January 11 – Memorial

Today, if you don’t know, is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. If you don’t know, it’s ok, you do now. I have had ups and downs with this today. I want to do something, say something, be something more today of all days. I was trafficked as a child, it was sex trafficking. There are other forms of trafficking, and for the most part you would never know by looking at a person if they were trafficked at some point in their life. They could be male or female, any race, speak any language, or be any age. The trafficker could be or have been a family member, a caretaker, a boyfriend, a husband, a supposed employer, or possibly a stranger. Trafficking includes forced labor, prostitution, slavery, and sex trafficking.

I have made a lot of progress in my own recovery. My experience was thirty years ago, and sometimes it is very hard to stay fully present and remember who I am now. I have to remember to stay where I am and not leap ahead into where I want to be instead of where I am. I want to be resolved, healed, and active in this movement. Its not a movement to me, but my life. There is a lot that has happened, and there is so much more awareness now than there was before. It is also at a point where there is a lot of more work to do, especially in the ways of treating, supporting, and helping survivors.

I want to be done with this part of it. I want to be done with the struggles. I want to be done with the memories, with the relearning, with figuring out boundaries, and how to ask for help. I don’t want to keep feeling like I am still more survivor than thriver. I want to skip it all and move on to helping others. I have had to realize that would be detrimental to myself and those I seek to help. If I skip these in between steps, if I rush ahead into trying to be whole, then I miss the lasting healing that I wish to help others find. If I rush, then I miss out on forging the new pathways in my mind to find other ways of living, believing, and behaving.

I want to change the world I live in and first I have to begin with me. I have to make peace with my past. I don’t just mean peace with the trauma, I mean being at peace with my own decisions and my own mistakes. I have to face who I have been, and the things I have done. Some of them have been because I didn’t understand or know that there was another way, but the guilt and damage and consequences still exist inside of me. I have done things I am not proud of, I have chosen to turn against myself numerous times, and I have broken my own promises over and over.

I am moving forward with my life. In order to move forward, I must first face who I used to be. I can’t sugar coat it even for my own sake. I can’t beat myself up about it because that is not the point. The point is to realize that I am no longer the same. I am not fully healed, but my steps are not taking the same familiar paths of old. I am stepping on new ground as a new person. Who I am is not in absence of who I used to be, but a stronger, wiser, and more resilient self. My day will come when I can do more than talk and share my story. My day will come where I join the ranks changing the world one person, one act, one piece at a time.

Hope Burns

The world is new today, and it has nothing to do with the beginning of a year. It is new because I have taken a fork in the road. My journey now is different from ever before. It is  fresh snow and a path not taken. It begins with hope and a dream.

I am a trauma survivor. I have complex PTSD from 4 years of being trafficked when I was young. I have reached a point in my recovery where I am more healed than damaged. The problem with being healed is it is new and untried. My brain in all of its glory is familiar with the other way, that is what it knows. It’s the down hill trail with fewest obstructions. The fact that I am attempting to take a new path to end with a different result is often inconsequential to the normal functioning of my brain.

There is a battle waging each day within my heart and mind. This battle is different from ever before because it is not a fight for survival. I am no longer awakening each day to talk myself into living, breathing, and working. I am now fighting for the permanent changes within myself. At times I find this battle as complex and heated as the fight to live.

I had a really good Christmas this year, and I could not enjoy it. Through the trauma therapy, I came to realize that I expect bad things to happen in direct proportion to the good things that happen to me. So, if I get a compliment I expect at least one if not more insult and tear down. Every gift is followed with a loss. My trauma brain does not trust goodness and kindness for it cannot last. I am going back to school starting next week. I am going back to pursue a dream that is mine and not someone else’s. For Christmas, my parents bought me a laptop. I got to watch my niece and nephew open their presents and be so very joyful. Inside, each good thing that happened to me and that I witnessed hurt and felt like I was being lashed.

