Happy Third Blogiversary!

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August marks the 3rd birthday for this blog! I almost want to start singing the “Happy Birthday” song!

In the three years that I have been writing on this blog many topics have been discussed and this blog has and is continuing to undergo a process of evolving.

Initially when this blog was created in 2010, as “And I Thought I Loved You Then”, it was a creative outlet to share my journey as an unwedded widow after my fiancé was killed in a car accident in March 2010. This blog started out as a means to reach out to others who are grieving and to share my journey of grief, the good the bad and the ugly parts. My writing has always been authentic and honest.

Throughout my journey I was never afraid to write about the nasty issues of grief that often get swept up under the rug and most of my readers were able to relate to what I wrote because of the transparency and honesty with which I wrote.

In writing I found that what I wrote crossed boundaries of loss. I continuously found that people who have experienced any number of losses were relating to what I wrote. I soon found that I was connecting with more than just widowed people. I was also connecting with people who have lost a loved one and with those who have not experienced the loss of a loved one. As I documented the unique journey of being an unwedded widow, “And I Thought I Loved You Then” became a place of support, encouragement, expression, Hope, community, inspiration and companionship.

In the years since, I have found myself healing from the deep grief that I experienced after losing Greg and year three was a year of intense healing and growth in my life. When I started the third year of grief (2012) I “made the turn” in my own journey and experienced an “awakening” and the desire to want to live and to “create a new normal”.

In April 2012, this blog became “Journey to Living & Embracing Life” – Living, Loving & Embracing My New Normal. This was a reflection of my desire to tell share with others my experiences with creating a new normal after experiencing multiple losses.

More recently in 2013, this blog has become focused on:

Living & Embracing A “New Normal” : Encouragement for Living a Full Life After Experiencing Trauma, Loss or Major Life Transition(s). I discuss topics pertaining to Faith/ Spirituality, Art/ Creativity, Grief/Loss, Healing/Growth, Positive Psychology & Creating A “New Normal” After Life Experiences…”.

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My hope is that by sharing experiences that it will give my readers Hope in their own life and in the struggles that they are experiencing. I hope that through my posts, readers are encouraged in their own lives, through both the struggles and in the joyful moments and that they too can find hope/inspiration/empowerment in the midst of their own circumstances, whatever the circumstances may be.

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Over the last year and a half there have been several changes; and not all of my readers were able to continue reading with the changes that were made because they no longer could identify with what is now written. Prior to 2012, much of what was written was raw and grief focused. Then the process of evolving began to occur and some readers were not at a place in their own journey to connect or relate to the concept of “Creating A New Normal” or embracing life. And that is ok. Each of us has a unique journey that is our own, with our own timeframe and I am very understand and accepting of that.

The third year of this blog was definitely a period of growth.

Thank you for continuing to stop by and read what’s written here. I love hearing from my readers! Feel free to continue leaving comments here, or on the Fcbk links and Fcbk page. I love hearing how you connect to what is written!

I look forward to the next year of writing, seeing this space continue to evolve and seeing Gods plan continue to unfold!

Thank you for your support & continued reading!

Xoxo

@Brandi

Journey To A New Normal – Cindy’s Story

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20130820-223038.jpg Brief Bio: wife, mother, blogger, walker, crafter, teacher, traveler, friend

I am very excited to share this weeks story in our “Journey To A New Normal” series with you! This week’s author is a very close friend of mine. Cindy and I have known each other for over 16 years. Over these years I have had the privilege of learning so many things from Cindy. I have witnessed her account of her journey with depression and I have had the honor of watching Cindy grow and embrace her “new normal”. Cindy is truly an inspirational individual.

I hope that Cindy’s story will help you to see that YOU too can create an amazing and fulfilling “new normal”and that you have it WITHIN yourself to create your “new normal”. Cindy has a very powerful story to share and I hope that her story will inspire you!

Here is Cindy’s story of survival, of finding ways to cope with depression, learning to embrace living a new normal with depression and finding a little bit of Hope along the way!

Cindy’s Story of Survival and Living With Depression

I offered to write about depression because there is a long history of depression and bipolar disorder in my family and depression is something that I have battled with since I was in my teens.

It is hard to make others understand depression. A lot of well-meaning people honestly believe that it is just a matter of being happy or being sad. They will say things like, “cheer up, it will get better” or a host of similar suggestions. I have even been accused of being a drama queen and of over-reacting to certain situations. Outsiders think they are being helpful, or they might even think it is all “fake”, but the truth is that no one knows what it’s like to have depression until they have it themselves. And even then, it can manifest in different ways for different people.

My Experience with Depression

I once had a friend who described her depression as “wanting to crawl under a rock and stay there” or “wanting to go to bed and sleep and never wake up.” I have had other friends who were suicidal. That’s not what depression is like for me. I have never wanted to die. I have never wanted to disappear or to separate myself from the outside world. For me, depression is about hope, or rather, the lack of it.

Living without hope is not an easy thing. I question everything I do. I cry a lot. I worry excessively about the smallest things, but I feel so hopeless that I just cannot bring myself deal with the big things. Bills don’t get paid. Work doesn’t get done. The house doesn’t get cleaned. I do a lot of procrastinating when I am depressed. Did I mention that I cry a lot? A commercial with a sweet mom will remind me of my terrible relationship with my own mom. Or maybe it will remind me that my own children are grown and those sweet younger days are gone. I know this can’t be normal, surely others don’t feel like this? I spend a lot of time wondering why all these terrible things have happened to me of all people, and why God would think I was such a bad person to punish me so. And in all this, there is always no hope. No hope that it will get better. No hope that things will change. No hope that I will ever be happy again. No hope that I will be normal.

