Thursday, April 21, 2016

Our FINAL Togetherness Conference!

This is big.

If you didn't read the bittersweet announcement posted on The Togetherness Project's blog last week, you'll want to read it here.

All that said, I hope you'll join us for our FINAL conference in Midway, Utah at the ZERMATT RESORT on AUGUST 27th, 2016!

REGISTRATION IS NOW OPEN!



TO REGISTER OR FOR MORE DETAILS GO HERE.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

My Name is Brooke and I Am Brave

(2001) My heart seemed to stop as I watched a team of doctors load my baby on a gurney and close the ambulance doors as the lights flashed and the sirens blared. My 10-week-old baby needed emergency surgery to correct a bowel volvulus (blockage in her intestines). I was a young, first time mom. Being brave was my only option.

(2004) I woke up and looked around, I knew where I was, I was alone and so afraid. A nurse noticed I was awake and she came to me. I quickly wiped the tears from my face as she kindly asked if I was in pain. "You were so brave," she said and I turned my head as the tears filled my eyes and I shook my head. Then she said something I've never forgotten and I didn't believe at the time, “You know being brave looks different on everyone." In some weird way I was at peace in knowing that it was okay to be afraid. I had just lost the baby I had been carrying for 18 weeks.

(2005) Shortly after delivering my third baby girl, she began the fight of her life. I watched as she struggled to take a breath - her lungs collapsed and she was put on a ventilator and had tubes put into her chest to evacuate the air. Another mom in the NICU told me, "Honey, you're braver than you believe." I sat every 3 hours on the hour on the hospital bathroom floor pumping any and every drop of milk I could and repeating those very words over and over.



(2010) After 4 girls the doctor said "it's a boy!", minutes later I hemorrhaged and, while on the hospital room floor, I struggled to stay conscious in a puddle of my own blood.

(2011) I knew I could do it but I didn't want to, but I had to self-talk my way through a miscarriage at home. That day replays in my heart often. 

(2013) At an ultrasound of my last pregnancy, the identical twin sister no longer had a heartbeat.

(2013) She came nearly without warning, forcing an all-natural delivery. I hemorrhaged. Twice. Somewhere in me I knew I'd be ok, but I had to keep reminding myself. 

Many years have come and gone and through experiences I've come to know what that nurse meant; that being brave doesn't mean you're not scared or afraid. 

Being brave is having that fear but finding a way through it. 

So much in life depends on our attitude. 

"To do the best we can and then to choose to be happy about our circumstances whatever they may be, can bring peace and contentment. We can't direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails." -Thomas S Monson

(2016) A few weeks ago at Primary Children's hospital, I hugged my little 8 year old girl tight and whispered, "it's okay baby, be so brave." She held on tight to me and cried out "mommy, mommy, mommy." The nurses took her away and I turned around as tears filled my eyes. She was so scared. So was I.

Over the next 5 hours my baby would endure major cranial surgery, for the second time, this time closing 8 holes that had never closed from the surgery she had on her first birthday to correct craniosynostosis, a premature fusion of bones in her skull. My mind immediately began jumping from memory to memory. I was not a stranger to the waiting room.


Being a parent makes you realize that the little people that you created deserve the very best of you. I remember a friend once telling me "you know you've gotta have the bad days so you can love the good days even more." Since the age of five (2012) my girl has also been fighting an incurable disease that is trying so hard to destroy her muscles and joints. I've prayed for bravery over and over and over. Being brave for someone else is the hardest thing I've ever had to do.

Brave :: by definition means to face or deal with something unpleasant, to endure danger or pain, showing courage

Enduring and carrying on is not just a matter of tolerating circumstances and hanging in there, but of PRESSING FORWARD. 

I know that's what most of us find difficult --- to endure joyfully

Being brave is more about that glimmer of hope after the worst possible news. 

The golden light of sun after the worlds longest night. 

It's the way you continue on even though you can't figure out how. 

My name is Brooke and I am brave. 
*Please remember the purpose of the "My Name is" series is to open our hearts, to interact, to uplift, to support and to grow. You can follow Brooke's inspirational journey on Instagram HERE.

