A New Road? ~ Let’s Take It!

It has been four years since I began my blog. Wow! Time snuck up on me. Thank-You to everyone who has clicked the follow button or just stopped by for a moment for a quick read. I always appreciate a follow, a like and a comment, or even a pass-through. I have had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful people here on WordPress. And even when some of them no longer choose to blog, we have remained connected through email and messenger.

I love everything about blogging. I love the connectedness; the variety of writers, the amazing group of survivors that have taught me that, not only am I not alone but that I can be a touchstone for someone at a time in their lives when they need to know they are seen, heard, and cared about. Peer support in our blogging community looks and means different things to all of us, but it can offer amazing and real connections.

About a year ago, I wondered if I could muster up some courage and begin to support survivors in a different way. I began to trust that I had come far enough on my healing journey, that I could use my voice in a more confident way to provide support and hope to survivors of trauma.

This past year, I’ve had several opportunities to speak about living with PTSD. Because of these opportunities, I have met some astounding advocates for survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and trauma.  I have learned that there are many different and successful programs and support that are offered in conjunction with traditional therapy.

One of the biggest lessons I learned this year is the importance of peer-to-peer support organizations. For many people, a group where they are supported by thriving survivors after going through their own dark, ruddy road of healing can help bridge the gap between therapy sessions. Or for many, peer-led support may be the first time a person realizes that they no longer have to suffer in silence. They are feeling heard, have a safe place to tell their story, and can get help finding resources.

This past summer, after getting to know one of the local non-profit organizations I was asked to join their team. As they enter their sixth year, they found the demand for services has grown beyond what the director can manage on her own.

At first, I was reluctant to accept. Imposter syndrome and self-doubt came out loud and strong! I just couldn’t get myself to believe that I would have anything useful to offer this successful organization. Then, I stopped myself. I began to accept that there was no way the director of the program would ask me to join the team if she didn’t think I could contribute. So, I accepted. I joined the team of EmpowerSurvivors in September.

I have always used the metaphor of climbing a mountain when I speak or write about my healing journey. The more I’ve healed, the metaphor has changed to roads instead of mountains. I like to take different roads as they appear in the distance. Being a part of EmpowerSurvivors is definitely a new and wonderful road and…I’ll take it!

 

image source: madhu-shesharam-unsplash

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph    

Okay Universe, I’m listening!

It’s finally Spring and gorgeous where I live. We endured a brutal winter, and a snowstorm in April, but now there is a definite shift and it’s Spring. Yesterday, to celebrate the warmth, I took my dog for a car ride.  Besides noticing all the other dogs smiling with their heads hanging out of their car windows, I took note of all the people out for a walk. As I passed a certain intersection I said aloud, “I hope you’re doing okay!” It was a shout-out to someone I haven’t consciously thought about in quite some time. He is always in my heart, but I haven’t seen or talked to him in over ten years.

This morning, I bounded out of bed and was compelled to go for a walk. Right now, right then, no waiting until after morning coffee or breakfast, I just needed to go for a walk. I grabbed the dog and out the door, we went. As we were rounding the corner a truck stopped on the side of the road. A man got out, and said, “Alexis, is that you?” I was stunned! The person who got out of the truck was the good Samaritan who helped my daughter after she was hit by a car while crossing the street eleven years ago. The person I was thinking about yesterday, the one I sent out the message of,  “I hope you’re doing okay.”

Was this just a bizarre coincidence? Maybe! We both live in the same city so perhaps it was bound to happen. But it hadn’t happened in all these years until this morning.

I’ve had a trying and unsettling two weeks. Feelings and emotions that I had continued to minimize throughout my healing process have found their way to the surface leaving me with a choice. Continue to repress, or begin to honor what is bubbling to the surface. It may sound like an easy decision, but it wasn’t for me.

I knew I wouldn’t be retraumatizing myself or opening old wounds, but I would be revisiting some feelings and emotions at a much deeper level. That’s not a comfortable exercise. The result is more healing, but it’s never easy for me to work through the truth of my past.

Part of healing from PTSD is being able to tell your story as much as you need to and want too. That takes a tremendous amount of trust in the person you are talking too. I have a lot of attachment issues as a result of my trauma. Trust is hard; even with a wonderful therapist.

I kept questioning, why is this happening now? Why am I having these feelings? Why do I want to share my story? I already shared it, processed it, shared it again and processed more. Then I stopped.

I’ve written a couple of posts lately, wondering if  I was shaming myself into silence again. My therapist kept reassuring me that it’s okay. I’ll know if and when I need to go deeper. I didn’t think I would ever want to go deeper. But apparently, my mind and body are ready. My PTSD symptoms have left me feeling terrible and I don’t want to feel this way anymore.