My worst episode of depression started in 1997, and it lasted several years. It came on the heels of a move from our hometown in West Texas to Dallas, some 350 miles away from the only life I had ever known. We gave up everything. We moved my daughter who was in Junior High – something I swore I would never do to my kids. My son was just four. We had no friends, no family, and no money. When we got here, the job that was going to make us rich didn’t even pay enough to cover all the bills. The rent was three times what we were paying before. On top of that, I had a car that would simply refuse to start for no reason at all, and I was terrified of being stranded somewhere with no way to get home. I became a hermit. I didn’t go anywhere. I was lonely. I couldn’t even call family because long distance phone calls were expensive. I lost hope.

Have you ever heard of a functioning alcoholic? It’s someone who drinks every day and is constantly in a state of drunkenness, but they have become so good at hiding it that no one realizes that’s what’s going on. They can keep up their job, their home, their marriage, and no one in the outside world is any the wiser that they are drinking more and more and more.

Over time, I became a functional depressive. I learned to smile at strangers and to avoid personal questions that might require me to answer how I really feel about my personal life.

How I Created My New Normal & Live My Life With Depression

Eventually, with time, my depression subsided. Why? I am not sure. But I do know that I have not had a similar depression since. That’s not to say I haven’t been depressed, but I have not since had a depression that lasted so long or that was so deeply felt. If someone were to ask me how I got through it, I would have to say it was a number of things, and I think these same things are what help keep the darkness at bay to some extent. I think part of what helped me was finally making friends. Getting involved in our community, volunteering at school and with scouts, just continuing to function – even though it felt like I was just going through the motions at the time. I also developed a few healthy habits that I think helped turn my life around. Now, whenever I start to feel myself becoming depressed again, I have some ways to cope with it, so the depression does not last as long and it is never as intense as it was in 1997.

Here’s what helps me:

1. Practice your faith, whatever it is. I have a very strong faith in God. I consider myself a Christian, and although I do not go to church, I do pray. I know many people think it is not possible to lose hope and have faith at the same time, but that is what depression is like for me. I feel like nothing is right, nothing ever will be right, and I just have to suffer through this miserable life until God grants me the grace to let me leave it. That is one of the reasons that suicide is not ever a consideration for me, even in the depths of my depression – my faith in God won’t allow it. For me, there is a reason for this misery in my life and by faith in God, I will come out of it. As a result, I find myself praying a lot, multiple times a day, and often down on my knees. It is a humbling experience to get down on your knees to pray. I ask for forgiveness, for guidance, and for clarity – nothing more. When I pray, I find a bit of inner peace. I really do think this helps keep my head above water and restores my hope. I firmly believe that my 1997 depression lasted as long as it did because I sort of lost that faith.

2. Get a good night’s sleep. I can’t ever stress this enough. Good quality sleep does wonders for the body. It’s the only chance the body has to heal and repair itself. The mind, too. Studies have shown that lack of sleep causes all kinds of chemical disturbances, and it can cause depression and anxiety. I used to be a terrible insomniac, but some easy changes to my bedtime routine have made all the difference. I’ve been practicing good sleep habits for more than five years and I sleep better than I ever did before. I try to get on a regular schedule of sleep and stick to it – even on weekends. If I can, I go to bed early and try getting up without using an alarm. Studies have shown that when a person has gotten enough sleep, they will wake up naturally. I also turn off the TV, the cell phone, and the computer at least an hour before bedtime. I recommend that you switch those caffeinated beverages for some nice chamomile tea or a glass of milk, and pick up a book that’s just interesting enough to want to read, but that puts you to sleep. Stay with this routine every day, and it will become a habit. I think you will find you are much more rested than before.

3. Make good food choices. If you have a hard time falling asleep, take a look at your food choices. A bad diet can wreck everything. A well balanced diet will help keep your brain chemicals in check. Comfort foods are comforting because they affect brain chemicals. Foods that are high in fat or sugars cause chemical reactions in the brain that make you feel good momentarily, but cause a severe dip when they are gone. In the end, you wind up feeling worse than you did before you ate them. So stay away from them. Try to eat lots of fish, chicken, fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Avoid processed foods, white breads, and too much dairy. Over time you will notice that you not only feel more physically well, but mentally, too.

4. Drink plenty of water. No. Sodas do not count. Drink water. Slam down a couple of glasses in the morning when you get up. Drink more at lunch. Make sure you are getting at least 64 ounces of water per day. You can even drink more than that. A recent study showed that women have a higher tendency to be dehydrated even when they drink 8 glasses of water every day. Dehydration is hard on the body and it is even harder on the brain. It can cause lethargy, fatigue, irritability, memory loss, and confusion. So drink more water. It washes out toxins, helps curb your appetite, and makes your brain work properly.

5. Stay away from drugs and alcohol. I shouldn’t have to tell you this, but these chemicals are not your friends. They aren’t going to make you feel better; they will make you feel worse in the long run. So just don’t.

6. Exercise daily. Daily exercise causes your brain to release endorphins. Endorphins feel good. If you keep exercising, you will continue to feel good. I find that a daily walk is a mild exercise that I enjoy very much. It doesn’t require a lot of equipment or a lot of time, and almost anyone of any physical capability can do it. I have an iPod full of music that I enjoy and I set out to walk at least 3 miles or about an hour. Walking through my local park gives me some beautiful views and I love the solitude. It gives me time to meditate. It is a very personal time, and it can become quite addicting.

