Understanding and Healing Sexual Trauma

– TRIGGER WARNING –

We often think of rape as happening in a dark alley with a complete stranger. In reality, it’s usually someone you know or have met before, or maybe even someone you trust. It may even occur somewhere you consider safe, like your home. For me, it was my boyfriend who raped me, at our home. We even lived together. I had given consent before. But this time I said no, multiple times. He tried to convince me, coerce me, change my mind…. then just took what he wanted anyways. It took me a long time to realize it was actually rape. It wasn’t violent. I didn’t scream. I just waited for it to be over because that was the easiest thing to do. I couldn’t overpower him, or get away. I basically just froze. I had no power or control. I was in denial and disbelief. This was the person I deeply loved and was suppose to love me and care for me. This was someone I trusted.

When you say no, but they try to coerce you or convince you, that’s still rape. Even if you’re dating the person and are intimate, you can still say no and they should respect that. It is not your duty or obligation as a partner to cater to their “needs.” Just because you’ve said yes before doesn’t mean they will continue to have rights to your body whenever they want. There should be a mutual, enthusiastic YES! You can change your mind in the middle of sex and that is ok, they should respect that and stop. It took multiple rape awareness classes through work to learn this many, many years after the fact.

In an extreme situation, you either fight, flee, or freeze. Your mind is so overwhelmed and not prepared to handle what is happening, so you go into survival mode. In these situations what most people don’t talk about is how the easiest survival instinct is simply freeze.. to wait it out until it’s over and pretend nothing happened. But the body remembers. There is no time to process the emotions because the body and nervous system are in overdrive and shock. So, like with all trauma, the unprocessed emotions get stored in your body. Prolonged unprocessed emotions and your nervous system remaining in a heightened state for a prolonged time can turn into PTSD, anxiety and/or depression. So for a time after an event/s you may still be in freeze mode, or even fight or flight. You’re still in shock. You don’t know what to do – how do you go on living a normal life? You may feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself or it was taken from you. You may be lost, angry, deeply hurt, numb, apathetic, etc. You may feel like this for years if you don’t actively work on healing the trauma. That’s what happened to me.

Rape stays with you, no matter how it happens, no matter with whom. It is an invasion of your body without your consent. It can make you feel unsafe, unworthy of love or affection, make you not comfortable being touched with other partners, feel like to can’t trust others, can’t trust yourself, hate yourself or your body, avoid certain places or people, hate a song you use to like, feel out of control, feel scared constantly, alone, ashamed, isolated, or blame yourself. You may feel like the whole world is no longer a safe place. You may do the “if I did____, then it wouldn’t have happened,” or “I should’ve not said___ or done ____.” It’s a vicious cycle going down the “should’ve, could’ve, would’ve” road and it will get you no where.

Remember that everything you experience is a normal reaction to trauma. You did the very best you could. You did absolutely nothing wrong nor did you do anything to bring it on yourself. It was not your fault. That remains solely on the perpetrator.

Start Healing:

Start talking about with with someone you trust who will remain calm and allow you to talk rather than trying to “fix it.”

Talking about it will help you regain your power and control.

You can also call a support line or join a support group. Learning for yourself that you aren’t alone and other people have had similar experiences helps a lot.

Forgive yourself. This was not your fault. There was nothing you could’ve done. You did the best you could given the situation.

You must FEEL to HEAL

Journal how you felt during and after the event/s. Name the emotions. Sit with me and allow yourself to feel them and anything that may come up. You may feel the need to cry or feel angry or scared – whatever it is that comes up, it is a chance to heal.

Reconnect with and get back into your body.

Yin yoga is really great – it’s soft, slow, meditative, low impact, and allows you to get deeper into the body.

Dance. Any kind of dance. Just move your body however feels good and whatever you feel it needs.

Do any activities you use to enjoy but maybe don’t do as much anymore. Reconnect with yourself and your interests.

Tai Chi or QiGong

Practice mindfulness – this keeps you present instead of stressing about the past or having anxious about possible future what ifs. Be aware of what’s happening in the moment. Using your 5 senses is a great way to start. Paying attention to nature and little things and finding joy in those things – like watching a squirrel play or a flower blowing in the breeze. Take time to slow down so you can notice and appreciate the little things.

Practice meditation – It takes some consistency but meditation can drastically decrease anxiety that comes from trauma. Remember the point isn’t to clear your mind, but to notice your thoughts and feelings, acknowledge them, and allow them to pass. You want to observe without judgement. It will be challenging to sit still with yourself and your thoughts – most of us have never done this before and it can be scary to be alone with yourself. But it’s a good first step towards relearning who you are, letting go of who you are not, accepting yourself, and loving yourself again. At first you may have a ton of thoughts and it can be overwhelming a to take a look at what’s actually going on in your mind. You can try imaging each thought as a thought bubble floating by, a cloud or a wave in the ocean. You can simply say, “I see you, thank you for sharing with me,” and wave goodbye. Focus on your breathe coming in and going out and each time a new thought comes up, acknowledge it, then return your focus to your breath. This actually trains your mind and rewires your brain. Anxiety is from living in the future, depression from living in the past, peace comes when you live in the present moment.

Be kind and gentle to yourself. You are not a victim, you are a survivor, and one day you will be a warrior. You will be stronger that you’ve ever been. Our traumas tend to shape us, help us grow, and eventually be able to connect with others on a deeper level. It helps us have more compassion and empathy. You sharing your story with someone else could help them not feel so alone and give them hope. That’s why I have this blog – I’m turning my mess into my message, my past pain into my purpose. I’m sharing how I overcame and healed, and that it’s completely possible for you to as well. But you have to want it, really want to heal. It starts there.

Building a Relationship With Yourself

We have many other relationships: our family members, friends, partners, coworkers and such, but what about ourselves – the person we spend the most time with and the person that is always around, a part of us and constantly in our head? This relationship gets overlooked and ignored the most, but why? Western society has taught us that it’s good and normal to work ourselves silly. That successful people and success comes from working long hours, getting little sleep, popping a pill to address the side effects of not caring for ourselves, grabbing whatever food is the fastest and shoving it down our throat, having our phone attached to us and constantly being on it so we don’t miss anything. We slave and work away the best years of our lives towards someone else’s dream. No wonder we’re all so depressed, anxious, exhausted, over-worked, and stressed out.

What if we slowed down a bit. Learned to enjoy and find joy in little things, and really take it in. Like the feeling of walking on or sitting on the earth- feeling the coolness of the mud, noticing little flowers, feeling the warmth of the sunshine on our face, the breeze through our hair, noticing how the air smells, feeling the texture of trees and rocks, and so on. This is called grounding. This is also very powerful for when we’re feeling lost, alone, or disconnected. It makes me feel like I’m one with the universe and like everything is connected and there is purpose and meaning to everything. Taking time to slow down and get grounded by spending time in nature or meditating or both is a great way to combat depression and anxiety and an excellent first step to caring for yourself, and building a relationship with yourself.

Spent time with yourself; learn to enjoy your own company. If you don’t enjoy your own company, why would other people? I’ve learned to really enjoy and value the time I get alone. Alone doesn’t have to be a negative thing. I quite enjoy going to a nice little local cafe, get a table outside if I can, and sipping on a mocha and some delicious food while I read a book. Sometimes, I leave the book home, and just sit there, sipping on my frothy beverage just fully enjoying being present in that moment, noticing the soft mumble of chatter from other people in the distance, the warmth of the cup on my hands, and the chocolatey aroma from my cup. Enjoying the simple things in life and allowing that joy to fill you up is a game changer. This can look different for everyone and everyday. It might mean enjoying a hot bubble bath with epsom salt and candles or a date night with yourself complete with your favorite wine and a meat and cheese board and your favorite chic flick (this is my go to). It might mean getting up early when the house is still quite to have a few moments to yourself so you can journal, read, stretch or do yoga, meditate or whatever you’d like the privacy and peace to do alone.

Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s get into self talk cause it’s a big one. We all have this inner voice and monologue constantly running in our own heads, and if we aren’t careful or don’t pay much conscious attention to it, it can run our lives without us even realizing it. Do you keep track of the things you say to yourself or the words you use? This inner voice can be very critical, judgmental, and cruel. It knows you better than anything and will use your fears and weaknesses against you. Our minds are designed to keep us safe, but keeping us safe also means keeping us small, in a contained box, and repeating the same things we already know are “safe” over and over. If we have a new idea or want to try something different, it will often tell us things to keep us in our safe box. Things like: “Who do you think you are to do ______, you don’t have the skills, education or experience, no one will take you seriously.” “That’s a big stretch, and there’s no guaranty it will work, it’s better to keep the 9-5 job where you have insurance and a steady paycheck.” Or the voice can be really mean and hurtful. “No one really likes you, they just put up with you.” “No one chooses me, even my dog would rather spend time with other people.” “I’m fat, hideous, and are covered in stretch marks and cellulite, who would ever love me?” “Everyone always abandons me; it’s not safe to get close to anyone, cause eventually they will leave just like everyone else.” Some of these thoughts may be deeply ingrained subconscious beliefs. You can try giving a name to this voice, like Karen. Then you can say, “What do you know, Karen, you’re just a controlling, jealous b*7%@ trying to bring me down. Not today Karen!” The best thing to do is start noticing the voice, and the things it says, write it down, keep track of it. What is it saying, where are the messages coming from? Is it a place of fear, need for control, feeling unworthy? Do you notice any patterns from this voice? Is it a subconscious belief? Is it your own belief or is it from someone else or society? Question them, and remove any that don’t belong to you. You can say, “Sorry Karen, but that’s not my belief, I actually believe ____, we’re gonna shift to this from no on.” This voice lies and deceives. Be sure to call it out and also question wether it is telling the truth or not; 9 times out of 10, it’s not the actual truth.

Eliminating the self talk is just part of it, the second part is replacing the negative self talk with something more positive, otherwise you’ll just revert back to what is familiar. Be your own personal cheerleader. Talk yourself up, lift yourself up, and speak to yourself with love, kindness and respect. Find compassion for yourself. Don’t beat yourself up for things you’ve done in the past, mistakes you’ve made, or for not being where you hoped you’d be by now. If you’re not sure how to start, pretend you’re talking to your best friend, or a small child you care deeply for. You’re not gonna tell them, “Wow, you really suck at that, you should just give up and quit while you’re ahead.” Instead, you might say something like, “That was a solid effort! You did great! Of course, there’s room for improvement, there always is. If you’re not making mistakes, you’re not growing. Allow yourself to just be a beginner and enjoy the learning process and enjoy the journey this takes you on. You’re gonna have a blast!” Doesn’t that sound and feel so much better? When things aren’t going so well and you are really struggling, try switching the narrative. Instead of “Why does this keep happening to me?”, try “What is the lesson to learn here; what is this trying to teach me?” I’ve found a lot of my lessons, especially the big, really hard ones were teaching me to love myself, choose myself, learn to respect myself, set boundaries, not chase people, self awareness around something in me, or I opened my eyes to an old wound that really needed attention. This was one of the best lessons I ever learned: things don’t happen to you, they happen for you. Shift the narrative. Go from being the victim to being the survivor, the warrior, the goddess or whatever fits you.

Work on loving yourself. Find reasons to be grateful for who you are, where you are, and the body you have. Instead of focusing on everything that’s not to your liking, focus on what your body can do. Can you breathe? Can you eat? Can you taste delicious food? Are you mobile? Can you move your body- all your limbs and such? Do you have all your limbs? Start here. Be grateful for these, because not everyone can. Thank and love your body for allowing you to do the things you love and things that are really helpful. For allowing me to walk, run, frolick, play, hike, dance, climb rocks, do yoga, workout, sing, play the piano, play with my fur babies, and drive my car around. Notice the strength and power your body does have, be thankful for that, and grow from there. We so often take these things for granted, but how would it feel if any of these were suddenly taken away from you? Our bodies do so much for us, thank it, be grateful for it. Love it.

What do you love about yourself, about who you are? Can you list 10 things you love about who you are? I don’t mean about your physical appearance, I mean about your soul, about the essence of who you are. Are you kind to strangers, a good friend, loyal, loving, playful, ambitious, creative, so forth and so on. Think about what it is that makes you who you are and that you love about yourself. Write it down. Put it where you can see it on the daily. Don’t ever forget or lose who you are.

Now think about where you are in your life. There’s probably things that aren’t perfect, there usually are. Are you now in a place or situation that maybe you use to want to be in so badly? Maybe it’s something little. I use to live in a community with my coworkers, and while I had my own place it was in pretty bad condition. Now I’m thankful for reliable and fast wifi, a roof that doesn’t pour water into my kitchen every time it rains or snows, a rodent free home, a dog door and fenced yard for my pooch, and central air conditioning. It’s the little things. The grass is always greener, but if we keep chasing that green grass we lose the beauty of the present, and if you aren’t living in the present, are you really living?

Image by: https://www.chrysaliscounselingstl.com/personal-growth/are-you-living-in-the-present/

If you are struggling with your relationships, work, feeling anxious, depressed or anything really, oftentimes our relationship with ourselves is where the issue lies. Starting by becoming aware of how your relationship is with yourself and the kind of self talk you use is a great starting point, after all you can’t change something you aren’t aware of. The quote above is one of my absolute favorites, because it’s so true. Anxiety is when you stress and worry about things that haven’t happened yet. Depression is when you are stuck in the past. When you start living in the present, in this very moment, everything else falls away, and true joy and happiness can be experienced. When we meditate, our breathe anchors us to the present home, the here and now. When you start doing the self work to get out of your head, and calm the negative, fear-based chatter, you start being able to live in the present. Building and maintaining a relationship with yourself is the single most important thing you will ever do, because the relationship we have with ourselves runs and dictates how every thing in our lives goes. Our relationships and friendships, our hope, joy, peace, career, dreams, and so much more. If we are filled with anger, regret, bitterness, negativity, insecurity, distrust, hurt, or shame, this will flow out into all other areas of our lives and will continue to attract those things and people with similar hurts. When we raise our vibration, let go of low vibration energies and people, we free up room for higher vibration people, opportunities, abundance, and things to come into our lives. It happened for me, and so many others, it can happen for you. Love yourself, always.

If this message was helpful for you or spoke to you in some way, please let me know! If there’s a topic you’d like me to write about, please comment below. I hope you enjoyed this. Until next time. <3Laura

Living With Buddhists

After my last seasonal job ended, and my house caught fire due to a careless roommate, I needed a job and place to live ASAP! I landed a good position in my career field as a land manager at a Buddhist retreat center in Northern Colorado called Shambhala Mountain Center (SMC). It was complete with an elaborate Buddhist temple and even a resident monk.

The pay and housing was absolutely terrible, but the location was beautiful, pristine and far away from the daily distractions and stressors of modern or city life.

The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya at Shambhala Mountain Center – Photo by Me

It was exactly what I needed at the time. Not long after being there, someone told me SMC has a way of speeding up healing and bringing things you need to deal with to the surface. He was not wrong. It might have been the sacred land the property sat on, the quiet, the simplistic lifestyle, all the meditating, community living, living with your coworkers and seeing them every day including at all meals, a sudden immersion into an unknown Buddhist community and way of living and working, or a combination of everything. Things kept coming up, one after another, and I dealt with them instead of running away, self-medicating, numbing, or any of the old habits I had of not dealing with things that came up. I didn’t click with everyone, but there were a small handful of beautiful souls there that I could speak honestly and openly with that I knew would keep our conversations confidential. It was a learning curve figuring out who those people were, but that’s what made it worth it. Finding those people meant I had to open up and be honest and vulnerable, which was something I’ve always struggled with. Having those people who were so authentic and real was a divine gift, especially during the harder times when I was dealing with my personal demons and just needed someone to listen, hold space, be present with, and give warm hugs.

Breathtaking Mountain Views Looking North from the Road to the Stupa – Photo By Me

Working and living in a Buddhist community was its own kind of challenging. I learned a lot while I was there. I gained so much practice in awareness both in myself, others and my environment. That was the best gift. Awareness is the key to healing – for you can only work with that which you are aware of. I learned to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. I learned to look inward and ask myself the hard questions, and more importantly to be honest with myself, even when it wasn’t pretty. That’s how I grew.

The Sunsets are the Best – Photo By Me

I learned to forgive myself. For everything. I was blaming and punishing myself for mistakes I had made years and years ago. Mistakes that now I do not regret as I learned a lot from them. I heard somewhere to give yourself grace and compassion, like you would a close friend – that you did the best you knew how to given what you knew, the tools you had, and all the other surrounding circumstances at the time. That helped me a lot.

