Chasing Chaos, The Fear of an Ordinary Life, and The Misconception of Pleasure and Excitement: How It’s All Connected

Last week I was staring at a stack of paper cards, with a value written on each of them. We were instructed to separate these cards into the three categories: Important, Kind of Important, Not Important. There were A LOT of cards. After we put them into categories, we had to pick the top ten values from the “Important” category. Never thought how much you’d learn about yourself after doing this. After sorting through the cards, worrying that I’d miss an important one, I chose the top ten. (Here is a list of Brene Browns Values if you want to try this!)

Excitement, Passion, Honesty, Independence, Humor, Creativity, Self Knowledge, Sexuality, Purpose, and Stability. Fast-forward to today, the morning after a bad relapse, I sat holding my mug of black coffee looking at my top ten values I wrote down from last week. Silently, my tears streamed down my face and dripped into the blue ceramic mug. I poured out the coffee and went back to the torn out pieces of notebook paper from therapy. Staring blankly at the words excitement and stability, I felt like there was a contradiction. It’s impossible to have passion, excitement, with stability, I thought, You can’t balance that.

Ah there lies the problem.

It’s not the value itself that needs to change, but rather it was my definition of the value and how I’d seek it..

Image Credit Goes To Original Artist

My mother would quote one of my grandmother to me, “Boring is beautiful.” I’d often cringe at it. Whenever she’d say that, I’d think to myself “No, boring is when I can’t sit still. Boring is when I end up getting super high alone at night and go skateboarding (yes, I know, I am 23) or opening up that orange pill bottle, or waking up at this man’s house in Delaware (I live in PA.) I can’t be bored! It’s not fucking beautiful.” Obviously, I didn’t say those things out loud, and yeah that reaction is a bit extreme. Most of the time, I’d reply to her saying, “I don’t really see that Mom.” I didn’t. Is stability and boredom the same thing? Can you live a life where excitement and stability both equally exist? Here are a few things I realized on this “not my greatest” morning.

Here’s the part where I talk about the correlation between chaos, our definition of pleasure, and the fear of living an ordinary life.. It all ties together.

If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, lived in an environment where abuse was occurring, or survived emotional abuse chances are you became familiar with chaos. In fact, you’re probably more familiar with chaos than calm. Even though calmness is what we ultimately crave (and may have used addictive behaviors to self soothe and emotionally regulate) it’s unfamiliar. And for the human brain- unfamiliarity is scary. “I never lived in peace, I don’t deserve it, and even though other’s do, it’s not possible for me” This may not be a thought that is highlighted in your mind, but it could be subconsciously lurking in the background.

Image Credit Goes To Original Artist

You see, abuse and being raised in certain environments overtime imprint the belief system. We might believe “we don’t deserve to feel good.” OR that “we don’t deserve boundaries.” Something the world see’s as so pleasurable was used against us to create pain and punishment. In consequence of this, it’s common to believe that pleasure = punishment. In cases of emotional abuse, you may have a belief that love equates to pain, or that you need to tolerate _ when in a relationship, to receive love you have to neglect yourself and value other’s more. Another common belief survivors may have is if they feel pleasure, they will have to be punished for it. Some punish themselves after it. Maybe you feel that you are not allowed to feel pleasure. Maybe you feel afraid to feel pleasure. Maybe you feel that if you experience pleasure, someone else will feel hurt, and vice versa. The major concepts that we need to look at and change are: What does pleasure mean to you? How do you seek it? Often, pleasure for us can be connected with methods of escapism and behaviors that lead to addiction. Those old behaviors that once may have saved us, took us out of the scary reality, and brought us pleasure often later on turn into what is causing pain later.

This is how the cycle occurs. The abuse happens imprinting deep wounds and core beliefs about ourselves and the world. With that perspective and definition of what love and pleasure is, we subconsciously end up gravitating towards experiences that mirror those views (the way our brain works is to constantly seek out evidence for our beliefs and thoughts, it’s not that we wanted more bad things to happen, it’s our brains trying to make sense of things.) When we then experience the pain again, it confirms the belief that “Life is always unstable and painful.”

Image Credit Goes To Original Artist

Let me clarify very CLEARLY: You are never at fault for being abused. Never. It’s never EVER, someone’s fault that they were abused, OR ending up in another abusive situation later on in life. What I am talking about here is the importance of understanding the wounds in some of our beliefs and what we believe we deserve. If you were raised in an environment where abuse was called, “house rules,” or it was the norm, when you are in a relationship later on and something similar happens, it may take a while for the survivor to notice the red flags. There’s that quote from Perks of Being A Wallflower that says, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” But in this case not only is it “what we think we deserve,” it also is “what we saw and learned as love.” Maybe you didn’t experience abuse but you witnessed it as a child, that is still a chaotic environment where you learned to tolerate it because in that moment you needed to as survival. Calmness can feel strange and unfamiliar for those who experience sexual or emotional abuse.

I’ve done it myself, believing that I wasn’t deserving of a calm, normal life. I still struggle with this. Sure, in many aspects I’ve worked through them, but there are still many more. I’ve had multiple therapists, friends, and especially my mom say to me many times that “You should write a book about of all the weird stuff that has happened to you.” Sure, on the outside they were funny, but a lot of the situations I’ve found myself in were a result of feeling unworthy, battles with addiction, and core beliefs I had about sex and relationships. Sure, I causally write or tell my weird ass experiences with hits of humor. Yet, I often don’t talk about the aftermath like crying in the gynecologists office, the distance addiction has caused in my friendships and relationships, going off the grid from the world during depression or relapses, and so much more.

Image Credit Goes To Original Artist

It’s not that we don’t want an ordinary life. It’s not that we don’t want a supportive loving relationship. It’s that we might believe deep down we don’t deserve it. It also might be the thought, “If my life didn’t consist of chaos, constant healing from the chaos, addiction…who would I be? And what would I do with my life?” becuase you were in the throws of it for so long.

Once we become aware of our past and how if affected us, we can now take our power back and create the life our seven year old self would be proud of, and smiling at. We may feel like without constant chaos or substances life would be dull, but I’m learning that chaos and relapses gets old as well. I am learning to value my current relationships over the substances I once used to escape from the old ones (or memories.)

