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Compassion, Guest Posts, Surviving

The Dress That Binds, Or How I Learned To Love My Mother

July 15, 2016

By Jill Rothenberg

I held the delicate piece of lace tulle between my fingers, the light pink froth of it peeking out between the hot pink of the skirt layered on top. I pulled it off the rack and held it out at arm’s length, considering what kind of top would be perfect: plain white bodysuit or the cream-colored sweater with gold bling at the neck? Would the perfectly coordinated pastel pink fur coat be too much?

I took them from the rack and considered them all, holding each over the skirt in my right hand.

“Jesus Christ, I’ve been looking all over the store for you. Put that stuff down and come on.”

I jumped and turned around, the clothes falling to the floor.

There was my boyfriend, who had caught me red-handed in the little girl’s section of Target.

You would have thought he caught me with porn. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Surviving

The Shivers Take me Hard

June 26, 2016

TW: This essay discusses suicide and suicidal ideation.

By Brenda Taulbee

It is February and 2am and I am standing in the Holiday gas station, you know, the one on the corner of Higgins? I slipped I say into the telephone that Kelly, the late night attendant, hesitantly handed me. My cell phone is a lump of useless in my soggy pocket. Kelly has long, beautiful hair that he keeps pulled back. He likes microbrews and taking his mother to craft shows. We’ve chatted the handful of times I’ve stumbled in just before bar hour to pick up a 30-rack of cheap beer. Something to fuel the after party and take the edge off morning.

Can you come get me? I ask the phone and my girlfriend on the other end of it. The homeless man who saved my life nervously peruses the candy bar rack. Kelly eyeballs him from behind blocky glasses. If it weren’t for me he’d have run him out already. His long fingered hands splay across the glass case of Scratch ‘Em and lottery tickets like two fat spiders. On the other side of the receiver her voice is forever ago. I didn’t think I was trying to kill myself that night, but I guess that’s the story. The thing and the thing beneath it. The thing being a river, and me quickly becoming the thing beneath it. The stepping itself was easy. One second ground beneath me, the next nothing. All that dark water sucking eager at my heavy winter clothes. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Surviving, Women

Revolutionary Women: Breaking The Ties That Bind Us

June 22, 2016

By Nancy Arroyo Ruffin

When I was about 11 or 12 I saw my cousin Maggie get her face punched in by her husband in front of an abandoned gas station. It was a warm summer night and the normally loud Brooklyn neighborhood was uncharacteristically quiet save for two crack heads getting high down the block and a passing car that was blasting Slick Rick’s “Hey Young World” from the speakers. My mother, sister, aunt, cousin and I were walking home from the annual feast of St. Carmel eating zeppoles and recounting the events of the night. I don’t recall Maggie’s husband being with us. I remember him appearing out of nowhere like the boogey man in a bad dream. One minute we were strolling down the block, and the next minute Chucho was dragging Maggie across the filthy pavement. When she tried to fight back he put one hand around her neck and squeezed. He punched her so hard Maggie lost her breath for a few seconds. Her mouth was open, but no sound came out. She didn’t scream or cry.  She just floated midair, voiceless.  I stood there waiting for my mother and aunt to do something, to say something, but all they said was, uno no se mete en cosas de matrimonio, one doesn’t get involved in the business of a man and his wife.

Although the elements of abuse are universal, a person’s cultural background influences how individuals deal with abuse. What we grow up witnessing as children and how we’re taught to respond in certain situations serves as the foundation for how we will respond to similar experiences when we get older. Our culture, religion, and economic background affect our beliefs, values, behaviors, and how we deal with problems. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Sexual Assault/Rape, Surviving, Young Voices

From One Survivor To Another

June 11, 2016

By Courtney Cook.

When I think about being raped, I think of mosquitos. I think of the sound of a buzzing street lamp. I think of sweat, of sand, of silence. And I think of the women on the tennis court nearby, blissfully unaware of my presence a mere fifty feet away.

