April is almost gone, just twelve days to go. Usually, grief latches on as the calendar page turns from March to April. Depression soon fills all the creases and crevices from my inside out, leaving little room to breathe. The pain of knowing what April stole from me was unbearable, no matter how healed I thought I was. The pain was still there, taunting me from a far off place.
This year, my therapist and I started using EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing ) therapy. EMDR is used to help people who have been through a traumatic event reprogram their thoughts, beliefs, and reactions to the trauma. This process helps remove the block a person created in order to cope with the traumatic event. Once the block is removed, healing can begin.
I had heard about EMDR, and saw it used when I was at Onsite last year. It was just by chance that my therapist asked me if I would be open to trying it. I wasn’t sure it would work, but I decided to give it a try–I had nothing to lose.
The first session was just days before April 1st. It was perfect timing to test the results. If April could sneak past me, without depression following it, I knew it was working. The first part of the session was used to create a safe space, and a feeling that I could pull up if I needed to. Then I was to think about the two most upsetting memories or beliefs about my gram’s death. That was easy, because, even after so many years, the guilt still haunted me. My first belief was that I killed my gram. A nurse at the ER even cast the blame on me. After my gram’s surgery, I had not filled her prescription; mostly as an order by my gram who just wanted to get home. The following day, I forgot to fill them after work, and then she was on her way to the hospital in the back of an ambulance. I was told it was irresponsible to not get the prescriptions filled, and it was my fault that my gram had a heart attack. My next regret was that I did not follow the ambulance to Dartmouth when she was transferred. I wanted to, but my gram insisted that I go home to my children; who were eleven months, three and five years old. I felt guilty that I listened to her. I felt guilty that she arrived at the hospital alone. I felt guilty that I wasted minutes I could have spent with her.
As I explained these thoughts to my therapist, I told her, “Logically, I know I didn’t kill her.” But logic doesn’t always come into play when there is trauma. The doctor at her bedside after she died told me it was not my fault. And, if I had not listened to her, and followed the ambulance, she would have been angry at me. I know these things, but the guilt was overpowering.
During the session I went through that day step, by step, and pulled up memories and feelings that have been swirling inside of me for the last ten years. I cried. I smiled. I felt sensations throughout my body. I was exhausted. It felt like years of pain and memories were lifted out of me, shook around, and re-positioned. I seemed to have responded to EMDR quickly, and effectively.
The following days came and floated by. The dread that usually arrives with April was not there. I was able to think back to those last few moments with my gram without the overwhelming pain, without the longing, without the deep sadness. A few tears fell, quietly, and quickly on the ten year anniversary. But, they stopped as soon as they started. I felt comfort and even smiled at some of the thoughts that came.
She was ready, and she knew I never would be. She picked how and where she wanted to die. She was in charge, and went peacefully. There was nothing more that I could ask for. She deserved to die with dignity. After ten years, I let her go. I let her go, and accepted that she will never leave me. Her love and guidance are with me everyday. And, for the first time, I actually believe this.
Since her death happened on Good Friday, Easter has also haunted me. This year, as we approach Good Friday tomorrow, I am free. I am free, and so is she.
Review by Carla Charter
What I first noticed about this book was the main character, Jessica. She struck me as a Phoenix. Despite the horrific physical, emotional, and sexual abuse she survived as a child, with each negative she still rose again, like the fabled bird determined to rise above her circumstances.
An important theme of the book which is highlighted again and again is the importance of having an anchor. A family member, a grandmother, a friend, who will stand up and say no more. Even if the abuse continues despite the pleas and the lies of survival, these anchors provided a respite of sanity, when the childhood world around was nothing but chaos for her.
The repercussions of Jessica’s childhood abuse can be seen clearly as she grows, feeling unloved and unwelcome, she enters her adult world looking for the love she never received, through whomever will give it. Thus her abusive childhood ripples and transforms into abusive relationships and eventually even affects her children.
