women

I Believe

“I believe in pink.

I believe that laughing is the best calorie burner.

I believe in kissing, kissing a lot.

believe in being strong when everything seems to be going wrong.

I believe that happy girls are the prettiest girls.

I believe that tomorrow is another day, and I believe in miracles.” 

― Audrey Hepburn

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Anyone who has seen my wedding dress (or my Netflix instant queue) knows I love me some Audrey Hepburn.  I also love her quote above, which got me to thinking about what exactly I believe in.  After some careful deliberation, I am here to write it down.

I believe in a world where women are not viewed as the weaker sex.   I believe in a nation where equality for women is guaranteed in the constitution. I believe in an economy where women are awarded equal pay for equal work.  I believe in a culture where women are valued for their character rather than devalued as sex objects.

I believe in a world free of abuse.  I believe that women deserve to be cherished and not beaten by their husbands.  I believe that every woman, young and old, has the right to feel safe and beautiful.

I believe it’s time for society to stop blaming victims and start holding perpetrators accountable.  I believe it’s time to stop bombarding young men and women with media that says it’s ok to disrespect and objectify women.  I believe in empowering young women to fulfill their potential rather than shrink into gender roles; because I believe that every person, regardless of gender, has a right to chase her dreams.

 I believe it is not just mine, but every persons responsibility to make it happen.

I believe in women empowering women.  I believe it is about time we stand together as a community.  I believe that we, as women, have the power to make a change.

I believe in a world where anything is possible. I believe that every victim of violence has an opportunity to see her day in the sun.  I believe that every survivor of abuse has more strength and deep resolve than most people could ever understand, and I believe it’s time for each to stop viewing herself as damaged but rather as the resilient and lovely survivor she is.  I believe that hardship breeds compassion.  I believe that struggle builds resolve.  I believe that the most beautiful people are often the ones who have had the most difficult lives.  I believe that every survivor of abuse has the strength within her to live her dreams.  I believe each of these women has the power to touch the world and make a positive impact.  I believe that survivors of abuse are beautiful people with gifts to share with this world.

Where others see weakness, I can see the truth.  Low self esteem does not lead to abuse, abuse leads to low self esteem.  People who seek out victims to abuse are masterful manipulators who distort the truth in their own minds to justify their behavior.  They are incapable of taking responsibility for any of their actions and blame all their problems on other people. When they are in the midst of berating their victims, they do so with absolute conviction.  They believe what they are saying to their very core.  How many people in this world can tune out and ignore that kind of verbal assault?  Not any that I can think of.  How about if the person saying it is someone you love, someone you have invested years of a relationship with, someone you were convinced would do anything for you, someone who loved you?

If people who were abusive started the abuse on day 1, how many women do you think would stay?  None? That’s because it doesn’t.  In my case, it was years before the real assault on my self esteem started, and the physical violence didn’t happen until after we were married. By the time my abuser started needling my self worth, I had a good relationship with him for long enough that I had no reason not to believe him.  When he told me I was depressed and bringing him down, I thought he was right.  It never occurred to me that the place it was coming from was him resenting me for going to grad school.  Over time he took more and more ground until one day I realized that this man I thought we do anything for me, really didn’t care about my feelings at all.  Unfortunately for me, that day was my wedding day.

Yes he still loved me, but his love came with conditions: conditions and standards no person could live up to.  How do you please someone who is hell bent on making you a scape goat for every problem in his life?

No woman, man, or child deserves that.  No one deserves to be another person’s punching bag.  Victims of abuse don’t actively seek out the abuse, and they aren’t the problem.  The problem stems from individuals to weak to take responsibility for their own issues.  Society needs to understand that women don’t choose to be with abusers, and they don’t choose to stay.  Instead, they are systematically cut off from their families, friends, jobs, and finances.  They are blocked from any possible means of escape or ties to their identity.  So before any member of society picks up another finger to point at a victim of abuse and say she deserved it, I would challenge him or her to go ahead and spend years isolated from their loved ones with someone regularly telling them how worthless they and then see if they have the same strength and conviction to leave when things get violent.