There are no bicyclists in my story; there is just me, a girl barely 15, and him, not much older. I am so grateful there are heroes in your story. You never deserved what happened to you, but you did deserve all the kindness in the world that those men gave to you in your most vulnerable moment. I wish they’d never had to extend such kindness, but if something so horrific had to happen, I am glad good men found you. I am so thankful for all of the good men.


Two weeks before I was raped, my future rapist was pulling me away from a party. It was Halloween; I was dressed as a sailor. I can’t remember what he was dressed up as, but I can tell you the way his arms felt wrapped around my wrists as he drug me away from the party. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, motherhood, Surviving

How to Survive the First Year

May 29, 2016

By Lauren Kosa

Have a baby. Meet her and wonder who she is. Worry she is so small you might break her. Regain your confidence. Find a group of mom friends. Go out for margaritas with them and talk about your plans. Think about how soon your maternity leave ends. Resolve to do anything it takes to lean in.

Notice that some of your friends go back part-time, and some don’t go back at all. Go back to work full-time. Find a good daycare. Drop your baby off. Notice she’s so small she can barely hold up her head. Feel sad, but also a little glad to go back to work. Don’t feel guilty when your colleagues ask if you cried and you didn’t.

Think about your daughter all day while you are at work. Check the webcam. Cut out of work early so you can play with her in the evenings. Let her stay up later than she should because she is laughing so hard. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Surviving, Truth


May 22, 2016

By Daniel Elder

You scurry around looking for quiet. You search for it in all of your familiar places. You see quiet’s tail disappear around corners but when you turn them all you see is neon Little Italy, all you see are fading brownstones, all you see is the Brooklyn Queens Expressway running its surgical scar through Sunset Park. You know this isn’t how it’s supposed to be, that the chase has a loudness, and this is absurd. Chasing quiet. You sit in a yoga studio with strangers and you drink a foul plant brew. Sometime in the night, in the space between the curandero’s songs, you discover quiet. She is curled up in a tender ball just below your heart, so that every beat awakens against her and her purr soothes every peal of your tired bell. You sit with her, so close you feel inseparable. But you can only sit there for eight hours. You can only vomit so much of your trauma into the plastic bucket that’s provided. In the morning you leave the yoga studio, leave the warm embrace, step out into sunlight that caroms off of all the steel and glass surrounding you. You feel quiet stir and you try to hold on to her but quiet is a twitchy woodland creature and once again she is off and running. A wind stirs litter in the crowded street. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Surviving

There Is No Story Until It Happens To You

May 18, 2016

By Richard Fifield

Someone else is driving your car. He thinks this road is a video game, accelerates to sixty on the straightaways, slows for the sudden plunges, and your car rollercoasters and dips past reedy bogs. You step on an imaginary brake pedal. You are no tourist, you were born and raised here, you hate these roads.

This road is notorious, chiseled through mountains. On your left, a steep plummet to the Yaak River. To your right, ridges rise out of sight, emerge from a mighty ditch that is a dumping ground for road kill. Not just unlucky animals, white plastic crosses are riveted to stanchions, the Montana American Legion honors every highway fatality. One million acres of national forest, this northwest corner an eruption on a topographical map. Your birthplace has been christened by drunks and geniuses: Burnt Dutch, Red Top Cyclone, Pete Creek, Lick Mountain, Devil’s Washboard. You are thankful your mother gave you a normal name.

Jacob is driving, and you think you can trust him. There is no cell service here, eighteen miles from Canada, thirty from the Idaho border. This land is a secret to most people, primitive, unpredictable, occasionally vicious. This is why you left. Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Surviving

What The Body Remembers

April 17, 2016

Trigger Warning: This essay discusses abuse and rape.

By Claudia Smith

For Meihua, my daughter

When I was small, Jesus was more than love, more than an important figure to me.  He was the soul of everything. I could not imagine my world without him any more than I could envision a world without rain, sun, clouds, or earth.

