And Here We Go….

Canva - Worried Girl

*Deep breath annnnnnnd…*

This is not an easy thing for me to share. But it is necessary for my own journey to finally release this and stop treating it as my own dirty little box of secrets. There are, of course, some things, some details that will never be shared. Not here and not even with my circle of confidants and support. But I am finally ready to speak my own truth because I realized that when they told me to never tell because people wouldn’t understand or would judge me, I realize now what they were actually saying:

“Don’t you ever tell anyone who and what we really are.”

It was never about me. They weren’t worried for me or trying to shield me from anything. They just wanted to keep up the image they had spent years crafting out of lies and manipulation. I was trained very well to fall in line and do the same. 

Until last year. Last year, one year ago to the day, I cut every tie with my family of origin. My mother, my father, my two older brothers. From ages 6 to 16, I faced every type of abuse imaginable: sexual, physical, verbal, emotional. All at the hands of a mentally unhinged woman, an alcoholic Pastor of a father, and two overly aggressive, violent, and sexually inappropriate teen brothers. I was told at every turn that what was happening was normal, or deserved, or even helpful to the family. From my earliest memories I was taught that my contribution to others was my body, while also constantly being reminded that I was dirty, broken, and used up. 

I took my story back because I’m sick and tired of letting liars tell it for me, but more than anything– I want to show others that it’s possible. It took me 27 years, half a year of intensive inpatient therapy, hours of trauma therapy, and every ounce of support and courage that my loved ones offered up to me to get to this point today. In fact, the below post was originally a homework assignment from my therapist that just kept gnawing at me. I knew I wanted to address all of this publicly but I wanted to do it right. This isn’t about them and this isn’t for them. This is for me, for the girl I was, and for all of the other innocent ones who find themselves in the care of wolves in sheep’s clothing. 

They don’t get to win ever again….

 

 

 

 

Hey small one,

I bet you’re feeling pretty confused right now. Mom and Dad don’t act like moms and dads should. And they ask you to do things that make you feel scared, huh? You must feel very confused when your teacher tells the class that no one should ever touch your privates, when at home Mom sometimes lets people touch you. I’m so sorry that the people in your life don’t know how to protect you. I’m so sorry that it hurts when he puts things inside of you. I’m so sorry that he makes you look at things that you know are bad.

The adults in your life are supposed to take care of you and watch over you and protect you from anyone bad. But baby, they are bad. I wish you had a different family. One that would tell you how beautiful you are and how loved you are. You are an amazing little girl with the biggest heart. You love so hard and give so grace so freely and it only ends up hurting you more. But baby never ever stop being that way. Keep your heart open because one day soon you are going to be surrounded by people who love and support you and want the best for you. I’m going to ask you to do something that is pretty scary but you are so brave and you can do hard things, right?

I need you to listen very carefully to what I’m about to tell you: It is NOT your fault. You didn’t do ANYTHING wrong. Okay? Repeat after me: “It’s NOT my fault.”

Little girl, I need you to tell someone what is happening to you and how you feel so scared all the time. It’ going to be so scary, but even if you don’t or can’t believe me now, you will when you’re older. You are going to be so loved by so many good people, so many people who treat you well for no other reason that that you deserve to be loved and taken care of.

Don’t worry about getting anyone in trouble, baby. You have done nothing wrong. You mother, father, brother, and uncle are NOT allowed to touch you or treat you the way they do. You may not understand this right now, but believe me when I say your body belongs to you. Let me repeat that…Your body belongs to you and only you. You do not have to carry the shame you are carrying on your little shoulders. The blame is not yours, it never was, and it never will be.

There is hurt, fear that cannot be fixed by Band-Aids or poetry. I know that you realized at too young an age that Wonder Woman is not coming. Sweet girl, listen to me when I say that you do not have to wear the cape alone.

But the very people you want to save for no reason other than fear and guilt, those are the ones who are stepping on your cape. It is not your job to save them. They are too far gone, baby. They always have been and as much as they blame you for everything, they also know how to act kind, right? And that’s when you get confused…Maybe they do love me?

Drop that burden now. Do not spend the years of your childhood, adolescence, and adult life carrying guilt that doesn’t belong to you. The people who hurt you are not your people. The ones who step up and shelter you and love you back to health are the ones you need to listen to. They will speak truth into until you can no longer hear any of your family’s voices.

There is nothing that you can do to make your family love you. There is nothing you can do to make them understand your fear and pain. There is nothing you can do to make them change. If there was, you would have done it by now, because all you want is peace. To feel loved. To be free. And in spite of what they tell you, your behavior, good or bad, is not causing their rage and neglect.

