Be

I’m a woman, but I still call myself a girl. In the evenings before bed, I would do headstands after getting stoned. I used to paint acrylics on tall stretched canvases, and one day stopped. My succulents beside my bedroom windowsill are still thriving and alive. I drink straight-up black, iced coffee in the mornings before eating anything. Smoking cigarettes is now a habit that remains way in the past. I love green juice only if it has lemon in it. I became vegetarian when I was seven years old. Today, I don’t label myself as a raw vegan yet the foods I eat are simply just raw fruits, vegetables, and nut butter because I don’t like to cook. When I moved back to PA from California, I didn’t have any furniture and slept on my yoga mat alone for weeks on end, and swear to this day that it healed my back. I don’t like spending the night at men’s homes. I don’t like being held after sex. My parents raised my two brothers and I in an Irish Catholic/Bohemian household and it’s even more confusing than it sounds. I admire Buddhism, yet learning about Hinduism compels me to think beyond learned limits. As a kid, I liked boys, girls, the gym teacher, my brother’s friends, my father’s friends. I quit drinking once because for some reason I thought it was a good idea to combine vodka with Xanax. After a while, I started again, and have been contemplating this past week once again on stopping. I have immense love for Hot Yoga. I was born in the Bay Area and lived in a Youth Hostel that my Dad managed. Sometimes, when I pray, I don’t have a concrete understanding of who I am praying to, yet I feel consoled. Currently, I believe we are all God yet haven’t woken up to realize it yet. I used to take three showers a day after I was sexually abused at six years old. I’ve written a collection of non-fiction pieces about overcoming trauma & I hope one day to heal others with this writing. However, I am still terrified to put the pieces out for people to read. I’ve been reading about quantum physics over the past month. I am terrified to take acid or shrooms because I know someone that never came back. I write songs at 10 pm every night on the guitar so softly, hoping I won’t wake up the neighbors. 

I used to think that all of these actions, beliefs, rules, and perceptions were concrete. I believed they made up who I was: Fiona. Yet there is a higher part that is aware I am living the life of Fiona McHugh. Think about it with yourself. Isn’t there a part of you that knows you are living the life of ___? When you realize you are more than your name, beliefs, and the things you have done/experienced, your mind becomes a blank slate of who you can be. What is that part? God? The Universe? Your Higher Self? All that stuff above could have been completely different. I could’ve written that I loved Math and play soccer.  The Fiona described above would have been completely different, however, I would still have that same higher part of me that is aware that I am living the life of Fiona McHugh. You see, I think that one of the most important things to learn in this life is how to “break agreements.” These agreements are beliefs, experiences, and rules that you have agreed to “be.” Looking above, those are all “agreements.” When you can separate yourself from yourself, you start to realize that you don’t have to be controlled by “external events.”  I would constantly say to myself I do ___ because of ___. Or, I am ____ kind of person because this thing happened to me. 

It’s not about discovering who you are. It’s not even about working on becoming that change you want. If you are always focused on “becoming,”  you’ll always be in that state of trying to change. That’s why some habits are so hard to break, we’re not living in the end. Instead of being the person that is trying to quit smoking cigarettes, be the person that just doesn’t smoke them. Live in that version of yourself. Your higher part of you that is watching you live the life of __, doesn’t have any rules or limitations on who you are based on the past and what people have told you.  You already are the change you desire. It’s about breaking the agreements and shedding all of the things you believed you were so you can just allow yourself to “be” that version of yourself. 

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.)

The Irish Goodbye

I’ve done it mannyyy times. I know, it’s bad and definitely not an emotionally intelligent move. For those of you who don’t know what an “Irish goodbye” is, it’s when you quietly slip out the door at a party without telling anyone. I vividly remember my grandmother from Ireland putting her cold hands on my cheeks and kissing me on the forehead while whispering, “I’ll see you again,” in her Irish brogue right before she’d sneak out the backdoor. My grandfather on the other hand, who’d leave with her (and was the life of the party), usually blew her cover on the way to the exit. They were fun people. I use to wonder what it would be like to party with them if we were the same age.

I feel like what I’ve done here has been along the lines of an Irish Goodbye. Maybe you follow my Instagram, maybe you don’t, but over the past few weeks, I had been announcing upcoming posts. They haven’t been posted. I started a daily “yoga card/pose of the day” on my Instagram. They stopped. I started this blog back in August with all of this passion. It hasn’t gone away, nor do I think it will ever go away. Regardless of what career or life path I end up doing, this blog is something I will never release. If I could devote my life to one thing: it would be to help other sexual abuse survivors feel free and to create the life they’ve always wanted. That they deserve. After you are sexually abused, there’s a roadblock in your life path. Usually, your time afterward is either spent working through the problem such as therapy, group meetings, yoga, etc. Or it is spent numbing the emotions through substances, eating disorders, and even certain OCD compulsions that guarantee “you’re safe if you do _.” Either way, your day to day life becomes somehow impacted by the trauma.

