Browsing Tag

trauma

Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape

When “Yes” Means “No”: On Trauma

May 15, 2017
trauma

CW: This essay discusses sexual abuse and trauma . For survivor support, contact RAINN for confidential online and phone support, https://www.rainn.org/get-help.

By Kit Rempala

One of the most beautiful and terrifying things about trauma is its relativity.  It changes from person to person.  My therapist says trauma is a defense mechanism – it shields us from the exiled emotions which well up to the surface every time our minds touch upon the permanent bruise which houses memory of the initiator.  She says defense mechanisms are not our weakness; they are powerful tools that indicate just how strong we are in the face of adversity.  She says although the initiators and their actions are not a part of us, the defense mechanisms – the traumas – are a part of us.  And no part of us is bad, or defines us.

But what do we do when cases of trauma are not so clear-cut?

I should have known.  I should have listened to my friends.  I should have listened to my instincts.  I believe in the core, primal, animalistic intelligence preserved in the human condition – the one that, when it prompts us to “Run!” is usually correct.  I’m a smart woman.  I am college-educated, I come from a well-adjusted upbringing in an upper-middle-class home, and I very rarely question my own judgments.  And then there are other times…

I met “D” when I was nineteen.  I had scarcely dated, and so I jumped at the opportunity for another’s attention, to feel desirable and wanted.  He seemed like a nice enough guy: polite and witty.  But even on our first date my neighbor’s dog growled at him as we walked to his car.  I shrank away from his hulking form in the passenger’s seat, and again during the movie, and again on the way home.  When I kissed him goodnight my apprehension was eclipsed by his powerfulness, the way he pulled me so tightly to him and pressed his lips so hard against mine.  It made me feel small in a way I never had being 5’11” tall.  My body shook, but not with the butterflies from a new connection. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts, Social Media

Why I Don’t Just Unfriend Him

May 5, 2017
trauma

By Christie Tate

“You can just unfriend him.  At least hide his profile.”

This is good advice, advice I’d be well served to take.  I’ve just told my best friend about the latest offense my Tea Party pro-Trump second-cousin has committed on social media.  This cousin triggers me to the moon with his red state propaganda.  I haven’t laid eyes on him since my grandfather’s funeral in 1981.  I was in third grade.  I remember only that his face was wide and flat like the surface of the moon.  We share the same last name and a handful of relatives that I’m not close to.  We were “reunited” on Facebook a few months ago when my first cousin put me in touch with his daughter.

I didn’t know he was a pro-Trump guy at first.  The posts were all about his grandbaby and his beloved Texas Aggies.  Babies I can get behind 100% of the time; the Aggies I could take or leave.

Then, over the summer the Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas erupted in gun violence and police officers were killed in the line of duty.  I posted something that was pro Black Lives Matter, and his response was racist, offensive, anti-Constitutional, and impossible to ignore.  I held my phone and in that tiny square for REPLY I told him why Black Lives Matter was important and that he was wrong about who was to blame for the violence.   I cited numerous incidents were young black men were killed at the hands of trigger-happy, racist police officers.  After I published my remark, I shook like someone soaking wet in a snow storm.  Had I just taken this man with my father’s smile to task?  Was I now in trouble?  I was 43 years old, sitting in the office where I work as a lawyer, shaking like I’d just thrown a Molotov cocktail through an elderly person’s window. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, writing, Young Voices

The Broken Container

December 13, 2016
container

By Raisa Imogen

Last year, I was in Paris during the terrorist attacks, and I don’t know how to tell that story. Similarly, I don’t know how to tell the story about Trump’s recent election. But there seems to be a strange and shivering thread between the two events. Both violent, painful, chaotic. Yet Paris was somewhat contained. This election is not, the common mantra being: “we just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

We tell stories to make meaning of trauma, to contain pain so we can better examine it and give it value. But sometimes we are in such distress that the container cracks. We can no longer write or speak in the same way, we can no longer contain the pain or carry it comfortably.

