Saturday, December 12, 2015

If you read nothing else, please READ THIS POST!!!

This time of year is tough for me. Lately, I have been triggered left and right by one thing or another. I've been challenged by family and friends. I'm overwhelmed by the work that I'm doing and I have found myself filled with doubt every time I allow the criticism, by others, to get to me. Every morning, I seem to find myself regrouping in order to push myself to accomplish the goals I've set out to do. My platform is my passion. I am dedicating my life to advocate for those living with a mental illness, those who have suffered from physical and/or emotional abuse, domestic violence survivors, suicide prevention and advocacy, self harm and those living with PTSD and trauma after being raped, assaulted or sexually abused. These issues are so important to me that I am willing to sacrifice my privacy and relationships with family and friends to bring truth and a voice to these matters.

If you are new to my Blog, my experiences are what have driven me to improve my life, forgive myself, find my own voice and hopefully be a role model for those who are still searching for themselves amid pain and confusion. This doesn't mean that I still don't experience self-hate, depression, fear, etc. However, I have found a way to manage these set backs in a way that has allowed me to live a life that I never imagined. My happy days far exceed the unhappy ones. For that I am grateful.

As I move forward, I thought it would be a good idea to mention again the trauma and dysfunction that brought me to where I am. I want there to be no doubt that I understand what it feels like to be totally lost and completely broken. I grew up with what, I assume, is probably normal dysfunction within many families. I mean, all families have skeletons in their closet. Mine, however, had a profoundly traumatic affect on my life and almost every decision that I've made. I don't want anyone to think that I am using these experiences as an excuse for my behavior, but I firmly believe that if they had not happened, my history would have been very different. This is not to say that I haven't shared many incredibly wonderful moments with my estranged family and friends. This synopsis is just a short excerpt of my entire life. There are many more memories that will forever live fondly within my heart. ;

My mother was extremely abusive to me, both physically and emotionally, from the time that I can remember. There were always periods of my life that things would be good, but then the abuse and toxicity of our relationship would reappear. Even as an adult, I have struggled with the emotional abuse that she has inflicted upon me. My father was aware of the abuse when I was a child, but emotionally absent to do anything about it. I believe she also was abusive to him as their relationship was very volatile. In the end, however, I have always turned to my dad, as being the "stable" parent. At the age of 4 or 5 I began to be sexually abused by the brother of a family friend. He would be considered today to be intellectually disabled. Around 6 years old, fondling and touching turned into sodomy and rape. Many of these memories, I still block out, but what I do remember is enough to have affected my sexuality to this day.

When I was around 11 years old, I began to cut myself. By the time I was 15 years old, I was drinking, using drugs and sexually promiscuous with no regard to myself or to consequences of any of my actions. At the age of 16, I was raped by 2 boys, 1 year older than myself. Today, it would absolutely be considered date rape. Back then it was considered that "boys will be boys". In everyone's mind I was sexually active, I was drunk and I seemingly was inviting the experience. At the end of the night, I ended up in the emergency room with a blood alcohol level of .23. At 105 lbs, the doctors told my dad that I should have been dead. Had he not gotten me to the hospital to pump my stomach when he did, I would have been. Yet, I was of sound mind to agree to what happened to me?? In the 80's this type of situation was handled very differently than it is today. I blamed myself, as did everyone else. My parents, friends, the school administration did everything to brush the incident under the rug and I allowed it. I accepted the humiliation, the snide comments, the labels given to me because I didn't know anything different. Nothing was done when I was a child, so the fact that nothing was being done at that time, seemed "normal" to me. I even slept with these boys after the fact, so as to convince myself that what happened was really my idea. This was the only way I could make sense of the self hate brewing inside of me. After that, I attempted to kill myself at least a half a dozen times from the time I was 16 and through my twenties.

