Balancing Pain with Laughter

I love comedy. Not so happy about the swearing, particularly the F word which triggers me due to my abuse. It was hard to find clean comedy acts until Dry Bar Comedy came around.  Now whenever I need a good laugh, I can find an abundance of funny comedians, using their craft skillfully instead of relying on crude jokes or swear words. I laugh so hard I forget that I was ever abused. I laugh so hard I can’t breathe. I laugh so hard that sometimes my husband has to pause the show so we don’t pass out.

This has helped me discover something about the need for strong emotions in our lives. Children live fully. When they laugh, they never slightly chuckle- they laugh out loud using their whole bodies. When something goes wrong, they cry as if it’s the end of the world. When Mommy puts a bandaid on their scrape and gives them a hug, all is right in the world again. I have decided the reason they can let go so easily, is that they expressed the emotion fully.

As an adult I held everything in all the time. It was miserable. By holding in my pain, I was also holding onto it and I could never let it go. I talked about it, but I never let it go because I refused to allow that emotion to be expressed. I never cried. Eventually I had to learn to cry and feel pain. I explored the darker side and I did feel better, but I then had to learn to express joy as well.

I was unbalanced living in a world of expressing pain until I learned to express joy. Expressing joy can be hard in a world where we are always trying to look grown-up, sophisticated, and fit in. Laughter gives us the perfect opportunity to learn to express ourselves.

When I watch a great comedian on Dry Bar Comedy I forget all my problems. I am caught up in the shared experiences of being nerdy, not fitting in, or having something embarrassing happen to me. I relate, and laugh, and am able to see those experiences no longer as horrible bits of my past to be suppressed, but in context, as something that happened to me that also happens to lots of other people. I laugh about it.

As I laugh, I connect with myself on a deeper level. Afterward, I am more loving and patient with my kids. I feel greater satisfaction with my life. I balance the pain with the joy, and everything looks better. My children know instinctively what I have forgotten, that laughter is vital to balancing a painful life. Even before you learn to cry again, learn to laugh again.

Dry Bar Comedy comes from the conservative Mormon town of Provo, Utah and is provided through VidAngel, a service that offers filtering for Netflix and Amazon Prime streaming. They have hilarious clips you can watch for free on YouTube.

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Guest Blog American SPCC: Empowerment

I wrote this guest blog for the American SPCC at their request, telling my story. It was published on their site August 30, 2018.

I still remember the moment of disbelief when the first glimmers of childhood sexual abuse emerged. I was forty-one years old. The memory was there, yet I still tried to deny it, even as more memories surfaced. It took days to sink in. Once I had cracked the shell of my dissociative amnesia, memories came flooding out. It felt like everything I thought I knew about myself was suddenly ripped away.

At first, I tried to move through my normal life, but flashbacks cropped up without warning, stripping away my feeling of safety and causing me to burst into sobs no matter where I was. Week by week, more horrible memories surfaced. I had no idea how many more there were or how much worse they would get. I felt frightened, alone, and out of control.

I went to group, saw my therapist, and tried every type of healing I could find. It took almost two years of memories, therapy, and hard work, but I finally came out the other side. I have tried EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing), hypnotherapy, visualization, meditation, writing, sharing my story, non-dominant hand work, energy work, coaching, spirituality, and massage therapy. Some worked better for me than others.

Now I know that I am the survivor of ritual abuse, torture, numerous types of rape, childhood sexual abuse, and deep emotional trauma. I have uncovered memories so horrific I could never have made them up, my imagination isn’t that twisted and dark. I have added thirteen abusers to the two I knew about before uncovering my amnesia. I hope I have uncovered it all, but I don’t know for sure.

When I shared a small, relatively minor memory with someone, they said, “You never really heal from something like that, do you?”

I was shocked and responded, “Of course you can.”

I have heard variations of this sentiment many times now. Survivors wonder if they can ever have a healthy relationship, learn to trust, or be touched without flashbacks. My message is one of hope. It is possible to heal from anything, if you are willing to do the work, cope with the anger, and move through the pain.

Breakthroughs in neuroscience unlock the power of our brains and bodies to heal themselves and reveal the amazing connections between the two. New therapies are being used that help people heal without adding additional trauma. There has never been a better time to achieve deep and lasting healing.

No matter what you have been through, you are not alone. I have met dozens and dozens of victims and survivors. I have heard a broad range of stories. The problem of sexual abuse is deeper, wider, and more common than most people realize, with devastating consequences to the body and brain. No matter how horrible your story is, you can overcome.

There is power in standing up and choosing a different future. You will find your individual path to healing when you decide that is what you really want. You might think you want it, but you have to want it bad enough to face what happened and be willing to change what isn’t working in your life. Then you will find the people you need to help you along the way. You are literally surrounded by other survivors. You walk past them at the grocery store, see them playing with their kids at the park, sit next to them in church services. They are men and women that look like you. Abuse happens at every socioeconomic level, in every neighborhood around the world, across all religions and ethnicities.

