Dear Daughter

I will always love you for you. Period.

Dear Daughter,

I remember the day I found I was pregnant with you like it was yesterday. Motherhood was not something I had wanted for my life, but motherhood chose me when I found out I was pregnant with your brother. By the time I found out I was pregnant with you, I had embraced being a mother with my whole heart.

I remember the day I found out I was pregnant with a girl. I was scared. Having a strained relationship with my own mother growing up, I believed that I wouldn’t know how to raise a girl. I spent most of my adolescence stuck in a cycle of deep loathe of myself. Reflecting on the years of insecurities and lack of self-esteem; I wondered what I needed growing up, so I could be that and save you from these feelings.

My goal was to raise your self-esteem so high that perhaps your teenage years would only put minor scratches on your tower of self-love. I would tell you I love you as often as I could and hug you more. I would tell you how truly beautiful you are and remind you of all the things that you are good at. I would let you know how proud of you I am. I would encourage your creativity. I would block all the bad that’s in the world and protect you from all the unkindness.

I love being your mom. I love that we have fun together. I love your deep, beyond-your-years wisdom, I love your laugh, I love watching you be such a kind friend to anyone who needs one, I love your creativity, and you are my favorite singer. I feel truly blessed that I was chosen to be your mother. You have taught me far more than I think I can ever teach you.

It’s not always been easy, this mom gig. I’ve watched you get hurt and feel helpless that I couldn’t protect you. I’ve watched you doubt yourself and feel frustration that I can’t make you see how capable you are. I’ve watched you go from being the most confident 9-year-old in the room to voicing your insecurities and my heart breaks. How can you not see how truly amazing you are?!

My dear, sweet, daughter, I will never stop being your mom. I know there is no way for me to truly protect you from the world, but it doesn’t mean that I will stop trying. I will always love you for you. Period. I will love you even when you don’t know who you are. I will love you when you can’t love yourself. I will love you when you are filled with self-doubt and will cheer you on until you find your way through it, and louder when you see your worth! I will always be your biggest fan while you explore your creativity and will be there with a giant foam finger as the president and mascot of your fan club.

I will always encourage you to explore your creativity. I will always challenge you to think outside the box. I will always encourage you to be your authentic self. I will also not be afraid to tell you when I feel that you are not being your authentic self. I will not be afraid to tell you no, especially when I know that the choices you are making are damaging to the person you are and your overall well-being. I may stand there and shake my head when you do it anyway, but I’m still going to love you. I know there will be times when you feel like you hate me for this and I am ok with that. I will still tell you no because my love for you runs deeper than the hurt I feel when you shut me out. I will continue to wrap my arms around you and love you, especially when you don’t want me there.

I realize that I will never be able to protect you from all the bad things. I realize that no matter how much I love you or how much I tell you how amazing you really are, ultimately it is your choice to see yourself that way. I know that you’re not always going to listen to me, just know that I am not going anywhere.

I love you to the moon and back.

Love, Mom

Only Good Vibes

Honoring yourself and your happiness may have more to do with honoring your values and your journey, rather than avoiding the obstacles in life all together. 

Sometime in 2014, in between a complete mental breakdown and existential crisis, I discovered the importance of honoring my needs. As a mom and a wife I realized that a majority of my day was spent doing things that I hated, thus resulting in a big heaping pile of unhappiness. In a moment of clarity and a strong desire to change my world, I decided from that moment on I’d only do things that brought me happiness.

I surrounded myself with quotes ranging between the basic, “you can’t pour from and empty cup” to “it’s ok to cut out people from your life if they aren’t honoring your happiness.” I also made changes to my daily routines and made a conscience choice to find happiness in the chaos called life. I’m certain that the quotes didn’t lead to happiness and that it was in fact the choice to do something. Do anything. Take action in the things that I desperately wanted. Eventually it all led up to, what I would describe as happiness.

But guess what!? My kids can be complete and total jerks. My husband can make me want to study true crime shows so I know how to dispose of the body. I’ve had co-worker’s that have made me want to punch holes in walls and oh my goodness, snooty customer’s that make me want to make a voodoo doll and meticulously put pins in it and watch the reaction. This is life. This is reality. Sometimes the people who love and support you most, cannot give you their best. Sometimes the job you love comes with a side of a co-worker who may lead you to the belief that alcoholism is an option as a coping mechanism. Sometimes we allow a 5 minute interaction wreck our vibe for the rest of the day. Sometimes we are human.

Not to state the obvious but I would never do any of the things mentioned above, and I love my husband and children infinitely. However, since I’m being completely honest, relationships and life can get uncomfortable. It’s impractical to try and mitigate every negative and uncomfortable situation. Honoring yourself and your happiness may have more to do with honoring your values and your journey, rather than avoiding the obstacles in life all together.

