Friday, February 22, 2013

So It Begins

So the journey begins…
Since I had my first session, I actually feel a bit better.  I am hopeful for the first time in a long time that I am on the right path to healing from everything.  I am hopeful that I too can get a silver lining to the seemingly perpetual storm clouds that have been plaguing me for far too long.  For the first time in a long time I have realized that I deserve to have a silver lining.  I deserve to have the happiness that everyone finds.  The work to get there will be tough, but I am hopeful.
When I look back at my life, I see someone who used to look at the world and see all of the possibilities that were there.   I never used to think about the bad stuff that could happen.  I never used to think that those things…rape and abuse…would happen to me.  I was used to being the support system for everyone.  I was used to being the strong one, the one everyone came to with their problems.  I was the fixer, the advice giver, the listener.  Then I became the one who fell apart while trying to hold everyone else together.  I thought that this was my role and there could be no deviation from that.  I didn’t want to let people down.  I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t be there for other people while my life was falling apart.  I didn’t want to fail.  I didn’t want to be weak.
I am learning that it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help.  It is not a sign of weakness to tell people you need a break to deal with your own life.  There is nothing weak or selfish in that, especially when you are barely hanging on by a thread and you are too depleted to make sense of anything other than existing on the most basic of levels: sleeping, breathing and going through the motions of life. 
If you ignore your basic needs you begin to teeter on a dangerous edge.  It is the edge of existence versus the edge of oblivion.  Do you take care of yourself or do you allow yourself to die?  Unless you have had to consciously make that choice, or known someone who has, it is tough to explain the dynamics of what happens in your mind and spirit, not to mention the wreckage that is left behind.  I have been on both sides of that line.  I have been both the decision maker and one of the ones left behind.  
When you are in that dark place, common sense is not present.  Your basic survival instincts are not present either.  You just want the pain to stop.  You want to be free of it in every possible sense.  You feel like death is the only option to achieve this.  Some people say it is the most selfish act.  While that may be true, I must respectfully say that things look a whole lot different when you are there.  You don’t see it as selfish.  You don’t see it as anything other than a way to make the pain and torment stop.  Unless you have been through it and made it out the other side, you really have no frame of reference for what this feels like.  It is chaos personified.  It is every law of nature and self-preservation gone horribly wrong inside.  It is a million steps beyond your breaking point.  It is your personal hell on earth.  I am blessed beyond measure because I had a friend who recognized that something was terribly wrong with me. Because she was stubborn and demanded to watch a movie with me in my dorm room I am here today. She knew what I was trying to do before I even fully realized it. She stayed with me all night. She called my parents to let them know I was going to be ok and she got me help.  Alison, I will be forever grateful to you. You were my guardian angel all of those years ago.  I owe you my life.
I was on the other side of this 5 years ago today.  I lost my step-sister, Carolyn, to suicide on February 22, 2008.  She had a beautiful spirit and a big heart.  When I found out she died, I cried and mourned her loss.  Then I was hit with what I had put my parents through when I was teetering on that edge more than a decade ago. I felt the most profound sense of guilt and woke them up at the crack of dawn to apologize for what I put them through.  I was heartbroken because of Carolyn’s loss and guilt ridden because of the anguish I had put my parents through. 
Losing someone to suicide is one of the most twisted grieving experiences imaginable…or at least that I have ever experienced.  The traditional stages of grief didn’t come in the regular order: denial, anger, blame, depression and acceptance.  Instead it was all jumbled up and twisted around.  I was in denial for about 10 minutes then I was angry, confused, deeply saddened, depressed, angry again, pissed off, depressed again, then finally, after bouncing back and forth for a while, I reached the point of acceptance. I hate that word “acceptance,” in terms of grief.  Yes, you accept that the person is gone, but that doesn’t take away the fact that you would give anything to change it.  It doesn’t take away the hole that is left in your heart.  Acceptance doesn’t make the loss less painful or easier to bear.  In Carolyn’s case, acceptance doesn’t give us the full answer as to why she felt the need to do this.  We knew her mental health status, but she seemed to be getting better.  We were hopeful, then we were blindsided. Acceptance doesn’t make that magically go away.  5 years later and I still miss Carolyn.  I miss the random phone calls I would get from her.  I miss the crazy, funny, or just plain weird emails that I would find in my inbox at 3 a.m.  I miss the notes just saying “Hi,” or “I love you.” 
If nothing else these experiences have been life affirming for me.   While I still have rough days, and I know there will be more to come as I go through the process of fully healing, I have to believe that it will get better and there will come a time in which I feel full of life and happiness again, instead of it coming in waves and moments.  I am hopeful and looking forward to what will be.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Crossroad in My Life