7. Exercise your mind. I am a firm believer that creativity is the language of the soul. There are things our speech simply cannot communicate. That’s when I turn to music, to art, to writing. I’m a pretty creative person. I have a lot of outlets. Many people think they don’t, and that’s simply not true. As a crafting instructor, I often tell my students that creativity is less about skill or talent and more about knowing how to use the tools. I think that everyone can be creative once they know how. So learn how to dance, pick up that guitar, buy some paintbrushes or start scrapbooking your family history. It’s a great way to express your feelings and to learn more about yourself in the process. On January 1 of this year, I began a 365 project where I promised myself to do something creative every single day. It’s been hard, but I’ve stuck to that promise. One of my projects is an art journal that I use to work through some of my stickier emotions. It’s been a tremendous help and is a form of therapy in and of itself. You can read more about it here:

http://craftyneighbor.blogspot.com/p/365-challenge.html

8. Do something for others. Get out of the house and get involved in something. Even if you have to plaster on a fake smile to do it. I often find that charity work can be the most rewarding. Go volunteer at a local shelter or work with at-risk teens. Sometimes being around people who have worse problems helps to bring things into perspective. But try not to compare yourself too much because that can bring on self-pity. Just genuinely be in the moment and try to help someone else have a better life. Being around other people helps keep us from sliding into the depths of despair. And did you know that the simple act of smiling releases endorphins? So smile even when you don’t feel like it. Eventually you will.

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9. Do something for yourself. This is another one I can’t emphasize enough. Often, when I am depressed, I am the last person who gets any attention. Either I feel unworthy or I simply don’t care. As a depressed person, I have to remind myself that I am worthy and I have to make myself care. A simple routine might be to allow myself to buy one new blouse from each paycheck or go get a pedicure every two weeks. Whatever your budget will allow – and you really do need to make room for this in your budget – that is what you need to do. Do it every week, even if you don’t feel like it. But be careful. Don’t use shopping to self-medicate. Abusing that activity can be just as dangerous as abusing drugs or alcohol and can get you in a world of financial trouble. Just do something small and affordable. This care of self helps fight that hopeless feeling and reminds us that we are deserving of happiness and peace. I have to remind myself constantly that I am worth it and that I feel so much better when I can attend to these small things.

10. Never give up. This one is the hardest practice to carry out since it involves holding on to hope. I just have to remind myself that there is always hope. I have to convince myself that it will get better. It’s hard to do, but faith, meditation, and doing something for others goes a long way towards helping that. That corny old saying about counting your blessings really does work. I love my children more than anything else on this earth, and the thought of not seeing them grow to their full potential is more than I could ever stand.

So whenever I start to feel down, I make a list. I don’t write down all the bad things in my life, I write down all the good. And if one of those bad things starts creeping into my head, I turn it around and find some good in it, because there is always some good if you look hard enough. Above all I just refuse to give up. I refuse to live my life in a downward-spiraling funk, and that determination has saved me from hitting the bottom.

So there are my 10 keys to coping with depression. Do these things keep me from getting depressed? No, the only thing that will cure chronic depression is medication and years of therapy, but practicing these concepts does help mitigate the depths of my depression, and it allows me to continue functioning in society until I feel better. Do I follow every tenet to the letter? No, I’m human. In recent years, I was able to start I work from home, so I have a tendency to stay up late, or I don’t have time to exercise, or I might grab some fast food for lunch. And I do still live with the fear that one day some tragic event will put me back into that downward spiral. But I also know that those low periods have taught me a lot about myself and what I think is important. I’ve learned to value and cherish the time I spend with my family and friends, and to take advantage of even the smallest joys.

Looking Forward To The Future

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Using my coping skills, I have found my new normal. It has allowed me to redefine who I am. I love living in the Dallas area now, and call it “home”. Although I miss my old friends and family, I have many new friends here. To combat the depression that comes with boredom of being a stay-at-home mom, I became a volunteer with my children’s schools and with both the Boy and Girl Scouts. I met many wonderful people that way, and the service to others was both rewarding and enlightening. I used my creative skills to start my own scrapbooking and crafting company, which allowed me to meet more new people and make new friends. And then later, I used that company to launch a travel agency, which has turned into the dream job that I never knew I wanted. My goals now are to build that company and hopefully host multiple scrapbooking and group cruises every year.

I will always have depression, and I may never know when it will strike, but when it does, I know that I have an arsenal of tools to help me through it. My life will always have ups and downs, and it will never be the picture-perfect life that I planned, but it is a great life that I have learned to love, and that is my new normal.

@Cindy

Journey To A New Normal – Bonnie’s Story

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Brief Bio:  Age: 41:  Mother, Widow, Volunteer, Scrap booker, Football Fanatic, Coffee Addict, Dreamer

This week’s post in our “Journey To A New Normal” series is from someone whom I am blessed to call my friend. It is my pleasure to introduce you to Bonnie and to give her this platform to share her story with each of you. I hope that her story resonates with some of you and that you will be able to see through Bonnie’s story of surviving and thriving after losing her husband, that YOU too can create an amazing and fulfilling “new normal”and that you have it WITHIN yourself to create your “new normal”. Bonnie is a huge inspiration and has had an impact on me as I create my new normal. Bonnie has a powerful story to share and I hope that her story will inspire you!  Here is Bonnie’s story of survival, finding who she is, taking chances and thriving as she creates a “new normal” for herself and her family.

Bonnie’s Story as a Survivor of the Loss of her Husband

Life was good.  I was married to my college sweetheart.  We had 3 amazing kids together, and I was lucky to be a stay-at-home mom to them.  In October 2008 we celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary in Las Vegas.  Over dinner we talked a lot about the kids, how much we loved them and each other, and what we often talked about – our future. Our ‘bucket list’ was pretty long…places we wanted to travel to, where we might want to live, careers we wanted to pursue. We thought we had a lifetime together.