You have to get uncomfortable. Just like going to the gym can cause the wonderful pains of muscle gain, you become sore when you use your muscles in an unfamiliar way, but it’s needed for growth. And just like going to the gym, there is a big difference in pain from growth and pain from damage. Embrace the uncomfortable and grow into a human filled with an exuberant amount of good vibes.

Thank you, Steve Harvey!

I stopped fighting for the life that didn’t want me. More importantly, I stopped fighting for the life that I outgrew. In doing so, I’ve found a happiness that I didn’t know I was capable of.

Not too long ago, I was working a job that kept me in my car driving around a lot. This job was a steppingstone on to a new life path and I was grateful for the long breaks alone with my thoughts or listening to audiobooks. Occasionally I’d click on a YouTube video and let the auto-playlist play. On this day in particular, I was listening to Steve Harvey. His candid advice always makes me laugh. A woman was telling her story about how a man she had given her all, just wasn’t reciprocating. He said, never let a man tell you twice that he doesn’t want you. That was it! That was the statement that sent a flood of tears down my face. My story isn’t about a man, it’s about life.

The two years before this had been a complete and total shit show. It all started with a conversation with my husband in which he told me that the emotional toll his job had taken had become too great and something had to change. Prior to this, I had been a stay at home mom, happily enjoying all that this life had to offer. I spent a majority of my days at an aerial arts studio, which I loved. I volunteered at my kids’ school, which I loved. My life was filled with countless adventures with my best friend and traveling with my husband. I loved this life. I didn’t want anything to change — except the desire to see my partner truly happy again, my life had been meticulously placed exactly how I wanted it. As I watched the stress my husband took on and literally tear him apart, I couldn’t not do something.

I quickly found a little part time job, that part time job quickly became full time. I soon was unavailable for volunteering at school. My time at the studio abruptly ended. My adventures were replaced by mad dashes across town to get my children to destinations as quickly as possible so I could get back to work. My husband left his job and with that, the social circle that once felt so secure became a distant, and often painful, memory. I moved up with my job and took on more responsibility, requiring more hours. Any sibilance of a life that I had, was replaced by an unbalanced work and home responsibilities. The list of things I aspired to accomplish, folded and tucked away, as I focused on the survival of my family.

My husband found a client in another state, he left for a week. That week turned into 5 months. Shortly after he left, our lease came up and I had to move. Disrupting my children from the place they had called home for the past 7 years. Adding on to the already, massive disruption that Mom just wasn’t around anymore… and either was Dad… and either were the people who we had so whole-heartedly introduced into their lives as family. Chaos. Chaos everywhere.

I had an epic meltdown while unpacking our tiny apartment, alone. My husband didn’t even know where we lived! My kids had frequent meltdowns, that night was no different. I had finally got both kids to bed and started working on boxes and I came across my vision board. In a fit, I destroyed it. Meticulously shredding the pictures of aerialists, pictures of my dream home, dream adventures, things that represented happiness, and represented my most valued relationships. This was not my life anymore. This was not my path. I was angry! I was in mourning for the life I really enjoyed. I had lived in a fairy tale where I felt completely loved and supported by the people and interests I had surrounded myself with but when the curtains came down and the show was over, none of the people that I thought would be there were there.

What did I do? Well, me being a nurturer and have this deep-seated loyalty to my friends, I tried to make it “better.” Trying to pour from my empty cup, I’d set reminders on my phone to reach out to the friend who felt neglected. I tried to force myself to engage in the activities that had been my social structure. Trying so hard to make people love me the way I loved them. Craving the happiness that I had once felt and trying so hard to fit into the life that didn’t want me anymore. Anxiety ensued. We’re talking the anxiety that keeps you up at night that convinces you that if you go to sleep, you will never wake up. The type of anxiety that tells you that you are not lovable, and no one cares. Then the anger came, in the form of rising from the ashes like a phoenix engulfed in flames!

When the dust settled and I put on my big-girl panties to face the world with a new fire, I realized the disappointment I felt. Not just the disappointment toward people who I trusted, but the disappointment I felt with myself. For as isolated as I felt at the end of this traumatic moment in my life, I realized how much I had fenced myself in with selfishness and how I isolated others with my relationships. That disappointment brought about an anger in me that I was very unfamiliar with, but I welcomed her.

Thank you for disappointing me!

We are growing. We are healing. I am more in love with my little family than I ever imagined was possible. I am more in love with my husband than I ever imagined was possible. My parents and siblings have been and will always be my loudest cheerleaders, my best sounding board, and the safest place for laughter (after my kids and husband, of course) and I lost sight of that for a moment. I finally have a job that I love! I finally allowed myself to have friends again. I can still do the activities that I loved and am capable of finding new things I love, too! I have an infinite number of adventures ahead of me and I am excited for each one.