This is where we return to the values I talked about above. Except this time, rewrite under each value how we want that to look in our everyday lives. So instead of pleasure and excitement being: abusing substances, chaotic relationships, and walking into situations most would run from, we can seek those things in other ways such as through listening or playing music, making playlists, preforming, getting coffee with your girlfriends, rock climbing, fresh bed sheets, early mornings, create art, write a book, laughter with friends, soreness in your muscles after working out, hot yoga, ah the list can go on.

Image Credit Goes To Original Artist

** I want to also not dismiss the difficulty in leaving an abusive situation. My love goes out to you and I know how scary it can be to speak up and leave. The National Domestic Violence Hotline Is:  1 (800) 799 – 7233. There are also many centers that help women such as https://womenagainstabuse.org/ (Philadelphia Area)

After you write down your values, redefine what they mean to you, and how that would look in your life, you’ll be able to see that it is possible to live a life of excitement and stability.

Image Credit Goes To Original Artist

How To Cope With Family and The Holidays (as a Sexual Abuse Survivor)

Although the Holidays are what people say should be a merry time spent with family, there are many children, adolescent, and adult survivors out there right now feeling overwhelmed, broken, lonely, or finding themselves saying “yes” to gatherings they really want to say “no” to. (Many of us would rather feel the resentment after saying yes, than the guilt after saying no, but that is another topic for another day.) There are so many messy family situations and dilemmas that survivors of sexual assault are going through right now. IF this is you, I want you to know, that even though it really may feel like you are alone, you are not. Maybe it’s been difficult for you to put your own needs before others, (been there, sometimes, I’m still there ha), but just this time I want you to go with yourself. Listen to what you want, and then go with that. You’ve been through enough and to go through another emotionally exhausting and possibly even dangerous situation is not worth it. If no one is telling you, I will: You deserve better than that.

Now this year, obviously many of us are not getting together because of Covid. But if there are still ways that family and the holidays are causing problems, here are options about what you can do. Unfortunately, none of them are perfect, and I wish they were, but these are what worked for me.

Strands Beach, it is a beautiful place to cry.

1.Don’t go. Ok, easier said than done. You could have a lot of texts, “Why aren’t you here?” or “That’s so inconsiderate…” Although hearing the sounds of those texts coming through can send your anxiety through the roof, your safety from emotional or physical abuse is worth all those texts. Depending on your situation, maybe send one simple text out, saying that you are not coming, and then leave it at that. Don’t give into the back and forth thing. It sucks being alone if you have nowhere else to go. I remember when my family moved back to California three years ago and my mother’s extended side of the family came over for Thanksgiving, (the side the abuser was on) and I left. I spent Thanksgiving driving up and down PCH until I parked at Strands Beach, called my friend from back in Philly, and then cried for an hour. Not a fun night, but it was better than having to deal with that situation back home, I’ll tell you that. Don’t go, find a safe, sacred, and special place if you have nowhere else to go. You are allowed to protect yourself and say no. **PS: try to come up with a plan if you do decide to stay alone. That Thanksgiving I just basically cried, but there were many other moments later on where I’d stay alone and drink, smoke, or other stuff that caused more anxiety in the long run. This time should be spent on healing, and being gentle with yourself, which is why it’s a good idea to come up with a plan before diving into any self-destructive options.

2. If you decide to go, make sure there is a relative around that knows and that supports you. You could even come up with a code word with them for when things get too intense, or a good exist strategy.

3. Grieve. “Yep, be alone and grieve, great advice Fiona.” It’s depressing, and not how you probably want to spend your holiday. But the thing is if you had to deal with having to see the abuser at family reunions as a kid, you know how much of a toll it takes on your body and mind. For years, you were not given an option to not go and out of self-protection, you’d avoid the feelings of grief and brokenness for years. Because, in a sense, you were still in the midst of it. You are finally free. This also means, it may be the calm after the storm, but you’re realizing the grief didn’t go away. Many of us haven’t grieved the loss of our childhood and innocence. If this is the case, I strongly suggest you read my post Grief and Loss. Once you grieve, it clears the way for new memories. This leads me to the last point…

4. Create new memories with new people. I started this blog, Breaking Agreements, to help aid survivors break free from fears, dynamics, beliefs, and other limitations that the abuse may have caused. When you learn and practice breaking free from those beliefs and cycles, it’s like you’re living in a new world. This is the time to create new memories. These new holidays can be 100% yours! If you decided to not go to your family gathering and don’t want to be alone, you’d be surprised at how many people would be more than happy to have you come to their family gathering (ok, maybe not this year, but you get the point). I’ve spent multiple holidays with my roommate’s parents who were very generous to have me over. It may take a few years, but I promise, you will find your tribe.

Guys, I know how hard it is. It’s scary. You don’t deserve, nor ever deserved, to have to see your abuser or even have to hear about them or their whereabouts. You deserve to be and feel respected. Your own company alone is more healing than being around someone that hurt you. I’m sending you so much love guys. Here is a short IGTV video I made where I talk about coping with anxiety, PTSD, and resorting back to your angsty 13 year old self during family gatherings. ha

-Fiona

Why You Are Not Your Thoughts.

Has anyone else been struggling with panic, paranoia, or just anxious, unwanted thoughts? That your thoughts have been playing on a loop? Maybe it’s because I decided to take a break from drinking again (for how long? a week.. or forever.. I haven’t decided yet,) only to realize that it’s a lot HARDER than I remember from the last time I did it. Yet, that’s another post for another day.

I found this book at The Chakra Shack, in Laguna Beach, California. I didn’t think I needed it back then. Honestly, I didn’t REALLY realize I needed it until I decided to quit this past weekend. Coolest store by the way, if you’re into crystals and shit.

Or maybe it’s because it’s that time of the month, I burned myself from this innocent looking, sloth heating pad I got from Urban Outfitters, or that the 800mg of Advil still doesn’t take away the needle stabbing pain from my IUD. (But completely worth the pain because hormones and pills…. or hormones in the form of a pill are things I try to stay clear from.) The mind and body are more connected than we may realize. Which is why I’ve learned that if your body isn’t at it’s best, your mind will suffer. Anyway, back to the point of this post: this morning I remembered I wrote this on my old blog back in January 2019. I hope it helps you if this is something you’ve been battling. (The trick is, to not battle with it. You’ll see what I mean as you keep reading.)

