I actually toyed with naming this “Hiding From The Proverbial 2×4”, since I am usually slow on seeing the signs around me, but I am working on that! Ever a work in progress!!
Originally published here at “Inner Critic To Champion” at Weeds and Wildflowers, I talk about my struggle with my inner critic and how the past couple of weeks I have been inundated with signs to speak out about my journey. Hoping my journey can help you on yours ❤
I’m starting this year with that whole “clean slate” deal for the first time here in 2017. And I’m able to do so with a little (OK, maybe a lot) of help from my friends.
I have spent a lot of my youth and adult life living a duality. Working to mirror on the outside what I thought was expected, that which would keep questions from being asked: I was happy, smiling, smart, shy, responsible. I kept my temper in check. I was a good example.
All the while, inside I roiled in pain, anger, fear, and darkness. I was constantly worried the truth would come out, that when it did I would prove to be unlovable. I lived my life in near panic. I considered suicide as a teen, became a cutter to deal with the emotions I couldn’t deal with or express.
The idea, and then the reality, of becoming a mom was my saving grace. Sounds cliche, I know, but it’s true. It was the one thing I was sure I would do well. It IS my skill set. My Trinity makes all that I have been through a lesson for their benefit, something to spare them from. My silver linings.
As I have slogged through some truly awful, dark, and dangerous times, I have in the last year emerged on the other side with a small army of loyal skeletons ready to bask in the light. They are facts and facets of my life, but they no longer chain me down. (They do, however, make some people really, really uncomfortable). The more the light bleaches the rot from them, the more I realize that I would not be who I am without having survived them. There can be a certain peace found in seeing beauty in that tragedy.
The first to emerge was the the admission that the “perfect couple” that the outside world saw did not, in fact, exist. I suffered from financial, emotional, and mental subjugation. I had lost myself in a quest to protect my littles, given up my sense of self and self respect to keep them safe behind closed doors. Eggshells and fear were the constant companions. Let’s call him Uno.
Skelly made his way out when I refused to deny being sexually assaulted as a teacher. I suffer from PTSD from that experience, and it brought back to the forefront issues from past abuses. I regained a sense of power through counseling and from introducing Skelly to the world. I was (am) a sexual assault survivor, and I am damn proud of what I have managed to live through.
I think the most frightening one to come through the closet door, the one who had needed the most coaxing, has been Lily. She has suffered the longest in silence, the one that was the most afraid to come out to the light. From the moment she listened to “want to see what my mom did last night?” (made cookies? a new hairdo? danced?) at 8 and then realized that she was mired into a 3 year reign of sexual molestation, followed by 6 more years of daily bullying and torture with “if you don’t do X, I will make sure (your mom, dad, neighbor you idolize, friends) knows what dirty scum you are. Then who will love you?” It wasn’t until this summer that I was able, with the innocent comment of my youngest to coax me, to bring Lily out, to introduce her to my parents and tell the story.
I can’t express to you the freedom I have felt after flinging that closet door open fully. And I don’t want to make it sound like it was some easy process, and that you should find it so. It was agonizing, to be truthful. It has taken years. And I had the help of counselors, family, and wonderful friends to see me through the process. To hold my hand and assure me at each step that I was, indeed, still worthy. Still loved. Each hidden truth that escaped, big and small ~ each thing that cracked the facade of who I had built up as that image I thought I had to be, has been terrifying; gut wrenching. But as I have torn down that outer layer, bit by bit, the person I have discovered, that core of Me, is someone I am proud to be.
Through Lily, Uno, Skelly, and others that now dance in the sunlight, I became the person I am. Though I would never wish these experiences on others, I learned strength, resiliency, faith, and compassion. I recognize pain in others and aim to help soothe their suffering. I have been able to give my pain purpose and can look back and see how it has served to help others already. And that makes their sunlit romps and dancing all the more enjoyable!
To anyone on a similar journey, May God Be With You, and please know that you are not alone…
I grew up on Disney movies. I am a sucker for the good triumphing over evil, the underdog pulling through in the end, true love’s first kiss, and that whole Happily Ever After bit. Now that appeals to me, quite a bit. Throw in a pretty gown and a sparkling tiara and I’m sold on the fairy tale.
Shockingly, with Disney-esque expectations, love has proved to be quite a conundrum as the reality of the day AFTER Happily Ever After kicks in.
I suppose, to be fair Mr. Disney did have Cinderella work her butt off, Sleeping Beauty did have to battle a jealous fairy, Snow White was dealing with her own issues on jealousy. Ariel made some pretty ill advised decisions and Jasmine showed quite a temper. So I probably could have been more prepared if I’d been looking for the cues.
