Shame

I’ve been trying to come up with a good analogy for working through complex PTSD and I think I’ve found a pretty good one. I’m not at all a fan of horror movies and not a big fan of most crime dramas, but I’ve seen enough to know a few standard plot points.

You know that darkened room with the closed door in a horror movie/murder mystery? The one the audience knows the murderous ghost/poltergeist/human is hiding in? The doomed character hears a noise, heads to that room, and stands in front of the closed door with their hand on the door knob, hesitating. We, the audience, sit watching, waiting, and willing the character not to open that door; and yet, it’s also the door we know the frightened character has to open and walk through. They have to investigate and face whatever is on the other side. It’s inevitable. So they open the door and either flip the light switch or shine a flashlight into the room and meet their enemy. Maybe they’ll be the victor, or maybe they’ll be the victim. We wait, perhaps holding our breath, to see who will survive the encounter.

In my head, I have a darkened room full of repressed trauma memories, and the door to that room has been shut tight for a long time. The corridor leading to it had a few complete and some fragmented memories, and behind that door is everything else. Periodically, the noise coming from that room would catch my attention, but I’d do what I could to drown it out and ignore it, hoping it would magically go away. (Sidenote: ignoring it makes it worse in the long run, not better.)

Facing repressed memories feels a lot like being the doomed character on the safe side of the door, hesitating with my hand on the door knob. I know it’s inevitable I ended up here, and I also know that I do not want to go in there. My mind and body are screaming at me not to open that door. I know whatever’s waiting on the other side is awful and I’m terrified of it. I know facing it will hurt and could destroy me. I wish I could walk away and continue ignoring it. And yet, I know I can’t. Ignorance isn’t always bliss. Whatever is waiting behind that door, it’s time to throw the door open, flip on the lights, and face it.

And that’s what I’ve done: I’ve thrown the door wide open and flipped on the lights.

I was bombarded by memories. It was overwhelming at first, but I’ve worked my way through many of them and gotten to the center of the room. As I made my way there, I realized a terrible, but super important truth. At the center, was something that was feeding on the trauma memories: toxic shame. As I sat in my counselor’s office and spoke that truth out loud for the first time, I felt relieved. Even though it’s a terrible truth, I felt like I had finally discovered and named my biggest enemy and could now formulate a far better battle plan.

Toxic shame is a tyrant. In my case, it’s parents are emotional abuse and sexual assault. It took that abuse and continued whispering the lies until they became my core beliefs about myself:

“I am unlovable.”

“I am worthless.”

“I am stupid.”

“I am a failure.”

“I don’t matter.”

“I’m defective.”

“I’m ugly.”

“I shouldn’t have been born.”

“I am not enough.”

“I am unwanted.”

“I am invisible.”

“I am a mistake.”

Etc.

I can tell you what I know I should believe about myself, but deep down I struggle to believe it. That’s another terrible truth: if we hear something often enough, even if it’s a lie and at first we know it’s a lie, we eventually begin to believe it. This is especially true when we’re children and the one speaking is a trusted adult.

Every one of us has felt shame at some point in our lives. Mostly, we feel it, we process it, and we move on. If, however, we don’t process it, then it continues to fester and haunt us and negatively influences our core beliefs about ourselves.

Think back to a time in your life when you felt shame. Did it change how you see yourself? How did it change your beliefs about yourself? Was that change temporary or did it permanently alter how you view yourself? Did it negatively affect your core beliefs? Do you have other negative core beliefs?

This is my current, main project: identifying my core beliefs and their source(s) as specifically as possible (i.e. a specific incident, conversation, etc), working to hear and believe the truth rather than the lies, and turn my negative core beliefs into positives. I encourage you to do the same. Do you have core beliefs that are holding you back? Identify them, confront the sources, find the truth, and turn them into positives. It’s time to overthrow the tyrant. Yes, it’s easier said than done, but it’s worth the effort. You are worth the effort. ❤️

Turning Points: Part 2

Last week I published Turning Points: Part 1. This week, I’ll share with you the liberating lesson I’ve been digesting:

You don’t have to stay the same. You can let go of expectations (your own or others’), get out of your comfort zone, and try new things. You can change your mind as much as you want, as often as you want, regardless of others’ opinions. And believe me, they’ll have opinions. However, it’s important to remember, their opinions are just that: theirs and opinions. They are not you, and opinions are not fact. It’s good to listen to others’ advice at times, but ultimately the only one who can live your life is you. The choices are yours to make. No one can live your life for you. Oh, there will be people who will try. They’ll try to control you, manipulate you, bully you into submission, etc, but it’s your life. You get to live it.

You don’t have to have the same passions, interests, and goals your whole life. Things change. You change. Dreams change. And that’s not just okay, it’s great! It gives you more opportunities to grow. You don’t owe anyone an explanation as to why all of a sudden something new interests you, why you like what you like, why you’re passionate about whatever it is you’re passionate about. This is something I massively struggle with. 