Paris: the cherry glow of sirens, the bitter cold, windows slamming shut, a vacant Eiffel tower. Alternatively: my friend who calmly held my hand, the family member who made a quiche, a café filled with people drinking champagne the next day.

Either it becomes a story of horror and fear, which you’ve already heard, or a story of healing and bravery, which feels mawkish and insincere.

I think we dislike narratives which exist in gray, uncertain space. We want them to have logic, to land on one side of a binary — tragedy or comedy, conflict resolved or broken open, a character whose biggest desire is fulfilled or wrenched from them completely. Climax, falling action, resolution.

But trauma, especially when it first occurs, isn’t a neat and tidy narrative. Sometimes there is no narrative at all.

The New Yorker recently featured a piece where sixteen writers weighed in on the election. As my friend Marie Scarles observed, “There are so many different versions of why Trump won, and so many ways for us to imagine the future. Should we pay more attention to poor whites? To Muslims? To women? To LGBTQ? To racists? To immigrants? All seem urgent, but none can be held as the be-all-end-all.”

We are searching for a straightforward answer, an immediate ending so this can be over and done with.

After the election, hunched over my carrel in the library and unable to write, I got a text message from my father: “Trauma turns us into animals, which means story-telling turns off. We revert to fight, flight or shock.” But sometimes, maybe our storytelling tendencies shutting down is a good thing. Maybe it allows us to survive. Narratives can be healing, but they can also be dangerous.

By attending to many different perspectives, perhaps a new story will eventually arise, something both nuanced and messy, something which contains many strands. Perhaps it will be a story of hope, but a particular kind of hope, which Rebecca Solnit describes as, ”an ax you break down doors with in an emergency… [it] should shove you out the door.”

For now, we are living in uncertainty. The story is that there is no story, at least no singular one. Which means there is no singular conflict, no one resolution. I wish I had a coherent story to tell about Paris, but I don’t. For me, the container is still broken open, as it is now for America post-election. This means we must listen to each other, and listen carefully.

raisa-tolchinsky

Raisa Imogen was born in Portland, Oregon, grew up in Chicago, and is currently studying at the University of Bologna in Italy. Her poetry can be found at www.raisaimogen.net and at The Kenyon Review.

 

Join Ally and Jen Pastiloff for an intimate online course about what it means to be a woman at this time. Space is very limited. Course runs Jan 12-Feb 9, 2017. Click the picture to sign up or to get more info on the course and its perks!

Join Ally and Jen Pastiloff for an intimate online course about what it means to be a woman at this time. Space is very limited. Course runs Jan 12-Feb 9, 2017. Click the picture to sign up or to get more info on the course and its perks!

 

 

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24 OR Sep 9-16. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

Join The Manifestation Retreat: Manifesting Under The Tuscan Sun. June 17-24 OR Sep 9-16. Email retreats@jenniferpastiloff.com or click the picture above.

Abuse, Guest Posts

My Last Halloween

October 31, 2016

By D. Michael Whelan

When I was younger, I loved Halloween. I think it was getting to play dress up, pretending to be something else, something of your choosing. Every day of my life I was pretending to be something else just to stay safe. I was pretending not to be gay, because my parents knew, but warned me what would happen if I told anyone else. I was pretending everything was okay at home. That home wasn’t actually a warzone, where I had to match wits with a mad woman, just to be allowed to eat, sleep or stay inside. Beatings were unavoidable, but I became a master at figuring out how to work with them, so they inflicted minimal damage. I learned how to figure out my mother’s moods and what made her tick. I was strategic, sometimes making sure the beatings weren’t big, but when she was on the edge I knew she would have to blow completely in order for me to be safer as the night wore on.

