a chance and let their heart lead the way.

I have learned that no pain lasts forever. No matter how difficult a day may be, night eventually comes, we go to bed, we sleep (or lay awake, as it may be), and morning comes with a fresh start. It doesn’t mean everything is resolved, it just means that we can look at things with a fresh perspective. It’s amazing what can happen when we choose to stay quiet and calm rather than be reactionary when we’re faced with difficult situations. I am finding that out more and more every day. There is strength in silence. There are answers when we stay quiet and listen. Things don’t always have to be resolved in a day. Sometimes, we have to sit with the discomfort for a bit, letting things work themselves out, knowing all the while that the pain will eventually pass.

Whatever comes, life goes on. When we’re hurting, we can find comfort in knowing the pain will pass and someday we will smile again. When everything feels wonderful, we savor it and treasure those moments, knowing that life ebbs and flows, and we need rain so we can appreciate the sunshine.

Physically, I feel better than I have in a long, long time. I’ve lost a lot of weight since I stopped using, and that feels amazing. I was at the bank today and someone said, “Hey, skinny!”. It took me nearly a full 30 seconds to realize they were talking to me. They asked me what I was doing to get in shape. That was amazing to me. I explained that I have literally been dancing my ass off. It never occurred to me that anyone would be asking me what I was doing to look good. I mean, that’s just ridiculous.

Still, it’s yet one more thing I have been able to accomplish since I stopped using. I am reclaiming my life, piece by piece. Reclaiming my physical health is something that I’ve needed to do for a long time, and I finally feel strong enough to do it. I look better, I feel better, and I am living better.

I have started looking for work, another area of my life I am reclaiming. I am not helpless. I am not weak. I am capable of taking care of myself and my son and moving us toward better things in life. Working again is going to bring so much more meaning to my days, because it will enable me to feel the pride of bringing home a paycheck, the joy of interacting with other people, the thrill of learning new things, and the satisfaction at the end of the day of feeling tired for a good reason. I am eager to get back to work, and I hope something comes through for me sooner than later.

If I had to summarize this past year, I would say it’s been a year of rediscovering myself. I have learned a lot about how strong I can be when it’s required of me. I have learned a lot about what I am capable of when I set my mind to something. I have learned that I am more than I give myself credit for, and I need to be as kind and gentle with myself as I am with my friends when they are in need. Being kind to myself is something I am not good at, but I am getting better. I am blessed with some amazing people in my life who remind me how important that is. I have learned that none of us are perfect, and we can all afford to give each other a little more grace. I am very much a work in progress. I am deeply flawed, unapologetically human, but the goal is progress, not perfection.

I am grateful every day for my sobriety. I am thankful for the support I have from friends and family. I am thankful that I have had this past year to heal and get stronger. As I begin year 2 of clean time, I realize it’s time to set goals for the future and work toward them. I’ve been in this place of limitations and loss long enough, and it’s time to move forward. Step by step, one day at a time, I am doing exactly that.

Thank God.

Now, we dance.

It’s Time to Talk About It (TRIGGER WARNING!)

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The 2014 National Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) campaign focuses on healthy sexuality and young people. This campaign provides tools on healthy adolescent sexuality and engaging youth. Learn how you can play a role in promoting a healthy foundation for relationships, development and sexual violence prevention.  SAAM 2014 engages adults in supporting positive youth development, and encourages young people to be activists for change.  This April, use your voice to impact our future.

Please visit this site for more information on the 2014 Sexual Assault Awareness Month, how you can get involved in the 2014 campaign throughout the month, and tools you can use to help the young people in your life develop healthy adolescent sexuality. Perhaps more than at any other time, the young people in our lives are receiving mixed messages about their bodies, their relationships, and their sexuality. We have the ability to empower them to make healthy choices based on respect for themselves and others, and a desire to build a healthy future.