I really started working on gratitude. When most of the people living there didn’t have basic amenities in their home, I learned gratitude for the unreliable wifi I had access to without having to go somewhere for it. I gained gratitude for plumbing – having a shower, sinks, toilet, and running water. I was grateful for a kitchen that didn’t have a stove or oven, heating, having my own place, and so many other things we so often take for granted and never even consider. I started keeping a notebook I would write in everyday a few things I was grateful for. I highly recommend started a gratitude notebook, and don’t forget to write down those things we are very privileged to have – like Wifi, it’s pretty friction’ awesome. In this day and age, there is so much negativity, fear, anger, violence, and hate in the world – and it’s everywhere! Gratitude helps combat all of those negative influences. When I started focusing on what I’m grateful for, all the noise slowly started to fall away. The bitterness in my soul turned into compassion, kindness, love and gratitude. All of these emotions are very high frequency – focusing on gratitude is a shortcut to raising your vibration and starting to feel and live in all the other high vibration emotions such as joy, love and peace. This is why gratitude is all the rage and everyone is talking about it. It’s powerful stuff.

Image from: Intuitive Leadership Mastery https://intuitiveleadershipmastery.com/emotional-physical-pain-one-hurts/

I learned acceptance, to accept where I am and not try to change it. I am where I am meant to be. And so are you. I had a “the grass is always greener over there” mindset and serious FOMO. I learned to be present and to trust in the universe (call it God, Yoda, or whatever feels good for you), and that everything happens for a reason. I learned that things aren’t happening to me they are happening for me – i.e. to get out of that victim mindset and realize you are in whatever position you are in and wherever you are struggling to learn an important lesson. Get dumped? Good! You’re that much closer to someone better and more comparable with you, and also, being single is awesome! Enjoy that bed all to yourself. Lose your job? Try doing the thing you really wanna do. Struggling financially? Take it as a sign to get your shit together. Pay off your debt, change jobs if you need to, go through your finances and figure out where you actually are and where you wanna be – and do something about it. Struggling with your mental health? That is a large dire sign from your body and mind that it needs you to stop running, numbing or whatever you’re doing that is not working. Learn to go towards what ails you rather than away. It is a cry from your inner child to be seen, heard, accepted, and loved. It can be compounding emotional wounds that were never truly acknowledged or felt. Feel it. Consider yourself lucky, that you received the message, and you are now hearing it. You can not move ahead until you have. That’s why so many of us feel stuck, we keep repeating the same cycles and patterns through the people we date, people we hang out with, things we do, how we spend our time, etc. when it’s really a reflection of how we feel about ourselves and what we believe we are worthy of. I’ve had many lessons over the years. One of the biggest was an abusive relationship to teach me to love, value, and respect myself and to awaken me to the parts of myself I had buried deep down that needed attention, love and healing. This took me a really long time to learn what that was truly about, but I’m grateful I finally did or I’d still be chasing around toxic bad boys begging for their love and attention. I want to challenge you to consider your current struggles, and see if you can see what lesson is there for you to learn, usually about yourself and what you really need.

I learned patience and compassion for others. You never know what someone else is going through, experiencing, or the kind of day they are having. Be kind. Even if they do open up and share with you, their hurt is their experience, not yours. It is not for us to judge other people’s experience. If only it were possible to metaphorically walk in someone else shoes. Instead of getting angry or frustrated at things that would’ve sent me into a tizzy, like when people cut you off in traffic, I would take a deep breathe and consider what might be going on in their life for X,Y, or Z to happen, or for someone else to act a certain way.

Another important lesson I learned was that not everything, in fact most things, weren’t about me. What do I mean by this? I mean, when someone isn’t texting or calling you back it isn’t about you. If they leave you on read, don’t take it personally. Chances are, it’s not really about you. They are having their own experience. Allow them to have it. If someone flips you the bird on the highway, shrug it off instead of riding their ass for 5 miles while you huff and puff about what an asshole they are. If you’re dating someone and out of the blue they ghost you, instead of taking it as a hit to the ego and drinking away the sting of rejection, let it go! You have no clue what is really going on with others. There are so many variables in life, and things are constantly changing.

Meditation often comes to mind when Buddhism is brought up, and yes, there was lots of meditating. Having a meditation practice is powerful stuff. It calms anxiety, alleviates depression, clears the mind, and it teaches us to be present and grounded which creates a ripple effect that helps other parts of our lives. How? With regular practice, you become more aware; of yourself, your thoughts, thought patterns, surroundings, others, and you begin to understand yourself better. Awareness is the key to healing. Once you realize what needs work, only then can you begin to work with it. Meditation was such a bit part, I’ve decided to write another post on that alone, so stay tuned!

I’ll be forever grateful for all of the growth and healing I was able to do, for all the alone time I was blessed with to work on myself and for the chance to live deep in the heart of nature. It was truly a grand adventure.

What are some powerful lessons you’ve learned? Do you have any practices that keep your mind healthy? Please share below =)

My Story

If you’re anything like me, you sometimes get these grand ideas of what you want to be doing with your life. Whether it’s passion related, purpose, a hobby or interest, or a way you can use your unique gifts and experiences to contribute to the world and help others in whatever way you can. I’ve always loved to write – songs, poems, short stories, journaling, blogs, etc. I’ve also been taking photos since I was a wee little thing, snapping awkward photos at the zoo of all the creatures, including the ambitious squirrel that bravely approached me, hoping for some of my lunch. I was never very good at processing the photos, editing, and posting them in a timely manner, granted there wasn’t much of that back in the days of myspace and cameras you had to manually crank to get to the next picture to take and then get it developed at your local CVS. I just enjoyed taking photos, I never imagined had I continued to pursue photography, I could make a career out of it. It’s hard to fathom how much social conditioning we undergo starting at a very young age – the biggest lie being: you have to graduate high school with good grades so you can get into a good college, then work your butt off, so you can graduate with a good GPA, and don’t forget those extra curricular activities , especially the ones you show off your leadership skills. Then you land THE JOB, the big kahuna permanent career position. One of those good paying, permanent, full-time with benefits and paid holidays and vacation positions. That’s the goal. That’s how you become successful and happy.

That’s the biggest crock of shit ever.

I did all of this. I landed a great job as a Project Ecologist working at a successful firm in Georgia. I started by renting a 2 bedroom townhouse and lived all by myself and felt good and successful, like I had made it.

Then all the demons I had been running from my whole life caught up to me – and I fell HARD.

A depression that had been a part of me the majority of my life finally made itself very real and very apparent. I just always thought those darker sides of myself were just who I was and it was normal. It wasn’t.

After running away after a horrid relationship then an equally bad and traumatizing breakup, I started experiencing symptoms that made me feel like I was going crazy: intrusive, brief flashes of awful memories and emotions, crippling anxiety (I didn’t even know it was anxiety at the time), nightmares, inability to focus, paranoia, extreme hypervigilance and exagerated startle reaction to name a few symptoms.

I ended up losing my job because of all this, and because I didn’t know what was happening to me, so I didn’t communicate with my employers about my struggles. I started doing group therapy shortly before this happened, but after I lost my job I knew I needed a lot more help, so I self committed. By doing this, I had the option to do an intensive outpatient program rather than be an inpatient. Maybe staying there would’ve been more beneficial.. I’ll never know.

It helped to know I wasn’t alone, and that other rather normal people also struggled and suffered. However, since it was a young adult program, and we weren’t allowed to talk about the traumas that needed some light shed on them for fear of triggering other patients, so it only helped so much. They loaded me up on all kinds of drugs to control the symptoms, the problem is, they never tried to address the root of the problem.

I stopped going after week 5 of 6 weeks, so I could go to my first music festival, and I’m glad I did. A whole new world revealed itself to me. I danced alongside many others in the forest at my first silent disco. I felt joy and happiness in my soul like never before. I discovered a more natural method of healing. I decided I needed a big change in my life, so I moved to Colorado for a much needed change. Probably not the best idea given the state of my mental health. But I soon learned that Colorado had really good programs and help for what I needed, which my previous states of residence did not. I was able to start seeing a therapist, I did EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy, got a doctor that actually made sure I was on the proper medication for what I needed, I volunteered for causes I felt passionate about, made some friends, and slowly started improving.