Domestic Violence Awareness is something I am passionate about.  So passionate in fact, that I have run a half marathon, full marathon, the Spartan Ultra Beast, and now the Bimbler’s Bluff 50K all in an effort to raise money and awareness… not to mention inspire other survivors of abuse to go chase their dreams!  However I didn’t choose this cause.  Abuse is something that happened to me, and while it dramatically affected the person I am today, it does not define me.  It’s also something I refuse to be ashamed of.  If anyone should be ashamed it’s my abuser, and perhaps the officer who took it upon himself to attempt to publicly ridicule me for reporting the abuse… and all the people who pointed out to me that I must be at least partially responsible “because it takes two” after all.

If one in four women are abused in their lifetime, someone please explain to me how so many of us are getting it wrong?  Better yet, explain to me why we are all so ashamed of it?  Perhaps, because society thinks we should be.  However, I am here to point my finger back at society and say SHAME ON YOU!  Shame on you for telling my abuser and people like him that it’s ok to beat your wife.  Shame on you for turning a blind eye when so many people, including children, are dying at the hands of domestic violence.  One in five teenagers has been threatened or beaten by a boyfriend- TEENAGEERS!  Those are your daughters people!   While I’m sure it’s easier to blame people like me for what’s happened to us, it’s about time you start caring because the statistics show someone you love has already been affected.

So while you are being drowned in Pink for Breast Cancer Awareness this month, maybe you can take a minute or two to reflect on how you can help put an end to domestic violence.  After all, what does it say about us as a society really when we make a huge fuss about women dying from breast cancer, but are indifferent when they die at the hands of their husbands?  How can we care about one and not the other and still say we care about women?  Yes, breast cancer is awful, disfiguring, and life threatening, and raising awareness is important; but domestic violence is also awful, disfiguring, and life threatening, and it affects twice as many women.  Why are we not as focused on educating young women on the early signs of abuse as we are on mammograms?

I don’t expect the rest of the world to care as much about domestic violence as I do.  Nor do I expect them to understand where I’m coming from or what it’s like to be abused.  However it is my sincere hope that I can get some people to at least change the way the think about abuse and maybe, just maybe, open some dialogue.  Domestic Violence is no less preventable than late stage breast cancer.  What we need is to educate our society and children.  We need to value women as equal members of society, and we need to support victims of violence.  It’s time to end the stigma.

Lots of Going Ons

“I am here for a purpose and that purpose is to grow into a mountain, not to shrink to a grain of sand.

Henceforth will I apply ALL my efforts to become the highest mountain of all and I will strain my potential until it cries for mercy.
Og Mandino

There has been so much going on in life recently!  I had an awesome board meeting with CT-Alive Friday night.  Being around those women is always a great and energizing experience.  We have so many terrific ideas about how to change the world and make it a better place!

According to their tally, the Running for the Color Purple Campaign has raised SEVERAL hundreds dollars so far- and I could not be more excited!  It is even more rewarding  than running all the miles. The members of the board were so encouraging and supportive.  I truly love them, and being a part of the organization.  It adds more meaning to my life- and, strangely, makes me feel like maybe the abuse and pain were for a reason.  The rainbow in this case was well worth the years of storming. 🙂

Revelations

“Happiness is a form of courage.”

~Holbrook Jackson

"The Happy Person Inside"

As a survivor of abuse thriver, I have often tried to get in touch with “the happy person inside” me who was untouched by trauma.  It started with the My Avenging Angel Workshops when we had various exercises to draw this happy person out.  We did writing prompts and compiled letters to ourselves in the frame of that happier, unscarred person.  At the time, it felt so strange to write to myself in such a loving and accepting manner.  It was hard to love myself.  It was hard to stand myself.  I knew I was capable of being happier, more centered, and generally, more functional- I just didn’t know how to get there.