The other day, my therapist asked me, “do you trust me?” I didn’t even hesitate, I answered, “Yes, yes I completely trust you.” She then said,” I was safe, she was safe, the people I know and love are safe, and that it’s okay.”  I believe her. I know the nature of PTSD. Sometimes symptoms will be greater than other times. But, I also know that some of my symptoms will lessen if I do a little more work.

I don’t know why now is the time to work on these emotions and beliefs. But, I do know this: When my daughter got hit by the car, that was the “event” that broke the illusion that I could control my snow-globe world I had created. When I hung up the phone after talking to her in the ambulance, that is when I heard the sound of glass breaking in my head and had the most intense flashback of myself sitting alone at a tiny airport. When I got to the hospital 20 minutes later to be with my daughter, I met the person who ran across four lanes of traffic to help her. When my daughter recovered from her injuries that is when I could no longer repress my past and I began to heal. I have healed a lot, and I live the best life I can with complex PTSD. Yet, some things are bubbling to the surface.

Maybe the why now doesn’t matter. Maybe what matters, is that its time. My body, mind, and spirit are telling me that it will be okay.  That all conspiring universe knew ten years ago, that I was ready and it was time to begin to heal, and I trust that it knows now.

So, Okay Universe, I’m listening!

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph      

Even With The Daisy’s and Weeds, It’s Still My Life

I went to the doctor the other day because I was hoping she would tell me I was suffering from some sort of vitamin deficiency or a thyroid problem. I made the appointment after some revelations I had in therapy the past few weeks. Not new memories, just a new awareness of how much I minimized, squashed down and refused to process some pretty epic feelings.  In a vague attempt to sidestep working through this, and to find a comfortable state denial, I went to the doctor wanting to hear I would feel better with a regimen of vitamins.

My doctor is fabulous. I’m extremely lucky to have a medical doctor and a therapist who understand the nuances of PTSD. She listened calmly as I anxiously rattled off all the reasons I thought I was sick. She agreed that it’s better to come in and make sure everything is okay, but she really didn’t think anything was wrong. To be sure, she ran the blood tests anyway. Good news, everything came back normal. All my numbers were nicely in the middle range. That was actually a huge relief, although there was a tiny part of me, that wished that everything I was feeling could be resolved with a boost of vitamins each morning.

There is a common expression that explains what it’s like to live with PTSD.  “PTSD: It’s not the person refusing to let go of the past, but the past refusing to let go of the person.”

One of the questions that people often ask is, “Are you sure you want to remember your past?” Or a common statement is, “Just let the past go.” Both of these are said and/or asked without malice.  I understand both the question and the statement. Most trauma survivors understand the intention behind these statements. They are meant to protect the person from suffering and bad memories which can be re-traumatizing. Also to remind survivors that it is okay to live in the present moment.

Going through trauma therapy, we work very hard to understand our symptoms so we can live in the present. We often have safety plans, distress tolerance tools, and grounding techniques that bring us back to the here-and-now. We learn to hear the birds singing, children playing, feel our feet on the ground, and though we may not feel safe, we begin to understand that we are safe, and no one can hurt us (like that) again.

We are empowered by the fact that we are survivors and celebrate resilience. And yet, with all that knowledge, and practice, and bringing ourselves back to the present moment, PTSD has skeleton hands that grab you and pull you into the past. It is the nature of the illness.

When I’m asked, “Are you sure you want to remember your past?” I say to myself, and sometimes to the person (depending on my mood), “How would you feel if you had big swatches of your life missing?” I’m not talking about little memories of places, or people that come and go, I’m talking sometimes years and years, blacked out. Imagine the feeling of knowing that you are alive because you are here, but you have no real congruent memories to make sense of yourself, your wholeness as a person. And, often when you do have flashes of the past, your emotions,  feelings, and a very protective mind stop you from remembering.

My mind wouldn’t let me repress my memories any longer. I knew intuitively that I needed to know my past. I needed a timeline of my life. I didn’t want darkness any longer. I wanted to live, not just survive.  I understood the truth would be painful. Traumatic memories are painful. But for me, in order to get some control over some of my most severe symptoms I needed to uncover my past, my truth.

It was hard, excruciatingly painful at times, but worth it! I still have symptoms, but now I can name them. And it turns out that I also have some feelings that I wasn’t ready to process before now. I understand where they come from, and why they are happening. I feel confident in the tools I’ve acquired and know I will be able to move through the current waves.