Still despite it all, despite her mother’s drinking and depression, despite her horrific life of abuse and neglect she still finds her way to peace and a resolution with her mother and thus becoming a shining beacon to survival. Her life while fractured by others, in the end Jessica herself builds into a beautiful mosaic of hope for the future.
The book is a must read for those looking to understand the complexities of abuse and the long-term effects abuse can have.
For anyone who may leaving or reporting abuse, the following agencies may be able to help
Domestic Violence Hotline
Child Abuse Hotline
National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
I’m naked, and bare.
There is nothing left of me to expose.
The secrets I held so dear,
are leaping off of pages,
from eyes to ears.
There is no more hiding.
My inside cringes when I realize what you know.
I can’t take change it now.
I can’t take it back.
Vulnerability takes hold,
And I learn not to push people away.
I pull them close,
And share all that hasn’t been exposed.
Vulnerability is strength.
Vulnerability is pure.
Vulnerability is authentic.
Trust in the power of vulnerability.
For as long as I can remember, my accomplishments have never been celebrated. In my thirty-seven years, I never had a Birthday party. These days, that is what I prefer, but as a child, I always felt inadequate when I couldn’t reciprocate the invitation to my friends. Other kids had parties at McDonald’s, or the bowling alley, or a big sleepover full of girls. I always had a cake, and usually a barbecue…but that was because it was the day before the Fourth of July. For a little while, I thought the fireworks were for me…it was very disappointing to learn they were not.
When I brought home a report card with all As, I was questioned why there was an A-. Surely, I could have tried harder. When I graduated eighth grade, other kids had parties and gifts, and praise. I didn’t even have a picture taken of me at the event.
In high school, when it was time for the Chorus I was in to have our first, and second, and third concert…there was no one in the audience for me. I had to get a ride from a friend to get there on time. I think it was at this time that I decided to “why bother,” while also increasing my desire to “do better.”
It was a relentless cycle of not caring, and never feeling good enough. I would teeter into the not caring zone, to tipping the scale with chasing the next thing that might matter. Matter to who? I wasn’t really sure. I had dreams that I had to make happen, because if I didn’t, then what good was I? Like the age old question, “If a tree falls in the woods, and no one is around to hear it, does it still make a sound?” For me, it was, “If no one notices my accomplishment, do they really even count?”
In my senior year of high school I was dropped off at the award ceremony, where I won an award for excelling in Home Economics. No one was there to see me receive it. No one. At graduation, my gram and mom were there to watch me receive my diploma. Not one picture was taken. My celebration for graduating after a full year of receiving high honors? A quick trip to McDonald’s, where my mom criticized my dress and complained about how long the ceremony took, and how hot it was. I was grateful for the lunch, but it happened more so because it was lunch time. I know my gram felt bad about it, but at 80, it was the best she could do.
Because I had no support, emotionally or financially, there was no way I could go to college right out of high school, no matter how badly I wanted to. I told myself it was better that way, because my gram needed me. I couldn’t leave her behind when there was no one else willing to help her. I found a full time job, where I walked three miles to and from until I had enough money to pay for a taxi.
When I was able to figure out a way to go to college, I took as many credits as financial aid allowed me. I was working full time, and taking at least 15 credits a semester. Then, I had to take a break when my son was born. Quitting was not an option. I had to complete what I started. When my son was twenty-two months old, and my daughter was only a few weeks old, I received my bachelor’s degree in human services with a 4.0 grade point average. My mom, gram, and brother were there watching me, but again no picture and no celebration. It was clear that my gram was proud of me, and that alone was enough of a celebration, but it was another time where it seemed as though I didn’t make the mark.
Weeks after graduation I was hired for my dream job…you guessed it…nothing.
I received an award from the Governor of Vermont for the Healthy Aging of Seniors in the area. There were sixteen awards given out to the whole state of Vermont, and I was one of them. At twenty-nine years old, I was honored for the difference I was making in lives of the people I served. No one came to the ceremony to watch me receive the award.