Read other stories of inspiring women in the "My Name is" series HERE

Follow My Name is Jacy to stay up to date:

xoxoxo

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

My Name is Mia and I Am Not Ashamed

My name is Mia and I am not ashamed.



Your memory is a monster; you forget, it doesn’t. It simply files things away; it keeps things for you or hides things from you and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory, but it has you.
John Irving

If ever any phrase rang true it was this one, for me, on the first night after I had tried to commit suicide. I was in a psych ward, or what they now call them, “Behavioral Health Unit,” and I wanted nothing more than to disappear into the floor beneath me and cease to exist. I was ashamed, scared, and alone. The two thoughts that plagued me all that sleepless night were, “How did I get here?” and “How can I get out without anyone ever knowing?”

How I got there was how I believe everyone who has ever gotten to the point of acting on suicide gets there: overwhelming pain. Suicide is more about a person wanting to end pain than it is about ending life. I couldn’t see out of my pain enough to believe that I could have life AND learn to deal with the pain. I had been living with overwhelming emotional pain for most of my life and had tried so many different ways to hold on and push through but I had reached my capacity to endure.  

The cause of such pain is as individual as the people experiencing it; for me that cause stemmed from the childhood sexual abuse I had experienced at the age of eleven and never told anyone about.

My name is Mia and I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse.


However, this isn’t just my story. Childhood sexual abuse is the plague of our time but a plague we often choose to shy away from because the subject matter is hard or dark. I believe that the more we choose to look into the darkness, the less power it will have.

To me, darkness and shame are cut from the same cloth. If we are to overcome either of those we have to begin to look at them and speak them to life; BrenĂ© Brown said it best when she stated, “Shame derives its power from being unspeakable.”

We often talk about shame in the context of light embarrassment and guilt but to me it goes much deeper. Author Kirsty Eager defines the type of shame I’m talking about in this way: “Shame isn’t a quiet grey cloud, shame is a drowning man who claws his way on top of you, scratching and tearing your skin, pushing you under the surface.”

That is the type of shame I faced when I was 11 years old and was sexually abused by two adult women.


Yes, that is correct, I said women.

We don’t want to believe that a gender that we consider most apt to nurture, protect, and mother children could include beings capable of abusing a child in any way, least of all sexually.

But it does happen, and I know this because it happened to me.

When we refuse to believe it can happen, we allow those female pedophiles to carry on with their abuse because their cover is our inability to comprehend that they exist. They are free to hurt and damage because more than most they can say to their victims, “No one will believe you,” and they would be right.

Sexual abuse carries along many other types of abuse in its wake – its very nature is that the abuse of the physical body also attacks and damages the heart, the mind, the soul. Damage comes sexually, physically, psychologically, emotionally, and mentally.

There is much to my experience that will remain mine, that remains too much for me to share. So often we want to know the details: who, what, how, when, where. I believe we want details because we want some type of way to say that it won’t happen to me, to my loved ones. But the truth is that no one can definitively say it won’t happen to them or those they love.

The details I will choose to share are this: I was a shy, self-conscious eleven year old who didn’t have many friends. I finally found some friends and in that process, two adult women came into my life. These women were skilled; they knew what they were doing. They became friends with my family, my parents. They became caring adult “mentors” that I could look up to. After months of grooming the opportunity presented itself, as I was to be in their care for a few days.

During a four-day period I was emotionally, psychologically, and sexually abused—I was called names, I was made fun of, my body was made fun of. I was told I was fat, ugly, pathetic, and disgusting, that no one would ever love me, and because of this they would have to sacrifice and overcome their own disgust with me to show me love. I was a witness to their sexual acts, then drugged and sexually abused by one of them.

It was a hell unlike anything imaginable to a child. How was I supposed to tell what had happened when it was too much for my little mind to process, let alone find the right words to explain what exactly was happening? I had recently been given the “sex talk” by my mom, but it was explained to me in a much different way than what was happening—a person was supposed to be married and in love; a man and a woman did it together, not a woman and another woman.

