Browsing Tag


Fear, Gratitude, Guest Posts


August 13, 2016

By Kate Abbott

I didn’t know it at the time, but my writing was born on the night I nearly died.   Maybe born is too strong a word but let’s just say I was incentivized by the horror.  Not the horror of what actually happened, but by what could have happened.

I am an ordinary mother.  I don’t suffer from any health issues, well except for my obsession with running, and my kids, thankfully, are well adjusted, at least most days.  I try my best to make my sons’ lives extraordinary and normal at the same time.

It started with a fifth grade science fair project.  After procrastinating to the last possible moment, my eldest came up with his concept: sleep deprivation.  He planned to keep his father up all night and take notes on whether there were hallucinations.   The only wrinkle: dad was out of the country until after the project was due.   No matter, I told my son, mom can step in.  I had an ulterior motive.   In a moment of madness known to afflict runners during post-race bliss, I had signed up for a 100 mile race.   This necessarily meant that I would be running, or if not running at least hopefully moving forward, for probably 36 hours.   An overnight training run was strongly recommended.

And that was why I was outside in the rain as Friday night turned into Saturday morning.  I was doing various loops around the neighborhood, checking in every 45 minutes to have my mental status assessed by my son, who was playing video games.  The idea was to compare the effects of sleep deprivation on a subject who was engaging in physical exercise with that of one who was engaging in a mental activity.   He’d compiled a list of math problems that we would do. 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…

Beating Fear with a Stick, courage, Guest Posts

Trigger Finger: An Essay on Gun Control.

June 17, 2014

Trigger Finger: An Essay on Gun Control. By Kirsten Larson.

My father was gone two weeks when a man I didn’t know was my mother’s new boyfriend pushed the butt of the .22 rifle on my right shoulder and with his big, dirty fingers folded my slender 4 year old finger onto the trigger. He cupped his left hand around my left hand, squeezed it under the stock and raised the barrel toward a paper he’d nailed to a fir tree a few minutes before. When he took his hands away the barrel fell pointing at the ground a few feet in front of me.

We were in deep snow up the side of a mountain almost to the timberline near Kalispell, Montana, where we lived. My Mother had driven my brother and I to shoot guns with her “new friend.”

I was shivering mostly because of the cold. But also I didn’t know anything anymore about my life, the randomness with which things change and happen: a new house, my dad gone, my mom unpredictable.

I’d never seen a gun. I didn’t know anything other than I was supposed to hit the bulls-eye. I didn’t know what a bulls-eye was. What I knew was that this man was not my father, but he and my mother were drinking whiskey out of a short brown bottle and looking at each other like she and my dad had once looked at each other.

“Pull the trigger,” he yelled.

The gun exploded in front of me with the loudest noise I’d ever heard. I was thrown back onto the hard snow. Pee soaked hot through my tights, warming my icy thighs. The shame of being touched by a strange man, of peeing like a baby in front of a man who was not my father, was far worse than the pain in my arm from the gun.

I didn’t know enough to be afraid of the gun. I didn’t know about death.


I did know what death was in 1980 when the .30-6 my mother bought for my 16 year old brother discharged in our house. I was 17, upstairs in my room reading. The sound of a car accident the sudden merciless slamming of metal and glass was the sound of that gunshot.

You don’t know how your body responds to terror until you’ve known terror. I freeze. I lose my voice. An iced knife straight up from my solar plexus.

The absolute still that followed that gunshot. I heard first my mother’s voice, then my brother’s and knew they were alive. Then I could move. When the fear let go of my heart, sweat coated my entire body from my scalp to my shins.

My brother had been playing with the gun, didn’t know it was loaded, aimed it at the lathe and plaster wall and pulled the trigger. The result was a black-rimmed hole about 10 inches diameter.

Didn’t know it was loaded.

My mother bought the gun for him because he was a boy raised without a father. All of us raised without fathers and the ways we try to make up for that loss.

Guns and what they stand for.

