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. 

Happy Easter 

Easter is the celebration of the sacrifice. We are reminded that Jesus died for our sins. As a mother, i think i get that. If i could, i would take any punishment to spare my baby girl from suffering. But that is not always a good idea. I think that we need to be willing to face our own sins a little more often and accept their consequences. After all, being human it is a given that we are sinners. Being repentant celebrates humanity. Is there a more noble way to honor the life we have been given than to accept our frailties and find strength in one another for it?
    
Be kind. Remember, we are all in this life together. 

Namaste

Better Late Than Never…I Hope

Me 10 yrs old face
For decades I buried you so deep, even I forgot about you…but you kept hoping one day someone would save you. 

I emotionally abused you with my disgust, loathing and poor choices…but you found a way to survive. 

I covered you in layers of fat…but your heart still beat strong. 

Hang on a little while longer, kid. I’ve got my shovel, the f*ckin elliptical…and most of all…love. 

Today and all the days that follow…I’m on my way to save you. 

Facebook and Life…as Real as It Gets

Facebook is an incredible thing.  Since I opened my account, I’ve reconnected with people I thought I’d lost forever.  I disconnected with people I should have a long time before.  And I’ve made many wonderful connections I would never have been able to had it not been for Facebook.  One of these connections is with Bill Murray III.  Not the Ghostbuster and SNL alum…although he does have a great sense of humor and his mission is to help people exorcise demons; the demons that haunt the victims and survivors of child abuse through the National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse (http://www.naasca.org/).

Bill and I haven’t ever met outside the virtual world.  We have a friend in common who posted a personal achievement.  There was something about Bill’s comment that intrigued me.  I clicked on his name, saw a little bit more about him and requested his friendship.  When he graciously accepted, I sent him a message thanking him and for doing the important work he does at NAASCA.  I told him that I am a survivor of a variety of forms of childhood abuse.  He told me that he is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse as well.  And a kinship was formed.

This is me around the time I talk about on the show.
This is me around the time I talk about on the show.

From there, we got to chatting about our paths toward recovery.  It’s rarely a straight line and it certainly hasn’t been in my case.  But it’s worth it.  So much has happened in the past few years, even more in the last few months to impact my recovery process.  I could have viewed these events as crippling…and at first they were.  instead, I chose to turn them into catalysts in my metamorphosis from victim to survivor.  Life is still hard and bad things are inevitable but now more than ever, I believe that life is worth living.  Despite my past, I am worthy of happiness in the present and future.  It’s there for me, too.  Bill asked me to be the special guest speaker on NAASCA’s internet radio show called BlogTalkRadio Stop Child Abuse now (SCAN).  Because I’ve found catharsis in shedding the shame attached to the abuse I endured and in my disclosure, other survivors found the courage to share their stories and get the help they’ve needed for so long, I said “yes.”  Without hesitation.  Without even thinking about it…that’s right, Judy the Over-Thinker said “yes” without giving it any thought.

So that’s how I spent 90 minutes of my Friday night last night; talking about my experience, strength and hope to help myself and other adult survivors of child abuse.  The link below will bring you to the entire 90 minute show.  Listen if you like.  Understandable if you don’t.  I didn’t get very graphic but anytime anyone recounts incidents of child abuse, it can be disturbing.  Plus…you might not want to know THAT much about me.  But you’re welcome to.

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/bill-murray/2014/05/31/stop-child-abuse-now-scan–845

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.

Thank you Facebook for making the world a little smaller and life a lot better.

Namaste.

Because of You

I don’t listen to pop music. At least not by choice. I’m not making judgments. It’s just not my thing. But every once in a while I am in a place where it’s being played. More often than not, it’s in my car while I’m driving Catalina somewhere and she puts on “her station.” Anyway, today I heard a song by Kelly Clarkson that struck an incredibly deep chord with me. It’s probably been out for ages but to me it is brand new. It’s called “Because of You” and it is the story of my relationship with my grandmother, the woman who raised me. I am pretty sure that Ms. Clarkson had no idea about this when she wrote it. I guess that’s another reason why her lyrics penetrated me so deeply. When you are the center of your own universe, passing time in your own life, feeling your own emotions, it is nearly impossible to fathom that someone else might be having a similar experience to yours in their universe, especially when our experience is that of extreme pain (or love). When you hear someone express that emotion eloquently and with the same intensity you feel, you are overcome by this connection. At least that is the way it is with me. That’s how I felt when I heard this song.

