“Cheers to Growth”

“Think I’m going to get myself happy.

I think there’s something you should know

I think it’s time I told you so

There is something deep inside of me.

There is something else I’ve got to be.”

-George Michael, “Freedom”-

How many of you have made a resolution on New Year’s Day and failed? You might be like me, and personally never make a resolution. I despise the societal expectation that a ball dropping at midnight is going to make me suddenly resolve to participate in a triathlon, volunteer 20 hours a week, read 4 books a week, eat 100% healthy, climb Mt. Everest, be a perfect partner, learn 30 new things… the list goes on. I do not like New Year’s Resolutions or the concept that we all are going to suddenly become so perfect the next year we will be featured as one of Barbara Walter’s “20 Most Interesting People of Given Year.” I am a firm believe in setting yourself up for success and think the looming absolute of resolutions demand unattainable perfection. We are imperfect creatures doing the best we can moving through life. This year, however, I am breaking my own unwritten rule and embracing a new resolution trend. I have chosen to embrace the concept of a one word resolution and incorporate in into my everyday of 2017.  Link for this concept is here: http://myoneword.org/

Choosing a solitary word, and a needed paradigm shift of a new year is difficult task for me. I will openly share that 2016 was not my best year. 2016 could be summed up with various (negative) words: challenge, loss, shame, isolation, difficulty, heartache, denial, and struggle. I went into the year simply just wanting a difficult end of 2015 to end. Optimistically hoping for a new number to bring good tidings. Serious reflecting on what word I wanted to embrace to better myself for 2017 brought some ugly truth in the mirror of self-reflection. The reality was (is) I need(ed) a serious attitude adjustment if I’m going to make the personal and professional strides I aspire to have. I never would have told a student in distress to carry a bitter pill around a boulder sized chip on their shoulder. I always used to state, ” How can I help you? What can we learn from this?”

A’Ha moment.

Learning means growing as a person. Without personal growth, I’m not setting myself up to be successful in the future. In order for 2017 to end with a more glowing list of words, I need to be asking myself, “how can I help myself, what am I learning from this, how can I grow from this?” I need to challenge myself to grow in 2017.

You may ask, how does a person challenge themselves to grow? How does this make sense in everyday practical life?

My personal definition of growth is reflecting versus internalizing challenges without guilt. (The without guilt part is going to be a struggle for as a devout perfectionist.) In essence, reflecting on learned behavior is a cornerstone of bloodstream education and should be simplified into personal learning. Universities look at retention numbers, budgets, academic assessments, and analyze all date in order to grow into a more successful institution for the next year. Personal growth is also indicative of personal “data” we all store and gather daily. I am going to have analyze simpler things in my life to set myself up to be successful. Was I irritable all day because I stayed up late binge watching Netflix? Notice a pattern of depression around certain days, when exercise took a back seat, or a connection with a friend wasn’t a priority? These little things we don’t think matter, well I am here to tell you folks, they do!

My personal concept of growth is the following:

  • Growth, like healing, is not linear. It is not perfect, absolute, or 100% measurable.
  • Growth can mean being more assertive with my needs.
  • Growth can be taking critical feedback as a building block for character growth (and to not internalize as shame.)
  • Growth is making daily meditation and reflection a priority.
  • Growth is only engaging in personal relationships that are healthy and mutual.
  • Growth is openly owning that I struggle with depression, anxiety, and PTSD, and that makes me real-not a bad, flawed person.
  • Growth is sharing when the above struggles are resonating, and not secluding myself.
  • Growth is unplugging when I need to for my own self care.
  • Growth is as simple as reminding myself I’m worthy of self care.
  • Growth is challenging myself to not take everything personally.
  • Growth is knowing when I am hiding in my work by working too much, and taking a step back –guilt free.
  • Growth is taking a possible negative interaction and trying to focus on how you can change your role for the better next time.
  • Growth is being curious and finding out answers.
  • Growth is being a better friend to myself.
  • Growth is evolving.
  • Growth is analyzing my own “data” to help set more positive patterns.
  • Growth is admitting insecurities and trying to learn the root cause of them.
  • Growth is asking myself how can I help myself. Seriously!