A picture of Jesus hung over my grandmother’s dresser; he wore a cream robe falling in a way that only suggested a body, light shooting from his barbed valentine heart. He was so very beautiful; his hair was light brown, his beard split into a small heart as well. It was difficult to read the expression in his eyes and over the years, I saw many feelings in them. Gentle forgiveness, calm resignation, even lust. If he was in pain, he seemed to have transcended.I preferred this image to the crucifix that hung in church. I can’t say when I began to understand that suffering was his love, or at least the proof that was needed for me to understand the depths of his love.

Years later, when I was no longer Catholic, when I wasn’t sure if I was anything, I still prayed when I was afraid. I would say the Act of Contrition, Hail Mary, and whatever else I could remember, even after my understanding of Jesus had complicated and when asked, would call myself a “lapsed Catholic.” I liked that. It left things open. When I prayed, I imagined the eyes of the Jesus in that classic Sacred Heart picture, not the Jesus nailed to a cross. That image sort of pissed me off. Why should I trust him more because he was tortured? Wasn’t his love infinite? What was the torture for anyway? Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, Surviving

What my Mother’s suicide taught me

March 25, 2016

By Liz Goodchild

I still look for her, even after all these years. I scour crowds, searching for her face, hoping to catch a glimpse of her thick-rimmed glasses, the same glasses that helped to identify her when she was removed from the railway tracks. And yet I know that she is gone. That I will never see her again.

She was tall. Much taller than me. She carried herself with such dignity and determination and yet depression drenched her bones with every step she took. I only knew her as a child and teenager, and yet I am an adult now. How has it been fifteen years since I last saw her? Continue Reading…

chronic pain, Guest Posts, Surviving

My Moveable Feast

March 14, 2016

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.  —Ernest Hemingway

By Vicki Gundrum

A Moveable Feast is the only book of Hemingway’s I’ve read, and I’m nourished by the idea of memories. I know it’s more than Paris—it’s driving the ambulance in the Spanish Civil War, catching swordfish in the Gulf of Mexico, gazing on the Snows of Kilimanjaro, swimming in your Key West pool with your gay friend Tennessee.

I’ve lived a life like that, moving up, around and through the world like a hawk on an updraft. It was good and scary, and I collected three concussions.


My neurologist watched my face change into a Picasso. An eye shrunk and moved, a puzzle piece that should no longer fit, but face tectonic plates shifted to accommodate. My left eye teared. My doctor stared. She said, I’m watching you have a cluster headache. It’s not hemiplegic is it?

I told her I felt the pain behind my left eye but that the headache would become full bore on all parts of my head and face. She said she’d never before watched a cluster headache form. I didn’t say congratulations but I could tell she was excited. She grabbed me by my shoulders and led me to a room with a mirror in it so I could also see the transformation in my face, a reflection of the cluster in bloom. There, do you see your tiny eye there? Or was it my pupil that fascinated.

She rendered her diagnosis with the pride of competence: You are having both transformed cluster headache and transformed migraine, chronic and daily. I asked what transformed meant.

It means you don’t need a trigger.

Oh, I thought my trigger list was merely huge and unavoidable.

My doctor injected nerve blocks behind each eye and prescribed prednisone to break the cluster of clusters—for I’d had a Spring of them. I made another appointment with her but it never happened because she quit the HMO for private practice. Continue Reading…

Family, Guest Posts, Surviving

Emerging Enough-ness

January 18, 2016

By Tammi Scott

It’s taken me 40 plus years to crawl out of my crib (comfort/safety zone) and learn to be emotionally present for myself. Babies and children are supposed to be valued, cherished, and worthy of our time and attention. They are to be lovingly directed, taught and redirected if need be. Otherwise, they take their cues from those closest and dearest to them, their family becomes their first teacher.

