Perspective changes everything. . .

 “What we see depends mainly on what we look for.”  ~ John Lubbock

I awoke this morning with burning desire to head to town and rummage through the local Goodwill. In a desperate attempt to justify driving the 40 mile round trip when there wasn’t anything that I absolutely needed, I decided to clear out a few of our closet shelves. A trunk full of donations could surely justify the trip. Right?

While digging through the mountains of rarely worn clothing items that I had ripped off of the shelves, I came across some jeans. . .

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Excited, I uncrumpled  them thinking they were jeans that I had stashed to wear “someday.” Instead, I found something completely different. Unfolding in my hands was a pair of jeans that I had struggled wear just over a year ago. I thought I had gotten rid of all my old clothes. . .

For a brief instant, while staring at the large jeans in front of me, I felt like hurling my breakfast all over the bed–the harshness of reality tends to have that effect on me.  I really couldn’t believe that not that long ago, I was bigger than those jeans.

I tossed them in the pile, disgusted with myself for ever having allowed my weight to get so completely out of control. I wanted them out of my sight as they were nothing more than an ugly reminder of an unhealthy chapter in the story of my life.

As I continued packing up the many bags to give away, the jeans somehow worked their way to the bottom of the stack. I finally picked them up to stuff into the bag and that’s when I decided to give those jeans one more look. The second time around? I saw those jeans much differently. . .

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Instead of looking at them and beating myself up over a chapter in my life that was so in my past, I decided to rejoice; to celebrate the beauty of how far I have comeThe jeans looked totally different when I chose to see them in a positive light.

I decided to put the jeans back in my closet and keep them for a while longer. I plan to pull them out now and then–to reflect and to rejoice in the grace of the journey.

It’s funny how perspective changes everything isn’t it?

The how. . .

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Fortunately, I am blessed with a job that allows me to spend a lot of time reading and researching, training and continually learning. I study about trauma and violence. I study about loss and I study about healing. This constant opportunity to learn has allowed me to grow-physically, emotionally, and spiritually–in more ways than I could ever imagine.

Besides the constant opportunity for growth, I am also blessed with the opportunity to witness courage in action on a regular basis when I meet with trauma and abuse survivors. Time and time again, I listen to their painful stories of survival and I am often left feeling awestruck at the courage and resiliency most have displayed throughout their entire lives. Although the work is difficult and frustrating at times, the opportunity to watch a person transition from victim to survivor to thriver is nothing short of miraculous.

A couple of months ago my coworker and I had the chance to attend a two-day trauma training led by a survivor with one of the most horrific stories of abuse that I have heard. Listening to this incredibly courageous woman talk about her life was mind-blowing to me. How does a person survive and eventually thrive after a lifetime of trauma?  Needless to say, I was jotting notes like a madwoman throughout the two days trying desperately to soak up every piece of knowledge that I could. Words like believe, authentic, capable, creative, mindful, balance, trust, listen, resilience, and restore dotted the pages in my notebook.

I was exhausted yet extremely refreshed after those two days and was looking forward to putting my new-found knowledge into action. My coworker (who happens also to be one of my besties) was feeling much of the same. We left the training renewed and recharged but we kept going back to one thing over and over. . .HOW? How do you help somebody restore their life? How do you really help someone affected by so much pain, find peace? How do you tell somebody how to do something when the how is different for each person? We have had this discussion countless times since then.

Despite the endless supply of resources available (we have been through a lot of them), we concluded that there is no magic pill. There is no quick fix and there is no definitive how-to manual on how to heal from trauma (even though there will be plenty of people out there who will tell you that there is.) You see, we realized that there can NEVER be a fool-proof guide because each of us are so different. We each have our own pain and our healing  journeys to take. We must look inside ourselves and figure it out. Therein answers the question of how to heal. We know ourselves better than anyone else, therefore, we all have  to find our own “how.” When you can find it within yourself to dig deep to ask that question, your healing can begin.

I have been thinking about this again, especially since my last blog post. It’s easy to talk about what to do but how to do it is a different story.  It doesn’t matter what I write about if I don’t back up my words with some action steps. I can tell you that finding joy and being thankful has helped me on my healing journey but if I don’t tell you how I did it, the words don’t mean much.  I thought about it some more and tried to figure out how to tell you some of the “hows” that have worked for me (and still are today). Here’s what I came up with so far:

