Monday, November 30, 2009
"The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance." - Alan Watts
"Finding Angela Shelton" - Day Twelve...
The Thanksgiving holiday was a strange one for me this year. I had to slam the brakes on a friendship and set some boundaries in order to protect myself as I continue healing. I still spent time with my loved ones, but the entire holiday weekend was sort of overshadowed by this weird feeling of loss. I knew that returning to the "Finding Angela Shelton" joy journey would help me shake that feeling. I was so ready to get back to these daily tasks! Today's task: Move!
Uh-oh! I'm not a very active person. I've never really taken care of my body the way I should (a lot of survivors don't). Sure, there was the short-lived diet and fitness craze the year I turned 30... but it was over the moment my dad died. 40 of the 80 pounds I lost found their way back to my bountiful booty, and I haven't exercised regularly since. I enjoy physical activity, but because of the fact that I've basically neglected my health and well-being for 20-plus years, it's just not something I do regularly.
Over the weekend, I had a lot of couch time. I was depressed over the situation with my friend, depressed over spending my second Thanksgiving without my dad being a part of the celebration, depressed over being sick, etc. While I was parked on the sectional feeling sorry for myself, I got so bored that I started exploring the Video On Demand section of our digital cable menu. I found something called "Exercise TV" which promised an array of quick and easy workouts that I could do at here at home. I watched a few seconds of each workout, daydreaming of what it must be like to be able to bend over and tuck your head between your knees and hold it, all the while talking and breathing effortlessly like Pretty Yoga Lady... or how nice it must be to box step, grapevine, bounce and pounce, and belt out tunes with the hardbodies like Billy "Cardioke" Blanks, Jr. and his crew. I scoffed at each impossible (for me) workout. I eventually gave up on my quest for good TV and read two books instead. Turning those pages was the closest thing to a workout that I was interested in at the time.
Fast forward to today... In order to meet today's challenge, I decided to give one of those "Exercise TV" workouts a shot. I chose a beginner's indoor walking program that was a great pace for me, and very pleasantly invigorating. I enjoyed it so much I did it twice. I logged two miles doing this task, and I must say that I feel great! Somehow just knowing that I've chosen to move makes me feel good.
I've read numerous articles and books about how moving is essential to a healthy lifestyle. It's good for us both physically and mentally. I won't bore you with the mechanics. I'll just tell you that this is something I'm going to continue because it made me feel so much better. I feel more relaxed, and I feel good about myself because I know I've made a good choice by getting some exercise. The decision to continue moving has nothing to do with losing weight or looking good, and everything to do with how it makes me feel. It makes me feel... hmmm... adventurous and free. Yeah. Adventurous and free... maybe tomorrow I'll try dancing!
Friday, November 20, 2009
Once again, ladies and gentlemen, life is happening.
My husband, the boys and I have three Thanksgiving dinners to go to this coming week and I don't want to stress myself out over the blog. My house is still a wreck and I am still very ill (I'll be going to the doctor again during this hiatus). Today and tomorrow will be spent preparing our home for overnight visitors (my nieces - hooray!), and while I may be completing some of the daily tasks over the next week or so, I will not be blogging about them until after Thanksgiving. I'm still not sure how this is going to pan out. I may return with a blog about everything I've done during the break, or I may hold off on the tasks and resume the journey after the holiday madness has ended. We'll just have to see what happens.
I'm not quitting. I'm just doing the best I can with the time I've got. I'm not neglecting myself or the journey, I'm just enjoying my favorite holiday with my loving family by my side. I think one of the best ways a woman can nurture herself is to spend time just being with her family and her friends (provided the family and friends are healthy people to be around, which in this case, they definitely are).
Yes, I realize this is meant to be a 30-day journey and I'm dragging it out like nobody's business. I also realize that I am merely a human being and a busy stay-at-home mom who has a lot on her plate... and I am about as real as they come. I always do my best to be genuine. The transparency of this whole process has brought us to this Thanksgiving break. Remember, enough is enough.
So until next time... Happy Thanksgiving and happy healing!
Thursday, November 19, 2009
I promised myself in the beginning that I'm going to see this thing through to the end no matter what, but I walked away from this morning's reading slightly annoyed and wondering how in the world I was going to incorporate screaming into my day. Part of me just wanted to quit...
“Finding Angela Shelton” – Day Eleven*…
Today’s task is one simple word, “Scream!” Some suggestions from Ms. Shelton on how to accomplish this task are: push all of the clothes in your closet together and stick your head in and yell, drive somewhere and scream all the way there and back, sing along to some really loud rock music, or have a yelling contest with your kids.
Due to growing up in a considerably dysfunctional household, I developed a fear of yelling. It's something I've always viewed as completely negative. I learned to communicate with people in as calm a way as possible because yelling is a major trigger for me. So when I read today's "Finding Angela Shelton" e-mail, I was left wondering if this task was really going to help me on my journey. How was I going to find joy in doing something that scares the living daylights out of me? I decided I had things to do today, so I shoved the whole ordeal into the back of my mind. I really wasn't sure that I would be able to complete the task.
My eight-year-old son is not feeling well today, so we had to take a trip to the doctor’s office this morning. We had a long wait in the lobby and an even longer wait once they called us back to the exam room. After we saw the doctor, we had to run some errands and get prescriptions filled and go to the library to check out books and movies to occupy his sick time at home. By the time we were actually headed home from the day's busyness, we were both exhausted. We needed a pick-me-up.
I figured if there was any hope of completing today's task, now was my chance. There was no way I was going to go home and shove my head in the closet. There was no way I was going to get an opportunity to drive anywhere alone today, and screaming at myself in the car didn't really sound appealing. I didn't have any great rock music to sing along to... but I did have my kid with me. I decided we'd have a yelling contest, just as the e-mail suggested. I recalled Angela Shelton saying that screaming is a great way to purge, so I figured instead of just screaming our brains out we could use it as an opportunity to vent. At a red light, I turned to my son and said, "We're gonna have a yelling contest. You think you can yell louder than I can?"