See, I was always pretending. I was always lying. I was always someone else. I was the bright and lazy student, because not doing your homework because you were playing one of your mother’s psychological games did not fly. I was the student who didn’t appreciate his parents, because whenever the police were contacted about said abuse, it just made things worse. I was defiant, but only because I intended to survive. I was a liar, but never a liar about the things people thought I lied about. I was too crafty, too good at lying – people never knew what I was lying about. They never did either. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Surviving, Young Voices

Broken Hospital Bracelets

August 17, 2016
trauma

TW: This essay discusses rape and trauma.

By Ashley Doonan

“It has been a pleasure working with you,” Dr. Leslie says as he hands me a cab vouch to North Station, “we’re here if you need us.” The taxi drives down McLean hill and I gently loosen my hospital bracelet. “This is it,” I think to myself, “this is learning to walk again.” I breathe deeply and stare into the sun.

Three weeks prior, it was raining. I stood in the Clinical Evaluation Center, second-guessing why I was there. A nurse spoke gently, “we’re sending you to the Trauma Unit.” The semester prior, I had finished my Master’s thesis on a subject matter related to trauma—I knew all of the signs and the symptoms, the causes and the effects. Still, identifying myself as a sufferer remained alien to me. It couldn’t possible be me, I thought that day, how did I become this fragile? I often find myself wondering what are the evolutionary mechanisms that cause intrusive thoughts after a traumatic event occurs? Perhaps it is for safety, but the pain that is produces emotionally seems utterly unproductive. Even the trauma specialists lack the answer to this underlying question. Thus, we sit with these thoughts day after day, desperate for a means of escape. Continue Reading…

courage, depression, Grief, Guest Posts, Miscarriage

After The Miscarriage: A Letter to My BFF about my PTSD

December 14, 2015

Trigger Warning: This essay discusses the trauma that can come with miscarriage.

By Jessica van Alderwerelt

There is so much I’ve wanted to say but haven’t been saying because it is hard for me to talk to you about what I’m going through, writing seemed easier. There are a few important things I have to communicate to you that have been going on because not saying them, I think, has created expectations that I am doing better than I actually am.

In hopes that you’ll understand me better, I’m going to share some pretty dark shit with you that I’ve been working on in therapy. I’m chipping away at making sense of my trauma but it’s a process that takes time and I will never be the same as I was before. I wanted to die. I wanted to stop the pain so much I was considering killing myself to make it stop. It was the scariest. Not only was it the immediate trauma related to my pregnancy loss but it dredged up so much past trauma, like my rape and my parent’s divorce, and my mom’s cancer (and my cancer scare), and my dad being absent for all those years. Trauma (and PTSD) is like that. It brings up all the stuff that felt the same, every time I felt robbed, scared for my life, abandoned, etc. Some days I physically cannot get out of bed because there is 2,000 pounds of weight bearing down on me. I can’t lift my arms or head. If I don’t have plans or obligations and no one is watching, I literally do not get out of bed to eat or shower or see the sun. Often for days at a time. I am debilitated.

Here is something I wrote in therapy. Maybe it’ll give you some insight into what I’m going through:

I wasn’t supposed to get too excited about my positive pregnancy test or tell anyone until I was sure and because so much can happen in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. For me, I experienced 12 weeks of sweating every night, hugging my belly, dreaming about my new future, celebrating to myself that I was finally pregnant.

I was so excited about what motherhood would bring– making plans for vacations to Iceland (where I honeymooned) with my little Olive and her daddy. I bought things for her room– my favorite being a beautiful, small hand-carved and painted wooden elephant that opens with a little latch securing a tiny hiding spot. She would have it on her dresser as a baby with a love note from me in it, she’d hide her diary key in it as a kid, put it on her desk as a teen to store her forbidden lipstick, and she’d move it with her to her dorm room to stash some pot– she would always have Ellie the elephant as a tether to home. Continue Reading…

Anonymous, Guest Posts

Living in the Past: Discovering Credible Facts in My Past Life Memories in the Holocaust