There is nothing wrong with your emotions. It is “normal” to feel angry when people are hurting you. It is “normal” to feel scared when people are out of control. It is “normal” to feel sad when people fail to see the good in you. It is “normal” to feel ashamed when the people who raised you trained you to believe it was your fault. But it is not your fault. The fact that you feel a “normal” response to your environment means that you are not “crazy,” and that you are capable of responding appropriately to the things that are hurting you.

You have the right to say no. You have the right to scream it into the face of anyone trying to control you. You have the right to protect yourself. You have the right to get far away from anyone who is manipulating you. Yes, anyone. I know you fear the trouble you will get into for doing it, but I promise you, there are safe people — therapists, counselors, social workers, and law enforcement officers — who will support you. Yes, you will get into trouble with your abusers. Yes, your life will change.

Yes, it’s worth it.

I’ve been there and I’ve seen how this starts to unroll. Despite this letter, it will take a long time for you to realize that you are not at fault, so it will be even longer until you know you need to be forgiving yourself. You are anything but a cliche or trite in nature so I won’t insult you with a garden variety message from the future that “life gets better”. Instead I am here to say that though it’s been ages since we’ve heard from each other – and that’s by my own design to banish you from my current life- I am reaching out to say that I forgive you, small one.

Forgiveness to you must seem both expected and foreign. On one hand, of course you need to be forgiven because- despite most people thinking you are a model honor student- you are constantly told you are doing something wrong.

On the other, forgiveness is not something you’ve ever seen before in your home life. In the chaotic world ruled by fear, hatred, jealousy, manipulation and narcissism to which you were born, forgiveness is a worthless currency. In fact, why would you be so weak as to show someone compassion when you can use any transgressions or weaknesses against them later?

When you grow up, there will be two popular shows called Game of Thrones and House of Cards. The way you have been trained to see the world and think of interpersonal relationships is much like these shows.

That is not good.

But AGAIN– That is also not your fault. You don’t know this yet, but you are being raised by a woman with lot of mental illness for which she will never be cured. She is not someone to whom you can apply logic or reality to. You are savvy beyond your years, ready to debate like a world class defense attorney just for the right to be a normal person, but this will never work on her because she can’t see truth or see you as a separate person with needs. I know you suspect this but you keep trying to win anyway. You feel guilty for learning to live a double life riddled with lies: trying desperately to appear OK to the world and still living within the boundaries set for you to avoid retribution.  I forgive you for that too. You aren’t a bad person and you have only lied out of survival. One day you will tell your secret and though people react in disbelief, they do believe you. You will be diagnosed with PTSD but that is nothing to be ashamed of these days, but rather heralded for the strength and wit to come out alive from what you now think is perfectly normal and unavoidable.

I mostly forgive you for the mistakes you make when you’re a 12-year-old thrust into high school and trying to assimilate with other students for the first time in your sheltered life. You are 185 lbs. and 5 ft. You are currently getting hot flashes of fear as you read that number because you are supposed to be 100. You feel inadequate and ashamed because you have spent all of your time cramming to be skinny enough to make her love you and crash dieting to be a size 0.

I forgive you for wasting so many years hating yourself, because you don’t know better and no one has ever given you an ounce of validation. I forgive you for wanting so badly just to cut your fat rolls off with a knife, because you were told to do so repeatedly. I forgive you for scrambling to make up middle school hookup stories, because you were ashamed that you were the only girl in your class without one after enough to share and you assumed you were too fat to ever be seen as anything but a punch line or a punching bag. You know you shouldn’t have been so childish, but you didn’t have much of a choice.

You know you don’t need to feel bad and you should be strong enough to stand up and embrace yourself as-is, but right now you are at sea without map or moral compass.

I blamed you for “not handling all this drama better” and was disgusted by your shows of “weakness” or naivety that will be soon hidden behind your steel wall of cynicism when you hit 16. But even career badass you, isn’t a tale of innocence lost. It’s a tale of innocence never-had, and a coming of age of what will be the strong self-reliant, hyper-capable woman you become. From age 6, you have been treated as an adult who must face the abuse, control, tragedies, scandals, rawness and that deafening silence before the storm – for yourself and everyone around you who is falling apart as we speak. You take that storm head on and come out a better person for it. You should be proud. I know you feel that failure is not an option so you take everything for granted and rarely feel pride, but seriously, not everyone would have weathered the first few decades as well as you will.

