Browsing Tag

strength

Abuse, Guest Posts

An Open Letter to My Childhood Abuser (I Choose Me)

August 15, 2016
abuser

By Mariann Martland

Dear You (the one who stole my childhood),

Time creeps in without me noticing, and suddenly it’s morning again and you’re not here. Yet, you are. You’re always here. You’ve always been here.

I don’t mean to think of you. I mean to live everyday with purpose, meaning and intention, but it’s so damn hard since I began to recall the dark magic you played on my life – it was so very dark.

I feel a tapping on my eyelids, reminding me that I’ve not slept all night, but it seems pointless now. Nothing will change when they reopen:

You’ll still be gone and you’ll still be here, living in my mind. I will feel just as exhausted, for the terrors of the night play hard. Continue Reading…

Awe & Wonder, Guest Posts, The Body

Night Run

May 23, 2016

By Maggie May Ethridge

I always hated running.  Running gave me rabbit ears, pink and tender, and set an ache roaring through my temples that eventually drilled deep into my ear drum, where I could then hear it beating a protest. Running made my thighs break out in large, itchy patches that I tore into, leaving long red scratch marks. Running gave me a side stitch and shin splints, a gash, a rash and purple bumps- yes, I understood Shel Silverstein’s little Peggy Ann McKay perfectly. I would and did dance for hours, lift weights, climb the Stairmaster, do yoga, pilates and hike- but I would not run.

I had birthed my last and fourth child three years ago. I was heartbroken inside my marriage and on the other side of the worst two years of parenting I’d ever experienced. I felt lost inside the needs of my large family. My weight had crept up. I wasn’t weighing myself- with two daughters, I have mostly avoided that dangerous pursuit- but I felt bloated, anchored and exhausted. In the afternoon or evening I would put on a workout DVD and give twenty or thirty minutes to movement. I still had the Kathy Ireland workout VHS from my twenties and a FIRM butt routine, and I enjoyed the ridiculousness of existence while squatting and thrusting in my living room.

One day I sat in my living room and looked at my tennis shoes and suddenly the total simplicity of running was as desirable as dark chocolate cake, orgasm, reading. I can pull on some shoes, step out of my house, and go wherever I want, I thought. Running requires nothing other than a place to run, and the will to do so. In that moment, I had both. Continue Reading…

depression, Guest Posts

Sensitivities = Superpowers

May 11, 2016
medication

By Jennifer Ann Butler

I am two weeks into withdrawing off of Wellbutrin (an anti-depressant) and I feel like my skin has little caterpillar legs on the inside and is going to tap dance off of my body.

I had my first date with an anti-depressant when I was thirteen years old. The best way I can explain it is that I was born with the volume turned way up on life. My hypersensitivity made day-to-day life quite challenging. I could hear electricity and people’s bones creaking, feel other people’s emotions, and see things that most said weren’t there. From a young age, I figured death as the only way out.

Since my teenage years, I’ve maintained a love/hate relationship with some form of medication. Most made me feel like a zombie. Others made me twitch. Others, yet, gave me stomachaches and caused hallucinations. I always felt disconnected from who Jen Butler really was. It was as if I was standing in a room full of mirrors; I could see my reflection, but I couldn’t connect with it on a human level. There would always be the piece of glass between us, preventing true connection. This resulted in a numbness that increased the longer I stayed disconnected. I remember times when I was so numb that I would run red lights to see if I could feel anything. I’d drive my motorcycle 110mph+ just to get some form of a sensation. Continue Reading…

eating disorder, Eating Disorders/Healing, Guest Posts

Losing My Soul Sister To An Eating Disorder

April 6, 2015

beauty-hunting-jen-logo-black1-300x88By Jessica Lucas.

Some of this content may be triggering to anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder.

It was the day of the Leeza talk show taping. The topic: eating disorders. I walked into the Hollywood studio prepared to talk about the one thing that tormented and tortured me every day, anorexia, and I had never felt so overwhelmed, frightened, and ALONE – even as I was surrounded by hundreds of studio audience members.

“No one understands. No one gets it. No one can relate. No one will care. I’ll sound crazy. I’m not sick enough. I’m not smart enough. I’m not articulate enough. I’m not thin enough. I won’t make any sense. I am all alone.” The all too familiar harsh criticisms and relentless fears ran through my mind more quickly than I could slow them down or resist them.

As I began to feel like a deer in the spotlights – visibly shaking, paralyzed with fear, drained of all color, wondering what I’d gotten myself into and ready to turn and run away – the studio wrangler led me to my seat near the stage.

Immediately, I was drawn to the woman with the comforting smile, Bo Derek-like braids in her blonde hair, and big blue eyes sitting in front of me. I knew her, but I didn’t know her. I loved her, but I’d never met her. I related to her, but we’d never spoken. We were best friends, but I’d never seen her before. Continue Reading…

Binders, Dear Life., Guest Posts, Relationships

Dear Life: I Need Help Navigating Bouts of Depression.

February 27, 2015

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Welcome to Dear Life: An Unconventional Advice Column.