I had been taught that danger came from strangers and that those strangers were men. What had happened was from people I knew, women I knew, and women who shared my same religious faith. I had been told during those traumatic days that it was my fault. They shamed me into believing that what had happened was my responsibility and that I was so dirty and wrong now that if I told anyone, they wouldn’t believe me. I thought my family would kick me out, my church would shun me, and … that I would be alone forever.

I came home changed.

The Mia everyone knew before was gone, but I tried very hard to keep her going, to make sure no one ever found out. I was terrified and ashamed to my very core about what would happen if anyone knew.

I came home, and to cope subconsciously, I started to eat anything and everything. I believe it helped to literally keep my mouth full so I wouldn’t talk. It numbed the pain, and it helped me avoid the thoughts that would come as I would try to pretend it never happened.

My name is Mia and food has been my drug.


I remember the first time I ate until the point of sickness. The women who had abused me were holding a barbeque for a couple families, mine included, only two weeks after the abuse happened. I hadn’t seen them since and I was terrified to be in their presence. I remember not wanting to go but not being able to say why, so the entire morning of the barbeque I was fighting and yelling with my mom about staying home.

My mom said that it would be rude for us not to go after all they had done for me and so we were all going. I only remember feeling terrified that whole day, terrified and ashamed of what looking at those woman brought to my mind. At one point I was sitting at a table with some other kids my age and one of the women came over to the table and stood behind me, talking to those other kids, with her hand on my shoulder.

In that moment I remember wishing I was dead.

When she finally left I began to eat and kept going to the point of making myself violently ill. I was sick the rest of that evening.

I am ashamed to admit that the barbeque was not the last time that I would use food as a way to cope with the emotional pain I was feeling. Eating eased my pain and kept me from reliving moments and memories that were too much to bear. I would eat in secret, normally at night when all others were asleep and I needed to push back the fear. Sometimes it was binge eating and other times I was bulimic.

My parents could see something was going on but I was good at convincing them that nothing really was wrong, that my behavior followed the pattern of normal early adolescents. I hold no judgment against my parents because hindsight is always our best teacher but if I could say anything to parents now it would be to watch what your children are not saying - watch the behavior. So much of how children express themselves with difficult emotion is through behavior because they don’t have the words or sometimes the ability to cognitively express what is happening to them. 

What else I would say is to talk to your children about emotions and feelings; help them to see that emotions are okay to have and to express, and that sometimes even adults feel a certain way and don’t know why. Model for your children as you work through emotions; you don’t have to give all the details of a situation but you can express, for example, that when they saw you angry that you also possibly felt fear, hurt, shame, or grief.

My name is Mia and I am a survivor.

Life will throw at all of us different events that we won’t believe we can survive. But that is not true because we can and we do survive. I ask you to think about your life; stop reading and look back upon all you have gone through and all the times you thought you couldn’t make it.

The fact that you are reading this means you have survived!

It doesn’t mean you might not struggle or feel broken or beaten down from time to time because you will and so will I; but it does mean you have risen each time you have been thrust down by life, when you didn’t believe you had it in you. A track record like that is something to grasp, to cling to and hold in your memory for the hard moments that will come again.

I am still recovering from the fallout of all that experience of childhood sexual abuse has brought into my life and will probably face aspects of it for the rest of my life. That is what trauma does—it colors an individual’s life throughout their lifespan. It is a thief that is never caught, that continues to steal parts of someone’s life long after the initial event has passed.

I believe that is the hardest part for people to understand. One would think, “It’s over now, so if you look forward and stop talking and thinking about it, you’ll be fine.”

But trauma doesn’t work that way. Trauma changes an individual’s brain, especially trauma experienced in childhood when the brain is still forming. And the longer one goes with that trauma still in the mind, without getting help, without someone knowing, the more pressure builds. That is why we cannot compare trauma; we cannot seek to believe that how I react is how someone else will react. Individual timetables are different, and different life events will push into someone’s life and cause that trauma to shift, to change.