Sloth Heating Pad From Urban Outfitters.

You are not your thoughts. Your thoughts are, well, just thoughts. For so many years, I let negative thoughts hold such power over my mood and actions. Whether it was a negative thought about how I perceived myself or an unsettling memory from when I was a kid, I would let one thought push me into a downward spiral and taint the rest of my day. I believed that I had no control over this. There was this strong belief that those thoughts were a reflection of me.

If you or someone you know struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder or any form of addiction, you may have noticed that they will get hooked on one thought or urge. It’s can feel like the individual is blind sighted by anything else but that thought. And the more you (or they) try to not think about it, the more you do. (Ever heard of the saying: Don’t think of the pink elephant?) It’s beyond frustrating and can leave one to think that there’s absolutely no hope in changing their present mood or actions. This can apply to those who suffer from depression as well. There may be a hopeless feeling or thought that they feel they cannot let go of. If you can resonate with any of these scenarios, I want to tell you this:

Your thoughts aren’t you. You are not a bad person for thinking those thoughts. Furthermore, your thoughts don’t have to dominate your emotions or actions. You are not a victim to your thoughts. And most importantly: your thoughts don’t have permission to make you give in to an urge or addictive behavior. That stupid little thought doesn’t have power over your arms or legs. You do. (Now I get it, easier said than done, but bear with me.)

Now, it is impossible to control the thoughts that may arise from time to time. But it is in your power to chose how you respond to them. 

For example, someone who may suffer from depression may think a negative thought about themselves. Such as:

“I should be able to do more like everyone else.”
“Why is it so hard for me to have hope and stay motivated?”
“I feel so guilty for burdening everyone around me.”
“I’m a jerk.”
“I’m always sad. It’s easier for others to be happy.”
“I am a bad person because I did x, y, and z back in 2010.”

Then, along with that thought probably comes with hundreds of reasons that support that belief to be true. The more we focus on that thought, whether negative or positive, our brain will try to find all the evidence it can to back that thought up.  And man, anyone who is thrown into a sea of thoughts like that is bound to be depressed.

So, right now, I want you to imagine you are standing beside a stream in the woods. As you hear the rushing water cascade down from the forest’s peak, you look down and notice thousands of fish swimming down the stream. Some are grey, camouflaging with the stones that lie at the bottom of the stream. Swimming alongside the grey ones is a bunch of bright blue fish.
Think of these fish as your thoughts.
You cannot control how many grey ones are swimming in the creek just as much as how many blue ones are there. Now, as all of the fish are swimming down the stream, you reach down to pick one up. You get to decide on which fish you pick up. It not in your control over which fish passes you down the stream at that moment in time, but- it is your choice of which color fish you pick up and look at.

Also, it is completely in your power to decide how long you are going to hold and observe the fish, whether it is for five minutes, or the rest of the day. (Don’t ac

tually do this! ) You can also just notice that grey or blue fish as you let it swim by past you instead of picking it up at all.

That’s how it is with your thoughts. Sometimes there will be negative thoughts about yourself that arise through time to time. That doesn’t mean that thought is true. It’s just a thought. The reason why it may feel true is that for most of your life you’ve just focused on that thought and created the evidence to support it.

Now, I know that there are genetic and biochemical factors and components for depression, OCD, and addiction. I’m not saying this is a cure-all concept or idea, but it can definitely save you from going into a downward spiral for the rest of your day.

For example last night, I ran into someone I knew years ago. I used to have this belief that they thought I was a chaotic mess. This morning, as I was folding my laundry, a negative assumption of how they may have perceived me passed through my mind. Immediately, (as I unconsciously picked up the grey fish) I began to go back to that scenario of running into them last night and picked apart all the reasons and evidence of why they may have thought negatively about me when we ran into each other.

Suddenly, I stopped myself. I let myself get hooked onto the thought and the storyline of how this person might think that: I’m too whimsical, unorganized, and can’t keep up with life. After I became aware, I told myself “that’s just a thought.” Because really, there are tons of thoughts that were going through my mind at that moment, I just chose to delve into that specific one and the storyline of what they thought of me based on past interactions from years ago. Swimming alongside with that thought were other thoughts such as the moments of laughter I had with the friends I was with that night or that I ran out of coffee this morning and need to go pick some up.

***I think that a lot of us may have felt a certain way about ourselves based on one or two experiences in life, and then have continued to believe that story and perception of ourselves as well as projecting that belief onto people who we meet in the future.

Even as intuitive as you may be, we never truly know what the other person is thinking.
Even if that person I ran into did think that way about me… It doesn’t mean I actually am a mess. I could have spent the rest of the day believing and living as if I am chaotic or disorganized. I could have stopped folding my laundry. But I didn’t. I chose to pick up the other fish and create my own story of how I see myself.  And I had a fucking great day.
Also, constantly focusing on the thoughts of how we perceive ourselves, how the people around us to is going to drive anyone crazy. Try observing something outside of yourself. It gets you out of your mind.

Next time a negative thought about yourself or an urge to *drink, smoke, blah blah ..etc..etc..* arises, just watch it like a fish down the stream. It may stand out to you more than the others, but this is because you are used to giving that specific thought more attention. Over time, the thought will not seem as true, threatening, or loud once you practice observing it and not believing it.
Sometimes, the thoughts may seem intrusive or you may feel like the words are shouting out at you. But remember, the response is in your power. Instead of picking up the thought and finding evidence for it. Just respond like this:

“Hmm, interesting. Anything else you (the thought) would like to say before I move on?” “Yeah I know it would feel great to __ right now. But I’m not going to.” 
When the thoughts are strong: the trick is to respond curiously and almost neutrally. Because the more you argue about giving into an addictive behavior or stream of negative beliefs about yourself, you are still giving tons of energy and attention to that thought and it’s going to wear you down.

Trust me. The more attention you give something, negative or positive, the more it will come to fruitation. So, if you are trying to stop the thought or argue with it—don’t. Just let it know you see it, and then try to observe all the other thoughts/fish that may be swimming in the background of your mind.