EMDR set me back because it opened those trauma doors that had been completely blocked out that I didn’t remember them at all until the memories came flooding back. I started having very public extreme panic attacks. Often, the fear of having a panic attack would keep me from doing things I enjoyed. EMDR is a very effective form of therapy, but I don’t believe the therapist who I saw for it was qualified or prepared for what she got. I scared the shit out of her. And she did not want to see me anymore. As someone who struggles with rejection, getting dumped by your therapist, a mental health professional who should be equipped to handle the demons they dig up whom you grow to trust and let in, well that seriously sucks. I urge anyone seeking professional help to do your homework and make sure they are extremely qualified and well versed and experienced in what they claim to be, especially for the specific type of trauma you seek help for. However, I do not regret doing it, because it awakened me to the origin of my deep depression and fear, and it was not from that relationship; you guessed it, it was from my childhood. >Insert eye-roll emoji< Shocker.

Needless to say, I had a lot of work to do on myself. I was determined to get better, to overcome the symptoms that ran my life, and to be able to be normal and live a normal life. I knew there had to be more to life than this. I was determined to prove the first doctor wrong that said I would be on 3 medications for life. I did not accept that. There was no way I was going to let some random psychiatrist I had but a 15 minute talk with tell me how my life would be. I was on a mission to grow. Western medicine, doctors, and techniques only did so much for me. I knew I needed more, and some different techniques.

I tried equine therapy, and loved it. I didn’t make much money then, and often only found seasonal work in my field of study, so I got resourceful and found a nonprofit in Colorado Springs called the Colorado Springs Therapeutic Riding Center (https://www.cstrc.org). I was hesitant to reach out because I wasn’t exactly their typical client; many were young kids with developmental or physical disabilities, but I called and visited anyways, desperate for anything that could help. And it did. It helped me learn awareness, trust in other beings as well as myself and my body, it improved my confidence, it helped my posture and the pain and misalignment as a result of a lifetime of unaddressed trauma and stress in the body. Mostly, it gave me hope and something positive that I enjoyed to look forward to. Horses are magical creatures. They are incredibly in tune, they sense your emotional state, and can be really caring, sensitive and healing. At the time, I was really struggling at work with my mental state and the work environment and people deeply triggered and made it much worse. Equine therapy was a safe haven I got to go to away from it all where I finally felt happy and peaceful. I really enjoyed this time, and got a lot from it.

After this time, I landed a good position in my career field as a land manager at a Buddhist retreat center in Northern Colorado called Shambhala Mountain Center (SMC). It was complete with an elaborate Buddhist temple and even an onsite resident monk. I finally was stable enough and had enough tools in my belt to manage my symptoms on my own, so I went off all my medications, and haven’t gone back.

The pay and housing was absolutely terrible, but the location was beautiful, pristine and far away from the daily distractions and stressors of modern or city life. It was exactly what I needed at the time. It was challenging in way I had never experienced – in my work, community, and personally. So much healing, growing and self awareness happened there. Healing isn’t exactly pretty. It’s hard, otherwise everyone would be doing it instead of checking out, but it’s so worth it to take control back of your life. *Check out my other post to hear more about my experience living and working at a Buddhist retreat center and everything I learned while I was there.*

For the last few months there, I was really struggling with not feeling like the work I was doing was very meaningful or fulfilling. I always had a feeling I was meant for big things, but just wasn’t sure what. The desire to figure out what I was meant to be doing with my life, who I really was, and what I loved became my highest priority. I read books, watched tons of ted talks and youtube videos, listened to podcasts, talked with others and everything else I could do. *I recently did a blog post about figuring out your passion, so if you’re stuck there, take a read to discover all of the information I devoured and everything I discovered on my own about the subject.*

I was applying to other jobs, and trying to make a change in my life. I wanted to be happier, and for that, I need a purpose to my existence. Then – BAM – COVID-19 hits. The center freaks out. We are on a strict lockdown with many new intense sanitation changes to everything. This happened right at my one year mark, and before I knew it, I no longer had a job and would soon have to find somewhere else to live. So much was changing and I started feeling out of control. I had slowly been working towards stepping into my creative interests (writing, photography and music) but it was slow going and I was hesitant to really start. I decided to move back home and I’m so glad I did. What I had really been missing and needing was a community, or tribe if you will, that I fit in and belonged in. I didn’t have that at Shambhala. I had been hearing the term, tribe, all throughout the spiritual and self help world and really wanted to find mine. The thing is, I had it all along, I had just fallen (and moved) away from them. My tribe were my old friends I had grown up with, people that were more like family, people I reconnected with that it just happened so randomly. Coming home and reconnecting with all of these wonderful people was exactly what I was missing and desperately needing in my life. Colorado was amazing, but it wasn’t home. I didn’t have any super close friends; it was lonely. Home is where the heart is, and where your people are.

Since being back home, I’ve come out of the funk I was in, I no longer feel stuck, I’m more active, have more energy, working out again, eating better, and I’m finally motivated again after many years of being in a funk. I’ve given myself permission to finally be me, and give no fucks about what anyone else thinks. And that feels so good. It’s kinda terrifying to step into yourself and live your life for you. To be you, completely and fully allow yourself to be seen and heard as who you are. I wasn’t living my life in my truth of who I am before, and now I finally am. I’m finally writing again (as you can tell), I’m singing in front of people (made me super anxious), I’m pursuing photography and have been doing photoshoots with my friends, I’m spending quality time with my friends and family, and I’m constantly out adventuring and exploring new areas (with my camera of course). I feel like a whole new person; that extinguished fire that use to exist within me has returned. So, if you saw yourself in any part of my story, I want you to know it will get better. There is hope. You can be free from suffering and live a happy, healthy life. Reconnect with your soul and the essence of who you are and start living your life for you. You deserve a life of happiness and bliss. ❤

Rediscovering Your Passion

One of the things we see more and more is people chasing after their passion. Like it’s lost or something and they have to find it. Here’s a little secret: it’s not lost, you already have it within you and you already have everything you need within you as well to bring it into fruition. We instinctively move in the direction towards it, especially when we’re young and encouraged to follow our heart’s desires. Why don’t you have it now if we already have it? Maybe you gotta get yourself a little unstuck – I’ll remind you, you aren’t a tree, you are not rooted in your current circumstances. You can move, you can grow, and you will, but for anything in your life to change, there needs to be some changes, consistent changes. You don’t need a map, just a general direction and vision of what you want and who you want to be.

Start with getting a hobby. Could be something you used to do but have fallen away from over the years or something you’ve always wanted to do or learn. Maybe it’s that thing that’s been hiding in the back on your mind but you’ve never given yourself permission to do it or to really go for it. Maybe you have an idea or even a few, but you’ve told yourself something like, “It’s isn’t practical.” “You can’t make any money let alone a good living doing this.” Or, “Yea there’s people out there doing it. they just got lucky or had a silver spoon up their ass.”

Or maybe you’re like me and have a handful of solid potential hobbies to be explored. After much reflection on who I use to be and how I changed over the years, and remembering the things I enjoyed and just did because I enjoyed them, I’ve found some clarity. I wrote – like a lot. I journaled consistently, and wrote poems, songs, and even a few short stories. Senior year of high school, I took a creative writing class, just for fun because it sounded neat and thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of it. I was a band nerd and I mean NERD. I started in elementary school playing the bells with the little mallets – my parents were champs letting me pick a percussion instrument. I came back in high school and started with Color Guard (flag spinning) my first marching season, but the girls were gossipy and catty and I just didn’t fit in, so I switched to percussion for concert season and I just stayed because it was a better fit. I still enjoyed throwing the flags around, so I did Winterguard for the next 2 years. The next marching season, I was made pit captain *think xylophone cymbals and all those other instruments played with your hands that aren’t a drum* and was also part of the Drumline. I also did Winter Percussion, Concert and Marching seasons the duration of high school, so it was basically my whole life. Also did choir one semester, and really loved it. I was always singing when I was alone and with my best friends.

From a young age, I got a camera, one of those with actual film you had to crank to get to the next picture to take, and then take it to the drug store and wait 2 weeks for it to develop. I was always taking pictures – around the yard, at the zoo, and about everywhere else. Now, here I am a few decades later and I still love taking pictures. After messing around with it and keeping it hobby-zoned forever, I’m finally realizing there could be something there. Plenty of people make good livings with a camera, why not me? Because I never gave myself permission to go for it; I never envisioned that could be me. I would tear myself down and think, “You don’t know what you’re actually doing”, “You don’t understand all the technique behind it like shooting in manual.” And I would compare myself to every other person out there already doing it and to their work – this is the absolute worst thing you can do to yourself. Alter this a bit and instead if you must compare, compare yourself to yourself – be in competition with yourself. Think, “So I accomplished or worked on this yesterday, what can I do today to move me closer to my goals?” And if you don’t have any goals, get some! Otherwise, chances are you’re just floating around through life, like a bobber in water, not really getting anywhere or doing anything, while life just passes you by. Now, I’m going out shooting with my friends, doing photo shoots with friends that volunteer to model, I’m connecting with and learning from other friends who are pretty into it, I’m posting photos, going out on adventures, and basically living the life I dreamed of. Through the journey, you will make discoveries about yourself, opportunities will present themselves, connect with like minds, and by living in your truth, you will attract people on that same level.