 

I wept. No…I bawled. That’s kind of unusual for me. Five years ago when my grandmother died, this woman who by every definition but biology was my mother died, I did not shed a tear. Not when I was telling the rabbi who was to deliver her eulogy about her, the hardship she endured and all the sacrifices she made not only for me but for everyone…but especially for me. Not as the rest of my family cried at her grave. Not once when I’ve reflected on this loss over the last five years. That was her legacy to me. Be the rock.

 

I am thankful for that trait she taught me, for the most part. But I always felt like I was missing out on a lot. There were not a lot of hugs and kisses exchanged between my grandmother and me. Add that to the abandonment issues I felt with my mother (she lived with us, but she was very rarely around both in the literal and emotional sense) and you’re not left with an emotionally open person. I guess that’s another reason why I write. It’s the one place where I can really wear it on my sleeve yet still be detached.

 

My grandmother was overprotective to a great extent but was so blind to so many harmful things that were going on with me. I never learned to ride a bicycle because it was instilled in me to be deathly afraid of falling down. Fear, more than love, is what I remember most about my childhood. That is another legacy she left me.

 

This trait I am not thankful for. While some fear is healthy, it’s what keeps us from running out into traffic, when it keeps you from experiencing life’s gifts or effects your decision-making process it is crippling. So many decisions throughout my life were motivated by fear of falling. Fear of failing. My grandmother in her strange brand of logic thought it would be motivating to me if she only pointed out where my shortcomings were, compare me to others when I fell short. She didn’t want me to get a swell head or become complacent. What she achieved with that approach was instilling the idea deep inside me that I am not good enough. That I never will be good enough. That I will be judged by my failures instead of remembered for my successes. Please don’t get me wrong. I am not saying I deserve absolution for all the mistakes I’ve made because I have “Mommy and Grand-Mommy Issues.” They’re my decisions. I own their consequences. There was nothing I could do as a child to stop these seeds from being planted in me. But as an adult, it has become my life’s work to pull the weeds that have grown from them. I’ve become quite the gardener of my mind, trying to plant flowering seeds…I am good enough…I have already achieved successes in my life…I am not defined by my mistakes. A lot of them take. But if I am not diligent with my weeding every single day, those weeds grow like wildfire and strangle the roots of those flowers. This is the life I was dealt. For many years I was angry about it. That didn’t give me anything but more misery. The more I let go of the anger and just accept what I was dealt and enjoy my life anyway, the better able I am to see these wonderful gifts I have been given and enjoy the successes I earn.

 

Hearing that song today helped me to understand a little why I never cried for my grandmother’s passing. I am forever grateful to her for giving me everything she could. If I say that is not enough, it would make me the perpetrator of these poisonous thoughts that have inflicted so much harm on me. That’s not who I am. Despite the horrors of her childhood, she was a better mother to me than her mother was to her. I will chose to carry on that legacy and be a better mother to Catalina than the mothering I received.

 

The last time I saw her alive, my grandmother had a tube in her throat to aid her breathing (she killed herself slowly with cigarettes). She couldn’t speak. She wrote me a note that I still carry with me “I’m going to say good-bye because I don’t know if I’ll be here tomorrow.” Her eyes were watery and I saw a softness and vulnerability in them that I had never seen before. My eyes were dry and crystal clear as I took her note, put it in my purse and told her that we should finish watching “Everybody Loves Raymond.” I am, after all, the Rock. She grabbed my hand and held it as tightly as she used to when we crossed the street together when I was a child. She always had such a firm touch and a heavy hand. She pulled me closer to her face and mouthed the words “I’m sorry” over and over again. Her soft, vulnerable eyes were now crying and I could see a desperation in them, something else I’d never seen before in her. I told her she was a good Mama and that it was okay. When I came home that night to Salvatore, I told him that I knew that this would be the last time I’d see her alive (with the COPD we had a lot of false alarms) and told him what she said. He asked me what she was sorry for. I told him that I didn’t ask. “Isn’t that going to drive you crazy not knowing?” he asked me. I told him that it didn’t matter. She was sorry and I forgave her. In the end that’s all that mattered.