  • Talk to other people. Find a counselor, an advocate, a friend, a family member, or clergy– just find someone. There is always somebody willing to listen, whether you think so or not. I seek out safe people who I can talk to and listen to. We may not solve everything in our conversations but I always feel restored after a good-talk.
  • Read. I read all of the time. I read several blogs, I read stories of hope, I read news articles, I read books of all sorts. I take it all in and use what makes sense to me on my own healing journey.
  • Run. Running has been one of my saving graces over the last several months. Once you can push past the uncomfortableness of the first mile or so, your mind clears, and you are transported to another place–temporarily free from the past. Clarity comes quickly. I have never came home from a run feeling worse than before I ran. Never.
  • Seek Authenticity. When you eliminate all of the insignificant fluff out there and demand only what’s real, your outlook changes for the better. Think of what matters to you most and go for it. An authentic life means owning your story no matter how painful. I can tell you that it is so completely soul-refreshing when you can get there. Healing is automatically propelled forward by leaps and bounds when you accept your past for what it is–nothing more, nothing less.
  • Breathe. A dear friend gave me a little ceramic sign that says “Just Breathe.” It sits on my desk and I look at it several times a day, especially when I am struggling. A few deep, very mindful breaths makes a tremendous difference for me every single time.
  • Be Grateful. Gratitude doesn’t have to be grandiose or complicated to have a positive effect. A couple of months after the crash, I started a gratitude journal, basically to try and keep myself from wallowing. I made a deal with myself that I couldn’t write everyday that I was thankful for my family and friends because that was too easy, I had to look for something else. One day, the only thing I had on my page was that a certain presidential candidate had made the “binders full of women” comment (I was desperate at the time, give me a break.) I got a good 30 minutes of nonstop laughter that day scrolling through the hundreds of internet memes that soon popped up. That laughter brought me out of a deep pit of grief that day, if only for a while. 
  • Allow joy. Shortly after the crash I read a book that talked about finding joy despite your pain. I couldn’t grasp it fully at the time but decided that if something joy-worthy happened, I would try to let myself feel it–even if it was only for a moment. Those brief moments led to longer ones. The longer ones led to moments of clarity (and still do)  that kept me inching forward down my restorative path. Again, the joy moments don’t have to be huge. Look for the little things. A great cup of coffee, a smile from a stranger, a TV show that you love, a delicious meal, a breath of fresh air, time with family or friends–you get the idea..
  • Give. Take some time to give of yourself, even if it feels like you have absolutely nothing left to give. I read this repeatedly in a devotional and although I was totally annoyed with the message at the time, I decided to play along. Much to my surprise, it worked. When I wasn’t so me-focused I was able to move forward faster than if I had remained in my completely selfish state. Reach out to someone else in need–focus on someone or something other than yourself–and you will be amazed at the healing that takes place.
  • Be mindful of yourself. Pay close attention to how you are feeling. Learn what makes you feel comfortable and promotes healing. Figure out what doesn’t work and let it go. There is a lot of trial and error during the healing process. Keep at it. If you try something and it doesn’t work, try something different. Learn your emotional triggers. Learn what makes you sad, and what brings you joy. Being mindful of yourself helps you to grow and with growth comes healing.
  • Reflect. I spend a lot of time in silence, reflecting on my journey. I pray, I walk with my dog, I let my mind wander, all the while looking back–not to relive the pain of the past but to look at how far I have come. This is not easy to do. After the crash I forced myself inside my head once and for all. It was ugly but I survived and came out much stronger than before.  At one time I screamed for noise, and now I crave the silence. Get inside your head, it’s okay to face your demons. You are so much stronger than you know. There is absolutely nothing we can do about past events other to acknowledge them and move forward.
  • Take care of your physical needs. Most days, I try to eat decently, stay hydrated, get outside, exercise, and get some rest. It doesn’t always happen (sleep has been big issue since the crash) but I try. I even started seeing a wonderful massage therapist. The days that it all falls into place are the days that I feel the best. Feeling good physically can go a long ways towards your emotional and spiritual health. Do something good for yourself. You will be glad you did.

Please remember as you move forward that healing from trauma is not easy. Quite often, it flat-out sucks. It’s painful, messy, uncomfortable and is very hard work.  But, if you are reading this, you have obviously survived your past. There is nothing left to do now but take that healing journey. Look deep inside yourself and figure out your “hows.” The sacrifice is great but the rewards are so much greater. Find your how and take a leap. You can do it. You are courageous. You are a survivor.

Shaken and Shattered: Six Months

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A person very near and dear to my heart messaged these words to me yesterday morning–seems like forever….seems like yesterday. Even though that was the entire message, I knew exactly what she meant. Yesterday marked the six-month anniversary since our family was shaken and shattered to the very core. Yesterday marked the six-month anniversary since a drunk driver killed my mom, sister-in-law, and eight-year old niece. Those six months seem like forever, yet they seem like just yesterday. It’s funny how time can move at the speed of light yet magically stand still.

Before I sat down to write this, I looked back at the very first post I wrote, five weeks after the crash. I thought about changing a couple of words, the title and simply re-posting here because, even though it’s six months out, so many things are essentially the same. . .