A year or so later, shortly after I moved out, my mom told me the police took the gun from my brother when he and his friend were hunting too close to people. I never heard another thing about it.


The other side of a gun. Valentines Day, 1989, 8:15 AM, I was a single mother waiting with my chatty 3-year-old son at the bus stop for the #19 bus, which was late. Another woman sat reading the paper, waiting. When you don’t have money for a car, you wait a lot.

Waiting for a late bus involves me staring at incoming traffic, willing the bus to show. So I wasn’t paying much attention behind us. When I turned I saw a man less than half a block away walking toward us. He looked like my brother, first thought. Second though, something’s not right.

I found my son’s hand and pulled him close. The man walked up, hands in his pockets, and asked, “Do you guys know where the nearest police station is?” I turned again to look down the street holding my son next to me.

The other woman answered, “I don’t think there is one close to here.”

Don’t tell me you can understand how I must feel about what happened next, because you can’t. Unless you’ve experienced it, you can’t imagine what it’s like to have a gun pointed at you by a stranger with dead eyes, your baby right there.

That frozen terror again.

He screamed, “Give me your money.” Had to move. Dropped my son’s tiny hand. Dropped my purse. Picked it up. Gun there. Hands shaking, pulled all of the money I had out of my wallet. All three dollars. The other woman crying. Handed him all of her money, two dollars.

Gun pointed at us. Only one small movement to death.

He said, “I’m sorry.”

He said, “I’m a piece of shit.”

He said, “I thought you were lawyers or something.” Then he turned and calmly walking back from where he came from.

The police took a report.

He took five dollars. He took all we had.


You won’t like what’s coming next. You will judge me, a small child in the house and all: I learned how to shoot, got a gun, and started carrying it. A lady Smith and Wesson .38 revolver. I carried it every day for nearly two years after a man with dead eyes pointed a gun at me; me holding my three-year-old son’s hand.

The gun was in my home when, at 2:00 AM, someone rattled the door handle and then walked stealthily around and looked in the windows. I was not tempted to shoot him, instead I called the police.

I had the gun in my purse when I was doing laundry at a public Laundromat one evening. A man walked by several times, looking through the plate glass windows at me and out to the parking lot, me, the parking lot; a lion stalking its prey.

I was wearing jeans and a white sweatshirt. Again that feeling – something’s not right. He came in, pulled the glass door behind him. Just him and me for as far as I could see. His eyes pinpoint, shaking hands, not right. Asked if he could pay me for an hour of my time. An hour of my time. Knowing the gun was there in my purse I stood up straight, hands on hips, told him to get the fuck away from me.

I was carrying the gun when someone exposed himself to me as I got off the bus one night after work. He followed me around the block in his car. I thought about the gun only after calling the police with his license plate number. He was caught and punished. He was 19.

I don’t know what offense might make me decide to kill another human being. Certainly nothing I own is worth someone’s life. I stopped carrying the gun.

I locked the gun in the cedar box I’d received as a graduation present years prior and then packed the box away with the few letters I received from my father as a child, and family photos. I locked it away to protect my son. I locked it away because I didn’t know how to get rid of it without putting it in someone else’s hand. I purposely lost the key to that box.

The presence of the gun came up for the last time in 2006.

People who say things like “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle,” those people, they’ve never had more than they can handle. I had more than I could handle, but that’s another story.

I was depressed; the kind of depression that feels like weights hanging off all four limbs. Depression where comfort is the constant thought of the ending the pain. It was like that. Although I had a suicide plan, it didn’t include the gun. But, a man I was briefly seeing was concerned. He broke the lock on the cedar box, took out the gun and locked the trigger with a trigger lock he’d purchased. He kept the key when we stopped seeing each other a few months later. The gun is gone now. I will never own another gun.


By both circumstance and choice I’ve lived the majority of my life without my father and without a male partner. The guns I have known seem to be a replacement for the protective presence of my father, and later, a male partner. The gun I owned made me believe I was safe.

