Trigger Survivor

School began last week with a 2-day introductory class. We didn’t get credit for that class…we were required to attend to prepare us for what was to come.

Y’all. I was NOT prepared for what was heading my way. And I certainly didn’t anticipate my physical reaction to it. You know that feeling that begins as a burning in your stomach that moves up as a heavy thickness inside your chest, and then fills your eyes with tears? That. Is exactly what happened. My brain was telling me that I was sitting in the middle of 300 people, and if I cried, someone was definitely going to see me. Heaven knows I didn’t want anyone to see the reaction I was having. Surely I had more self-control than this?! It used to be that I could hide every single emotion. What has happened to me? (And if I am genuinely honest…why am I not better than this?)

It got worse. The instructor asked us to turn to the person sitting next to us and do partner work. Seriously, y’ all…I thought that I was going to have a full-blown panic attack.

But I didn’t. I stayed and ended up owning it.

I looked at this young, maybe 22-year-old girl, and said, “I want you to know that this topic is triggering me, and I am having a difficult time.” You know what? That pressure inside my chest, that burning in my stomach, and those tears in my eyes all went away. The panic disappeared, and I saw compassion and kindness radiating from this sweet girl who could have been one of my children. I was then able to share a piece of my story and how it related to the discussion topic.

I have now had 4 days of classes. There have been triggers, and panic has threatened to consume me more than that once. I have now shared a fraction of my story 4 times. To me, it feels as if I am lying. All of these parts cannot possibly belong to one person, can they?! And that one person surely can’t be me?

After all, who on earth has facets of their story that can incorporate domestic abuse with infidelity with teenage children with LGBTQ with alcohol abuse with a church with a DACA recipient?!?!

I have yet to tell my complete story. Feeling as if I am an exaggerator is the most challenging part of this. It feels ridiculous and shameful that all of these things can combine in one person’s life. Should I not tell all of it so that it isn’t so outrageous sounding?

No, I believe that I should tell it. It is my truth. It is what has made me the woman I am today. I will not hide and allow shame to consume me.

In class this past week, I gathered enough courage to use the term survivor. Survivor: a person who continues to function or prosper in spite of opposition, hardship, or setbacks. That’s the word. That is the term I want to claim for myself. That is how I identify who I am and where I have been.

Breathe In, Breathe Out

                                                   “Breathe in: Lord, I receive.                                                                                                           Breathe out: Lord, I give thanks.                                                                                 So there’s that: You don’t get to make up most of your story.                                                                            You get to make peace with it.                                                                                             You don’t get to demand your life, like a given.                                                                                     You get to receive your life like a gift.”                                                -Ann Voskamp

I woke up this morning with this quote on my mind. In the past week, I’ve struggled. A LOT. There is a part of me that wants my old life back…but not really. Although I was unhappy most of the time, I had made peace with it as best that I could.

What began as an innocent discussion the other day ended up causing me to reevaluate my decisions from the past year and a half. You see, there is this young adult man that I love. And this young man wants to believe that his dad is broken and sad about the choices he has made. This young man wants me to know that his dad really does love his children. And I desperately want to provide him with the security of a father’s love. But that is impossible for me to do; it is not my role.

For myself, I have had to reconcile that an addict’s love is not the right kind of love. An addict’s love is filled with conditions, lies, and illusions of caring that deflect from their true actions. Unless an addict comes to grips with his need for help, for the rest of his/her life, they are incapable of making the changes needed to provide true love.

And my heart hurts. I want to erase the damage that has been done. I want to wash over all of the bad so that maybe my children can find peace, although it would be a false sense of peace.
Unfortunately, that is not my job.
My role is to be their mother. To love them unconditionally as they traverse through the painful realities of their lives. I cannot wash over what they have experienced. I cannot minimize their truths. I can only love and support them throughout this difficult, difficult journey.
In the past, I would have reached in and changed the story a bit, hoping that it would feel better to them. I now know that in doing that, I made the truth something false. But whenever I have softened things for them, I have also softened them for myself and allowed all of us to live in denial. That benefits no one.
As I sit remembering Ann’s words, I choose to make peace with the story our family has been given. I choose to see it as a gift that has made and is continuing to make me into the woman I am today. I pray that my children see the truth, see me accept it, and then see me grow from it.

The Gift of Friendship

A few weeks ago, I invited 3 couples over for dinner…these 6 people carried me through this past year. They are the people who went above and beyond to accept me exactly where I was, giving me the space I needed to process and walk all of this mess out. There aren’t enough words in the world for me to be able to accurately express how much these people mean to me.