This past year has been full of crossroads and turning points. I’ve had times when I’ve come to crossroads and I’ve had to make a choice to continue on my current path though the road ahead will be rough for awhile or to turn aside and take a different path that appeared easier. I had to consider if the struggle would be worth it or if it was time to go in a different direction. At other times, all paths seemed to be equal, yet dramatically different. Which one should I choose? A couple of times, I stood in the middle of a figurative intersection, unable to make a choice. I was terrified of choosing the wrong one, so I put off the decision until it in some way became clear which was the best option for me. Note: you will not always get a moment of clarity. Sometimes, you just have to make a choice and remember no matter how far you go down the wrong road, you can always turn around. Again, this is something with which I struggle. My perfectionistic side tells me I have to get it right the first time or not bother at all. The key here is to continuously remind yourself that that’s not true and surround yourself with supportive friends/family who will remind you of that too and encourage your efforts. 

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I was stuck at a crossroads for awhile, feeling pulled in a bunch of different directions and knowing I couldn’t continue as I was, so I began asking myself, “if I could go anywhere, do anything at all in music, what would it be?” If I could do anything, literally anything, with nothing to hold me back, not fear, finances, family/friends’ opinions, expectations, etc, what would I choose to dig into? The answer was so not what I expected…

Bodhrán. The one instrument I hadn’t ever expected to enjoy playing and expected to not be good at, turned out to be the one I am now most passionate about. And that passion has led to an interest in other percussion instruments. I’m looking forward to digging into bodhrán and percussion even more in the days ahead.

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This whole experience with music as well as opening up about my journey with PTSD had me feeling like a baby bird. Have you ever watched a baby bird learning to fly, either in real life or video? They stand peering over the edge of the nest, nervously flapping their wings and shifting their feet. They wait for Mama bird to return with food. She stands further out on the limb a little ways from the nest, close enough the babies can see her but far enough away that if they want food, they’ll have to leave the nest. Eventually one of them is brave enough to venture out of the nest and carefully inches it’s way along the branch to Mama bird. This one is rewarded with a tasty snack. Mama bird flies off to find more food and returns with the tasty morsel safely clasped in her beak as she lands a little further out on the limb. Brave baby bird begins scooting her way down the branch again, but overbalances and falls. On the way down, she flails her wings and lands safely, although perhaps harder than she would like, on a lower branch. Now she’s stuck on a lower branch and Mama is still up higher in the tree. Mama may join her just out of reach on the lower branch. The process repeats itself until finally, baby fully spreads her wings and takes flight. Occasionally, a baby bird will be so reluctant to leave the nest, Mama will have to push it from the nest and force it to learn to fly. 

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My first bodhrán lesson felt like falling from one limb (playing flute) and landing on another (playing percussion). As I became more comfortable with lessons and my teacher (the incredibly talented Fritz McGirr, who plays with Scythian and The Moxie Strings, and is a wonderful and super patient teacher), the lessons began to feel like a new nest: comfortable, safe, and fun. They were my safe place to learn and create without fear of harsh criticism or being discouraged. Then came the day Mama bird (aka Fritz), said it was time to venture from the nest and start playing sessions. Baby bird nervously squawked, wiggled her wings, and refused to leave the safety of the nest (lessons). 

We would meet for lessons once a month and almost always on the same day as the traditional Irish music open session at the Gaelic League in Detroit. We would have our hour lesson just before the session. The idea was that I could go from lesson to session, except I stubbornly refused to play my first session without Fritz. I knew I was safe as long as he was there, and for anyone with PTSD, feeling safe is critical. Eventually, we were both able to stay for a session, and I was coaxed (okay…more like gently pushed…) out of the nest (lessons) and out on the limb (sessions). As I sat next to Fritz, nervously holding (mostly not playing) my bodhrán at that first session, I was shaking and scared. I knew going in that bodhrán players have a bit of a bad reputation amongst session players for being too loud, playing too fast, and generally being a little obnoxious. I kept thinking, “what if the other musicians don’t like me?,” “what if I play badly?,” “what if they don’t like how I play?”, “can I trust them?”, “what if I fail?”. Fritz, ever the encourager, kept telling me, “it’s just tunes with friends,” but all I could see was a room full of strangers who were, at least in my own mind, judging me and my playing. My perfectionistic side went into overdrive and I put a ton of pressure of myself.

That first session was…okay. I look back on it mostly with relief that it’s over. The second session about a month later, again with Fritz sitting next to me, was a bit better (I wasn’t any less nervous, but I played more). The third session was a whole different story. That time, I no longer had my teacher by my side. He was busy with his bands as well as preparing to move to a new home and wasn’t able to be at the session. I was completely on my own. Time for baby bird to find her courage, spread her wings, and leap from the nest. I was incredibly nervous, but I did it. That was a huge turning point for me. There have been a couple more turning points since then (more on that later), but none have felt quite as big as that leap. Fritz has now moved several states away. He’s still my mentor, answering questions and offering advice as needed. I still have much to learn and am shy and hesitant at times, but baby bird knows she is capable of flying and suddenly a whole lot more of the music world is wide open and just waiting to be explored. So many possibilities in front me…here we go!

“What if I fall?” “Oh but my darling, what if you fly?”