Family Before

Bonnie & Mark with their 3 kiddos

Then, in November 2008 my life forever changed.  My husband Mark came home early from work not feeling well.  He had flu-like symptoms.  Not unusual, since the kids and I had the flu a week prior.  We all spent a little bit of time with him after school; the kids telling him about their day and wishing him to feel better.  We left him to take a nap while I made dinner, helped with homework, and got the kids ready for bed.  When I went into the room to wake him up to say goodnight to the kids, he wasn’t breathing.  I called 9-1-1, tried CPR.  The paramedics arrived and did all they could but it was too late.  Mark was dead.  He died in his sleep from a cardiac arrhythmia at the age of 37.

I found myself, at the age of 37, a widow.   I was alone, with three kids ages 4, 6 and 8 to raise on my own. All thoughts of my future vanished.  My bucket list was erased, and the rest of my life would be empty.   I couldn’t tell one day from the next.   I somehow managed to get the kids to school (most days), feed them dinner (most days) and kept the house in a somewhat clean condition.  It felt like a period in which I wasn’t actually living my life, it was more like I was observing life go by. That lasted a while.  Looking back, probably not as long as I imagine it did, but certainly longer than I wish it had.

 

How Creating My New Normal Allowed Me to Take Chances, Face My Fears & Find Out Who I Am

Eventually…gradually…the fog lifted.  Now what?  This was my ‘new’ life.  Not one I had asked for, and not one any of us deserved, but this was it.  I was clear that I owed it to my kids and to my husband to start ‘Living’ life again…but how?   I had been a stay-at-home mom for so many years, the only way I identified myself was as Mark’s wife, and mom to Jake, Samantha and Danny.  And now, I was Mark’s widow, and mom to Jake, Samantha ad Danny.  I needed to discover who I was.  Who did I want to be? What did I want my life to be like?

So began my journey of ‘Creating my New Normal’. It’s a long journey and one that I am still on.  I travel this road while traveling the road of widowhood and grief.  I’ve stumbled along the way. I’ve had what I consider to be ‘personal victories’ along the way.  I could share the specifics of what I’ve done, but I don’t think that matters.  Creating a new normal isn’t about what you do.  It’s about who you become in the face of your tragedy, and what you choose to create for yourself.

One of my biggest fears in becoming a widow was how to be the only parent to my three kids.  For the first year or so after Mark died, I truly believed that because he was gone I couldn’t be a good mom.  I wouldn’t be able to make up for the loss of their father.  I simply couldn’t be enough for them. I did things that made that ‘story’ (which I created in my mind) to be true. I was not as engaged with my kids as they should be.  I spent a lot of time ‘going through the motions’.  Once I realized I was doing that I had a conversation with them and made a commitment to them to not do that anymore.  Out of that realization and the conversation with them my new normal means being a mom who is more engaged and is good enough…even if it meant doing it solo.

I found that I had strength.  That one took me a while to own.  And not just the strength it took to get through the past five years.  Sure, I’ve been able to survive my circumstances. But the real strength I realized I have is the strength to be me.  I often forget that, and hide behind my ‘widow’ status.  I made sure people know that about me, and then used it as a barrier.  I created a reason for them to ‘tread lightly’ with me, and not ask too much.  In addition, I used my widow status to shy away from people because they would expect it and not pry.  I realized that my relationships were being limited, and I wasn’t allowing myself the freedom to just be me with people.   My new normal means being vulnerable with people, and sharing who I am, and letting go of being a victim.

My new normal means taking chances. Not waiting on my dreams for ‘someday’.  I’ve owned my own business, I have taken classes that were outside of my comfort zone, and opened up my heart to love again.  Am I afraid?  You bet.  I’m afraid of making the wrong decisions.  I am afraid of getting hurt.  I am afraid of being happy again.  But if I live inside of my fear, there is no future to live into.  So what’s next for me?  I am in an amazing relationship, and we’re talking about getting married next year.  When Mark died, I couldn’t imagine finding love again, or being able to love another as much as they would deserve.  With Patrick, I found that not only could I love again, but I could give 100% of myself to that relationship without ever losing the love I have for Mark.  It’s not an either/or.  There is not replacing, no comparing.  All that’s there is the love I have for Mark.  And the love I have for Patrick.  Coexisting.

Chapter 2Bonnie and her chapter 2! (AKA Patrick!)

The future for me also includes doing work I am passionate about.  Something that is much greater than just a means to support myself and my family – something that will really make a difference for others.  I have been thinking a lot about what that might be.  I haven’t figured it out quite yet, but I keep finding myself thinking about the volunteer work I’ve done with teen cancer patients/survivors.  I’ve played part in providing workshops for teen cancer patients/survivors to make cards for their families and for patients at the local children’s hospital.  Bringing my love of creativity and crafting together with the opportunity to make a difference for others is what makes my heart happy.  Perhaps my future will include doing this on a more regular basis through a non-profit.

Recently, something I thought I had lost has made its way back into my mind…my Bucket List!  It doesn’t look the same as it used to.  Some of the things on it were lost when Mark died.  Some are completely new. With the courage and vulnerability that is my new normal, I’ve opened my eyes to so much more I want out of life.  This fall I will enroll in cooking classes.  Next year I will be taking a trip to Italy (yes, it will be as a honeymoon!).  By next spring I will see a scrapbook project of mine published in a magazine. A lot of things I’ve always wanted to do that, but never took any action to make them happen.

Looking Forward To The Future

My new Bucket List is being written with intention.  Intentionally causing things to happen in my life, and being responsible for how my life goes.  My new normal is living a life that I design, not one that is defined by my circumstance.  One filled with hope, love, discovery, and connection.  My new normal is loving life and allowing it to love me back.