When I pictured my happy inner self, I would envision the photo above.  I was so fearless as a child.  I was vibrant.  My mother always told me she needed to hold me back growing up because I was ready to take on the world.  I lost that girl somewhere…

What I found instead was PTSD: anxiety, nightmares, hyper-vigilance, low self-esteem, and above all a NEGATIVE OUTLOOK on life.  I hated feeling so negative, but it followed me everywhere.    It stalked me.  It was on my back.  It kept me up at night.  Every time I thought I eluded it, I’d find it creeping up somewhere.  I couldn’t escape it.  I didn’t know how to stop it.  It was a terrible feedback loop.  The more negative I felt, the more I hated myself for it, which only made me feel more negative about the whole situation.  I was stuck in a cycle of beating myself up- overly concerned with how other people were perceiving and judging me.  I was withdrawn.  I didn’t want to spread my negativity, so I shut people out.  I was trapped.

In retrospect, I think my negativity served a purpose.  It was my armor.  It kept people at arm’s length where they couldn’t hurt me.  Being betrayed by people in my life who I had loved deeply and trusted had completely reframed my perception of the world.  If they could hurt me, imagine what other people might do.  I couldn’t handle any more hurt.  I couldn’t handle anything, period.  However, it way over-lasted it’s usefulness.  It kept me from myself.  I was surviving- just going through the motions of existing, exhausted at the thought of another day.

Today I realized a remarkable thing.  I am no longer working toward getting in touch with the happy person inside. I AM that happy person. What a REVELATION to finally have arrived at the point I’ve been struggling to ge to for so long, and it took me until today to finally realize it.  I don’t know how or when it happened, but I am here.  I have made it through the muck and finally emerged on the other side as a smarter, stronger, and more self aware person. I have taken control of my life back.  I feel so light, so refreshed, so OPTIMISTIC.  I have so many great things going for me — volunteering with CT-ALIVE, the Archangels, my blog (thank you everyone for the kind words and positive feedback), my running, fundraising… I could go on and on.

I have no room for negativity in my life anymore.  It’s not in my nature.  I only have space for positive thoughts, so the negativity and I are breaking up for good.  I am ending our two year relationship and not looking back.  I’m not entertaining anymore negative thoughts.  I’m not letting it crawl into bed with me anymore when I’m feeling tired and vulnerable.  I’m not giving in to the temptation to blame my trouble on others.

The one person in life I have power to change is myself, and that is exactly what I am doing.  I am reevaluating and renewing the relationships in my life with a more positive outlook.  As a final act of closure, I left cards for my coworkers to thank them for all their support on my journey and to apologize for being distant and not myself for so long.  I wanted to make a commitment to them and myself to work on more positive relationships with them- the kind that involve actually opening up and showing myself.  Plus, I really wanted to acknowledge all the support I had received from each of them.  I feel like now that it is all in writing- it’s official.  I have let go of any negativity still lingering in the past and stepped forward into a brighter future.  Who knows where this road will take me, but one thing is for sure- there are good things in store!

I spent so long not knowing what to do with all that negativity.  I couldn’t find a way to stuff it down or shove it out of my life.  Today I finally found the solution- I faced it head on and threw it out the window. 🙂

Once again, thank you for reading!  Comments and feedback are always welcome and appreciated.  Questions can be directed to runningthriver@gmail.com.

Reflections

“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family:

Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”

-Jane Howard

(Quote on my Archangels workshop folder)

“Day 3 of the Thriver Retreat and I am drained.  I had nightmares overnight and didn’t get much sleep.  I am still missing my natural rhythm of running in the morning and have had difficulty shaking off lingering negativity.  I should have run this morning , but it’s too late to beat myself up over it.  I do anyway.  I feel guilty for not being more upbeat.  I don’t want to drag down the rest of the group.  I need to stop doing this.  I need to allow myself to feel off at times. ”

Above is my journal entry from this morning.

I spent this weekend at an Archangel Thriver Retreat at the Guest House in lovely Chester, CT.  It was both an energizing and exhausting experience.  That is part of the reason my blog posts have been delayed and are now coming in a flood.

Naturally being an introvert, I find spending time in groups extremely tiring.   I can’t even handle long periods with my own family without getting worn out.  I need alone time to recharge.  Don’t get me wrong.  I truly enjoy other people’s company.  I want to feel connected like every other person, but this was a little too much of a good thing.  By the end of Day 2 I was over-extended and overwhelmed.