Your questions get sent to various authors from around the world to answer (and please keep sending because I have like 567 writers that want to answer your burning questions. Click here to submit a letter or email dearlife@jenniferpastiloff.com.) Different writers offer their input when it comes to navigating through life’s messiness. We are “making messy okay.” Today’s letter is answered by the wonderful Naomi Elana Zener.

Send us your questions because there loads of crazy authors waiting to answer ‘em. Just kidding, they aren’t crazy.

Well okay, maybe a little. Aren’t we all? xo, Jen Pastiloff, Crazy Beauty Hunter. ps, see you next weekend (3/7 and 3/8)  in Atlanta for my next workshop!

Join Jen Pastiloff in Atlanta March 8th. March 7th sold out. Click the photo above.

Join Jen Pastiloff in Atlanta March 8th. March 7th sold out. Click the photo above.

Dear Life and the wonderful people reading this,

I am used to navigating through life through and with heartache. The past 8 years were full of relationships with heartaches. They have created my darkest moments and have thus been the creations of my lightest moments. I am finally done with them, and I am depressed. I don’t have anything to complain about, except for missing my family sometimes, who lives across the ocean. I feel like I have no purpose and no direction, and I don’t know where to start. I crave adventure and meaning in life. I love to inspire and help people, but I can’t do that unless I can help myself. I want adventure, and I want to be excited about life, but these bouts of out of the blue depression are starting to get old and I do not know how to navigate through and out of them.
Please help.

All the love,
Elly

Join founder Jen Pastiloff in her signature workshop in Philly. Space is very limited for the April 12th workshop! Just be a human being-no yoga experience required. Click the Dhyana Yoga logo to book.

Join founder Jen Pastiloff in her signature workshop in Philly. Space is very limited for the April 12th workshop! Just be a human being-no yoga experience required. Click the Dhyana Yoga logo to book.

Continue Reading…

Abuse, Guest Posts, healing, Self Image

Divorcing the Voice.

December 20, 2014
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By Janet Raftis

I remember when I woke up, that sensation of feeling like I was falling down into my skin. For me, it happened not long after sobriety, and it was like a veil was simultaneously lifting as my body expanded outward in a way that allowed me to feel my skin for the first time.

It tingled and I think my feet touched the ground for the first time in my life. I don’t remember if I laughed or if I cried, and most likely it was both. I do know that it was overwhelming in the sweetest way imaginable. I actually liked the way it felt, even and in spite of the fact that I didn’t know what to do with it.

It was like a long intermission was finally over.  There had been this limbo state for me that lasted a few decades, in which I was separated from myself, dueling it out with this silent demon in my mind.

This Voice had gotten so good at cursing me and cutting me down that I had come to think of it as me. I had come to believe that the Voice I heard in my head was telling me the truth, and I allowed it to treat me far worse that any other person ever had.

It was crueler than my rapists, sharper in tongue than any high school girl, more vicious than any person that had attacked or robbed me. It was out to get me. And I was handing myself over to it without even a fight, head bowed in silent, frustrated submission.

The truth is I didn’t know that I was even in there anymore. I was a shell, bouncing around in a seemingly empty and echoing container. Even the happiness I experienced was overshadowed by fear and a sense of complete and utter isolation. I had so little faith in me that I couldn’t even believe in the sincerity of others’ feelings towards me. The Voice told me I didn’t deserve them, and so I kept an emotional distance from everyone for fear that their love would be taken away.

Finding myself again was a slow process that began unfolding a little over a decade ago and that has since found a rhythm that supports an often difficult but beautiful, constant and expansive growth. It was the love affair that I’d never had with anyone else, and the relationship that needed to be established before any other liason could ever take root.

First I had to get honest with myself. The reason I believed the Voice was because I didn’t believe in me. Gazing steadily at myself in the mirror, I had to acknowledge the fact that I didn’t really know anything about me. Who was beneath that reflection, and why had I been running from her? I’d kept myself at a superficial level of understanding because the thought of what I might uncover if I went deeper scared the hell out of me. But all of that stuff that I’d pushed down contained clues about me, and it was begging to be addressed.

I had to back up and open my arms wide so that I could open to the possibility of me. I had to give myself a break (sometimes even in tiny five minute increments), and I had to accept myself exactly where I was – all of it, even the self-hatred and fear. I had to acknowledge that I felt blemished and overlooked. I had to allow myself the space to accept every little bit of me that so that I could start exactly where I was.

As I started to notice and to actually feel my feelings, I began to witness a wonderful, albeit strange, occurrence. Initially, I spent a lot of time questioning my relationship with God and that led me right back to myself. I got angry and yelled. I got sad and cried. I got frustrated and acted out. But I followed each and every little thread to see where it landed within me, and as I did so, I began to finally understand myself. And as I worked within this new framework, and handled everything that came up instead of stuffing or hiding from it, I began to trust myself. It came in morsels initially, but the trail of crumbs eventually led me to a beautiful, delicious (gluten-free) cake.

I took little steps to work through my fear. Jen Pastiloff’s workshop showed me how to say, “Fuck it!” and give my fears a big, fat kick to the curb. I began to have more faith in the Universe and I began to understand my value. I started to fill up from the inside out rather than trying to do it from the outside in.