With my counselor, I was able to sit and explore what was going on inside. My abuser/trafficker used to make me pay for every compliment or good thing that happened to me. There was a cost for every lollipop from a bank teller to every present from unknowing parents and grandparents. The cost was taken from me in secret, but I had learned that I didn’t deserve good things. I also learned to only accept the good I was willing to pay for. But the people in my life now are healthy and wonderful people, they don’t expect a return on a meal bought, gift given, or laugh shared.

My trauma brain, in an effort to keep the scales balanced would give me a cup inside for the good things. Anything that overfilled the cup resulted in an internal shut down. I could only be so happy, so joyful, so delighted every day. The size of the cup would change based on things that I do not comprehend. Some days my cup was large enough to encompass a full day of good things big and small. Other days my cup would be filled with a sincere thank you. This Christmas my cup was so very small that is filled days before the holiday began, and I did not even realize it.

I am choosing to pick up hope for the first time since I cast it aside at the age of 6. I haven’t faced what made me give it up yet, and I am sure I will someday. I don’t need it for today. I just need to pick it up first. It’s like a piece of driftwood that has been washed up on shore after spending years beaten by the waves. The letters can barely be seen, and they are almost too shallow to be felt by the softest touch. The simple act of picking it up burns away the rotting wood and reveals the metal inside. The heat radiates into me, glowing with the warmth of a new day in early spring.

I know what my brain is trying to do, and that means I can deal with it. I can fight the lies that say that I have a limit on goodness with the truth that there are no such limits in existence. I can love others without limits as well, though I imagine that will also involve more battles as well. I must stay present first. When I feel the welling desire to run and flee, I must stand and be aware instead. Hope and kindness burn, but not with the fire of damage. They burn because they are awakening what has been long dead inside. Jesus is my savior, and that does not stop with my salvation. He redeems it all.

 

Living without Walls

I have reached a strange impasse in my growth and healing. I feel even more like a stranger in a strange land. I have spent my whole life adjusting myself to all circumstances and people, a perfect wallflower. I would be a part of a group, and yet always on the outskirts with no one really knowing me. I was neither too loud not too quiet. If the group appreciated enthusiam, then that was me. If it was always quiet, then that was me, so quiet my very presence could be forgotten.

The environments have hated the most were ones where there were so many variances in the atmosphere, I would almost split myself into pieces trying to Glen into the environment. I can remember being aware of this part of myself, and also being oblivious until someone would make a comment about me that seemed bizarre to me. I have been called an extrovert by the extroverts, fearless and confident, quiet and reserved, shy and bold; and all of these by people in the same group. They have seen me for several years. They have known me in various circumstances. I am all of these things and none.

I am at the point in my healing where enough of the roots have been dug out, chains have been released, and walls broken; that I can honestly look about as a new creature and start to dream and think. Who am I? What do I like? What do I want to be? What are my desires? The one I wrestle with the most is do I really have the right to be?

I am 36 years old, and I am trying to dream as never before. I am dreaming of things and places and events as if I had not one worry. All things are possible, and then as the freedom flies out from me, my insides quake with fear. A fear so great that I immediately shift into survival mode and disappear from being fully present. I am afraid of freedom.

Freedom is an unknown. Who am I without these chains, I don’t know but the scariness has led to self harm. The inner turmoil of emotions are scary even if they are good and hopeful emotions, my mind cannot comprehend. I can comprehend pain. I know how to deal with that. That has an answer unlike hope and dreams.

Then, of course, my old friends guilt and recrimination stop by to visit for awhile. I’m breaking the cycle bit by bit. I have found it better to reach out to others. I cannot always share what is going on, but just not being alone helps. I have also found a great relief by being honest when I can about the self harm. It removes a lot of the guilt and humiliation. Its easier to breathe without those added weights. Its also easier to work out my thinking with other people, especially when it feels counter to the situation, like being full of hope and instead seeking injury because that is a known quantity. I don’t want to live like that. Pain is not the solution.