The present moment is all that matters. What you did 3 minutes ago or 10 years ago doesn’t have to be the determining factor of how you live right now. You are a good person. Don’t let one event or a few interactions with others affect the rest of your life.
Even if someone did straight up say to you that you are a *insert negative noun* -it’s just one of those grey fish in someone else’s mind. That thought of theirs..it just doesn’t matter. Because it’s just an opinion. 

And you know what? Maybe I do act disorganized, whimsical, and have a hard time keeping up with life. But that doesn’t mean I AM disorganized, whimsical, and have a hard time keeping up with life. I can be organized and grounded when I feel like it….. And the same goes for you!
So fuck those grey fish. They are only as real as you believe them to be.
Next time you catch yourself picking up a grey fish and are about to fall down a staircase of negativity. Just watch this video before you continue your day: (A video my dad made me watch in the midst of a panic attack at some point during high school haha.)

Why You Should Break Away From Extremes

How you do one thing, is how you do everything.

-Iyanla Vanzant

Yeah, I’m a Gemini, but in no way will I ever use that as the reason as to why I’ve always struggled to find “The Middle Path.” Just over year ago, you’d most likely find me at the local yoga studio downtown, sipping on cranberry kombucha, slathering coconut and eucalyptus oil on my body every night before bed, taking long hot baths with Epsom salts, and living off of sweet potatoes, green juice, and quinoa. Then, the next week I’d be at least three shots in of Smirnoff (of my 100 lb frame at the time) during my evening biology class that usually followed up with smoking cigarettes in my car until I was sober enough to drive. I’d swing from the chandelier, (almost literally) from one side of the spectrum to the other. There were moments of putting lavender and eucalyptus essential oils on my wrists, keeping citrine crystals in my bra or pockets wherever I went, and juice cleansing for a week. Then there were also the moments of landing at midnight in San Diego, still drunk and letting my cousin give me acupuncture while she was high. Which then led to continual drinking the rest of the time I visited family, ruining my mothers “girls wine tasting trip” to the Funk-zone in Santa Barbara when she turned around to find me lying down on the sidewalk, under a tunnel, and had to peel me off the dirty pavement. We have never gone on one since, and I can understand why.

The Funk Zone
Hangover Acupuncture from my Californian cousin.

Once my therapist quoted to me, “How you do one thing, is how you do everything.” At first, I really didn’t get it. I mean, I got it, but I didn’t really take a deep look into applying that to my life. A common theme has been extremes. If I felt like I relapsed a little bit, I’d run with it. If I felt like I was finally getting my act together, I’d run with it. What was the precursor to either extreme was by all or nothing thinking, and disregarding listening to my body. 

How you do one thing, is how you do everything.” If you’ve been the person who always said, “tomorrow I’ll start,” and then ended up drinking 10x more than you would, smoked your entire “last” pack of cigarettes, started a 10-day water fast or some weird shit like the 70’s Vogue Diet only to resort back to your “higher calorie” trail mix and kale chips…this post is for you.

A food journal entry from a few years ago… yikes is right

There are three categories of tools to use in times of stress, overstimulation, or just feeling overwhelmed. Category 1, 2, and 3. Category 1 sums up the habits you probably are trying to break. Category 2 consists of the things we do but prefer not to talk about, and Category 3 is mostly what we understand as “positive” coping tools. The idea is for you to categorize your own tools, coping habits, and incorporate new ones as well. Once you see them written down on a piece of paper, you’ll be able to understand the dynamics of your cycles and patterns, see how often and why you use negative coping tools, to navigate a starting point of recovery when you aren’t sure if you really want to recover yet, or just feel like you need to find awareness of what you have been doing. By writing it all down on one piece of paper, it also takes away the shame and all or nothing thinking-because, in the end, they are all coping behaviors.

Category 1: Wine, cigarettes, weed, starving, counting calories, water fasts, Xanax, Tito’s in your GT’s Synergy Kombucha, keeping airplane bottles in your car..basically any form of using booze to escape, throwing up, sleeping pills, casual sex with randos, laxatives, Tinder Men (especially Tinder Sams and a few of the women on there), Men who keep asking for pics, credit cards you shouldn’t be using, running so often that you get stress fractures in both legs, or bleaching your hair after drinking a bottle of wine.

My “Tinder Sam” Saga Back In March
Archived from my Instagram story
Meanwhile, I should’ve been doing homework.

Category 2: Hours of reading the elephant journal or about astrology, spending almost all of the money you saved for groceries on new journals or mediums, three cups of black coffee, taking too much b12, dark chocolate, Instagram, running out at 10 pm before CVS closes to buy a vibrator because you threw your old one out for using it too much, spending an unnecessary amount of money on crystals, sage, maca powder, and goji berries.

Category 3: Hot lemon water, epsom salt baths, Peppermint or Kava Tea, Essential Oils, Hot Yoga, Yoga, singing at the top of your lungs, L-Glutamine/Amino Acid therapy (highly recommend if you are quitting drinking), long walks, short walks, binaural beats, affirmations, meditations such as “Fuck That Meditation” and “Aaron Doughty’s Meditations,” headstands, green juice (for minerals and electrolytes), coconut oil, crystals, Yin Yoga, FaceTime your friends, journal with spelling and grammar errors in a stream of consciousness style of writing, walk in the forest or on the beach, turn off your phone, sparkling water, Tito’s-free kombucha, Self-Defense Class, Acupuncture, Reiki, reading life changing books such as Breaking The Habit of Being Yourself, The Body Keeps The Score, Quit Like A Woman, The Fuck It Diet (by my cousin Caroline…where you’ll also probably learn a lot about my family’s past weird diets, and the not so normal moments that I thought were normal, for example: when my mom poured a bowl of “frozen blueberries” for my neighborhood friends, called it dessert, and none of the kids on our street ate at our house ever again.)

Anyway, you can tell Category 1 coping tools aren’t anywhere near the “goal” and that Category 2 isn’t preferable, but it doesn’t have as many repercussions as Category 1. Category 3 is what we may have learned about in self-help books, rehab, or therapy-it’s what we “should” be doing.

Now, I want you to try to categorize your own tools you use. Once you do that, I want you to realize and accept that it’s actually better to end up in mostly Category 2, while integrating parts of Category 3. I know it doesn’t sound ideal, or like your perfect version of “Recovery,” but I promise it’s a lot better than going all in for 3, and end up burning out and then resorting back to all of the coping mechanisms in Category 1.