When I decided that it was time to go after my master’s degree, I was working full time, and raising three young kids: 8, 6, and 3 years old. I was deep in depression from the loss of my gram two years before. During the time I was in grad school, I fought to keep my son safe from the bullying he was enduring at school, lost our home to a fire, was homeless for a short time while things were situated, all while the domestic violence in the home continued to escalate.
Three days before graduation, my ex-husband was arrested and removed from the home. I lost my job when I did not have child care. My daughters and I drove to the church where graduation was being held because I had worked too hard to let him take this from me. A group of people who took time out of their lives were there to celebrate me. My brother even came to watch me receive my master’s degree, Friends took pictures to help me cherish the day.
My mom was not able to come, and I tried to not let that bother me. I did beat myself up though for only graduating with a 3.86 and not a 4.0. I couldn’t accept the praise, I had to keep saying, “But I could have done better.” I pushed away the compliments and burrowed my head into the familiarity of the past.
When my life long dream became a tangible reality, and my book became real, and available to the world, it quietly passed like any other day. No celebration. And my thoughts went back down the rabbit hole. I self-published, it didn’t count. There were mistakes. It wasn’t perfect. The list of criticism went on.
Emails and reviews came in. For the most part, all good. People could relate to my story. They said it was well written. They thanked me for sharing my story. It was hard to receive. It was harder to believe. They just feel sorry for me, because it is a sad story. I didn’t want their pity, but it turned out I was unable to accept their sincere words. How was I enough to be worthy of their kindness?
I entered my book in multiple contests. Each rejection proved to me that I was not good enough, that my book was not worthy of the five-star rating. I found each and every negative remark that had been said about my book, and I held them closer and closer. I was done. I couldn’t let this control my self-worth any longer.
On September 1, 2018, I received word that The Monster That Ate My Mommy had been awarded Honorable Mention in The Reader’s Favorite contest. I shot down the congratulations that appeared on my screen, only to say, “But it’s just honorable mention.” It took me some time to embrace what had really happened. And then it hit me.
Maybe it is me. Maybe it has always been me. Not feeling worthy enough to accept celebration or praise. To stomp it out as quickly as it comes. I don’t like a lot of attention, and maybe I have always been the one to not want a big deal made out of my accomplishments. I have come a long way, and do have a lot to be proud of. My new goal is to accept, and embrace what I have to be proud of.
No more negative self-talk.
Easier said than done, but all I can do is keep on trying.
Repeat after me:
You are worthy.
You are enough.
You are loved.
Bringing light to the darkness is what has gotten me this far.
If you look close enough, there is always light to guide the way. Never stop looking.
Continued from: Trauma Camp
Waking up the first day at Onsite brought excitement and anxiety. I was still unsure what to expect, and still uncomfortable about sharing in front of such a large group. I made my way out of the cabin and to the mansion for breakfast, where I tried to find some familiar faces to sit with. We made small talk and walked over to the Carriage House for the morning meditation.
Meditation is something I have always struggled with, and I felt myself squirm in my seat as others found their seat. As I thought to myself, I don’t know how to meditate… The voice from the group leader announced, “It’s okay if you don’t know how to meditate, or if you can’t stop your thoughts, just do your best, and notice where your thoughts take you, and then focus on your breath.”
Relief washed over me as the expectations were lowered. I sat quietly for the fifteen minute meditation, bringing myself back to my breath after thoughts of my inadequacies and what was ahead of us circled in my head. When I opened my eyes, I noticed that I did feel more relaxed.
Three group leaders joined the front of the room. They were breaking us into smaller groups. More fear left with this discovery. Each group leader read off a list of eight names. The kind woman from the night before read my name off her list, with seven other women. We were the only group of all women. More apprehension left.
We made our ways to our group rooms. Where we found eight pillow chairs lining the room, as soft music played. One by one we found our way to a seat and grabbed a blanket to keep warm.
I looked around the room. Beautiful women filled the spaces. I felt out of place. What if I don’t fit in? What if I’m not like them? What if they don’t like me? What if my trauma isn’t that bad? I couldn’t stop the thoughts and tried to stay to myself, so no one would find out that I didn’t belong there.