So, thank you, Steve Harvey! I stopped fighting for the life that didn’t want me. More importantly, I stopped fighting for the life that I outgrew. In doing so, I’ve found a happiness that I didn’t know I was capable of.

Red Sky

There’s a red sky at morning,

Where I hoped you would be.

There’s a sense of belonging

That I desperately seek.

As I stand in the shadows,

Hiding safe from the rain,

I’m aware of the sound,

I’m alone once again.

Is it straight fact or fiction

When you tell me your tales?

Is there somewhere to hide

When all sympathy fails?

There’s a red sky at morning

And I’m straining to see

If there’s anything left

we can still call our own

As the fog slowly lifts,

I can see I’m alone

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Keep Calm and Eat Spaghetti

Tonight I reached an entire new level on this adventure I call motherhood; I made dinner based on what dishes were clean. 2 bowls, 1 plate, and a plastic princess bowl. This week has been crazy. Every week is crazy. The sink overflowing with dishes. It’s OK though, it matches what I think might be a laundry hamper. I’m certain it’s under there somewhere.

Spaghetti saves the night once again. I appreciate its versatility of being able to be eaten from a bowl or plate. It’s a little bit of magic at the end of this incredibly long day. Most of my family will be happy with the meal selection and one will not. He’s learned to not complain about it and I am grateful. I need something uncomplicated today. I want a sign that reads, “Please excuse our mess, Mom has been busy…for awhile”

As I was cooking dinner, my oldest assumed his position on the other side of the counter pacing and telling me about all the things on his mind. This is our time. Despite all the stresses in his life this is the time he talks about everything calmly, like I am a peer. It’s a nice change from the last two nights. We’ve been arguing a lot lately. It’s not been easy. It’s not been fun. Life as a teenager is complex. Mom of a teenager is hard. I am new to the later.

I glance at the clock as I drain the noodles. So much for my goal of eating dinner before 7. It never happens. I vow to reach my goal tomorrow as I make my way to pull my pre-teen out of hibernation and join the family. I have faith in me. I am capable of anything I want and I really want to eat dinner before 7. I also really want my daughter to be more engaged with the family.

She’s been struggling since switching schools. Logistically, she had to switch schools. We made a decision to try a charter school and the change hasn’t been pleasant. In fact, it’s been awful. I made the change hoping and praying that it would be the change needed to make some positive changes. I made a mistake and my kids are paying the price. I’ve got to do something about that.

My husband emerges from his office. We discuss our schedules and determine that if we want to spend time together today we both would need to work from our laptops on the couch. Work is beautifully busy and he is supportive. I am lucky and I miss him when our work lives keep us apart.

This Mom gig isn’t easy. No one told me how much I would cry, how there would be days that I feel so defeated that hiding under a rock (or my closet –which isn’t even big, by the way!) seems like a very enticing option. Or, that the criticism and praise that I receive from my children would be far more significant than any corporate annual review.

Some nights I lay awake making a mental checklist of everything I will do better tomorrow. Sometimes I lay awake concerned that my son won’t find his way or my daughter won’t see her worth. Sometimes I lay awake praying, with many tears, for more patience. I will beat myself up over the fact that my daughter has hid her homework all year. I will take personal responsibility over the fact that my son refuses to eat lunch. I will feel frustrated and Google the night away about parenting methods.

This week has been tough. However, among all the chaos we had the sweet moments. After two days of fighting, my son gave me a hug and told me that he was sorry. He also told me that I have beautiful singing (He sure knows the way to his mama’s heart)! He hugged his sister while she cried about the kid who insists on taunting her. My daughter told me that she hopes we are always best friends while ⁷we chatted about our upcoming projects. More importantly, we ended the day with me sandwiched between my kids and husband watching Stranger Things. It’s worth it.

I realize more than ever that all relationships have highs and lows, the relationship with my children included. We go through our lows and it will either break us or make our relationship stronger. I pray for the strength of it all. More importantly, I pray to find acceptance with the imperfect. I’m frequently asked, “how do you do it?” Please know that I have somehow found just enough acceptance in eating spaghetti at 8pm from a plastic princess bowl.

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 Putting the Pieces Together

10 years ago we sat at a large round table in an unfamiliar elementary school. “This is your team,” explained the family case worker. I’d come to know her very well over the previous months. When my son started the Head Start program, she was the one who reached out to me when concerns about “abnormalities” became obvious and, subsequently,  the desire to test my son.