The lack of sleep that night only added to my fatigue.  By the morning of Day 3 I felt like I had nothing left to give.  I was drained.  Breakfast was a bit a of a solemn affair.  I could see the exhaustion I was feeling written on the faces of some of the other women.   This made me feel a little better, a reminder that sometimes being off is normal and not a lingering remnant of abuse.  We looked like we had been to battle- in many ways we had.   The retreat had pushed each of us outside our comfort zone and forced us to confront our inner critics.  Survivors of abuse have particularly loud inner critics (many times taking on the voices and comments of the past abusers).  It’s a constant struggle to keep them quiet.  It was clear the fight had worn on many of us.

The morning began by “opening the circle”, a chance for the group to meditate, offer prayer, share energy, and our thoughts of what we were grateful for.  There were many apologies mixed in.  Apparently many more people were experiencing low energy than I had realized.  I was clearly not alone.  Even Susan was not herself.  Sharing this knowledge helped us try to shake off the negativity and embrace the day.  Our theme of the retreat was “Fireworks”, inspired by Katie Perry’s hit song.  It was the first time I had actually read the lyrics.  They seemed so appropriate.

We let our colors burst by writing letters to ourselves from 6 months in the future.  We were supposed to envision all we’d have accomplished by then.  It was so wonderful to hear everyone’s positive vision of the next 6 months!  I was the last to read mine to the group.  I started strong but started to tear up (as usual).  I congratulated myself on finishing my first half and full marathon despite doubting that I could do it, for fundraising for charity, for having a successful blog that was reaching and inspiring other women and spreading the word about domestic abuse, for using my desire to help and heal others to overcome insecurities and my inner critic, for accepting myself and others, for no longer keeping people at arms length, for letting go of the lingering notion that I “make everyone around [me] miserable” (something that still haunts me from my abuse), and for finding volunteer work that was meaningful to me.   It was a tall order, but I’ve always been one to aim high.

I also gave myself the task of organizing a road race as a fundraiser for CT-ALIVE.  It will be my first attempt at organizing any event, period.  I don’t know anything about how to host a road race, but I will very shortly!  It gave me a pit in my stomach on the ride home, and then I reminded myself that 1) I won’t be doing it alone, 2) even if I fail or it doesn’t work these women will support me and encourage me to keep trying, and 3) it will be COMPLETELY AMAZING if we actually pull it off!  After all, my goal is to help other victims and speak out, and this will be a terrific opportunity to not only spread the word about domestic abuse, but also about THRIVING.

As worn and exhausted as I returned home today, I was equally inspired!  I LOVE these women.  I have never experienced such unconditional support and understanding from a group, many of whom are practically strangers.  It is such a profoundly incredible  feeling to belong to such an empowered and optimistic network of women.

Here is another terrific music video that one of the beautiful ladies at the retreat shared: “I Love Me Better Than That” by Shirley Murdock

What is a Thriver?

“Sisterhood is many things. It’s a warm smile on a cold and rainy day, a friendly hug, a cheerful hello… It’s all that a good and lasting friendship is, only better. It’s treasured. It’s sacred. It’s knowing that there will always be someone there for you. It’s dreams shared, and goals achieved. It’s counting on others and being counted on. It is real.”

This post dedicated to all my Archangel Sisters.  I love each and every one of you!

This morning I was charged with the task of defining what “thriver” means to me.  I compiled a list of the first words that came to mind: self knowing, embracing life, living to the fullest, empowered, open, secure, unbroken, girl power, liberated, and vibrant.  It was a good start.   However, truly grasping the essence of thriving is not something that can be broken down and explained on paper.  It’s something that needs to be felt

The most wonderful thing happens when you attend the My Avenging Angel Workshops and follow-up sessions.  You become part of a sisterhood: a loving, accepting, flaw embracing community of women committed to improving not only their own lives, but also the lives of others.  That is where the thriver energy emanates.  It comes from each and every woman. 