For me, at least for now, the solution is harder than the pain. I have to slow my brain and deal with each fear. I have to be ok with the emotions and become comfortable with all of the emotions. There is only one way to do this task. I must stay. I must leave the walls down. I must try things for myself, an I must be ok if I am different from those around me. I must take the shaky steps forward toward my impossible dreams.

I must put down my weapons, inside and outside. I will look in the mirror, and I will come to know the amazing woman in the reflection. I will find the dreams of the long lost little girl, and I will put her safe in my heart. I will keep stepping out in freedom, and even if I stumble, I know how to rise again.

Until next time…

Light in Darkness

This morning was beautiful. I woke up at the ridiculously early hour of 5:30 am, so I could be bright and cheerful for working at church today. I am so not a morning person and those extra moments with me and the coffee are best for all I encounter. I made it there when I intended, attacked the day with vigor and joy. I fixed what needed fixing, and I watched and took care of things before they could be a problem.

I walked into my day full of light and the hope that had been recently kindled by my forward progress. I have reached a new level in my healing, and it felt wonderful to finally realize that I have honestly accepted the memories as truth. It was easier to think I was crazy or that it was all my fault. I had to deal with the internal struggle of realizing that there are people in this world that hurt children intentionally. That they hurt me intentionally. It was an accidental destruction of me as a child, and it also was not my fault.

Some parts of that will likely need to processed more than once as they are hard things to fully accept. Some times I think the reason it is so hard for non survivors to listen and accept the things we say is for the simple reason that we, as humans, don’t want to think that the every day people walking around can do that much intentional damage to another human being. The intentional nature of abuse, rape, murder, or any other violence inflicted upon people rips the rose colored glasses that wear right off our noses. If things like that can happen, do happen, and it isn’t just a wrong place, wrong time event, then we aren’t as safe as we like to believe. If we cannot do all the things in a magical formula to keep ourselves safe, then its harder to have hope. It’s harder to see the light.

I’m writing this tonight in the midst of my own darkness. Right now this moment is so hard. My switch was flipped today as I sat and watched children play in the lobby of my church. They were so beautiful and carefree. The parents and other adults were completely unconcerned. They were not creating havoc or interfering. When they needed a hug or parental attention, they were  gathered in even as the adults continued to talk. I could feel it, in that moment, my heart seized and another wall cracked.

I wasn’t expecting this one. I’ve dealt with a lot of the obvious walls as a childhood sexual assault survivor, and this one came at me from left field. I had to journal to really get to the point. When I was being abused all those years ago, the house was very cold emotionally. The only freedom was in those times when it was just me and my small family. Any times with W (wife) and P (pastor), were so regulated and stifled. Children were seen and not heard. If I was seen or heard, the consequences were harsh and always when my parents were not around.

I’m afraid of adults attention both positive and negative. I struggle with compliments. I struggle with being noticed in any way, and I am an adult living in a world full of adults. This is a ground breaking realization that will no doubt lead to an even deeper healing and growth. Right now it feels like I have had a hole blown through my chest. The tears keep falling. Tears that soften the hardest edges of my heart. Tears that express the ache of my heart that did not have the freedom to run and play as a child. Tears that drown the pain that shakes the foundations that I have built during all of these years of survival.

The pain is hard to continue to feel. My mind reaches to all of the things I once used to get past, over, and around these emotions for all of my years, anything except actually feeling. I want to live, and I want life with every breath I breathe. I get up each morning and choose to live. I want love. I want joy. I want to dance, climb rocks, and go white water rafting. I want to do all of the things I have only ever read about or seen in movies. Live, not just borrow other’s lives.