We had spent weeks testing and observing behavior in various situations. At this point in my life, he was my only child. He was quirky but loving and fun! Sure, it was a little odd when he would line up his toys across the floor and then meltdown when one wouldn’t hold it’s position, but he was so engaged with the activity that I found it impressive. Sometimes he would spin in place for what felt like an eternity, a process that couldn’t be interrupted. Clothing was always an issue, tags bothered him and socks/shoes were always “too tight” despite the size. The other differences weren’t as obvious until he was among his peers.

All of it led to this moment. All the tests, meetings, and phone calls defined with a classification. “Mrs. Miller, your son is Autistic.” The room froze with everyone focused on me and I realized they needed a reaction. Cayden was playing on the chair next to me, strategically putting a puzzle together. I had learned that he loved puzzles and I bought a truckload for him to play with. Once he solved the puzzle, he could put it together in record time, and then he’d abandon that puzzle and move to the next. The puzzle he had been working on had a couple of challenging pieces and I watched as he rotated the last couple of pieces into various ways, trying to make it fit. I shuffled his moppy hair and he looked up and gave me his obligatory smile before getting back to the puzzle.

“OK, what’s next? What do we need to do?”

We discussed a strategy, various therapies, and modifications for school. We signed a lot of papers and walked out the door. As I was putting my son in his car seat, the case worker met me at my car, “I just wanted to make sure you’re ok. Most parents get pretty emotional and you seem to be handling this really well.”

“This diagnosis doesn’t change the fact that he is my son. He is the same boy who walked in that office as the one who walked out. This just better helps us know how to provide him with what he needs.”

After this, she had me talk to several families who were struggling with this life-defining diagnosis, some afraid to begin the testing process. It’s not easy to allow a system to attach a label on to your child, however I had decided that it would be far more challenging to fight the system to bend to the needs of my child without it. Either way, it’s challenging.

We had decided early on that we weren’t going to tell our son, in an attempt to let him gauge normal on what “normal” was to him. I never wanted him to use this diagnosis as an excuse to fail or, even worse, not try. However, as the years passed the dialogue changed.

What is normal? In our world, normal is:

  • Baggy socks, turned inside out
  • Soft, tagless t-shirts
  • Breakdowns over touching dirty dishes
  • Dealing with bullies
  • Anxiety over leaving the home or playing outside, because of past interactions with neighbors.
  • Anxiety of wanting to have connections with people but not understanding why the connection isn’t there.
  • Inability to make eye contact in stressful situations (when most adults demand it)
  • Stuck on the same thought process for days at a time…he has the memory of an elephant.
  • Daily phone calls to/from school. There’s never a dull moment.
  • Social anxiety.
  • Depression from “feeling different.”
  • Friends/neighbors who aren’t allowed to interact with him.
  • Abusive teachers.
  • AMAZING teachers!
  • Escalating from zero to sixty faster than any sports car, for a variety of reasons – may the odds be ever in your favor figuring out why.
  • Daily/hourly pep talks to get through the day.
  • Dreading changes in school schedules, including substitute teachers (who are typically not trained) and assemblies, or anything messing with the lunch schedule.
  • Changing our parenting approach over and over again, to find the one that reaches him.

Someone amazing told me if you’ve met one person on the autism spectrum, then you’ve met one person on the autism spectrum. Autism is defined by a spectrum of characteristics and while one thing may be present in one child, it may not be present in another.

Some amazing things that are also our normal:

  • He sees the world as a movie and is constantly creating new ones in his mind.
  • He’s ultra-aware of others emotions and perceptions. If I’m having a hard day, he’s eager to give me a hug. He’s also very aware when someone doesn’t like him and he’s usually right.
  • He seeks out affection, something that is unique from what others perceive Autism is.
  • He contemplates theories of Science and creates his own.
  • He can solve puzzles faster than most, which makes him an excellent game partner.
  • He loves art. He appreciates art and sees the stories that are untold.
  • He’s the definition of loyal.
  • He can tell you what he got for Chrtistmas when he was 3 years old, the conversation we had about that one thing when he was 5, and who directed all his favorite movies, who acted in it and what other films they’ve been in, what the critic reviews are, what year it wrapped, and why the director cut a certain scene. But, he can’t remember to tie his shoes.

More importantly, while I have shed numerous tears, pulled my hair out in frustration and know without any level of uncertainty that there will be more tears and more hair pulling; this kid is going to do great things!

His gift, albeit in a form of a diagnosis, is to view life in a way that most are incapable of doing. It’s a beautiful thing, trapped in the world’s perception of what autism is. Throughout this journey, we’ve met many other families that have been touched by others on the spectrum. Some high-functioning and some non-functioning, each with their own incredible story. None easy. 