No one raised you. No one told you that childhood and emotions a part of life and not a burden to those around you who just need you to perform at will.  No one prepared you for anything, aside from assuming all people have malicious intent and that you must fight for perfection to be granted basic respect.

Though, you will begin to give yourself some basic respect and learn to love your body even when it continues to grow after you ditch the diet pills she wasn’t supposed to give you at your age. You will shed the toxic brainwashing of a life you once knew. You will move on.

You will soon end the war within and turn your guns on those truly to blame. You will find them pitiful and sad, instead of feeling anger or fear. You will rise up and stand your ground. You will take major risks, but you will feel better and be whole.

You will be healed.

You will be happy.

You will be you.

You will be forgiven.

You will be free.

Sincerely yours, 

28-year-year-old you

PS: You don’t end up marrying a prince from somewhere far away and you definitely don’t get Neil Diamond (but you’ll never stop hoping, girl…)

You marry someone even better, better than you could have ever imagined. Hold on to him tight and love him well.

PSS: You guys have the most brilliant, silly, beautiful, kind, witty, brave, loving, thoughtful, and most fun kids around. Hands down, they are the best of the best. You know what that means? You are not them, you are not who hurt you. You are a mother who would gladly give her life for her babies. You will sit and read with them for hours, you’ll go on daily walks, you guys will bake cookies and laugh and laugh with them.

 

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The Cool Kids 

The Cool Kids 

To my sweet babies, 

There will come a day when you will think I am far too old to be able to relate to you and the experiences of your youth. Sometimes I wish there was a way to dump all of the knowledge and experiences I’ve learned over the years into your heads so you can just bypass all the tears, disappointments and heartbreak that come with growing up. I wish you could just already know that it’s better to have one good friend that you can always count on and will never let you down than ten friends who judge you and throw fuel on your insecurities. I hope that we can teach you to follow the call of your spirit and that it leads you to see the world, to take on experiences that challenge you beyond the limits of comfort, but most of all, my greatest wish is that you strive not to be the prettiest or most handsome or most popular kid in school – but the coolest. Cool kids explore their creative interests. They revel in their individualism when everyone else is desperate to be just the same as all the rest. Cool kids are respected because they respect others. Cool kids never make themselves look good by talking bad about others. Cool kids start clubs. They take on leadership roles. They motivate their peers. Cool kids take hard classes. They travel abroad. Cool kids make the most of constructive criticism. Cool kids know that material things don’t make people, character and actions make people. Cool kids are not defined by anyone else’s definition of cool. They respect themselves.

And you, my sweet babies, are the coolest kids of them all. 

My Self-Care Journey

My Self-Care Journey

I’ve been asked more and more about my recent weight loss. How did I do it? How long did it take me? I awkwardly answer as quickly as possible and try to end the conversation. For a long time, I didn’t feel proud of my weight loss at all, in fact, I was embarrassed by it.

See, the truth is that I didn’t try to lose weight. No intentional diet, no gym pass, no pills or gimmicks. What happened was that I got sick. I’ve battled depression, anxiety, and PTSD since I was Noah’s age but right after the picture on the left was taken, a devastating series of events occurred that spiraled me deeper into the familiar darkness of depression. My panic attacks began to increase in both frequency and force. The low that sticks out in my mind is the time that my dad had to call 911 from the side of the 5 freeway, as my husband knelt next to me in the gravel where I was face down, violently gasping for my next breath.

I felt completely out of control of my life and by extension, the lives of my children and family. I was drowning in our circumstances that just seemed to get worse by the day. I didn’t sleep well or often. Most nights I would stay up, sitting in bed long after Tim had fallen asleep, holding my chest and praying that my racing heart wouldn’t give out. I had no appetite and would often go days without putting anything aside from coffee in my body. I started to feel less like a human and more like 3 mental illnesses stacked on top of each other wearing a trench coat.

I ended up losing just over 70 pounds in the span of eight months. And that’s when the compliments began.

“Oh my god! How much weight have you lost? You look great!”

“Wow! You’re so disciplined!”

I would thank them and move on with my day as quickly as possible, but I couldn’t shake the pain I felt knowing that someone was close enough to look at me, really look at the circles under my eyes and the way my shoulders sagged and be stoked that I was losing weight. Like that was the end all be all, like that’s what was holding me back.  I felt scared and alone and every well-intentioned compliment drew me further into myself.