20 years ago, my father told me a story about how I used to get my days and nights mixed up, as a baby. I complained to him that as an adult I had trouble getting to sleep at night and referred to myself as a night owl. He told me I was always that way and used to be up all night as a baby playing in my crib. One night my mom woke him up and whispered that someone was in the living room, they could hear noises. He crept out of their bedroom with a baseball bat in hand and as he rounded the corner into the living room, he found me sitting on the floor in front of the television. It seems I had crawled out of my crib, went into the living room and turned on the TV so I could watch it! He and I laughed fondly at this point in the story. However, the next thing he said cut me to the quick and the story was never funny to me again. He said after he got done whipping me and putting me back in my crib- I never crawled out of it again. He repeated the phrase for emphasis as if it was something to be proud of- “you never crawled out of that crib again!” Fortunately, we were on the phone, so he couldn’t see how devastated I was at the turn his memory had taken. I managed to keep it together enough to end our call without tipping him off to how upset I was. I cried after I hung up with him, thinking how intrinsic the natural instinct to explore is in a young child. How hurt and terrorized I must have been at such a tender age to have that natural instinct whipped out of me by someone I loved and trusted.

My mother also liked to tell an amusing memory about when I was a baby. She worked outside the home and was often rushed and busy trying to make it there on time. She recalls one particular morning when she got to work and got a call from my babysitter asking where I was. It seems she had forgotten me at home, in fact, had not even remembered me until the babysitter called. The sitter had to get the apartment manager to let her into our apartment so she could collect me. My mom was vague on how long she’d been at work when the sitter called. I always hoped it was shortly after she got there when my babysitter would have realized my mom wasn’t coming to drop me off.

MY earliest memory was of being left alone in a large room at a daycare center while my mother went off with a teacher to discuss the school. I remember I felt so small, the room seemed huge and it was dim because it wasn’t in use. I was left alone in a lot of situations as a child that were neither safe nor appropriate or I was left alone to get into situations of my own making that were not safe or appropriate. Quite a few of them sexual in nature. From these cues, as a child I formed self-rejecting and belittling beliefs to try to make sense of why just being me wasn’t enough for the love, approval and attention of the primary architects of my world, from my family. I was too sensitive, always told to stop crying so much, or to settle down because I expressed so much excitement and emotion. From the emotional neglect, I began to feel isolated and unworthy.

Throughout my childhood, I felt like a disconnected outsider, no matter where I was but especially within my primary and extended family. School and books from the library became my refuge. If I wasn’t lost in a make-believe book world, then I was attempting to be the center of attention in class or at recess. Sometime near the middle of the sixth grade, I grew terribly afraid of making the transition from elementary school to junior high. Our sixth-grade teachers would get so mad at us when we clowned around that they would yell at us about needing to grow up. They screamed that we weren’t going to make it in junior high with our childish behaviors. I didn’t feel like I had anyone to turn to about my increasing terror of the unknown. That’s when I decided to kill myself. I went into my mother’s medicine cabinet and found a bottle of pills. I took over 15 of them and waited to die. Instead, I kept throwing up, over and over. My mother took me to the emergency room, but I was too afraid to tell anyone what I’d done. The doctor diagnosed me with the stomach flu and gave me a shot, in my butt.