Making the decision to heal completely is not easy. For me it was scary. I began to realize that the fingerprints of my abusers were everywhere in my life. In the things I liked and didn’t like, the quirks and fears I had, the way I interacted with others. I wondered who I was apart from being a survivor. Even something as simple as my trademark short hair turned out to be the result of men using my long hair to inflict pain and control me.

I began making a list of the parts of my personality that had nothing to do with the abuse. My abusers might have influenced what I paint, but my love of painting has nothing to do with them. I began to see that all the good things in my life were things I created. I realized why I had short hair, but I also realized I turned it into something unique about me that I love. I took something negative, and over the years, owned it as something unique and creative. I began to see that I was more than my abuse.

For the first time I realized my dreams for my future were attainable, that I was stopping many of them from happening in one way or another. Who did I want to be? What did I want to have or do? What did I need to change to make those things happen for myself? If I changed the narrative about things in my past to create the life I currently had, I could also change myself again and create any future I wanted. Step by step, I moved toward my dreams and they began to come true.

Now I have a happy, fulfilling, and exciting life. My home life has completely turned around, my relationship to my kids is better, and I wake up excited to do the work I know I am meant to do. I experience new things every week. In the last year, I have gone down a bobsled run (hated it), tried sushi for the first time (loved it), and made it through a cave that previously caused me to have a panic attack (felt empowered but still don’t care for caves). I’m not lost in dreaming of something far off in the future, I am working each day to obtain goals that are right there within my grasp which will also lead me to where I eventually want to be.

Sharing my story through writing, speaking, and coaching others has been incredibly powerful. I have healed from the abuse of my past and now get to help others. I have more energy, sleep better, and am more productive. I am more empathetic and less judgmental. I am no longer a victim, but more than a survivor. I am a thriver. I spend my energy helping others heal and learn to be thrivers as well.

 

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When Vacations Go Wrong

At the end of August I made my first international trip by heading off to a writing retreat in Scotland and then taking a couple extra days to travel down to London. It was amazing, but could have felt more like a disaster.

I had planned on being a guest at this writing retreat, and help out my writing coach who was running it a little here and there. Well, Scotland had other plans for us. Angie and MIchael run the conferences and retreats together but Michael wasn’t able to come at the last minute. Angie came, fully prepared to run everything solo until she got horribly sick for five days of the week long retreat. And that was just the beginning. The castle toilets had problems, rental cars had fender benders, and the internet was only slightly better than dial up.

As part of Angie’s team, I stepped in and helped out. Chad and I shopped for groceries, picked up guests from the airport an hour and a half away, and one day I spent the entire day cleaning the castle in my own fairy tale Cinderella story. While I didn’t get the writing done I would have liked, I was still able to see the things I wanted to see in Scotland, and drove all over the Scottish Highlands.

In the past I would have considered this a tragedy. Proof that bad things seem to happen around me an felt guilty at the money I had spent. But that is no longer me. I loved every bit of my trip. I got to see amazing things, interact with regular Scottish folks, and discover their openness and kindness. One guy pulled my husband and I out of a ditch (the roads are very narrow and a huge truck was coming. We couldn’t find a pull off- so Chad pulled to the side without seeing that within the thick greenery there was a small ditch hidden by the grass). We got to try Scottish dishes like Bangers & Mash, Haggis, Bridies, Scotch Eggs, Sausage Rolls, and many more.

Things went wrong, but that didn’t destroy my vacation despite the amount of work I put in. I found the joy and humor in the things that were happening. I was disappointed not to get the writing time I needed, but I got an even bigger gift. I got experiences that will make my books richer. I got to trace my husband’s ancestors through their hometowns. I got to read a journal written by the man who left Scotland and immigrated to the United States and visit the places he talked about. As I stood in the Blairgowrie Cemetery taking pictures of gravestones, distant bagpipe music floated with the cool breeze. While I scrubbed the castle and delivered food down the hallway and up a flight of stairs I got a glimpse of what it would have been like to live hundreds of years ago, while being grateful for modern conveniences. I still got my international speaking credentials and was able to hammer out story boards for two books.

In London I saw amazing things and felt the pulse of a huge city. I also experienced the hush of Westminster Abbey, the bird’s eye view from the Shard, and the calm of floating down the Thames. I loved the rich architecture I viewed from a double decker open topped bus, hundreds of years of history within the Tower of London, and the beauty of Tower Bridge.

By overcoming the issues that prevented me from enjoying my every day life, I have also learned how to enjoy the extraordinary. Just like life, trips have problems. It rains the whole time, or everyone gets sick. Don’t allow those things to prevent you from enjoying the experiences that are there for you. There is always joy to be found, if we are willing to receive it.

 

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