What I have been trying to do since the day it happened was to move forward, but sometimes moving forward has been like running along a sandy beach; other times it has been like walking in quicksand.

There is still much to say about trauma, about sexual abuse, about protecting children from that abuse and what we can all do. My suicide attempt and hospital stay were three years ago, and it doesn’t seem that long ago, but healing has come for me as I have begun to speak my shame and name my fears.

My name is Mia and service helps me heal.



I have gone on from my experience and have chosen to continue to fight that darkness. Last year I completed my master’s degree in Social Work. During my last year of internship I worked with an agency dedicated to practicing therapy with children who had experienced abuse or trauma, mainly sexual abuse.

Some might think that doing that type of work would trigger my past experience but I can honestly say that none of what happened to me ever came up for me when I was working with a child, it was always about them. I never shared my background with any of the children or parents I worked with, but I do believe that my experience allowed me to have a level of empathy and understanding that came through in my work.

I have since been hired to work for an organization that has clients struggling in many areas of their life: drug and alcohol addiction, homelessness, severe mental illness, domestic violence, unemployment. The work is hard but it is also rewarding. Through the experiences of my youth I never felt that I was seen. There is much that I can’t do for those I work with but I can listen and I can see them, see their pain and love them; loving someone in their weakness and pain is often more powerful than any words I can say.

Healing has also come as I have begun to share my story; I write, I speak. I feel success in this comes if only one person feels less alone, who realizes that if I can speak my shame and hurt so can they.   
If you are hurting, if life is difficult for you or someone you love, I am so very sad, and I hope you know I am hurting for you and with you. It is okay to speak your truth; it is okay to share your story, whatever that story may be. You might not share it in a public setting as I have chosen to do, but if you can push past the fear and tell a friend, a family member, a church leader, spouse, a parent, a therapist, me, anyone—you will begin to see that shame is afraid of your words and the more you speak, the less it defines you.

My life isn’t perfect.

I work really hard every day to overcome my past and my pain. Sometimes I’m okay and sometimes I’m not.

If there is one thing I have learned in my own experience and in listening to that of others, it is that no one is immune to pain, no one is immune to shame and what it can do if we allow shame to take root.

What I have also learned, however, is that the human spirit can withstand so much more than we believe; it can overcome so much more than we think. Overcoming will look different for everyone and it doesn’t always mean an absence of future problems or pain.

You can be okay again; your children can be okay again. There is hope, there is healing, there is a way to deal with those parts of us that don’t heal exactly how we want them to.

You are strong. You are brave.

You keep fighting; don’t you dare give up!

I won’t, and please don’t. Remember, the battle isn’t you against me —it’s you, me, and everyone else against pain, shame, fear, trauma, childhood sexual abuse, grief, addiction, sickness, infertility, inequality, domestic violence, human trafficking, and anything and everything else that seeks to destroy the soul and ruin the lives of men, women, and children the world over.

We will not and cannot lose when we choose to fight together.

My name is Mia and I am with you.


*Please remember the purpose of the "My Name is" series is to open our hearts, to interact, to uplift, to support and to grow.  Mia will be reading your comments, so please give her your love. You can also follow Mia here:



** Mia, the world is a better place because you're in it. Thank you for being so vulnerable and brave as you fight for light and love and hope and healing. You are changing lives and I'm so grateful our paths have crossed. 

To read more stories of inspiring women in the "My Name is" series, go HERE.

Follow My Name is Jacy to stay up to date:

 ~FACEBOOK 


xoxoxo

Thursday, March 3, 2016

My Name is Joi

My Name is Joi.

One of my favorite poets, Kahlil Gibran, once said, 
It has taken me years to see beauty in grief and loss. This past January I had the opportunity to look again at Kahlil Gibran’s wisdom and see if I could find delight in what I was going through. That might sound crazy to think loss can be a delight. One of the hardest lessons I have ever learned about adversity, is you can beat it or it can beat you down -- you choose.


