See the Big Picture…The Solution is Already There

Tunnel Vision. This is one of the key components of depression. It is the disease’s way of not only keeping you in its grips but strengthens its hold on you. The problem (and to the depressed mind that it often oneself) and its misery are the only things that exist. 

  
But that’s not true. There is an entire world that can be drawn upon to help you make your way out. You just have to allow yourself to see it. 

Often it feels like an impossible struggle to simply lift your head. Do it anyway. It’s worth it. 

Namaste. 

Sometimes Tragedy Can Grow Wings

Today marks seven years since I had the most awful conversation of my life, setting off a chain reaction of explosive dialogues and realizations so painful, I had very strong, very real doubts that I would survive.  I did. Time will never heal these wounds.  But the distance has turned this day from the anniversary of the day life as I knew it died, into a day of reflection upon the birth of my self-awareness.

Time won't heal the caterpillar's wounds. They serve as a reminder of the price of her flight.
Time won’t heal the caterpillar’s wounds. They serve as a reminder of the price of her flight.

I will always carry its scars and many of my wounds will forever remain open.  It is my choice to focus on the broken cocoon that held me captive for decades or concentrate on the metamorphosis and take flight.

Today I will fly…

Namaste.

Kick Me in the Teeth and I Will Still Smile Back at You

Setbacks suck.  They especially suck when you are blindsided.  They especially, especially suck when you are blindsided while you are already  in the midst of another crisis.  You feel as though the Universe itself is conspiring against you.  The truth is, nobody is so important that the Universe will collect its entire force to inflict misery upon any solitary person.  Still, that’s how we feel in those dark moments.

Last week, my chapter of the board of REALTORS hosted an event filled with relaxation and self-protection.  We learned some basic tai chi (shake that tree to make the stress fall away).  We also learned some very, very basic martial arts.  The senseis performed a demo for us.  One acted as the attacker and threw his fist at the other.  They paused just as they were about to connect.  The sensei being attacked said that it is often instinctive to see the fist coming and put up your arms to absorb the blow of the hit as best as you can.  This can be somewhat effective but the attacker remains in charge and you are victim to the event, albeit to a lesser degree than intended.  A more effective response is to put your arms up to defend but instead of absorbing the hit, divert the attacker’s energy by using your arms to deflect the attacker’s fists downward.  This way, you take charge of the energy — even if for a moment — but a moment is all you need to derail the attack, remove yourself from the situation and alter the outcome.  This is not something that requires a lot of physical strength.  Rather, it is about maintaining presence of mind, even while in crisis.

It is during this week’s ill-timed, blindsiding setback that I find myself at a crossroad and reflecting on what I learned from the sensei.  I can absorb the hit and allow myself to get struck down.  I can plunge deeper into  the identity of “victim of circumstance.”  I can lay there in the calm of the aftermath but soon I will fall into a downward spiral, gaining momentum that will eventually become to powerful to resist and impossible to rise against.  Or I can maintain my presence of mind during the crisis and redirect the damning energy into a productive force to help me not only out of this event but to use that momentum to defeat prior negative circumstances.

All the adversity I've had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles have strengthened me...You may not realize it when it happens but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you. ~~ Walt Disney
Who am I to argue with Walt Disney…?

One of those paths at the crossroad is infinitely more appealing.  One person is in charge of making that choice.  I need to have faith in her…and faith has a way of only showing up when one is being tested.

Namaste.

TBT…The Past is Done But Only Over When You Move On

In recovery, every day is kind of like Throwback Thursday.  In the examination of events that occurred in the past and how you participated in or responded to them, we recover.  Until we do that, those events are never quite over and the destruction is kept alive in the behaviors we display.

I am thinking I am about 16 months old here.  Nothing quite  like the innocent smile of a happy baby.
TBT is a lot of fun.  I am thinking I am about 16 months old here. Nothing quite like the innocent smile of a happy baby.