First shoot I did with my friend modeling

To be clear, I’m not saying to choose a career field, I’m saying give yourself permission to in a way, be a child again: to be a beginner at something, to ask questions, to learn, to grow, to play and have fun. Pick something, or even a couple things you enjoy, and get busy. Don’t expect to just pick something up and be at the intermediate level, build the proper foundation. Fill up your planner with it. Learn to properly mix the colors, learn the major 12 scales, watch youtube videos to learn whatever it is your thing is. We are blessed to have access to so much knowledge, and so much of it is free! There are also lots of super affordable options too. Ever heard of Skillshare? Have you ever signed up for an online e-course? I’m a big fan of these. Allow the wander and pure joy to fill you up. Generally, big discoveries about yourself and your passions don’t come to you from mulling them around all the time. It comes from trying something out, taking action and learning if you really enjoy it

Redefine what success means to you. So many of us fell into the societal rewiring trap along the way, where we are taught through various media forms, societal standards and norms, schools and even family that success means you get good grades in high school to get in a good college. Study hard, show off your leadership and organizational skills by taking on a role or 4 in various school organizations and clubs. Land the job (with a 401k and all that jazz), buy a house, have some kids and boom! One American dream complete with success, wealth, love, and happiness. *Insert eye roll emoji* How many miserable people do you know you have stuck to the plan? Now they feel trapped in their current circumstance, completely clueless about why they are struggling so hard. Wanna know why? They never allowed themselves to be themselves – to follow their dreams, to pursue what lit their eyes up when they talked about it, what lights a firein their soul, and what makes them unique. It doesn’t have to make you money, you don’t have to be good at it, no one else needs to even like it for you to be successful. Just the fact that you’re doing the thing, making art, writing, baking, creating, dancing… is enough. Don’t give anyone the power to take what it means to you away. Don’t make it contingent upon making a living on it (if it works out that way, great!), other people approving of it, or upon anything else. It is worthy and enough because you are doing it. It’s that simple.

Something interesting I noticed as I’ve gone through the unlearning process of shedding layers that are not me and rediscovering who I am, I’m finding I’m that same exact person I use to be, just much happier, healthier and joyful. I’ve come home again; come back to who I am. I finally gave myself permission to be her – permission to be that girl. The one that lights that lights up a room, her laughter is contagious, her smile is genuine, she commands respect, she’s confident, sassy, cute, kind, fun, outgoing, adventurous, fit, outdoorsy, and looks dope in a ball cap at the gym. I’m quickly becoming her. The more I step into who I am and fully live it – let it fill up my schedule, the more it fills me up. I start feeling more whole, more alive, happier, grounded, authentically connecting with others. Abundance and prosperity have started pouring into my life where there was a lot of lack before. Connections that are no longer aligned with who I am now, who I’m working on being, or what I’d like my life to look like naturally unravel and have fallen away. Don’t be discouraged when this happens – it’s not happening TO you, it’s happening FOR you, to create space for new, higher-frequency connections to develop, that are in better alignment with this empowered new you! There will most likely be deep commonalities or similarities there. New opportunities will present themselves, sometimes masked as the end of something, like a job, relationship, friendship, travel, experiences, etc. This bittersweet ending is really a new beginning. You know that saying, when one door closes, another… opens! Be mentally open and available to new doors opening and new opportunities, don’t turn them down because you don’t feel ready, skilled enough, or worthy.

You have all the control and probably don’t even know it. Your life rests in your hands. Your happiness rests in your capable hands, and it is your responsibility, and yours alone – not your parents, your partner, friends, or even your therapist’s job to make you happy, you must do the work. Give yourself permission to be selfish for a while as you rediscover who you are. Make it your mission to unlearn and shed everything you are not, all the social norms and expectations, reflect on what you were taught makes you successful or happy, and learn what actually does make you happy, what you really want and connect with who you truly are – your soul. This doesn’t include your thoughts, feelings, your job title, income, size or other physical features, marriage status, or your ego. Find what remains after you remove all of that. Attach your identify around things that aren’t contingent upon anything, anyone or what others think of you and things that won’t go away. Consider how success can be measured. You’re less likely to have a mid-life crisis if your job that is a big defining factor in who you believe you are is suddenly gone. Or like when mothers who have no other identity for themselves is now an empty nester. Again, you gotta start from the beginning, and that can feel overwhelming and even scary. You gotta get out of your comfort zone, out of the rut, off of the couch, away from the tv. You have to start making different decisions about your schedule and priorities.

Create some clear goals that fire you up – have a reward written down that you would love and would make you smile, and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money. I like to do solo wine and fancy cheese night with a good chic flick. For smaller, less time consuming wins, I’ll reward myself with a chocolatey mocha, or as Tara Schuster says in her book, “Buy Yourself the Fucking Lilies”, which is also the name of the book, which I highly recommend. For something bigger I might go out to eat somewhere new, get something online I’ve had my eye on, or get a massage. As you get your feet wet, step into the water, and dive in, you will get a better understanding of what you want, so don’t fret if you have no idea right now. Just get started, don’t put any pressure on yourself, and have fun!

All my love,

Laura

Let me know where you struggle with this. Drop your questions in the comments below.

What Nature Means to Me

Hiking around Tennessee

Some of my fondest memories growing up happened because my brother was in the Boy Scouts. He went to the meetings, earned the badges, raced the derby car, camped, roasted smor’es around the campfire and all that Boy Scout shit. Lucky for me, they were pretty inclusive of families. We got to be included on all the best stuff like the overnight camping trips! We became regulars and at one point I, yes a girl, earned a Boy Scout Badge – and I’m still super proud of that. =D

Going on these trips and various outings was were the start of my first relationship – with nature that is. I developed a deep love for, connection to, and appreciation of nature.

I loved watching the lightning bugs dance through the grass as they slowly rose up through the trees. I loved slipping away into dreamland to the peaceful chirps of of cicadas and crickets in the distance, and waking with the sun as I discover I’d been dewed on. The more time I spent in nature, the more I grew to love it. You really learn to appreciate it all, or at least most of it. I’m still not a fan of any stinging or biting insects or cave crickets, but I appreciate spiders that eat them. Finally, all that hype around gratitude is starting to make sense. You learn to fully appreciate the happy little trees that provide shade. The rocks and pebbles when you don’t have to trudge through mud with your nice tennis shoes on. You are grateful for that splendid breeze when you are drenched in sweat and basically dying. Crystal-clear streams that offer hydration, refreshment and cooling from the hot sun.

When you are trapped in your tent while the thunder shakes the ground beneath you and rain pours in through seams, you feel nature – you actually feel the power, the energy, and get not a glimpse of the force behind it all. Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, droughts and monsoons are great examples of Mother Earth’s power and possibly even fury, ya know, Mother’s Nature’s wrath! By Mother Earth, I mean that powerful energy the Earth has, that goes deep into her belly. Makes me think of magma, thermal gases, hot springs and such. Earth is very much alive. If you struggling with something to be grateful for, be thankful for the sun! Feel it’s warmth, notice how it warms your skin, embrace that masculine energy, that fire, that feeds and provides for us all.

I feel blessed I was able to grow up with a positive model of how to be with nature, how to treat our Earth, and how to respectfully and responsibly enjoy it.

Nature is a part of me. I deeply respect Mother Nature. Nature is my church. It’s my home. It’s who I am; who I’ve always been. I’m also kinda goofy. That’s just me. 😂🤷‍♀️

So, it deeply offends me and very much pisses me off when I see people throw cigarettes out the car window, especially when it’s still lit. I can’t stand to see the whole large-sized pizza boxes or all the trash some of self-righteous, little shit’s drive-thru dinner.

