Thursday, September 27, 2007

What I Hate About Being A Survivor

It’s Pity Party Day. See here for more details:
National Pity Party Day

I’m an optimist. I pride myself on that. I’ve worked damn hard to get to where I am and to be able to feel happy most days. But I don’t ever want anyone to think it’s easy. I don’t ever want to forget how far I’ve come. So I decided to write a list of what I hate about being a survivor:

People who minimize the abuse. People who say it wasn’t so bad.

The emotional landmines that can go off when we least expect them.

The push/pull between trusting (the wrong people) too much and being paranoid (with people who can be trusted).

The sense of shame that can be so hard to get rid of.

The sense of guilt that can be so hard to get rid of.

The lack of self-worth that gets in the way of being who we are meant to be.

People who minimize what happened and/or blame the victim.

The fear that surfaces at the most inconvenient times.

The jealousy of people who don’t have to struggle with the handicaps we have to get over.

People who don’t give a damn about anyone except themselves and think it’s okay to hurt others.


People who don’t get what resilience and strength and courage it takes to survive. Who don’t give us credit for that and sure as heck don’t recognize how extraordinary it is when we manage to do more than just survive.

People who don’t get how difficult every day things can be for us. Who don’t understand why we can’t do things the same way as everyone else.

No I’m not in a happy mood right now. One too many hassles in too short a period of time.

Yes, I’m a survivor and a thriver. Yes, I’ve created a pretty good life for myself. Yes, on the whole I’m happy most of the time. NOW. But I’ll be damned if I’ll let anyone minimize what it took to get to this point. I’ll be damned if I’ll let anyone criticize me because I don’t do what they do or what they think I should do. I’ll be damned if I’ll let anyone push me around ever again.

I’m nice. It’s who I choose to be. Because I recognize that everyone hurts, everyone gets scared and almost all hurtful things done are done out of fear. But heaven help anyone who mistakes that niceness for me being a potential victim. If they do, let’s just say it won’t be a very pretty sight.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Standing Up to Bullies

How many times have I stood up to bullies? I’ve lost count. I know I was doing it before I was 3 years old, stopping my mother from harming my baby brother. I’ve stood between raging men and the women and children they were trying to terrorize. I did it again this weekend, standing up to someone who is beloved by many but was choosing in that moment to try to bully them, albeit with words not fists.

I’m tired of bullies. Tired of people who think that because they have money or authority or people love them, they have the right to impose their will on others.

I know that in their own minds, bullies believe they are justified and perhaps even heroic. I understand that deep down they are acting out of their own fears.

I’m still tired of bullies. And terrified of ever being one myself.


Saturday, September 22, 2007

Whines Redux

I laughed when I read the comment about having a pity party because there are sure as heck days when we feel like having them, aren’t there?

Anyway, I thought I’d give you an update on my recent whines....

My back is much better. And when my daughter came over yesterday she moved the rest of the boxes out of the room they’re in. Some she took with her, some are in a better, temporary spot. And she actually remembered to wish me a happy birthday (albeit a week late).

We played Nintendo together, too. Who knew she was still using a system I bought her almost 20 years ago?

We’re still figuring out this new relationship. Neither of us quite knows where it’s going or exactly how to do this but we’re both working on it, both wanting it to work. And that’s light years better than how things were for a while.

I’ve been playing with my new camera, too. It’s lovely to be able to do so. It’s lovely to see that I can record sound and short videos. I’ve been toying with the idea of putting up some workshop material in video form and this may be a way to do it.

And my computer is back to working just fine again.

So....lessons learned?

1) Doing things that are outside my comfort zone expands the comfort zone. (Getting the camera.)

2) Focusing on the positive increases the odds of a good outcome. (Had I yelled at my daughter we would not have ended up with such a nice evening.)

3) Speaking up is a GOOD thing. (Had I not asked her to come get boxes and move the rest, it wouldn’t have happened.)

4) If I didn’t choose to advocate for a new kind of relationship between us, it wouldn’t happen. Because I am, it can. Relationships are not set in stone. They can change and grow IF both people want them to.

5) When I can’t do something for one reason (back hurts too much), then it’s time to do something else and focus fully on that rather than focusing on what I can’t do. It can be a time to explore new possibilities or just be still and good things can happen or it can be time and energy that accomplishes nothing except to get me more upset.

This week was, as every week can be, a learning experience on so many levels for me. Feels weird to say it, but on the worst day I also found myself smiling at what I felt like I was being nudged by the universe to learn.

I will, however, admit that I’d just as soon this coming week doesn’t bring quite so many opportunities for learning experiences.....

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

My Day to Whine

Meant to post sooner but it’s been one of those...challenging, yes, that’s the word, challenging...weeks.