None of us are safe, male or female. But most people I know personally who own guns do so for self-protection. It’s complex.

I take the regular precautions most people take. I trust my instincts. Look people in the eye.

I worked hard at a corporate job and made good money. Since I have made better money I no longer live in crime-ridden neighborhoods, no longer have to take the bus, no longer go to the Laundromat; I have not been the victim of a crime in a long time.

What I paid for that safety was too much; creativity, time with my child. But that’s yet another story. If I had it to do over, I wouldn’t have made the same decisions; I’d leave myself vulnerable to have back the opportunities I gave up thinking enough money would insulate me.

In the debate about guns, so many on both sides seem to have simple answers. As usual we have two ways of conversing: the luxury of outrage and the luxury of stubborn insistence. But we all agree, something must be done.

The sort of fear I lived with is erosive to the soul in a way that defines lives. Learning to live a good, authentic life not ruled by fear: for me, that’s gun control.


 Kirsten Larson lives and writes near Portland, Oregon. She studies writing both at Antioch University as an MFA student, and in Tom Spanbauer’s basement as Pond Scum. She loves to read and ride her bike. She met Jen at a writing workshop in Portland with Suzy Vitello and Lidia Yuknavitch.

Kirsten Larson lives and writes near Portland, Oregon. She studies writing both at Antioch University as an MFA student, and in Tom Spanbauer’s basement as Pond Scum. She loves to read and ride her bike.
She met Jen Pastiloff at a writing workshop in Portland with Suzy Vitello and Lidia Yuknavitch.


Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Her work has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, among others. Jen’s leading one of her signature Manifestation Retreats to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day in Ojai, Calif and she and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. Check out for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: SeattleLondon, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas. She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff.

Next workshop is London July 6. Book here.

Beating Fear with a Stick, Inspiration

Listen: This Is Your LIfe.

February 24, 2013

I am about to drown. There’s a tidal wave. I am in someone’s house or apartment and the ocean is rushing through windows and walls. There’s water rising. The fear is imminent. I am about to die.

I wake up. Sometimes I am soaked from sweating in my sleep and sometimes I am upright in my bed as if I’d never even laid down to begin with a few hours prior, as if I simply sat in bed with closed eyes and let the water come charging at me. As if I said I don’t need to lie down to drown.

Sometimes I wake shivering. When you sweat in your sleep you wake up freezing. A wet dog.

Maybe the water wasn’t actually my sweat. Maybe my dreams are so powerful that they sneak through whatever dream-barrier exits and enter my body like a thief. I taste it to double check. It’s salty. Sea water? Sweat? Who’s to say?

I wake up before I die each time. I remember those old myths I would hear as a kid. You can’t die in your dreams. I don’t know. Who’s to say? I am mostly drowning in them.

The cliché gets to me. How can I have such an uninteresting clichéd recurring nightmare? I am ashamed of my mind’s lack of creativity when it comes to this.

I’ve had this dream, or a version of this dream for as long as I can remember. I’m drowning.

I don’t understand where all this water is coming from or how I can stop it from swallowing me. I don’t understand the sky or the sea or which is which in these dreams. I look up and down but there are no clues as to which is the sky and which is not. It doesn’t matter. It’s after me.

Last night, as my husband kissed me, I started to have a panic attack. Babe! I snapped, are you trying to suffocate me? My heart started beating and I felt the water rising. I was dying and he wouldn’t stop until I pushed him away. I felt horrible immediately but the drowning was real I am not sure what would have happened if I hadn’t pushed him away.

His best friend and cousin died last week, the same day as Ronan. Ronan was 2 and a half and Amir was in his fifties. Ronan had been suffering and his parents had been watching him die for 2 years. Amir was driving a tow truck and had had a heart attack. He died before he crashed it into a parked car, his wife, in St. Louis, sat waiting for him to text him back.

I wasn’t there for my husband (or for Ronan’s mother Emily Rapp) as I was leading my retreat in Maui but I know it was incredibly hard for him. The wife flew out and wailed in his arms as he drove them around the city and to the coroner’s office and to eat Persian sandwiches in Westwood.