Anyway, the roadblock currently is not the trauma, it’s constantly being sick. It’s not even the sickness that is the frustrating part, but it’s not knowing what it is. Since the last week of August, I’ve been getting a fever, chills, aches, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes….la de da da da… every week or every other week. Let’s just say, I’ve gotten a LOT of covid tests over the past few months from different care centers and hospitals in the area. Thankfully, they’ve all come back negative. They thought it was strep, it was not. They are running blood tests this week, which probably should have happened wayyyy earlier. I won’t go into the details because it’s boring. I recovered from last weeks fever a few days ago until last night I saw that there were bumps all over my face, and then woke up again with chills and a fever.

That’s when I decided: “Je vais prendre une pause.”

I will be taking a break until I sort out what is going on. I want these blog posts to actually help people, and I feel that if I tried to crank out a post and Instagram updates throughout the week and every Friday, they would be shit. To quote the very first boy that unhooked my bra, (as I told him “sorry, there’s not much there, just fyi,”: “I believe it’s about the quality, not the quantity.”

….yeah, I KNOW, SO many things WRONG that scenario there but I’ll discuss that another day.

All in all, To be able to post content that heals, helps, and inspires survivors, I need to be thinking somewhat clearly. All my clothes are in plastic bins because I am currently in the midst of a move, yet don’t know where I am moving to. I’ll be staying at my Aunt’s. So between figuring that out, my health, and how to make money with frequent fevers, I will be taking a (hopefully) short break. Maybe I’ll start healing affirmations, cry in child’s pose, or continue to make the decoctions that my acupuncturist cousin has been sending me.

I love you all, and this is not an Irish Goodbye.

Because I will be back.

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)

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.

Stay With Yourself

I can’t tell if my head is throbbing because I’ve been crying for days on end or extreme dehydration from sweating out the remaining water in my body during hot yoga this past week. I’m writing this post on a Friday morning. Whereas I usually already have a blog post written and published by then. My world seems like it’s crumbling down. It feels like I’ve washed ashore, coughing up all the saltwater from the sea.

Last weekend I filed an emergency PFA. Right now, it’s too fresh to talk about in-depth and I want to speak about it when I’m in less of an emotionally charged state. What I will say is that it hit me hard with heavy emotional parallels from the past. I haven’t felt such an inherent sense of sadness in a long time. I can understand why most people don’t report because the court process is the most overwhelming experience. I honestly would’ve given up if I wasn’t so concerned about being protected.

I left work early because I couldn’t stop crying. Last night, I began to romanticize in my mind three glasses of wine and Xanax. Or the field trips to multiple liquor stores throughout the week because of the embarrassment of about what the cashiers would think of my frequent trips if I continually went to the same one. I’ve come too far from those habits to go back to them. Right now, I need to be that dependable person that I needed when I was younger. I cannot worry like my mother did, about what others would think, losing relationships, causing ruined relationships. Instead, I need to take my power back and become that person I would be in a heartbeat for someone else.

If you’re like me and tend to escape the chaos through substances or getting another tattoo, try pausing and using these tools below instead.

“Stressors” from Feb 2020

Write: Just write down a list of stressors, they sound irrational but it’s a cathartic release. I learned this from my woman’s studies professor who would have us write what we were stressed about before class.

Do Some Fucking Yoga: The waves of sadness and frustration washed ashore through each vinyasa flow. Pigeon pose will also aid in the release of emotions.

Focus on Health: Instead of red wine, I’ve been drinking a ton of GT’s cranberry kombucha. Instead of relapsing or living off of only green juice and cigarettes, I’ve been making berry smoothies and salads. Lot’s of Liposomal Vitamin C and Zinc to support immunity. Also GABA and L-Theanine for stress. If you don’t know about amino acids and their functions I suggest reading Julia Ross’s books.

Cry: It’s detoxifying, healing, and extremely embarrassing when it happens at work.

Take a Walk in Nature: Listen to podcasts (I personally like Aaron Doughty’s and That’s So Retrograde). Repeat mantras and affirmations (there are tons of YouTube videos.)

Make the promise to never abandon yourself. There are so many “should’s” that cloud our minds as well as concerns about people’s opinions. But you can’t let that stop you from protecting yourself. No one has the right to release their anger physically on you, no one has the right to tell you and decide if their actions and words are making you uncomfortable. Go with yourself.

If you are struggling with dark thoughts and feel like there is no escape, here is a link to a post I wrote on my old blog about moving through the darkness.

