Wednesday, October 14, 2015


I need to feel safe. Security is something I had very little of growing up. I couldn't rely on my home being a safe place for me. My relationship with both of my parents was unpredictable at best, and downright scary at worst.

We didn't have the type of family where we talked about our emotions. We didn't really talk about anything; with each other or with anybody else. The kids followed orders or otherwise we kept a low profile and just hoped that we wouldn't be targeted by a foul mood or an errant chore.

The masks we wore in public were something we learned from a very early age. We were to behave a certain way when company was over or when we were out in public. We were well-behaved, courteous, and quiet. We were clean and dressed appropriately. We all played the part very well. It was like a play being performed. No fighting with each other, no back-talk, no doing things you aren't supposed to do... otherwise we all knew the consequences when we'd get home, or get in the car. Most importantly, we never talked about the things that went on at home to anyone. We didn't talk to family, friends, teachers, neighbors; we just didn't talk about it. It wasn't just discipline that kept us quiet, it was genuine fear. The threats uttered weren't idle for us.

Unpredictability became so commonplace that I grew to find monotony and routine as the calm before the inevitable storm. The longer the calm lasted, the more anxious I would become. Before I was even 11 years old, I began to find laughter, celebration, and general good moods around my house to be such high-tension moments of my life that I had trouble sleeping and eating became difficult.

Things are very different in my family today. So different, in fact, that I often feel like I don't belong to this new family. It's an environment where good moods and laughter are much more common. Joking around, playfulness, and frank conversations happen frequently.

But I still don't feel safe. The scars left on me from all those years have never healed. I am still anxious in moments of peace. I still struggle with talking about my emotions instead of letting them run rough shot over my life. I still feel inadequate most of the time. I still fight urges to try to play peacemaker in every situation. I still feel alone due to finding it so difficult to talk to people about how I'm feeling or what I'm going through.

I'm working on it, though. And that's all any of us can do: try. I don't want to feel alone. I don't want to feel like I don't belong anywhere or that I am somehow beyond repair or more than anyone should have to 'deal with'. So I'm working on it. I'm talking finally. I'm letting the poison out so that I can begin to heal and begin to find my voice.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Are you really living your life? Or are you just surviving it?

We all have our routines.

When I put my shoes on, the right one always goes on first. When I drink coffee, I always put cream in before the coffee so I don't have to stir it. When I get in my car, I always put my seatbelt on before I start the car. These things are so ingrained in my life they barely register consciously.

Then there are those parts of our lives that we engage in.

We are present and consciously aware of our actions and reactions. When I'm listening to someone explain something I'm trying to understand, I will actively create mnemonic devices to commit facts to memory. When I am trying to cheer someone up, I will always look them in the eye and smile a lot (we are mimic creatures and we can effect one another's emotions with assertive social cues - how neat!).

Unfortunately there are aspects of all of our lives we aren't really sure how to deal with.

When we experience an upsetting event, do we allow our emotions to respond naturally and ride it out? Do we stop, step back, attempt to control what we're feeling and stub it out or swallow it down? When it comes to things like mental health, trauma, abuse, etc., it can be very difficult for many of us to feel confident that we know how to handle things.

My trauma

Recovering from childhood trauma is not easy. It is not quick. It is not neat or clean or painless. And it is anything but predictable or even measurable. It can sometimes also be very difficult to do alone or without professional help.

Childhood abuse causes severe, long-term trauma. Some of it you find yourself tripping over well into adulthood; many years after the initial incidents. I have been doing recovery work for going on ten years now. And even this many years after entering counseling and exploring behavioral cognitive therapy to change how I think and process information, I am still stunned sometimes at how much I unearth and how much work I have to do.

Self doubt. Imposter Syndrome. Anxiety. Worthlessness. I have a lot of markers of an abuse victim.

Impatience. Hostility. Stubbornness. Tenacity. I also have the markers of a fighter and a survivor.

Emotional sensitivity. Heightened empathy. Candid communication. Transparency. I have discovered ways to use the survival skills of being around abusive people for positive internal growth and have even found a career that enables me to utilize these traits effectively.