This story really began a little over 26 years ago. It goes back to the day that a little boy came into my life and changed me forever. Everything about my son, Colton, was serendipity. I never would have thought that such a gut-wrenching experience would come into this boy’s life the way it did this past January. Before January, our lives ebbed and flowed like any other. About five years ago, Colton married and then one by one added two lovely little children, Spencer and Harper, to our family. (Don’t tell my son, but these little gems that call me “Nana” have rocked my world even more than my own children have.)

Early last July, Colton and his wife brought me the exciting news that grandbaby number three would be joining our family some time in new year. The news of a new baby is the best ever. There’s so much to dream about and hope for. When my Grands found out about the new baby, the battle of getting a brother or a sister began in earnest. Neither would budge.




                              
And so it goes for the next 6-7 months. We would stop to look at every little baby outfit that caught our eye. Wondering, hoping and waiting for the day we get to meet the newest member of our family.

What will his nose look like? Will his eyes be green or brown? Will he still have that familiar round little face that is so prominent in our family line?


It is so hard to wait.

Summer came and went. Fall turned to winter and along about Christmas time, something changed. I’m not sure I can even put my finger on it – even today.

Maybe I just don’t want to say those words out loud.

I know God prepares me for hard things. I don’t know why he does – maybe my heart is just that fragile. This has been the way it is between God and I for every one of the losses I have ever gone through in my life.

Loss and I are great friends now.

But this loss, this past January has all but crushed my world. It has taken my heart and shattered it into millions of tiny pieces. I am still trying to figure out how to put it back together. In time, I believe I will be shown how to make that happen.

Early in January, we learned that our little one was breech. Mama was worried about having to deliver cesarean. A procedure for turning the baby was performed several times. According to babycenter.com, the turning procedure has a fairly good effective rate:


       “This procedure is known as an external cephalic version (ECV). It's done by applying pressure to your abdomen and manually manipulating the baby into a head-down position. (If your caregiver is not experienced in this procedure, she may refer you to someone who is.  ECV has about a 58 percent success rate in turning breech babies (and a 90 percent success rate if the baby is in a transverse lie.) But sometimes a baby refuses to budge or rotates back into a breech position after a successful version. ECV is more likely to work if this isn't your first baby.” (babycenter.org)

Thursday, January 14, 2016 is the day that forever changed me. Mom and dad were at the birth center. Several procedures were being utilized to get the baby into position so that mama could proceed with a natural delivery. This was so important to her. She’d had planned, studied, and calculated exactly what to do so that everything would be perfect as she brought her new baby into the world. 

I had the little Grands down for the night. I called my son for an update. I could hear something in his voice that didn’t sound right. “The midwives were working with her. They’ve ruptured her membranes.”  He was heading out to pick up a few things to help the process along.  


I felt so unsettled. I couldn’t shake the foreboding that was creeping into my heart. 

A few minutes later my phone rings, startling me from the silence of the room and the two sleeping children waiting for the news that the baby had arrived. They’d been waiting 6 months for this event. It was surprising to me that they were even sleeping. 

“Jen’s been taken to the hospital. The cord is prolapsed.” He’s heading there now and will call when he knows more.

This is the third birth I have been through with this son. The other two events, both, planned and long. Mama does a great job, but the process is always slow for her. She always schedules her births, is put on the Pitocin, and we wait.

Usually, my son’s voice is full of excitement and anticipation. Tonight there was only dread.

“I’m on my way over.” I told him. I was told to wait until he knew more.


It was the worse 30-minute wait of my life. 

I started getting ready and pulling things together. I was heading over anyway. The hospital is just across the highway from me. I’d wait in the background, if necessary, but my son was going to need someone and I wanted to be closer when he did.

And then the text came through, breaking through that dark, foreboding feeling in my heart.

“Get over here now! It’s a boy. He’s not breathing!”

I didn’t even have time to think that I had another grandson. I just bolted. 

And prayed.

I prayed the whole 5-minute trip. I needed to hurry. I needed more time. I needed to pray, to plead with the only one I knew who could really help now.

I entered the hospital through the emergency room. One of the midwives came in with me. I didn’t know that at the time, but I recognized God guiding me, even in this little gift. As I started to ask at the desk for directions to labor and delivery, my request wasn’t out of my mouth completely before the midwife said, “I’ll take her. I know the family.”