One couple helped me pack up, store my stuff, and then, provided my son, my dogs, my cat, my fish, and me with a loving home for 5 weeks. After moving into my new home, I realized that I had needed that restful, supportive transitional time. It provided me with a time of respite after the exhausting season of selling the house, beginning a new job, and going to court. Their acceptance, kindness, and love will forever be a part of me.

Another couple stood firmly beside me from the day after I found out the horrible hidden truths behind my marriage until this very moment. At the time all of this began, she was going through cancer treatments and she was STILL able to love and support me. Although our situations were world’s apart, I felt that with both of us going through terrible things, we were able to get away from our own situations for short periods of time while being present for each other. Standing by her side gave me a sense of reality that helped to keep me grounded. The steadiness that she and her husband modeled provided me with security during a time when I sometimes couldn’t figure out how to even get through a day.

And the last precious couple covered me in prayer, continuously filled me with love, and made certain that my soul was cared for. I received a phone call or message every single day. The 2 of them reached out to me time and time again, genuinely caring for my kids and me. She literally climbed into bed with me when, as my knowledge grew, I didn’t think that I could survive another day. She is the one that when I was lying on the floor saying I couldn’t take anymore, who told me step by step what to do in order to pull myself up. Their loving support carried me through my darkest hours.

Thank you is not enough for these couples.

My recommendation to everyone out there is that you find your people. Locate your group and build those relationships so that if you have things go awry in your life, you have the support you need to help carry you through. Don’t try to go it alone!

“If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.”
– Winnie the Pooh

Psalm 30:11-12

Before I begin my real post, I want to acknowledge Mother’s Day and say that I am the daughter of a woman whose love runs so deep that I honestly think that it sometimes hurts her. Her love for the Lord and her love for others fuel her to give beyond my comprehension…I truly don’t know how she does what she does. Happy Mother’s Day, Mama. I love you.

And now. Y’all. The weirdest thing has happened.

While talking to my dad the other day, he asked, “How are you, girl?” After stammering with the typical, “I’m fine” for a minute, I realized that I am happy. Really happy…who knew?! It is such a strange feeling. As an adult, I honestly cannot remember ever experiencing this much peace.

Oh, I have emotional issues that crop up off and on. A kid annoys me and I lose my mind. My memories go crazy and I can’t figure out the grief. I don’t trust people so I’m skeptical…but I am happy. Deep, deep in my soul, I am filled to the edge of overflowing.

It is the most incredible thing that I have ever felt. And yes, it is a feeling, but it is also what I would call a settling within my soul. It doesn’t feel as if I have a weight pulling me down or backwards. I am not afraid of what might come next…I honestly cannot imagine what could be worse than what I have already experienced. (Before you think anything snarky, remember, most of you do not know the whole story. It’s was baaaaaad.) Anyway, you know in movies when the girl is twirling around and around on a beach with her hair flowing and a smile on her face? That is me right now…corny as hell.

Psalm 30:11-12 says, “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory might sing praise and not be silent. Oh Lord, my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”

I didn’t know if it would be possible to recover from the barrage of disgraceful actions that have surrounded my marriage. But recovery is is possible and continues to occur. I never thought that I could be free.

I honestly believe that I have weathered the worst of the storm. And I pray that this next season will be a time filled with simple joys. That I will be able to be fully present for whatever life brings my way. That my kids will continue to heal and find their path into independent adulthood. That they will see their mama lean on God, acknowledge the bad situation, and allow it to catapult her into something new and beautiful.

I have wrestled. I have fallen. I have gotten up. And now, I am moving forward.

My 26 year marriage will always be my story and I hope to be able to share it with others who need to hear it, but that marriage and the actions surrounding that marriage do not define me.

With God’s leading, I get to step out into something new and something beautiful…even if I have no earthly idea what that is yet!

Do I Dare to Hope?

Finally. I can speak freely. The legal action is settled.

I am weary from the emotional turmoil. I am not someone who feels fear very often but this time, I was afraid. Really afraid.

It was one year ago this past week when I began to realize that if I wanted to become healthy emotionally, I had to make a stand. And since making that stand, life has felt as if it has been ripping me apart.

I guess that is what divorce is. The ripping apart of a bond that was designed to last for life. I don’t recommend it except for in extreme cases…it is terrible.

As another hurdle has been overcome, do I dare to hope that it is the last one? Sometimes I think that I am the “eternal optimist,” the unrealistic person who always believes that deep down people are good and will do the right thing…and even though I’ve learned that isn’t always true, I continue to look for the good.