The Angels are a diverse group- coming in every shape, size, age, color, and religion- a reminder that domestic violence does not discriminate.  Yet, we do not dwell on our past.  Instead, we celebrate the beauty of our differences and bond over a common experience.  Surprisingly, it’s not the trauma or past suffering that brings us together.  It is the desire to bring about change- in ourselves and in the world that binds us.  Together, we see a future filled with limitless possibilities.  In each of us there is hope, faith, and the courage to embark on a journey to a more fruitful and fulfilling life.  We give each other strength.  Our ties cross town and state lines across this country.  We are feminism at its best- an abuser’s worst nightmare!  Are motto: “Living well is the best revenge”. 

Being a thriver is more than becoming a self-aware, self-loving individual.  It is about belonging and becoming part of a community.  The community is necessary to impact other lives.  It’s the sense of sisterhood that helps to empower us.  I could not imagine what a difficult journey it would be, or it even being possible to thrive without a strong support network.  No one individual is self-sufficient enough not to need a shoulder to cry or lean on during hard times.  A house is only as good as the foundation it is built upon, and the individual is no different.  You are only as solid as your base.  In this respect I have been very lucky (not only to have the Angels, but also the unconditional love of my amazing family, friends, and boyfriend who always back me 100% – equally in success and failure).

I am so grateful to belong to such an awe-inspiring group of women.  Each is a blessing in a my life, a window to the possibilities of how the future could be.  I am fortunate to not only have such a tremendous family (both by blood and bond), but to be part of one.  Knowing that I play a role helping and healing others is more healing and empowering than anything I could achieve on my own.

If you reside in or near Connecticut and are interested in moving beyond survivor to thriver please visit Susan Omilian’s website for more information on the FREE My Avenging Angels Workshops.  You can also email me at runningthriver@gmail.com.

If you do not live near Connecticut and are still interested in joining the Thriver community, check out the Thriver Workbook.  In it you will find many of the exercises Susan uses in her workshops.  You can also check out The Thriverzone.

As always, thank you for reading!  Please feel free to share any of the information here if you know someone who can benefit from it (just give credit back to the site please 🙂 ) Comments and feedback are always welcome and appreciated.  Good luck in your Thriver Journey!!!

Running for the Color Purple

“Being good is commendable, but only when it is combined with doing good is it useful.”

– Unknown

Hello Everyone!

I am officially launching my Running for the Color Purple Campaign.  I will be running in the upcoming Half Diva Marathon in Long Island Oct. 2, followed by the Hartford Marathon Oct. 15 in an effort to raise money for CT-ALIVE (CT Alliance of Victims of Violence and their Families).  October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, so the timing could not be better for both raising funds and awareness.

Some startling statistics:

  • One in four women in this country has or will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime.
  • Approximately 1.3 million women are physically assaulted by an intimate partner annually in the US
  • Approximately one in five female high school students reports being physically and/or sexually abused by a dating partner.
  • On average, more than three women are murdered by their intimate partners in this country every day.
  • Only one third of injured female rape and physical assault victims recieve medical treatment
  • Women of all races are about equally vulnerable to violence by an intimate partner.
  • Intimate partner violence affects people regardless of income.
  • Nearly three out of four (74%) of Americans personally know someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence.
  • Forty percent of girls age 14 to 17 report knowing someone their age who has been hit or beaten by a boyfriend.
  • Studies suggest that between 3.3 – 10 million children witness some form of domestic violence annually.

As a survivor of domestic violence, this cause is very important to me.  Domestic Violence affects not just the individual, but also the family and community of the victims.  It’s time to let go of the stigma associated with abuse and start talking about it.  Education and awareness are crucial.  Please show your support and DONATE!

Denial…

“When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.”
       – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Sometimes I try to convince myself that I am not suffering from PTSD because I have never officially been labeled.  In fact, every therapist, counselor, and psychiatrist I’ve seen has told me that I was experiencing “a completely normal response to a traumatic event” and insisted the anxiety and difficulty sleeping would improve with time.  No one ever uttered the term PTSD.  They looked at me as functioning normally and assumed I was ok despite the fact that I told them otherwise.  The truth is, there is a huge grey area between being functional and well.  People can function without sleep, when they are sick, or even when they are suffering, and it doesn’t mean they are at their baseline.  It wasn’t until I spent time around other individuals suffering with PSTD that anyone pointed out the name for my symptoms.