Tried moving some of my daughter’s boxes from my “classroom” to the spare room and did something to my back. Now it hurts to sit or stand or walk. It will get better, of course, the more I move around. So I am. And gritting my teeth the whole time. But it does make it hard to concentrate or work on the computer. And speaking of computers...

My computer has been doing something weird all day so that it takes forever to do anything. I presume it’s updating or downloading or something in the background but it means everything takes forever. (And yes, I run anti-virus software and spy ware blockers and this is just something that happens every so often—usually before my computer decides on its own to shut down and restart due to updates so....)

Then there’s this camera thing.... I bought myself a camera. Great, you’ll say. And it is. Except...I find myself wondering why I didn’t buy myself one before or during my cross country trip when it would have been nice to take photos of places I had always dreamed of seeing. And I find myself reluctant to take it out and use it. I find myself realizing how intimidated I have let myself become by the fact that my ex-husband had his fancy camera that I was never allowed to use and a good friend and her husband both saw themselves as professional photographers so how could any pictures I took compete with that?

Funny how we can have old messages running in our heads that we don’t even realize are there!

Add to that some...interesting, yes, dynamics this past week and you can perhaps see why I’m running so late posting to this blog.

All of this will get resolved. None of this is more than a temporary challenge. And once I get over my hesitancy about using the camera I know I’ll be delighted that I have it. It’s all just...a bit much today.

Well, time to get up and move around some more. Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


Yesterday was difficult. It always is for me. Even today I’m finding it hard to forget what it was like six years ago. I remember the fear for loved ones and friends in New York. I remember the months of worry over mail in my state that was tainted with anthrax.

What happened six years ago has shaped national policy since then. It has had an impact on our freedoms. It has affected our national and personal sense of safety.

Listening to stories of that day still has the power to bring me to tears—as much for the heroism and courage shown by so many as for the deaths. And that’s what I prefer to focus on: the message that even in the midst of the worst moments some will find the courage to help others. Some will find a way to survive. People can open hearts and minds in such moments and for a long time afterwards.

Horrible things happen. We who read and write blogs like this know that. I hope that what I write is a reminder that good things happen too. We cannot always choose what happens to us but we can choose what we do with those events.

I’m a writer. I teach workshops. One of the things I say over and over to fellow writers is that it isn’t the events that happen to our characters that matter nearly as much as how our characters deal with the challenges in their lives. This is what distinguishes one person (or character) from another. This is the way we create the lives we want to have—by seeking out the good, by offering hope and help to others AND TO OURSELVES.

I wish 9/11 hadn’t happened. I hope that we never forget the loss but that we also never forget the courage of so many that day and the way people came together in the days afterwards. In those moments we knew we were all more alike than different, that we were united in tragedy. I hope that we as individuals and as a country can find a way to create that unity again—without having to have another tragedy to do so.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs)))))),

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Believing in Ourselves, pt. 2

Over and over the comment comes up (here and elsewhere) that it’s so hard to believe we’re worth loving or taking care of or are good enough.

And I think that’s what scares us the most—that if we look, we’ll discover we aren’t. If we don’t look, maybe we can pretend a little longer that we might be.

It colors everything we do and all our relationships with other people.

If we aren’t good enough:

1) How can we take chances in our careers? How can we believe we’ll really succeed?

2) How can we risk letting anyone else close?

3) How can anyone possibly love us and if they do how can we believe they aren’t somehow flawed?

4) How can we trust we won’t be hurt?

5) How can we do new things if we don’t believe we can do things right or well?

6) How can we look at and acknowledge the things we want because if we do it will hurt so much when we can’t have them and how can we possibly have them when we’re so unworthy?

7) We may tend to punish ourselves—before God or anyone else can do so and maybe do it worse.

8) We may walk on eggshells with people trying to make it up to them for having to deal with us or we may try to be perfect so they don’t get fed up and say we’re too much trouble and abandon us.

9) We may tolerate abuse—overt or covert—because we assume that’s how things will always be for us and maybe that it’s even what we deserve.

None of the above is likely to surprise anyone reading here. I post it to remind us all of what it costs not to find a way to value ourselves. And that’s just flat out unfair to the child inside who got hurt—maybe very badly—at some point in our lives. That child inside deserves to be loved and cherished and protected.

It comes down to responsibility. We have a responsibility to protect that child inside us. No matter who has done what to us in the past, this is NOW and it’s our responsibility to make sure no one hurts that child again—not even us.

That means making a conscious choice to make a list of things that make us smile—and do them EVERY SINGLE DAY.

That means making a conscious choice to treat ourselves with kindness and respect even when—no, ESPECIALLY WHEN we don’t think we deserve it.