September 25, 2015

By Anonymous

A couple of nights ago, I woke up from a nightmare, disoriented and a heavy feeling in my chest. I dreamt that I had survived the Holocaust and was sitting in a concentration camp just days after liberation. I couldn’t see my reflection, but I looked down to see my that my legs were covered in filth. My toenails were bare and brittle, not the electric pink gels pedicure that I regularly sport. But what disturbed me most about the dream is the overwhelming depression and apathy I felt at having survived for nothing. I somehow knew my entire family had died and I kept thinking over and over, “I’ve spent the last few years trying to survive hour by hour, minute by minute, evading death at every turn. And now that I have, what is there to live for? How can I go on?” I think I even told one of the nurses there that I didn’t really want to live.

And then I woke up.

I’m not, in fact, a Holocaust survivor. I have no relatives that are survivors. My mother’s side of the family is what many people refer to as “hidden Jews.” This means they rejected Judaism for some reason or another and fully immersed themselves in Christianity (or the dominant culture). I wasn’t even alive during WWII; I grew up in the 1990s, two generations and an entire world away from the horror. My parents never sat me down to tell me about the Holocaust, as is the experience of many young Jewish children or descendants of Holocaust survivors. I had never seen a film about the Holocaust until long after my obsession began. Continue Reading…

Binders, Guest Posts

After Striking A Fixed Object

July 22, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By LaToya Jordan

I was jerked awake by the swerving of the car as it raced towards the median. I remember the sound of hands, my aunt’s hands; she pounded the steering wheel trying to make it stop spinning, make the car stop moving. I screamed, we all screamed. I sucked my teeth, said this isn’t happening, can’t be happening. Silence right before impact, the screams of metal and voices vacuumed out of the car; so quiet only heartbeats remained. 

The vehicle rolled approximately three times, the first roll was a barrel roll, driver’s side leading, after striking a fixed object.

I woke with the belief that my skin was made of ice, a chill, a chatter deep inside my bones. Grit in my mouth. I spit the grit, pieces of my teeth in my hand and I wanted to be on a warm beach holding a handful of sand. I wanted to let the wind take the sand from my hand and be left with tiny white slivers of seashells. There was a lot of blood, my blood, and there was a woman’s voice. When I stared at the blood soaking the tissue or towel or blanket she told me to press the something to my face to stop the bleeding. I thought I was going to die a virgin. It was cold and dark though it was morning. Someone cocooned me in blankets. The only light I saw was when I looked up. My mother screamed. Helicopter blades sliced open the sky. The man in the helicopter had warm eyes and he was on the beach with me and we held flecks of shells in our hands. It was so easy to speak to him through my eyes, to be intimate with a stranger when I thought I might die. He tried to start an IV and the needle hurt. I was bleeding from my face, spitting out teeth, and my body was numb, yet the needle hurt.

11/29/97 treated for SHOCK/TRAUMA

This will sting a little, the doctor said. Needles into the gashes to numb. He pieced my face back together. A stitch, a stitch, another stitch. A radio was on in the background. My brain sometimes adds details to the story that weren’t there that day, like the song on the radio was Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” for Princess Diana. She died in a car crash on August 31, 1997. In this created memory I say to myself, at least I can be sewn back together.

This will sting a little.

There’s a part of the brain that controls fear called the amygdala. It is almond shaped. My amygdala has a super power. It transforms every car I ride in into a gray Mercury Sable GS with 82,876 miles on it. It sends me back to the New Jersey Turnpike on November 29, 1997. I get to be 19 again and again. My amygdala rewired my body; my right leg now directly connected to fear. Whenever I’m a passenger in a car my leg pounds the floor in search of a brake. Sometimes I have to hold my thigh to calm my leg. I don’t have the power to turn this off. The motion is like a breath, like a heartbeat. I don’t know how to make my stomach feel like it is not being jerked, like it is not heading towards a median, like it is not flipping over three times across the highway after striking a fixed object. I don’t know how to make my brain shut up.