 

Thank you, Kelly Clarkson, for making me feel a little less weird and alone today. Childhood wounds run deep. Knowing that there was someone else out there whose universe was just like mine and who made it out on top is both comforting and inspiring. Now it’s about time that I get back to tending to that garden of mine.

 

Namaste.

On Our Way to Costco

Catalina called me today from the nurse’s office to tell me that one of the brackets fell off her braces again. My daughter must have the slickest teeth in the world because this happens fairly often no matter how strong the cement is that they use. The orthodontist managed to squeeze her in at 3:15. This bummed me out a little bit because I planned on going to Costco between leaving the office and picking up Catalina after basketball practice. While I love having Catalina as my sidekick when shopping, I was really hoping to just get in and out, grabbing the essentials and using my fresh batch of coupons. Oh well.

 

I got Catalina from practice and she was excited to go shopping, mostly for the tasty samples they give out at Costco. Catalina told me how happy her coach was that she was able to make it to practice despite her orthodontal emergency. The rain started coming down harder as we drove past 7-11. I drove slowly through the giant puddle in front of the parking lot. Up ahead I saw three girls who looked like they could have been Catalina and her friends. They were splashing along down the street, laughing and one of them was spinning a fuschia umbrella. Catalina and I were trying to decide what to have for dinner. The light turned green. We started to inch forward. The three girls started to cross Union Boulevard, which is a pretty big street in our little town. The girl with the spinning fuschia umbrella darted ahead of the other two girls. She didn’t see the red car turning. The drive didn’t see her and her spinning umbrella darting. Even though I was looking right at them when it happened, I can’t tell you what happened when they collided. The next thing I saw was the girl laying montionless on the pavement, her fuschia umbrella upside down in the gutter, and the two other girls standing over her in hysterics.

 

At first I thought they were goofing around. That the girl slid on the wet pavement and her friends were playfully teasing her. As we pulled up beside them, it was clear that this was not a joke. Catalina recognized the girls as students from her school. They’re eighth graders so Catalina only knew them by sight but it’s a small school in a small town so they were easy to recognize. I got out of the car and went to the girl on the ground. I told the two friends no to tr and mover her. By then another woman had already stopped and parked her car in such a way that it blocked oncoming traffic. A man also stopped and was already on the phone to 911. We both looked down at the girl and asked her if she was okay. She did not respond. Her brown eyes were half open and rolling around in their sockets. Her jaw was slack. “What’s your name, honey?” I asked her. No response. “What’s your name?” One of her friends answered, “Giselle,” as she trembled and cried. The other girl was on the phone to Giselle’s mother. “Giselle, can you hear me?” Her lips quivered but no sound came out. Her eyes were rolling further back in her head. An oil delivery man ran out with a moving blanket and covered Giselle with it. An older gentleman came and held his umbrella over her head. And the driver of the red car was standing beside it, watching us from a distance.

 

Catalina stood near Giselle’s friends. She kept looking back and forth between the driver and Gisellle. “I’m gonna make sure he doesn’t try to get away before the cops get here,” she said to me, pointing at the driver. I know she meant it. I know that if she saw that man attempt to get into his car and flee the scene, Catalina would run after him and stop him in any way she could. You have no idea how much I was hoping he would stay put.

 

The police arrived first. Giselle was still unresponsive. The police had some sort of small kit to use on her so we all stepped away so they could do what they needed to do…but none of us left. I joined Catalina near Giselle’s friends. They were still distraught but seemed comforted by the police’s arrival. I asked if they got in touch with Giselle’s mother. They said they had and that she was on her way. She lives right nearby. The girls cried and hugged each other and blamed themselves for what happened to their friend.