~ Erin

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Turning Points: Part 1

“There’s a turning point. It arrives when we find ourselves quietly hovering inside the realization that the choice is between two pains: the pain of the jump or the pain of regret.”- Victoria Erickson

Quatervois: (n.) a crossroads; a critical decision or turning point in one’s life

It all started with a We Banjo 3 concert. At the time, I hadn’t been going to concerts much at all and hadn’t been to any concerts in probably a couple of years. The crowds distress me. (See my post Speak My Mind for part of that backstory .) But this time, my favorite band was coming to town and I had never seen them play live. My sister heard them at Milwaukee Irish Fest a few years back, called right after their show, and told me, “I just heard this new band called ‘We Banjo 3.’ You’re going to love them!!” She was right. She bought a cd for me and for about two weeks, I couldn’t stop listening to it. It was about three years later when I finally got a chance to see them perform live. I sat in the front row with my sister and one of her friends (who is also now my friend) and was blown away by these guys. I could feel joy radiating from them as they poured their hearts and souls into their music, and I thought “I remember what that feels like. I want that back.”

To put it in a nutshell:

I started playing flute when I was about eight years old. In our grade school, students could join the band class in fourth grade. At the beginning of the school year, the parents would attend an informational evening and could choose an instrument or have their student choose an instrument to learn. During class, the teacher would teach the basics of playing the chosen instrument, reading music, etc. My sister started out on flute. She kind of liked playing but absolutely hated practicing. I loved the sound of the flute, so I kept borrowing it and taught myself how to play. I would practice so much I would get blisters on my hands and fingers, but I wouldn’t want to stop, so I would carefully fold tissues and tape them around the sore spots to pad and protect them so I could keep playing. My parents even had to tell me to stop practicing so they could have a break from listening. 

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Performing in a school talent show
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Me with two band classmates

The beginner book was primarily filled with folk tunes and hymns I loved and had grown up hearing and singing and knew well. The first year I was officially allowed to participate in band class, I went from beginner band at the start of the school year to advanced band by the end of the school year. I was even given special permission (I was actually two years younger than required) to participate in the Michigan Lutheran Schools Solo and Ensemble Festival and did well, earning “superior” ratings on my performances. 

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Ribbons I earned at the Michigan Lutheran Schools Music Festival

Up until then, I had grown up with music in our home and church. I loved the old hymns, folk songs, classic country songs, bluegrass tunes and Irish music (my mother was and still is a fan of the Irish Rovers). Singing was always encouraged in our home and students in our small Lutheran school participated in choir from day one. Getting to learn to play some of those familiar tunes was like magic to me. I couldn’t have loved it more.

I was encouraged early on by a teacher from whom I took private lessons, to explore a wide variety of musical styles. However, as I grew up in music and moved on to new teachers, I was pushed hard into exclusively pursuing classical music. To me, classical music was okay and I could appreciate it for what it was, but it wasn’t me. It wasn’t the music I loved. One teacher went so far as to tell me, “serious flautists never pursue anything other than classical music. If you want to be taken seriously, you have to focus on classical music and forget about the rest. You should be listening to it in the car, at home, etc. Eat, sleep, and breathe classical music.” 

I honestly gave it my best shot, but I just didn’t love it the way I was “supposed” to love it, and over the years I slowly began to think, “if I can’t be ‘me’ in music, then what’s the point in playing?” I began to play less and less and eventually stopped playing altogether. 

In the process, I lost an integral part of who I am.

And now we’re back to a year and a half ago when I was sitting in the front row at a We Banjo 3 show.

If I’m completely honest, I’d have to say I truly didn’t have any idea who I was at that time.

Too many key people in my life, thinking they were being helpful, gave what sounded like great advice but was actually disheartening.  I was told by a variety of people who and what I should be. All my life, there have been people who asked me why I was interested in particular things, why I liked the kind of music I liked, etc. When I would try to explain, they told me, “well, I think that’s stupid,” or “that’s so dumb,” or variations on that theme. Being an HSP (highly sensitive person, more on that in a future post), I took their criticism to heart. I tried to like the kind of music, movies, tv shows, etc I was “supposed” to like. I tried to be who and what they told me I should. I hid away so much of my true self, so much of my heart, because I learned it was too painful to share. It was humiliating to be honestly, authentically me only to be told that everything I was, was stupid.

I still battle this mentality. I can be painfully shy, and am afraid others won’t approve, won’t like me for me, so I hide, I keep my true self safely hidden from view, rather than risk rejection or ridicule. 

But…what’s the point in acceptance, if they’re only accepting me based on who they think I am, not who I actually am? Can I honestly call that “acceptance”? Not so much. (More on this topic in a future post.)

Over the past year and a half, I’ve had an internal debate simmering. Do I do what’s been expected of me by myself and others since I was eight years old and keep playing flute, or do I branch out and explore fresh possibilities?

Slowly but surely, I’ve been gaining clarity. I started playing flute and tin whistle again shortly after that first We Banjo 3 show. Not too long after picking those back up, I got a guitar. A few months later, I acquired a mandolin. About a month and a half after that, I decided to give bodhrán a try. 

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Playing bodhrán at a session

A little at a time, I persuaded myself it was okay to try whatever instrument(s) caught my attention. 

And you know what? I’ve been having so much fun! I’m sure I won’t be an expert on all of them; that’s not the point. The point was to try new things and find me, to find myself in music. I began asking myself, “if I could go anywhere, do anything at all in music, what would it be?” If I could do anything, literally anything, with nothing to hold me back, not fear, finances, family/friends’ opinions, expectations, etc, what would I choose to dig into? The answer was so not what I thought it would be…

To be continued…

Speak My Mind

There’s a fantastic new song by The Willis Clan called “Speak My Mind.” I believe Jessica Willis Fischer wrote it and her siblings recorded it. If you haven’t heard it yet, click the link below and give it a listen. This song is very much on my mind as I write this post.