So last night, when he was kissing me, I got that he was expressing his relief that I was still a person in the world. That I had not gone and he would prove it by smothering me. I felt bad for saying that to him and he said Well, I was smothering you a bit.

He was.

The thing is, I always have a problem with kissing. I used to think it was an intimacy thing but it’s not. I don’t know what I believe in when it comes to past lives but I feel like I can’t breathe when someone’s mouth is on mine. I am dying. Water is rushing at me and I am falling into a pillow or there is a pillow on my face and finally Oh My God! I can’t breathe!

Don’t read into it too much. I wasn’t sexually abused or anything like that. I have to be kissed in just the right most perfect way so that I don’t feel like I am drowning.

Hugging makes me feel safe and kissing makes me feel like dying most of the time.

I woke up feeling so guilty this morning. Apologizing over coffee. Hugging my husband. Kissing his face. My husband understands me and hopefully didn’t take it personally but it was a pure unadulterated panic attack last night. The sea water was in my throat. My lungs collapsed. I was gone.

Why do we take on so much all the time? So many things that don’t belong to us. So many oceans.

That ocean rushing at me business, that’s my life. I think it’s going to eat me sometimes. Or sometimes I think I am trying to swallow it all at once and you absolutely cannot do that. It’s too much. You have to pause and breathe.

And breathe.

And breathe.

So maybe there is no past life drowning and no claustrophobia. Maybe there is just I am not breathing because if I breathe this will all go away or if I breathe this will all come so fast and I won’t be able to control it.

You cannot control the ocean.

I save myself in my tidal waves dream but oftentimes I can’t save my sister or my mom. My dad is never in them. I don’t know if it means I have forgotten him or that he doesn’t need saving. Regardless, he is absent. I save myself but I cannot save my family from the ocean.

You cannot control the ocean or the life or the family.

You cannot save anyone.

I shoot up in my bed and feel my arms and they are there and my husband’s body and he is awake because I am awake. I’ve had a nightmare. Everyone is drowning. I can’t save anyone.

The magic words: I love you. You are not drowning. You are safe. Do not worry about anything. You are safe he says.

Yesterday I sent out a newsletter which wasn’t really a newsletter but rather my essay I had written on the plane Friday night called What Will Never Go Up In Smoke. It went viral on Facebook and I thought I would share with my mailing list. I got some heartfelt and beautiful responses. One woman said that my writing always made her want to do better. (Wow!) Then, I got an email from someone in the spiritual community that simply said one word. Unsubscribe. (Wow!)

And there it is. I am about to drown. There’s a tidal wave. I am in someone’s house or apartment and the ocean is rushing through windows and walls. There’s water rising. The fear is imminent. I am about to die. I can’t wake up because I am awake.

I am awake.

I breathe. I breathe and after a while the fear is gone. The hurt is there but the fear is gone. It didn’t kill me, that one little word. It felt mean and hurtful but I didn’t die. I sat staring at my phone feeling embarrassed but I didn’t die. I pinched myself a little and it was as it always was: I was human. I was still there on my bed, my messy blankets and pillows and books and I was still human. I hadn’t been turned to stone by that word nor had it suffocated me.

The fear must have gotten trapped in my body as it was looking for a way out. Last night when my husband was kissing me and I felt like I was drowning, it was because the fear had nowhere to go.

My body was afraid it would always know that fear.

But then he is saying You are safe.

And I was. I was in my bed, safe. And the word unsubscribe was just a word and the ocean was 9 blocks away and anyone I love has to save themselves and fear is a goddamned bastard.

The imminent fear. Of drowning. Of people not surviving. Of what others think. Of breathing. Of living. Of dying. It’s everywhere, really. If you look.

It’s as big as the ocean and beyond and it will get you if you stop paying attention.

Listen: that is your breath. Listen: that is my breath. Listen: that is the wind.

Listen. This is your life.