Turning The Page

“After, I drove home. Springtime flowers were once again in bloom. I pulled the car up to the same gray house, buried by violet hydrangeas and mossy green grass. I stepped across the stepping stones and damp soil that led into the home that used to keep secrets for me. I sat at the piano, as the peach sun sank into the weeping willow tree. Out loud, again, I began to sing, about it, about him. The echoing keys and distant melodies of my voice drowned out those floorboard creaks I used to shudder from, that rose from beneath.”

-excerpt from “Bloom”  by Fiona McHugh

It was the summer I turned nineteen when I recognized what was happening. For the past year, I had been in a treatment facility for anorexia. My life was made up of group and individual therapy, EDMR (a trauma therapy), terrifying PTSD episodes, being dishonest on my daily check-in chart, escaping the treatment center, going back to the treatment center, putting ankle weights in my pocket during weigh-ins, and digging deeper into the trauma and the pain from other’s reactions. I saw myself nothing other than a victim of trauma and following mental issues that stemmed from it. That year I became VERY aware of how most of the depression and anxiety linked back to the abuse.(For some reason when I was younger I never put the two together entirely.)

Awareness is the first step, grief is usually its friend that follows. Although grief is one of the worst feelings, it’s a sign that you are aware and are in the process of accepting what has happened. (Just FYI- acceptance doesn’t mean it’s ok what happened.) Now, after the immense tidal wave of grief washes ashore (and it will sometimes come again and then go) we begin to see the roots and reasons of our present actions.

Although I became aware of trauma based actions and triggers, I began to solidify them as beliefs of who I was, creating an identity. These beliefs limited me in so many areas of life. For example, some things I believed were, “I can’t heal from anorexia because a lot of it stems from the trauma; I need to drink tonight because I can’t handle being with guys; I will never have sex without crying after; sex is always painful because my body tenses up; I can’t relate to anyone; the OCD impulses are too strong today and so I can’t eat; I can’t go to college because I’m sick; I no longer surf or do yoga because I’m to frail and weak; I can never trust men.”

Do you see how limiting these beliefs are? Now, I’m not saying they weren’t real symptoms I was suffering from. But I was labeling them as who I was as a person. I had accepted that life will always be a battle and I could never feel normal because of what happened. Relating to other nineteen-year-olds was incredibly difficult when your entire life and identity was built around trauma and anorexia. Seeing the problems and the symptoms is important, but believing that they are YOU can create a major pause in your life.

It was an evening during Mid-August when my therapist called me on this. Man, at first, I was offended, like REALLY offended. I was relapsing once again and she had the intake papers for me to sign on the glass table. (There were always glass tables so that no one could hide their food under it.) I refused to sign them, which is when she brought up her observations. She brought to attention that I was letting myself be a victim to my present circumstances instead of taking control. Sure, I was a victim during that moment of the abuse, and life at home wasn’t the most steady environment, but she said that it didn’t mean I couldn’t change that. She told me I had to step into my power, to recognize that I can make decisions and handle the outcome of them. There were solutions, but I wasn’t taking any of them. Instead I just told myself “I am this way because of the trauma.”

I remember leaving the facility and crying in my car for a long time. It felt like a personal attack (although it wasn’t) because I was so bound to these actions, they were who I was. Yet a week later, I began to understand what she was saying. The real recovery isn’t in the therapist’s office or center, it’s by what you do in the real world. That place was there just to keep me alive, it wasn’t meant to be the foundation of my life. That week, I signed up for my first college courses at a local community college. A lot of the grief was expressed through my paintings and writing, and so I decided my focus was in Studio Art. I began to practice affirmations every morning when I woke up. I’d go on long walks listening to affirmation mediations as well. On a piece of paper, I wrote down twelve intentions of what I desired to experience in life that wasn’t mental health-related. They all came true.

Now, have I had to go to individual therapy for trauma and anorexia since? Yes, I still do. Do I like eating? No. Are there moments where I catch myself identifying as a victim? Yep. BUT, Did I take an honest look at my thoughts and actions during those times and decided to not let it become who I am? Hell yeahh! There were many highs and lows since that summer, but never once did I question the decision I made to break the old agreements.

Ask Yourself: What beliefs do I have about myself that are limiting? Who do I want to be? Who are the people I feel comfortable around, and what qualities in myself arise when I’m with them? Chances are the qualities you like about yourself when you’re with these particular people are actually traits of who you already are. This also goes for qualities you admire in others. Go write a list of ten beautiful things you desire to experience in this lifetime or ten new agreements about yourself. If you continually remind yourself that you are not going to let yourself be that trauma identity, I promise, those ten things you wrote down will come true.

If you have any questions about breaking the trauma agreements or where to begin, feel free to email me at breakingagreements@gmail.com.

Grief ANd Loss

TRIGGER WARNING: This blog post contains the subjects of sexual assault and rape. These posts include excerpts from my non-fiction essays and memoirs written for past college courses that tell my story and experiences. My work is intended to help others understand, cultivate awareness, and heal from trauma. 

