Archive for the ‘hope’ Category

once-a-victim-now-a-survivor-award

I would like to thank A Strawberry Pushes Through Insanity for nominating my blog for the “Once a Victim – Now a Survivor” Award. This award is for those who have gone through mental illness of any kind, abuse, trauma, and especially PTSD. Here are the rules:

1.Thank the blogger that nominated you.

2.Nominate 5 – 10 bloggers to pass the award to.

3.Post questions for your nominees to answer (You may use the same as these below)

4.Inform your nominees and post a comment in their blog to let them know they’ve been nominated.

I consider it a great honor to be nominated for this award. My blog started as an effort to share my thoughts on the faults and dangers of religion, specifically how my experience with domestic violence opened my eyes to the similarities between an abusive relationship and a relationship with the God of any standard religious institution. I wanted to have a place where I could share my thoughts openly without fear and knowing that my words would be read by others who might be influenced to escape their self-enforced captivity. I wanted to share my journey, and show those still entrenched in their religious upbringing that atheism is nothing to fear- that opening their minds to the truth and their hearts to the possibilities is liberating.

But in a short time, my blog has become so much more than what I initially intended. I haven’t really written as many posts on religious topics as I have reflecting on my abusive relationship, my current efforts in coping with PTSD, and on my journey in coming to terms with my self-identity. I want to help people find freedom and connection, a sense of understanding and recognition… It is my hope that what I write will be read by those who NEED to see what I’ve experienced and see that it is possible to overcome trauma. It is for this reason that I’ve titled my blog “Inform, Inspire, Inflame”, because I wish to inform the uninformed, inspire the uninspired, and inflame the hearts of the apathetic, depressed, and disconnected so that they may discover their own passions and resume their lives with vigor.

My time as a blogger is still in it’s infancy, so it was quite a surprise to receive this nomination, and it has filled me with a sense of validation – that though my blog has meandered from my intended course, I am accomplishing something of importance. And so, it is with great pleasure that I name my own nominees for this award:

The questions I have been asked to answer (and my responses) are listed below, and I would like to ask my nominees to answer the same questions in their acceptance of the award:

  1. In what way do you feel blogging can help people with psychological trauma or mental illness?
  2. Why would you recommend blogging to someone who suffered from mental illness?
  3. How has blogging helped with your healing, or personal journey?
  4. Do you have any advice for a person who has a hard time understanding their emotions?

(Below answers all four questions. I started to break it down by question, but realized that it kind of all ended up flowing together.)

Writing is an extremely cathartic process, and blogging even more so. The simple act of putting your struggles to paper (or keyboard) allows you to process the pain and emotional turmoil associated with the memories that must resurface. You have to find the words to articulate it, have to think about how to break it down into sentences and structure it into something that makes sense. Taking the time to commit those troubling thoughts into written word is an opportunity to process what might otherwise remain trapped inside, and blogging it puts it out where others can see it. Others can read it. Others can comment and share. And you realize you’re NOT alone. There are others who share your pain and appreciate your efforts to put your thoughts where they can read them.

Blogging can be an immense help to those suffering from psychological trauma or mental illness, because it creates a support network. You make friends. You connect with others trying to process their own struggles, writing about their efforts, and sharing their own strategies for overcoming the turmoil. You feel validated. You feel strengthened. And you help others feel the same.

A few of my blogs were prompted by flashbacks and intrusive thoughts associated with my PTSD. Often, I find myself up with insomnia, with images coursing through my mind too quickly to follow and my emotions riding a roller coaster in response. When it gets particularly difficult, I know I have to get it out, but I wind up sitting in front of the computer screen just staring at it for hours, trying to think through the pain and find the words. Every time I write something about what I’ve been through, it’s the same, and I rarely even get one word down the first time I sit down with the intent to write it. I come back, again and again and sit and stare, until finally, the words start to form.