But in all honesty,  I took some time after I went to the doctor and asked myself, “Are You sure you want to delve into these feelings and emotions?  To poke around healing the inner child? And I say back, to myself with  love and affection (and a dash of denial), “Yes, I do want to do this work, and remember, because, Whether it Daisy’s or Weeds it’s still my life.”

 

Thank you for reading my books:  If I Could Tell You How It Feels,  and  Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph

You’ll know when it’s time to share your story

So much has changed since my memoir was published nearly four years ago. Before I wrote the book, my entire life was focused on keeping quiet, not telling, protecting those I loved, or who loved me. It took me a long time to understand that by keeping quiet, I was actually protecting the people who hurt me in my life. Writing Untangled was a way to announce in a really big way, that I will not keep quiet any longer.

I have been in a poetic place with my writing lately. It’s been easier for me to express myself in poetry. It’s a way to get to the meat of my feelings. I absolutely love the creativity of poetry. It feeds my soul, it takes me to places where I say to myself, “If I could paint a picture, this is what it would look like.”

The other day someone said to me, “I like your writing because it comes from an emotional place, it’s about the feelings. That is exactly how I would describe my style of writing and speaking. I know that feelings are universal and relatable.

When I have speaking engagements, I focus on feelings, and how I’ve learned to live a purposeful life while struggling with PTSD. But, aside from my typical sentence of, “I’m a survivor of unimaginable abuse and neglect for the first 20 years of my life, followed by threats to stay silent for the next 17 years,” I have not shared much of my story while speaking in public.

I’m not ashamed of my past. I’m not ashamed of my story. It is the truth of what happened in my life, to me. I didn’t choose it; the people in my life made those choices to traumatize me. What I believed was, if I shared my story, maybe the audience would compare their trauma to mine. I was fearful that they would minimize what happened to them and how the effects of their trauma impacted their lives.  If I kept the conversation about feelings, emotions, and symptoms then survivors of trauma could relate to myself and each other. 

I’m real and honest when it comes to sharing what it’s like to live with my symptoms and the effects of my trauma, but that comes without much back-story. My PTSD is from prolonged and pervasive trauma. That’s as deep I get when doing presentations.

Recently, I began to ask myself, am I shaming myself back into silence because I feel my story is so unrelatable? Am I sharing enough of myself?

A few weeks ago, I heard a speaker at my son’s school talk to the kids about the choices he made in his life. His past was the stuff of movies.  I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, he’s so resilient and brave.” The audience was listening with respect. I keep in perspective that there may have been plenty of times in that speaker’s life where people have doubted his story. People have openly disbelieved me.

Tomorrow, I have an amazing opportunity to speak to a group at EmpowerSurvivors which is a peer-led organization of healing support and education for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and trauma. Elizabeth Sullivan, founder of the organization came to hear me speak to a college class a couple of weeks ago. At the end of my talk, the instructor asked Elizabeth if she would be willing to tell the class about her organization. With no notice, and nothing prepared Elizabeth got up, shared her personal story and told the class why she founded EmpowerSurvivors.  Just like the speaker at my son’s school, I had tremendous respect for her resilience and bravery, and for sharing her story to this large group of people.

Then it hit me! I’m in a place where I am ready to share. I’m ready to be vulnerable and celebrate my bravery and resilience. I know that my presentations, interviews, and events will be a lot richer if  I’m not inadvertently shaming myself into silence. I’m grateful for all the healing I’ve done. It’s enabled me to share with others that a person can not only survive, but thrive in spite of a horrific past, and  PTSD.  I instinctively know that tomorrow as I prepare to speak with a group of survivors that it’s time to share my story.

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph      

 

 

 

 

 

 

You’re Not Invisible, I See You!

Do you see me?
Yes, yes I see you. You are a beautiful light!

I feel like I’m invisible, I want to be invisible
I see you. You are worthy of being seen, being heard!

The injury of a frayed, and tattered soul, repaired
by being seen, being heard and loved.

Reminded and mirrored
that the truth of who
you are at your core
has always been there
it just needed acknowledgment
and tender loving care.

Do I have to stay strong? Do I have to stay silent?
Your strength is in speaking your truth!

Will, it ever get better, will the pain stop?
It does get better, the pain changes. It ebbs and flows!

The pain and suffering
eased by a witness who
listens with respect
with belief, sadness, and anger
at the injustice of what had been.

Learning to trust that your
frayed and tattered soul
is safe, and it’s okay to mend.
To cease inserting that second arrow.

Is it okay to ask for help?
Yes, it’s important to ask for help. You’re important!