If you feel impatient with your progress and want to resort to an extreme method or if you’ve relapsed, I suggest learning about The Middle Way. For example: If you started smoking again after you quit, instead of hyper-focusing on not smoking, start incorporating behaviors from Category 3. It’s extremely difficult to quit cold turkey when you don’t have any coping mechanisms you’ve practiced and have evidence that they’ve worked. It’ll be smoother (as much as it can be) when you decide to quit again.

**Another Tool I learned today in group therapy (after discussing my recent impulsive decisions) is to set a fifteen-minute timer every time you feel an urge. Once it ends and if the urge is still there, try it again. However, if you feel like you CANNOT possibly set that timer again or that you don’t know if you want to quit whatever it is, then let yourself do engage in the habit-after the 15 minutes. This actually helps your brain over time, rewire itself to pause before taking action instead of going straight into engaging in the habit. This technique is definitely a form of practicing moderation. However, I go back and forth with this idea because there are some habits and urges that you can’t fuck with, like oxy or mixing liquor with Xanax or perhaps just drinking in general. I think in therapy she was referring more to the most recent event of deciding to bleach my hair while drunk. (I did pause, for what I recall being ten minutes, with a bowl of bleach in my hand.)

What Does It Mean To Be A Sexually Empowered Woman?

I didn’t go on my first date until I was nineteen. Nineteen. Between fears from the trauma and the dogma preached to us in Catholic school, sex was something I avoided like the plague. Talking about it, thinking about it, hearing anything related to it just freaked me out. I’d shut down, dissociate, and cry a lot during health class as a kid. omg

I don’t know what caused me to jump towards the opposite end of the spectrum after that. Maybe it was angst at the church after all the years or watching too much Sex And The City. There were many parallels between the show and the way I was living. Except, replace cosmopolitan men (although that has happened) with mostly tan, skateboarding, guitar playing, flannel-wearing men who’ll throw a Shaka in every picture opportunity there is.

I’m lucky to have girlfriends who are open and confidently are able to speak about their sex lives. I think that’s important because if you’re surrounded by people that associate sex with shame, it’s going to be difficult to venture out of that perspective. Nowadays, no one looks twice at a woman who goes on tinder for hookups. Personally, I think it’s great we’ve gotten to that point now. We’ve been working on deconstructing the ties between women, sex, and shame for decades. If you go way back (and still, some hold these beliefs) women weren’t supposed to enjoy sex, sex was for marriage and only to have children, etc. So to say that society has finally been starting to celebrate women and their sexuality is incredible. I’m all for it.

HOWEVER, there was one thing I mixed up. For the longest time (and honestly, not until very recently) I didn’t understand what really makes a woman sexually empowered. To start, the most important thing I want to get across is that there is a major difference between a sexually empowered woman and a woman having sex to feel sexually empowered. The essence of a sexually empowered woman is something internal, whereas the second of the latter is more of this chasing, “never going to be enough” experience.

I used to think that being casual about sex and avoiding emotional intimacy with sexual partners made me feel like an “empowered woman who doesn’t need a man.” I felt “empowered” for keeping a laced bra from Free People, along with miniature airplane bottles of Smirnoff in my glove compartment, because, hey ya never know, right? If you are familiar with Attachment Styles, you’d understand what I mean by when I say that I was the poster child for “Avoidant Attachment.” A lot of this was intertwined with trauma-related wounds, such as chasing after more risky situations to reclaim a sense of control I lost from the abuse.

Time went on, along with a lot of breakdowns. I was in pain. I caused a lot of emotional pain for others. I said yes when my inner child was screaming no. I followed that script we all learned as young girls. Moaning at all the right times. There was no pleasure at all. I believed that having casual sex and seeming “chill” made me sexually empowered. I didn’t want to go back to avoiding it completely out of fear like how I was in the beginning. Even in relationships, I’d tell myself to “get it over with” and put their desires before mine.

What made me realize something had to change was when I cried during sex. Yeah, that was…awful, awkward, I don’t even have the words to describe it. I remember texting my roommate after, in tears, asking if that’s happened to her. She said no. I experienced probably what was one of the worst flashbacks in my life. This is just my own observation, but I feel like that happened because I wasn’t listening to myself for a while. I kept saying “yes” or thinking “ah whatever, It’ll be over.” for way too long. It was as if my body had to step in and say, “it’s time to listen to yourself, it’s time to change.”

That’s when I decided to redefine in my mind, what makes a woman sexually empowered.

It has nothing to do with how often or who you have sex with. It’s an inner sense of self, a set of guidelines, the openness to learn about all of your desires, fears, and what you like and don’t like. It’s a promise to never abandon yourself and to follow what makes you happy. It means to continually practice listening to how your body responds to certain things. It means to become familiar with your menstrual cycle, make your own choices when it comes to birth control and self-grooming. It means to learn how to say what you like. It means to understand that sounds are an energy being released through your body and not something that is “thought about or timed”. To have sex as often or little as you want. It means to learn about your anatomy and what your vagina looks like. To be able to say the word vagina, without embarrassment or shame. To know that pleasure doesn’t only come from sex but also candles, salt baths, dancing, fuzzy blankets, facials, long talks with friends, or going to sleep in clean sheets and a t-shirt.

You already are a sexually empowered woman, it’s just that we have to clear the fog of all the “should’s” we have learned in society in order to tap into it.

Breaking Anxiety Agreements Workbook- Why I Decided To Write This

Anxiety, Anxiety, Anxiety. We hear about it all the time. There are different types of anxiety and different causes. The word in itself alone can bring up fear for us. Weirdly, if you think about it, anxiety is just …anxiety. It’s there for a reason: survival instincts. It’s there to keep us alive. However, it can bleed into other areas of life other than just survival and that’s when it gets messy.

I still get anxious. Like, REALLY anxious. I’m not going to stand up here and say “I used to have anxiety, but I no longer do, and here’s how to…” Nah, nah. In fact, I’m going to admit, over the past few months, I resorted back to old ways I used to cope with anxiety.

I go into it more in next week’s post, but to give you a summary: I relapsed. A lot of life’s challenges knocked me down this past fall and instead of getting back up- I would resort to things to knock myself out. The areas in my life that were once stable, began crashing down. I was constantly getting sick and instead of using the sources and knowledge I had to cope with these things, I had a “fuck-it” kind of attitude and went back to old ways. I hid my habits, became distant, flat, and lost interest in everything.