This moment is very hard. Thoughts of self-injury are there. The suicidal thoughts that really only ever fade are bright and incessant in my mind. I know the path those both will lead me down, and I don’t want to go that way again. Instead, I will feel and cry the ugly tears that heal. I will text or call crisis lines, and I will speak even when I don’t wan to say the words. It’s hard to admit how present those thoughts are in my mind. It feels like I’ve lost ground, but I haven’t. I am following the path of healing, and some days even though I continue forward, it feels like the unbearable pain of the worst days of my life.

I am not who I used to be. I am not alone no matter what the darkness whispers. I am not an inconvenience. Even though I still don’t understand or really feel it, I am loved and wanted.

There is always light in the darkness even if it is only the reflection of the moon in a pool of tears. There is hope, there is help. I write this not just for me, but for all of us sitting in the dark wondering if it is really this hard, and wondering if there is a better day. The world needs you. The world needs me. Stay this night.

Until Next Time….

Anger

Where am I today? I am at a point in my recovery/healing journey where I just have to be honest. I cannot hide from those who love me. I cannot downplay the depth of feelings. I cannot be afraid to show my fears and anxieties. I am at a point where the rubber meets the road, and this all becomes real. I can no longer live in a state of denial or semi-denial. It’s the time where I have to say it over and over, I was trained and sold. I was a slave. I was trafficked. I was forced to do things that no person, let alone a child, should ever have to do.

I am at the point where I have to trust in bits and pieces, that those who are in my life want to know all of me. They want to know me even on the bad days. They are not afraid of the darkness because it has always been there and it is not me. They may choose to put up boundaries for their own sake but that is not a rejection of me. They really do love me, and by choosing continuously to deny them access to my life, I am shutting off the very reason I have undertaken this journey. I want love. I want to love, and to be loved. I want intimacy between relationships, not in the sense of a physicality, but in the sense of two souls sharing life.

I am coming to terms with two realities that I am facing. I am angry. It’s ok to be angry. I have misunderstood anger my whole life, and it took this process to even see it. Last week, I discovered that my latest bout with emotional numbness had nothing to do with sadness, fear, or a new memory. My numbness came because of anger. I couldn’t figure out why without my counselor’s help. He helped to put words to it, but mostly he helped to slow down and really try to track the emotions to where the hang ups were in my past. When I thought of anger, I saw in my mind the cold cruelty of w who enjoyed my pain. When I thought of anger, I saw in my mind the uncontrolled verbal rage of my dad. Those were options when I thought of anger, and, in defense, my mind didn’t want to be either one so it chose to go numb.

Neither of those is true anger. Anger is not rage. Anger is not cruelty. Anger is not pain. Anger is a proper response to injustice. It is a righteous response to handle those situations in life where injustice happens, from bullying to cruelty. Anger is about standing up and speaking out in this world. It is not meant to be a weapon used against one another. Anger is not an emotion to fear; it is a path to courage. Anger is not about tearing down another or proving my point. Anger states that is wrong, it is not ok, and it must be fixed. Anger can change the world especially when tempered with love for myself and also for all those who are my neighbors, near and far. A neighbor is not a physical description, but an emotional one.

I have found as I journey that my family is more vast than I have every been able to appreciate. As the walls fall, as my heart breaks and heals, as my mind is opened, as the scar tissue falls away, I am able to see how full my life has truly become.

I am angry and it is a thing of beauty.

Girl of mine, that is me

There once was a girl pretty and bright. She wore pigtails in her hair, and dragged dollies by their arms. Her hair was red, and her smile lit up the room.

She awoke each morning cheerful and light, clearing the cobwebs with pure delight. Her heart was full, and her laughter blew away the darkest night.

An evil came one day, secrets and tales wound deep inside. The roots carved away her light, and drove her deeper and deeper into the night. Her face split to hide the night from those she loved with all her might.

Evil tried to turn her heart from brightest light to darkest night. It tore and ripped, she screamed and cried, but her heart still stayed with the light.

She hid her hope deep inside and swore her light would not due. Her grip was less each passing day, and her heart grew slowly grey. Her face froze and she forgot to speak, her secrets were hers to keep.