The emotions associated with trauma aren’t easy to understand. They are raw and powerful, visceral and intense. Don’t let them build to a breaking point. Talk with someone who can listen and understand. Talk with someone who can help. And write. Writing is amazing, because not only does it help get it out and in the open, it gives you an opportunity to look back. When you finish writing, you’ll likely feel a sense of relief and with that a sense of exhaustion. A weight has been lifted. Sleep it off. Then come back and read what you wrote. This helps process it further, as when you read it, you start piecing together clues and recognizing why you were feeling so stuck before.

There’s a whole world out there of people who share your pain and who want to help. You don’t have to be alone. Don’t remain a victim. You’re more than what happened to you. You’re more than your pain. You, too, are a survivor. And together, we are strong.

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The sound of passing cars roared in her ears, drowned out all other sounds, leaving her with nothing but her thoughts. Thoughts that left her shaking in a jumble of confused and muddled emotions. Fear, guilt, depression, exhilaration, anger, concern, nervousness. Her body felt like a bundle of quaking branches in a heavy wind. She was running on nothing but adrenaline.

The woman sat there, open and exposed to anyone passing on the street, wearing a grungy, dirty, stinky pair of jeans and shirt. She waited on the bench, ignoring everyone that passed, shoulders hunched, eyes averted, attention only on the sleeping baby in the stroller in front of her. She appeared to be on the verge of tears, but the determined set of her jaw prevented such weakness.

She had taken the largest step of her life when she walked out that door. Her husband sat inside, unaware of the plans spinning in her head. She was just leaving on a quick errand. She’d be back in a few minutes… The minutes lengthened, and lengthened, and she knew by now he would be worried. She clasped and unclasped her hands, looking down at her feet, up at the traffic, and back to her son. By now he’d be wondering what was taking her so long. He’d know something was going on. Then the sharp squeal of worn brakes sounded in her ears, the hiss of air, as a bus came to stop by the bench. Palms sweaty, she gripped the handle of the stroller and rolled it onto the bus.

He’s probably calling the police, thinking she’d run into some kind of accident. He’s probably panicking, searching the house. Maybe, by now, he’d gone in the bedroom and seen the pile she’d left behind digging for the items she was going to take with her. Was he angry? Was he sad? Was he distraught? In tears? She felt horrible. Terrible. How could she follow through and do something so awful? There’s was still time. She could go back. Apologize. She could comfort him and let him know everything was going to be okay. She could avoid the worst of his reaction to her betrayal, if she quickly returned.

No. She’d already made her decision. It was too late to turn back now. If she ever set another foot inside that door again, she wouldn’t make it back out. She was on that bus, with her son, on her way to safety and freedom. She had to stay strong. If for no other reason than for her son. She couldn’t go back. She couldn’t stay with him any longer. She couldn’t wait for him to hurt their son.

The day I left my abuser will always remain a vivid memory. I remember the fervent panic. I remember feeling like everyone was watching me – feeling like everyone could somehow see through my bedraggled appearance and that they knew I’d just walked out on him. I remember expecting to see him coming after me at any moment, around any corner… years after that day, I was plagued with nightmares of his presence just around the next bend.

I remember, despite everything, feeling like I was the one in the wrong. I remember feeling like I was making the worst mistake of my life. I remember being flooded with concern for HIM and HIS well-being. I remember thinking his discovery of my departure would drive him to suicide, and feeling like his death would be on MY conscience. That thought almost sent me running back. I started contemplating excuses for my delayed return that he might find convincing, thinking I could just turn back and act like I’d never even made this foolish endeavor.

I was sleep deprived. I was hyped on adrenaline. I was probably even hallucinatory. I’d spent at least the last week walking on egg shells, having been broken beyond my ability to truly care about my marriage, but terrified of him reading my lack of commitment in my body language, my tone of voice, my solemnity… I continued to exchange “I love you”s, kisses, snuggles.. but my heart wasn’t in it. I loathed his touch. His hand on my cheek made my body rigid with the desire to flinch and turn away. Eye contact brought a lump to my throat as his gaze filled me with terror I hoped he could not see. Every breath, every step, every second was an effort of sheer will-power and determination to survive, to find and seize my opportunity for escape, because the only other feasible end I could see now was my own death.