This workbook includes the tools, awareness, and knowledge that I wish I had taken. Honestly, I have been avoiding putting this book out for a while because I would’ve felt like a hypocrite if I did. How could I lead others towards the light, if I wasn’t doing the work myself? So, today, I am using these self-awareness techniques when it comes to breaking away from anxiety and destructive coping behaviors. I hope that these tips will help you, too, climb out of the darkness. Yesterday doesn’t matter, today does.

With Love,

Fiona

Here Is A Link To My Book, Breaking Anxiety Agreements.

TRAUMA AND THE BODY

Let me first start by saying Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is a brilliant, brilliant man. He’s an author who has dedicated tons of his research towards PTSD. You may have heard of his book, The Body Keeps The Score. After reading this book a while back and listening to many interviews with him, I was not surprised when I found out his approach to treating trauma is done through bodywork, such as yoga. In fact, yoga addressed many trauma wounds that talk therapy was not able to reach or heal.

 Dr. Bessel van der Kolk talked about the two most common therapies that are used in a New York Times Magazine post: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. He stated that the purpose of this therapy is to “desensitize” the patient to the fear, which isn’t effective therapy for trauma because desensitization is not the same thing as healing. The other therapy commonly used, CBT,  is where the patient will look at their thoughts and see the illusions with a rational perspective. However, again, he pointed out that this is another ineffective therapy for trauma because “Trauma has nothing to do with cognition, it has to do with your body being reset to not interpret the world as a dangerous place.” Trauma needs to be reset in the primitive parts of the brain, which talk therapy, or CBT, cannot reach.

Most therapy uses the “top-down” approach, which addresses the “evolved” part of the brain, otherwise known as the neocortex. This is where you’ll talk and learn to observe your emotions and thoughts. Now, of course, this is helpful, but trauma is stored in the body through sensory. You cannot rationalize with that part of you that goes into “fight or flight”. This is why therapies such as EDMR, brain spotting, somatic therapy, yoga, and hypnosis really help propel one’s recovery from sexual abuse.

This is also why addiction is hard to break when it is just approached by addressing emotions. We must understand that aside from emotions and genetic factors, the limbic system in the body is highly activated. You cannot rationalize with surfacing addiction urges, just like you cannot rationalize with PTSD triggers. This is why this “bottom-up” therapy approach can help with addiction, especially if trauma related. I talked in my podcast (Episode 2) this past week about how to deal with this part of the brain, which is the limbic system.

I thought that by avoiding certain people, places, sounds, or experiences would prevent me from being triggered. Yet, after trauma your entire nervous system is still on high alert, meaning your body is still acting as if you are still in the trauma. If you are someone, or know someone that experiences frequent flashbacks, nightmares, or can’t seem to be brought down to earth, then here are some suggestions that have helped me, and still to this day continue to. The “bottom-up” approach to healing trauma is essential. It really gave me a glimmer of hope when I felt like I was failing talk therapy that I had been going to for years.

Types of Therapies That Address The Body:

-Trauma Sensitive Yoga

-EDMR

-Somatic Therapy

-Brain Spotting

-Neurotherapy

-Hypnosis

-EFT (tapping)

-Accupressure

-Massage

-Acupuncture

Books, Videos, and Resources:

The Body Keeps the Score by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk.

In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts by Gabor Maté

Episode 2: Breaking Away From Old Thought Patterns, Behaviors, and Addiction.

Gentle & Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Sequence for Grounding and Upper Body Release (Video)

When A friend Tells You

You’re shocked, speechless, and trying to put together the right words to say just within a matter of seconds. No, no, no. You don’t want to believe it. You’re scared for them.

When a close friend discloses they have been raped, you want to do everything you can to help them. You want to take their pain away. And as much as I wish it were possible, you can’t alleviate the pain from them. What you can do is give them comfort and unconditional support. That makes more of a difference than you may think. Now, before I discuss ways you can help, I’m going to give you a few tips on what to avoid doing when a friend discloses to you that they have been abused. From personal experience, the reactions of family and friends made a strong impact on me.

What NOT to do:

Don’t ask questions, especially ones that are not relevant at the moment. I know, there are probably a ton of questions surfacing, but hold back right now from asking them. Examples of unnecessary questions are: Why didn’t you tell me right away? Were you guys ever romantically involved beforehand? Did you try to push him/her off? Why didn’t you report it after? Basically, if you are questioning yourself whether you should ask the question or not, I’d advise to not ask it.

Don’t minimize it. Things like, “Well at least he didn’t…..,” or “It could have been worse if he..” is not the thing to say. Even if you were also abused in the past, avoid bringing up your story at that moment. By not bringing up past cases, you are giving your friend’s story that necessary space to be talked about. It also can feel overwhelming to hear other survivor’s stories at that moment, because they may automatically and mentally place themselves in the other story, especially if they were abused recently.

Do not give the benefit of the doubt to the rapist. “Were they drunk?” “Did he know what he was doing?” “Maybe he thought you consented to it,” “He was such a good person, I can’t believe he’d do such a thing.” When a friend tells you that they were abused, the focus needs to be on them and not the rapist. It doesn’t matter about all the past times the abuser has seemed like a good guy, and it’s not even that important right now regarding who it was. What matters at this moment is that your friend was raped and they need your help.

Which leads me to…

What TO Do:

Try, (I know it’s hard) to remain calm: Sudden outbursts and cursing the abuser’s name isn’t going to help your friend. When someone has been through something like rape, they need a safe, calm, gentle place to go to.

Fewer Questions and More Statement Responses: “I’m so sorry you went through that,” “You didn’t deserve that,” Empathy is key here. Instead of direction and problem solving, most survivors need a good listener at the moment. Other good things to say are “I am here to listen,” “I love and care for you, and will be here to help you in any way you need.” 

Listen, Listen, Listen: Although you may want to go find the guy and kick him in the balls, hold off from telling your friend that. It may be a difficult story to listen to, but by just listening you are giving their words air to breathe. By just speaking out loud without questions and comments, the survivor feel heard. One of the worst feelings as a survivor to feel is to feel unheard, not believed, or misunderstood. I know you have a lot of questions and a lot to say, and it may feel like you’re not doing much by listening, but this is, in fact, one of the best things you can do.

