My Life, My Love

This month, I was honored to speak at Take Back the Night in Lubbock, Texas. I realized that I was going to be able to share why standing up against sexual violence was so important for me and why it should be important to everyone, not just those affected by violence.

The reason that this cause is so important to me is because of my career of counseling survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. I have worked with men, women and children. I had to do more than just provide these services to these amazing individuals. I had to get more involved and that is the reason that I am such an advocate and I will continue to work hard in order to educate others and bring these injustices out in the open.

The other reason that this cause is so important to me is because of the effects it has had on my life personally. I want to share with you all the story I was able to share the other night. I have not talked about this much probably because I am a listener however I feel that it is appropriate to share this at this time because of April being sexual assault awareness and child abuse prevention month.

It is a story about my family, primarily my mother. Oh, my mother. To be completely honest, me and my mother did not really get along and that is putting it lightly. We had good times however my mother was struggling with a lot more than just the average mom. I want to also say that my mother passed away when I was 25 years old and that was very difficult for me. The reason this was so difficult was because it wasn’t just my mother who died but the possibility of us having a healthy relationship died as well. I do feel as if I have understood her much more now than I ever did when she was alive. The information I am going to share about my family is information I have pieced together and some of it may just be how I remember it.

My mother was born in Juarez, Mexico and she was basically the product of an affair. Her father had an affair and he decided that it would be best for her to grow up with his family. So he took my mother to live with him, his wife and his children. As you can imagine, that probably did not go over too well with his family. My mother was sexually abused by her father for many years, the abuse ended when her father died, when she was around ten or eleven years old. During that time, she was also physically and emotionally abused by her “step-mother.” And when I say abuse, that seems so mild, she was actually physically and emotionally tortured and tormented for the majority of her childhood. She had scars on her legs from the hot oil that was poured on her as a kid. I don’t really want to go into the horrific stories I’ve heard because they are so disturbing. My mother decided to leave that situation when she was a teenager and went to look for her birth mother. She found that family however that ended up being a bad situation as well and decided it would be best for her to be on her own. At some point in time my mother was sexually assaulted as well. She found her way to El Paso, Texas and began to live with an older brother. That is also where she met my father. Oh, my dad, is an amazing man. He really was the rock of our household and I owe so much to him.

This really is where our family began. My mom and dad ended up getting married and having us! My brother was a birth child however I was adopted. My childhood was confusing at times because I did not understand a lot of things that my mother was going through. I did not understand why I would hear my mother crying and when I found her, she was huddled over in the closet. When I opened the door, she would look at me with a blank stare and yell at me to leave her alone and not hurt her. I only wanted to comfort her but felt like that wasn’t my mother and just closed the door and walked away. I didn’t understand why I would wake up in the middle of the night to her screaming and crying. I would hear my father trying to comfort her and whisper to her that she was safe and everything was alright. The sad thing is that no matter how much my father hugged my mother and no matter how much he tried to make things better, he could not take away her pain and he could not take away her memories of abuse.

My mother did go to counseling and may have started feeling better however her counselor/psychiatrist died. She decided that she did not want to start over again with another clinician. I can only imagine how difficult it would be to go over everything again and start to create another relationship. So she didn’t and her physical and emotional health declined until she died in 2002. That’s my mom, she was beautiful!

My beautiful mother

That leads me to what I do today in order to make a difference. OK, I want to make sure everyone understand that when I started out my education as a counselor, I did not expect to work primarily with survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence. I was going to work with kids and adolescents who were having mental health issues and were getting into legal difficulties. Don’t ask me why I wanted to work with adolescents, but I did. My plans and the universe’s plans don’t always match and I have learned to just go with it. So about two and a half years ago, I found my self doing this work and that is when my life changed. I now know that this is where I was meant to be. I can go on and on about how I see so many women, children and men heal their lives and what was even more inspiring is their ability to find meaning in their suffering. These courageous individuals decided that they were worth it and they deserved to live happy and healthy lives.

I only wish that my mother would have gotten the help that she deserved. She deserved to live a happy and care-free life. We deserved to have a healthy mother-daughter relationship. But that did not happen for us however I want others to know that they can accomplish anything that they desire, they just have to start it. And they should start this journey today, because you never know when that opportunity will be taken away. Don’t take any day for granted. Each day is a gift that we should cherish. Each one of us deserves to not just survive each day but to live each day to our fullest. Please, please, do not let the effects of the abuse steal away your life. People ask me how they can get involved and I tell them the first thing they need to do is to heal. Healing ourselves from whatever trauma we may have experienced is our first priority. By healing ourselves, we create changes not only within our own bodies but in our relationships with others and our environment.

Please seek out the help that you deserve and don’t just settle for any counselor. It should be a counselor that is trained in working with trauma survivors. If you feel like you can not afford help, do not let that hold you back. There are so many organizations that are available to help you and if need be contact me and I promise that I will help you find the help in your area. Nothing should get in the way of you and your perfect life!