Growth is ongoing and does not take the place of goals. I have many personal goals I choose to aspire to achieve. (I’m a huge fan of SMART or Stretch goals.) These goals include: competing in the half marathon I selected this Spring, finalizing decision for future master’s degree programs/potential move locations by July, finishing binge watching The Walking Dead, reading a few selected books, working to add strength training to my running routine, work on fixing my blog, sing up for 5 speaking engagements, and monitoring my sleep habits (like data) for a healthier mindset. Goals can be daily, on lists, large scale and I can see where personal growth can help one actually achieve these goals.

I often reread certain books that have had positive effects on my life, and that I continuously learn from. (I’ve read To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee once a year for 20 years now!) I recently reread “Rising Strong” by Dr. Brene Brown Can view book here on Good Reads and it further moved me to encourage growth. I wrap this up with this quote as I attribute personal growth very much to the rumble phase.

“The opposite of recognizing that we’re feeling something is denying our emotions. The opposite of being curious is disengaging. When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us. Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending—to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how this story ends.”   (Rising Strong, 2015.)

We cannot control what happens to us, we cannot deny it. How will you reflect this year to get to a place of growth? Instead of a New Year’s challenge, would you be willing to ask yourself “what do I want to learn this year?” What does personal growth look to you? Do you have a one word resolution that resonates with you? What word would you like 2017 to represent next New Year’s Eve?

Cheers, Peace, Love, Reflection, Growth, and Well Wishes to you all for 2017.

.

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Broken Wings to Flying

broken_angel_wings_by_madretierra-d31e0bo.jpgYou live you learn, you love you learn
You cry you learn, you lose you learn
You bleed you learn, you scream you learn

~Alanis Morissette, You Learn~

The number thirteen has never been arbitrary to me. I came into this world on Sunday, May 13th, 1984. Nearly three weeks late on Mother’s Day. As I child I would count to thirteen of specific things to separate them out and make this number a good omen. I was aware of the stigma of black cats, the number thirteen, and superstitions at a young age. I will be sitting at my desk wearing the grey/pink striped maxi dress I set out in 13 hours from now. Its been 13 years exactly since I started my amazing journey at Michigan State University. One of my favorite shows, Grey’s Anatomy was just renewed for its 13th season. My first childhood friend Keith Herman was born on April 13th; exactly a month before I was. I’ve learned to clear my mind during meditation for a solid 13 plus seconds (this took MONTHS!) In thirteen days from today it will have been six months. Thirteen days from this moment will bring me to the half year anniversary. The anniversary of my horrific sexual assault.

Thirteen.

Although my number is thirteen, I have to stop and reflect on six months. SIX MONTHS. Half a year has gone by. How is this possible? How did I get here? What did I learn? Am I okay? Have I moved forward? Do I acknowledge this? As a victory, as a small notation in my planner? As what? I may not want to, but I have to acknowledge how very many things I have abosorbed, hated, cried about, accepted, loved, embraced, failed at, exceled at, and integrated into my life the past six months. The past six months that in thirteen days changed who I was forever.

Deep Breath.

Here Goes.