"A contest? Yelling? You mean I get to yell as loud as I possibly can?" he asked as a grin spread across his little eight-year-old face.
"Yup. But the catch is that every time you yell, you have to yell about something that bugs you. I'll show you. I'll go first."
"You mean you're really gonna do it?" He giggled.
I took a deep breath and hollered, "YES I AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAM!" We both laughed at my attempt to get the whole thing started. This was totally uncomfortable for me, but hearing him giggling and knowing he was loving every second of having permission to scream his lungs out, I continued. Another deep breath, then, "I DON'T LIKE BEING SIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIICK!" We giggled for a few seconds, then I told him it was his turn.
He stammered for a moment, trying to think of what to yell, then all of a sudden belted out, "I DON'T LIKE HAVING TOO MUCH HOMEWORK WHEN I MISS A DAY OF SCHOOL AND I HAVE TO MAKE IT UUUUUUUUUUUUUP! YOUR TUUUUURN!"
We spent the next five minutes just yelling at each other. We yelled about bullies and paying bills. We yelled about cold sores and car trouble. We yelled about stepping in dog poop and falling in mud holes. We yelled about everything we could think of.
They say you learn something new every day. Today I learned that I could take something I've always been afraid of and use it in a constructive way. I never would have thought that little ol' non-confrontational me would find joy in opening up and hollering, but I did. My son and I had a blast airing our frustrations, and the topics we yelled about gave us some things to talk about once we got home. It was the best yelling contest ever. Who knows? We might even make yelling contests part of our regular family fun time!
We still don't know who won today's competition. We were too busy having fun to worry about who was actually the loudest... but we do know one thing:
WEEEEE LIIIIIIIIIKE YELLING!!!
*Note to my readers: I had to take a day off yesterday due to circumstances beyond my control. Once again, the 30 days is being stretched out a bit. Life happens... and that's okay!
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
Once again, Angela Shelton has presented us with a perfect analogy when speaking of removing the Sword. She says, "Just like getting ready to have surgery, you need to prepare yourself to deal with old wounds."
"Finding Angela Shelton" - Day Ten...
Most of the surgeries I've been through in my life have been outpatient surgeries. I've had time to prepare, making plans to ensure that things go smoothly while I recover. I have, however, had a couple of doozies that I was not prepared for in the least.
One such surgery was an emergency Cesarean section that left me reeling both mentally and physically. I didn't know that when the doctor broke my water during a routine labor induction the umbilical cord was going to prolapse, causing a blockage that left my son without oxygen for five minutes. We were wheeled from my hospital room to the operating room in literally seconds and my son was born via a "crash" C-section. The surgery happened so quickly that the anesthesiologist didn't even have time to knock me out completely before the doctor started making the incision. I felt the first five or so seconds of the surgery. It was like living a nightmare.
Had I known when I walked into that hospital for a routine labor induction that I was going to walk out with a classic (vertical) C-section incision and a newborn with eight stitches on his head from a cut he sustained during the ordeal, I'm sure I could have better prepared for what we were going to face once we got home. My husband had to take care of our then three-year-old, our newborn, and me. Nobody expected me to be laid up for a full six weeks. Nobody expected me to be doped out of my mind because of the severe pain from the classic incision. My husband and I felt like we were never going to make it through my recovery. It was complete chaos.
I've mentioned before that I have worked through a tremendous amount of trauma already. I've been at this for years, and I've definitely learned the hard way that trying to deal with trauma without a plan in place, without preparation, is a lot like having surgery without being prepared for the aftermath. When you don't know what to expect or how to get support, dealing with your trauma can throw your life into such turmoil that you feel like you aren't gonna make it through the pain. It can be complete chaos.
So before I remove the Sword of a particular trauma I need to ask myself, "Where will you run to for comfort if and when things get ugly?" This is the question posed to me today as I embark upon day ten of my journey. The task for today is to make a list of the things that bring me comfort. By making a list of things that bring me comfort, I'm making a plan. I'm preparing for emotional surgery, so to speak. I'm reminding myself of the things I can do to relax and center myself when the emotional pain's just too much for me to take. If I can't seem to find the way out, where will I go? What will I do? What brings me relief?
Because of my food addiction, I am purposely omitting anything and everything that has to do with food from my own personal list. Me running to food for comfort is like an alcoholic getting drunk to numb the pain. Not a good idea. Here is my list of healthy things that bring me comfort:
Playing with my kids
Cuddling with my husband
Going for a long walk
Singing my favorite songs
Writing poetry or songs
Reading a good book
Knitting something simple
Cuddling up on the couch for a nap
Watching old movies
Going to museums
Sending cards to friends
Calling a friend
Visiting a friend
Looking through old pictures
Cleaning my house
A session with my therapist
Visiting my online support group
When I have a rough day, when I feel like there is no way out of the pain, I may need to look at this list to remember that there are things in this world that bring me comfort and joy. I can choose to do something on the list to get through the rough moment... to help me find comfort as I move through the process of healing.
If getting your appendix removed is called an appendectomy, then wouldn't getting the sword removed be called a "swordectomy"? Sounds good to me! I've prepared for my emotional surgery, so I can actually look forward to the results it will bring instead of dwelling on the pain that is sure to come during the healing process.
I am so ready for my swordectomy! So ready for my healing! I am prepared! Bring it on!
Monday, November 16, 2009
"If someone in your life talked to you the way you talk to yourself, you would have left them long ago." - Carla Gordon
"Finding Angela Shelton" - Day Nine...
Yup. I'm still sick. I am really sick. I've been sick since the end of August. I was diagnosed with pneumonia and almost hospitalized in early September and I have yet to fully recover. The doctor and I have been working together to get rid of this crud for quite some time now. Today when I woke up I was still deaf in my left ear and my head still hurt and I started hacking again as soon as my feet hit the floor...
As I moved about the house this morning I noticed that the dishes in the sink are growing some interesting mold patterns, the laundry in the bathroom is piling up past my waist, and the kitchen floor is littered with remnants of shredded notebook paper and no-longer-sticky stickers and dried up Play-Doh boogers left over from my kids' imagination-fueled art sessions this weekend.