Then the more I read about other people’s struggles with PTSD, the more I realized I could identify.  I felt guilty because it seemed like my “trauma” was so trivial compared to others.  There are people who have seen loved ones murdered, been to war, and been in terrible, horrific accidents; and all I went through was 5 years of ridicule.  Doesn’t quite seem to measure up.

Here are the DSM IV criteria used to diagnose PTSD.  I have highlighted the ones that apply to me:

Diagnostic criteria for PTSD include a history of exposure to  a traumatic event meeting two criteria and symptoms from each of  three symptom clusters: intrusive recollections, avoidant/numbing  symptoms, and hyper-arousal symptoms. A fifth criterion concerns  duration of symptoms and a sixth assesses functioning.

Criterion A: stressor

The person has been exposed to a traumatic event in which both  of the following have been present:

  1. The person has experienced, witnessed, or been confronted with an event or events that involve actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of oneself or others.
  2. The person’s response involved intense fear,helplessness, or horror. Note: in children, it may be expressed instead by disorganized or agitated behavior.

Criterion B: intrusive recollection

The traumatic event is persistently re-experienced in at least one of the following ways:

  1. Recurrent and intrusive distressing recollections of the event, including images, thoughts, or perceptions. Note: in young children, repetitive play may occur in which themes or aspects of the trauma are expressed.
  2. Recurrent distressing dreams of the event. Note: in children, there may be frightening dreams without recognizable content
  3. Acting or feeling as if the traumatic event were recurring (includes a sense of reliving the experience, illusions, hallucinations, and dissociative flashback episodes,including those that occur upon awakening or when intoxicated). Note: in children, trauma-specific reenactment may occur.
  4. Intense psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event.
  5. Physiologic reactivity upon exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic event

Criterion C: avoidant/numbing

Persistent avoidance of stimuli associated with the trauma and  numbing of general responsiveness (not present before the  trauma), as indicated by at least   three of the following:

  1. Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings, or conversations associated with the trauma
  2. Efforts to avoid activities, places, or people that arouse recollections of the trauma
  3. Inability to recall an important aspect of the trauma
  4. Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
  5. Feeling of detachment or estrangement from others
  6. Restricted range of affect (e.g., unable to have loving feelings)
  7. Sense of foreshortened future (e.g., does not expect to have a career, marriage, children, or a normal life span)

Criterion D: hyper-arousal

Persistent symptoms of increasing arousal (not present before the trauma), indicated by at least two of the following:

  1. Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  2. Irritability or outbursts of anger
  3. Difficulty concentrating
  4. Hyper-vigilance
  5. Exaggerated startle response

Criterion E: duration

Duration of the disturbance (symptoms in B, C, and D) is more  than one month.

Criterion F: functional significance

The disturbance causes clinically significant distress or  impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of  functioning.

Specify if:

Acute: if duration of symptoms is less than three months

Chronic: if duration of symptoms is three months or more

Specify if:

With or Without delay onset: Onset of symptoms at least six months  after the stressor

While many of these symptoms have improved or are improving, everyone that is in bold I have had (and many still have) during the past 2 years.  It is plain as day, and yet denial is a powerful thing.  I can attest, though, that knowing the name and reason for the way I react to stress (or perceived stress) has made it tremendously easier to deal with.  In  a sense, the therapists were right, my symptoms did improve a lot with time (something I am incredibly grateful for!); but I continue struggle with nightmares and hyper-vigilance.  I am sharing this post because I know that there are other victims of violence and abuse who discount the trauma they experienced and are not getting help when they need it.  Everyone is entitled to a happy, productive life- acknowledging the problem is part of the path of getting there.

Resources (just a few of the many) for PTSD:

Department of Veterans Affairs

National Institute of Mental Health

National Alliance on Mental Illness

International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Anxiety Disorders of America