When everyone was accounted for, we were asked to stand next to the emotion that best decried what we were feeling as we began the week. I found my way to scared, and backed myself as close to it as I could.
Scared. Anxious. Worried. Unsure. All these feelings swirled inside of me.
As I looked around the room, I noticed there was a mix of emotions from the others. We were all feeling something. We all seemed unsure of what to expect. As we took turns speaking about our feelings, I noticed that I wasn’t the only one struggling. My feelings of not belonging lessened as the day went on.
The more the other women talked, the more I felt connected. What happened in Group Room 3 is only for the members to know. Our words, our feelings, our tears, our growth are sacred. For our eyes, ears, and hearts only. What I will share is how the process helped me. To be honest, a month later, I am still processing what took place in Group Room 3, and at OnSite .
The first thing I noticed while at OnSite, was the feeling of belonging. This is a very rare, if not unknown feeling for me. I have walked through my whole life searching for belonging, to be understood, to be loved, to be heard. All of these things happened at OnSite. I was never turned away when I approached a table full of others. I was included, and not expected to talk or share if I did not wish to. No one made fun of me when I didn’t have anything to say. No one picked apart my lack of self confidence. But people loved. Strangers became family, old wounds were allowed to see the light of day, and healing from the soul up began to take place.
I did not notice it happening all at once. I even felt that nothing was happening. I felt like I was wasting my time as I retold my story of past trauma. I had told it, written about it, even went on Dr. Phil to talk about parts of it. What more could happen from sharing the same old stuff again? I volunteered to share my story first after I drew my timeline of traumatic events. A page for every decade.
Without making any eye contact I looked at my drawings on the wall and told my story, in a matter of fact kind of way. As I was telling my story in the thirty minutes provided, I started to think that my story isn’t that bad. I felt like I was wasting the rest of the groups’ time. I skipped over some major events, and added some things that I had not shared with anyone before. Things came to the surface, that I had buried so deep, even I had not remembered them before. Even still, some of these memories were not shared, for the shame they evoke inside of me.
My voice broke as I neared the end of my story. Silence filled the room before I could go on with the part where Gram, Uncle Doug, and John left me. All at once, stolen from this world, to leave me dangling in the darkness. The feelings from that time came back as I remembered how distant I had become through the grief. Guilt poured in as I finished, remembering all the ways I had let others down, how my life had been wasted, while others did not even have a life left to waste.
I sat back down on my pillow seat, covered back up with the blanket and looked down at my knees. A quick glance around the room let me see the tears from others while they listened to my story. I picked three women to write parts of my story as I told it, so they could read back to me the facts, the feelings, and the beliefs. As the women read back what I had said, I heard my story differently. I finally, for the first time, heard that my story was that bad. I had been through a lot, overcame a lot, and survived. I survived so many things that I shouldn’t have. The trauma did not swallow me whole. I was not only surviving, but I was thriving.
As I listened to the other stories in the room, I understood on a whole new level the saying “Everyone has a story.” I understood how much alike we all are, no matter how different we seem. I saw how much trauma can change people. I saw how strong we are, and how little we give ourselves credit for. I saw myself as whole. As complete. As messy, and beautiful. As strong, and vulnerable. As trusting, and open. All of my broken pieces were molded back together, shaping me into a perfectly, imperfect woman.
The day after telling my story my body began to detox. I had heard this was possible, but did not expect it. I still felt as though I was doing work that I had already completed. Learning new things along the way, but getting a refresher course. I woke up unable to catch my breath. I could not breathe deep enough to feel as though I was getting enough oxygen. Even in meditation I was unable to breathe. I felt nauseous and lightheaded. I went to the bathroom every chance I could and eliminated black stool (TMI, I’m sorry!). I even threw up. It was quite noticeable that I was struggling, and the group leader took a few moments with me to explain what was happening. “Your body is detoxing all that old trauma.”