That means making a conscious choice to learn how to protect ourselves from bullies of all kinds—verbal and physical. (Again, I strongly recommend Take the Bully by the Horns, by Sam Horn.)

That means making a conscious choice to challenge the old messages, the distorted beliefs we’ve carried around way too long.

And I know it doesn’t happen instantly. Heck, I’m writing a story right now and there are moments when it cuts like a knife to my heart to realize something my heroine sees about herself and her life that I hadn’t known I didn’t know about my own.

I’m still learning. I’m still growing. I’m still discovering those hidden pockets of self-doubt. (And I don’t know any human being who doesn’t have them.) It’s like breaking a bad habit, the habit of seeing ourselves as unworthy. The only way that happens is to replace it with a new vision of ourselves and opening ourselves up to the possibility that it could be a very good one.

And the good news is that every step we take toward doing so, no matter how tiny, makes it easier to take the next.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Taking Care of Ourselves vs. Taking Care of Others

Jumping in Puddles had a good point in a comment she made about my last post. She asked about taking care of others vs. taking care of ourselves. In fact, I was a little surprised that all the comments referred to our ability to make others feel better even though the bulk of the post was about believing in ourselves.

The thing is that it’s easier, in some ways, to focus on helping others. It means we don’t have to look at our self-doubts or fears. It’s so much easier, too, to see how others could do things differently than to see what other choices we could be making.

Ultimately, though, the quality of our lives depends on our ability to help ourselves. It depends on our ability to face those fears and find a way to let them go. It depends on our willingness to consider new ways of doing things and to challenge the assumptions we may not even have realized we were holding onto.

The truth is that even if what we want most in the world is to help others, we can’t do that unless we begin with ourselves. If we don’t take care of us, we’ll burn out. If we don’t find a way to accept ourselves, there will be a level on which we resent accepting others. If we don’t treat ourselves with kindness and respect, we’ll sooner or later resent treating others with kindness and respect.

It goes back to making the lists of things we like about ourselves. It goes back to making sure we do things that make us smile—every single day. It goes back to treating ourselves with kindness and respect even if—especially if!—no one else around us does so.

I believe in all of you. I hope that you’re all able to believe in yourselves. Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Believe in Yourself

As you know, I'm a writer. Every time I coach, every time I teach, every time I write, I am reminded how important it is—and sometimes how hard—for us to believe in ourselves.

It matters to profoundly so to writers because we often spend months or sometimes years working on projects, not knowing if anyone will like it or not. Even if we sell it to an editor, there’s no guarantee that people will buy our books. It’s hard sometimes to hold onto faith in ourselves—especially if we were not raised to believe in ourselves. That’s why I talk about it so much in my workshops.

It matters just as much to anyone who has been through trauma. Without knowing what the outcome will be, we have to risk stepping out of our safe zone to face things that feel as if they could overwhelm us, destroy us if we risk looking at them. And yet, if we don’t, we can’t let go of them.

I believe that the best thing we can do as we work to face issues in our lives and/or past traumas is to in a sense fortify ourselves first. When I worked with a counselor to process my horrific and abusive childhood, each time I went in to see him I would go through several steps:

1) I would remind myself of every success I’d had in my life—and tell myself that I could do this too.
2) I would remind myself of my strengths and reasons to believe in my gut instincts about things.
3) I would remind myself of all the reasons to trust him.
4) I would remind myself that ultimately my life was MY responsibility—that I had to make the choices that would make my life better or it wasn’t ever going to happen.

When I give writing workshops I ask people to make a list of all their successes. It’s even more important for all of us who have had difficult times in our lives or come to feel there are things we can’t do. So I’m suggesting that YOU make a list of every success you have ever had in your life—big or small. Keep that list handy and add to it with every new success. And when you hit days where you wonder if you can cope with some challenge life has handed you, pull out that list and remind yourself that you do have the skills to do so.

I do believe that within each of us is the ability to cope with whatever challenges appear in our lives. I also believe that when we can hold onto that faith in ourselves, we are more likely to succeed simply because the brain functions better, more efficiently the calmer and less afraid we can be. Believing in ourselves is a very powerful tool.

By the same token, believing in someone else and helping that person to believe in him or herself is a powerful and wonderful gift you can give. Think about it. Odds are the people you remember most vividly (in a positive way), the people you would do anything for, are people who believed in you when you needed it most. You never know when it could change someone’s life because you said, at the right moment, what they needed to hear.

I believe in all of you. I believe that each of you has within you the power to heal whatever pain is in your lives. I believe that there are good people out there ready to help if you risk reaching out to them. I believe, too, that each of you deserves to find a way to be happy.

Sending blessings and safe and gentle (((((((hugs))))))),
April Optimist