Now, I would never walk into somebody's house and criticize them for neglecting their daily chores. But did I cut myself any slack this morning when I noticed the mess? Nope. I spent the better part of the morning repeatedly telling myself what a horrible wife and mother I am because my house is dirty. From the very moment I woke up, I engaged in negative self-talk.
I'm the kind of person who'll do anything and everything I can do to let others know they are worthy of love. I am very careful and conscious of the way I speak to others, but I don't usually pay much attention to the things I say to myself. Actually, I spend an enormous amount of time emotionally abusing myself, but I'd never really thought about that until I was faced with today's task - "Pay attention to everything you say and think all day long."
While reflecting on my thoughts today I have to ask myself, if I had a friend in this situation, would I yell at her and tell her to get off her butt and do the dishes that have been piling up in the sink for the last three days? Um... no! How much of a jerk would I be to do something like that to somebody? Would I tell my sick friend to hurry up and do the pile of laundry sitting in her bathroom floor? No! Would I tell her to go clean up the mess surrounding her kitchen table? No! I'd tell her to rest, rest, rest! I'd make her hot tea. I'd get her a blanket and cover her up and tell her to take a nap. I would never dream of criticizing a friend for taking time to heal. Why on earth would I criticize myself for it? I don't know why I treat myself this way, but the more I think about it, the more ridiculous it seems.
Today, as I focus on my thoughts and the words that come out of my mouth, I'm going to make it a point to really listen to the things I'm saying, especially the things I'm saying to myself. Every time I notice the negative self-talk, I'm going to make a mental note of the fact that I'm emotionally abusing myself. Because isn't that what negative self-talk is? Aren't we just emotionally abusing ourselves when we're constantly telling ourselves how stupid or how lazy or how terrible we are?
Today I'm going to finally cut myself some slack. I'm going to refuse to deny myself that cup of hot tea simply because it means there's going to be another dirty dish in the sink... Today I'm going to tell myself to let the laundry pile up despite the fact that the only clean pair of socks I have are the non-skid footies they gave me at the hospital when I had my appendix taken out last year... and so what if my son has to wear the same pair of jeans to school twice in one week? If they look clean they are clean, right? Right! Today I'm going to let the dried up Play-Doh boogers spend a few more hours making themselves at home under my kitchen table. Today I'm going to curl up on the couch with my favorite comforter and I'm not going to feel guilty about it. Today I am not going to emotionally abuse myself. Today I'm going to be as thoughtful and loving toward myself as I am toward others. What a concept!
Sunday, November 15, 2009
Didn't I just tell you yesterday that sometimes my journal entries are rants? Holy cow, what a frickin' morning!
"Finding Angela Shelton" - Day Eight...
I mentioned a few days ago that I'm sick. Yeah... I'm not getting any better. I've been on antibiotics for almost a week now and I'm still deaf in my left ear and hacking up a lung every time I turn around. My head feels like it's about to float off of my body and I feel like I could just drop where I am and go to sleep if it wasn't for the fact that when I lay down this excruciating pain shoots up the side of my head and makes me wail like a woman in labor. Most days I'm a happy camper, even when I'm ill. Not today. Today I am sick and tired of being sick and tired.
When I read today's task, I knew it was gonna get ugly. More free-writing. This time, the task is to write for five minutes about what life would be like if I removed the Sword of Trauma. I was told to write about purging anger, rage, fear, anxiety or chaos... but I feel like total C-R-A-P today, so what came out when the pen hit the paper? A 15-minute rant about my relationship with food. Go figure.
I'm sharing today's free-write with you in the hopes that you will see that even the happy-go-lucky thriver who's spent years in therapy has a craptastic day every now and then:
"Finding Angela Shelton"
November 15, 2009 Day 8
5 minutes free-writing
Today I'm writing about what life
would be like if I removed the Sword
of Trauma... there's one specific topic
that's really been bothering me
regarding removing the Sword. I've
already quit so many of the self-
destructive behaviors I've developed
as a result of some of the traumas
I've experienced but I really need to
figure out what in the world is going
on with my relationship with food.
I am so sick of feeling like crap
because I'm overweight!!! It doesn't
even have much to do with my
appearance either. I am just really
freakin' tired of not being able to move!
I think removing the Sword will help
me in that regard because if I could
get it out of there then I could
stop obsessing over my food addiction
and live moment by moment and
take life's opportunities as they come at
me - 100% JOY instead of 90% JOY and
10% of obsessing over freaking FOOD all
the time. I wish I could go to food
rehab. Life would be so much better
if I could free myself of that addiction.
I know it comes from the trauma,
but I can't figure out how to fix it.
I've quit smoking... I don't have to
have cigarettes to survive. I've quit
hurting myself. I don't have to burn
myself or hit myself to survive. But
you know... I have to EAT to live -
SO WHY CAN'T I FULLY grasp
the CONCEPT that I DON'T HAVE TO
LIVE TO EAT?!! Dear God, it makes
me angry to think about!!! My life
would be so much easier if removing the
Sword could help free me from this
addiction. I wonder if AA would help
a fat girl put down a donut?
Those of you who know me personally know I'm a big girl, but my weight's got very little to do with why I want to change my relationship with food. I want to change things because I know eating too much and making horrible food choices is killing me. This must be my own subconscious way of punishing myself for a bunch of horrible stuff that wasn't even my fault to begin with.
Think about it... most of us have our own little way of punishing ourselves. We smoke cigarettes. We abuse drugs. We make ourselves throw up after we eat or we refuse to eat. We drink like fish. We beat ourselves. We cut ourselves. We have serial toxic relationships. You name it, at least one of us has done it. We shove the thoughts of the consequences of these self-destructive actions straight into those little boxes that we tuck away in the backs of our minds. Each of these "punishments" has its own little way of permanently damaging us, but when you look at the grand scheme of things aren't they all the same? Aren't we just sabotaging ourselves because we think we're not worthy of a happy, healthy existence?