For starters, to write about the crash STILL seems so surreal. Even though reality has hit me HARDCORE several times over the last six months, most of the time, I still struggle to wrap my head around the fact that three of the people who I loved the most in my life are gone–taken in an instant. Even though I know that their deaths are VERY REAL, it’s still too difficult to actually comprehend. The pain is as real today as it was then. I don’t know if I’ll ever truly believe that their deaths are part of our family’s story. It just doesn’t make sense.

And now, it is already six months later. I look at my family and how our story is unfolding.  I am totally in awe and inspired by their collective courage and resiliency in the face of unthinkable tragedy. Although I cannot speak for everyone, I think I can safely say that we are all doing as good as can be expected given the horrific hand that we have been dealt. As I wrote then and will do so now, I know my own pain but can only imagine what everyone else’s must be like. Even though we have pulled together in the most incredible of ways, we each still have our own healing journeys to continue on.  We are–as individuals and as a family–forever changed.  And that, will never change.

And as I reflect, also not much different now than several months ago are the constants that I wrote about then. If anything, I believe in these more so now than I ever thought possible at the time.

  • Faith, family, and friends will carry you through the darkest of days. I still can’t stress this enough, in fact, this means so much more to me now than it did then. My faith has grown deeper, as have my relationships with the ones that I love the most. I cannot help but feel completely blessed.
  • The power of prayer is completely incredible and more powerful than I ever could have imagined.
  • Angels are real. Not only I have felt their loving arms wrap around me in my deepest of despair, they also visit occasionally in my dreams. I am so grateful for those nights.
  • Hugs healfor real.
  • You can never say I love you enough. Really, you can’t. Don’t be afraid to tell the ones that you love that you love them. Life is WAY too short not to.
  • Tragic loss really does open your heart to the pain of others, more than I ever could have imagined at the time. I truly feel the pain of others much differently than I did before. I pray that in time I can use that compassion to comfort others in despair.
  • My priorities have changed. All the little things that I thought mattered before– really, really don’t. The only thing that really matters is people. When it comes down to it, all we really ever have is each other. Nothing is more important that the ones you love.
  • GRATITUDE! I have never, ever been so grateful in my entire life. Life is a gift. Be grateful for absolutely everything and you’ll look at your life differently. I promise, it’s worth it.
  • Grief  truly is a ravaging beast that absolutely will devour your soul if you don’t find JOY. Seek it, in everything that you do. Let yourself feel that joy even if being joyous seems impossible. There is joy in the simplest and most mundane of things. Look for it.

One thing I didn’t write about in the first installment–mainly because I could not possibly have foreseen it– are the gifts that are slowly emerging from the tragedy. The opportunities to find the beauty and joy in the midst of deep pain are abounding. I pray that we can grasp each chance we are given to do good and to make a difference. I pray that as our story continues to unfold, we can keep moving forward in the most positive of ways, despite our pain and loss.

There are some of you reading this that I will never be able to thank enough for all that you have done to help me through the past six months. So many people have helped in so many ways. Every conversation, card, message, gift, and prayer are deeply, deeply appreciated–more than I could ever express. Thank you for walking beside our family.  I pray that you will continue that journey with us as we definitely have some tough days ahead. Despite the everyday difficulties of life after tragic loss, the man who caused the crash still has to go to court. As of now, there are 15 felony charges against him. Those days in court are looming (March 12 is the first hearing) and I know that they will be incredibly painful. Please, keep us in your prayers.

As for now, as each chapter unfolds, we will continue to walk forward in faith with hope for the future. . . shaken and shattered–but with God’s graceslowly putting the pieces of our hearts back together again.

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One bite and it’s 1977. . .

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One bite and I was instantly transported back to 1977. . . 

I am totally fascinated with how our brains imprint memories–not only only the images, but also the sounds, smells, and feelings that go along with them. The good, the bad, and the ugly. For better or worse, the brain captures it all. In an instant we can enter into a total recall of an imprinted memory before we even know what has hit us. Tonight, I had one of those moments. One bite into a delicious banana cupcake with peanut butter frosting and I was instantly transported back to 1977.  September of 1977 to be exact. . .

I was eight years old back then when my dad died suddenly.  Although there are moments that are a total blur during that time, there are several others that I remember vividly.

I remember saying good-bye to my dad the morning that he died. I remember being picked up at school later that day knowing that something was dreadfully wrong. I remember seeing my mom and hearing the news. I remember a steady stream of family and friends, the piles of casseroles and cakes, and I remember peanut butter frosting.