Lessons from Last Year

2010 is over and 2011 is just beginning. To be completely honest, I am excited for the new year and couldn’t be happier that this last year is over. It was a difficult year for me however just like other difficult times, I did learn alot about myself and about others.  I feel like I have grown emotionally and spiritually.  I have been connected with so many people that I might not have ever met, if I had not been tested to my personal limits.  So here are some of the things that I personally learned this last year: 

No matter how strong of a person I am or you are, we all need to depend on each other and reach out to others.  Now this one is particularly hard for me because I have held on to this delusion that I can handle things on my own.  That I don’t need anyone’s help because all others are going to do is let you down.  Now I am not saying that doesn’t hold true in some instances however if you are lucky enough to have a hand full of angels in your life, sometimes that’s all you need to get by. 

If I am open to life’s lessons, then these difficult times are the times that I grow the most.  Over the years, I have had some difficulties and just like all of us, I have suffered several losses, dealt with stress and a variety of different traumas.  When things in my life are going smoothly, I feel happy however notice that I don’t do as much WORK as when things are bumpy.  I am a very curious and introspective person, and am always seeking answers and knowledge about myself and about the world around me.  When I am down and out, I question myself and my higher powers about what I am to learn from this situation.  How can I come up and out of this destruction all around me?  How do I need to nurture myself and ask for what I need from others in order to be the phoenix rising out of the ashes?  If I can find out what I need during these difficult times and what I need from others, then I can overcome this situation and it might help prepare me for other situations I have yet to face. 

This too will pass.  I have to continue to remind myself that this is not permanent.  And if I am not feeling good, physically and/or emotionally, I am comforted by the fact that this is going to pass.  Just like when we cut our finger, it hurts, however it also heals.  My heart has healed from situations that have happened in my past however that also does not mean that things will not pop up unexpectedly that I will have to readdress.  But again this is temporary, in the large scheme of things; it is only a moment in time.  This is also why when things are going good, we need to rejoice and cherish those moments because unfortunately those times will pass as well. It’s funny because I used to take comfort in consistency and wanted things to stay the same.  I still find that I get like that sometimes, I like knowing what is coming next and what I have to do.  But the more that I realize that change is constant then I can learn how to go with the flow. 

That is something that I look forward to this year is just to let go of so much of the responsibilities that I hold myself to and just have more fun! I want to rejoice and enjoy the life that I have created for myself and I encourage each one of you to do the same.  If you feel like your life is not what you would like it to be, then do what you can to create the life that you want.  You have the power to do it; you just have to trust in yourself and have the courage to begin the process.  It is a new year and anything is possible! Just Believe…

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Compassionate Heart

Angela Shelton is amazing and has really been listening to so many people who are surviving through trauma.  Isn’t it amazing how much her speeches touch every one of our lives?  It really is true, who isn’t wounded in our day and time?  And how many of us don’t feel listened to because the people we are trying to talk to are equally as wounded?  So when someone listens to us and validates us, then what a difference it starts to make.  Many times we don’t let people in because we fear that the things we are saying to ourselves are going to become a reality as the relationship continues.  Oh, no, they will think I am a piece a crap too.  If we think those things of ourselves, what are others going to think of us? Right?

It’s a crazy cycle of how our thoughts manifest themselves into our daily lives.  We do need to change those thoughts in order to change our lives.   Is it easy to change these thought patterns?  Not necessarily and it does take a lot of practice.  That’s why the “I love you, squish!” t-shirts are awesome, they are a great reminder. Here is a common excuse I’ve heard, “But I feel like I am lying to myself when I tell myself that I am wonderful and powerful.”  And my response would be, “Don’t you think that you are lying to yourself when you call yourself stupid and dumb.” Ha! It does take time to change our thought patterns.  However Angela is so right.  Once you begin to have compassion for yourself then you start to be even more compassionate toward others and to the world.  Higher vibrations within ourself are making an impact around others close to us, a ripple effect of compassion. 

We are basically asking you to be a little less hard on yourself and give yourself some love and respect.  When things are going wrong and life is not all you had hoped it would be.  You start analyzing your mistakes and start to get really down on yourself.  Oh, I am the worst about this one.  “You made a huge mistake; you really blew it this time.  You shoulda done this, you shoulda done that.”  Blah, blah, blah.  If a friend were to come to me and say, ”Hey this is the situation and I am feeling really overwhelmed and I’m such an idiot.”  I know my response to them would be something like, “Oh, no, it’s not your fault, you’ll see everything will be ok.”  We don’t turn to our friend and say, “Oh, my, goodness, you are such an idiot, what were you thinking?!?” This is not our typical response.  But we do that to ourselves all the time.  We are so hard on ourselves and we can say the meanest things. So we “squish” the negative thoughts and make room for positive and caring thoughts. Like…

Once we start to learn to be honest and compassionate with ourselves, we will start to accept ourselves where we are.  Pema Chodron introduced me to “maitri” which means tender loving kindness towards oneself.  I realized that I am human and that I am going to make mistakes.  I learned to accept my weaknesses and start to love myself for the many strengths I do possess.  We focus too much in life on what is wrong with the picture.  What’s wrong with ourselves and/or others.  But why not focus on what makes us special and unique?  Why not focus on the strengths instead of the weaknesses within ourselves, our lives, our community?