  1. People will still let you down and hurt you. One of the hardest parts of my journey post assault was the people I thought would forever be there for me no longer being in my life. I have this image of myself as a baby robin that has fallen out of its nest and broken its wing. A baby robin can fly again with proper nurturing, healing, and support. I had a supposed good friend tell me when my “wings were healing” that they “could no longer be engaged in this friendship anymore with me. That I am not a terrible person and should know that. This is too emotional for them and they can no longer engage.” This was after I thought I was going to come into town, reconnect with this friend, and even stay the evening at their home (confirmed over the phone as okay.) This person avoided me for a few days after this conversation and finally responded to me after blocking me on all forms of media (yes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, you name it.) I finally emailed this person directly and asked “why?” I got my response. I replied that I wish to respect how a person feels and the boundaries they need for their own emotional needs in their life. I cannot put into words the amount of hurt this caused me or the tremendous set back this caused me in my journey to heal. This was a friend who trusted me to watch their children, I openly shared everything with, I texted back and forth quite frequently, I picked up (they don’t like to drive), used to work with, and I thought was forever going to be in my life. I may understand on some levels why they chose to protect their own feelings and emotional stability; however I will never understand their approach. I stand behind what I said in writing in this same email, “I wish you would’ve stated to me how you were feeling before taking such drastic measures so I could have been supportive to you as a friends.” I still let this friendship “divorce” and person cross my mind daily. I know me. I’m a loyal friend to a fault and have to acknowledge the deep hurt I experienced. I never thought someone could kick me while I was down or my “wings were healing…..”
  2. Moments of happiness accompany moments of guilt. I’ve had this happen so many times. I have a great day, things click, I feel confident, interactions with others go well, and I smile to myself about the blessings I have in life. Then I have the burden of guilt that comes with it. I question myself. “Am I allowed to be happy?” “Whoa, can I feel this way. Does this mean I’m forgetting?” When something tramatic happens to a person there is a blank slate placed in the person’s mind (in my opinion) and its often filled with negative, binding, overwhelming thoughts of how I should feel. I’m not supposed to smile at my reflection as I notice my new concealer covers my scar and I am starting to resemble who I used to be. I’m not supposed to feel content, happy in the moment, or catch myself laughing along with others at something humorous. The dichotomy of these feelings blending together can be overwhelming. Grief for my former life comes with guilt associated with new happiness.
  3. I still have hope. I experience butterflies for the first time in about a year this past week. Butterflies associated with presenting in front of others for the first time in a long time. Presenting and public speaking is a huge part of my professional identity. I relish in it. I’m confident in saying I am good at it! I gave up on this portion of my life when this happened. I had a physical scar and an emotional scar to my soul that ran deeper. I never thought I would be comfortable in front of an audience ever again. These butterflies proved to be a beautiful reflection for my soul. Somehow in my pain, my healing, my attempt to move on; a seed was planted. A small seed of hope that I failed to recognize. A seed that proved to be a late bloomer…but a bloomer. The self-actualization/self-realization that I still had apsirations and hope for myself was one of the most postitive points in my healing process to date. I still have a voice that believes in myself. I still have hope for more. Even more important, the seed planted carries roots growing that I am worthy of and deserve more.
  4. I make people uncomfortable. Lets just call a spade a spade. I am open about what happened to me. I acknowledge it. I address it. I write about it. I have a streak of teal in my hair as a symbol of advocacy for sexual assault awareness. My not sweeping this part of my life under the rug makes other people uncomfortable at times. My growth and attempt to move forward openly isn’t as well received as I would have hoped. In an evaluation setting, a person of HR status said to me, “you have a streak of green in your hair.” (Mind you I have had this since November, but depending on how I wear my hair could be overlooked.) I casually stated, “You mean my advocacy streak?” He stated yes, that streak of color in your hair and inquired the meaning of its advocacy. I replied matter of fact, “My streak of teal is two fold. It stands for Sexual Assault Awareness in April and Ovarian Cancer Awareness in October.” My response as a knee jerk, “Good for you!” The burning of this person’s cheeks were a blatant physical indicator to me that I had made this person uncomfortable.   