Actively engaging in my healing process has shown me that I can and do love myself. It has allowed me to create a bridge of understanding and connection to myself that has grown into a network of support and love, a wheel of light radiating from a center point, which is a (usually) fairly empowered me. As I learned to value myself, I started to attract others that honor me as well.

This has not always been easy and I’ve also called in a few folks and situations that I thought had my best interest at heart that in the end didn’t. Working through those circumstances has been difficult, but empowering. I’ve learned to trust myself even more and to recognize that when I give my power away, I don’t have solid ground to stand on. And so I have built an even stronger foundation based on self-trust blended with community. Most importantly, I know that regardless of how another treats me or how a relationship ends, I am still here, still standing, still the same person that I was only stronger and wiser.

No one can take from me what I’m not willing to give away.

The more I learn to honor myself the less I’m willing to part with. That doesn’t mean that I can’t give to others – I do and it now comes from an authentic space of not needing anything in return. It means that I’m more discerning about how I give of myself and with whom. I’ve learned that I can share more when I’m standing strong.

Silencing the Voice is an on-going process, one that I expect will never completely end. But it doesn’t control me anymore and I’m not afraid to tell it to shut the hell up these days. Standing up to it is standing up for me. And that feels pretty damn good.

Continue Reading…

Don't Be An Asshole Series, Gratitude, Guest Posts

What Doesn’t Kill You.

December 1, 2014

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By Jen Pastiloff.

I wrote this for Thanksgiving but hey, it’s still close enough to Thanksgiving. It’s “Cyber Monday.” Who the hell uses the word “cyber” anymore, anyway? Happy Cyber Monday! Another reason to shop! This is America!

This was my T-Day post:

Sometimes it’s hard to be grateful. Two of my friends just lost their sisters two days apart, right before Thanksgiving. This little boy, Benny, the one I posted about a few weeks ago (click here to donate), is legally blind, has Prader Willi Syndrome like my nephew Blaise, has had fifteen surgeries on his back, and now, just last month, had an accident that left him paralyzed. Happy Thanksgiving.

Not.

But the thing is, and I mean, this really is the crux of my forthcoming book Beauty Hunting – we must find the good in the bad, we must find the slivers of beauty in the pain, we must find what we have to be grateful for. Otherwise – life is torturous and ugly and mean and filled with pot-holes.

I created this series I’ve written about called “The Don’t Be An Asshole” series or otherwise known as The DBAA Series, whereupon I make fun of myself. I call myself out. I hope to lead by example and remind us all not to take ourselves so seriously, because hey, life sure can suck at times already. Why should we add to that suckiness?

Continue Reading…

Guest Posts, healing, Women

Letter To My 13 Year Old Self (From My 70 Year Old Self.)

November 17, 2014

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By Alma Luz Villanueva. 

Dear Alma Luz at 13 (aka Super Girl),

I see you’ve stopped eating, the sight of your ripening breasts, the patch of pubic hair, announces you’re becoming a girl. No, a woman. When you began to bleed between your legs; when you climbed to the top of the ten story building scaffold, sunset, all the men gone. Only silence, bird wings, the Bay Bridge lighting up like Xmas, spanning the deep water. Exit to la mar where you used to swim with your swim team at sunrise (yes, an ice cube). Mission Playground, the pool, you borrowed the scratchy swimsuit, but finally the mean-ass swim coach brought you a swimmer’s suit. Thin, your freezing girl nipples exposed, your shy V- but you could swim smoother, faster. The scratchy swimsuit bloated up like a sponge, the mean-ass coach yelling, “Ya got lead in yer ass, head down, up, breathe, swim like yer drowning!” You always laughed, which pissed him off. The other girls were scared shitless of him, his yelling voice. You’d heard that voice before, your insane, drunk stepfather (the bad one, not the good one you’d finally meet)- and you knew you could grab a weapon to defend yourself, or just heave yourself out of the pool. “Go fuck yourself, Mike!” And never return, leaving the thin, swimmer’s suit behind. You had your pride.

So, when you began to bleed at 12, at the top of the building scaffold, silence and bird wings, you remembered your beloved Yaqui Mamacita’s words and warning (in Spanish)- “When you begin to bleed between your legs, niña, you’ll become una mujercita, which means someday you’ll have children from your own bleeding womb. There’s pain, but you must bear it, never forget. The joy and sorrow of being a woman. Your strength and courage lives in your womb, niña, even now, never forget.” And how you heard Mamacita’s voice in the wind, “Never forget” (the power of words), and you slid down the steel so fast your palms were bleeding when you touched earth. Continue Reading…

Forgiveness, Guest Posts, healing

5 Lessons from My Father’s Death.

February 10, 2014

5 Lessons from My Father’s Death

By Bethany Butzer.

When my stepfather Paul was twenty-two years old, he was shot in the face with a 12 gauge shotgun by his friend who was trying to kill him. He survived, but his injuries left him completely blind. After being shot, Paul got into AA and started to turn his life around. Over the next twenty-five years, he sponsored many people who struggled with addiction and gave talks at local community centers and jails in an effort to help people improve their lives.