@Bonnie

Embracing Self Care

We live in a fast pace society; our society as a whole is always on the go. Daily life tends to take a toll on most of us and at the end of the day many of us have neglected to take care of ourself and tend to our own care and needs.

Self-care is a very important tool in “Creating A New Normal”. We have to learn to take time to invest in ourselves. We have to learn how to refill our own cups as we embark on our journey of healing.

Embracing self care and setting boundaries can be difficult to learn and put into practice however with mindfulness and self awareness, self care can be one of your greatest allies!

I learned years ago the importance of taking care of myself so that I am able to give my best to the world. Self care is still something that I struggle with and my body tells me when I need to stop and be mindful of my own needs.

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There are numerous ways in which we can nurture ourself in a positive way,
here are some ideas for self care that I have found to be helpful in my own journey of life.

- Listening to music
– Reading scripture
– Going to church
– Practicing my faith
– Sitting in the sun and feeling the warmth against my skin (sunning)
– Gardening
– Hot bubble baths and having candles around the tub
– Yoga
– Hiking
– Photography
– Laying in bed with soft sheets
– Writing
– Creating Art
– Hot tea

What are some ways that you find effective in taking care of yourself?

Feel free to share below in the comments!

@Brandi

Journey To A New Normal – Brandi’s Story

Brandi's header 1Brief Bio: Age 29: Jesus Freak, Mixed Media Artist, Author, Teacher, Advocate, Chocoholic, Tea Lover, Lover of all things 80s!, Daughter, sister, young unwedded widow.

 

My Journey In Creating A New Normal After Multiple Traumatic Experiences

After years of experiencing numerous traumatic experiences such as abuse, intimate partner violence, my parents divorcing and the death of two of my grandparents, both of whom were influential not just in my life but in shaping the person that I am today; in many respects, being with my fiancé Greg was in a lot of ways “creating a new normal” and moving forward in both my life and my own journey of healing from prior traumatic experiences in my life. Then, I lost my Greg and my life changed forever …

Surviving Multiple Losses – My Grandparents

In 2005 I lost both my maternal grandmother and my paternal grandfather. I did not have the chance to know my maternal grandmother as well as I would have liked but her determination and resilience in life is something that I have inherited from her. Several months after her death, I lost my pop. He was a second father figure in my life. He was not perfect and neither is my father but where the other one lacks the other was strong in and together I have been blessed to learn life lessons from two amazing men. My grandfather always had my back, he helped to raise me, he helped to cultivate and ignite my creativity and my passion for reading and being a lifelong learner. My grandfather encouraged me to be inquisitive, to ask questions, and to learn more. He taught me what it was to continue learning and to be dedicated to what the Lord has called you to do and to find time for yourself as well. My grandfather did not have a college degree but he was by far the most intelligent man I have known. When I lost my grandfather, it was like losing a parent. When we found out the he had terminal cancer, it was too late to save him. My father thinks that my pop hid his illness from us on purpose because of life circumstances, and to be honest I would not be surprised if that were the truth. I do not believe that by doing so, that my grandfather meant to hurt those who loved him, he just didn’t see another way to cope with a horrific illness and diagnosis. My grandfather was diagnosed with stage 4 lung and brain cancer. My grandfather fought till the end. My grandfather was a prideful war vet. He fought to remain independent, to care for himself, to fix his own coffee, to finish the several crosswords that he did every day since I can remember. He was diagnosed in March 2005, he did those things till July 2005 and he died July 22, 2005. He fought till the end. I went home from college to help my father and grandmother while they cared for him at home. When he left this earth, he was loved and he is still loved and missed to this very day. When he died, it felt like I lost a parent and not a grandparent. He and I had a very close bond, a bond that isn’t broken by death, a bond that is continued in the memories that I have of him. How I responded in my grief process to losing my grandparents was very different than my grief process of losing my fiancé.

Surviving Multiple Losses – My Beloved Greggie

In 2010, I was happy and in love with my fiancé Greg. We were planning our wedding for May 29, 2010; I was planning everything, I am not a wedding planner type of person. I’m an artistic, take charge, perfectionist person. I was making the last two arrangements for our wedding, working full time, going to seminary full time, interning at our church full time in women’s ministry, co- leading a bible study at our church, etc. I had a lot on my plate at the time. Somehow I seemed to juggle it all and have this amazing man in my life to support, encourage, lead and love me. I am the person that I am today because Greg was in my life. In the time that I was with Greg, he helped me in so many ways, by allowing me the space to be able to grow and heal from life’s experiences. He always tried to be understanding and he was just as open with me in return regarding his own life experiences. He was my cheerleader. Having Greg in my life was the first time since I was a child, where the main male figure in my life was able to care for me and for himself. He was able to be there for me and I was not having to take care of him as well. When I was 10, my father was severely injured and has been severely disabled since. Over the years, I have lost my father and the man that I remembered him to be. In rare times that person will come out of the shell but that is a rarity. I live with a fragment of my father. I have had to care for my father since I was a child. When I lost Greg, it was more than just loosing Greg. My whole life, I was afraid of losing my father and then I lost my Greg instead. I lost the person that u

March 9, 2010 changed our lives forever. Greg went home to be with Jesus and I was left here to pick up the pieces, to figure out my purpose here and to create a new normal.

When I lost my grandfather, I got real quiet, I didn’t interact much with people in the same ways that I did before, I was not going out of my way to be social. I went back to school and focused on school and I did try to get involved in organizations but that was the extent of it. I really went into my faith and I played Chris Tomlin music so much that to this day my father cannot hear any Tomlin song. It does not matter if it is a new song that my dad has never heard before, I played that music 24/7 after my grandpa died so much so that my father associates it with the loss of his father. Initially I didn’t talk much about losing my grandfather. Prior to losing my grandfather, I created am art piece of he and I. his death affected me so deeply that I went into an artistic block for seven years.