In May of 2014, I was invited to be the Special Guest Speaker on the Stop Child Abuse Now (SCAN) internet radio show.  It’s a podcast that broadcasts live.  The shows are archived so you can listen to a vast array of special guests, adult survivors of a variety of child abuse, speaking about their experiences, strength and hope.  Prior to my first appearance, I listened to several archived podcasts.  I highly recommend doing so to any fellow survivors, victims trying to transition into survivors or any civilians who want to learn more about the lasting effects child abuse has.

While during recovery, I shared my story with others in groups and in this blog, I was scared last year to hear those words leave my mouth and hit the airwaves.  Some of those feelings were expected; telling these stories make us extremely vulnerable and one of the common threads we have is that our vulnerability was exploited, to be used as a weapon against us.  Some of those feelings were unexpected; what if they hear my story and say I don’t belong?  That would be the ultimate rejection, wouldn’t it?  I was accepted immediately and welcomed into The Family.  That acceptance is something my upbringing has always left me yearning for.  Even though I’ve never met anyone in the SCAN Family in person, the kinship is strong.  I learned that night, as I have throughout my recovery, the vulnerability of sharing our experience, strength and hope is no longer an instrument of exploitation.  In our hands, it gives us strength.  It was an emotional experience but indescribably empowering.

A great deal has happened in my life from May 2014 to May 2015.  Breakthroughs in my recovery occurred and because of that, I am finally able to truly fix the wreckage.  I’m still me.  But today, I look at myself differently than I did.  My eyes are adjusting so that I see myself more like the people who love me do rather than succumbing to the power of suggestion the sick and damaged people in charge of me had over me.  It’s a process.  It’s all about progress and not perfection.  I am the first person to tell you I am far from perfect, but today I am making steady progress.  So to celebrate the anniversary of this catalyst, I was the Special Guest once again on the show.  The link to it is below.

Be warned…nothing I say is graphic but it is very personal.  You might not want to know quite that much about me.  That’s more than fine if that’s the case.  And the show is 90 minutes long.  I don’t know if I would be able to listen to me talk for 90 minutes (although the panelists and callers do engage in a lot of the exchange so — thankfully — it’s not all me).

SCAN Podcast 5/19/2015: Special Guest Judy Cangemi

Each of us has our own past.  Many of us enjoy the weekly opportunity to throw ourselves back into nostalgia.  Some of us prefer to throw it all away, as if it never existed.  In all cases, the past is done…but it’s only truly over when you move on.  That choice is yours.  Choose wisely.

Just in Time for Summer: The Perfect Body 

The official unofficial start of summer is this coming weekend. Here on Long Island that means THE BEACH! For many, that brings thoughts of joy and carefree days. For some (like me), it means anxiety and dread. “My body is not beach ready!” So for those of you on search of the perfect body, I found it…

On your search for the perfect body, don’t forget to look in the mirror…because that’s where you’ll find it. Celebrate it and life with all that makes it uniquely yours. Your body is beautiful because YOU are in it.  Never lose sight of that.

Forgive Them…Even If They Are Not Sorry

This is something that I struggle deeply with and work on every day.  I’ve made strides, successfully forgiving some who haven’t asked for it, some who don’t feel they’ve done me wrong.  When I realize that’s on them and the choice between resentment/hurt and forgiveness/release is on me and I follow through, I am astounded by the good it does for my well-being.

Forgive them even if they are not sorry

I’m not sure if I will ever be able to forgive those who have hurt me the most.  I know that I need to if I am ever going to truly heal.  Already about midway through my life, time is running out for me to reap the rewards of that liberation.  I’ll keep working on it.  I’m worth it.

Namaste.

August 17, 2008: What Henry Said

They say that you can’t change the past.  I know different.  On August 17, 2008, every childhood memory I had changed.  Everything I thought I knew suddenly changed when my husband told me what Henry said.

When I confronted Henry, images of visits to Hecksher State Park and unwrapping Christmas gifts and sitting in the shopping cart at the grocery store flashed through my head.  In every way but biology, Henry was my father.  My mother turned over my care to her parents.  She lived in the apartment with us but she washed her hands of me completely, with a few notable exceptions.