 

When the ambulance arrived, Catalina and I got back into our car to get out of the rain. I was trying to hold back tears and decided to take out my Blackberry and ask for prayers for Giselle from my Facebook community. Catalina told me how scared she was by the whole thing and told her Facebook community about it as well. She thought the same thing I had at first; that the girls were goofing around. “It happened so fast.” Yes it did.

 

It was a little while until the paramedics loaded Giselle into the ambulance. Just as they shut the doors, a woman who must have been Giselle’s mother arrived. She was running as fast as she could on the wet pavement. She had a look of restrained panic in her demeanor. I could see her face contorted and tears streaming from her eyes. She slipped slightly as she reached the rear of the ambulance and she beat on the door with a clenched fist until it slung slowly open. She jumped inside and the door shut quickly behind her.

 

The police had moved on to talk to the driver. They were speaking casually. The officer held the sideview mirror that came off in the accident in his hand as he spoke. And that’s what it appears it was. An accident.

 

Catalina and I went to Costco as planned. We shopped and ate the free samples. We laughed together as we normally do. But from time to time, we mentioned Giselle and everything that happened. Catalina said that everytime she shut her eyes, she saw Giselle laying there in the street. She had never seen an accident and its consequences unfold before her eyes. It was truly frightening.

 

As I sit here writing the account of what happened today, it all seems so surreal. If I did not feel this lump in my throat, I would think that this was all just a bad dream. But it isn’t. It’s real. Giselle and her friends could so easily have been Catalina and her friends. That mother at her baby’s beside could have so easily been me. It could be any of us or our children. Next time I get a call from the nurse’s office, I will try not to get bummed that my plans have to change. I will take it as a gift that I get to spend some time that I didn’t expect to with my baby. I will hug her a little tighter now and be even more nervous when she is out with friends.

 

And I will pray for Giselle, that she pulls through without any permanent injury. And I will pray for Giselle’s family, that they see their little return to her normal self quickly. And I will pray for her friends, that they don’t feel guilty for something that was beyond their control.

 

Namaste.

Life and Love

 
Exactly 10 days ago my daughter, Catalina, turned 13. It has taken me this long to come to grips with this reality well enough to state that fact. It will take even longer for me to adjust to the reality that I have a “teenager.” It’s not an age thing for me like for a few of my friends, the dawn of a mid-life crisis –“Oh my goodness! Am I really THAT old that I am a teenager’s mother?!?!?!?!?” Don’t get me wrong, I am really starting to feel my age but that’s inevitable. Obviously I’ve always known that Catalina becoming a teenager was inevitable as well but I am just not ready for it.
 
I was not in a good place when I found out I was pregnant. I didn’t feel right so I went to my GYN. He performed the regular array of tests for someone expressing my vague symptoms. When he got the results, he sat me down and told them to me. My pregnancy test came back positive and my pap smear came back abnormal. He’d have to take a punch biopsy to be sure but he believed that I had cervical cancer (which the biopsy confirmed two days later). The good thing about cervical cancer is that it is extremely treatable and has a very low likelihood of recurrence. The treatments aren’t like that of typical cancers. The options are cryosurgery, laser vaporization or conventional surgery. If you catch it early and it doesn’t metastasize elsewhere, you don’t have to endure chemotherapy or radiation treatments — ladies, for this reason, please get your pap smears done every six months religiously. Truly, if you are a woman and you must get cancer, this in the one you’d want. That’s how my GYN explained it to me.
 
He also explained that I could not be treated while I was pregnant so if I wanted to move forward with the treatment immediately, I’d have to terminate my pregnancy. Each of the treatments would weaken the cervix to some degree. How much would depend on how far the cancer went into my cervix and they wouldn’t know that until the treatment was underway. You can have a baby with a diminished cervix however it would be more complicated. Precautions would have to be taken including the possibility of going under general anesthesia at 20 weeks and having the canal sewn up (like trussing a turkey) and then having a Cesarean birth rather than a vaginal delivery.
 