After my botched suicide attempt at the age of 11, I turned to drugs, alcohol, sex, and eventually food. It was the late 70’s, early 80’s so marijuana and alcohol were readily available among my parent’s and my friend’s parents’ stashes. Therefore, my drug and alcohol use was regular from the very start. I used sex to get love and attention wherever I could find it as a young girl, growing teen, then as a young woman. Honestly, I was looking for anyone or anything to make me acceptable, lovable, and a part of something. Of course all I found where people, relationships and situations that reinforced the messages transmitted to me by my parents. I was too emotional, I cared too much, I was too excitable, I was too loud, my laugh was ugly. That last one came from my husband and caused me to stop laughing for a long, long time. I became the consummate chameleon. With family, I was conditioned, trained or taught to be who and what they wanted me to be. With friends and acquaintances, I would glom onto them, take on their mannerisms, characteristics and repeat their phrases so I could fit in and they would like me. I determined what they wanted from me or what they liked in a person so I could morph into that. I thought to become a wife, then a mother would be the answer, but that was not the case. I sought help through the years from churches, psychiatry, personal growth counselors and parenting classes. Each time, I’d get some measure of relief, start to feel better about myself, and quit. Always the debilitating depressions and suicidal ideation came back making me feel like I’d never escape.

I left my husband for the final time shortly before giving birth to our third child. Less than six weeks after giving birth to our daughter, I was back to doing drugs again. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. I was dying inside spiritually and I was terrified of what my life would become if that happened. In desperation, I sought help from another therapist. That final time I was completely honest during the intake interview session and at the end I was referred to their center for alcohol and addiction.

They felt my drug and alcohol use was contributing greatly to my depression. Suddenly it all made sense. I remembered the counselor I went to for help with better parenting skills suggesting I try AA or NA meetings. However, I dismissed that notion because I needed help with my parenting, I didn’t have a problem with drugs or alcohol.

That was 19 years ago. Through the unconditional love, acceptance and support of 12 step meetings, mentors, personal writing and a Higher Power I began to shed the chameleon and come to terms with my past. My parents weren’t monsters, they were limited, misguided and young. They did the best they could with who and what they were. More importantly, as I shed the chameleon, I began to reemerge. It was ok to be sensitive, emotional, excitable, boisterous and my laugh was phenomenal! As I learned to love and appreciate myself, I instinctively gravitated towards people, places and things that supported this most healing belief I rediscovered. The ultimate compliment I receive from others is my authenticity makes it ok to be who they are. My emerging enough-ness has been the most powerful force I’ve ever encountered. It lets me know it’s ok to do things like expand, stretch and obliterate comfort zones by submitting an essay for scholarship consideration. Yes, it’s taken me 40 plus years to climb out of my crib. I’m anxious to continue exploring the world.


Tammi Scott is a soon-to-be empty nester, living a life aimed at broadening beyond a growing dissatisfaction with her current career. She is exploring a journey home to her authentic self, learning to live from her heart which is leading to a bigger, more open life. You can come along for the ride by reading her blog:


Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016. Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was? Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty. Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Join Jen for a weekend retreat at Kripalu Center in Western Massachusetts Feb 19-21, 2016.
Get ready to connect to your joy, manifest the life of your dreams, and tell the truth about who you are. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Jennifer Pastiloff, creator of Manifestation Yoga and author of the forthcoming Girl Power: You Are Enough, invites you beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.
Note Bring a journal, an open heart, and a sense of humor. Click the photo to sign up.

Abuse, courage, Guest Posts, Surviving

Stranger Savior: Escaping Abuse

December 6, 2015

Trigger Warning: This piece deals with physical and mental abuse and contains graphic language. 

By Candace Roberts

We train our kids to know, “stranger-danger” these days, but my escape from my abuser finally happened by a “stranger-savior”. In a gas station parking lot, I watched the stranger mouth, “monster” as my abuser was ferociously banging my head into the driver side window. I was in the driver’s seat and his hand was reached from the outside with a firm grip on my long dark brown hair. I was in shock and couldn’t believe what was happening.

The woman clung on to her cell phone and called the cops. I saw her mouthing the report off to the dispatcher. She backed up and drove away horrified. That was the first time and the last time I ever saw that angel. I wish I could have thanked her.

I was horrified, too. But, ironically not for my life or safety, rather for my reputation and knowing that I would be embarrassed if any one else saw me in that situation. Continue Reading…

cancer, Compassion, courage, Guest Posts, Surviving

Sailing the Waves of Cancer: Living with a Disease That Won’t Let Go

December 4, 2015

By Betsy Hnath

It’s been four years since my diagnosis with stage II breast cancer: One and a half of them I spent in treatment, the other two and a half I spent dealing with the aftermath.