I was trying to remember to trust the process, but I was still holding on to a bit of skepticism. I tried to breathe deeply with her, but still could not catch my breath. Even, as I tried to fall asleep that night I struggled with my breathing. I wanted to go home, and give up. This was scary, and I need my normal back. This was only day three.
When I woke up the next morning, I was able to breathe normally again. I felt fine, and bathroom business returned to normal. There was no way that I could be a skeptic now. Things were happening inside of me. Deep down. Trauma that I had worked on in the past was now being released. I was finally giving permission to let it go. Not just with words, but with action. I knew now what trust the process meant.
As the days progressed, I saw myself differently. I saw that each person who was there knew what it felt like to be different, feel broken, unloveable, and unworthy. I belonged. And not just at OnSite, but in the world. If every person there knew what it felt like, it was not too far fetched to believe that everyone else did too. It is true, everyone has a story, and it is also true that everyone has experienced trauma. If you are living, you have suffered. The people who pretend that their life is perfect are actually hurting under their fake smile. The successful person you envy, struggles with self love too. We are all fighting a battle to some scale. There is no perfect.
This discovery energized me. It filled me with hope, and a new sense of wonder. A new mission to help others see what I have learned. A new goal of self love and acceptance. I gave myself permission to be human, to own my faults, and honor my strengths. I am able to see how far I have come, while keeping my eyes open for the road ahead. Everyday brings new struggles and new gifts. It is a constant choice whether or not I beat myself up over the mistakes, or cherish the lessons. I choose to tell the negative thoughts to STFU (another lesson I learned at Trauma Camp).
OnSite introduced me to my true self. The experience gave me hope, that anything is overcome-able. It showed me that I am strong. We all are. We are all worthy of love, especially our own. The mirror before me continues to be cleaned off, and I can see who I really am. The detox is still happening as the years of anxiety, pain, and trauma escape my cells, and I remain open to trust the process.
I am worthy. I am loved. I am enough.
Continued from: Healing Trauma
I did not know what to expect when I packed my suitcase for a week away at Onsite. I talked myself out of going more times than I can count. I spent hours looking online for information on what to expect, I came up almost empty handed. The few reviews I did find were all positive, but I wanted more. I wanted to know what I was getting myself into before I committed to going.
I knew nothing more than what a quick (alright, hours of searching) search produced. The phrase that kept coming back to me was, “Trust the Process.” For a person that has a difficult time trusting, this was not that helpful. As the days grew closer to April 13th (Friday the 13th to be exact), I wanted to trust the process. I had done a lot of work already, I was hopeful that this could help. It couldn’t hurt. Right?
I prepared some meals to leave behind, wrote some letters to mail before I left, packed my bag, and rode to the airport with George riddled with anxiety. I wasn’t sure what I was the most nervous about. Leaving the outside world as I knew it, spending a week with a bunch of strangers, or opening up old wounds that I thought I had healed.
As I walked through the airport doors, tears in my eyes, I wanted to change my mind, but I didn’t. I walked up to the ticket counter, got my tickets, made small talk with the lady behind the desk and tried to smile. “Business or pleasure?” Hmm…Good question.
“A little of both, I guess.” I said as I faked a smile.
I made it through security, all the worries I had been trying to shove out of my mind came crashing back down over me. The small, young family in front of me caught my attention as their little one was so excited for their trip. The mother looked at me, “You look familiar…are you an author?”
Whoa…I didn’t expect that! “Well, kind of.”
“Everyone back at home is going crazy over your book. I can’t wait to read it.”
“Really? That’s great! Thank you so much for sharing that with me. That was just what I needed to hear today.”
My above response, “Well, kind of,” was exactly why I needed to go to Onsite. I have always had a hard time believing in myself, or seeing myself as others do. My lifelong dream was to be an author, and even in a moment like that, I could not own it. This. This was what I needed to change. This was why I had to get past my fear and trust the process.