As a parent, I pray for easier days. I pray for things that can be done without upheaval, aside from xbox and movie making. I pray for positive relationships. I pray for him to see how amazing he is. Above all of this, I pray for society to become educated and tolerant.  Until then, we’ll just keep moving the puzzle pieces around until they fit.

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My Hollywood Love Story

When I met him I had just got used to being single and enjoying it. I had traveled to Europe, I had gone out on fancy first dates, and I had found a happy balance with work, school and life.  I had ended a tumultuous 5-year off-and-on relationship about 6 months before and was having a hard time not comparing my ex with every suitable bachelor. Then I met him.

I instantly felt at ease with him on our first date and we rarely spent another night apart. Although most of time we discussed how we weren’t in a relationship, we were always together. We attempted to date other people. Once while I was on a date he and our friend took turns calling me, asking me to bail on my date and come hang out. I bailed on my date. Shortly after he told me that he really didn’t want me to date other guys.

I wasn’t in love. I just wanted to be with him all the time and do goofy projects, have Chinese food picnics in bed while watching movies, and talk about ridiculous things. And I didn’t want to do that with anyone else. He was the first man that made me not think about what’s-his-name.

After a short several months and with a twist of fate I became pregnant. We decided to join each other on a journey. We would become husband and wife. We would have a family. I wouldn’t have chosen it with anyone else but I wasn’t in love. I was enamored by the adventure that I was taking with a man that I adored.

I’m not saying that I married a man I didn’t love. I just really didn’t know what love was/is until I married the man.

We’ve had bumps in the road; sometimes those bumps were more like cliffs leading to sharp, dagger-like rocks at the bottom. There were times I wanted to walk away, or he wanted to walk away, and even times we both wanted to walk away. We’ve had people cheering for our successes and those hoping for our failure.

Last year on our anniversary we were standing on top of a dinner cruise ship in the rain, and I realized, ‘this is what love is!’ It wasn’t like in the movies. There were no symphonies and there were no dramatic moments where he chased me down and professed his love.

It started that one night when I was 120 months pregnant and we decided to go out to dinner. I was uncomfortable, overheated, and miserable. I ended up sick a few steps from the restaurant entrance as he covered me and told me that no one could see. I knew he was lying but I loved him for it.

It was the time he told me that he wasn’t comfortable holding hands all the time but still did/does it because he knows that I love it.

It was the time that he went to the store three times to buy the right vinegar for me and just smiled when I decided to abort the food project altogether.

It was the time after I had our son and saw my stomach in the mirror for the first time; he told me how beautiful my saggy skin and stretch marks were because of what we had created.

It was the times I have fallen apart and he quickly reminded me that he was at my side.  As well as the times that he has trusted me to fall apart and need/want me at his side.

It was that moment when we both wanted to walk away and I cried and told him that I felt like he didn’t see me anymore and at that very moment, he saw me!

It’s the fact that I told him on our honeymoon that the only thing I knew was that I needed to laugh with him every day for the rest of our lives. We’ve missed a few but we’re pretty good at the laughter thing!

It was the time when I said that I couldn’t stand our dining room table for one more second and asked him to take it to the backyard so I could do something new to it…and he did! No questions asked.

It’s literally every time I see him engaged with our children. Every time.

It’s the many times that I have had a new idea or a new hobby or a new found passion and he encouraged it – and more importantly, supported it!

It was that time on top of a dinner cruise ship on our twelfth anniversary, standing in the rain, at the end of an exceptionally long Lupus flair up and telling him I felt damaged, broken, and felt like I was losing myself again. He held me and then swept me away on to the dance floor. (Reason #1,575,121 that I love him, he dances with me!)

The list is pretty long and I’ll spare you! I’m not too proud to say that among the moments of “I’ve got a good one,” there have been plenty of, “what just happened?!” And I know it goes both ways, despite my obvious perfection.

The point remains, love goes beyond the butterflies and weak-in-the-knees moments. That’s lust. Lust is wonderful but it’s not love. True love is the result of all the good things and all the challenges combined. It’s acquired by patience, forgiveness, tolerance, hardship, heart break, sickness, success – all of those things that can break you but ultimately bind you together even closer because you survived! Not only did you survive but you still like each other a lot and want to keep going! And at the end of it all, you too, can find yourself standing in the rain kissing the person you love, before being swept off of your feet on to the dance floor.

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How to Change Your Life Overnight

You didn’t really think this was going to be a step by step guide on how to change your life overnight, did you? Does such a thing exist? If it does, please send it my way! Aside from that, I’m sure I am the least qualified person to give such advice. What I can do, is tell you how I changed myself from the most miserable person in existence to the ray of sunshine that I am now. Or at least, a partial ray of sunshine.