Even though the revelation of my own sexual abuse perpetrated upon me by Henry would occur well after that day, as he denied the accusation, a new set of images flashed through my head.  Photographic images of myself.  Photos that Henry took of me with expensive cameras and special lenses under the guise of being a hobbyist.  I was often dressed in lingerie, sometimes my little girl penoir set, more often in adult lingerie.  My mother would sometimes put dark lipstick and heavy eyeliner on me, making me look like a “woman-child.”  Henry never dropped his film off at Fotomat or the drug store to be developed like everyone else.  He brought it to a special store.  The same place he bought his fancy equipment.  He also wanted to convert the half bathroom in the apartment into a darkroom so he could develop his photos himself.  Mama put an end to that idea.

Still, even though remembering these photo sessions made me believe the terrible story my husband told me about what Henry did is true, I never made the connection that he did the same thing to me decades before.  Or maybe I did and I just refused to acknowledge it until very recently.  I’ve been poring through old photo albums, digging through envelopes and boxes in search of pictures for Throwback Thursday now that I have a good scanner.  I found a lot of me as a kid.  I also stumbled across some from those photo sessions…and it’s all right there.  On my face.  In my eyes.  It was captured right there.  It’s amazing how our minds can let us see only what we want to see and be so blind to what is staring us in the face because we just don’t want to see the truth.

I was a joyful child with a cute giggle and infectious smile back then.  When I didn’t realize that Mama was my grandmother and not my mommy.  Or that Henry was my grandfather and not my father.  Or that the woman who sometimes slept in my bedroom was actually my mother and not a strange houseguest.  I look at photos from then and I see the light in my eyes.  I see my chubby-cheeked grin and I can almost hear myself giggle.  That’s what happy looked like on me.

I wouldn't be a child of the 70s if there wasn't a nakey baby picture of me on a shag rug.
I wouldn’t be a child of the 70s if there wasn’t a nakey baby picture of me on a shag rug.
Not sure how old I am here.  Maybe 6-7 months? Smiling even with a creepy-ass clown bib on
Not sure how old I am here. Maybe 6-7 months? Smiling even with a creepy-ass clown bib on

I was about 6 or 7 years old here sitting on my Aunt Carol's couch.  I used to love to go there for visits.  They had such a fun, happy house.
I was about 6 or 7 years old here sitting on my Aunt Carol’s couch. I used to love to go there for visits. They had such a fun, happy house.
Then the photos from my onset of puberty, 8-, 9-, 10- years old.  My eyes lost their shine and became distant.  I rarely smiled.  You can see a sadness the depth of which a little girl that age shouldn’t know.  I have a hard time looking at these photos of myself at this time because seeing them, I can remember how I felt at that point in time…ugly, fat, geeky, masculine (fuckin’ Dorothy Hamill haircut Mama always made me get) and unwanted.  By that time I had become acutely aware of what my family dynamics were which, now I know, facilitated my abuse by Henry.

I just turned 8 years old when this photo was taken.  To my memory, this age is about when it started.  I just got out of the shower and I am wearing an adult nightgown that had to be cut down.
I just turned 8 years old when this photo was taken. To my memory, this age is about when it started.

I was 9 years old in this one.  I remember this photo was mounted and hanging in our hallway.
I was 9 years old in this one. I remember this photo was mounted and hanging in our hallway.

I was 10 years old in this one.  I got my ears pierced for my 10th birthday and those gold hearts were my starter earrings.
I was 10 years old in this one. I got my ears pierced for my 10th birthday and those gold hearts were my starter earrings.
So on this somber anniversary, looking at my story laid out in Kodak moments, I am left to think why couldn’t I have made the connection sooner?  If I had, Henry probably would not have raped the 9-year old girl, the subject of the story my husband told me on August 17, 2008.  Or who knows how many others I didn’t know about?