“I Believe You,”: Is one of the most consoling things for a survivor to hear. Before telling you, they’ve probably had many back and forth conversations in their head about whether or not to say anything. This especially goes for cases when the abuser was someone you knew. A lot of the time survivors hold back from speaking because the pain of not feeling heard or believed just makes the wounds even deeper. So the fact that they are disclosing this to you means that they are really going out on a limb by sharing. They trust you. So by saying, “I believe you and am here to help,” seals that trust between both of you. Sexual abuse shatters the survivor’s trust in anyone, so to be that foundation of trust is one of the best things you can do. Your friend needs a trusting figure in their life right now.

Support Their Decisions: “That was a crime and I want you to know that I will be there to support you if you want to report it.” Remind them of that option, but don’t pressure them if they don’t want to. I know you probably want that prick to be charged but go with your friend’s decision. A lot of people ask “Why don’t survivors report rape?” and I can give a list of reasons right off the bat. When a survivor reports a rape, they are the ones who will be going through a lot of hell. Not the abuser. You see, there will be hours of sitting in waiting rooms at the hospital, station, or court. It’s torture. Rape kits feel beyond invasive. There will be stacks of endless paperwork where they’ll have to write that person’s name down over and over again. They’ll be asked many detailed questions, bringing them back to that moment of the assault for days on end. Going through this process feels like a nightmare you can’t wake up from. The survivor not only has the psychological reminders and flashbacks of the abuse replaying in their mind every day, but they will then literally have to devote their days to the case after reporting it. It practically becomes the core of their life during that process. What you can do is to offer to be there with them if they want to report it and remind them that they won’t be alone during the process.

**If your friend disclosed that they had just been abused: please also remind them of the option that by keeping evidence, it will help their case later on if they choose to report it. Examples of this are: Waiting to shower, brush teeth, eat, smoke, or drink. Honestly, after rape, all you want to do is to wash it off. Definitely validate that by saying, “I know you want to shower right now, but maybe wait until after you see the doctor just in case you will need it as evidence later on.”

If the rape just happened, reporting it is the last thing they are thinking about. Actually, they are probably having a difficult time thinking clearly at all, so a good first step to offer after listening is to go to the doctor or hospital. Remind them that they can still go to the hospital and not have to report it to the police right away. The police will be informed that a crime has occurred after the rape kit is completed, but no charges will be pressed until your friend chooses to do so. The hospital’s main priority is to take care of your friend’s physical wellbeing and collect evidence if they chose to report it.

As a child, when I spoke about the abuse, it was not handled correctly by my mother. This impacted me emotionally almost just as much as the abuse itself. There were a lot of excuses for the abuser such as: “He had a hard life,” and “but remember, he had his own problems.” There was also a lot of, “Your brothers can’t know,” “If your grandfather finds out, it would literally kill him,” “Don’t you dare tell anyone because it’ll make my family look bad.” However, looking back as an adult, I know her intentions were not to cause shame or to hurt me, but more that they were strong reactions that stemmed from her own fears and wars. She did the best she could with the tools and knowledge she had at the moment. But now after you read this, thankfully you will know better. The things is that: most abusers are people you know. I know you may feel shocked, betrayed, afraid of how relationship dynamics may play out within the family, community, or friend’s circle, but please believe your friend and tell them that. Remind them that you will support their decision no matter what. That’s what they need.

Recently, I disclosed to my friends about recent incidents that happened with someone a lot of people trusted, even myself. After opening up about it to a close friend of mine, I cried afterward. Not just because I was overwhelmed and afraid regarding the situation, but more because he responded to me so compassionately. It was then that I realized THIS is what support looks like. These are the responses I wish I heard when I was younger. If you are reading this as someone who has been abused: I want you to know that there are people and good friends out there like this that you can trust. They might not be blood-related, but there are still good, trustworthy people in this world. I promise. If you are reading this as a friend of a survivor: Please be like this friend who stood by my side. The reactions of friends and family impact the survivor much more than you think. When I felt like I couldn’t trust people again, these responses from my friend reminded me that there are people you can trust. There are people in this world who care.

Here are some of the consoling things that were said that you can also say to your friend who was raped or abused physically and/or emotionally:

“If something happened, I want you to know that it’s not “dramatic” of you to be uncomfortable.”

“I don’t know what happened, and I won’t ask but if you need to talk, I’m here.”

“I am so sorry.”

“Listen, you did not deserve that.”

“We are good friends and it does make things complicated but what’s more important is the RIGHT thing.”

“I got your back like a chiropractor sis.”

THIS is what support looks like, this is how to respond.

Much Love,

Fiona

What Once Served A Purpose

It was at a hot yoga class a week ago when the instructor had us go into frog pose. My body tensed up at just hearing the words “frog pose” and even more so as I sank deeply into it. Even though I’d focus on loosening up my shoulders, jaw, and hips one at a time, my muscles still tightened up seconds after I went focused on the next part of my body. I was ready to sprint the hell out of that 90 degrees heated room.

Like life, nothing is permanent, not even frog pose. Eventually, the instructor-led us into a restoring savasana and said, “This savasana would feel very different if we didn’t go through all of the poses before. It wouldn’t have felt as rejuvenating.”

That got me thinking.

Trauma is experiencing extreme discomfort that isn’t controllable. To self protect, survivors have learned to dissociate and find other coping mechanisms such as addictive behaviors to escape that discomfort. The behaviors had served the purpose of protecting us from feelings, memories, and experiences that we felt unable to handle. However, if we’re constantly numbing ourselves from the discomfort, we won’t be present to feel the pleasure in life either.

Numbing yourself with drugs or alcohol before sex can be a way to protect you from those flashbacks, but that also comes with never being able to truly connect with someone through sex. That trust and safety that you really desire within, will never come from numbness. In fact, it distances you not only from your partner but your body and spirit as well. The same goes for eating disorders, those behaviors give you that illusion of control but you are actually destroying your body as well as many other areas of life such as relationships, work, school, or inspiration for the future. Addictions such as these becoming replacements of where the trauma is in your mind but takes away your attention from everything else too.

Ah, just one of the 4am walks across town that I barely remember.