I am a firm believer in things happening for reasons, no coincidences, and messages. This encounter was what I needed to help remind me of what I needed to work on. It was my view into the outside of what people see me as. Our short conversation helped ease some of my anxiety and replace it with excitement for things to come.
When I arrived in Nashville, TN I had an hour to wait for the shuttle to Onsite. As I waited outside I looked around to see if I could spot others that I would be spending the week with. I had no idea what I was looking for…I mean…what does a person who needs to heal past trauma look like? People came and left as the minutes passed by. And then, at 3:00pm on the dot a black van pulled up with a small white sign “Onsite.”
I rolled my bag to the door as a man with a clip board greeted me. He took my bag and I boarded the van. I found a single seat, so there was no chance I would have to make small talk until I had to. I texted people to let them know I was safe, and on the way to the program. More people entered the van as we waited for the last person on the list to arrive. When we were all loaded up, we were on our way to heal our past trauma. The hour and a half ride was uncomfortable, and almost silent, except for one talkative guest, who kept herself entertained.
The battery 0n my cell phone was fading fast as I tried to get all of the last minute conversations in. Seven days without my screen. Without talking to the people I love. Without watching the news, or checking the weather. Seven days.
The van drove up the long driveway and parked in front of one of the buildings from the website. We were told to go inside for orientation. We each got off the van, still in silence as we entered the building and sat in the chairs that were placed in a circle. We were given a bag with a name tag, water bottle, binder, and room key, and then given a tour of the campus while they delivered our bag to our rooms.
After the tour, we were allowed to go to our rooms and explore…and keep our phones until after dinner. I found my room in one of the cabins, that I was to share with two other women for the week. The room was cozy and comfortable, but it was not home. I unpacked my things and called home one last time to let them know that I was safe and able to have my phone for a little while longer. The kids and George wished me well and we counted down the days until I could call again…Thursday night at 4…things were starting to look up…a day less than expected.
At dinner I found a table of three strangers, who sat quietly until one of them made small talk. Two of the people at my table were there only until Wednesday, and were doing individual intensives. I was not aware that was an option, or I probably would have went for that (I’m grateful I ended up in a group though).
After dinner we all joined in the Carriage House, where about thirty-five people gathered in a circle. My anxiety returned as I looked around the room. How was I supposed to share my darkest secrets with this many people? The night continued with a few icebreaker activities. We had to place ourselves on an imaginary map from where we were from. I stood alone in the northern part of the room, as others congregated in small groups. I wasn’t surprised to be the lone person from New Hampshire.
We were asked to walk around the room and find someone we did not know (which was easy to do, since I didn’t know anyone) and talk about the question that was asked. “If you could be any animal, what would you be, and why?”
This seemed like a harmless enough question. My mind went blank. “A dog.” It was the only thing that came to my mind, and then the tears began to fall. I looked around the room, and it appeared I was the only one crying. Great.
“Aww. Let them out. Tears are good. Why do you want to be a dog?” The kindness from this woman, this stranger illuminated from her. It helped take some of the awkwardness away from the tears.
“Because they love unconditionally.” I couldn’t make sense of what I was saying, or why, and then it was time to move on to the next question. I did my best to suck in the tears and try to find something to laugh about.
The next question came. “What are you most afraid of for the week ahead?”
The tears returned as I tried to spit out the words. “Of meeting myself.” Wow…I had no idea how afraid I was of this, or that I didn’t feel that I really knew myself. I was lucky that the receiver of these tears was also a kind and gentle person. He let me continue to cry, and then it was time to find our seats. I brushed away the tears and tried to put my fake it until you can make it smile on.
We were free for the night. One of my roommates invited me, and a bunch of other women to play cards. We found a game, and a space on the outdoor porch of the mansion. We talked a little as we played a few games until it was too dark to see and we all parted our separate ways to get some rest for the next day.
What had I signed up for? I still was unsure, but I told myself that I would trust the process, and give it my best shot. The people I had met so far all seemed nice, and for the first time in my life, it felt like others knew how it felt to be damaged or broken too.