What is wrong with me?! Lol

Seriously though, I know that we are all born with a tendency to sin, but I also think that we all have to have something good in us! I don’t believe that God created us to be bad…He created us to commune with Him.

So I am going to continue to hope and look for the good. I know that I have to be realistic, but I really don’t want to dwell on the ugliness that hovers around life.

I want to live a life that holds fast to goodness, hope, and love.

The Best Gift

The best gift that I have given myself throughout the last 14 months is therapy.

When I struggled to know what to do next, I could see my counselor and she would guide me into figuring out what was best for me.

The only directives that I remember her giving me were 1) go get tested for every STD under the sun–BLECH! That was terrible to consider!, 2) find 2-3 close friends who can walk this out with you, and 3) find a support group of women who are walking similar paths that will understand where you are coming from emotionally. That was just on day 1.

Side Note-{Shout-out to pastors! A pastor friend gave me the same exact first 2 instructions as well. (Pastors-GO get the latest training so that you are ready to help people in crisis…in the beginning, when I didn’t have all the information and was incredibly overwhelmed, the very first person I wanted advice from was my pastor. I immediately wanted to know how to walk this out as a Christian woman. I did not want to mess this up.)}

Anyway, consistent counseling has helped me figure out my path forward, it has helped me see other perspectives, and it has provided me with the safest of places to come and grow.

Yes. I have walked to hell and back. Yes. I have been dealt a raw deal. Yes. What I’ve experienced stinks. But I needed to learn to look at all of that and grow from it so that I didn’t live as a bruised and battered woman or as a bitter and angry woman or as a woman destined to repeat the same patterns.

Today, I am here to tell you that it has been STINKIN’ HARD!! But oh, so very worth it!

Of course, I continue to need a lot of work but I want you to know that the most wonderful gift you can give yourself is being open enough to to become your best self…and for me that was my counselor who encouraged me to consider more than just my one-sided perspective but also learn to TRUST MYSELF.

Parenting Through Trauma

When my home got turned upside down, my thoughts regarding my kids went something like this, “Please God, let me walk this out well for my children. Please don’t let me fail them now. Please, please, please help me model how to lean on You.”

And then BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! Literally every single week for months, there was a new discovery or a new event that caused significant trauma and grief. I honestly did not know how I was going to make it through all that occurred from last February until August. The blows were constantly coming. And they weren’t just directed at me. They were hitting my kids as well.

My children were exposed to more information than they should have ever even known existed.

In those moments of crisis, rather than try to cover up and do damage control, I decided that we were going to hit it head on and talk about it. I believe STRONGLY that when overwhelmed imaginations are left to come up with their own ideas, things get out of control really fast. And partial truths do nothing but breed distrust.

A pastor friend once told me that preparation is better than protection. It was already too late to protect my babies. It was time to have difficult conversations and to show them that we were going to be there for one another throughout this entire ordeal.

And that is exactly what we have done and continue to do.

There have been no lies and no evasive comments. If I cannot tell them something, I simply say that I cannot tell them what they want to know.

So what does parenting look like during this time? It looks like giving them room to express their emotions. (It took a little while, but everyone finally grasped that expressing emotions did not mean punching holes in walls or destroying our home.) It looks like allowing them to say bad words. It looks like giving them space to process what was happening. It looks like developing an artistic gift. It looks like hanging out in a bedroom until feeling ready to talk. It looks like working a lot. It looks like playing board games. It looks like hanging out on the sofa together. It looks like increasing the animal population inside of our house. It looks like a beautiful, lovable mess.

I don’t always like every aspect it but I have chosen not to interfere with it. I continue to stand beside them as a constant reminder that I am here. I want them to know that I am their mom and that they are safe with me. They can totally lose their sh** and it will all be okay.

I certainly don’t always walk it out graciously. I have hidden in the garage and cried. I have gone to an “anger management” place and taken a baseball bat to a room full of breakables (only to fall apart sobbing, causing the owner to come in and hold me until I was calm again…that was really awkward). I have disappeared and lain in bed for hours at a time. I have fed them boxed mac and cheese, ramen, and a whole lot of fast food. I have said and continue to say way too many bad words.

But we keep going. and going. and going. It might not be pretty, but it is forward…even on our lowest of days.

Parenting through trauma is not about doing it perfectly. It is about being present and letting them see that you know that what they are walking through is really hard and really painful. And that it is OK to have all of these feelings.

And to my beautiful children, no matter what, I love you and I am not going anywhere.