First, a little history. On April 23, 2012, I found myself sitting in the corner of my office, crouched in a corner at 2am, sobbing uncontrollably about the current state of my world.

Everything was bad.

I had chosen to pursue a doctorate, it seemed to be the next logical step for me but mostly because I didn’t know what else to do. I hated it. In fact, I hated the field of study I had chosen in general. I hated my job. Every morning when I woke up, I dreaded the thought of going there. I wanted to make a difference in the world and I was not making a difference at all; I had become a zombie in corporate America. I hated being a Mom. From the time I woke up to the time I put them to bed, it was a fight. A fight to get them to daycare, which they hated and I hated because they hated it so much. The couple of hours that I saw them at the end of the day were the worst! Rushing to “after work” activities, rushing home to feed them, rushing them to bed so I could rush to my homework.  I hated being a wife. My husband had a job he loved (still does),  and I was jealous! He traveled a lot and I was jealous. He would call me from a different city, out with friends, and I was jealous. My perception of the situation was that he had a life, while I sacrificed my own for our family. I didn’t feel connected to him. We  had just moved to a new city and I felt isolated. I hated myself. I felt like the shell of my former self, prior to kids, prior to marriage. I hated the question, “what do you like to do for fun?” I never had an answer and it depressed me. It was a recipe for disaster. And that disaster found me sitting in a corner of my office a complete wreck. I didn’t want to feel that way anymore but I just had no idea how to do anything different.

The next day, I woke up and silently got my kids ready for the day. There were no fights. My son, who is the master at intuition, just hugged me over and over again. My heart broke with each hug; I felt like a failure. I wanted to love being a Mom so much! I wanted to love my life! I dropped my kids off at daycare and drove to work in complete silence. I love music but the thought of listening to anything regarding human emotion made me physically ill. I got to work and cried in my cubicle until I told my supervisor that I just couldn’t be there that day. I didn’t pick up my kids. I drove home, climbed under my covers and cried. I was broken. In this very moment I realized that the hypothetical rug had been pulled out under my feet and while I stood there confused, I had to make some choices. I could choose to be miserable or I could choose to be happy. It sounds so simple. It’s not.

I inventoried my life and I made a very black and white decision about each element:

Am I going to run away? This was truly considered as an option. I had made a habit of doing just that most of my early adult life. That’s why I moved 6 times in one year. During the time between my 2am breakdown and this inventory I had talked to a couple of people and realized that it’s more socially acceptable to walk away when you feel wronged. It’s justified. You should be angry at the state that others put you in. I realized that if I did, then what? Would I wake up and suddenly feel happy? Or would I be more angry that no one chased me? My most loved quote, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results,” had never meant more. I chose to stay.

Am I going to be Mom? I don’t have to be a Mom. There are women who choose to walk away, and I suspect it’s not out of lack of love. I chose to be Mom. It’s not easy, in fact some days are brutal. But I love my little monkeys more than I love myself. I chose to stay and I chose to be happy about it.

Am I going to be a wife? I chose yes. And I emphasize the “choose,” marriage isn’t easy. But I made the choice to do it. I can survive independently. I don’t have to be married. In fact, it might be easier in some ways to not be married. But I chose yes and made it clear at that moment that it’s our job to make each other want to be married. There is a huge difference.

Am I going to get a doctoral degree? No. With all the tears shed while working on my bachelor and masters degree, I had more moments of accomplishment and happiness that leveraged the nights of late studying and tears of frustration. There was no leverage in the pursuit. I dreaded it. It wasn’t worth it. Nothing about it made me happy.

Am I going to stay at a job I hate? This was a tricky one. We were a two-income family. I knew that my husband would support me if I had a plan. It took me a little time to answer this question, but acknowledging my dissatisfaction was key. Up until this point I had sugar coated it as if that would make me like it. Ultimately, the answer was no, I wouldn’t stay. I chose to search for my passion, but I digress.

Am I just going to hate myself? I honestly didn’t know how to approach this, but I knew how to not approach it. I had to stop putting myself down for my lack of perfection. I had to stop blaming others for my relationship with myself. I had to stop saying no to new opportunities. I had to stop looking for excuses to fail. I had to stop ignoring the problem.

When all was said and done, I realized that the only way to change my circumstances was to change myself. If I wanted my life to be different, I had to do something different. Change was never going to come by going to bed every night thinking, “I am going to be a better Mom tomorrow” or “I’m going to make my husband love me in a better way” or “I’m just going to go to work tomorrow and love my job!”