Later in his life, Paul started to suffer from chronic pain in his feet, due to nerve damage caused by a vitamin B12 deficiency. His doctor prescribed Oxycontin—a powerful and highly addictive painkiller. Paul quickly became addicted to the medication, and over the next two years, he slowly wasted away before my eyes. He rarely got out of bed, seldom ate, and even stopped joining my family on Christmas morning.

Eventually, my mom left him. She refused to enable his destructive and addictive behavior.

Two months later, on October 25, 2007, Paul let out his final breath. He died alone on his bedroom floor. He was only fifty-five years old. And he was the only father I’d ever known.

Paul taught me five important lessons about life.

I work with these lessons every day, and I hope you will, too.

 Be Grateful

Growing up with someone who couldn’t see helped me appreciate the things we often take for granted, like our senses. Paul often had to ask me if his socks matched. He couldn’t pull a can out of the cupboard and know what it was. He couldn’t drive a car. He couldn’t take in a sunset. He once brushed his teeth with A535 (a cream for arthritis/joint pain) and ate a spoonful of dry cat food because he thought it was cereal. (We laughed about this at the time, but I think I’ve made my point!)

He never knew what I looked like. Instead of seeing with his eyes, Paul saw with his heart.

Be thankful for your ability to see. Not everyone is so lucky.

 Stay Strong

After being shot in the face and blinded, many people would give up. They would turn to a victim mentality, with “why me” playing continuously in their head. And while I’m sure that Paul experienced these thoughts at times, he was a striking example of how the human spirit can rise up and triumph over adversity.

Instead of playing the victim, Paul took his experience as a sign that he needed to turn his life around. He got sober and started inspiring others to do the same. He learned how to play the drums and joined a band. He got into weight lifting and worked out every day.

When tragedy strikes, pay attention to what the universe is trying to teach you.

 The Power of Forgiveness

One of the main tenets of AA is forgiveness. This meant that Paul needed to forgive the man who shot him. How on earth could you forgive someone who blinded you for life? I’m not quite sure how, but Paul did it.

One day, Paul was at a gas station with a friend who told him that the man who had shot him was at one of the other pumps. Paul asked to be led over to the man. He then hugged him and told him that he forgave him for what he’d done.

Paul taught me that holding onto anger and resentment doesn’t do anyone any good. These emotions eat you up inside and weigh on your shoulders. Forgiveness isn’t about the other person—it’s a gift that you give to yourself.

Who do you need to forgive?

Say What Needs to Be Said

Before Paul died, I had an opportunity to drop by his house to confront him about his addictive behavior. I was scared, so I drove by and reassured myself that I would talk to him the next time I visited my hometown. Instead, I decided to write him a letter, tape myself reading it, and mail him the tape.

He died two weeks later.

My letter didn’t arrive on time. I missed my chance.

From this experience, I learned the importance of telling people what we need to tell them. Don’t shy away from a confrontation because you feel awkward or uncomfortable. You never know when you might lose your opportunity.

 No One Is Perfect

Ultimately, Paul taught me that we all have our scars. We carry around personal demons that we struggle with from time to time. And that’s ok. We can’t expect ourselves, or anyone else for that matter, to be perfect.

Paul was a complex man. His heart was the same size as his temper—huge. He was rough, soft, kind, cruel, wise, and naive all at the same time.

I have fond memories of his kind side. The times we went for walks together and skated on ponds. The times he made me soup when I was sick. I’ll always remember how he loved to blare Bruce Springsteen and the tone in his voice when he would say to me, “You can do it, Grasshopper!”

Paul had his faults, and, like all of us, his faults were part of the package. His imperfections made him who he was. If he hadn’t been through what he’d been through, he never would have been able to motivate others to change their lives.

Realize that you are perfect exactly as you are, even with your imperfections.

I hope you take these five lessons and apply them to your life. That way, even though Paul isn’t around anymore, he can continue to inspire others.

As Helen Keller so aptly put it:

“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.”

I’d like to leave you with a two-minute YouTube video that I made in honor of Paul. Another remarkable thing that Paul did was create and maintain a garden, complete with beautiful ponds, in our backyard. I remember him pulling weeds at 11:00 p.m. because, for him, it didn’t matter whether it was sunny or dark outside!

You’ll see Paul’s amazing garden in the video below:


Bethany Butzer, Ph.D.
Author ● Speaker ● Researcher ● Yoga Teacher
Are You Ready To Create A Life You Love?
www.bethanybutzer.com

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Jennifer Pastiloff is a writer based in Los Angeles. She is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Jen will be leading a Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and her annual retreat to Tuscany is in July 2014. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing and for ALL levels. Read this post to understand what a Manifestation retreat is. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October. A lot. Next up is a workshop in London, England on Feb 15th. Book here.

courage, Guest Posts, healing

I Sleep With My Buck Knife.