There are times when you have to take a true and realistic assessment of yourself on physical, mental, emotional and energetic levels and take the necessary steps to repair what is damaged.  It becomes a crossroads in your life.  Do I continue down the same path I am on even though I am exhausted, depleted and completely wiped out in every possible way? Do I stop right where I am, understanding that I can only go so much further when I am completely empty, and place the shell of myself at the feet of someone older and wiser with the hope that by exposing my life, complete with my weaknesses and vulnerability, I will be healed? 
I have come to understand over the last few weeks, and especially last night, that option # 2 is the only choice I can make right now.  I am depleted.  I am empty.  I am exhausted.  I know that I have reached a crossroad in my life and I cannot continue with the way things are.  I have to make changes in order to survive and find my balance again. 
I thought that my journey began the day I put up the first posting, disclosing to everyone that I was raped.  Maybe that still holds true.  Today, however, I feel like I am at the point in which the work begins and the long road to truly healing from my past, even my very recent past, starts. 
In starting this, I have made an important decision.  I am going to share this journey with all of you, whoever you are, that read this blog.  I will share the good, the bad, the ugly and the bright sunny moments with you.  While it is an extremely personal journey, with aspects that some of my own family don’t even know about yet, it is one that I have already started on in a public way, so I feel I should continue it in the same way.  While I have always kept things like this close to the vest, I am hoping that my story and my journey will help other people who are going through their own struggles and are on their own path to healing.  I will be approaching this process from a few different avenues of treatment: traditional talk therapy, Reiki therapy, meditation and restorative energy work.  I am grateful for the recommendation of a therapist who is and has good relationships with all of these practitioners.  While I know this approach may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it is something that I feel I need to do to heal on every level that has been broken and to bring myself back into balance and to peace. 
I know each day will present challenges.  I know there will be good days, bad days, and probably a few “why the hell did I even bother getting out of bed” days thrown in to keep me on my toes, but I know that this is what I need to do for my health and well-being.  I just may need some reminders of that from time to time.  I am encouraging anyone reading this to send me your comments, tell your stories, and what worked for you and what didn’t, as I go along documenting this journey.  We are a global community of survivors, citizens, friends, sisters and brothers.  It is my greatest hope that we can all help each other, learn from one another, and heal together.

Friday, February 8, 2013

A Tribute

For the last few weeks I have been trying to come up with a way to honor what today is. For those of you who don’t know me more than from what I have written so far, today, February 8, 2013, is the 3 year anniversary of my dad’s death.  He lost his brave battle with Lewy Body Disease on February, 8th 2010.  There is not a day that goes by that I am not missing him terribly. 

Honestly, I can’t believe it has been 3 years.  I remember it all like it was yesterday.  Every moment of those last days is replayed in my head every year.  I am grateful for those moments though.  I am grateful that I got to be there with him for his last days.  I am grateful that the last words that he heard were “I love you.”  I am grateful that the last words he was able to say to us were “I love you.”  I am grateful that I was there to help his hospice nurse bathe and dress him for the last time.  I was holding him when his breathing changed, and I was able to care for him in that final hour the way he had cared for me since I was 4 years old.   Nothing has been more precious to me in my life so far than those last few days and hours.

My dad loved to travel and take pictures.  He had a whole life of travel before he met my mom and became dad to two daughters in a ready-made family.  He kept all of the pictures on slides.  We have countless boxes of slide carousels, each holding anywhere from 80-120 slides.  He used to show us slide shows when we were kids and I hated them.  Now, these slides are my most cherished possessions.   I am getting to see the world through my dad’s eyes.  I even found a picture he took at the Colosseum in Rome that was identical to one that I took when I was there 2 years ago! My dad always told my mom he wanted to show his family the world and, through his slides, that is exactly what he is doing.

As much as I miss my dad, I know he is still with us in spirit.  He used to keep thick rubber bands all around the house and even around his wrist.  We were never sure why he kept them.  I think it was just in case he ever needed one.   Whenever I am going through something, or just missing my dad a lot, thick rubber bands just seem to appear.  One day there was one sitting gently on one of the bushes outside of my house.  Another day there was one on the ground at the driver’s side door of my car when I came out of a store…and it wasn’t there when I went into the store ten minutes before.  I have found them on the floor of my bedroom, as well as various other places in the house.  Yesterday, as I left my house to go to work, there was one sitting on the walkway from my house to the driveway.  I know it may sound silly to some, but I believe it is my dad just trying to let me know he is here loving us just as much and watching out for us.

Since I am not sure of how best to pay tribute to my dad today, I am going to share with you the eulogy I wrote for him.  It is the best way to explain the extraordinary man that taught me what a father’s love is all about. 