When I lost Greg, I reached out to anyone around me and for the first month I could not be alone. I had to be with a person almost all day. It didn’t matter if I was crying or sleeping or trying to eat, I wanted people to be around me. I didn’t listen to music that first month. I could not keep food inside my body no matter what I did or did not eat, no matter what medicine I took. My body was just rejecting itself because it was in such a deep state of shock and my body stayed that way for a long time. I wrote about and had an article published discussing the “Physical Effects of Grief”.

Personally, I felt as though I needed to feel everything and experience everything in order for me to be able to heal and to be able to move forward and create my new normal. My faith is a large part of who I am and having my faith is what has helped me to continue to be resilient and grow from life experiences. My faith kept me going. Jesus carried me when I did not think I could make it one more second.

 

There was a point in my grief journey where I felt I hit my own kind of bottom. A bottom that was very different from ones that I have experienced earlier in my life from other circumstances life has given me. A more personal kind of rock bottom. Losing someone so close to me and the subsequent grief and secondary losses affected me deeply. For a long time that was who I was: A person living with grieving the loss of someone that I love. I often wrote about how I felt like I lost myself. Not just the part of who I was when Greg was here that died with him. But also myself. I felt like I was back in high school again going through that adolescent and young adult phase of “finding myself”.

 

Who was this ghost that remained? Often I felt broken, like a shattered piece of glass, left to look at myself amidst the pieces and put them and myself back together.

Embracing My “New Normal” & Living A Full Life

My journey to creating a “second new normal” has been a path full of changes, healing, growth surprises and new experiences.

Starting my new normal began a few months after I lost Greg. It started simply as this blog. Initially this blog was created to chronicle my unique journey as an unwedded widow and the experiences unique to individuals in this situation. However, I found that my experiences were shared by many, those who experienced different loses than the loss of their fiancé/spouse or life partner. People found that this blog was relatable to their own experiences. After 2 years, this blog turned into a blog about creating a new normal after loss and now this blog is a place for support and encouragement for those who have experienced loss, trauma or other major life transitions. Additionally, I invested time in other people. I reached out and connected with several grief and loss communities to support and be supported by others in the community who were grieving the loss of a loved one.

 

As I started putting the pieces of my new life together, old parts were discarded and new ones were created in their place. I took steps forward and I took steps backward several times before I felt like I was on the right track. With time I reinvested in life, I started to be grateful for what I had in my life and I began to be thankful to be alive. It took me a long time and eventually I started to laugh again, my grief filled tears became joy filled tears, I started to love colors and the color of life. In essence, I started to love and embrace life this life. I started living again. I have done things that I would not have done before because I no longer let fear or anxiety control me. I have done things that I have always want to do but never made time to do before, because I do not know what tomorrow brings. What my reality is and what I know is that anyone can die at any time. I live my life like this is the end. I know that I cannot change that Greg died and that he isn’t here. But what I can change is how I live the rest of my life and how I put the love we shared back out into the world.

I live for each day because I know that I am not guaranteed a tomorrow.

I live in each moment because I do not know what tomorrow brings, all I do know is what I hope for and the peace that my faith brings me.

I live each day to help other people and to bring more positivity into the world. I live each day to give back something positive to someone else’s life, whether it is in my job, in my career, as an artist, as a friend, daughter or sister.

I live each day because I have fought every minute of every day to get to this point in my life.

Many things go into rebuilding a life after experiencing traumatic events that change who we are. In my own life it seems every so many years I have an experience that I can let either break me or I can chose to let it grow me.

In the moment at times it feels like I cannot take anymore and that’s where my faith carries me through. I chose to learn from and grow from the negative experiences in life. While these experiences do not define me, they have helped shape who I am today.

I have learned the hard way that life is worth fighting for and that there is beauty in every day. That every experience can help us grow into the individuals God created us to be. We only have this time and life is too precious to not fight for.

I am a firm believer that we are each born for a specific time period and a specific purpose. God created you and just you for a specific task to accomplish at this specific time.

More recently, I feel like my life has come full circle, I am following Gods plan for my life. This plan is both different and similar to the path I was following when Greg was still alive. I never thought I would be doing some of the things that I am doing, but I also know that the Lord knows the desires of my heart and I honestly feel that what I am doing now is a reflection of both who I am as a person and professionally.

I have always wanted to move away and live where I live now. There was a point in my journey where I didn’t think I could ever leave where Greg is buried because that’s where he is. I was afraid to leave him. Then in 2013, 2 months shy of the 3 year anniversary, I moved thousands of miles away and it has been one of the greatest things that I have done for myself. It took a lot of faith to come out here, alone, broke and just following God. It has not been easy, I have had to fight for everything. EVERY. SINGLE. STEP.

I have the first job that I have had since Greg died. I recently started a second job, one that I love and it is very demanding but very rewarding as well. When Greg was here, I contemplated getting a similar job just before he died. Earlier this year I was in a new relationship, and even though it did not work out I learned so much from the experience. I learned that I do have the capacity to love a new person while still loving Greg as well, which is something that I was always afraid that I would not be able to do.

Losing my grandparents was very difficult for me. There have been and will always be days, milestones, good experiences that I wish that they were here to see me go through. Both of my grandparents were survivors of their own difficult life experiences. They were resilient people. I often feel like they were my first examples of “surviving, thriving and being resilient”. I carry those qualities within myself. My grandfather instilled in me, a desire for lifelong learning, to question things, to be inquisitive, to always try to better myself. Those qualities carry on his legacy. I feel like if he saw me now, and where I am at in life, my grandfather would be proud of me.