January 27, 2014

By Alma Luz Villanueva

It all began with my full-blood Yaqui Indian grandmother, Mamacita, from Sonora, Mexico, who raised me in San Francisco. I was five years old and used to the living situation being mainly her and I; with my mother going to work, coming home late after playing piano bar (her second job). She was a trained classical pianist, but as she put it, she could also swing. My mother, Lydia, was a young Mexican woman during the racist 1950s, playing piano in a bar to a bunch of drunk men. I can’t even imagine, but with her out-going, playful personality she enjoyed the attention, and the tips. And so, my uncle from Mexico was visiting- a judge. My other uncle was a professor. They both went to university, but their sister, Mamacita, stayed at home with her curandera/healer mother, and trained as a curandera, midwife. My great-grandmother, Isidra, owned a boarding house and a laundry, and was known as a curandera. She was married five times (all of this pretty rare for the late 1800s, Mexico), and her favorite saying was, “Each time a better man!” The matriarchal line in my family bred strong, rebellious women, it seems. That Yaqui Indian blood.

The visiting uncle played a game with me- he’d begin to quote a song, “Luna, luna, come la tuna, hecha la cascara y come la tuna!…Moon, moon, eat the fig, peel the rind, eat the fig!” When he’d catch my five year old self, he’d tickle me until I screamed and cried. I hated it and now I realize he was also touching me all over my little body. Mamacita would come and rescue me, telling him to leave me alone; that I didn’t like the game, stop it. Then I would hear the song, “Luna, luna, come la tuna…” He was very huge and fat, and I dreaded those big, fat hands tickling me, touching me. “…hecha la cascara,” so I ran to the large dining room table covered with a tablecloth, which was my secret hiding place. I kept all of my art supplies there: crayons, paper, coloring book, my baby scissors. His big, fat hand reached for me, “…y come la tuna!” I was ready. I stabbed him with my baby scissors.

My mother, Lydia, took me once to the bar where she played the piano at night. She sat me in a booth with a coke and a sandwich. I was around seven, taking in the darkness of the bar, mostly men. I remember thinking it smelled really bad and there were no windows. Mamacita always had an open window for the wind in our apartment, as we were on the second floor. I watched my mother walk to the piano, a light shining on her black hair, making it sparkle, and her red lipstick smiled. I used to wake up, at that age, to her playing beautiful music on our rented piano. My favorite, Moonlight Sonata, she told me. I used to love to sneak up and watch her because her face was so peaceful, not rushed, worried, angry. In the dark bar, full of men, she began to play Moonlight Sonata and they began to yell things at her. She said, “This is for my daughter, then I’ll play whatever you want.” So they shut up and she played, and some of them clapped and yelled. She was peaceful for those moments, and then she played something fast and her red lipstick smiled but I knew she’d rather play her morning songs. During the day she was a medical secretary and once in a while she had a doctor boyfriend, but no one married her. She was a hot tamale. Who played Moonlight Sonata. Trained as a classical pianist by her minister father; Lydia played for church services. But she was still a hot tamale.

When I was ten she married an Irish guy who sang My Wild Irish Rose whenever he got really drunk after payday. I didn’t live with her because he was so mean, abusive. My grandmother and I lived in a room with a little kitchen, but it was home because she always had her altar, fresh flowers, pan dulce still warm from the corner store, in the Mission, San Francisco. My mother was pregnant. He was drunk. I was visiting. He locked me in the bedroom; the door made of glass panels. I heard and saw everything. He began to beat her, ripping her clothes off, her huge belly exposed. She screamed like a woman fighting for herself, and her child, as he started to choke her. The wise voice (I call it) said, “If you don’t do something, you will always remember this.” I was a skinny ten year old, but I thought I was tough, beating up boys who called me ‘spic, dirty Indian’ (they saw my grandmother). The girls wouldn’t talk to me, but the boys tried to bully me, and I beat their asses up, laughing. I remember. So I put my skinny fist through the glass, not one scratch, opened the door, grabbed his favorite marble ash tray and knocked him out. I was really trying to kill him and as my mother ran to him, worried he was dead, the wise voice said, “Look well.”  It was after midnight. I put all of my stuff in a paper bag and left, taking three buses to my aunt’s place in the projects. My grandmother was staying there for a few days. I think of one of my four children out at midnight in the city, taking three buses to safety, and I’m reminded of that ten year old’s courage. Mamacita used to say, “Tienes coraje, niña…You have courage, child.”

When my first two children were three and one, we lived in the worst projects in San Francisco. I was eighteen and fully aware of the nightly dangers. My Jamaican neighbor told me, “Girl, you never be out there bringing in your wash after the sun goes down, they be raping women here every damn night.” I rigged up an alarm system with empty cans on the window sill downstairs. The bedrooms were upstairs and I slept with my biggest butcher knife. The cans crashed to the cement floor. My babies continued to sleep. I slid down the stairs, knife in hand, and saw a hand reaching through my window. I stabbed it, blood, scream, gone. I called the police, they came, and one of them returned demanding to be let in. I refused. I stayed on my couch all night facing the broken window, waiting for the cop’s hand to come through.

Fast forward to the high Sierras where I lived for five years in my mid-thirties, giving birth to my fourth child. My youngest, beloved son.  During the summer months I backpacked out with friends to the most beautiful, glacier lakes. Once in a while I went by myself, with my wolf dog, Zeke, a true companion. My oldest son gave me a Buck Knife for my birthday, telling me, “Carry this with you for bears or whatever, Mom.” And I did, strapping it to my belt. I put it under my sleeping bag pillow, touching its leather casing once in a while, Zeke curled at my feet, aware. During the night I’d climb up to the Mother Rock, as my friends and I called her, taking my sleeping bag with me to sleep in one of her crevices. It felt like a cradle. The stars floated in the wide, silent lake, as earth/sky held me. This was the first place I felt no fear to be outside, alone, in spite of bears, mountain lions, rattlesnakes. If they harmed you it was for self-defense or plain old hunger; there was no cruelty involved. This was the first place I heard the silence and the sound of the sun rising, a deep hum.