I don't have any words of wisdom today. I don't have any weird analogies to explain. I don't have answers today and I don't have any inspiring quotes to share with you. But what I do have to share today is my honesty... and in my honesty I must tell you that even though I'm having a crappy day, I know things are going to get better... This day won't last forever, and neither will my pain. If I wanna have the rainbow, I've gotta have the rain.
Saturday, November 14, 2009
I decided to post some pictures today. I wanted to show you guys and gals that I'm actually practicing what I preach. This is a picture of just a few of my "tools" for healing, along with my completed task for the day.
"Finding Angela Shelton" - Day Seven...
Whoever said this healing thing is easy is a liar. I feel like I'm in college sometimes with all of this researching and this reading and this writing. But the beauty of Megan's Healing Journey 101 is that I am my own professor. I decided when I started this healing course that there will be no deadlines, no grades, no pass or fail. I didn't want to put too much pressure on myself or rush into that quick-fix mode that so many survivors seem to get stuck in. But just because I've decided to be a lenient professor doesn't mean the course is easy. There are days when I want to withdraw because the work is really, really difficult... but I know full well that withdrawal from this course will do nothing but stonewall my growth as a person and block my path to self-discovery and empowerment... so I just keep on truckin'!
Today's task is to freestyle write for five minutes in a journal or a notebook about anything and everything that's been surfacing for me since I started this journey. I've kept a journal off and on for about 15 years. Sometimes I free-write. Sometimes I write poetry. Sometimes I draw pictures. I do whatever I feel like doing at the time, unless I am working on a specific type of exercise from one of the books I'm reading.
Here's my five-minute free-write for today (I typed it out for you below the pictures just in case it's too difficult for you to decipher):
"Finding Angela Shelton"
November 14, 2009 Day 7
5 minutes free-writing
Today's task is to spend five
minutes writing about everything
that's come up for me since the beginning
of this journey. WOW! Where do I begin?
So many amazing things are happening in
my life since this whole thing started,
but there have been some real eye-
openers too... like the fact that I
really need to deal with the rape.
I guess I hadn't realized how far I
had tucked that one away. I've done
an awesome job dealing w/everything
else I've tackled thus far, but for
some weird reason (maybe the feelings
of humiliation and shame) I've kinda
ignored that trauma... but overall
I feel like this is just a huge positive
in my life and I feel like it's sorta
reinforcing all of the things I've been
working on since March. GO ME!
P.S. I just felt like drawing a picture... it's a good day!
Freestyle writing is an excellent way to just let things out. There's no particular form to follow in free-writing, no rules or regulations about what to say or how to say it. You don't worry about spelling, sentence structure or grammar. You set aside an allotted amount of time for yourself and you just write. This style of writing is a perfect example of the emotional puke fest I wrote about yesterday. When you get stuck, you make sure your pen keeps moving. You write, "I don't know what to write" or "I'm not sure what to say now" or "Blah, blah, blah" and you don't stop writing until your allotted amount of time is up. It's a really great way to get in touch with your feelings, and oftentimes when you think you have nothing to say, you'll find that there's plenty there just waiting to come out if you can just get yourself started.
As you can see, my free-write today was a pretty positive one. Let me assure you, I have loads of journal pages that are laced with profanity and angry words. Healing is not always a page full of happiness and pictures of flowers and smiley faces and hearts and music notes and big block letters that scream "JOY!" Sometimes it's a few lines of curse words and skulls and crossbones and scribbles and storm clouds and big block letters that scream "I HATE THINKING ABOUT THIS S***!"
No matter what ends up in the pages of my journal as the result of a free-writing session, I am proud of myself each time I've completed the exercise because it's tangible proof that I've chosen to do the work it takes to heal. Even if today's journal entry had ended up being a full page rant, I'd have been proud. Heck, I'd have been proud of a page full of "Blah, blah, blah." The point is that each time I write in my journal, I've taken the time to sit with myself and my thoughts and I've chosen to stay in this "class" another day... I've stuck it out and I've completed another assignment, and I'm one day closer to earning my Ph.D. in J-O-Y.
Friday, November 13, 2009
purge - Definition from Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary:
1 a : to clear of guilt b : to free from moral or ceremonial defilement
2 a : to cause evacuation from (as the bowels) b (1) : to make free of something unwanted
"Finding Angela Shelton" - Day Six...
I know this analogy is disgusting, but bear with me.
Our bodies are designed so that when there is a need to rid the stomach of its contents for whatever reason, the emetic center in our brain is triggered, causing us to vomit. When my body knows my tummy's loaded with bacteria from an illness, such as food poisoning, it sends my brain a signal that it's time to get rid of the toxic bacteria. My body responds to the signal by expelling the contents of my stomach, and the bacteria's attempt to invade my intestinal tract is defeated. Just the same, when my brain is bogged down with toxic thoughts, I get the unbearable urge to "spit out" the frustrations and the negative thoughts I'm thinking. I know once I let it all out, once I purge, I'll feel better. By talking about my feelings instead of keeping them bottled up inside, I rid myself of the anger I'm feeling and prevent negativity from settling in and making me miserable. If you think about it, isn't the occasional "going off" natural? Kinda like puking when you get food poisoning?
Today's task: "Have a 20-minute B*tch Session!"
I already have regular "b*tch sessions" because I know how important it is to vent my frustrations. My sessions with friends usually take place over the phone because I am a busy stay-at-home-mom who has entirely too much on her plate. Sometimes my sessions take place during regularly scheduled visits with my therapist because that's the only place I feel safe talking about a particular subject. At times my sessions take place at home alone with pen in hand, as I spill my thoughts onto the pages of my journals and workbooks because I can't bear to speak aloud the things that are going through my mind, or because no one's available to listen to me at the time.
Angela Shelton likens purging to pulling the Sword of Trauma out of your body. She encourages us to speak about things not with the goal of figuring something out, but with the goal of releasing something. I don't know about you, but I find it difficult to continue to dwell on a subject once I've spent twenty minutes talking about it or writing about it. Sure, the subject might pop up again, but chances are it's not going to affect me as much as it did before I "b*tched" about it.