Looking Forward To My Future

Losing Greg allowed me to heal from so many other life experiences. Not only am I a better person for having known and had Greg in my life but I am a better person for having lost him as well.

Yes I lost my fiancé and the life we had, the future we planned; but I no longer let that hold me back from LIVING the life that I have left and while I wouldn’t have chosen to loose him, losing Greg has allowed me to become more of the woman God created me to be.

In the last year and a half, I have grown so much as a person. I feel like each day I am becoming one step closer to the woman God has created me to be. I remember a time in life when I could not look forward to the future, when it hurt to think that Greg wouldn’t be here and when I didn’t want to live life anymore. Now I embrace each day and I look forward to the life that I have left. I look forward to doing the Lords will for my life. I thank God each day for this life and for another day to live. I LOOK FORWARD TO LIVING! I make goals for myself and I plan for a future filled with lots of love, happiness and helping others. I have Hope for a beautiful life.

I know that the Lord gave me all these experiences not only to shape me into the person that He created me to be but also in order to be able to help those that He puts into my life to help, to be an example of Christ helping us in the midst of our circumstances and to be an example of surviving and thriving after traumatic experiences.

 

@Brandi

Following God’s Call

God has a plan for me
He has a purpose for my life
and knowing this gives me hope

Knowing that I am falling His calling for my life brings me Hope

At times Walking by faith
Can be hard
When God calls you
Satan fights hard to stop, deter and lead you astray
and away from your purpose

At times talking a step
Walking on water
Can be difficult
Satan fights at every breath
to lead me astray
To discourage me
To make me quit
To make me second guess
things that I know in my heart
are placed there by the Spirit

Even though I have to fight everyday
To live
To survive
To provide
To have hope

What gives me strength, courage, and hope is in knowing that
I am where God wants me to be
That I am here for a purpose far greater than anything I could ever dream of or hope for myself

I know that I was born at a specific time
So that I can fulfill a specific purpose for Christ

I know I followed Gods calling
I know God will provide

My God is faithful

And that gives me Hope.

@Brandi

Journey To A New Normal – Alisha’s Story

Alisha's Header

Brief Bio: Age 27: Stay at home mommy, Wife, Christian, Math Nerd, Overcomer

 

I am so excited to start off this new series! It my pleasure to introduce you to my friend Alisha and to give her this space to share her story as a survivor of physical and sexual abuse. Alisha is in fact, one of the strongest women that I have had the pleasure of knowing. I know the Lord allowed our paths to cross for many reasons. I hope that her story will resonate with some of you and will help you to see that if you are in a similar situation, YOU TOO can create a positive change in your own life. You too can create a “new normal” and break free from abuse. Here is Alisha’s story of survival, of finding herself and creating a new life for her and her family.

 

Alisha’s Story as a Survivor of Physical & Sexual Abuse

By the time I was 15 I had already been molested and violently raped. I was a mother to my younger siblings; a brother who is three years younger than me, and a sister who is three years younger than him. I had enough scars to write a book.

Growing up I was probably the most spoiled daddy’s girl on the planet. When I was about ten years old my mother and father divorced, and although the courts decreed equal visitation rights my mother took my siblings and I. I had never seen my father be violent towards anyone I knew that my mother both feared and hated him. Initially, we stayed at a safe house for abused women and their children, and through their aid my mom was able to find a job and small apartment for us to live. My mom married my dad at 17 years old and had never worked or went to school so she soon found out how hard it would be to provide for our family. She refused any government aid because she feared that my dad would be able to track it and find us. I guess the strain became too much for her and she eventually started looking for a new husband who would be able to provide for us all. Unfortunately, this path lead to a string of men who were physically, sexually, and emotionally abusive to her and who were also often drug addicts. Several months later my dad did find us, and my mom agreed to let him see us for a few hundred bucks, but by that time I was terrified of him and refused to see him. He never came back after that first visit.

When I was 13 years old, my mom worked at a strip club, prostituted out of our apartment, and was addicted to drugs. Her sometimes live-in boyfriend was her pimp, although he never referred to himself as that but he acted as such. He took whatever money my mom brought home and in turn paid the bills and supplied her with whatever drugs she craved. I started noticing the strange way that he looked at me. I had already been molested by a friend of my mom’s so I knew that look all too well, and it scared me.

There was a very sweet elderly lady who lived in our apartment building who opened her home to my siblings and me. Whenever my mom’s boyfriend was home she provided a place of refuge and escape. She fed us, offered us a place to sleep, and took care of us as if we were her own. One day I came home to find my mom in the bathroom tub naked, passed out on drugs, covered in blood and fresh bruises. The water was overflowing and there was a bloody broken crown royal bottle on the floor next to her. This was not an uncommon sight so I sent my brother and sister to the neighbor’s house and I set to work cleaning my mom up. I was busy with the task and didn’t notice my mom’s boyfriend in the hallway looking at me until I heard him step on part of the broken bottle. It was uncommon for him to come home after they fought so I hadn’t even thought to lock the door. He smelt of strong alcohol and was high. When he smiled I felt like prey and knew I was in trouble. I screamed as I tried to fight his advances until he held a piece of the broken bottle to my neck and told me that I had been bought and paid for. He violently raped me on the bathroom floor right next to my mom. He told me that when he and my mom had broken up the day before he cut her off and would no longer provide her with drugs for the tricks she turned. He told her that she would get nothing until he got me. He told me that she got her drugs and he was now entitled to what was his- me. I don’t know if my mom planned on giving me to him or packing everyone up and moving on before he knew any better. I finished cleaning her up, cleaned myself up, and called my dad to come and pick us up.