As time passes, and my emotional ship sails in relative equilibrium for longer stretches, I try to spend more time on the deck, taking in my surroundings, living in the moment. Then cancer sends up a flare in the distance and my attention is shifted: A random pain, tightness in my chest, or some extra fatigue. These bright, red burning lights remind me it is always there, hovering, perhaps waiting to attack again.

Sometimes cancer is a cannon, launching its missile close enough to graze my bow, as it has recently. When I hear that close friends, young friends, healthy friends have been diagnosed, I begin to sway. I know they will soon begin building their own ship and join the growing fleet that surrounds me of loving, faithful, undeserving patients. I mourn for their loss of the “old normal.” I know what it does to you.

I have to sit back and powerlessly watch during the excruciating 2-3 weeks it takes to learn everything they can about their enemy through scans and tests, and formulate their plan of attack. Nothing can be done to slow down or speed up that time.

I can tell them what I know from experience: that this is the worst of it, this first part. Shifting uncomfortably in scratchy, paper gowns as you wait in sterile, silent exam rooms; the inability to get the smell of hand sanitizer out of your nose; shaking hands with one doctor after another as he or she flips through your life, which has been neatly assembled onto a clipboard. How you can go from feeling normal to completely despondent, sometimes within the same ten-minute span. That ache, burning in your chest, as you inhale yesterday’s Suave when you bend down and kiss your children’s heads as they sleep, wondering how many more nights you’ll get to do it. I can prepare them and reassure them, but in the end they will sail through it on their own just as we all do. Continue Reading…

Addiction, Friendship, Guest Posts, Surviving

Black Light

December 3, 2015

Trigger Warning: This essay mentions rape. 

By Joan Wilking

The job was supposed to take just a couple of days; we’d been there four. The inside of the club had already been painted flat black like a chalkboard. We added the dayglow lightning bolts, a moon face, and a rising sun with multi-color rays meant to mind-fuck the drugged and drunk hippies who would soon be whirling dervishes on the dance floor under pulsating black lights. It all looked pretty shabby during the day, but come nighttime – magic. We cleaned up our mess and asked to be paid.

“There’s still the billboard,” the owner said.

“That wasn’t part of the deal,” my roommate said.

She was small but tough. One of her eyes was a little off. More so when she was mad.

“Three hundred bucks,” she said. “That was the deal.”

“Three fifty if you do the billboard.”

“Four hundred,” she said.

“Three seventy-five, then.”

It was 1967. She was the one who got us the job. I didn’t know the guy. He was a friend of a friend who sold her some pot. He wore fitted black shirts and gold chains and had a voice that sounded like he ate nails for breakfast. He walked us outside. The club was in an industrial building on the New Jersey side of the Ben Franklin Bridge into Philadelphia, where we lived. The highway was a truck route. Semis and tractor-trailers flew by, spewing exhaust fumes. The billboard looked homemade, the supports were rickety. It was smaller than a real billboard, more of a big rectangular sign. It was July. So hot and humid I started and ended each day soaked in sweat.

The guy said, “I want black with a big fluorescent rainbow and a yellow arrow pointing at the club. No name.” He described the rainbow’s arc with a sweep of his hand and added, “The radio ads will pull the suckers in.”

“How are we supposed to get up there?” I said.

He left and returned with a couple of wooden ladders. We each took a side.

We were just out of college, young and thin with tight tits and asses, which, in our tank tops and short shorts, were much appreciated by passing truckers who catcalled and blasted their air horns throughout the blistering afternoon. By the time we climbed down we were sun burnt and verging on heatstroke. When we stood back to get a look at the billboard I reeled, dizzy from the heat. Continue Reading…