And the only reason I did not take that end for myself was to save the life of my infant. See, what had finally broken me, the moment that shattered my gilded cage, was witnessing my husband hold our five month old crying son mere inches from his face and spouting such venomous, snarling fury that his eyes seemed red with rage and spittle flew from his mouth. That look had been directed at me on several occasions, and it had always resulted in a beating. I saw my son’s entire body go rigid with fear, temporarily frozen, eyes wide in shock, and then a scream of absolute abject terror, and I snapped. In a flash, the baby was safe in my arms, I was scolding my husband and soothing my child, and everything had changed.

After that ordeal, my husband tried to guilt me for pulling the baby away from him. He tried to guilt me for scolding him. He withdrew, acting very solemn and depressed, and he insisted that *I* had wronged *him*. I offered an insincere apology, soothing the waters and saying what I knew he wanted to hear in order to prevent an explosion, but I was done. He’d done the unforgivable. He’d proven himself uncontrollable. He’d threatened an innocent, harmless, babe and STILL insisted that HE was the one who’d been harmed by the encounter. All the carefully threaded webs of deceit, chains of manipulation, and chords of control started to unravel as the excuses he’d used in fights with me failed to take root when the victim onto whom he was attempting to throw blame was a BABY. There was NO excuse. NONE.

From that moment on, the one thing that kept me going was my desire to protect my child from harm. In a state of pure hyper-vigilance, there was little room for concrete thought. I was driven by instinct, and instinct saw me through the minefield until I was able to secure an opportunity to flee.

It is difficult now to imagine myself pursuing the life I then thought I was meant to lead. My life’s journey has led me down a vastly different road than anything I could have ever imagined as a child, a teen, a wife, a young mother… I am a different person now, and yet the same. These experiences helped shape me and have become ingrained in my memories, but the result could never have been predicted through evaluation of those very experiences.

There have been other critical moments, like the day I left my abuser, in which I’ve had an opportunity to look back. I believe we all have such moments in our lives. They are pivots in our individual journeys. They are fulcrums for change. Had I given in to my fears that day and turned back, my life story would be vastly different. Of course, not all life’s pivots are so extreme, but there are certainly those moments in which we must fully commit ourselves to our chosen direction and plot the charted course. Because we do not know where the road of change will lead, often we may choose the “safer” course simply because we know what to expect.

But life would be short-lived and barren indeed if we did not take our leaps. We all have our moments where we must look upon our current lot in life and come to a decision. 1. Continue on this path, or 2. Make a change. Change is terrifying. Change is “unknown”. Change is unpredictable… but when that which IS “predictable” and “known” can lead one only down a path lacking in love, joy, happiness, or fulfillment.. it becomes time to embrace the change.

Do not allow your life to be held hostage by manipulated fears and imagined concerns. Do not allow your life to become stagnant, simply because you can see no other feasible alternative. While this memory was once haunting, it is now an inspiration. I realize now that hope is found in our own courage and resolve – to embrace those changes which open the doors of opportunity and growth. When you find yourself facing one of those pivotal moments, when you must decide whether to leap forward into the unknown or continue in the relative safety of your current course – I urge you to take that leap! And don’t look back.

It’s hard to look upon a carefree child and not feel a sense of awe and inspiration. Every babe born into this world is a clean slate of trust, hope, and optimism. To look upon a baby’s smile, to hear a child laugh… it strikes a chord deep in the soul, and I don’t think there’s ever been a single person who did not wish they could somehow preserve such pure innocence. Perhaps the knowledge that it is only temporary is what makes it so beautiful, for that which is fleeting has value beyond measure.

As parents, while we certainly hope to prepare our offspring for the hardships of the world, I think we each hold tightly to a secret fantasy. A fantasy in which our children need no preparation, no protection, no preservation. A fantasy in which the pure joy of innocent laughter and untainted smiles lives on forever, never to be tainted or damaged by the toils and turmoil of struggle and suffering. In our subconscious efforts to make this fantasy a reality, we spin tales of wonder and excitement, and we revel in the sweet trust our children place in the hopeful stories of our youth.