“Speak My Mind”

I’m choosing to share this bit of my story now, not because I want or need you to feel sorry for me (please, please don’t), but because this piece of my story needs to be told for a variety of reasons.

When I was about 14 years old and a freshman in high school, a classmate of mine sexually harassed and assaulted me after school on school grounds. 

With permission from a teacher, while waiting for my Mom to arrive to take me home, I went back to my locker to retrieve a book I had forgotten. He and a few of his friends followed me. I didn’t think anything of it. His locker was close to mine. I figured he had forgotten something as well and was simply visiting his locker too. I had no reason to think otherwise. We had been classmates throughout grade school and knew each other fairly well. When we turned the corner and were out of sight of fellow classmates and teachers, he and his friends began taunting me and saying things like: “Come here and kiss me. I know you want to.” “Yeah, give him a big kiss!” etc. 

I responded with, “What? No! That’s not funny. Leave me alone.”

The taunting and rude suggestions of what to do to/with him increased in volume and content.

They continued to follow me as I tried to escape. 

Nothing I said or did worked. No amount of pleading made them stop. Finally, he had me pinned against a wall and was trying to do things (I’m purposefully leaving out the details) while his friends cheered him on. 

Sometime during this, my sister had gone looking for me because our Mom had arrived to take us home. She found me and saw that the boy had me pinned against the wall. At this point, the boy and his friends stopped what they had been doing, although they continued laughing at me as I practically ran from the building with my sister.

Once we were safely in the car, my sister told Mom what she had seen. Mom asked me what happened, and I told her. She turned the car around, went back to the school, and against my protests made me tell the principal what the boys had done to me. I didn’t tell him all the details. I was too ashamed and too afraid.

The principal assured us that the boys would be punished, he would be assigned a new locker far from mine, and teachers would be informed that he was not to talk to or sit anywhere near me. I was then told not to talk to anyone, even my friends, about the incident and that he and the friends who had been part of it would be told the same thing.

I kept my silence.

He did not.

He told everyone who would listen that it had only been a joke and he and his friends had just been kidding around and that I was making way too big a deal out of nothing and he never would have done what I said he did.

They believed him.

My reputation, with classmates and even with teachers, suffered. I was teased mercilessly. I was told I wasn’t pretty enough to have caught his eye in this first place. I was called a liar and how dare I exaggerate to get him in trouble, and if he had actually done anything, I must have somehow instigated it or asked for it, because he’d always been such a good guy up until then. They shamed me for speaking up and reporting the incident, and the constant barrage of “it’s your fault” made me believe it really was my fault.

One teacher even complained how inconvenient the whole thing was because now it would make their seating chart planning more difficult. 

I learned not to trust my classmates or adults. People who should have come through for me, massively let me down. Adults who should have protected me, participated in shaming me for reporting the incident. As a result, I don’t trust easily.

This is also why I’m terrified of certain types of crowds. I am well aware of what horrible things sober people are capable, and even more so, drunk people whose inhibitions are dramatically lowered.

It’s also why I generally hate having my back to a door or having my back against a wall.

I never talked about the full details of what I went through during the initial harassment and assault and I’ve never talked about what I endured afterwards. In so many ways, I didn’t know how and I felt like, even if I did know how, who could I trust? So, I hid my feelings. I hid my pain. And I did my best to bury the memory.

The thing is, burying traumatic memories, ignoring them, and trying to forget, doesn’t magically make them disappear and erase the effects of the trauma. Avoidance doesn’t fix it. Wounds that are soul deep, don’t heal overnight. By God’s Grace, I’ve made a lot of progress, slowly but surely, over the years

For almost 20 years, I’ve stayed virtually silent about the entire thing. 

But the thing is, I don’t have to stay silent anymore. I’m not a child who has to obey adults. 

I can finally tell this piece of my story. (This incident is one, small part of my story.)

I don’t want to. I’ve been thinking about this for over a year now. And I still very much do not want to share this. 

But the thing is, this really isn’t about me.

This is about how our society shames the victims and tries to excuse the perpetrators. 

This is about not letting what happened to me, happen to another child.

And maybe, by finding my voice and telling my story, I can help others.

 This is hard. Really hard.

But if my story can help even one person, just one, then whatever I’m feeling in this moment as I tell it and whatever negative comments I may receive because of it, is all worth it.

Adults, especially educators, as you begin a new school year, pay attention to your kids and students. Watch out for them. Believe the girl who’s always been trustworthy when she reports abuse/harassment/bullying etc. Take steps to protect that child and follow up with them. Check in and ask how they’re doing. Assure them they can be completely open and honest with you, and prove to them that you’re trustworthy by following through on whatever you tell them you will do to protect them. If they’re not comfortable talking about the incident with you, help them find someone with whom they are comfortable and encourage them to talk about it with that person.

If you’ve been harassed/assaulted/abused, please know that you are not alone and that there are others who understand what you’re going through because of that trauma. I’m so sorry you’ve experienced it too. Please know, that there are people willing and able to listen to your story and walk with you through the aftermath. 