I emerged from my blanket cocoon with intention. I washed my face, picked up my children from daycare with an extra enthusiasm as they wrapped their arms around me with unconditional love. When we got home, my son asked if they could put on a puppet show for me. It’s one of my most favorite memories with my kids. At that moment nothing else mattered. Somehow despite my feelings of inadequacy, my kids still loved me.

That night I reviewed my choices and decided on my actions to support the decisions I had made. Recognizing fully that you cannot control others nor their choices that impact you, I needed to take accountability for my role in my own life and relationships. I had allowed myself to become a victim of every negative circumstance in my life. Realizing my responsibility gave me more resolve to change my mindset. I decided I needed to put out what I expected to receive. If I want my husband to connect with me, I need to connect with him. If I want to be happy, I need to do things that make me happy. If I want to love being a Mom, I need to be a loving Mom.

The next morning I woke up and embraced the different. I woke up early and I worked out, instead of hitting the snooze a million times. I got ready for the day and I put on makeup, instead of the slicked back hair and haphazardly put together outfit. I made my kids their favorite breakfast, instead of the rushed toast on the napkin as we’re flying out the door. I didn’t text my husband and tell him what a pain it was getting the kids out the door, instead I texted him and told him how grateful I am that he works so hard and let him know we missed him. I didn’t dread going in to the office, instead I was excited to talk to my co-workers about the things going on in their world. I didn’t do homework at lunch (which I frequently resented), instead I drove around and thought about the things that I could do to make a difference in this world. I nervously signed up for a yoga class. I bought a book to read to my kids. I bought a pair of running shoes. I decided to let go of all of the excuses that I had to not succeed. I silently ended relationships that encouraged misery and decided to focus on the relationships that encouraged happiness. I called my academic advisor and dropped out of school. I googled lists of hobbies and picked a few that seemed interesting. I took action! The day after that, I took action. The day after that as well. I had frequent disagreements in my head, Casey the Old vs. Casey the New. I just forced myself to get up and keep taking action.

I changed my life overnight. Kind of.

Let’s be real. Happiness is a practice, not a final destination. Some days are not easy. Sometimes the hard days can turn in to hard weeks. Over time some things have become easier but some things I have to actively reevaluate every day. I’ve decided that it’s easier to be broken and miserable; just lay down and give up. If I am being honest, getting up is the hardest part. It’s much harder to do something different and even more, challenging yourself to accept responsibility that you alone have created your misery. I had to come to terms with the fact that no one else could save me, no matter how much someone loves me, I had to save myself! I had to have courage in a way that I never felt before. I have found myself in this journey and it’s changed my life.

I have the pictures that I revisit from time to time of my children putting on the puppet show. They’re not fantastic pictures but I love these so much! It serves as a reminder of my choice to be happy. It reminds me of my lowest point and how hard I fought and continue to fight. I am not the same woman that was broken in the corner, but I remember her well and I know she is proud of me.

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My Voice

***Reader Discretion***

This is the hardest thing I have ever written and because of that, it is the hardest thing for me to share and subsequently feel it’s important to share. This is dedicated to all the people who have suffered in silence or not in silence as the result of being a victim of a sexual assault. Some readers may find this post distressing due to the content. Reader discretion is advised.


I lay with my eyes closed, tears sliding down my cheek, waiting for it to be over. I hear the sounds of something hitting the truck, “What the hell is she doing?!” he shouted. “Your friend is throwing rocks at my truck!! Stop crying, you’re fine!!” I clumsily tried to pull myself together.

The passenger door opened abruptly, “Get off my friend!” she growled. She turned and looked at me, “We need to leave now!” I quickly gathered my things and walked to the passenger seat of her car, she yelled something at him and within minutes we were driving quickly down the mountain road.

I sat in silence.

“Are you ok?” She asked.

“I’m fine…”

“No, really, are you ok?” She persisted.

I silently relived the events in my mind. What just happened!? I just wanted him to kiss me. We had been flirting all night. I convinced my friend to drive up to the mountains with him and his friend because I legitimately wanted to sit by a campfire with a cute guy. There wasn’t a campfire. Within 20 minutes I was separated from my friend and in his truck making out. That’s what I wanted, right? I know I pushed his hand away several times when he tried to unbutton my pants. He didn’t force me, did he? Should I have fought harder? I liked kissing him, but I know I said no more times than I could remember.

“I really didn’t want to come up here, you just don’t go off with guys you don’t know…” She continued.

“I know…I’m sorry…”

I just wanted to have fun. He was really nice. A perfect gentleman. He even gave me a jacket to wear because I was cold. I wanted to go with them, right? I couldn’t say anything, it was my choice to go. I had talked my best friend in to going! I had done everything that my parents had told me not to do. But I made the choice. The thoughts reeled through my mind of the conversation that every girl has in health class, “if you say no and they don’t stop, that’s rape.” I had said no a lot, right?! I liked kissing him, was it just expected that I go further?  I remember vividly the moment when I decided to just close my eyes and wait for it to be over; the realization that I was trapped and saying ‘no’ was of no value. Was I just raped??