There isn't always a solution to the problem that presents itself to us. We can't always fix what's broken, but we can give ourselves permission to let it go by releasing our hold on the pain that it causes. It takes practice and patience to release pain and to refuse to chase it down, wrestle it to the ground and pick it up again once it's left your grasp. When you've lived with pain all your life, as strange as it may seem, sometimes you find comfort in the familiarity of that pain. After all, it's all you've ever known. Of course it's difficult to let go of... but for me, even more comforting than that familiarity is the peace that results from catharsis, from bringing the thoughts forward, giving them a voice and letting them go.
Today's b*tch session was spent on the telephone with a good friend, who was gracious enough to listen to me and gracious enough to allow me to return the favor. I b*tched, he listened. He b*tched, I listened. I feel better knowing that I've "spit out" more of those toxic thoughts. I always do. Now I can go on about my day and focus on the tasks that are before me instead of the past that's behind me.
Just as the bacteria from food poisoning tries to work its way into your intestinal tract, the negative thoughts and memories try their best to work themselves into your consciousness... so sometimes you just gotta have a big emotional puke fest and spit it all out... sometimes you gotta hurl to heal.
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
I've been very, very sick for the last week or so and I have decided to take a couple of days off of this little adventure. I'd much rather bring my best to the table than try to slide through the next couple of "Finding Angela Shelton" tasks halfheartedly. I wasn't going to blog at all during the break in my joy journey, but it occurred to me that this is the perfect opportunity to share with you one of the reasons that I've been able to come so far in my healing.
I know when enough is enough.
I've learned in therapy this time around that I have to do things at my own pace. I can't push myself too hard. When I do, I suffer setbacks. I get frustrated because I exhaust myself physically and mentally. Healing the wounds left by any type of trauma or abuse takes both mental fortitude and physical strength. Some days we just need to rest and be in the moment, to sit back and take a look at how far we've come. We can use our progress as a reminder that things will get better, even when we need to take some time to just breathe.
When I'm working through something really intense, I try to visit it a little every day. But on days like today, when I wake up to a swollen face and screaming sinuses, a migraine and matted hair that I just don't feel like brushing, antibiotics and an attitude due to being flat-out miserably ill... it's time to take inventory.
Have I made progress in my healing? Yup. So much progress that when I revisit the things I've noted in my journal entries and workbook pages, sometimes it amazes me that the things I'm reading came from my own pen.
Have I done the best I can and given it my all when I've had my all to give? Yup. When I've got it in me, I've got it in me and I don't give up.
Am I denying myself anything by taking a break in this process? Nope. As a matter of fact I'm gaining something... I'm gaining the benefits of taking care of myself and moving along one day at a time instead of expecting a quick-fix and getting frustrated when I feel stuck.
There is no such thing as a quick-fix when it comes to trauma work. It's a process. There's no shame in saying, "I can't do this right now" when you seriously can't handle it. Fighting through a difficult moment is one thing, but trying to force your way through something that takes time is another.
So if you'll pardon me and my double ear infection, my severe sinus infection and my migraine, we're going to snap this laptop shut and take a nap with our Puff's Plus and our Vick's salve and our heating pad.
I'll be back to the "Finding Angela Shelton" journey as soon as I'm feeling better. In the mean time, happy healing!
Monday, November 09, 2009
"It's the human condition that keeps us apart
Everybody's got a story that could break your heart
Yeah everybody's got a story that could break your heart"
-Everybody's Got A Story, Lyrics by Amanda Marshall
"Finding Angela Shelton" - Day Five...
In March of 2009, my immediate family was going through what can only be described as one of the most stressful events we have faced as a unit thus far. The stress of the event triggered a post-traumatic episode that landed me in our local mental health facility's crisis unit. I had been there before. As a matter of fact, I had been there so many times I'd lost count. Was this the third time? The fourth time? Did it even matter?
I was so exhausted and so done with living in defeat. I didn't know where else to go or what else to do. The crisis unit had helped me weather some storms in the past, so I knew I could turn to them for some temporary relief from the stress. I walked into that place and I told them through my tears, "I am here. I'm not leaving until you help me. I've done this before. I've never been honest. I've never really faced what's bothering me, and I'm ready. I want therapy. I want meds. I want homework. I want whatever I need to have to get better. I'm done running from it. It's time."
The next week of my life was filled with individual sessions, group sessions, meetings with a psychiatrist to adjust medications, meetings with a nurse to discuss the side effects of those medications... but the most profound part of the experience was an assignment given to me by a therapist named Ken. I'll never forget Ken.
Ken saw something in me. He recognized that I was ready, really ready to heal. Step one of the assignment Ken gave me was to list all of the trauma I remembered experiencing throughout my life. I spent an hour making the list. There were 12 items on my list. The next step of my assignment was to write down everything I thought or believed about the first trauma on my list. It took five days to finish this exercise, and I won't share every step with you because I'm sure I'll lose you before we get anywhere near the end - ha! But the act of sharing my story with Ken, every detail, every thought I had about it, every memory of it that I had... well, it changed me.
Telling my story was cathartic. I had honestly reached a point in my life where I didn't know what to do, other than to turn it over to the professionals. I knew that everything I had tried on my own wasn't working and things were just getting worse. I'm so glad I decided to trust the advice of the professionals and tell my story.
I am taking the time to work through the other 11 traumas I listed on my own. Ken showed me what to do and I'm doing it. He called it "unraveling the yarn" of the trauma. Today's "Finding Angela Shelton" task is to tell my story. Today, I'm going to share with you the beginning of unraveling the yarn of a trauma I have yet to fully process. I'm going to tell you just one of my stories...
Once upon a time there was a girl named Megan. She was 18 and beautiful, but she didn't know it. One day Megan was working at her job as a cashier in a local grocery store when a handsome young man came through her line. He was buying a single red rose. He made small talk as she rang up his purchase, took his money and gave him his change. As he exited her line, he turned to her and said, "This is for you. Can I get your number? I've been here before and I've seen you around and I want to take you out."