When in cars I talk to my amygdala.

I hush it.         (but the vehicle rolled three times)

I rock it.          (but the first roll was a barrel roll)

I tell it             (but it struck a fixed object)

everything

is going

to be okay.

(But I can’t forget)

The first time I saw my face in the mirror, I thought, “Frankenstein made a new monster.” A line of stitches, from the right side of my mouth and down across my neck. These new mouths sewn tightly shut but they mumbled so loud.

This will sting a little. Pink skin bubbled out of my scar like lava, forming a new tough skin. A pink protrusion. When the bubbling stopped, I looked in the mirror and saw someone that was not the real me, an evil twin. How would people know this wasn’t the real me?

On physical examination there are two very distinct and two very minor scars of the right side of the face. The distinct areas are at the lower facial border at the angle of the mandible and on the left upper neck. The larger of the scars is 4.5 x 1 cm in size, this crosses the mandibular angle. The prominent scar of the left neck is 4 x 1.2 cm.

Prominent. A few synonyms: protruding or sticking out or

keloid. Defined as irregular or abnormal scar tissue. Also defined as when your body becomes wet pavement after the rain and a slimy and thick pink or brown earthworm crawls across your skin and settles in, this spot is comfortable. Or you are a tree and your body grows berries, skin fruit that hangs at the site of your ear piercing or your belly piercing or your acne scars. You, with your irregular and abnormal skin fruit for all to see, bulging.

This will sting a little. I covered my mirrors, borrowing something I learned from Jewish friends, sitting shiva for my former self. Here lies a pretty 19-year-old girl. Who will ever love her?

And the sting kept stinging. Not a little. It held venom that paralyzed me. It was hard to get out of bed. I managed to go through the motions for college classes but my average dropped because sometimes I felt like the cracks in my face had been super glued back together, another fall would destroy me. I raged. I wrote pages of stinging words: I’m a monster and no man will ever want me. I got lost inside the sting; I couldn’t escape its grasp. I was too afraid to tell my friends and family how I was feeling. I let them see a stronger version of me, window dressing to hide the pain that ate me from the inside out.

There, in the mirror, is a gray car that flipped three times. There, in the mirror is the bloody face and broken body and all the things I remember and all the things I don’t. There, are the things beyond my control. I go to the bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face and sometimes the accident is there. Good morning, car accident. How are you today?

How many people will be in car accidents today? I don’t know, but every time a person is killed in a car crash in the U.S. their body is marked on a list of the Fatality Analysis Reporting System. In 2013, 32,719 people died in car accidents. That’s 89 people dead a day. They’re probably still counting the bodies from 2014.

Raise your hand if you’ve been in a car accident. Raise your hand if you were nervous or terrified about getting back into a car after that accident. Raise your hand if your heart beats fast just thinking about getting into a car. Raise your hand if you never drive. Raise your hand if you are a prisoner of that road or street or stretch of highway. Are they counting our hands? I wish I could see your hands. I wish I could calm your legs when you press those imaginary brakes. You are my people. Are you scared? Are you scarred? How do you cope? Is it meds? Is it meditation? Do people tell you that you should get over it already? Sing this song to the get over it people:

            scar tissue that I wish you saw

            sarcastic mister know-it-all…

            with the bird I’ll share this lonely view.

42,013 died in car accidents in 1997. 115 people in the U.S. probably died on November 29, 1997. I was not one of them.

I was not one of them. Not anymore, not normal. I didn’t want the normals to look at me because they would see my scar, two very distinct and two very minor scars of the right side of the face. All the normal people who knew me, their eyes changed. I saw sorry, I’m so sorry in their eyes. I saw them remembering the old me. (This lonely view.) With them I tried to wear the I’m still the same person hat. I wore real hats. I wore my hair combed in my face. I wore a scarf to cover my neck and mouth when I went outside. Don’t look at me, my eyes pleaded, don’t look at the very distinct bull’s eye on my face.