In a favorite movie of my dad’s, ‘The Bucket List,’ Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson discuss death and the afterlife often, as both are facing their own impending deaths.  While sitting on top of a pyramid, Morgan Freeman discusses the Egyptian philosophy of Heaven with Jack.  He explains that two questions are asked when you die, before you can get into, Egyptian heaven: “Did you find the joy in your life? Did your life bring joy to others?”
My dad can answer these questions with a simply “Yes.”

Harris Miller was born on October 17, 1937.  He studied, travelled the world, was a cheesecake connoisseur and had a career as a pharmacist.  He was, however, much more than this.  He found his most important role, and his joy, almost 26 years ago when, on March 16, 1984, he married the love of his life, Margie.  On that day he became a husband and a father in a ready made family, complete with two daughters, two cats and a dog.  Over the years our family has gone through its ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies.  We moved to a new house, lost beloved family members, buried beloved pets, brought new pets into our family, have had a few floods and even a house fire.  Through it all was Harris, standing small in stature, yet gigantic in his love for us.  He was there for us through everything from chicken pox to broken hearts; knowing just what to say, even if that meant saying nothing and simply sitting in silence.

The love my parents have for each other can only be described as soul mates.  When one would walk into a room, the other would light up.  They delighted in just being together. 
No obstacle was too big, no crisis too dramatic for them to overcome.  Their motto was, “We can get through anything, so long as we stick together.”  Throughout his illness, that motto was put to the test, but their love never wavered.  A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of witnessing this in practice.  My mom was giving him his medicine, crushed up in apple sauce, with a vanilla pudding chaser--his reward for taking the nasty medicine. I stood in their doorway and watched as she leaned over and kissed his forehead.  And while he was starting to have trouble getting the energy to speak, he softly said “I love you,” and kissed her back. In that moment, the love between them was palpable and overflowing.  This was the foundation for their marriage: true love, in its most pure and beautiful form.

When you step in our house a small frame hangs on the wall with a simple saying encased within.  “Not by birth a father, but by a special love.”  While Harris was not a father by birth, in every possible way that counts he is my dad.  For every moment, whether special or seemingly insignificant, he was there.  He never wavered, and neither did his enormous love for us, proving that being loved unconditionally is one of the truly great things in life.

He loved being a father to my sister and me.  He took pride in our accomplishments—taking a step back and letting us revel in what we have achieved; never trying to take credit, just simply enjoying watching us have our moment in the sun. And he would help pick us back up after our defeats, reminding us that tomorrow is a new day, and a new chance to try again.
As kids, he loved showing us the pictures, in the form of slides, of places he had been and the wonders he had seen…even if we didn’t truly appreciate the epic slide shows at the time. 

As a family, we discovered his exploratory nature on a trip to Martha’s Vineyard.  After a seemingly endless ferry ride from Cape Cod to Martha’s Vineyard, Papa thought it would be great to take a bus tour around the island.  The tour consisted of a capacity crowd piled into a un-air conditioned school bus in the middle of summer. We got to see both the interesting-- like John Belushi’s grave-- and the odd--like a house that was sawed in half by a divorcing couple-- albeit from a bus window, after we had already zoomed past it at 45 mph.  Needless to say at the rest stop, half way through the tour, my mom, sister and I were plotting our revenge. We got that revenge by renting bicycles and riding around the island. At that point we learned that it is apparently possible to forget how to ride a bike. 

Together, our family witnessed the absurd, like some of his 1970s “Saturday Night Fever” style clothes that he refused to give up, or the silky maroon shirt, with huge orange-ish polka dots that became known as the “Trivial Pursuit shirt”; and the hilarious, like the time he and our Uncle Bernie decided it would be a good idea to roto-till the backyard on their own.  Needless to say, it did not go well.  We watched, and laughed hysterically, from the kitchen window as the roto-tiller pulled them around the yard.  25 years after the fact, it still makes us laugh when we think about it.

He was the dad that would do anything for us, simply because he loved being our dad.  In first grade, when the Brownies were having a father-daughter Square Dancing event, he enthusiastically went out and bought how-to square dancing records.  Every night after he got home from work and I was done my homework, we would practice.  The night of the dance, I didn’t want to go, but he assured me we would have fun, so I reluctantly gave in.  We had the greatest time because he took the time to make it fun—silly square dancing outfit included.  He took the time to share this experience with his daughter.  It wasn’t a chance for him to be in the limelight as “Father of the Year.”  It was simply his chance to spend time with his daughter, and that made him “Father of a Lifetime.”

He was our shelter, our compass, our breath and our life.  He understood that to love meant to do so without contract or condition, without pretense or misconception. He loved us until his heart was ready to burst, and yet still found the capacity to love us more. He loved us with a good, honorable and pure heart.  He fought a brave fight until his last breath. And the last thing he said to us was, “I love you.” He was, and will continue to be, my hero, for all of the reasons that he probably thought just made him ordinary. Yet, for those “ordinary reasons,” he was extraordinary.   I am fortunate to have had him as my father for the last 26 years, and I am extremely proud to be his daughter.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Another year has come and gone...