How I live

While I bear these scars from my childhood trauma, some traits have become helpful, but many are not. The anger and hostility, for example, have done irreparable damage on many relationships. And while the defense mechanism of protecting myself with an intimidating exterior is effective at keeping people who may harm me at bay... it also prevents those who may help me from ever reaching me. I work on this particular negative trait continuously.

I am triggered constantly. It took me many years to recognize many of my triggers, but having realized what they were also enabled me to acknowledge them and handle them in a safe, healthy way for me. Instead of ignoring their effects, I would allow myself to explore if my immediate inclined response was appropriate or if I was reacting to the trigger. In many cases I was able to identify an overreaction because of a trigger, and control my reaction. This work remains ongoing.


When I first started seeing a counselor several years ago, I started to learn how to change how I process information and how I react and why that has to be a conscious effort. Every single time. Every time I am going to react, I have stop, breathe, and think about how my brain is processing that information. In doing this, you quickly realize how illogical your abused mind is. How defensive and paranoid it can be. You have to stop the way you process and consider only the facts presented to you instead of your assumptions or your fears. You must continue doing this until your immediate inclination is not harmful or contributing to toxic thought processes.

I am happy to say that by and large my hostility has receded into a reaction that isn't common or expected any more. It was my first big challenge in my recovery. And while I still retain the ability to react in a hostile way during moments of stress, I am almost always able to manage it in a healthy way.


The two traits that cause me the most ongoing distress are my nagging self doubt and the feeling of being an imposter.

"The imposter syndrome is the inability to accept and claim accomplishments no matter what level of success, even with hard-won achievements because there is an irrational fear that you don't deserve the success or maybe you are just a fraud. Outward signs of accomplishment are seen as just good luck or good timing. An "imposter" feels as if she or he has been deceptive and has made others think he or she is more intelligent or skilled than they really are. While this is true for narcissists who don't necessarily have the resume to back up the grandiosity, it is not true for hard-won success."

To begin to understand why I experience these two traits (often in conjunction with one another), I have had to dive deep into the interactions I had growing up in the environment I had as a kid.

Once I begin to unravel the roots of where my self doubt came from (constant criticism), I have had to then explore why I have such difficulty owning my achievements and attributing my successes to my own accomplishments and not feats of 'luck' or 'fortuitous timing' or (worst of all) 'by the grace of others'.

That's all well and good to lay out like that in black and white... but that doesn't mean it's easy. It doesn't mean that in those moments I'm able to objectively and critically analyze what is going on and respond with grace and poise.

This is constant work. It is every day, all day.

How I keep getting up every day

It is you. You who made it this far. You who read all of this because you care. Because you want to understand. Because you ask. It is with the support of others around me that I'm able to keep fighting for myself. To keep plowing forward every day when I'm feeling like giving up and giving in.

I am thankful to those who support me more than I feel like I've ever been able to articulate. I am thankful for the people in my life who challenge me. Who support me completely. Who believe in me. Who know I can push through my dark times and who celebrate for me when I'm unable to. I am appreciative of the patience and understanding and genuine care and concern the people in my life have for me.

Find those people who won't walk away, and cherish them. Tell them you love them and keep them close to you. Your support network really does make the difference between actually living your life and just surviving it.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The fork... and beyond

Important parts of you change as time ticks ever onward. This is both a generalization and a simplistic view of human growth. I'm not just referring to the aging and decaying process that happens as our bodies and our minds begin to break down; but rather the psychological effects of exposure to new experiences throughout our lives.

We can allow these experiences to wash over us; leaving their mark on us... or we can immerse ourselves in those experiences. We can deconstruct those events and attempt to examine their significance to us and how those events in our lives may help us continue to grow.

Things I learned ten years ago...

With each new experience, we have an opportunity to take a step back and examine what has happened. 

Was this a positive experience? Negative? What gave me feelings one way or the other? What did it teach me? What did this event make me question about what I already knew? What effect might it have on what I currently (or used to) know to be 'true'?