It will take time, effort, courage, and patience, but it does get better. For me, it’s been a slow process, especially since I hid it for so long and refused to acknowledge and deal with the trauma and it’s effects. PTSD doesn’t go away by avoiding it. It has to be dealt with head on. Take your time. You can’t rush the healing process, even though you’ll wish you could. There’s no time limit on the healing process. Rest when you need to and fight again when you’re ready. Two steps forward, five steps back, one step forward, one step back, ten steps forward, two steps back is totally normal and there’s nothing wrong with it. You’re not failing; you’re healing. 

Know that if you ever need me, I’m right here and I’ve got your back.

If you’ve stuck it out and read this entire post, thank you. 

To all my friends and family: thank you for your support and encouragement as I continue in the healing process.

 

~ Erin

 

#metoo #breakthesilence #endthestigma #bethelight

Hello, My Name Is…

Hello! Welcome to my blog!

Some of you who are reading this are my friends and family. Some may be new friends who don’t know much about me yet and some of you don’t know me at all. Please allow me to tell you a bit about myself.

My name is Erin. I was born and raised in Michigan. I’m the middle of three children in my family. My sister is 17 months older than me. My brother Joshua was born four days before my second birthday. He was born with Cerebral Palsy and Epilepsy, and was a spastic quadriplegic, i.e. for the most part, he was bedridden and confined to a wheelchair. He passed away in October of 1997 when he was 11 1/2 years old. (More on this part of my story in future posts.)

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Debbie, Joshua, and I; Christmas 1996

I love coffee and tea. 

My favorite fruit is strawberries and my favorite veggie is broccoli. 

I love classic country and modern country with a classic feel, bluegrass, and Irish and Scottish traditional music. 

I love hiking, especially in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It’s one of my absolute favorite places. 

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Hiking in Great Smoky Mountains National Park last year

I’m kind of a bookworm. I’m the girl in the checkout line at the grocery store who’s generally okay with the line moving slowly because she’s reading a book via the Kindle app. 

I’m a musician. I started playing flute when I was about eight years old. I’ve been playing for about 26 years. Nowadays, I’m focusing on bodhrán and mandolin with a bit of tin whistle on the side.

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Me and my bodhrán

I like playing board games.

I’m learning my fifth language: Irish Gaelic. My previous four: English, German,  Ancient Greek, and Ancient Hebrew. I think learning new languages is fun!

I have the cutest dog ever. Seriously.

Abby
Abby

I’m a third generation immigrant descendent. I’m proud to be American, and I’m equally proud of my Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and English heritage. 

My sister likes Guinness. I like cider. 

I love Bing Crosby movies and look forward to watching “White Christmas” and “Holiday Inn” every year during the holiday season.

And one more thing:

I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD for short.

I started talking openly about it just within the last year, although I’ve had it to one degree or another for most of my life.

It’s a long and complicated story and one into which I plan to delve in this blog.

The seeds of this blog were what I called “Super Honest Posts”on Facebook in which I shared a little bit about my struggles with PTSD. Each time I did, I found I had so much more to say than what could fit in a single, lengthy Facebook post. With each post, I received an abundance of positive feedback, including people telling me their #metoo stories and sharing with me that my posts had helped them. As a result, the idea for “Courage to Fly” sprouted and took root.

A blog gives me the opportunity to write even more than what I already have on Facebook, to share my thoughts and experiences with others, and to have all of that available in one place. In “Courage to Fly” (we’ll get to the story behind the title in a future blog post), I’ll be sharing about my journey through PTSD, music, travel, etc, because for me, it’s all connected. It will partly be about my own healing journey, but it’ll be more so about community. Rallying around each other and supporting each other has never been more important. We have a mental health crisis in this country, and perhaps even worldwide, whether we want to admit it or not. We need each other. We need loving kindness and compassion to rule our thoughts, words, and actions. 

I hope that you, dear reader, will find something of use to you on the blog. Please, leave constructive comments or contact me if you’d like to chat. My goal is to create a safe space for anyone to share their own stories, experiences, struggles, victories, concerns, tips for coping, encouragement, etc. I hope with your help, dear reader, to build a community that is kind, compassionate, and supportive. As a friend often says, “Sometimes you will be the light, and sometimes you will need someone else to be the light for you.” Let’s do this! ❤️

“What if I fall?” “Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?”

~ Erin

Hyacinth Macaw
Hyacinth Macaw at Disney’s Animal Kingdom; favorite bird ❤️

Bubbles

I feel like I live in a bubble.

Due to the current pandemic and being immune compromised, I’ve been in nearly total isolation for about 140 days and counting.

“I feel like I live in a bubble,” popped into my head, and it got me thinking about what kinds of bubbles we all live in, whether self-imposed or otherwise.

I have a family bubble, a friend bubble, a church bubble, a day job bubble, a musician bubble, a “me” bubble, and probably a few more I haven’t thought of just yet.

It’s so popular in our culture to talk about how we must keep each area (aka “bubble”) of our lives separate from the others, especially when it comes to work and our so called “personal lives.” However, is that truly beneficial and healthy?

I don’t believe it is. I believe firmly that I shouldn’t have to be one person at work, a different person with my family, a different person with my friends, and so on. Sure, there’s certain behavior that’s appropriate at home or with friends that maybe isn’t so much so at the office. Those kinds of things aren’t what I’m talking about here. I’m referring to having a completely different or almost completely different personality depending on which bubble I’m currently in.