My twenties were filled with much of the same. Lots of sex, drugs and alcohol. This is also when I started getting in trouble financially because it became the main thing that would get the attention of my parents, who would jump in and "fix it". Giving money to me became my way of believing that I was loved. Where men were showing me "love" by sleeping with me, my parents were showing me "love" by providing money whenever I needed it. This was most often because I was in some kind of trouble. I don't know if there was ever any thought that inside, I was screaming out for help. I do know that landing in mental hospitals throughout the years, didn't seem to convince anyone that there was really something wrong. I was irresponsible and reckless with no regard for feelings or consequences. I don't remember anyone telling me that this could be anything other than me being, "bad". Yes, I was in and out of counseling, being diagnosed with depression and taking medication. However, whenever I started to feel better, I would stop counseling and stop taking my meds. Everyone around me convinced me that I didn't need it. That I was a strong young woman with so much potential. That I could be and do anything I wanted. I just needed to "apply" myself. At 23 years of age I became pregnant. Of course my boyfriend and I had just broken up after a tumultuous relationship because that was the only kind of relationship I knew. When he abandoned me and my baby, it was just another reminder that "love" was fleeting and at the end of the day, if I was being taken care of financially, that was all that really mattered.

By the time I was 30, I was still drinking, being promiscuous and acting recklessly. On one such occasion, I went home with a man, which I had done many, many times before. He proceeded to rape and beat me. He broke two of my ribs, left bruises on my face and changed my life in a way I couldn't have imagined. I never thought the feelings in my head could get any worse. At the time I was working as an advocate for domestic violence and rape victims. How ironic. I didn't show up for work for over a week. No phone call. No explanation. Of course I was fired. As I sat before my manager, it was impossible for me to tell her what had happened. I blamed myself, as I had done hundreds of times. I knew better. Here I was, a rape crisis advocate and I chose to get drunk and go home with a man I didn't know. No matter how hard I tried to take my own advice, I couldn't get past my belief that I deserved it. None of my training mattered. Hurt, pain and hating myself had become my normal.

I did have many good times, healthy times. I had successes. I had moments of pride. Yet, these moments would get trumped as soon as I was triggered and became that little girl who had no way to help herself. I depended on everyone, anyone to fix me. I was still learning how to fix myself and I did a very poor job of it. By the time I got married, at 31, I had become a shell of the woman inside of me. I went through the motions. I believed I was in love. I thought the fairy tale had finally found me. It wasn't until years later that I realized I was "in love" because my husband was the first man that had ever loved me, really loved me, unconditionally. However, I fought him our entire marriage to convince him that I wasn't worthy of his love. The first year of our marriage, I was in a full blown nervous breakdown. I ended up stealing a lot of money from my mom. My goal, I think, was to see when she would notice, when anyone would notice. That took almost a year. I remember going up to the foothills and burning thousands of dollars at a time. Money meant nothing to me. Now, I can see that I desperately wanted my parents to finally see that there was something "wrong" and they needed to step in and REALLY help me. I had fantasies about being sent away to some institution where I would rub shoulders with celebrities being treated for "exhaustion". That I would finally be with people that were like me. Successful, beautiful, funny and well liked, but terribly, terribly broken. All that happened was yet another impasse in my relationship with my parents while they covered up my transgressions, in order to protect me or them. I really have no idea.

After about 10 years of marriage and having one breakdown after another, destroying trust, financially disabling my husband, hurting him in ways that truly are unforgivable, failing my daughters and hurting myself consistently over and over again, I finally snapped. I stole money from my dad to pay our rent. I wrote a goodbye letter to my daughters. I drank a 5th of whiskey. I sliced my wrists. I prepared my insulin pen to inject myself with enough units to seal the deal and I prepared to die. Fortunately for me, I now realize, I was discovered before it was too late. I ended up in a mental institution where I recovered from my attempted suicide and where I was diagnosed with Major Clinical Depression, PTSD, Borderline Personality Disorder and Adjustment Disorder. The counselors there could not believe that I had lived as long as I had, given the amount of recklessness that was driven by my mental disorders. Upon my release, I did everything I could to pull myself together. I went through outpatient treatment, I stayed on my medication and I started this Blog as a way to finally be honest with myself. I no longer wanted to live a lie. However, I had also severed the relationships between my father, my step-mother, my sister and my brother. Basically my entire immediate family. As this was happening, my mom became my biggest supporter and began to financially take care of everything that needed taken care of. The juxtaposition of losing my family and being "loved" again, with all of my financial needs being taken care of,  was overwhelming and I soon slipped back into a deep depression. I stopped taking my medication. I stopped counseling. I basically wanted to lose myself again. Then I stole from one of my closest friends. My intent, again, was to have someone see that I needed more help than I was getting. To see that I couldn't do it alone. I thought a friend would handle my deceit better than my family. I was wrong. Of course I was wrong! I was so delusional at this point, that there would have been nothing anyone could have said to convince me that I was better than any of the horrible things that I was doing or the loser I convinced myself that I was.