Or I could go to term with this pregnancy, with my cervix in tact albeit with cancer. My doctor explained that Mother Nature is a very clever lady who is singularly focused on carrying forward new life. During pregnancy, the spread of the cervical cancer is generally stunted. During the birth, part of the cervical wall sheds with the afterbirth. Depending on how deep into the cervix the cancer is, often the baby cures the mother.
 
I was 26 when I had this conversation with my doctor. I was hardly the clear-minded, level-headed woman you see before you today. I was completely blindsided. But the choice was clear.
 
Just as my doctor told me it would, the cervical cancer was stunted. In fact, except for that, it was rather uneventful…until my 35th week. I had one Lamas class during which we were instructed how to navigate the hospital paperwork so as not to get stuck with any bills our insurance company won’t cover (EXTREMELY useful). I was examined by my doctor on a Saturday and he told me, “If you go to term, and there is no reason why you shouldn’t, you will have a ten pound baby. Easy.” I told him that I didn’t think delivering a ten pound baby would be so easy. He laughed. I didn’t.
 
 
The following Monday, on the first day of training the woman who would be covering my maternity leave, my water broke. I worked in Manhattan at the time. My doctor was affiliated with Winthrop in Mineola. My boss threw me in a Town Car with a dear friend and coworker and sent us to Long Island. It was 4:30 in the afternoon. Our driver decided he wanted to save the tunnel toll and go by way of Brooklyn. At rush hour. My friend gave her opinion of this decision, loudly, to the driver.
 
We arrived at Winthrop at 7 p.m. When we left the office, I wasn’t feeling any pain. During the course of that even-longer-than-it-had-to-be ride, the contractions had begun and I was feeling them, full-force, as I was admitted. My doctor confirmed that my water broke and suspected the reason why was a bacteria had ruptured the membrane. It would need to be confirmed but he was putting me on intravenous antibiotics immediately so the baby and I would not get infected. He didn’t tell me what bacteria it was until the day after Catalina was born when he came to check on us. When I got home I looked it up and saw that there was a 60% death rate for babies infected by it. Even though by then I knew Catalina was safe from it, I just held her and cried. In any case, because she was five weeks early and my doctor was concerned about her lung development, my doctor decided that I would be kept pregnant for a couple more days to strengthen Catalina’s lungs. There were good air pockets. He gave me a narcotic to stop the contractions. The pain stopped and I fell asleep, attached to monitors. I had completely forgotten about the cervical cancer. It was no longer important.
 
When I woke up, another member of my doctor’s practice (during the course of my pregnancy, I was seen by all but one of the doctors in the practice — they do this so that in case your regular doctor is unavailable, the doctor who delivers the baby will be a familiar face. It would be a heck of an introduction if you first met in the Delivery Room, huh?) and a man I’d never seen before came to visit me. The stranger told me that I would be giving birth in a few hours. I told him he was wrong. I told him that Dr. Goldstein told me that I would stay pregnant for a few days. The stranger said that he was a high-risk delivery doctor and because of the bacteria’s presence, he thought it best to deliver sooner rather than later. I told him I was on antibiotics which should take care of the infection and my baby’s lungs had to be fully developed before she is born. He said in his opinion, it would be safer to deliver now (remember, at this point I still had no idea what the bacteria was or its potency). I told him that with all due respect, Dr. Goldstein has been with me and my baby for the last 35 weeks. I know him for less than five minutes. I trust Dr. Goldstein. If he says giving birth now is right, I’ll do it. Otherwise, no. The stranger and Dr. Goldstein argued in the hall outside my room for a few minutes then Dr. Goldstein came in and told me that I’d be giving birth by the end of the day. They gave me more drugs to counter act the ones they gave me to stop my contractions.
 
Those drugs worked. I was feeling the pain of the contractions. Much worse than in the car on the way to the hospital. Much more frequently, too. However, my damn cervix was not cooperating! It would not dilate (ironically, quite the opposite problem of a cervix that had been treated for cancer). Unbelievable. They gave me more drugs — an epidural — to deaden the pain while they maxed out the dosage of the petocin to get me ready to deliver. I fell asleep again.
 