I told my friend half-truths. I told her we had sex. I told her I wasn’t sure how it led to that. I told her that I hadn’t planned to lose my virginity that way, but it just happened. When we got to my house, she parked and turned to me, “I was really scared for you. I didn’t know where you were! His friend wouldn’t help me find you guys until I told him that I would kick his ass if he didn’t! I was really, really scared. Are you ok?”

“I’m fine…really…I’m fine.”

The next morning I woke up in my parents’ home. I had moved home for the summer but I was scheduled to move back to my seasonal job within a few weeks. I couldn’t face my Mom.  Somehow she would know and I would not be able to hide it. Mom’s know everything. I climbed in to the shower, turned on the water, and just sat on the floor of the tub. I stared at the water swirling down in to the drain and waited to hear her leave for work. I called a friend and within the hour had a place to go.

I called my Mom and told her a place had opened up and I was leaving that afternoon. She sat in silence, I could hear the irritation in her breathing. I knew she wouldn’t like this, but I just couldn’t stay. “Well, are you at least going to stick around so we can spend some time before you go? We never see you!” She was even more irritated with my answer, to which I responded as snotty as possible, “I’m an adult Mom, I can leave if I want.”  I packed up my bags and quickly escaped.

My drive was long and I did it in complete silence. I couldn’t cry because I still didn’t know what happened. The reality of the situation set in; I was not a sexually active woman and I was not on any form of birth control. I felt certain that he didn’t use a condom. How could I, an 18 year-old, go to a doctor without my parents’ knowing? I had never even made a doctor’s appointment on my own. I drove while nervously biting on my lips until they began to crack and bleed. By the end of the drive I had decided that I needed to go to Planned Parenthood.

I sat on the table in the exam room.

“So you had unprotected sex?”  the nurse asked.

“Yes.” I couldn’t stop the tears.

She immediately sat down her papers and wrapped her arms around my shoulders, while I cried. I cried uncontrollably. I apologized over and over again for my emotions. She just held my hand. She calmly asked more questions. I lied. I told her that I was just tired. I told her that I had a lot of stress in my life. I lied. I made up a story about a non-existent boyfriend, whom I had broke up with and was, therefore, heartbroken. I lied. I knew that she knew and I still lied. I was embarrassed. I was a smart young woman and I had made some very stupid decisions and I never, ever wanted anyone to know.  She gave me the morning after pill and birth control, along with some pamphlets for a rape helpline and a sexual assault support group. And I silently carried on with my life.

I never said anything. The thought was there, a daily reminder that I had somehow failed in some way. I silently decided that I was not worthy for the guy that I desired. I silently hid in my friends’ condo and clung to my small circle of friends. I silently shut my family out. I silently hid in a silent relationship with a man who didn’t make me talk much about real things. I silently decided that I wasn’t going to be the girl who got raped.

Time moved on, as time does. I really thought I held it all together by not acknowledging it. My only trusted friend was my notebook. I wrote notebooks full of thoughts, stories, and poems; I’m certain it saved me. My notebook knew my secrets and I felt safe from judgement. Looking back I can clearly see that many of my choices were driven by the shame that I carried, but writing was a healthy choice.

There have been a few times since then in which I was forced to acknowledge the guilt, fear, shame, and every thing in between – including some emotions that I still don’t have words for. I recognize now that it will always be a part of me and part of my story. I learned that the best way for me to heal was to speak. As hard as it was/is, speak! Tell someone! Tell anyone! Join a support group – tell a stranger! I HAD to give myself a voice because there was a time where my voice didn’t matter. The fear of having a person look at me as a victim, as weak, as less than, as seeking attention, as responsible or “asking for it” – it prevented me from saying something for far too long. I agonized for years, holding this story so close that it damaged the relationships closest to me and more importantly the relationship that I had with the power of my own voice.

Every 90 seconds someone in the United States is sexually assaulted and only 15-30% of those are reported. It makes me realize that I have a lot of friends that have experienced the same feelings that I have had, that they may also still have nights when they fall asleep analyzing the situation and wondering, ‘Did that really happen to me?’ or ‘I should have fought harder.’ Mocking yourself in silence about things that you shouldn’t be afraid of; a car driving by, a shadow in the hall, a real relationship. Afraid to be broken. Afraid to have to talk about it. Afraid to be labeled. Please know, you are not alone.

(Photo credit: Blackbird Boulevard Photography)

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