Trouble is, we expect the hard part to be the finding of and falling into love. That once you have it within your grasp, the easy part begins.
And that really is love’s biggest conundrum; as easy as it is to love someone’s heart and soul, the everyday reality of dealing with them is really, really hard!
Nothing could have ever really prepared you for that moment when those walls finally fell and let someone truly into your heart, how vulnerable and complete you would feel. There was no guideline to prepare for the sense of camaraderie when the two of you shared your plans, fears, and desires or the the heartbreak of that first real argument, when that information was used against you in the heat of the moment as cannon fodder. Not an inkling of what it would be like to watch your partner get sick, or the immense relief of knowing that they would be ok and you played a role in their recovery. And what about the things that even love can’t fix?
I’ve learned that life, and love, is far more complicated than I ever imagined. But it’s intricacies offer breathtaking moments, harsh lessons, and above all, joy. In a world where so many focus on filters, Photoshop, and staged photo ops is it any wonder that we have such unrealistic expectations of something as romanticized as love? And yet, by placing such grandiose requirements we miss out on the joy of the real connection that we are desperately seeking.
Picture this if you will: The radio is on, I was dancing around the kitchen, singing to Chassis (my pup), working on my third batch of cookies for the holidays. Chassis is sitting near the foot of the table, head cocked, looking at me like his human has lost her marbles, when it hits me.
I AM happy.
Come to think of it, I have been on a happy streak lately.
Now, I analyze things. A lot. Probably too much. And in this moment I am dumbfounded at the realization. The timing of this revelation is pretty crazy, in fact. Holidays are typically really difficult for me. And I’ve been dealing with some issues. And yet, here I am, giggling and twirling, singing into my spoon as Chris Stapleton and I perform an ah-mazing (just ask Chassis) duet together. So, how did I get here?
It started with a dance…
Ever had one of those days when you just need to toss reality in the closet for few hours and go have fun? These are so few and far between for me, but I was visiting my sister and the Trinity was with their dad. A splurge seemed necessary. I heard of a concert that night, at a place I used to go to that had a great house band and a super dance floor.
I hadn’t planned on actually dancing, just listening and people watching. Its been a long time since I had been out dancing. No need to get run over on the dance floor, but I also couldn’t quite manage to sit still as I watched with my sister, either. Eventually, a very kind (and very patient) gentleman asked if I would like to do the Texas Two Step. Four steps, its easy, he said. Easy? Poor guy! My over analyzing took “slooow, slooow, quick, quick” and performed some sort of calculus before it made it to my feet. God bless him, he smiled and pulled me aside. He said “dancing is like life, sometimes we overthink it. You just need to slow yourself down and catch on to the rhythm of things”. After some (more) lessons and a bit more philosophy discussion we started to make progress. A second song and around the floor we went, smoother this time.
From the Two Step to West Coast Swing (my favorite), the ChaCha and even a line dance or two, every twirl around the floor, each measured step brought a smile. That little bit of cheerleading count OCD was fulfilling some happy part of my brain. And then I was pulled back out on the dance floor one more time to “just dance”. No counts, just go with the music. Umm, was that even possible partner dancing?? Time to shush the OCD overthinker and go with the flow.
You know those scenes in movies where you see two people dance and they just mesh together? Well, not sure it looked like that from the outside, but when your partner is an actual instructor, it makes you feel pretty much like you are living that. Bucket list moment fulfilled ~ I lived a movie dance scene. We twirled and shimmied, I was dipped and spun. Oh my goodness, how I laughed! And the joy that I felt as I let go of the need for counts and perfection, just enjoying the moment, radiated from the core of my soul. I may have sparkled just as much as the disco ball above by the time the song ended! I had tapped into those moments that had brought me joy in the past and pulled them forward into my Now.
The best part? That dance is still in my Now! I find it in the car going to pick up the kids from school and when I am singing in the shower. I find it when I am walking Chassis and randomly add in a dance step. It shows up when my son goes in to hug me and we end up spinning around in the kitchen, or my youngest and I start dancing together and when my oldest and I are belting out hairbrush duets. And, lucky for Chassis, it shows up when I twirl around while baking cookies…
When I was young, we used to take a week long family vacation every summer to visit my Aunt and Uncle in Ohio. It was a 9 hour trek, that my brother and I, and sometimes my older sister, would make in the back of a pickup truck. Crazy visual there, huh? Wind whipping through our hair… Umm, no. Pretty posh for us littles at the time ~ A cover for the bed of the truck, a twin mattress with the zoo themed sheet so we could determine territories. A cooler filled with snacks and a cassette player with The Oak Ridge Boys playing Elvira on repeat
until my mother thought she would go insane. And then a week of swimming, cornfields, ice cream, and cousins. I hold very happy memories of those weeks away from home.