I wasn’t prepared for how much words from strangers would sting.

You’re pretty, still, he said. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts

The Art of Waiting

June 23, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Amie Newman

I am not a fan of patience. It doesn’t matter if I’m standing in line at the grocery store or figuring out my next career move. It borders on skin-crawlingly-uncomfortable to wait. I live with anxiety, though it’s treated with medication. Still, to breathe deeply and be with myself, in the tumultuous times, in all my uncertainty and confusion can almost cause a riot in my brain. I know I’m not alone in this but it’s a solitary feeling.

The last three years have been filled with the fight of my life, as my husband, two teenage children, and I lived in deep trauma. It was and is a trauma we must keep private and so there are very few who know or understand what we’ve been through. Last year, we climbed out of the trenches, after a long war, dazed and dirty. Like a less funny (though sometimes equally as weird) “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” I am a part of a new and unfamiliar world, post-crisis, that I am scared of and fascinated by. I’m wondering what the hell to do next. I have no idea. I hate the waiting. But I am raw enough and maybe finally wise enough to know that waiting may be the best thing I can do right now. Continue Reading…

Abuse, Binders, Guest Posts, Relationships

Finding Love After Trauma.

May 13, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Alana Saltz

Everything terrible he did to me was supposed to be a joke. The first time I made a self-deprecating comment, he slapped me hard in the face. When I was being indecisive, he put his hands around my throat. During a phone conversation, he said that he would lock me in a box and throw me in the ocean if I ever cheated on him. I told him that his comment bothered me, and he said, “Don’t cheat on me then.”

Whenever I managed to gather my courage and confront him about the things he did, he told me he was just joking. He didn’t seem to understand that I didn’t like the way he was joking. It really wasn’t funny.

Several times during the course of our relationship, I ended up going home from his apartment and throwing up. The first time it happened was after he slapped me. I felt the nausea coming on and rushed out of his place so he wouldn’t see what I knew was about to happen. He was a smoker, so I blamed it on the cigarette smoke. And maybe it was. But the fear and anxiety that rose up in me when he slapped me, or put his hands on my neck, or made threats that weren’t enough like jokes, made my stomach turn even harder.

I found myself throwing up several more times, something that rarely happened to me, despite having a history of anxiety disorder and anxiety-related nausea. This was something new.

We were only together for six weeks. I couldn’t handle the nausea and the fear I felt around him anymore. He didn’t make me feel safe. When I broke up with him, he yelled at me. He told me he never should have trusted me or opened up to me. I kept saying I was sorry. I couldn’t make the real reason why I was leaving him come out.

You scare me.

– – –

I’d never been in any sort of abusive relationship before. I wasn’t sure this even counted as one. I felt shaken but was afraid of overreacting. After a few months, I took steps to move on. I went to a “Geeks and Nerds” singles mixer held by a Meetup group in Culver City. There, I met a very chatty, very eager guy who latched onto me for the entire night.

He decided we were meant for each other because we were both in our mid-20s, had Jewish backgrounds, loved music, and grew up on the east coast. At the end of the night, he kissed me and told me he wanted to see me again the next day. When I got home from the mixer, I spent the night curled up in my bed clutching my stomach, waves of nausea hitting me hard.

I didn’t see him again. For the next six months, at the end of every date I went on with someone I met online, I came home with a bad stomachache. It got to the point where just the thought of dating was enough to bring queasiness.

I began to see a new therapist who specialized in anxiety disorder and cognitive behavioral therapy. CBT was something that had helped me in the past. It focused on fixing distorted thought patterns and the behaviors caused by them. Anxiety had made me nauseated many times, but it had never made me throw up before. Obviously something was very wrong.

My therapist assured me that, although it would take time to recover from the trauma I’d experienced, I would eventually be able to be with someone again. She taught me meditation and breathing techniques. She trained me to think of the situation in new ways. Still, the stomachaches came. I felt like I’d resolved things in my mind, but my body wouldn’t let me date.