PSA: THE EARTH IS NOT YOUR TRASH CAN. Sorry, but no, not sorry if this offends you. I sometimes wonder what it would take for someone to be so entitled, ignorant, or lazy that they must immediately throw trash out of a moving vehicle rather than wait however long it takes to get home or to the next stop to put it in an actual trash can. I use to think trust fund? But now I know that’s not the answer. Money doesn’t make anyone bad. If you’re good you do more good with more money. If you’re a selfish, coniving person already, well money isn’t likely to change that.

On another tangent/PSA, please don’t be that asshole group of the partying group of campers that leaves a ton of trash, makeshift toilets, used toilet paper piles, cigarettes butts, broken glass, shells/bullets, or any of that other crap behind when spending time in the great outdoors. Be kind and considerate of nature, wildlife and of others. Practice leave no trace principles. Many thanks.

All my love,

Laura ❤

And Mother Nature. I’ll be her voice, er.. fingertips.

I’d love to hear about any good memories you have growing up around the Great Outdoors.

What is a problem that affects the Earth that is near and dear to your heart? For me, single-use plastics are terrible. Also, all the chemicals pumped into our drinking water. Watch Down to Earth with Zac Efron if you want your mind blown a little, or a lot.

What changes can you make to reduce your footprint? Maybe switch from plastic water bottles and jugs to a reusable glass or stainless steel one, that’s super cute and looking at it gives you all the good feels? Ask the barista to fill your reusable mug instead of the plastic disposable one. Pass on the straw or get a reusable one. I have a silicone one that completely unlatches to make cleaning super quick and easy. Most also come with an adorable mini bristle brush.

A Different Approach to Tackling Anxiety

Photo by me. All rights reserved.

For about 5 years, I dealt with extreme anxiety and panic attacks. It ran my life. I had medication I felt like I needed and would panic (even more) if I didn’t have it. I tried numerous other ways to combat it, but nothing seemed to really help. It was crippling and paralyzing. I lived in fear of having another panic attack. Oftentimes, the panic attacks were paired with an extreme emotional breakdown. It was so embarrassing when this happened and I couldn’t stop it. I remember one time in particular, I had an EMDR session earlier that day, and later went to play in a dart tournament that evening. Everything was going great. There was the slightest pressure to hit a couple specific numbers. No big deal. I loved this! I did it all the time under pressure, in fact, it often helped me play better. I remember sitting in my bar stool chair, looking at the dart board and at my teammate, and was about to go, and then it hit me. I felt the tears well up, and before I knew it I was having a melt down in the ladies room. Then I was couldn’t breathe – I was hyperventilating and freaking out. I was paralyzed by the anxiety and fear.

What happened was something was brought up during my session, a feeling, emotion, thought, something… Maybe feeling out of control and helpless in a terrifying situation as a young kid, maybe feeling pressure, maybe something else completely, but the tiniest something in that moment triggered it and all of those repressed emotions came out pouring out and I was not ready for it. That was a really intense and difficult night. Luckily I had people there who were there for me the best that they could be given everything, and that was so helpful not being alone during those tough times, cause I’ve been there too and it’s much harder to pull yourself out of it afterwards.

The point I’m getting at is, the same situation, playing in a dart tournament with some healthy competition and pressure, though stressful, I often find to be exciting and exhilarating. That particular night, I was plagued by a deep fear brought on by the EMDR session, which turned my normal excitement into fear and then into a full blown panic attack. This is an extreme example, but I urge you to try to see where you might’ve actually been feeling a bit of excitement (at least at first) in a past or present experience that brought up a lot of anxiety.

https://www.theatlantic.com/video/index/515667/how-would-immortality-change-the-way-we-live/

There’s a fine line between anxiety and excitement. It’s really the same thing when you break it down. They are both simply feelings or emotions. With anxiety though, we tend to take it on as who we are. We say “I am anxious” rather than “This makes me feel anxious” or say “my anxiety is acting up” rather than “I’m noticing I’m starting to feel anxious”. Start by noticing if you do this or something similar, and gently reword it every time you notice it. Here’s a great video about the science behind the similarities between the two and how to turn your fear into excitement.

We’ve become so detached from ourselves, our minds and bodies that we often have no clue where the anxiety stems from or what’s causing it. We just distract ourselves, numb, or detach ourselves or whatever we can to feel better in the moment. It’s become more of a lifestyle: drinking, smoking, binge-watching netflix, obsessive video gaming, shopping, social media scrolling, eating, etc. What we really need is to work on becoming more self aware and paying more attention to ourselves and our emotions, and get to the root of why we are experiencing anxiety in the first place. When you feel anxious, try to pinpoint where you most feel it in your body. What other sensations are you experiencing, such as trembling, increased heart rate, a lump in your throat, or sweaty hands? I encourage you to sit with the anxiety for a bit, as this can be incredibly helpful and enlightening. By that I mean, take some time to go somewhere alone and quite, even if you have to go to the bathroom, close the lid and sit on the pot. Close your eyes, take several long, slow and deep breaths focusing on the anxiety and ask yourself where it’s coming from and what it’s trying to tell you. You might see a glimpse of a memory, have a sudden thought, feel a twinge somewhere in your body, or have an emotion come over you, just to give you some ideas of what to pay attention to. If you are ready, explore whatever comes up for you. Thank yourself for bringing it to your attention so you may become aware of it and let it go this time.

So maybe next time you start feeling anxious, simply say to yourself “I am excited.” We do have control over the thoughts we think, and when those thoughts are fear based we experience anxiety, which feeds it and can lead to a full blown panic attack. You don’t have to go down that rabbit hole. Catch yourself when you start feeling it. Acknowledge how you are feeling and have some affirmations ready for when it happens. Some of mine are: I am safe (I sometimes just repeat this one over and over). I am okay. I am grounded. I am cared for and loved. I am worthy. I’ve got this. I’ve overcome far worse than this.

Use whatever works for you. I hope these ideas are helpful and can help you get out of your fear. Let me know what you found to be impactful for you. =)

As always,

Peace and Love,

Laura

How to Choose Joy and Find Your Power

Trigger warning: Some material in this post may be difficult for some individuals to work with at this time. And that’s totally fine! If you find the material to be too much for you, do whatever you need to do take care of yourself, whatever that may mean for you.

Choose joy. Choose happiness. Choose hope. Choose love.

Someone tried to tell me something along those lines years ago. I scowled and turned my back and walked away. I was an asshole. My thoughts angrily stirred inside as I walked away,

“You don’t have a clue what I’ve been through. There’s been too much pain, sadness, trauma, heartbreak, loneliness, and suffering. I’d love to be happy, but I have this thing called depression and anxiety that won’t let me be.”

and

“Such bullshit! Maybe that’s possible for you, but there’s just no way. What does happy even feel like? I don’t even remember…I remember feeling happy, like when I make chocolate chip cookies…”

I guess it pissed me off a little when I saw other people being so happy and joyful. How easy they have it. No stress, no worries, no therapy, no medications to take every day to stay sane, no medical bills – nothing! What the hell?! Why can’t I be like that? Why can’t I be happy? Why did I have to get dealt such a shitty hand in life? Why me?

Image result for dumbledore quotes

Since then I have dedicated my life to healing and to helping others so they don’t have to suffer like I did for as long as I have. I have done A LOT of self work, in so many ways. I have tried everything I could find, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, and I can honestly say, it’s working! I’m a completely different person than I use to be. That darkness in me is probably still there in some ways, but there is a beautiful light now that keeps shining brighter and brighter with each day. I don’t fear the darkness like I use to, nor do I cling to it either. When all you’ve known is sadness, detachment, pain, and darkness, it’s excruciating and terrifying trying to pull yourself out of it. It’s like those shiny black sludgy creatures from Kingdom Hearts or the creatures from the bottom of the lake in Harry Potter, grasping at you, trying to pull you below the endless black water, when you’ve already accepted that this is your home, where you belong. It takes lots of conscious effort, choosing positive thoughts when all you notice are negative thoughts and thinking patterns, and it takes having faith in the universe that you were not born for this, that there is something so much better out there you might not even be able to fathom or believe in right now. With each positive choice, to choose positive thinking, supportive and good friends, following inspirational people on social media and removing yourself from anything that causes a negative reaction, giving yourself permission to pursue whatever you have been wanting to do or experience or try (for me it was singing, piano, writing, photography, belly dancing and painting) and release whatever fear is holding you back.

What I didn’t know then, was I suffered from another illness, called victim mentality, that I imagine many others share in this thinking pattern who have also been through any kind of extremely painful experience or trauma.