Megan didn't know what to think. She was flattered. Could this really be happening to her? He was so charming, of course she wanted to go on a date with him. She accepted the rose, gave him her telephone number and went about her daily routine in a fog. She daydreamed about the phone call she hoped she'd soon be receiving. That evening when she got the call, plans were made to meet her date at his home later in the week. He wanted her to meet his family. He just knew she was going to love them.
The night of the date came and Megan pulled into the driveway with butterflies in her stomach. She had never been asked out before. Not like this. She held her breath in expectation as she rapped on the door. Mr. Handsome opened it and invited her in.
Formal introductions were made, and one by one the family members came up with their obligatory excuses to get the heck outta Dodge so Mr. Handsome and his date could have some privacy. Mom had to go to the store. Sister and Brother-in-Law had to run errands and were going to be gone for a while... Alone at last, Mr. Handsome turned on some music and asked Megan to dance.
Alarm bells started going off in Megan's head when she noticed that Mr. Handsome was getting a little too close for comfort. Her mind raced as she plotted her escape from the uncomfortable moment. "I know," she thought, "I'll tell him I have to pee. I'll go in there and gather my thoughts, and I'll come out and tell him I'm sick and I need to go home."
Megan politely asked where the bathroom was. Mr. Handsome walked her down the hallway and to the bathroom door. She closed the door behind her as she entered the bathroom. She walked to the sink and looked at herself in the mirror. “Why am I so creeped out by this?” she asked herself as she made her way to the toilet. She closed the lid and sat down, trying to think of a way to make herself look ill so that Mr. Handsome would just walk her to her car and send her on her way.
Gathering her thoughts, she stood up and walked to the sink to splash a little water on her face. She rubbed her eyes, dried her hands, and headed for the door. As she opened the door, Mr. Handsome pounced. He loomed over her, grinning.
“Hi,” he said as he walked toward her, forcing her back into the bathroom. He motioned toward the closed lid of the toilet, nudging her toward it with his hand. Megan began to panic as he forced her to sit down.
“I need to go home. I gotta get out of here. I’m not feeling well,” she said nervously.
“Oh, I just want to prove to you that I’m a good guy. I just want to show you that I can be naked with you and not do anything.” He started to tear at her clothing as she tried to get away.
“I need to go! Please don’t do this!” She tried with all her might to push past him.
Mr. Handsome dragged Megan into a bedroom where he wrestled with her until she stopped fighting back. He was too strong for her, and she eventually resigned herself to the fact that he was going to overtake her no matter how hard she tried to get away. She knew she would survive, just as she had survived the abuse she’d endured as a child. She would survive and she would add this to her list, the list of things she felt she was too stupid to see coming. Mr. Handsome sexually assaulted Megan. Mr. Handsome raped Megan with the handle of a broom. Mr. Handsome got away with the assault and the rape, because Megan was too scared and humiliated to tell anyone about what had happened to her. Until today.
Today Megan is telling her story. Today Megan realizes that she is not alone. Today, she is opening up her world and expanding her horizons. Today, she is taking back her power. Today may be too late to press charges or to confront Mr. Handsome (Megan doesn’t remember his name), but she recognizes the effect his actions had on her, and she refuses to keep quiet about them. Megan wants to help other people who are too humiliated to share their experiences with trauma. Megan is on a journey to heal and to live a life full of joy. Megan is hopeful that telling her story will help others speak out and tell theirs, because Megan knows that breaking the silence is essential to healing the hurt.
Sunday, November 08, 2009
Never in my life have I had difficulty committing to anything... until today.
"Finding Angela Shelton" - Day Four...
As I've already mentioned, I have had problems in the past setting boundaries. Because of the fact that I never really had a clear sense of self, I did anything and everything I could possibly do in order to please everyone I came into contact with. I lived in constant fear that people would hate me if I didn't cater to their every whim. This boundary-setting issue has led me to make many, many commitments that I never should have made.
There's the time I was asked to lead the choir at church. When our choir director skipped out on us, we were at a loss. During an "emergency" meeting, somehow it was decided that since I had the best voice in the bunch (according to them), I should be the interim choir director. I had been a member of Kentucky's All-State choir two years in a row in high school, and the choir members had never forgotten it. I'd had no formal music instruction beyond the six months of piano lessons I had taken at the age of 15. I could barely read music. I was a newlywed. I was pregnant. I was suffering from constant nausea and most days I could barely hold my head up. I was exhausted. But instead of telling them that I wasn't qualified or up to the task, feeling obligated, I committed to be the best choir director I could be. Needless to say, it was a disaster. I tried, but I failed miserably. Looking back on it now I can laugh... but it was one of the most stressful times in my life.
There's the time I volunteered to read an acquaintance's first novel. Her manuscript had been accepted by a publishing company. She had received her final "proof "and wanted some feedback on her work before she sent it back to the company for printing. Upon reading the first two pages, I realized she was being scammed. I looked the publishing company up online and found that there were a myriad of complaints registered on a consumer website that warned potential authors against scammers. It was obvious that no one had edited this book. I did the right thing, and let her know that I had seen several misspellings and errors on just the first few pages. I suggested that she contact the company and ask them to actually edit the manuscript. She immediately asked me if I would volunteer to correct the mistakes for her. I had just had my second child. The birth had been traumatic and I had spent six brutal weeks in recovery from the emergency surgery that had brought him into this world. I was preparing myself for another surgery and dealing with the fact that the doctor had advised me never to get pregnant again due to the complications I had suffered. I was in the process of adjusting to being the mother of two children instead of one, and I was overwhelmed. Rather than telling her that there was no way I could comfortably take on this responsibility, I said yes. I spent days editing and rewriting and correcting errors. I got migraines from the stress I was under. When I finished the edit/rewrite, we met in a parking lot so that I could turn the proof over to her. She sent me an email thanking me for the help and singing my praises for all the grueling work I had done to improve the story. Her book was published about two months later, and I haven't heard from her since.
I could tell you hundreds of stories like these. I have always over-committed. So why do I have such a problem making a commitment to myself?