“Will I ever get better?” I asked her, over and over again.

“Yes,” she told me. “When you find someone you feel safe with, this will go away. But you have to work on it too. You have to retrain your mind and body not to associate men with danger.”

But I couldn’t make it stop.

– – –

Almost a year after the breakup, I went on a first date with a man named PJ. We had been in touch online for almost two years but hadn’t met in person yet. We talked now and then, each time never quite connecting, never taking it to that next step of actually meeting.

But there was something about PJ. I liked his round glasses and funny beard, the fact that he was an artist and creative, and the things he said in his profile about how he tried to always be there for people. I had a feeling that he might be someone I could trust, someone who could really care about me. I still had my worries about the anxiety and nausea, but I didn’t think he would make me feel nervous or pressured. He seemed safe.

PJ and I met up at a café halfway between his place in Redondo Beach and mine in Pasadena. We chatted for a few hours about art, writing, and Doctor Who while sipping boba teas. He was intelligent but not arrogant, laid back but energetic, interested but respectful of my boundaries. We spent the week before our second date talking online and on Skype. I shared some of my short stories and essays, and in return, he showed me his art and sent me a poem. His poem, “a wake,” was about wanting someone to see him. He wanted someone to see who he really was and then tell him not to wake up.

It was his dream, and it was my dream too. That was when I knew that we might be onto something. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, Self Image, Self Love, Yoga

Teaching Yoga To Teen Girls With Sexual Trauma and The Connection To Us All

March 26, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Anne Falkowski.

 

I had my own sexual trauma at thirteen. It took only a few minutes. I can’t remember it all, but can still feel the pebbles and grit embedded in my opened-up palms, see my ripped jeans, and taste the blood inside my mouth from where my face was shoved into the ground. I can still smell their boozed-up breath on my neck and feel their thick hands and fingers. It was a one time event, but my perpetrators went to school with me. I had to face all three of them for the next five years in classrooms and even at parties. I had no one to talk to, no therapy, no coping strategy.

I begged my parents and the male police officer, who spoke with me about it immediately afterwards, to drop it. I gave no details. Details would have made me cry.

I’ll be fine.” I said.

What I wanted to say was, “Shut up. Shut up.

And like a miracle, they did. My parents and the cop, they shut up. In a span of less than fifteen minutes, they were gone.

I was left alone with the sound of my body hitting the pavement hard and the boys laughing and squealing in my head. It was like taking a deep inhale, closing off your ears, eyes, nose and mouth, and never exhaling again. I failed to mention “the event” again until I was 30 and in therapy for self-hatred so thick, I could stir it. Thanks God for the panic attacks that led me to the office of a persistent and wise therapist. I had no idea my low self-esteem and carefully hidden self-destructive behaviors were linked to what happened at thirteen.  All I knew was I had spiraled to a black bottom and couldn’t find my way back up. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, healing, Holidays

Dead Christmas Trees, Brain Injuries & Finding The Beauty.

December 29, 2014

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88

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By Karen Pyros-Szatkowski.

When I lived in New York City after college, too many years ago, I’d be so saddened the weeks following Christmas walking by apartment buildings seeing the discarded, used up Christmas trees piled in front, waiting to be picked up by the garbage collectors. I was in no way a tree-hugging, save-the-earth activist back then, but for some reason, these trees, some still with tinsel on the branches, made me view the city as a morgue and a feeling of hopelessness and helplessness and despair would replace the holiday happy from a few days before. The trees of all shapes and sizes, some tall and skinny, others short and more full, ugly Charlie Brown trees, and beautiful prize worthy ones, whatever fit into the lives of the former owners’ apartment spaces, had now served their purpose and lay, most of them without bags, on the cold New York City sidewalks, atop their own fallen needles. They were once connected to and nurtured by the earth, then worshipped and adorned with beautiful decorations… a proud centerpiece in the apartments, the holiday, and now tossed out like garbage. Actually, that’s exactly what they had become. Garbage. Although I never, ever, bought a real tree after my first Christmas in New York, I certainly don’t make any judgment on those that chose the natural over the unnatural; that’s not what this is about. I know that for every tree cut down, others are planted and farms grow trees just for Christmas pleasure. It is not a moral choice for me; it’s an emotion. I know real trees look much more beautiful, fully decorated, than the artificial ones, and I do love the smell of pine, but the memories of those discarded trees piled many feet high like dead bodies awaiting their disposal left too much of an impact on me, too much of a sadness, not because of the waste, but because of the abandoned love. From the pedestal to the street. Beauty completely stripped to nothingness. Life to death.