I am aware that both of my causes that I strongly advocate evolve around women’s issues. one is due to the physical make up of men not having ovaries. The other is that we further stigmatize male sexual assault survivors and “demonize” women as the victims of this. I am aware that hair is not a protected class in the State of Michigan (thank you Dr. Tina Riley for my CHRS from MSUHRLR certification training!) I am also aware that the more openly I wear my advocacy and show for cause; the more uncomfortable about it. Is it I make people uncomfortable, or perhaps issues segmented towards women make people uncomfortable? I say this on Equal Pay Day April 2016 as the only person in my professional setting to ask if this is recognized. I was generally curious, and the question make others uncomfortable. My advocacy, openness about being a survivor of a brutal physical, sexual attack, a physical attack on my right ovary (a sex organ) make people uncomfortable. I think I am going to try to trend the hash tag #awkwardsilence or the 80’s song lyric #enjoythesilence! Get comfortable with the uncomfortable people!
  5. Social Media has become my backbone. I am tremendously overwhelmed by the amount of online support and new online friendships I have formed. I anticipate the day I meet some of these people and cannot wait to hug them and let them know how very much they have helped me grow as a person. I have a support system nearly 24/7 at the touch of my fingertips. Thank you to all of those who have been there for me. I look forward to my weekly chats and touch points with people. I consider these folks to be my friends and lifelines! I encourage anyone struggling and wanting to reach out to what survivor conversations are out there to tune into a few. The hash tag: #SolidarityChat is a weekly chat every Monday done by Hannah Stein. This is a fabulous group of individuals who cover these tough topics and connect. I look forward to it, engage, process, and use this as an important way to heal. I’m forever grateful for Social Media and opening up my eyes to other victims/survivors out there.
  6. I don’t sweat the small stuff. I was a nanny the summer I was 20 years old. This was not a typical nanny situation, and I will also reflect on this as one of the hardest jobs I will ever have in life. I was a nanny to a family that had lost their mother in a horrific auto accident in January of that year. I started working for their Father, son at 6 1/2, and daughter of 3 that May. This family had grandparents (maternal) that had moved across the street and a grandmother (paternal) who lovingly went by the German variation of Grandma “Omi” that I spent a great deal of time with. This family was also in the process of building a beuautiful new home on Lake Michigan’s beach. There was a lot going on. Early into this position I had spent the morning with Omi and the little girl at Omi’s house (down the road.) A crazy storm came through, turned the sky black as night, ripped trees from their roots, caused us to loose power, and sent a large tree crashing down 6 inches from the home we were in. Omi called her son (my boss) immediately to come check the damage as it was over. He was already on his way. She and I were both very shook up as the 3 year old was napping in the room where this happened. Her son calmly hugged his child, and told his mother, “We will just have to get a chainsaw to chop this up later this week.” Totally calm. When he left, Omi looked at me and stated in her warm accent, “When you have been through the things my son has, you don’t sweat the small things or make a big deal.” This moment has forever stuck with me. I now understand it. I am a planner and bit of a control freak. A stain on a shirt, delay in travel, meeting that runs over and more used to rattle me. I no longer care about these things and can now assimilate with my former supervisor. Trauma and grief change a person. The things that used to make me fret and worry are no longer the large scale items I used to create stories about being problems in my mind.  Moments that used to cause my high strung, perfectionist self to unravel no longer hold the same meaning to me.
  7. I am forever Changed. I have had stubborn moments of utter denial that I have changed as person. You must understand, I used to fear change. Change meant my planning might not be going the way it was supposed to. Change means I have to accept I am human. Change made me very uncomfortable. Change brought out triggers in my myself that also initiated my go to “withdrawal/put up walls approach.” Its the oddest thing, I am not afraid of confrontation when going to bat for a cause I believe in or for a person that doesn’t have the courage to speak up. I am often the “go to person” for matters of difficulty that need to be discusses and have a them of change or advocacy. Applying these same rules to myself have never been the case. I have a different perspective on change now. I still have growing pains, I still have anxiety and stress about the unknown, and I still have curiosity about what could be. I will face days I have firm denial anything happened. I have had these days.  Days I wish my fears weren’t my reality. I am changed. I cannot be the person I was before. I can’t be that person ever again. That person had never lived through what I went through. I have had to dig deep and embrace change. After all; “you plan what you can and adjust to the rest…”