Today's task is to make a commitment to myself to let go of the things that are hindering my healing, and receive something in return. (There's even a beautiful commitment declaration to download and print.) So why is this so difficult for me? I don't know, but I'm sure it's high time to find out. So this is what my commitment declaration says:
I am ready to receive the courage it takes to stand up for myself and care for myself and love myself unconditionally. I am ready to receive the benefits of self-discovery. I am ready to commit to myself and my journey.
I am willing to let go of the negative self-talk, the self-harm, the bitterness, the manipulation, and the excuses I have used for so many years to deny myself the privilege of knowing who I really am.
Commitment made on Sunday, November 8, 2009.
Well, I guess that wasn't so bad. This commitment to myself actually leaves me with a little flutter of hope. Hooray for little victories!
Saturday, November 07, 2009
"I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!" -Stuart Smalley
"Finding Angela Shelton" - Day Three...
Who among us hasn't been told that doing daily affirmations could change their life? Am I the only one who thought my therapist was downright bananas when she suggested this to me? The thought of repeatedly telling myself something that I didn't believe to be true sounded ludicrous. I'm probably one of the most analytical people you'll ever meet, and there was no way I could wrap my head around this concept. I trusted my therapist. She had earned that trust. Everything she had ever suggested to me had at the least been a learning experience. But I literally laughed at her when she said, "Just try it. You'll see."
For the first week or so I would look in the mirror and tell myself, "You are beautiful. You are strong. You are worthy of love." Depending on my mood at the onset of the exercise, it would end with me either a)laughing at myself, b)crying, or c)rolling my eyes and walking away. But then something happened. It was a quiet happening, a welcome happening. Eventually I realized that I had stopped listening to the skeptic in me and started listening to my thoughts. I actually started to believe that what I was saying was true. These daily affirmations had started a process within me... a thinking process that took me from constantly criticizing myself to recognizing that if I could see beauty in others, if I could see strength in others, if I could find others worthy of love, then perhaps I just might be able to cut myself some slack. As ridiculous as it sounds, the affirmation exercise worked for me.
Today's task is to take Day One's list of ways the Sword of Trauma has affected me in my life and rewrite each item as an affirmation (or an "I can" statement). Ten years ago, I would have skipped this task, dismissing it as something for my wacky little therapist to suggest for someone else... not for me. Today, I embrace it. Actually, I can't wait to get it finished so I can print it out, tape it up on my mirror (yes, I'm actually going to do this) and read it every chance I get. Wanna try it for yourself? Feel free to borrow my affirmations if you can't come up with your own right now. Goodness knows most of us are in the same boat and many of us have been affected in the same ways, so these affirmations just might work for you too.
1) I can be brave. I can be courageous. I can be strong.
2) I understand healthy relationships and I can nurture the healthy relationships I have in my life.
3) I can be true to myself.
4) I can take care of myself.
5) My life has meaning. I have a place in this world.
6) I am not alone. I belong to a community of wonderfully supportive people who believe in me.
7) I can set healthy boundaries and I deserve to be respected.
8) I can take time to play and nurture the child within.
9) I can remember that my nightmares are not my reality.
10) I can relax.
Now, I'm not saying that practicing daily affirmations is going to be some thunder-and-lightning experience for everyone who decides to give it a shot. I'm just saying that personally, the experience opened me up to the possibility of accepting my strengths and weaknesses and moving forward with the belief that - here it comes - "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!"
Friday, November 06, 2009
Yuck. I don't like this part.
Did I really sign up for this?
You've got to be kidding me!
I have to just sit here and feel for two whole minutes?
This "sitting with the sword" isn't easy, Ms. Shelton.
I don't wanna do it, but I will...
"Finding Angela Shelton" - Day Two...
While studying trauma and the brain, I've learned that there are three different responses to threatening situations in the animal kingdom: fight, flight, or freeze. Dissociation would fall under the "freeze" category. When an animal "freezes" during a traumatic or threatening situation, its brain stores the trauma. The animal's body also stores the trauma. This is often why people who have been through traumatic situations have somatic symptoms. Somatic (stress-related, or trauma-related) symptoms are the body's way of manifesting psychological distress. Some examples of somatic symptoms are heart palpitations, headaches, muscle fatigue, and nausea... what I've studied tells me that until the psychological distress is dealt with, either with some type of therapy or medication or a combination of the two, the somatic symptoms will most likely remain.
When I was going through the abuse as a child I was able to separate myself from what was happening. My body was present, but my mind was not. Dissociation became a coping technique for me. After all, it's only natural. I didn't fight. I didn't run... what else was there to do?
For a person who has dissociated during their traumatic experiences, part of the healing process is to find the feelings they suppressed through dissociation and allow themselves to actually feel the pain. By feeling the pain, being present in the pain and recalling the emotions that were buried, that person is usually able to eventually find some relief from both the psychological and physical effects of the traumatic experience.
Working through pain is not easy. I have spent hours upon hours with therapists and doctors. I've written journal entries no one will ever see. I've shredded papers. I've burned notebooks full of detailed descriptions of what I have been through. I've screamed. I've cried. I've walked through it. I've talked through it. I've prayed through it. It hasn't been easy, but I've done what needs to be done to move on with the healing process... and I'm genuinely glad that I have. Because fighting the pain and hiding the pain and denying the pain didn't work so well for me, and on the other side of letting myself feel - of letting go - I've found hope.
I'd like to think that all these years of hard work would save me from ever feeling the pain again... but the pain is still real and still present in so many ways. On days like today, when faced with the pain, I make a choice. I can choose to suppress it again, or I can choose to process it by feeling it. Each time I allow myself to feel it I am able to unravel the knot in my stomach just a little more, and I am left with just a little more hope and a little more joy... and I am left with just a little more strength to face tomorrow with my head held high, knowing I am strong enough to fight my demons... one day at a time.