Ultimately, I was charged with Grand Theft and a variety of other offenses. I was found guilty and sent to prison for 10 years each on 2 Grand Theft charges. Fortunately my Judge retained jurisdiction and I had the opportunity to serve my time on a Rider. This is the moment my life changed... for the better. I was at rock bottom. All I could do was move up and I took full advantage of every opportunity given to me. I had no distractions. I had nothing. No family. No commitments. Nowhere to go. I threw myself into group therapy. I excelled at every exercise and challenge presented to me. I stopped lying and opened myself up to reveal the raw, inner chaos that had been brewing inside of me for as long as I could remember. I discovered that I could be a role model because I had the willingness to be honest about everything I had done and to tell my story. As crazy as it sounds, the support and belief in me that the women in prison offered me was better than any kind of support I had ever received. On a side note, my divorce and a bankruptcy were finalized during my incarceration, however, the beauty of that was I had nothing but myself to depend on by the time I was released. I made the commitment  to LIVE in a way I had never done before. I finally realized I had a responsibility to myself and my daughters to be the woman they, and everyone who stood by me, knew that I could be. Since then I have embraced my therapy, I have accepted that medication is what can ultimately keep me emotionally stable and I threw myself into building my platform with this Blog and several other social media outlets. Behind My Smile is my opportunity to give back and advocate for everyone that has lived with debilitating mental illness and unresolved trauma.

I still have moments where I have to catch myself from letting clinical depression take over when I am criticized or when I have anyone close to me "leave". I have since been diagnosed with Bipolar 2 disorder which makes more sense than anything else. The manic moments of productivity and extreme behavior coupled with the depressive, reckless and unconscionable decision making finally made sense. This ironically gave me more strength and stability than I have ever known before. I know now what triggers my behavior. I know now how to recognize when I am going in a direction that could be destructive. I know now what I need to do to manage all of my symptoms. I know now how to find the ME inside of me and finally accept every beautifully broken piece. I have not cut myself for almost 2 years. I have not been reckless with my emotions or sexuality. I am cognizant of my finances and make better decisions. I won't lie and say that any of these past behaviors don't find their way into my life, but I know now how to be accountable, how to fix things for myself, how to not depend on others to fix me and most importantly how to forgive myself. I still struggle with self love. I still doubt my capabilities, but I definitely believe in myself as a woman, a mother, a human, living being, than ever before.

I'm definitely not perfect, but I know that I can support those going through similar issues or just living the struggle. I've already proven to myself that I am capable of this. I won't be stopped by doubters or those who choose to attempt to sabotage me. I will stand tall when I have to admit a wrong and I will accept love and accolades into my heart when I do something amazing. Life is made up of stories and mine is only one of many. However, this story, my story is what has made me who I am today, no matter the setbacks, the self loathing, the self destruction and the bad, very, very bad choices.

However, I want to be very clear that who I am today is not a product of what I have been through. SIVAQUOI is the beautiful, courageous, forgiving and empathetic woman she has become, in spite of everything.

Thank you for giving me an outlet to continue on this journey as I put every broken piece of myself back together. The finished product will be amazing, cracks and all.

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