Will I be okay?
Yes, you will be okay…you Are okay!

With compassion, tenderly nurture
your present and future self.
Connect and attach
begin to feel whole.

Breathe…rest in it as long as you can.
Let yourself be one.
Exhale, knowing that injuries heal
frayed edges become softer, and the light will begin to shine through.

As I drive away, I spend the day thinking, that one of the most important gifts we can give another person is to be their mirror.

To understand that to be a mirror for someone is not just a concept, but that sometimes a person’s reflection is non-existent. That sometimes our own reflections may be non-existent.

It is a true gift to be able to say to another person, “I see you, I hear you, you deserve to be here, you matter!”

Photo by Jovis Aloor on Unsplash

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph      

The Dance of Acceptance

Here I go again; the dance of acceptance. I have a pattern of every so often “forgetting” that I live with PTSD. I’m not sure if it’s mental gymnastics that I perform with gold medal perfection, or that it’s normal when living with a chronic illness to experience fluidity of acceptance.

I deal with and know how to ride the waves of triggers, and day-to-day symptoms; that is part of my everyday life. I manage that as I manage my household chores.  It isn’t until I come face-to-face in a serious way with something I would like to do, but I’m unable to do because of my current abilities, that I remember that it’s because I have PTSD.

Recently I had to revisit my vocational abilities. That was extremely disappointing. I was the only one surprised by the same results. My family and friends watched me go through the stress inducing exercise knowing what the result would be, but they understood why I felt I had to go through it once again.   I would like to say that now I fully accept what my limitations are,  but I can’t be sure.

Last night, I had a conversation with my friend who takes me deep-woods camping once a year over the 4th of July week. We go into the Boundary Waters Canoe Area where there are few people and no sounds of fireworks. I’m super motivated and excited each year and in my head, I’m a great remote camper. But, the reality is, that I am triggered a lot of the time because of what happened to me in my past. I can work through the triggers, and I absolutely love being in the outdoors, but the PTSD affects my experiences.

As we were talking last night, I asked if we could try a trip where we portage more than once and go deeper into the remote areas. He said, “there is no way we can do that!” He explained whenever we have tried going deeper into the woods I get really triggered. We went on to talk about the other ways my symptoms come out during the camping trips.

Last summer, on a camping trip to the mountains of Colorado, I developed altitude sickness and we had to get off the mountain. We were exhausted by the time we got down to a low enough altitude and we wound up throwing our sleeping bags next to a river and sleeping outside under the stars. Sounds beautiful, and it was. Except for all the flashbacks I was having. I didn’t know if it was because I was tired, crabby, and just wanted to be in a bed, or if it was because of my PTSD. My illness is not my automatic go-to for explanations on why I can’t do something. Part of the dance of acceptance!

I began to have an awareness that what I wanted to experience while taking these trips, was not happening in a positive way for me. I wasn’t saying anything out loud; instead, I was doing a lot of negative self-talk about bucking-up, figuring it out, and stop being such a baby.

It wasn’t until we were talking about it last night, that I really accepted that even with my limitations I can still have a wonderful experience camping. As long as I’m with someone who understands PTSD and how to react (or not react) when I get triggered I can still experience and recognize the fabulously healing reset of being in nature. I can also find meaningful ways to earn a bit of money (and I have) while being mindful and respectful of what is healthy for me.

I have some long-lasting effects from the trauma I endured. Because of the extent of my trauma, I have PTSD. Maybe this is not a forever illness, I don’t know what the future will hold. Most days, I’ve accepted that I’m still going to suffer from symptoms and live with some deficits.

When I lose sight of this, I find myself getting very angry at my PTSD.  When the anger and frustration well up, and starts to boil over, I make myself stop, sit down, reflect, rest, and try to focus on the goal of what I want for my life.

And I’m sure, as it seems it has become a pattern, that there will be times that I am going to do the slow dance of acceptance.

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photo: Alexis Rose

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph    

She Becomes A Lotus

Rising from the mud
Shaken by the moon that shines behind the shadow trees
She tenses and listens.

Hearing the leaves rustle in the wind
the cicadas hum, and the birds
flapping their goodnight wings
her mind feels tricked by the sounds of the night.

The humidity in the air creates
a slow-motion dance of fog
circling the dark shapes on the ground.
A chill, a shudder, and it’s over.
The night is over.

Now the sun hits her face, drying the mud.
Slowly, she turns around and walks away
knowing that without the mud
a lotus would never rise.

©Alexis Rose, Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash

Thank you for reading my books: If I Could Tell You How It Feels, and Untangled, A Story of Resilience, Courage, and Triumph