As we rounded the corner to the L/D OR, another of the midwives on the team was crumpled in a heap on the floor. The two hugged each other and then like any good mom, I broke their exchange; “Tell me what is going on and do not cut out any of the medical references. I grew up in a family full of corpsman and nurses.”

As the midwife described what happened; the turning, the waters breaking, the baby breech, the heartbeats, the prolapsing cord, the baby’s foot, moving Jen on hands and knees with the midwife holding the cord, I physically felt all the breath I had been holding release and with it the intense pain that comes with losing someone you love. I had not even seen this little child’s face and yet I knew my heart was bound tightly to the grip this infant had on me.


I paced the floor for what felt eternal, but was only 10-15 mintues. Medical personnel came in and out constantly. 


Finally, the door opened, my son walked out carrying his tiny baby boy, tears streaming down his face. All he could manage was a small shake of his head to let me know we had lost him. 

They took us to a room for privacy. There, I looked into the face of my son, then down to the closed eyes of my little grandson in his arms. The grief over-took me. This was not my first experience losing a child. I have lost my several of my own. But this was the first time my son lost a child. The compounding of that reality was weighty on my soul.




The moments that followed seemed to drag on. They were heavy moments. People were called. Medical personal came in and out. The room was full of grief. 

Grief is one of those emotions that when shared together with others, even those not of your own blood family, it bonds those sharing the grief tighter than anything in this world could. 


In the hours that followed, family members of two sides pulled together in the pain. We held Hunter and cried together. We held Jen and Colton and cried. We hugged the nurses and the midwives and we tried to make sense of something that in this life is senseless and lends no helpful words. 

Far too soon the night turned to day. Two little children were looking for Nana. Grief washed over me again as I realized I was going to have to be the one to see them first. What would I say? How could I hold it inside me and wait for their parents to tell them? I knew they would see right through me no matter what I did. 

As I walked from the hospital, the weather seemed to parrot my mood. The rain poured down. I felt some comfort knowing the heavens cried with me. 


                      
During the course of the next 11 days I would come to call the pain of grief a familiar and hated guest. It tore through me as my son took his two little children on his knee to explain to them what happened to their baby brother. The confusion and the pain in their eyes tore through this Nana’s heart and ripped whatever was left from it.  

It came to visit me in its furry as the back door of the funeral home opened to send my grandchildren out to me after saying goodbye to their brother. Spencer all but collapsed into me as he said, “I understand you now Nana.”

It was a month since this tragedy on Valentine’s Day. I decorated the room with pink balloons and streamers. We had our favorite chocolate and snuggled new stuffed animals because even though it felt like it had been forever, it had only been 30 days. 

In the past 30+ days I have watched my son have to do things I never thought he would ever be forced to do. I have watched a young mom suffer and struggle to even want to be with her living children. I have seen two little souls, much too young for this kind of grown up pain, hold hurt in their hearts so enormous that their little bodies couldn’t contain it. 

During the past 30+ days, as I have picked up broken and wounded children and adults, trying to hold us all together, I have felt the wisdom of Kahlil Gibran’s words, 




My name is Joi. Suffering, loss and grief have made me stronger and provided me with a greater capacity to feel joy. 

I guess with a name like mine – it’s the best option.  

I have no doubt one day that joy will increase when we are with Hunter again. 

In that I do delight.




*Please remember the purpose of the "My Name is" series is to open our hearts, to interact, to uplift, to support and to grow.  This was very raw and fresh and undoubtedly very difficult to write… Joi will be reading your comments, so please give her your love.

**Joi, words cannot express the ache in my heart for you, and those of your family. Hunter lives on, that I know to be true. Thank you for your unyielding strength and for being such a bright person in my life. Even during your darkest hours, your light shines brilliantly. I love you.

Read more stories of inspiring women in the "My Name is" series, HERE.

Follow My Name is Jacy on FACEBOOK or INSTAGRAM to stay up to date and for future posts :) 

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