One of the greatest milestones in healing from sexual trauma is learning to remain still and present during the discomfort. If we learn to be present in those moments, we also will start to notice other ways to respond to it rather than numbing out. Not being stoned, high, or drunk during sex gave me the awareness to know what exactly causes anxiety as well as the opportunity to speak up about it. It gave me back my own power in what I experience, rather than hoping for the best while numbing out from it. Making the promise to stop abandoning oneself while passing through the obstacles of discomfort will illuminate the opportunities of solutions to it.

Doing your best to remain grounded during these moments is key. Try scanning your body to locate where the anxiety is manifesting and then breathe into it. If you feel like you’re pulled up into a tornado of thoughts, focus on bringing attention to your lower body like your legs or feet.

If you are alone and are experiencing panic, one of the best tools I have learned was EFT, also known as tapping. Now, at first, I thought it was stupid and tedious. Yet over time, it has become one of the most helpful coping mechanisms that bring me out of that whirlwind of panic after experiencing anxiety. A great resource is Brad Yate’s YouTube channel. Try his “Trauma and Abuse” and “Sex Issues” EFT videos.

When we learn to observe the discomfort and remain present, we can ask ourselves what we need to feel safe. Maybe you have been in survival mode for most of your life, but now, I want you to know that you deserve to thrive and live a life of adventure and freedom while also feeling at peace. I promise, with time, you’ll learn how to move through your own versions of frog pose in life.

Snapped

In my dream, wearing torn flannel sleeves, I lit a cigarette between my teeth as I walked down the street underneath fall’s golden canopy. And no matter how hushed I tried to be, I’d walk over crunching leaves and twigs that would snap beneath my feet. It reminded me of the part I played around you: tip toeing around to avoid that break.

Don’t snap.

I’d continue to hold back.

You’d tell me this is a game, like I’m some object to claim. Yet, no one else was playing or saw it that way. How much proof did I need to get it through, that my decisions aren’t up to you? Dreams, six strings, and burning leaves, you’re now marked in my memory. There were moments you were so sweet, driving me around the brick streets, singing to me. Yet, after I said what I had to say, you crossed over into the wrong lane, and you took it too far that day.

That hit took me back to the past. How sick is it, you even knew about that? I no longer will be that sweet, pretty, quiet thing you wanted me to be. Your opponent in this “game” that you claimed isn’t the other men, it’s the fact that I will speak the truth until the very end. I know you must hate me for speaking about that, so just think of it as my way of hitting you back.

-Again, September by Fiona McHugh

I remember a therapist I went to years ago told me that it is common for survivors to find themselves in abusive situations later on in life. Her words illuminated that dark corner in my mind that I had refused to look at. Many people, including myself, may be confused as to why this happens. In fact, wouldn’t you think it would be the opposite?

If you feel like you are repeatedly finding yourself in relationships or incidents that are hurting you, there’s a reason why. Before I continue, I want you to know that pain isn’t love. If someone doesn’t respect boundaries and hurts you emotionally or physically, yet tells you they love you- I want you to know that isn’t love. Maybe you haven’t experienced a safe and trusting connection before and it might seem foreign to you. You deserve to feel heard, safe, protected, valued, and respected. A major part of love is unconditional respect.

On an emotional scale, the abuse lies at the veryyy bottom. Whether it happened once or repeatedly, it greatly impacts one’s perception of how they believe people should behave towards them and what they deserve. Logically, we know that we don’t deserve any type of abuse, yet amid everything, it’s can be difficult to become aware of when abuse is happening. Meaning this: If you learned from an early age or a past relationship that love goes with pain or always being on alert, it may be difficult to notice red flags immediately because that pain and lack of boundaries is a familiar experience.

Repetitive experiences and emotions create beliefs. Overtime these experiences become normalized (even when they are not normal.)

To this day I’ll notice old beliefs. The other weekend I was sitting across from my roommate in our living room and found myself saying, “I know he hit me, but I don’t have a bruise on my face or anything, so it’s not that bad.”

Stunned, she said, “Fiona, he HIT you!” At that moment, I realized I had set the bar so LOW on what I deemed as tolerable. Now this just occurred this month, and at that point, I thought I had worked on these beliefs and boundaries (OK, not all of them.. yet haha). Apparently not. This is also the reason I am writing this because it reminded me that there isn’t a finish line when it comes to recovery. Of course, there are markers on the path, but healing is a continual process.

@indig0 -artist

After my roommate’s comment, I began to look back at all the other things I would tell myself after being in weird situations with men such as, “Well, he didn’t rape me, it could’ve been way worse.” It’s embarrassing to admit that was even a thought!!! In my mind, anything that wasn’t rape wasn’t “as bad,” because none of the other actions were as traumatic as what I had experienced. However, that doesn’t mean that those actions are acceptable, tolerable, or ever ok for a human to experience.

If the bar is set at sexual abuse, anything above that experience may not seem as severe. Except it is. Listen, if you are in a situation right now, where you are questioning yourself whether someone isn’t safe to be around, chances are, you have that feeling for a reason. If other people are saying there is something off with that person, they may be seeing something you’re not. Like gravity, their actions will continue to fall down to where that bar is set. People who engage in abusive actions oftentimes continue to push the boundaries as much as they can.

Now, does this mean you are destined to forever be in abusive relationships? Hell nooo. That is why I started this blog, to help survivors break away from the responsive cycles that stem from trauma. Let me quote Alan Watts for a second:

“You’re under no obligation to be the same person you were 5 minutes ago.”

It’s time to rewrite and cultivate new beliefs. Now is the time to raise the bar. Someone laying a hand on you, threatening you, or constantly disrespecting boundaries shouldn’t even be in the picture of what you should tolerate. I don’t care if it’s a longterm friendship, partner, relative, or coworker. It’s just not acceptable.

Here are some categories to give you an idea of where to start:

-Physical Boundaries

-Sexual Boundaries

-Emotional Boundaries

Have you ever really admired a friend’s partner because of how well they treated your best friend? You deserve those same qualities, and you can be those qualities to someone else. Relationships aren’t meant to cause chaos in one’s life. Life is too short. You will find your tribe and partner. It will all work out, but just write down those boundaries and accept nothing less. If you’re doing this and then meet someone, that’s when you know it’s the right person for you.