Magical kingdoms of fairies. Hidden societies of gnomes, leprechauns, or “little people”. Mystical unicorns. Myths and fables which light up the imagination and bring a sparkle of joy to eyes so full of wonder and curiosity. Eventually though, the fairy tales always fall apart. Innocence is lost as children gain experience and come to face reality. Their brains develop with astounding intelligence, and with critical thinking skills honed for discovery, they begin to find the faults in the stories. Probably one of the most memorable and cherished stories to which nearly every child clings is that of Santa Claus, jolly ole Saint Nick, the loving, caring and affable man in the big red suit.

Our children start noticing inconsistencies and asking questions. Parents, often, cannot stand the thought of losing the joy and wonder that blessed previous Christmas celebrations, as their child lit up with excitement to discover the presents delivered magically under their tree on Christmas morning. Instead of encouraging this critical development and taking the opportunity to teach their children how to employ those thinking skills, parents lie and continue to fabricate the fairy tale, now spinning a web of deceit and even mistrust.

How does Santa get into the homes of children with no chimney? How does Santa reach all the children in the world in one night? How does Santa know who’s been naughty or nice? How does Santa know what toy every little girl and boy wants? How does Santa get into and out of the house unseen? How does Santa make all the toys? Why do all the Santa’s we see at parties or malls or supermarkets look different? Why does Santa’s handwriting on my present look like my mothers? Why were the presents from Santa hidden in my parent’s bedroom closet a week before Christmas? Why did I see my father putting presents under the tree, and not Santa? Has anyone ever seen the “real” Santa?

The questions build and build without end, as the puzzle becomes harder and harder for those amazingly intelligent children to piece together. Some children realize the problem quickly and give up the hope, give up the magic. Others have a much harder time letting go. They put their imaginations to use, thinking up more and more convoluted scenarios that explain away all the inconsistencies and allow them to cling to their belief. Some even go so far as to declare that while it may be impossible to understand, while there may be glaringly obvious evidences to the contrary, as long as they believed … Santa would still be real. There would still be hope. There would still be magic. There would still be that impossibly loving and mystical man who brought presents to all the good little girls and boys every year. As long as they believed…

It is my thought that all of us; man, woman, and child; cling to our beliefs in the unknown, the immeasurable, the fantastical, because we are in denial. We do not want to face the hardships of reality, because we do not feel ourselves capable of bearing the pain. Reality is often cruel and unkind. Reality contains stories of horror, sorrow, and incomprehensible suffering. Reality contains illness and disease, handicaps and imperfections, accidents and miscalculations, murders and war, loss and death. We cling to the magic, to the hope, to the belief, because the pain of life is so often unbearable.

But we do ourselves a disservice in thinking so. For while reality is often a struggle, it also brings with it great joys, and those joys often cannot be fully realized without letting go of the delusions of the heart. We waste effort and energy in clinging to fantasies that provide a sort of protective barrier from the physical and mental turmoils of life, because it is only when we embrace reality that we can begin to solve the very problems that plague our existence. When we allow ourselves to accept the logical conclusions, to trust our own minds, to follow the evidences provided by our senses, experiences, intuition, and critical intelligence, we prepare ourselves not only to face reality, but to CHANGE it.

When we waste time and energy believing in a higher power that will somehow solve all our problems for us, we fail to take that power into our own hands. Those brains so capable of spinning fantasies and fairy tales are capable of immense creativity and innovation, and it is because of that amazing capacity for critical thought, for problem solving, and for imagination that we as a species have been able to go from localized hunting and gathering communities struggling for each meal to living and breathing societies connected around the globe and improving the QUALITY of life for countless individuals.

When we see and accept the problems we face instead of hiding from them, we can begin creating solutions. While innocence may not last forever, ingenuity is a gift for the future. While the pure gaze from the untainted eyes of a newborn babe may be fleeting, his potential is ever lasting and even exponentially increasing into the infinite expanses of possibility. In a very short time, our species has evolved the ability to conquer lands, oceans, and stars. Our creativity knows no bounds, and we can be always believing in a brighter and more glorious tomorrow.