What if the lessons I’ve learned from things I’ve experienced in my other bubbles would be beneficial to my work bubble or vice versa? Every experience I’ve had in my life whether good, bad, or neutral has shaped me into the person I am today. I can’t just leave that all at the door without becoming a very different person.

The Bubbles – It’s not a perfect diagram, but it illustrates my basic point.

Notice how each bubble in the diagram gets just a small piece of the authentic me and remain separate from the others. I’m never my complete, authentic self in any of the bubbles.

I’ve observed that this push to keep each bubble separate from all the others is turning us into fractured people who don’t know ourselves. As I see it, it’s causing a sort of mass identity crisis.

I know who society says I’m supposed to be. I know who my church says I’m supposed to be. I know who my family says I’m supposed to be. And I know who my friends say I’m supposed to be. But who am I really? If I strip away all of the external expectations, at the core of my being, my essence, who am I?

What do I value? What do I see as my purpose? What would I do if external expectations weren’t a factor? If I wasn’t trying to impress anyone, where would I choose to live? What would I choose as my career? What would my hobbies be? What kind of home would I live in? What would it look like? What “stuff” would I own? etc?

In searching for a new job this past year, I decided that I would go into any and all interviews as 100% me. I wasn’t going to become a different person the moment I walked through an office door. I decided that any company that didn’t want the complete ME wasn’t worth my time and effort. If they didn’t like that I’m a performing musician and music director, if they didn’t like that I’m creative, if they didn’t like that I think for myself and was looking for a company that would value me as a whole person, then this company wasn’t for me. Essentially, I put into practice much of what I’d been working on in therapy: coming out of my shell, being my authentic self, and advocating for myself. (See https://couragetofly.org/2020/07/12/courage-vs-confidence/ for more on that topic.)

Now I’m working for an awesome company that values me as a whole person. This company actually celebrates creativity and intentionally seeks out individuals with diverse backgrounds and life experiences. During the interview process, I was asked my life story. That was seriously the first question I was asked. When they asked that dreaded questions, “So tell me about yourself,” they weren’t looking for a list of work trophy’s and accolades. They didn’t want to hear about only my work bubble; they wanted to get to know the real me. I was asked questions about what gets me out of bed in the morning, what my passion is, etc. They dug DEEP. It was awesome!! It was the most rigorous and difficult interview process I’ve ever ben through, and you know what: I loved it!! I actually felt seen and heard and when I was offered the position my internal response was, “OMG….they actually want…authentic me!” I was SHOCKED and elated!! I’m still pretty shocked there’s actually at least one company in the world that feels the same way I do about this…

We’re meant to be whole beings. To be dramatically different depending on the bubble, is neither authentic nor healthy. If we do not feel safe to be authentically ourselves in any particular bubble, maybe we need to rethink our relationship(s) with the person/people/activities/etc in that bubble.

It’s time to pop the bubbles.

One “bubble” that encompasses all of me

What bubbles are you living in? What can you do today to pop the bubbles and live authentically?

Crushing Perfectionism

Every time I start something new (i.e. a new job, a new project, learning something new, etc) I will arrive at a point in time when I feel crushed by the weight of perfectionism. I grew up in a family that highly valued and demanded perfection. For example: If I got a “B” on a report card, I was questioned, “Why wasn’t this an ‘A’?” If I got an “A”, then it was, “Why wasn’t this an ‘A+’?” I would be immediately shamed for not achieving perfection.

It didn’t matter that I had tried my best and worked incredibly hard to understand the material and was still working hard to understand and learn it even better. If my best didn’t earn an “A+” at the end of the quarter or semester, then I was a failure. It was made crystal clear to me that failure was not an option and coming even just a tiny bit short of the extremely high standards was completely unacceptable and unforgivable. Grades are just one of many examples.

That pressure to achieve someone else’s standard of “perfection” left an indelible mark on me. The daily condemnation and shame that was hurled at me became my inner monologue at a very young age and is something I still battle. Working through it has been a formidable challenge.

We all have times when we get stuck in negative self talk. Perfectionism is a battle we all fight to one degree or another. There are many problems with perfectionism, not the least of which is SHAME.

The big problem with shame is that people try to use it as a motivator. It isn’t a motivator; it’s actually the opposite! Guilt can be a great motivator for change; shame; however, not so much. Guilt = “I did a bad thing.” Shame = “I am bad.”

Shame murders motivation and crushes creativity. So what to do when you notice you’re shaming yourself for a real or perceived failure…? Flip the script!

Instead of –> Try thinking:

“I give up!” –> “I’ll try something different and/or ask for help.”

“I failed!” –> “Mistakes help me learn.”

“I’ll never be smart.” –> “I grow my brain by learning new things.”

“I’m no good at this.” –> “What am I missing?”

“This is too hard.” –> “This may take me some time.”

“I can’t do this!” –> “With practice I will be great!”

“I can’t believe I’m in this mess!” –> “I can do something small everyday to improve my situation.”

Flip the script so you can move from being crushed by perfectionism to crushing perfectionism! You won’t always get it right; that’s completely normal and natural. Practice makes progress and progress is what we’re going for, not perfection. You’ve got this!