As I begin this post it is 11:41 p.m. on Saturday, February 2, 2013.  In 8 hours and 15 minutes, at 7:56 a.m. on February 3rd, my phone will ring.  My mom will be on the other end calling to say happy birthday at the exact moment I was born.  She has done this every year for as long as I can remember.  It is the only time I don't mind being woken up early.  It is something I look forward to each year. It is our little tradition.
My mom and I have always had a very close relationship.  She is the one person I can talk to about anything and everything.  Even if there is nothing she can do to completely fix a problem, knowing that I can talk it out with her or even just sit in silence crying while she hugs me, or holds my hand, is enough to make it better. My mom is my hero.  She is the strongest person I know, something which she attributes to my grandmother.  My mom has always told me that the Mitchell women are built strong and we can survive anything.  She is right.  My grandmother became a widow while she was pregnant with my mom. She went on to raise 5 children by herself.  My grandmother was strong, smart and had the biggest heart in the world.  She passed these things on to her children, especially her daughters.  Her daughters then passed those gifts on to their children.  While my cousins and I all have different gifts and talents, the strength passed on to us by our mothers and grandmother is the one thing we all have in common.  
As I look back on this past year, I see the mistakes I have made - whether it was a stupid decision I made or because I trusted the wrong person - but I can also see the lessons I have learned from them.  
  1. Icy Hot is a wonderful thing.  While I am only turning 33, this body has a tendency to feel more like 93.  When my muscles and joints decide to rebel, I turn to my good friends pain killers and Icy Hot. :) 
  2. When a story someone is telling you doesn't quite add up and when getting him to talk about himself is more difficult than trying to give a cat a bath, most likely said person is completely full of shit.  I learned that lesson the hard way this Fall.  
  3. I took a chance on finding love again, and while I got my heartbroken, I at least took the chance which is more than I have allowed myself to do in a while.  And while I learned that I always need to follow my gut, even when my heart and friends with very good intentions are telling me otherwise, I also realized that I love is still something I need in my life.  I have tried to shut that part of me down and convince myself that I don't love, affection, romance, and companionship. I tried to convince myself that this would be the best way to protect myself from getting hurt again. Instead, all I succeeded in doing was hurting myself.  I was depriving myself of the very thing that is completely  ingrained in my spirit because I did not think I could survive another heartbreak or loss.  But I did get my heart broken, and I had a terrible loss with it, and so far I have survived. I am grieving the loss step by step, and some days are easier than others, but I am getting through it. 
  4. Mistakes will happen, but most can be corrected.  
  5. People will surprise you, some for the better, but others will fall from the place you have held them. Be grateful for those who surprise you for they are watching over you for a reason. For those who fall and fail to meet your expectations, try to figure out if they fell because your expectations were too high or if they were just not the people you thought them to be.  If it is the latter, don't be afraid to walk away. I had many people reveal themselves as guardian angels, so to speak, at the end of this year.  Without them it would have been impossible to even get food in the refrigerator. I will be forever grateful to each of you for your generosity and kindness. For the one who fell, I truly hope you can one day see through the haze of your self promotion and grandiosity and find your way back to the reason you started your quest and the reason why I, and so many others reached out to you. I hope that you find your way back to those who we are all fighting for.
  6. Don't be afraid to admit when you need some time to simply be alone.  Sometimes when you are getting the shit kicked out of you by life you can't be all things to all people.  It is OK to tell others that you are normally there for at all times that you need a break to just focus on healing yourself. 
  7. Find a creative outlet and give yourself permission to pursue it.  It may be something you want to learn, get better at or are already great at, but make sure that you get to do it!  
  8. Finally, I have learned that those who are your true friends will be there for you, stand by you, and help carry you when you are too weak to stand on your own.  We all have people in our lives that we call our friends, but how many of them will truly be there when everything is stacked against you?  How many of them will be there, cheering you on, when when you take that first step on your own after you get back on your feet?  I am so grateful that I have a few friends who have been there, cheering me on through the challenges of this last year.  You know who you are and I love you all for it. 
It is now 2:24 a.m.  I am 5 hours and 32 minutes away from my early morning wake up call and the Gods of Slumber demand I pay them a visit.  I am so grateful for those of you from around the world (something that is completely shocking to me, by the way) who are reading my blog and I am very happy to be sharing the early morning hours of my birthday with you.  May 2013 bring you all, wherever you are (Germany, Croatia, Israel, Finland, Canada, United Kingdom, United States, Jamaica, New Zealand, Russia, Australia, Hong Kong and any other country I may be missing in these early morning hours), peace, love, happiness, and only the very best things life has to offer.