The issues surrounding sexual violence are issues I have written about several times before. Girls and women in our culture are portrayed as weak, frequently victimized objects, whereas boys and men are portrayed as entitled, strong, and free to act upon women as they deem necessary to further their own agendas. Women are portrayed in movies, tv shows, commercials, and print ads as tools to be used for gratification. While boys and men are not told explicitly that it is their right to assault women for their own gratification, all it takes is a few minutes on social media to see that this is precisely the message our boys and men are receiving.

I was shocked to see one of my followers on Twitter post a tweet reading, “Avoid rape. Just say YES.” I have seen memes featuring a woman bound and gagged saying, “It’s not rape if she didn’t say ‘NO.’ ” And these things are supposed to be funny, I suppose. There is nothing amusing about sexual assault. There is nothing funny about teaching our boys that she deserved it because of the way she dressed, the way she looked at him, she was flirting and got him excited, or he bought her dinner so she owed it to him. There is nothing to laugh about when it becomes a reality…a reality that the victim will live with the rest of her life, impacting her every day choices, her relationships, every aspect of her life after the assault. Sounds, smells, colors, textures, names, faces…all of these things and so many more will forever trigger a reaction in her, taking her back to a place of feeling vulnerable and victimized, and these are wounds time will never fully heal. There is nothing at all funny about this. Rape is not a joke.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month provides an amazing opportunity to educate ourselves and the kids in our lives about healthy sexuality, counteracting the toxic influences peddled by a media culture which does not respect women as more than objects, and does not respect men as more than automatons driven entirely by their sexual needs. It’s a double-edged lie that serves none of us well. We can do better. We have to do better.

Check out this TEDxYouth Talk, The Sexy Lie, for a clear definition of sexual objectification and what we can do about it.

If you have been the victim of sexual violence, there is help available. Please reach out, call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1.800.656.HOPE(4673). You may also visit their website for more information. You are not alone. Help is available.

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Struggling to Emerge

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chrysalis(Thank you to Kristin for posting this story on Facebook)

A man found a butterfly’s chrysalis, which he brought home. One day a small opening appeared in the cocoon. He sat and watched the cocoon for several hours as the butterfly struggled to force its body through that little hole. Then it seemed to stop making progress. It appeared as if the butterfly had gotten as far as it could, and it could go no further. The man decided to help the butterfly in it’s struggle. He took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon, and the butterfly emerged easily.

As the butterfly emerged, the man was surprised. It had a swollen body and small, shriveled wings. He continued to watch the butterfly expecting that, at any moment, the wings would dry out, enlarge and expand to support the swollen body. He knew that in time the body which would contract and the butterfly would be able to fly.
But neither happened!

In fact, the butterfly spent the rest of its life crawling around with a swollen body and shriveled wings. It never was able to fly.

What the man, in his kindness and haste, did not understand was that the restricting cocoon and the struggle were required for the butterfly to be able to fly. The butterfly must push it’s way through the tiny opening to force the fluid from its body and wings. Only by struggling through the opening, can the butterfly’s wings be ready for flight once it emerges from the cocoon.

Sometimes struggles are exactly what we need in our life. If we were allowed us to go through our life without any obstacles, it would cripple us. We would not be as strong as we could have been. And we could never fly.

~ Author unknown

I am one week shy of achieving a full year of clean time. I am so close to such a significant milestone. I never imagined that things would start to feel a little more challenging just now, of all times, when the rest of this past year has been a relatively easy ride. Such is life, though. We never know where the challenges will come from or how they will impact us. I am staying strong, committed to sobriety, and my knack for being raw and honest about my struggle with resisting the cravings seems to help. I would love to have a drink or pop a pill to make life seem to make more sense, if only for a moment, but when I think about what that luxury would cost me I can easily see it is nowhere near being worth the moment’s reprieve it would offer.

This past Thursday, I went to see the counselor I am working with at the agency that is trying to help me find work. I shared with her that I have been considering going back to college, as I am becoming painfully aware that I will not be able to pull my son and I ahead without a degree. Whether that’s right or wrong, it’s the way of the things, and as I have no ingenious ideas or unique abilities I can put to use to circumvent the need for a degree, I had best get to work and get the job done. I was pleased to learn that I would likely be able to get some help with whatever costs may not be covered with a Pell Grant, and that took a load off my mind.