Courage vs. Confidence

Copyright Erin Elizabeth Jones 2020

I feel like a turtle.

I built a protective shell around myself by pretending to be what people wanted me to be. It was safer that way. Over the years, my shell became comfortable and familiar. Inside this shell, I’m safely hidden away. No one can mock, judge, or ridicule the “me” they can’t see.

If I do step out of my comfort zone, I feel like a turtle out of its shell running through a briar patch. It’s painful. I don’t like it. I have a lot of scars that serve as reminders to stay within the safety of my shell.

The problem with a shell is that, even though it offers protection, it’s heavy and confining.

The shell limits what I can see and do and accomplish. If I want to do all of the things I wish I could, I’m going to have to venture out of my shell.

People often say that one should act with confidence. The trouble is, I don’t feel at all confident. I am, however, finding my courage. I see a huge difference between confidence and courage. Confidence says, “I’ve got this.” Courage says, “I’m not so sure I’ve got this, but even though I’m shaking and scared, I’m going to do it anyway because it’s important to me.”

“Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Just like a turtle, I am easily startled. And just like a turtle, I tend to dart for the safety of my shell when I’m scared. My therapist and I refer to this tendency of mine as “turtle-ing.” It’s not unusual for her to say something like, “Erin, I see you’re turtle-ing. Do you know what caused that?” The goal is for me to notice for myself when I’m doing this and to reflect and try to figure out why and how I can fix it. It’s not always easy, but it is always worth the effort.

“You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

A couple of weeks ago, I started a new job. I’ll be completely honest: I was absolutely terrified. This was a massive leap of faith for me. As I get to know my new team, even though I can’t honestly say I completely trust them yet, I am feeling my anxiety subside. They’re incredibly compassionate and supportive; so much so that I actually feel relatively safe with them already (that’s not normal for me at all!!). On day one of training, I had an opportunity to speak my truth (come out of my shell) or stay silent (turtle-ing). I hesitated for a moment, but ultimately decided, even though I was scared and shaking, to go for it and speak my truth.

“Speak the truth, even if your voice shakes.” – Maggie Kuhn

Their immediate response was compassion and empathy. I’m not used to that. I’ve very rarely experienced anything other than rudeness and misconceptions when telling my story because of the social stigma attached to trauma; so I’m always surprised when anyone responds instead with compassion, understanding, and empathy.

To be on a team that actually has my back (it’s the company culture, not just so many words) is making me feel like I can do anything. I know I won’t always feel totally safe and comfortable with leaving my shell. Some days I’ll want to curl up in it and shut the world out, even with the most supportive team on my side.

“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.’” – Mary Anne Radmacher

And that’s okay. As they say, “Rome wasn’t built in a day.” There are no quick fixes when it comes to working through trauma. It’s a process. Even through the setbacks: Don’t give up hope; it does get better.

What are your goals? What would you do if fear didn’t hold you back? What is more important to you than fear? Go for it! Take small steps if you need to. Know that failure is perfectly normal and there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. It’s a learning opportunity, not the end of the world. The most important thing is: Don’t give up. Take a break when you need to. Rest. Recharge. Regroup. Then get back out there and try again.

#breakthesilence #endthestigma #bethelight

Copyright Erin Elizabeth Jones 2020

My History

“Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we will ever do.” – Brené Brown

“History is written at the hands of those who win

The battle must be over for the writing to being

Take a piece of paper, open up a vein

The feather and the fingers pulls against the grain…”

I started talking about my with PTSD and the traumas that caused it because I was desperate for support. I had stayed silent for far too long. It started slowly: I shared publicly for the first time that I have PTSD and talked a bit about my specific struggles with it. Then I began talking more openly and honestly about what I was dealing with. Then, I did what I thought I’d never do: for the first time ever, I shared the story of the sexual assault I experienced in high school. And now, it’s time to share more of my story.

I’ve spent the last few months wrestling with how much to say and how honest to be when telling my story. I knew where I wanted to go with the blog, but I still feel a need to protect certain people to a certain extent and will not post names; however, I am learning that I can tell my story and it’s okay to want to. I ask that you respect my decision to not share names by NOT asking me, my parents, my sister, or other family members for those details. If you want to know more, I’m very willing to answer most questions. Please please be respectful if I tell you I don’t want to talk about it right at that moment or if I refuse to answer your question. Don’t push me for answers I’m not willing to give. You could do so much harm if you push me on this. Please please don’t.

I’ve stayed silent for years, protecting the reputations of those who abused me. There have been many times when I have downplayed the severity or outright lied to protect them. I thought love meant always defending and speaking-well of everyone, even if they were abusive.

I’ve also been holding back out of shame and fear, and also concern for those I love. Hearing my assault story was very hard on people I love, and I’ve been very concerned how telling this next piece of my story would affect them. Know that as you read this, I do not place blame on any one but the abuser. It’s no one else’s fault. Period. Do not beat yourself up for not knowing or not doing something about it. It’s their fault, not yours. Reread those last few sentences as many times as you need for it to sink in.