These are a few thoughts I have had after a busy, complex, somewhat overwhelming, emotion laced week. I had a thought today. Do I wish this never happened to me? The answer is of course. The second internal question was further complex. Do I regret my journey since then? I don’t not for a second. I embrace some of the lessons, heartache, and realization I’ve encountered. I go back to the salon tomorrow to get my highlights redone. Something I’ve been doing since I was 16 years old. Here is the thing though, now I get my teal streak touched up. I didn’t even blink or think about it while getting ready for tomorrow. Who I am as a person was drastically changed 13 days to six months ago. The person I’m growing into is going to be even better. I’ll be even better and with a fabulous streak of teal in my hair. I’m “toughasteal” and working towards 13 days to 6 months…

 

 

 

Springtime and Setbacks

“I’ve felt the coldness of my winter
I never thought it would ever go”

Led Zeppelin, The Rain Song

 

Sunlight lasting past dinner. Robins chirping. Sprouts of green grass poking through a winter of isolation. The first warm day that allows you to open up your windows and breathe fresh air into the stark staleness of winter. Spring cleaning to purge your world of clutter and rejuvenate physically, mentally, emotionally.

Ah, Spring is finally here! We bundle up in the Great Lakes State for months, submit to dark hours in the morning en route to work and during our commute home, and pop Vitamin D supplements to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder.

“Finally! Spring cleaning!” I thought as I pushed open the window to my bedroom, took a long drag from my Cinnamon Role flavored coffee, rolled up my “Saturday sweats” and plopped down to sort through a stack of clutter. I moved unexpectantly during a turbulent time in my life and have been pining for a morning just as this to organize so many things. I put on my Apple Music. and set out to Covey method style through my list. Halfway through humming one of Adele’s newest hits I came across it.

Spring reverted back to the gloom of winter. I felt like the past five months had been erased in a gust of wind. This was no longer a happy moment of Spring organization. I felt polarized. Literally. Polarized by cold, fear, emotion, and recall of the past five months of hard work I had put in to heal.

My hospital paperwork. My god damn hospital paperwork and the 11’000 plus bill I had to fight with insurance to get paid. Proof of what happened to me on October 21st, 2015. Solid medical proof that I was attacked, beaten unconscious, raped, and left for dead by a stranger. The paperwork I had never wanted to see it again. At that moment it all came back.

I tried to make myself get up and walk away from what my eyes were pouring over. I couldn’t though.  I was transfixed. I am not sure if I ever read through the entire paperwork of what happened to me when I begged a complete stranger for help. When I was raped, knocked out cold, knocked on a stranger’s door, and was then wheeled into am ambulance. The ambulance serves as a metaphor of the hell my life became after that. My life was sparred, but my descent into darkness began that day.

I sucked in my breath and reminded myself to breathe out. I have severe asthma/luncg issues since infancy. I have to be able to breathe to function. I know this. I took a deep breath, and settled into very single typed word of this document….

I let my mind wander…my mind wandered not to the songs of yesterday I loved so much…but 5 months prior….

I moved on. I moved literally back to my hometown. I have done everything I can to climb out of my depths of shame, depression, hell, guilt, and more that came with my world 5 months ago. I lost my entire life the week of my assault. I lost independence. I lost a best friend. I lost my dignity. I lost a person I thought would always be in my life.

My heart was  broken.

I have a new job. I started running long distances again. I read, I wrote, I spoke with others, I put down roots, and I TRIED to move forward. I combed through my favorite authors at the library and wrote down things I have learned from these readings. I worked so hard to “make do” with my new life. I embraced it; but was still haunted.

Finding my hospital paperwork was my single largest setback I’ve had to date.

I’ve never read through it all. I couldn’t. I lived through it. Do I feel proud of myself for being in a better place? Do I digest what happened? Am I back to being that shell of a person on the morning of October 22nd, 2015? Do I hold in anger towards not only going through this, but fighting an enormous bill for my injuries?

What really is moving forward?

It was at this exact moment that I realized something. I can transition to countless new careers, continue to run 100s of miles, read every piece of literature I think will help me and so much more. I can tune out this part of my life, but I can’t make it go away. This is now a part of my truth, my identity, my past, my everything. I will feel this moment again. I will continue to move forward, but I will have a moment of setback and painful hurt.

I will cry.

I will hurt.

I will continue to survive.

I embrace a scar on my left check socket everyday as a part of who I am now. A scar left from my attack. I exude advocacy with my self appointed streak of teal in my blonde tresses. I have physical reminders I chose to and some I don’t chose to have.

I have just realized a hard cold fact. Spring cleaning will never be getting rid of this part of my story. My past. My identity as a survivor, woman, and more. This part of my truth will always be that pair of jeans we hang onto every year. The pair that once brought us happiness, made us feel confident, we will never wear again, but we hang onto year after year.

We hang onto as there is that slim chance we can capture that moment in time again. I may never capture that snapshot again, but I will continue to move forward.

After all, doesn’t fashion recirculate?

If not that I can still embrace classic Jimmy Page guitar…”It is the Springtime of my Love…”