I remember my seventh grade gym teacher telling us girls, “If you’re ever attacked, don’t fight back, you’ll get hurt worse, maybe killed.” I remember how angry that made me, but I didn’t say anything, to the teacher. Later I told my best friend, “I’d rather die than be raped, so I’m fighting back, fuck that shit.” She laughed, thought I was being funny. Before I moved to the Sierras, I took kung fu lessons from a five foot woman from China, June, in Santa Cruz, California. She always paired me up with the biggest man in the class to do the exercises with. I finally asked her, after three classes, to be paired with another woman. June looked at me, smiling, pointing to him, “That’s you, inside.” Later she taught me killing blows for a week, just her and I. I’ve traveled to many places by myself and her lessons make feel a little safer, as I don’t pack my Buck Knife for Paris, for example. I do pack my Swiss Army Knife, so maybe I could open a bottle of wine to calm down an attacker (haha).

Now I live in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, by myself (with its challenges, a woman alone), returning to teach and visit family, friends. My Buck Knife rests on my night table, its handle poking out of the leather case. When I stabbed my pervert uncle, his huge hand reaching for my five year old self, I drew blood. He yelled angrily as my grandmother ran into the room, and I ran to hide behind her skirt. “Give her to me, look what she’s done! Give her to me!” (This is all in Spanish.) “I told you to leave her alone! Now you will!” “She’ll be a bruja like you, is that what you want?”

I felt her body quiver, with silent laughter, as I held onto her skirt tightly. He never followed me with that song again during his last days, and I stayed close to my grandmother. If she had given me to him, I would not have become who I am. A woman who sleeps with her Buck Knife, and a woman who would use it if I had to. That gym teacher was wrong- fight back. As June said, while teaching me killing blows, “You and I, we are eagles.” We are whole human beings, willing to fight for our lives, and willing to love so deeply. Those we choose to touch us.

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www.almaluzvillanueva.com

Alma Luz Villanueva’s fourth, newest novel is Song of the Golden Scorpion. Eighth book of poetry, Gracias, to be published in 2014. Teaches at Antioch University’s MFA in creative writing program, Los Angeles. Lives in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, the past eight years.

 

Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. She will be leading a Manifestation Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and her annual retreat to Tuscany is in July 2014. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing and for ALL levels. Read this post to understand what a Manifestation retreat is. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October.

Guest Posts, healing, motherhood

The Rocky Path To Grace.

January 22, 2014

                                                       By Lindsey Mead 
I have so few memories of the first weeks after Grace’s birth. It’s fascinating the way the mind recovers and copes, isn’t it? My memory has smoothed over those weeks of tears and panic like the airbrush facility in photoshop: the pain is still there, I can’t forget it, but its pointy, prickly granularity is sanded down to a more general, uniform memory. So I strive to remember specific moments, but I mostly can describe the overall experience. In my letter to my friend, I referred to the crucible of bewilderment, fear, and wonder known as postpartum depression, and I still think that’s a pretty good summary.

What do I remember about those first days and weeks?  I remember a blur of tears, darkness, crying, and most of all a visceral, frantic sense that I had made the biggest mistake of my life. This fear was powerful enough to almost topple me: the panic that I had ruined my life was layered with the guilt for having those feelings in the first place in an incredibly toxic cocktail. I remember walking one raw, early-November afternoon, Grace strapped to my chest in the baby Bjorn, my hand almost freezing off as I held a phone to my ear (one of very few phone calls in those days) and cried to a poor, unsuspecting friend who was expecting a joyful new mother. I remember sitting in the rocking chair in my kitchen, a week-old Grace asleep on my knees, wondering numbly why it was that my doula (there for her postpartum visit) was looking at me so oddly, why she kept urging me to call my midwives, why she took Matt into the other room and whispered something to him.

It all came crashing down at my 2 week midwife check-up. I am still horrified that most women have to wait until 6 weeks for their own appointments after giving birth, and am intensely grateful that my midwifery practice mandated this 2 week appointment. I sat across from the midwife, Grace asleep in her bucket carseat, and dissolved into tears. I remember crying with those all-encompassing sobs that make you feel like you are drowning. I could barely breathe. I was not allowed to leave until the end of the day, at which point I left with prescriptions and therapist appointment cards clutched in my hands and a dawning sense that I was truly not okay.

I have heard many funny stories of how control-fanatic women like myself struggled to adapt to motherhood. I always laugh, but the truth is that my reality was different. I crashed off the cliff of depression so quickly and so utterly that I was not even trying for control (for the first time in my life?). I didn’t even care, which was for me much scarier. I just sat there and cried. I think the fact of my surprise pregnancy contained within it the seeds of my PPD: I had never been in control of this, not from the very beginning. I, who have been able to muscle my way through basically any challenge (mostly because I was good at only selecting those challenges that I could conquer), was completely undone by this 7 pound, 12 ounce baby, and it devastated me.