We moved on to talking about jobs, and there are plenty of them to be had for someone such as me. I have a variety of experience to work with. I have been an insurance agent, and I was really great at it except for the part about asking people to spend their money. I am terrible at that. I have been a cashier. I have done set-up for conventions at the local ski resort. I have done housekeeping. I have been a quality assurance inspector at a place that produced dried fruit. I have been a facilitator of social activities for clients at a mental health agency. I have been an enrollment counselor for a non-profit agency which facilitates access to free health care.

For a short time, I even managed a small motel. That short chapter in my life makes me laugh now. Oh, the people I met!

Anyway, my point is, finding a job will not be difficult, because I have done a little bit of a lot of things, and plenty of work which well qualifies me for some sweet little jobs that are opening up in my small town.  As we talked about my work experience and the jobs my counselor thought would be most suitable for me, she said that having a paycheck will make a major difference in our financial picture, as we are relying on government assistance right now to get by. Having a paycheck would move us from a place of getting by to a place of being able to save and plan for the future. Then she said, “But I think this about more than finances for you.”

That was all it took. I felt tears stinging my eyes, and I did what I always do when I am going to cry and I don’t want to. I clenched my jaw, looked away and pulled myself together. I explained that the last seven years of my life have been defined by loss and limitations. In 2007, a cancer diagnosis and the need for treatment wiped out the independence I had worked so hard to achieve for myself, and I had to move in with family. From there, in a very vulnerable state, I married a man who turned out to be a self-proclaimed devil and monster. Finding myself pregnant with his child, and well aware I could not and would not raise a baby with him, I left and chose the road of single motherhood. I fell into addiction, which would dominate the next several years of my life. Since getting clear nearly one year ago, I have become stronger and healthier, and I am ready to emerge from this place of helplessness and get on with my life.

The counselor smiled and said, “It’s time.” That was all that needed to be said. It’s time.

The struggle to emerge from a place of vulnerability to a place of strength is indeed a struggle. I am blessed to have friends in my life who encourage me on the days when I feel weary, and who give me a swift kick in the ass when I need it in order to keep moving forward. I am fortunate to have people in my life who know when I need encouragement and praise over even the smallest of accomplishments, and who also know when I need to be told, “That’s life, deal with it.” They are much kinder than that, thankfully, but there are moments in life when life just happens and there is nothing really to be said or done about it but…deal with it.

Getting a job, going back to school, planning for the future, dreaming of the life I want for Jaden and me, is about so much more than doing what is essential for us to move forward. It’s about finding myself again, reclaiming the strong, capable woman I know I am, the woman who has become overshadowed during the seven years of loss and limitations I have been experiencing. I know she is still in here somewhere. I know that the fear I feel is not part of who I really am, but is residue from painful experiences. One thing I also know, though, is that I have an amazing track record for getting through incredibly difficult times and being made better for them. So far, I have shown myself 100% capable of surviving difficulties. Nothing has hit me yet that has been able to keep me down, and this is no exception. I may have lost a few battles, but I will win the war for myself, reclaiming my identity. I am not defined by what’s happened to me. I am defined by how I choose to respond to it.

I am at a critical part in this struggle to emerge. It would be easy to choose to let life remain as is, and we could coast a long for awhile. It’s easy to daydream that someone is going to give me everything I need to relocate, and my son and I will then have access to more jobs, resources, and fun than we ever imagined possible. But here’s the thing…this is just the part where things are difficult by necessity, in order to push away the excess that has held me back. This is the part where the excuses have to fall by the wayside or become a crutch, the choice in the matter being mine. This is the part where making things any easier would hurt more than help, and, frankly, I don’t need any more hurt. I am at a point of make or break, where I choose to push my way through and emerge strong and beautiful, or resign myself to a small life of wasted dreams. The struggle I am experiencing now is a necessary one, and one that can only make me appreciate what awaits me on the other side of it all the more.