There are things that can happen when you take that step back, though. And you have to be prepared for the unexpected (how profound, right?). You may find that you've suddenly realized something that upsets all of what you know. Or at least enough of it that you feel like your hold on pieces of your life are beginning to fall through your fingers.

You look at something carefully and you have this moment. It can be as clear and as astonishingly simple as finally realizing what it is you've been looking for... and suddenly your whole world comes to a halt and you're forced to question everything.

I believe these are the moments that define us. I take these moments very seriously. Those moments of impasse where I have a chance to take the terrifying leap into the unknown - in the direction of my epiphany... or I can duck my head and plow in the same direction I've been heading and trust my tenacity for endurance to keep me satiated.

With each new experience in your life, you have two questions before you:

Do you take the road you've been following and allow a fairly predictable future to unfold before you to a fairly predictable outcome?


Do you see the light on a different, fairly unpredictable path, but with more possibility for ongoing growth and fulfillment and take the leap?

Things I learned three years ago...

When I was a little less experienced, I would almost always choose the path of highest predictability. The least amount of unknown usually meant the fewest instances of unexpected stress (if you know me at all, you know this is my single biggest undoing in any given scenario). But a few decades, a boat load of experience, two moves, and a smattering of exes later... I have become pretty comfortable with the blind jump off the cliff.

I have come to trust what you could say are my instincts (which are, really, likely just a combination of critical thinking and analysis skills I have acquired and honed to such a fine point that making decisions feels seamless and obvious). Decisions to follow the unknown path have served me well so far and have always lead to a more rewarding life.

Things I'm only now realizing...

You may reach a point where decisions aren't as simple as one path or another. So what do you do in that case? What do you do when you catch a glimpse of the future and it isn't where you want to be headed? Additionally, what do you do if the alternative may give you more immediate gratification but has more unknowns than you're comfortable with?

Is it possible that blazing a whole different path is an option? It is possible that having seen both paths clearly that neither of them is suitable? Am I capable of stepping completely off both paths and going forward with nothing more than a guide that tells me where I don't want to be...?

I don't have the answers I want. Or the answers I feel that I need.

I may be headed toward what may be a blind leap into total unknown.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Photo Frame Collage Project

I've seen these photo wall collages for years and have always thought they are a clever way of clustering neat visual elements.

Many moons ago, when I was still rocking a 35mm camera, I tended to have a ton of physical photos kicking around. After a lot of years of collecting frames for all my photos, I had ended up with a pretty decent stockpile of neat frames.  So I had an idea of creating a cool wall collage with the nicest of the ones I had collected.

The only problem: they were all different colors that didn't really go well together. Solution: painting time!!

Conveniently, I had some paint left over from the table refurbish project, so I simply used that to repaint the frames I had.

Once I had the frames finished, I arranged them in about a dozen ways to try to figure out what worked with what I had and came up with this layout.

Once I had the frame configuration figured out, it took me a while to decide what I wanted to do with what would go inside them. Finally, I decided to fill each frame with pieces of cloth from my quilt project.

Then began the task of getting this bad boy up on the wall. I didn't take photos of how I did this part (mostly because there was a giant mess during the process and I like pretending like all my projects are well organized and always super clean haha).

Here's how I suggest doing this:
  1. Make a layout plan on the floor or a large table (mind spacing and sizes and designs as much as possible)
  2. Turn over each frame and place a strip of parchment paper or news papers over the backs of the frames. 
  3. Feeling through the paper, mark where each frame will be hung. 
  4. Using a laser level, make sure the markers are level and tape your paper to the wall where the frames will go.
  5. Drill small holes through the paper into your wall to prepare for slightly larger nails (if you have heavy frames, you may want to use screws instead of nails)
  6. Hammer in your nails and pull off the paper from the wall
  7. Hang your frames

Protip: when drilling holes in walls (especially if you have plaster walls like I do), to avoid the mess, stick folded post-it notes to the wall under the place where you're going to drill your hole so that it catches all the wall mess. I learned this trick a few years ago and have been using it ever since!

Here's how mine turned out!