My body fell apart as rapidly as did my mind: within 2 weeks I was 10 pounds thinner than I had been pre-pregnancy. I did not sleep, I did not eat, I did not smile. I looked like a cadaver, with deep circles under eyes that would not stop crying. I would not talk to anyone; the phone rang and rang and I refused to pick it up. Now I see I was recoiling into the deepest recesses of my body and spirit, trying to physically hide, to pretend somehow that this was not happening.

I tried reasoning with myself. I had had the unmedicated delivery I wanted so desperately, despite it being long and arduous. How could I have survived that experience, whose pain was fresh and blinding, and not be able to bear this? I had delivered a daughter, the gender of child that I’d never even allowed myself to admit how much I wanted. How could I not be grateful? In the face of such a thick, inarticulate fog of despair, whose power felt primal, logic absolutely failed. I could not see past the storm clouds either in my heart or on the horizon (and there were many there, too: an economy in collapse and a terminally-ill father-in-law awaiting a heart transplant).

I admit that for all of my pretense at open-mindedness, I had always thought that people who took anti-depressant medication were simply not trying hard enough. That arrogance disappeared overnight when I swallowed my first zoloft. Grace’s arrival was my hint – and, frankly, it was more like a sharp slap to the face, since I seemed to have trouble hearing the hints – that trying hard was not always going to be enough.

My recovery was gradual. If I plunged off a cliff in a near-vertical line when Grace was born, I climbed out on an angle just north of horizontal. I got significant help. I saw more than one therapist, frequently. I took medication. I can’t remember a specific day that I looked at my daughter and felt the swell of pleasure, of joy, of love that I had expected when she was born. It did happen, though I hate that I can’t note a specific day that those feelings arrived, and I love her fiercely now.

The truth is that I expected motherhood to be simple. I had been told that it would be instinctive, that I would look at my baby and realize I’d always been waiting for her. I didn’t. While I’ve spent my life working for specific achievements, I think I thought that this one thing, being a mother, was my birthright. It wasn’t. I am dogged by a profound guilt about those early days. I ask myself all the time what kind of damage my ambivalence did to her and to our bond. My passage to parenthood was marked by a deep grief that is integrally woven into my identity as a mother.

I delivered Grace myself, pulling her onto my chest with my own two hands. From that moment I began a long and difficult passage to the grace of motherhood. It did not come easily to me. I’ll never know if this has made me a more confident mother, for knowing the treacherous shoals I traversed, or a more insecure one, for the lingering knowledge that I did not embrace my child immediately. I try to tell myself it doesn’t matter now.

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Lindsey Mead is a mother and writer who lives outside of Boston with her husband and two children.  Her writing has been published and anthologized in a variety of print and online sources, including the Huffington Post, Literary Mama, Torn: True Stories of Kids, Career, and the Conflict of Modern Motherhood, the Princeton Alumni Weekly, and Brain, Child.  She blogs regularly at A Design So Vast and loves connecting with people on twitter and facebook.
Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. She will be leading a Manifestation Retreat in Costa Rica at the end of March and her annual retreat to Tuscany is in July 2014. All retreats are a combo of yoga/writing and for ALL levels. Read this post to understand what a Manifestation retreat is. Check out her site jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Jen and bestselling author Emily Rapp will be leading another writing retreat to Vermont in October.
courage, Guest Posts, healing

I Am (Not) 43 & Fabulous.

January 5, 2014

image courtesy of Simplereminders.com

image courtesy of Simplereminders.com

By Wendy Jackson.

 

I had my second back surgery shortly after I turned 40. 

I knew I needed it and that cortisone shots would not be on the menu when I lost feeling in my right foot and it turned in at a awkward angle that I could not unbend on my own.  I could not wiggle my toes. And it hurt like a motherf*cker.

I was not upset that I needed the surgery.

My first one was not terrible and my recovery was unremarkable.  At 40 I had just run my first 5k and was determined to be that woman who ages gracefully and looks better with the years. I wanted to be that woman in MORE magazine with the caption “This is what 40 looks like”.

I was most upset that I was going to miss the annual girls get away (read: drinking, laughing, sleeping, dancing, eating fest) on the river. It’s an amazing little place, with the best view, and to be surrounded by love and laughter all weekend- it’s something I look forward to. The girls offered to take me immediately from the hospital and nurture me on the dock all weekend with promises of good behavior, plenty of painkillers, and the best bed in the house.

My doctor and husband said no. (It should be noted that my husband considered it, he knew how crushed I was to be missing it.)

I assumed of course, that I would exit the hospital good as new with a few prescriptions and a stern “no driving for 6 weeks” as I had before.  A few weeks of physical therapy and we are back on track to being 40 and Fabulous.

But when the doctor came in after surgery and asked if I could wiggle my toes, I could not.  When he asked if I could ‘feel this’, I didn’t feel it . And when I tried to straighten my foot from that awkward angle, it wouldn’t.  And when I asked the doctor to tell me when it would all come back to normal, he couldn’t.

So I did what any normal person would do-I cried.