My dad agreed to come get us and tried to provide for us as best he could but there was an anger in him that I had never seen before. He played the role of the perfect father and was often praised for being a single dad. On the outside our lives were perfect, but behind closed doors we were living in hell. My own family had no clue as to what we suffered at home. He became very hateful and said that my mother had tainted my siblings and I. He became very emotionally abusive to me and physically abusive to my brother. My little sister became his pride and joy but even she tip toed around him fearing to spark his wrath against my brother or me. Although she never was directly abused she saw every beating and heard every hurtful curse.

By the time I was 14 I had already tried to commit suicide twice, and nobody ever knew. My father’s company at work started contracts in Mexico and he was chosen to pull it all together. He traveled to Mexico regularly and eventually was gone for several months at a time. When he was away he had his brother stay with us, even though he had previously been to prison for molesting his own daughter. I guess my dad never noticed how he looked at both me and my sister. I protected my sister as best I could and made sure that she was never left alone with my uncle. He did, however, end up molesting me. When I told my dad what had happened he said I was probably being a provocative slut just like my mother and left the next day for his trip. When my uncle came over I confronted him, with knife in hand. I told him he could keep the money my dad was giving him for watching us, but if I saw him again I would kill him. I don’t know what he saw in my eyes but he never came back. However, I didn’t know that my dad was entrusting my uncle to pay all the bills at the house too.

I started looking for a job the day the electricity went off. I was 15 years old. My dad returned 3 times that year for a span of a couple weeks. I worked, made sure everyone got to school, took care of home, and most importantly, kept any adult unaware of our home situation. The next year I was seriously considering dropping out of high school, despite my 4.0 GPA, because I didn’t have enough time to work and pay all the bills on my waitress salary, so I confided in my best friend about my dilemma. From then on it was not just my battle it was ours. He helped me with the kids and encouraged me to see the good in life. He also worked so he helped me financially as well.

On one of my dad’s trips home he told me that he found someone that he wanted to marry. On his next trip home he brought the pictures from the wedding and told me that he was starting over with a new family. It still took several months for all the paperwork to be properly filed in-order for her to come to the United States but once she came my dad never left the country again. Once she was here my dad mellowed out a bit, although he constantly made comments about starting his new family, and I eventually moved in with my best friend and his family.

How I Created A “New Normal”

My best friend and I graduated high school in May of 2004 and we married in September of that same year. Although I was accepted to attend Harvard University, I had decided to join the military my junior year and got really busy creating a “new normal” where I was free to focus on me a bit. Although I thought things weren’t bad with my dad anymore, my sister was hurt that I had left them there and confided in me that things were progressively getting worse. When I confronted my dad he was only too happy to let them come live with my husband and me.
That was almost nine years ago and my husband and I are still madly in love. We have three kids of our own, two boys and a very demanding six month old little girl, and I still get mother’s day cards from my siblings every year. My brother unfortunately got into drugs but he seems to be trying to put his life together now. My sister is in the Air force and works in the intelligence department. My mom is five years clean and sober and just earned her associates degree. After my time in the military I reapplied and was accepted into Harvard University. I had just finished my junior year at Harvard but felt God leading me to focus on my family. With my oldest just starting school I decided to start home-schooling my children. My husband has a great job that more than provides for us and, best of all, allows us to live in a very small country town in Colorado, only a short drive from the mountains. My life is not and has not been easy but God has been faithful even when I had no notion of Him.

I was asked how I “created my new normal”, but to be honest I am not really sure that I did. How can you live through such an experience and hope to become something that even resembles normalcy. I think it has been more of a journey of freedom; freedom from the pain, flashbacks, dreams, hate, unforgiveness, and the demons that weigh you down. I believe I was given extraordinary burdens in order to help other people that a normal person, or a person that had a more normal upbringing, would not be able to reach.

My first step of this journey was for me to decide what kind of life I wanted to have, and what kind of person I wanted to be. I then took a brutally honest look at myself and noted my flaws and other areas that could be improved upon. For an example, I knew that I had trust issues so I prayed that God would teach me how to trust and to put trustworthy people in my life. I also participated in several team building exercises on a high ropes course geared at teaching people how to trust their teammates. The military also taught me wonders in that department. The first little bit of freedom I felt was when I confided in my husband. It felt so good to lay it all bear to another person and receive no condemnation or ill feelings. When my husband proposed I was shocked and completely blindsided, not because I didn’t love him, but because he was the one person who knew everything about me and still thought I was worth spending a lifetime with. That single act alone made a significant change within my heart.

Eventually I got to the point when I realized that despite of what I had been through I could be better; I could be stronger. God literally took my hand and lead me on a path of healing. He taught me compassion and complete forgiveness. I am very close to my mom now and I genuinely forgave my uncle before he passed away. Even now when I think of him I know the facts, but I feel no pain, just compassion and sadness for a sick struggling soul. I no longer ask “why me”. In fact, now I can say, “thankfully it was me”. I know that sounds a little weird but I know that I am a strong person and I would rather the burden of these experiences be placed on my shoulders than someone who would not be strong enough to bear them. I have seen how my experiences has helped and impacted others. I knew a teenager who was always in trouble and most adults had written her off as a hopeless case. Once I shared my story with her it was like a light came on behind her eyes. She realized that she was not destined to be another low life statistic due to her experiences. We have become good friends and last year she graduated college with honors. My kids are another instrumental part in my journey. They have taught me so many lessons through their innocence and I treasure them deeply. I am able to be a better mom because I know how important a mother is to her child.

 

Looking Forward To The Future

I still am not “healed” and have much growth yet to obtain but I have found happiness- happiness in life, happiness with my family, and happiness with myself. I have hopes of opening a safe house for kids who are on the streets or in unsafe home environments, and thankfully God has blessed me with a testimony that may just reach these kids when others can’t.

 

@Alisha 2013