When I woke up, I felt incredibly sharp pains. Regularly. Very regularly. I was confused. I asked the maternity nurse why I was feeling pain because I had the epidural. She left to get the doctor. Lo and behold, the one doctor in the practice I hadn’t seen previously came in. Dr. Goldstein had been at the hospital 36 hours straight and delivered twins. He went home to get some sleep which was good; he looked like Hell the last time I saw him. The new doctor came in and introduced herself to me, Dr. Valderaama. She said I was just about ready to start pushing. I was in blinding pain that this point and full of quite an array of drugs. I told her I was done. She would have to give me a C-section because I was in too much pain as it is and I didn’t want to subject myself to more. She told me that she doesn’t cut open healthy women carrying healthy babies and that I just have to push. I told her no and that she couldn’t make me. She agreed that she couldn’t make me push but at the same time told me that I couldn’t force her to give me a C-section. That the baby was going to come out the only available opening, soon. She turned and walked out saying that she’d be back when I was ready to push.
 
I was a lot more spiteful then than I am now. My maternity nurse begged me to push and promised me that it would make me feel better…”If you’ll only try it…” The pain started to get really bad so I gave in and said I’d try pushing. The nurse ran and got Dr. Valderaama, who, by the way, bore a striking resemblance to Ronnie James Dio. I pushed. I felt better! Now I wanted to keep pushing. Dr. Valderaama told me to stop pushing. What?!?!?! I told her I didn’t want to. She said I better stop. The cord was wrapped around the baby’s throat and pushing would tighten the noose. It was difficult to restrain myself because the pushing brought such profound relief, but I did. They had a bit of a hard time loosening the cord from Catalina’s neck because rather than crowning, she decided it would be better to come out face first. Even from the moment of her birth, she was wide-eyed and curious, ever-anxious to see everything that is before her.
 
I don’t know if I can accurately explain how I felt in those moments where I gave that one last, great push but I’ll try…you know how people say as death approaches you see your entire life flash before your eyes? It was something like that but it wasn’t my life, my past that I was seeing. I felt the overwhelming feeling of hope and saw an incredible brightness. Like all the answers about life and what it means were answered when I held my baby for the very first time, both of us crying and exhausted from birth. I had never felt love so strong before, a different kind of love. It made me strong and humble at the same time.
 
After 24 1/2 hours of labour, on Tuesday, February 4th at 5:07 p.m., Catalina Leah entered the world…and my cervical cancer exited (it came back later but that’s a story for another time). On the day she was born, Catalina literally saved my life. And she has been spiritually and emotionally saving me every day since.
 
All this seems like yesterday but it was 13 years and 10 days ago. She’s a smart, kind, beautiful person with her own life and interests. It went by too fast. I wish that I could have some of it back again but I can’t. And that’s okay. I will always be her Mama and, God willing, will always be part of her life. Wide-eyed and curious, ever-anxious to see everything that is before her. Take it all in, my baby. Take it all in and make it your own. The world has never been the same since you entered it. Mine especially.
 
 
Today Catalina and I spent the day with my sister-in-law who is pregnant with her first baby. Our men were back working on the house, getting it ready for the baby’s arrival in late September. After going to the movies, the three of us went to Barnes & Noble. I bought my sister-in-law the all-new “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” It was the best book I read to guide me through the pregnancy and I was thrilled to share that with her. It is a special connection mothers have with their babies. Through all the weirdness, discomfort and pain, there is an incredible bond that mothers and babies form that only they can share while they share a body. It’s mind-blowing. I am excited for my sister-in-law as she begins her adventure, her incredibly special and absolutely individual relationship with her baby.
 
After that we went to the diner, picked up dinner and all of us — men and ladies — ate together while watching the Ranger game (they won, Hallelujah!). It was the perfect Valentine’s Day. It was what love is all about.
 
Namaste.