Now don’t write it off just yet. Let’s think about it. Every single thought I had after someone told me to choose happiness, love, light, or positivity was a choice, right? I consciously formed those thoughts in my head. I decided happiness, joy, and love weren’t options for me, because of X, Y, and Z. Couldn’t I have made the choice then to be open to it instead? Technically yes, realistically, not at the time. And here’s why:

I didn’t value, care about or love myself. So how could I truly value, care about or love someone else, romantically, as friends, family or otherwise? I wanted to, but I found it so hard to even tell my friends and family I loved them, or even my dog! I lost faith in myself and no longer saw my value and worth. I felt worthless and unworthy of anything, especially love.

I didn’t believe in myself. I had lost myself at this point. I had lost hope in life and in myself. I couldn’t see a future that was anything other than darkness and pain.

I didn’t trust myself. Therefore I kept making decisions based on my negative subconscious beliefs that didn’t align with what I said and thoughts I wanted. My actions were often self-sabotaging and not in my best interest, that was not helpful to what I said and thought I wanted.

Usually I just did whatever I could to feel better, to feel normal, to feel happy, to forget, to numb the bad feelings, to run, to hide, or to escape. I would go to the local pub and drink excessively til they closed and kicked everyone out, I would shop and spend money I didn’t have and buy things I didn’t need cause I hoped they would make me happy or help me figure out who I was, I’d spend an obscene amount of time playing open-world role playing games (World of Warcraft anyone?) to escape my reality, I’d smoke lots and lots of weed when I could get ahold of it (which wasn’t exactly easy in the Bible Belt – thank you Colorado!). I would constantly either eat my feelings or starve myself and often go to extremes to lose weight and many other worse things for my mind and body I’m definitely not proud of.

I didn’t see the point in life anymore. Some days I felt empty and numb and other days I felt tremendous pain, overwhelming anxiety, hurt and sadness. I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t continue to live this way, and feel this way every single day. I saw no light, had no hope, and just wanted the pain to stop. I knew how I wanted to go, by the only light that made sense to me… a bright beautiful light given off by a ray of hope! A train.. a quick and seemingly painless ending and the end to all of my problems, or so I thought.

I stood there in the middle of the train tracks in the dead of night staring longingly at that light as it came closer and closer towards me. I actually felt at peace for once in my life. I didn’t have any worries or pain, there was somehow peace for once. My mind was clear, the chatter was actually quiet and I felt a small glimmer of hope. It was getting so close, not much longer now. Then a hand grabbed mine and pulled me off the tracks right before it reached me by a complete and perfect stranger I had met earlier that night.

When we are stuck in a deep state of depression and hopelessness with our lives run by fear, it sounds odd – but we are actually incredibly selfish! Had I taken my life that day, that would’ve been the end. No goodbyes, no explanation, no do-overs, no nothing. The end.

I wasn’t thinking about the locomotive engineer whose life would forever be changed by the trauma of killing me and witnessing that. I wasn’t thinking about the kind stranger. I wasn’t thinking about my dog or bearded dragon, the friend I was with that night, or even the people I knew that I wasn’t really close to that would still be impacted by that decision to end my life. I wasn’t thinking about my friends or my family and what kind of impact that would have on them; they didn’t know anything really about what I was going through, and what I had shared with only a few people only made me feel more alone, invalidated and depressed. It felt like no one got it, no one understood, and no one even cared. Some people would dismiss what I did share, minimize it, find reasons to blame me, or would just turn it around and talk about how they had it worse, or that it wasn’t that bad and I needed to just let it go and get over it.

They all seemed too busy with their own lives either way and didn’t seem to care let alone just be there for me. And so we’re clear, anyone can be there for someone simply by sharing space and even just silence with them, authentically listening, holding their hand or giving them a long and loving hug (ask first), validating their experience and feelings, or even just by asking how you can help or what they need, etc. Advice in this state often isn’t needed or wanted and will quite possibly just fall on flat ears. For me, I really just needed to speak, to let it out and talk about it, to be hear, seen, cared for, and that the pain I was feeling was valid and mattered. That it wasn’t my fault and nothing I could’ve or should’ve done differently then would’ve changed the outcome by much, if any.

I had often thought, maybe they’d be better off not having to deal with me, that I was a burden. These were all simply thoughts based on my perception – my perception that I was unworthy, alone, unloved, that no one cared about me, that my feelings weren’t valid and didn’t matter and therefore that I didn’t matter, but it goes way deeper than that.

Our perceptions about life and ourselves begin forming when we are only infants. We don’t understand words yet, but we pick up on feelings and emotions, touches, noises, tone of voice, presence or absence of others, and energy for instance. We literally get a sense of the world and how it works and this continues as we get older. Yelling and screaming, abuse, neglect, being dismissed, not being held and loved, not feeling safe – it all shapes how we view the world and ourselves later on in life. It may show up as anxiety as an adult and feeling unsafe. It could present as a deep distrust in men or women or even in relationships if you are subconsciously taught that they only bring pain or abandonment, so you subconsciously push love away to protect yourself. It may show up as a deep sadness and depression when your needs as a child for love, attention and affection aren’t met. Or, you may feel unworthy of these things at your very core and develop self hatred rather than self love and go through life seeking approval, validation, love and happiness outside rather than within. I did all of these things and it actually did get me somewhere – to check in to a mental institution.

I had just suffered a horrendous heartbreak and breakup after living with the abusive fuck for a year. I was lost, alone, broken, hurting, confused, and had hit the deepest state of depression I have ever known, which was badddd. I had to get out of that town so I jumped on a great career opportunity that presented itself as my shining ray of hope to get out of the state, leave it all behind and start over. I ended up running away from everyone and had no one for support. I truly was alone. I knew I seriously needed professional help at this point so I started with group therapy once a week but after various symptoms of a much larger issue started running my life and affecting my ability to work, I was fired and then realized I needed a lot more help and fast.

The outpatient program taught me a few things though, it introduced me to meditation, art for a creative outlet of difficult emotions or memories, mindfulness, music therapy, and yoga – I still to this day find all of these incredibly helpful, healing, and imperative to my recovery. It also taught me that I also suffered from complex-PTSD in addition to major depression and generalized anxiety, which gave me the validation I needed that there really was something deeper and much more complex going on inside of me, cause I just thought I was going crazy and losing my shit. My diagnosis was a hard pill to swallow, metaphorically and quite literally. It took a long time for me to accept it all and make peace with it, but that was the first step. It made me feel so broken and messed up. But I finally did accept it and was able to identify with it. I started to find my tribe, of other “broken” individuals with an equally sad sob story, a “woe is me” attitude and a pessimistic outlook on life. It started to become a part of my identity, my crutch, and ultimately my reason and excuse to not heal, to sit in my misery and not really try to get better. I had developed the victim mentality. I’m not saying it was all bad. It was part of my healing process just to know that I was a victim of someone else’s undealt with shit and the anger, manipulation and abuse that came with that. I about drove myself crazy trying to figure it all out in my head, going over and over everything, what I should’ve done differently, what I did wrong, blaming myself, and so on in a never ending monologue that only tortured me further and solved nothing. I had to learn that it wasn’t my fault, I didn’t do anything wrong, and nothing I thought I should’ve, could’ve, or would’ve done would have changed a thing in the grand scheme of things, because you can’t change people, especially when they can’t be honest with themselves, and hurt people hurt people, plain and simple.

The next hardest thing was learning to forgive myself, as well as my family, and that abusive fuck. I did these all separately in their own ways and on their own separate timelines. I was able to forgive my family by working on myself, and over time I was able to see events and the situation they were in from a different perspective. I could put myself in their shoes and see how they got the way they are. I was able to use an outside perspective without emotional attachment and hurt involved so I could see clearly and have compassion and empathy. I asked myself, what could’ve happened to this person for them to get this way, or for them to act in certain ways. I found this to also be particularly helpful for forgiving the abusive fuck as well. The signs were subtle and hidden when I was with him, but still there. He had suffered too and possibly been abused in his youth. As a young adult, he wasn’t able to stand up for himself to his father and he wasn’t allowed to be his truest self because he had to be who his dad wanted him and expected him to be. It is quite sad really. I learned that forgiveness doesn’t mean you are accepting or excusing any poor behaviors, it doesn’t really even have much at all to do with the other person, forgiveness is for you ultimately. To free yourself from the ties to a person, their actions, words, endless chatter in your mind and hurt in your heart. For me, forgiveness meant seeing things from an outside, unattached perspective and finding understanding and compassion in where and what they were coming from and how they got that way. I was able to forgive myself because I found compassion and love for myself and my younger self, and knowing I did the best I could in many tough situations with where I was and what I knew at the time. I was so hard on myself – why?!! I compared myself and my life to other people so much. Social media is the worst for this reason! We only see snapshots of only what other people want us to see. Do they post all of the bad times, bad days, burnt meals, bad hair days, plain black coffee, microwave dinners, screaming and crying children and all of the other less than stellar things people experience? Generally, no. So of course if you compare all of the real life crap to someone else’s seemingly perfect picture of a seemingly perfect day, you’re likely to find yourself feeling FOMO, anxious, upset, envious, depressed, lonely, unfulfilled, etc. You aren’t doing yourself any favors there.