I have no idea why, of all the things to be lodged into my brain from that time, peanut butter frosting is it. Oddly enough, I remember where I was sitting (on the third of four bar stools along our kitchen bar) when I first tasted that yummy stuff. I loved it, apparently a lot. I even remember telling my mom about how much I loved it. Several months later when we found more cake with peanut butter frosting stashed in the freezer? I was ecstatic. Since then, the taste of that frosting has always brought me back to that time. (The memories ironically aren’t really that sad anymore. Instead, feelings of love surround those memories.)

After tonight’s flashback, I thought of some other things that instantly transport me back in time. (Side note: Interestingly, up until age 18, these memory triggers are all smells and really aren’t attached to any significant event, at least that I am consciously aware of. After age 18, songs suddenly took the place of smells, are attached to significant events, I am consciously aware of them, and I definitely won’t be getting into those here!)

Here’s a sampling of some of my favorites:

  • Mr. Sketch markers? Mrs. Brown’s first grade class. (I spent a lot of time sniffing those wonderful markers, mango and black licorice are still my favorites, and yes, I have a pack of them at my office right now. Explains a lot doesn’t it?)
  • Play Dough and Elmer’s Paste? Preschool, of course!
  • Bonne Belle lip gloss?  Mrs. Anderson’s third grade class. I couldn’t believe my luck when they came out with the giant sticks on a string. They still make those fat luscious sticks of gloss. In fact, I bought a watermelon one last summer (no string attached.)
  • L’Oreal lipstick? Junior year of high school. Sea Lily anyone? (Incidentally, while a beautiful color, Sea Lily should have NEVER graced my lips. Apparently, “color palette” was not part of my vocabulary then.) I bought a couple of tubes (in shades much more suitable to my coloring I might add) in the past year just because of the smell.
  • Love’s Baby Soft? My entire late elementary and junior high experience.
  • Aussie Sprunch Spray? Senior year all the way.

What about you? Any sights, sounds, smells, songs, or feelings that instantly bring you back to another time? Another place?

“Songs and smells will bring you back to a moment in time more than anything else. It’s amazing how much can be conjured with a few notes of a song or a solitary whiff of a room. A song you didn’t even pay attention to at the time, a place that you didn’t even know had a particular smell.”  ― Emily Giffin, Something Borrowed

I love this post by Erica Staab! Who are you becoming?

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Bates

The other day I ran into a friend who had said he was thinking of me the other day because someone had asked a question and he knew I would love it.  As I have written about before I am a bit obsessed with questions.  I think they are pretty fantastic and often open up new ways of being, thinking and seeing.

Instead of “How are you?” his friend has started to ask “Who are you becoming?”

 

It was so exciting to me on two levels, one is because he knew that I would like it, and it feels good to be known, to be thought of, to be seen.  And isn’t that what friendship is?  To take note of something that another would like, to share bits and pieces of life and to say in ways big and small… You Matter To Me.

And…

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Are you too busy?

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I read the following words this morning. They are taken from the book Sabbath by Wayne Muller. I am only a few pages into the book and I am completely and totally in love with it.

“I am so busy.

We say this to one another with no small degree of price, as if our exhaustion were a trophy, our ability to withstand stress a mark of real character. the busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others.

To be unavailable to our friends and family, to be unable to find time for the sunset (or even to know that the sun has set at all), to whiz through our obligations without time for a single, mindful breath, this has become the model of a successful life.

Our lack of rest and reflection is not just a personal affliction.

It colors the way we build and sustain community.”

Is this you?

I am ashamed to admit that, at one time (not all that long ago I might add) , this was me(Side note: If you have children, it’s hard to escape BUSY. I’ve been there, done that, and am still doing that. I get it.)

I once thought the busier I was, the better. It kept me from being in my own head (which can be a scary place) and made me feel like I was on the road to somewhere. Where? I have NO idea.

Then, when tragedy struck last August,  I was forced to stop and look at my life. When I stopped — when I came to the realization that life is SO much more than being busy–a funny thing happened. Once I stopped running and began to appreciate the silence and tranquility that comes with being available to myself and to others--my life began to change. Being intentional about life–by eliminating the distraction of being busy–has allowed me to stop and take some very mindful breaths.

Now? I pull over to take pictures of the sunrise, I drop what I’m doing to chat with my nephew, I try to carve out time in my day for meaningful conversations with people that I love, and I have begun to figure out how to fit into my life the things that bring joy and meaning to my soul.

Trust me, it’s not been easyI work on it every single day. And, quite frankly, there are days that I’d rather just be too busy to think. It’s so much easier to numb out and putter along in life than it is to deal with it some days.  Besides, there’s always something to be done, right?  ALWAYS!  But, I challenge you to stop and ask yourself,  how important are those things?

Stop and ask yourself that the next time you are too busy to breath.  

All of this and I’m only on page two. . .

Did I mention that I am in love with this book?