By continuing this self-battery, I am continuing to blind myself to the truth; I am not the perpetrator.  I am a survivor of horrific acts perpetrated against me by someone who exploited my helplessness and innocence for his own personal gain as well as by someone who, against all maternal instinct, knowingly and willingly fed me to him.  My mind’s defense mechanism to make me survive and eventually escape was repressing these memories.  Until those memories were unleashed, there was nothing that I could have done to stop my own abuse or prevent the abuse of others.  Facing this truth, while helping to make me stop beating myself up, makes me feel more powerless than before yet simultaneously strong because I’m saying that I’ve been battered long enough.

We are all guilty of selective blindness to varying degrees and varying situations.

Today, I’m keeping my eyes and my mind wide open so maybe I’ll see something important that I might have missed before.  Sometimes something that you suddenly pick up on can make all the difference in the world.

If you or anyone you know is an adult survivor of child abuse and want an empathetic person to talk to about it, any of the residual effects or to find out where to get help, please contact me.  We’re in this life together.

Namaste.

January 27th: Truly a Day of Remembrance for Me

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. On January 27, 1945, the largest Nazi death camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated. In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated January 27th as the day we remember the six million lives that were cruelly ended because of intolerance and hate gone wild.

January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is also my Mama's birthday.
January 27th is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is also my Mama’s birthday.

On January 27, 1930, my Mama was born on a kitchen table in The Bronx to her parents who fled Jewish persecution in Russia, years before the rise of the Third Reich. She did not practice Judaism but always identified herself as a Jew and proudly shared the culture with me as she raised me. She told me of the horrors of persecution through the ages but she always focused on the fact that we come from a long line of survivors who for thousands of years not only beat all odds by merely existing, but who found joy in life.

Mama some time in the mid-to-late-1950s...many years before I was even a thought in anyone's mind.
Mama some time in the mid-to-late-1950s…many years before I was even a thought in anyone’s mind.

In 2005, my Mama left this world. In her coffin I placed in her hand her favorite earthly delights: a pack of Pall Mall red, no filters (which was the culprit behind Mama leaving me so soon), chocolate covered cherries with all liquid centers, Joyva marble halvah and song sheets for all the good old songs she’d sing with her brother. I kept the memories here…in my heart. Since 2005, I remember my Yiddisha Mama.

One of my Mama's joys in life. She taught my daughter to cheer "Hal-a-vah! Hal-a-vah!! Everyone loves HAL-A-VAH!!!" before noshing on the tasty treat.
One of my Mama’s joys in life. She taught my daughter to cheer “Hal-a-vah! Hal-a-vah!! Everyone loves HAL-A-VAH!!!” before noshing on the tasty treat.

I find the coincidence of International Holocaust Remembrance Day occurring on her birthday and it being declared the year she died, strange…but very fitting.

In remembrance, there is hope.
In remembrance, there is hope.

Today, remember to be kind to one another. Honor this day.

Namaste.

Black Teenager, a White Hispanic and Main Stream Media

By looking at the title of today’s blog, I bet you thought I was going to weigh-in on the verdict that was handed down on Saturday night in the Trevon Martin/George Zimmerman trial.  I’m not.  Like many people, I have a strong opinion regarding this case.  How could you not?  The mainstream media is saturating us with soundbites, images and celebrities expressing their displeasure with America as a whole and the justice system in particular.

Temar Boggs, 15-year-old boy whose relentless pursuit of a kidnapper lead to the 5-year-old girl's release.  I don't care what you say, Temar...YOU ARE A HERO!
Temar Boggs, 15-year-old boy whose relentless pursuit of a kidnapper lead to the 5-year-old girl’s release. I don’t care what you say, Temar…YOU ARE A HERO!

But, no.  Today I am writing about an obscure story that caught my eye on Saturday afternoon.  In this story, the black teen is a 15-year-old named Temar Boggs.  He and his friends were hanging out at the Lancaster Arms Apartments in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  A man came up to them with a photo of Jocelyn Rojas, a 5-year-old white hispanic girl who had been playing outside on her grandma’s front lawn but was now missing.  Temar and his friends didn’t see the little girl and went back to what they were doing.  Moments later, they saw a huge police presence emerge.  The teens realized that this was not a matter of a little girl wandering off to her friend’s house without telling grandma.  This was something bad.  Something very bad.