“I walked into the light. The spring sun rays, gleaming through the window, warmed my freckled cheeks, as the sound of the creaking floorboards rose from underneath. The entire world was still, soothing my trembling frame. I quietly closed the door, leaving the corpse of my childlike body in the damp, concrete basement, downstairs with him.

I tiptoed barefoot across the kitchen floor and entered out onto the patio, with the rest of the world. Laughter and ease filled the air, but it seemed too foreign to be able to console me. My two brothers were playing in the garden with their trucks and baseball bats. I would have joined, but those games didn’t interest me anymore. For the world was altered, it was no longer a child’s place” 

-excerpt from “Bloom”  by Fiona McHugh

A lot of the time I’ve heard people discuss whether rape takes away one’s virginity. Personally, I believe that the argument is pointless because the true loss isn’t the socially constructed label of purity but rather the loss of one’s childhood. After sexual assault happens to a child, the world is no longer a safe place for them. Their perspective of the world is tainted, in fact, the opposite of rose-colored glasses. 

Commonly, children who have been abused are always on high alert. If the abuse happened within their own home, there is no safe place to turn to. Young trauma survivors are often misdiagnosed with ADD or even OCD because of the constant need to escape or control their current environment. Instead, what these children are experiencing is PTSD. Outbursts of anger, excessive daydreaming, lack of attention, extreme emotional responses are all symptoms of a child not knowing how to understand and cope with discomfort and fear of the abuse. Oftentimes, if the root of these symptoms is not addressed, these “coping” tools are replaced with addictive patterns and behaviors when one moves towards adulthood. 

Personally, I was six years old when it happened and didn’t know what rape was at the time. It was very difficult for me to put into words what happened. However, I did notice that I felt different from many of my friends and siblings. I knew I was more anxious, that I cried more, noises and sudden movements startled me than most of the other kids. There are many areas of one’s life that trauma impacts and the grief of the loss of one’s childhood are one of them. 

As I said, I noticed that I was more on edge than most kids. Later on, when I understood what rape was and went to therapy, I felt a deep sense of grief. I was frustrated for not being as carefree as my friends, worrying about sleeping over at friend’s houses, and spending after school hours in therapy instead of playing outside. I felt frustrated and misunderstood when I’d cry in school and no one could understand why. I never sought out affection or hugs from anyone because of the PTSD. 

One of the things childhood sexual abuse does is that it robs one’s experience. It wounds that inner child, and most people don’t give that part of the compassion and love until they are in adulthood. Many survivors carry the weight of the trauma as well as the concern of how it affects their loved ones around them. For example, if the abuser was a family member or someone in the community, it’s common that the survivor carries shame and fear about “ruining” the dynamics of the home or group. My mother didn’t let me tell my brothers or other relatives for years because she was worried about how it would make her extended family look (the abuser was a relative on her side of the family.) For years, I felt like I was the problem, and that I would ruin people’s relationships if I told anyone. 

This situation is probably the most common, and sadly, is not often discussed. I had to learn to comfort myself because I couldn’t receive that from my mother. Many children survivors have to step into this adult role with themselves because they don’t have anyone to turn too. Luckily, although it was not allowed to be talked about in the home, my parents did send me to therapy, where I was allowed to talk about it. Many children don’t get that, and I am very grateful that I had some form of support. 

If you can relate to the loss and grief of your childhood, I want you to know that you are not alone. You may not know anyone personally, but I can promise there are many other people out there who feel the same way. The first step to riding the waves of grief is acceptance. It’s difficult, but one must learn to accept that they did not have the carefree childhood that everyone deserves. Some children may not have been abused, but they may have had addicted parents who were unable to care for them, leaving the child to have to step up and parent themselves as well as their guardian. Knowing that you are not alone in this experience sometimes helps you to accept it. 

It’s pretty common for adult survivors to want to rush through this grieving process because “it happened so long ago.” But that only delays healing. When one comes to the acceptance of reality and processes it, the path forward becomes more clear. 

After accepting the loss of your childhood, it’s important to listen to your inner child and what it needs. Think for a moment- What did you need as a child that you didn’t receive? Oftentimes, our actions in the present subconsciously mirror that need that wasn’t met. It could’ve been protection, trust, or boundaries. Or maybe your inner child is still seeking for fun and play because you couldn’t live in the present at the time back then. In that case, it’s important to do something you look forward to every day. It could be paddle boarding, playing with your dog, taking pictures of the sunset, laughing, singing, or dancing. The main points to consider when healing through grief is to accept, protect, and listen to your inner self. Don’t listen to the voices of what you “should be doing” to heal. Everyone has their path when it comes to healing. There is never a finish line, but rather an accumulation of personal accomplishments and the opportunity to hold other’s hands while guiding each other as we continue to heal along the way.