Life had dealt me some pretty big blows and I really wanted, to be honest I really NEEDED, to get away and create happy memories with my children. I felt I had to offer them something better to look back on than what we had just survived. Without a lot of money, it couldn’t be a big Disney-esque treat. But
perhaps that good old fashioned road trip would work.
When it came time to plan a family vacation with my three, times had changed. No more rolling around in the back of the truck playing with stuffed animals and matchbox cars, wrestling and snuggling up to fall asleep on your own bed to travel. It was uncomfortable booster seats, seat belts and a pretty optimistic plan for a first trip. From the Southern Adirondacks to Memphis to visit my best friend from elementary school, then home via Charlotte to see my sister and “brother”, Hershey park if the kids were good on the way home. 18 days…
OK, a little background here. At this point I was separated, just beginning to gain back my footing and starting to recognize bits and pieces of myself in the mirror. My self image, self worth, and self confidence had been pretty battered and bruised. As I started to plan the logistics I started to panic. Could I really do this? What if something happened along the way? To me, to the car, to the kids… I knew I needed to do this, but I also knew I needed support. Who better to call in for help than Grandma???
Almost 3 weeks unfettered access to her grandbabies?? And I promised no Elvira?? She was in! And so began our “Southern Adventure” in late June of 2010. We planned to drive no more that 6 hours a day, stopping each day to find something to break up the monotony of the drive. Every 2 hours to stretch little legs and fill little bellies to prevent meltdowns. Day 1 was the last day of school, we headed to Grandma’s to add her suitcase to the pile and get a good night’s rest before stealing her from
Grampa. A big celebratory send off of ice cream that night set the tone.
Day 2 was probably the most stressful for me, and it was those first few hours. As we came closer to the NY/PA border every self doubt and fear came to the forefront ~ what if I really couldn’t do this? My ex had told me he didn’t have the time to come rescue me when it all went to hell in a handbasket. Did having Mom
along counter that? Would it be enough? Was I enough to keep my kids safe? My heart raced, my chest constricted, my grip on the wheel tightened. Ethel, the GPS we bought specifically for the trip (and the kids felt needed a name), showed that state line creeping ominously closer… and suddenly we were in Pennsylvania.
Wait, what? We just rolled right on through the line? No tire blow
out? No engine blowing up? Miles ticked off and the kids still chattered and sang in the back. We continued to roll. I laughed out loud. My little world had just literally opened its borders! We had Ethel, Rand McNally, and AAA TripTiks to work from. We knew we had construction coming up so we stopped for a potty break and a snack. To this day, crazy as it seems, one of the most memorable things on that trip was the crazy timed relay
races we ran that second day at that rest area, and the fact that I ran with them.
My son picked up a coupon book for hotels, and suddenly our accommodation worries (the only worry my mother carried across the border) vanished. Visitor centers at each state line provided us with inspiration for adventures. Amazing caverns, a float museum, a giant Cootie, and an aquarium helped entertain us on our way to Memphis. There we walked a scale replica of the Mighty Mississippi at Mud Island and visited the Memphis Zoo with one of my best friends.
Our goal was to put feet in as many states as possible, so our trip to North Carolina brought us through Corinth, MS (picked because we lived near Corinth, NY), Alabama, and Georgia before heading to Maggie Valley (for obvious reasons!) and then the Charlotte, NC area. We happened upon an amazing Civil War Interpretive Center, playgrounds, a gorgeous rest area with a little nature walk, and tried buttermilk pie on our way. While visiting my sister, my son celebrated his birthday and we were schooled on NASCAR and
the rodeo, big hits with us all!
Keeping Hershey Park as an “If You Are Good” reward worked beautifully – as we rounded out our 3000 mile trip with stops at Luray Caverns and Natural Bridge to explore the history and beauty of the area, the kids had learned enough to ask wonderful questions of the guides. And our trip to Hershey was a few days surrounded by chocolate nirvana as we rested up to trek home.
Another night at Grandma’s to return her to Grampa and fill his ears with all our adventures, and then three tired lil’ monkeys headed back to the Southern Adirondacks filled with memories that 6 year later still pop up randomly in conversation.
For me, this trip was cathartic. Something inside me broke free the more miles I put between myself and that NY border. With every turn of the wheel, I was proving that I was capable of
planning and implementing a safe trip. That I was able to provide for my littles, keep them safe and sound, but most importantly I was giving them some wonderful memories that, no matter what came next, no one could steal. WE would always have this adventure.