Freedom came on a sunny day, and all was washed away. Her face forgot the saddest side and only smiled, laughed, and sighed. She grew up, she grew strong. She was wise, and gentle, and small. Evil visited again and again, but never as dark as where her secrets began.

There came a time when the darkness seeped and writhed and wormed its way to her face. She could no longer deny its trace. Her mind would not remember the roots, but she felt the pain and felt the truth.

She wanted no more of this life, and she could not carry on her fight. She tried and tried, but alive she stayed. She learned to cry and grieve and crawl. She learned to scream and shout and stand. She learned her voice, her run, her way. She grew even older and wiser.

She turned to those behind and sought to lift and teach and grow. She passed her voice and thoughts around. She loved them and gave her all. She would not know what was about to be, she could not see what was to happen next. A friend, he was, who took his life. He broke her heart, and the secrets tumbled out.

She could no longer hide the slpit within, and now the fight must begin. She wants to live this girl of mine. She wants to be and do and see. She wants to be whole and true and free. This girl of mine that is me.

Turtle is my spirit animal

I would love to say my spirit is a tiger or a mountain lion, an eagle or a hawk, a deer or a horse, but they are not realistic. I am a turtle in pretty much every way. I have carried my home with me everywhere with the baggage as well. I retreat within my walls at the slightest provocation. I am soft and gentle wrapped within a shell that can withstand any force. I survive. I know how to do that.
I have survived by hiding and keeping secrets my whole life. I have hidden the secrets so far within myself that finding the roots of my fears and worries is like going on an archaeological dig Indiana Jones style, only it’s all adrenaline and very little of what most people would call reward. My rewards are tears streaming down my face as I speak words no little girl should ever know. My rewards come in torrents of memories that beat my mind and body and spirit as I trip through my acceptance journey. Rewards are days when I am fully present at an everyday event, and even when I am triggered I do not retreat but allow others to see my reality. Rewards are experiencing the wide variance of emotions and not just the extremes.
I have carried my safety with me since I was little afraid to set aside the thick protection crafted from my survival. There has really never been a person I have allowed past more than a few layers. There are layers upon layers built upon each other until my shell is diamond strength from years of pressure and fire. I cannot even penetrate the depths of my heart. The secrets even hide from me. I seek them out, and pursue them one by one. I chase the roots of my pain to find the end that I may rip out the poison and release a little more of the light shine in the dark. My shell is not as whole as it was once. I have opened many wounds and ripped the roots from deep inside. I still carry my shell, and seek to retreat within whenever my heart or pain is exposed.
I have recently begun sharing my truth. I have told several people I was trained for sex at the age of 4 and trafficked by my Pastor and his wife. I say the words or type them in a forum, and as soon as they react, I must run away. It is not that I am not heard or that they are not supportive. It is that I cannot believe they believe. Why would they believe? How could they believe? How could they say my how that must have been hard? How could they believe it was bad? It couldn’t have been that bad. It wasn’t that bad. I would rather deny my own validation, my own truth than believe it is on par with all survivors truth. I run from it. The more I speak, the more my heart runs wild wanting to escape. Secrets have been my life. But secrets are not easy to hold, and they become heavier with the passing of time.
I am the Turtle inching my way forward in my recovery and my healing. I am slow and steady. I am brave. I walk forward not able to see very far, taking each step in hope and faith that I am going the right way. I am strong from carrying this weight for so long, and I am able to handle the work as hard as it is to face. I still carry my walls with me, but there are fewer than ever before. My journey is continuing with each truth told, and the love I am shown in return, even when I run from that love. There will come a day where I will stand and take that love and accept it as my own. That love will be more worthy of my time than all of the secrets I have carried for too long. That love is lighter than air and relieves the force of what has been holding me down all these years.
My spirit animal is a turtle, and it truly is a thing of beauty.