Thursday, November 05, 2009
Welcome to the first day of the rest of my life... although I have been in therapy off and on for years and have spent the last nine months in intense therapy, I have never really publicly spoken of how being a victim of sexual abuse and rape has truly affected me as a human being. This "joy journey" is in some ways familiar to me, as I have done a tremendous amount of work with my therapist in "The Courage to Heal" and "The Courage to Heal Workbook" and have already found that there are things in life to look forward to. I have joy. I have a certain amount of peace. But the idea of taking a 30-day challenge to really look into things with nothing but the intent to spread joy and live joyously intrigued me. So here we are.
"Finding Angela Shelton" - Day One...
First off, let me say that I love this analogy of the Sword of Trauma. My life has been pierced with a sword. I spent many years trying to ignore the fact that I was walking around with a huge sword stuck right in my center. It's hard to live that way. Hard to move. Hard to breathe. In my life, I did anything and everything I could to hide the sword, and to medicate the pain the sword caused me. I didn't want to face the sword so that I could remove it from my core. I knew removing the sword would be excruciatingly painful. Never mind the fact that the wound created by that removal would heal... I just didn't want to feel the pain. I didn't want to go through that healing process. It was easier to just let the sword stay where it was. I never realized the sword could be removed and fashioned into a weapon I could use to fight for myself.
Day one's challenge is to list ten ways the Sword of Trauma has affected me in my life. Upon reading my task for the day, I thought it was going to be really difficult to come up with a list of ten things that have resulted from my trauma. Once I started writing, I learned that I could probably list a hundred. Here are the first ten that came to mind:
1) FEAR - I was afraid of anything and everything you can imagine. I don't ever remember a time in my life when I wasn't afraid.
2) CONFUSION - I had a very hard time understanding what healthy relationships looked like. Family dynamics confused me. Friendships confused me. I confused me.
3) THE CONSTANT NEED TO PLEASE PEOPLE - It took me 30 years to realize that not everyone on this planet is going to like me. I could tell you some pretty horrific stories about the things I've done just to make people happy. "No" was not a part of my vocabulary.
4) THE ILLUSION OF CONTAMINATION - I felt dirty. I took scalding hot showers. Sometimes I didn't care for myself properly because I didn't think I could be clean.
5) FEELING LOST - I felt lost most of my childhood and teenage years. I didn't know where to go, what do do, how to feel, who to trust. I just felt lost.
6) FEELING ALONE - Practically every relationship I had was superficial. I felt if people really got to know me, they would hate me because I felt so disgusting.
7) THE INABILITY TO SET BOUNDARIES - I did not know how to set healthy boundaries in my relationships. I let people touch me, hurt me, humiliate me and invade my personal life at times when they had no business being a part of it.
8) LOST CHILDHOOD - I have very few memories of my childhood. What memories I do have are usually peppered with fear and loneliness.
9) NIGHTMARES - I have nightmares of unspeakable things. They all relate to my experiences of trauma.
10) ANXIETY - I've had panic attacks since I was 19-20 years old. (The rape occured when I was 18 and I believe my anxiety stems mostly from that experience.)
As I said before, I could list many more ways my life has been affected by this sword. I've wrestled with self-injury, manipulative behavior, the constant need for attention, experimentation with drugs, a food addiction. I'm overly-emotional and overly-sensitive... I could go on and on and on.
My point in sharing this with you is to let you know that this happens to other people. You are not alone. Being a victim of any type of trauma is an unsettling, life-changing thing... but there is hope. Maybe you will find it with me as you follow my journey. I hope you will.
Wednesday, November 04, 2009
There are no accidents! Apparently, the Universe has decided to throw me a giant curveball... and I couldn't be more thrilled about it.
I've recently become the administrator of a facebook support group. I didn't do it on purpose. It just kinda happened. Upon seeing Mackenzie Phillips get pummeled by the media in regards to speaking out about her life experiences, I was spurred into action. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and sexual assault and rape as an adult, I wanted to let Mackenzie Phillips know that there were people out there who believed her story. Since I'm a poor, small-town girl, short of strapping an "I SUPPORT MACKENZIE PHILLIPS" sign on my back and traversing the country on foot I wasn't sure where to begin.
Ah, enter facebook. Facebook has "groups." Facebook has serious groups, funny groups, groups of intelligent people gathered together for various causes, and some groups that are just downright questionable. I learned that pretty much anybody can start a group on facebook. So, I clickety-clicked here and clickety-clicked there until I had made my mark. A group called "We Support Mackenzie Phillips' Decision to Speak Out Against Abuse" was born. I expected maybe 30-40 people to catch wind of the thing via facebook's search feature. I figured maybe a few of them would join with me in my efforts to let this courageous woman know that I am forever grateful to her for letting us survivors know that we are not alone.
A week passed, and my little group became a big group. We had grown to over 800 in number and I was simply overwhelmed and overjoyed that so many people had come to stand with me in my effort to somehow support Mackenzie Phillips. With each media appearance where facebook supporters were mentioned by her, our membership grew and we became over 1,000 strong. One thing led to another, and before I knew it a full-fledged support group had grown out of this tiny little seed that had been planted. People were e-mailing me, telling me their stories and asking me for help. I welcomed this new-found responsibility with open arms, and in the process of perusing resources for the group's participants, I found Angela Shelton. God bless Angela Shelton.
For those of you who don't know who Angela Shelton is, all I can say is that "Searching for Angela Shelton" is a must-see film that will introduce you to her world. Once there, you will find that you can't put her in a box, and there's far more to her beauty than anyone could ever fit into a blog. You don't "research" Angela Shelton. You experience Angela Shelton. You become captivated by her story, her efforts, and the movement she has inspired. In the short time that I have been following her efforts to shine a light in this world, I have been beyond inspired. One of Angela's websites offers a free "Finding Angela Shelton" 30-day "Joy Campaign" that I'm participating in. I have decided to share my journey here through blogging.
I'm not a writer. I'm a survivor. I'm sure there will be grammatical errors and sentence structure will be questionable at times. This is not about perfection. It's about SPEAKING OUT. I've been through years of therapy and I have found my voice. This is one of many steps I am taking to become not just a voice, but a voice that will be heard. I will be the change I want to see in the world. This is where it begins. Welcome to my joy journey!