This trip did more than give the 5 of us great memories, it forged a bond between us through these shared experiences. We have inside jokes that we have explained to others, but no one really “gets” exactly, like we do. We problem solved together, the 5 of us working to formulate a plan for the day, to pick out a landing zone for the evening, deciding if the pool or free breakfast was
more important that night as we searched. We supported each other as a team, even if we were tired, hungry, and cranky. We made it, all 18 days, all 3000 miles, together!
Since that trip I have happily added states and adventures to my list. I am at 275,000+ miles now as the kids and I continue our adventures, keeping traditions that began on our “Southern Adventure”. This one trip changed my whole outlook on who I was and what I was capable of. It was truly a blessing!
Every day can bring us a new adventure, an opportunity to reframe how we look at ourselves, our circumstance, our world. I wish for you many happy memories on your journeys!! 🙂
All the pieces of my life do build into the complex puzzle of who I am today.
For me, my life has been a cycle of many different journeys. Basically, I can snap my life pictures into three bundles.
When I was young until around the time I turned 18, I lived my life in fear and resentment. Abused on several different levels, most of that time was spent as a shy person who didn’t seek to make new friends and just went by day to day. Wondering which day would hopefully be my last.
In 1995, a bad car accident landed me in the hospital with 18 hours worth of reconstructive surgery on my face. I had smashed my face against the steering wheel and dash. I had fallen asleep at the wheel, gone into the ditch and flipped over a driveway.
After feeling alone most of my young life, I began to realize the impact I had on those around me. As my room started filling with flowers, plants, balloons and cards, I began to see that maybe my family wasn’t the rude assholes standing in corners whispering how I was ruined and disfigured now.
Those 10 days in the hospital changed my life dramatically. The following days and weeks did too. As my family left me alone in a wheelchair, unable to get down the hall to use the bathroom or reach the top of my stove to cook myself a meal, I changed. I became determined to ask for help when I needed it. A new and foreign concept to me at the time.
Later in life, at 32 years old, my life took another turn. Now faced with the loss of a major chunk of my family (their choosing) and wondering where I went wrong, I started counseling for the first time. This is where I learned so much and I’m so grateful for the guidance I was given.
Thinking I was somehow flawed, I learned about narcissistic tendencies. I learned about mental, verbal and emotional abuse. I learned that I didn’t even know my own likes and dislikes.
My life has been filled with trying new things. I had focused most of my life trying to find the place I fit in, always with someone else rule book. I always liked my jobs but I never really had that excitement to get out of bed every morning.
I’ve worked all over the place in many different career paths. I’ve been a retail associate, a housekeeper at a hotel, a front desk clerk, a fly fishing instructor, newsprint advertising, a marketing rep, a car salesman, a used car buyer, a painter and I was still lost!
My counselor convinced me to go buy a little $30 point and shoot camera. I armed myself with a 3.1mp Kodak EasyShare camera. My mission was simple. I was to photograph anything and everything that interested me.
After the first couple of days, I found myself seeking out things that sparked my interest. I discovered my love of the countryside panaromas, barns, fields of flowers, sunrises and sunsets, and livestock. As time went on, I started feeling the pull of all this “stuff”.
As this progressed, I learned I loved calves and cows. The photos were plentiful. I would go visit people with dairy cows and horses. I would visit beef farms. Until one fateful day, I had the chance to try something very new.
I was given a calf. A calf all my own to raise. I had an area I could house and raise it. I got out of bed with excitement. I bottle fed, brushed and halter trained that little guy. I feel in LOVE!
My life is a culmination of trying new things. A new counselor led me to a camera and now I have a side career as an agricultural photographer. My love of motor sports has translated into photographing truck and tractor pulls, and sometimes you’ll find me at a race track photographing race cars.
My love of cattle and farms has lead me to building a farm from the ground up. From those fateful days of one lone steer to 42 head of cattle, a small poultry flock and now pigs.
That fateful counselor led me into a journey of self discovery. The discovery that I am and always will be a FARM GIRL.
All of those experiences from my past still play into what I do today. I market my farm and my photography work. I know how to retail my work. I know how to pleasantly answer phones and book farm visitors. I know what paints and stains are good for farm projects. I know how to shop for used goods from feeders to pickups.
Every new experience has given me new friends. I’ve gained so much knowledge and experience. It’s created a career in passionate about.
Don’t ever be afraid to step into the unknown, you never know what key it may hold to unlock another experience!