I cried in my bed, on my couch, and in public. I cried after a full day of shoe shopping, my dear husband trying to find me cute shoes to fit over this hideous leg brace I had been fitted with. I cried in the shower, the howling kind of cry that you don’t want to share. I slipped so deeply and so quickly into this desperate place, that I didn’t notice it.  Or maybe I did. I don’t remember. I just know that I blamed it on grief and the normal, totally acceptable grieving process when you lose something or someone. And I was losing a part of me.

I was losing the part of me that rocked platform, spiked or chunky heels. The me that loved to dress up, and felt sexy, and beautiful. I was losing the part that could chase my kids around the yard and up the stairs as I pinched their bottom and they laughed. I was losing the woman that just ran 3.2 miles and felt powerful and renewed. I was losing the girl that walked effortlessly on the beach, the boat, the dock, the cobblestone sidewalks downtown.

Suddenly my husband was offering me his arm, not in that romantic, Victorian way, but in that way you offer aid to an elderly woman crossing the road.  I was losing freedoms I never imagined-stand up paddleboarding, my step classes, and yes, my yoga.

And that is how I justified the crying, the depression and the hole that I was in. I don’t need medication, this is normal, I kept saying. Until the day I admitted to my husband that there were days when I would drive over the rivers that surround this city, so beautiful and serene, the most peaceful views I have ever seen-and think ‘if I just turn the wheel really hard, really fast, I could go over the edge’.

But I already had, hadn’t I? By just thinking that, by actually saying that, I had stepped off of grief and into something entirely different.

Medication. Reiki. Accupuncture. Therapy.  It is hard to say which one helped me the most.

I stomped my feet and said ‘enough!’ and tried everything at once. I chucked the brace in the back of the closet and vowed to retrain my leg and my body. I sold, donated and gave away my shoe collection and vowed one day that I would wear heels again. I went back to the gym and tried my yoga-failing miserably, but I tried.

I told my husband to hold my hand, not take my arm. I still had 9 months of 40 left-plenty of time to get back on track…

But just months later there was a car accident, not my fault, and when the car stopped everything was muffled, and my ears were ringing terribly. The ER said it was ‘temporary, it happens, don’t worry’. But it wasn’t, and three days later I had the volume on the TV at 32 and I knew it was not good. So off to the doctor, and the ENT and the audiologist I went.

Bilateral sensorinueral hearing loss. Threshhold shift. Permanent.

I laughed. I actually laughed as I heard it, thinking Really? Is this real?’After the leg ordeal, can this really be happening to me? As I sat in the doctors office while they put goo in my ear to take an impression for hearing aids, tears streaming silently down my face, I saw myself walking toward that hole again.  It is dark, and comforting, and it was calling me.  I had just turned 41. This was not how it was supposed to be.

They say that God (or the universe, or whatever you believe in) keeps giving you the same test until you learn the lesson. What lesson was I missing? Why was I being punished? Was this karma? What had I done to deserve this? How on earth did I get here, how did I become this broken person? I was off my meds, and I was trying to make sense of this, and couldn’t. I was determined to push through it, on my own, to be stronger, to be a fighter, and I could not let go of that picture of myself in my head that I had when I turned 40. I kept going back to that place-but it was all different now. I felt as though I was made of glass, and that at any moment, I would shatter and just disappear.

Today, I am 43. Three years of changes, challenges, tears, anxiety, depression, medication. Three years fighting with my doctors, my lawyers, my husband, my friends, and myself.

I kept trying to get back on an earlier path, not realizing it was long gone, washed away years before.

I keep looking at that one picture, that one moment- I was forty and fabulous, and I didn’t even know it.

And there is the lesson.

I wanted THE job, THE body, THE friends, THE life that I thought by 40 I should have. But I had it all along and I didn’t take the time to see it, let alone be thankful for it.

I wasted so much time, so much energy, so much love and life trying to go backwards so that I could move forward, when all I really needed to do was sit still. I needed simply to be present and see everything around me, to feel and acknowledge what I was feeling and then let it go.  I didn’t have to fight everyday, I just had to put down my baggage, take a deep breath, and move forward.

Fabulous according to Webster’s Dictionary means:  resembling or suggesting a fable :  of an incredible, astonishing, or exaggerated nature. It lists related words as : fabricated, fantastic (also fantastical), fictional, fictitious; fanciful, imaginary, imagined, invented, made-up, make-believe, pretend, unreal.

So no, I am not 43 and Fabulous.  I am 43 and Free. And strong. And authentic.  And honest, happy, loved, present and peaceful.

And that is much, much better.

Wendy Jackson is a mom, wife, lover of life and laughter, books, music and writing. She recently attended Jen Pastiloff and Emily Rapp’s writing retreat to Vermont. Book the 2015 retreat here.

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Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above.

Jen Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. Join her in Tuscany for her annual Manifestation Retreat. Click the Tuscan hills above.

Jen Pastiloff is back in London for ONE workshop only Feb 14th. Book by clicking poster. This is her most popular workshop and space is limited to 50 people.

Jen Pastiloff is back in London for ONE workshop only Feb 14th. Book by clicking poster. This is her most popular workshop and space is limited to 50 people.