I’ve been feeling similar emotions recently, but not due to Christmas trees. I feel so much pain and sadness, all around me and not all mine. Being so easily connected through social media and website magazines, Damon’s story has reached out past the community in which we live to a much larger audience. Because of this, I’ve been connected to many new friends and reconnected to many old friends, so many of whom are affected either themselves or through family members by traumatic brain injury, death, or just horrible diseases. In our pre accident life I never would have crossed paths with most of these people. In our pre accident life I would never have been able to so deeply feel their pain. So many have reached out to us to share their own stories, looking both for inspiration from our journey and hoping to add support to theirs. Continue Reading…

courage, Guest Posts, healing, motherhood

The Tunnel of Trauma.

December 3, 2014

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By Karen Pyros-Szatkowski. 

I lost my son on December 3, 2011.

My sweet, cheerful boy with his contagious grin, ever helping hand, and heart of pure gold was gone in the instant his car slammed into the stone wall. What was left after intensive surgeries was an unmoving, minimally conscious body, kept alive only with the help of machines, monitors, wires, and loud, piercing bells. What was left according to medical charts and the doctors in their own insensitive words, was a vegetable, was no hope, was a severe case of traumatic brain injury. What was left was not the boy I knew and loved and mothered for 17 years. I still had a warm body, but on that day I lost Damon.

Damon’s story, is a story of faith, a mother’s healing love, gut instinct, blind hope, miracles. It is the story of the rippling effects traumatic brain injury has on family and friends. But most importantly, it’s the story of an amazing boy who just refuses to give up, who faces each day with resilience, determination, and a heart bursting with so much appreciation for life.

Damon lives at home with me and his two beautiful sisters who have each played a major role in his recovery. He has made huge strides in his recovery, but still has a full journey ahead. Today marks three years of progress. Three years of loss. Three years of hope. And three more years we have been able to enjoy Damon. Continue Reading…

courage, Guest Posts, healing

Woman, Interrupted.

September 27, 2014

By Lisa Barr.

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From Tragedy to Triumph: 34 years after recovering from Anorexia Nervosa, I went back to the scene of my childhood trauma.

Have you ever done something not because you want to but because you have to? Because “closure” is required. I wonder, can you ever really put a lid on childhood trauma?

They say you can never go back, be it a relationship, an unforgettable experience, or any place that holds too many strong memories. It is never the same, because you are not the same. I think about this as I approach the elevator leading to the Eating Disorders Unit of a prominent Chicago hospital. It has been 34 years since I have been back to what I remember as the “gateway to hell” — where I was once a patient, at just shy of 13 years old, barely 45 pounds and starving myself to death.

Of course I am going to feel different, I tell myself. I am now healthy, thriving, with three beautiful daughters; a life filled with blessings: a wonderful husband, financial security, great friends, and time for myself. Why am I suddenly terrified? Why did I decide to revisit my childhood nightmare?

I don’t have to do this.

But you do, that tiny voice inside me whispers. It’s time to face what was, and give back. By giving back, I am on my way to share my survival “story” with a group of young patients in the hospital who are suffering from Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia. I had gone through a rigorous process to volunteer in this special hospital unit, and tonight would be my debut.

Continue Reading…