The doctors said the diagnosis is a permanent condition. The doctors said I will be on medication my entire life. The doctors said it will affect me the rest of my life. And I believed them all. What they didn’t tell me what how incredibly powerful and resilient our minds are, how strong willpower can be, and how the human body is designed to heal! How much it really just wants to heal! But it starts in your mind. If you believe you are broken, guess what.. you will feel like you are. If you believe you can’t do something, you won’t. It’s that simple. Your life, your body, mind, thoughts and feelings might feel completely out of control right now, and that’s ok. We all start somewhere, but you do have some control. You have a choice in what you choose to believe and if you choose to listen to naysayers or choose to carve your own path. You choose what you fill your mind with, what kind of content you let influence you, what kind of people you keep space for in your life. You decide what you will put up with from other people and how you will be treated. You can choose to set boundaries for honor your needs and you can choose to communicate those needs with others or you can choose to let things slide and not speak up for yourself. You can even decide today, right now even, that you are so sick and tired of being sick and tired. You can decide that you want a different life than what you’ve been living. You have the power to decide that you’ve suffered enough, done enough damage to your mind and body, and have wasted too much of your precious life wrapped up in your misery, blind to the light that resides in you and the beauty and wonder of life and this vast wonderful world. You have everything within you already that you need. You have love and light, confidence and a strong heart, and I’m willing to bet you also have something to say, something to share, that others desperately need to hear. Because we all just want to feel connected. Your pain can be what destroys you or what connects you. You can bury the pain and allow it to isolate you rather than using it to connect to others, or you can begin to open your beautiful vulnerable heart to others. When you share your story and your truth, others begin to feel more comfortable sharing their hearts, and through this process, we start to learn that we really aren’t as alone in our feelings as we thought. We meet others who can relate to your experience and real connections form. Remember to connect from a heart centered place rather than from that inner child that may still be seeking validation and acceptance. You know your story. Any and all hurts are real, are deeply painful, and only you know how it felt and how it affected you. Your validation, acceptance, and forgiveness is the only one you need. Your own health, happiness, hope, joy, and love is the most important thing you can ever give. When you let go of all the things weighing you down, you create room and space for new things, new people and experiences to come in!

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Deep down I always felt I was meant for something much greater; my big ideas and thinking were often too much for others to wrap their head around, but not me, I lived for that. I think part of why I was so depressed for so long was I wasn’t living life the way I knew I wanted to be, and craved so desperately to be. And honestly, I’m still not quite there. But I’ve learned something… your pain is your power. And if you run, hide from, and numb it, you will never be free of it and you will never discover your power. You have to feel it, sit with it, sit with the feelings and emotions of your past traumas and really feel them if you ever hope to be free of them.

The Bee in my Brain

Practically our whole lives we are taught that darkness is bad and that dark and heavy experiences and emotions are not something to share. We learn to bottle these things up and to run and hide from them. We get this false belief ingrained that we won’t be liked, accepted, or even understood if we share our struggles with others, and oftentimes we learn this because we experience this and that is a sad truth.

I’ve experienced this my whole life. I’ve felt tremendous shame over things about my life I can’t change. I buried these things deep within and never mentioned them to anyone; just pretended as best I could that it wasn’t my truth and distanced myself from those things, thoughts, feelings, people, places, etc. however I could. Over time the mind may not remember, but the body does and the subconscious has ways of trying to get your attention. Sometimes this manifests in the form of disease, injuries or illnesses. For me it was major depression and anxiety, and after many more years of not confronting my demons and adding more to the mix, it became complex PTSD. Funny how that happens.

It’s just like a wound, you must clean it, apply antibiotic, dress it, and repeat until it heals. You may end up with a gnarly scar and a fun story to go with it, but chances are, you will get through it, have the scar to remember the lesson, and you will move on and hopefully not make the same mistake again. If you don’t clean it and take care of it properly, like maybe just put a band-aid on it or even just clean the blood with a t-shirt and go about your business, it doesn’t heal properly, it might get infected and become a festering disgusting mess that could’ve been easily avoided had you taken the time to deal with it when it happened. The longer you ignore the problem the worse it will get. Your mind is the same in this sense. It needs tending to, and if you ignore whatever is hurting you, it will only fester and become your own personal nasty demon that lives to torture you.

So how does this relate to how you relate to others, how you connect with others and develop relationships? Imagine that little demon sitting on your shoulder talking into your ear non-stop while you are on a date, hanging out with friends, or any other social situation. This voice makes you second guess yourself and who you are, your worth, your wants and desires, how other people feel about you and so much more.

Now get this – you already have this little voice! It’s that little voice in your mind and in your head. It’s the voice that’s constantly judging, questioning, second guessing, self-sabotaging, keeping you awake at night and so much more. This voice can ruin your life if you believe everything it says. So what can you do about it? Start by becoming aware of it. Notice when it’s blabbering on and what it’s actually saying. Is there any truth to what it’s saying? Start to question those thoughts and put them to the test. Try to trace back where the thoughts and underlying beliefs originated or where they stem from. Do those thoughts, beliefs, or values actually belong to you or are they actually someone else’s who pushed them onto you? What are your actual beliefs around the topic? What is your truth? Not your parents, your teachers, your friends, siblings, significant others, etc. – what do you believe? Begin to break apart all of the layers of yourself and you may discover they were never you all along, it was who you were told to be and who you thought you had to be.

Start to uncover the truth of who you really are, aka your authentic self. This can seem difficult, but start small and take baby steps. Start by noticing your thoughts and questioning their truth. Let go of any negative beliefs you may have about yourself or anything someone else may have led you to believe that you may not really resonate with anymore.

Try to notice when something happens that tends to affect you in a much bigger and deeper way than whatever it actually is about. Dig deeper into your emotions and feelings about it. Notice how the situation is making you feel, like really feel. What other times or situations in your life did you feel this before? Is it possible whatever is happening is bringing up old memories perhaps with some unresolved feelings? Instead of pushing it away, think of it as a blessing. Your mind and body is trying to help you heal. Find the humor in it if you can – “ah hell, AFGO strikes again (another fucking growth opportunity)! Be gentle and compassionate towards yourself. Healing takes time, so allow it to happen rather than fight it and be thankful for it rather than beating yourself up or getting upset or angry about it. It may help to keep a notebook and track your progress of how you’re growing over time. It may look like symptoms you suffer from including a time period and how those symptoms change and resolve over time. It may include feelings you are struggling with (feeling journal) or it may include medications and dosages as well as how long you take them for, or it could include ways you are healing and things you are doing or learning and implementing and all the ways you’ve noticed you’ve changed and grown. Whatever works for you! It can be helpful to look back on when you are feeling discouraged or like you haven’t made much progress.

The darkness, heavy and traumatic experiences, and dark feelings and emotions all have a place. They are part of what makes you feel vulnerable, scared and unworthy. When you are ready to open up and share things that make us feel this way, you start to learn that other people may have had similar experiences. You start to not feel so alone. You start to feel less broken. Now, don’t fall into the “woe is me” trap. Find a way to connect to others where you aren’t just bitching about your shitty stories. What did you learn from your experiences? How did you grow? What happens here is you learn to connect with others. You start to step into your vulnerability, and you may even find it’s not as scary as you thought. People can surprise you and they can be accepting, loving, caring, kind, and genuine especially when you share from your heart. This is how deeper connections can begin, by being vulnerable and real and unapologetically you. You may realize you were never broken, you just felt like it and that’s ok, because you were just doing your best with sometimes an impossible situation. You are still here for a reason. You may still have some figuring out to do on that, I know I do, but there is a big beautiful world out there and everyone has something to share, to put out in it, to help others with, or a way to help in general. Keep at it. You’re doing great!

Peace and love,

Laura