As I began to share my story, I found that, just as I feared, not everyone has been supportive. People have doubted me. I’ve been told this shouldn’t still bother me, after all it’s in the past (more on why that’s an incredibly insensitive and ridiculous thing to say in a future blog article). I’ve been told I need to “just get over it and move on.” People have even questioned my sister if I was actually diagnosed with PTSD (FYI: I was diagnosed during my junior year of college, although, in truth, my therapist thinks I’ve probably had it most of my life).

The damage that was done is not something one simply “gets over.” The wounds from trauma and abuse suffered during childhood run deep and it’s impossible to fully express that pain. There are no words for that kind of betrayal.

What I’ve come to realize is this: there will always be people who doubt me. There will always be people who think I’m exaggerating or completely making it up. There will always be people who think I’m overly sensitive and emotional.

I’ve pondered often why that is. I think it’s at least partly because 1. no one wants to believe that this stuff really happens, and 2. they don’t want to believe it could happen to me. Maybe that second one is because they’ve known me all my life and had no idea what I was keeping secret. On the outside, I looked like a pretty normal, albeit very shy, little girl. I didn’t fit their idea of what an abused kid looked like. I had loving, attentive parents. Although our relationship with our brother was quite unique because of his health challenges, my siblings and I enjoyed a close relationship. We were very active in our church, school, Girl Scouts, etc. I simply didn’t fit the prevailing stereotype.

But that’s the thing…when it comes to abuse: throw the stereotypes you know straight out the window.

The truth is abuse is an epidemic. Call it what you will: bullying, harassment, assault, etc. It’s far more common than most people think and it can happen to literally anybody.

I have about 520 Facebook friends. Of those 520, let’s say roughly 1/3 are men and 2/3 are women. According to current statistics, about 29 of the men and 115 of the women have experienced some form of sexual assault or harassment. (nsvrc.org)

And emotional abuse is even harder to quantify. Although studies have been done, it’s hard to estimate just how prevalent this form of abuse is. Of the studies I found, the estimates were very high, putting the number at roughly 60% of American adults having experienced some form of emotional abuse as children or teens, from an adult they were close to or, as adults, from their partners.

“No one else will know what I could see…”

I didn’t know what I was experiencing from a trusted adult in my life was emotional abuse. It was my normal. I didn’t know that not everyone was treated like I was by that person. There have been times over the years, especially as I slowly got out of the situation, that I began to realize it wasn’t normal, but it’s taken me many years to understand that what I experienced was, in fact, abuse, to be able to call it that, and to come to terms with that knowledge.

What’s made it even more confusing was that this person could change so fast; they could appear to be loving and kind one moment but turn incredibly heartless and cruel the next. I never knew which version of them I would get or what would trigger the sudden change. If I dared to disagree with them, I was told I was being disrespectful and ungrateful. I learned not to disagree. I fully believed that I always somehow earned their cruelty. If only I could be good enough, then they’d be kind. If only I could be exactly what they told me I should be, then they’d love me. If only I was prettier…If only I was smarter…If only I was more athletic…If only I was interested in and good at the right things…If only I wasn’t me…

“Love was all we wanted and only truth remains…”

They made me believe I had no value “as is” and I needed to change into their ideal in order to be worthy of love. They taught me love has to be earned. So I tried…I tried to become what they told me I should be…. I became ashamed of the real me. I put up walls, locked the real me away, and did my best to project the image they wanted to see. But it was never enough…I was never enough. No matter how hard I tried, I always fell short and could never earn their love.

“I am not the child who turned the other cheek…”

But I am no longer a child required to stay silent. I’m taking back my story.

“All my story now belongs to me…”

I know that I’ll likely still face skeptics, critics, and harsh judgments; however, adult me is truly beginning to believe what little girl me didn’t: I have value. I matter too.

“I am my survivor and you will be my history…”

Until about two years ago, I really didn’t know who I was. I knew what I “should” be, what I was “supposed” to be, but had no real idea of who I actually was.

“I will start to build a better life for me…”

So I set out on an adventure to figure out who I was created to be. And it’s been quite the adventure! There have been mountains to climb, rivers to cross, and boulders in my path; but I’m determined to keep going. I’ve come to understand that figuring out who we are is a lifelong journey rather than a destination. We continuously grow and change throughout our lives, learning countless lessons along the way.

“You will be the lesson I wish I never learned

Love will be the reason you’re reign was overturned…”

I’m determined to take the lessons I’ve learned from what was intended for harm, and use them for good. I don’t know exactly what exactly that will look like just yet, but the blog is certainly a small part of it and I’m ready now to relaunch it.

My History

By Jessica Willis Fisher

“History is written

At the hands of those who win

The battle must be over

For the writing to begin

Take a piece of paper

Open up a vein

The feather and the fingers

Pulls against the grain.

All my story now belongs to me

I will try to build a better life for me

No one else will know what I could see

I am my survivor and you will be my history

Memory is fading

Even as I speak

I am not the child

Who turned the other cheek

Power to the people

Throwing off the chains

Love was all we wanted

And only truth remains

All my story now belongs to me

I will try to build a better life for me

No one else will know what I could see

I am my survivor and you will be my history

You will be the lesson

I wish I’d never learned

Love will be the reason

Your reign was overturned

All my story now belongs to me

I will try to build a better life for me

No one else will know what I could see

I am my survivor and you will be my history

I am my survivor and you will be my history

I am my survivor

And you are just my history.”

https://youtu.be/JXOPhlthDzI