Beautiful Jocelyn Rojas was being a typical 5-year-old on a summer afternoon when she was lured to a kidnapper's car with promises of ice cream.
Beautiful Jocelyn Rojas was being a typical 5-year-old on a summer afternoon when she was lured to a kidnapper’s car with promises of ice cream.

Temar and his friends went over to the police to get more details.  The girl whose photo he was shown earlier was likely kidnapped.  There were many adult neighbors who were pitching in to search for 5-year-old Jocelyn.  The teens took it upon themselves to form their own search party.  Temar was on a bicycle when he spotted a maroon car being driven by a white man, about 60-70-years-old and a girl who looked like the photo of Jocelyn he was shown.  The car started to drive away.  Temar and one of his friends followed on their bicycles.  The area is full of turns and cul-de-sacs so the car couldn’t drive too fast at any given time.  The teens on their bicycles were not slowed down.  The driver noticed that he was being pursued and when it became evident that Temar and his friend wouldn’t give up the chase, he stopped the car, pushed the little girl out onto the street and drove away.

Temar stopped.  Jocelyn ran to him, gave him a hug and said, “I need to see my mommy.”

When Joecelyn was returned to her family, her mommy, grandma and all the good people of the community hailed Temar as a hero.  He didn’t see it that way.  He sees himself as someone doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do.  He said he had a feeling that he would be able to find Jocelyn as he started out on his search.  Everyone is glad he did.

This all happened on Friday afternoon as the jury for the George Zimmerman case were deliberating.  What perfect timing it would have been to report this story in the mainstream media!  This is a feel-good story if there ever was one.  It is a story of community.  It is a story of teenagers stepping-up on their own volition to be part of the solution…and who were triumphant over evil by doing so.  It is a story of a black teen saving the life of a white hispanic.  It is a story of HOPE on so many levels.  The mainstream media could have embraced this story, making this story the dominant headline to counter-act the racist-ladened stew being stirred in Florida at that very moment in time.  But they didn’t.  They chose to ignore the story.  It’s Monday and you need to look pretty hard to find this story anywhere but local Lancaster, PA media…and now my blog.

I’ve always appreciated the power that words have.  To touch people on an emotional level by the words I string together is a gift from God that I have been given.  That gift is how I connect to the human experience.  My words and the feelings they evoke are my personal legacy and I hope that the world is a better place because I wrote them.  The mainstream media doesn’t seem to share these feelings when it comes to the words and stories it tells.  Nowhere is that more clear than with these two tales of black teens and white hispanics.

Shame on you, MSM.  Shame on you.

PS:  While Jocelyn Rojas was quickly and safely returned to her family, thanks to the efforts of Temar Boggs, I am sad to report that after examination at an area hospital, the police say that “there are indications of assault.”  The lead suspect is a 72-year-old man who served time for kidnapping a 5-year-old girl in the 1990s, luring her with promises of ice cream.  He sexually assaulted that child then left her at a convenience store where she asked the clerks to help her because she needed her mommy.

What a Year

As I write this, it is the final half-hour of the day that marks the first anniversary of the day my entire life changed. One year ago tonight I was told something so heinous that it caused me to question every prior moment of my life. Right now, it is not important that I tell you exactly what it was that was said. Even if it was, I wouldn’t be able to. A year later, the wound is too fresh.
August 17, 2008. I didn’t think that I would ever be able to smile again. I thought my life was over. As it turns out, I was half right. My life as I had known it was indeed over, but that is not a bad thing. Not only can I smile, but my life is filled with laughter now.
I can go on and on but I won’t. I will just leave you with one of the greatest lessons I learned from this whole thing. Don’t give up hope, no matter how bleak things may seem or how alone you might feel. Things will get better. You will be able to laugh again one day.
Namaste