At the urging of my husband and parents, I finally pushed past the fear and shame and sought medical help. I always thought that I should be able to just suck it up and be positive and that things would be better. I held myself to such an impossibly high standard and then gave myself zero grace when I failed at “being happy”. It took me years to treat myself with the love and respect that I dole out onto others, but it’s made all of the difference in making some lifestyle changes:

1. Food: I went from going days without food to eating small, healthy meals and snacks throughout the day. It has been surprisingly difficult for me to do this and I actively struggle with making the choice to eat. One aspect of my treatment is that I now take Prozac and a side effect is loss of appetite. It’s scary how easy it is for me to unintentionally go days without eating. I allow myself to get lost in the hustle of life and put my well-being on the back burner. So I have started making myself a lunch to take to work every day. I try to get creative and stick with things that will pack a protein and nutrient punch without being too heavy. I eat small snacks throughout the day. I order green juices. 99% of the time I definitely don’t feel like eating anything, but I make myself do it anyway because I know that my body needs fuel to do the things I need it to do. It’s an active choice to suck it up and fuel the engine.

2. Caffeine: After years of living in a gross cycle of chugging espresso and taking Excedrin migraine to keep the perpetual headaches at bay, I finally realized that I was making everything worse for myself. The constant flow of caffeine made sleep impossible, which made me tired and nauseous constantly, which made me a miserable jerk. I still drink 1-2 cups of coffee a day, but the espresso had to be weaned out of my caffeine dependent body. And at my doctor’s request, I’ve dropped the Excedrin in favor of peppermint essential oil and good old fashioned Tylenol. To be very honest, the caffeine withdrawals were rough and I wanted to cave and grab my triple espresso to make everything better

3. Sleep: I started taking melatonin to help me fall asleep at night and get my body back into a normal sleeping pattern. I’m still working on making good choices when it comes to choosing sleep and rest, but I’ve come a long way from my old 2-3 hour per night sleep schedule.

4. Exercise: I make sure that I get outside and walk daily. I even enlisted my kids into keeping me accountable by making sure that we take the dogs out on our walk every night. I honestly started this not for the purpose or benefit of exercise, but to force myself into doing something with my kids when all I wanted to do was shut out the world. It quickly went from one more obligation to the sunshine in my day. The effects were immediate and the kids started to get their mom back. The one who is silly and fun, who is always down to read one (or two) more stories at night. The one who takes them on exciting adventures and leads by example. Once again, it started as a choice to suck it up and show up for my kids. But before I knew it, it has become a necessary part of my routine and I even sneak in solo walks first thing in the morning before my kids are awake to make fun of my hand weights.

5. Community: You may have noticed that I am transparent, maybe even uncomfortably so. It’s just that I spent so many years keeping quiet– disregarding my voice and my story. It wasn’t until I began to let my guard down and until I began to get to know others who had similar stories, that I realized the importance of sharing our stories. So I am an open book and I love to talk about the struggles and hurdles that I have overcome and that my family has overcome together because I truly believe that we need each other and that we need to be real. We all love a pretty Instagram filter and a good quote for a caption, but I have become obsessed with people who are brave enough to share what darknesses they have walked through so that may help shine a light for someone who is still lost in the shadow of their circumstances. There is a purpose to the pain we endure beyond our own personal growth and it is to allow real connections, real community, real support.

Nowadays when I receive a compliment, I can genuinely accept it because I know the work that I put in that no one gets to see. It’s more than weight loss. It’s finally knowing that I deserve to and need to take care of myself. It’s understanding the difference between weight-loss and wellness. It’s knowing that regardless of how I feel or what my medical chart says, I am so worth loving and my value is not and never will be tied to a number on the scale.

Our STEM Reads Experience

Our STEM Reads Experience

If you’re a parent, you’re probably familiar with the term STEM. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM cultivation is becoming more and more important because it pervades every part of our lives.

According to the U. S. Department of Commerce, STEM occupations are growing at 17%, while other occupations are growing at 9.8%. STEM degree holders have a higher income even in non-STEM careers. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics workers play a key role in the sustained growth and stability of the U.S. economy. STEM activities create critical thinkers, increase science literacy, and enable the next generation of innovators. Innovation leads to new products and processes that sustain our economy. This innovation and science literacy depends on a solid knowledge base in the STEM areas. It is clear that most jobs of the future will require a basic understanding of math and science. Despite these compelling facts, mathematics and science scores on average among U.S. students are lagging behind other developing countries.

Facts like these can be overwhelming parents, who may not even know where to begin in seeking out STEM activities for their kids. As my kids get older and I do more research into the STEM field and it’s ever growing presence, I have been actively seeking out ways to incorporate more science, technology, engineering, and mathematics into our daily lives.

Which is where companies like STEM Reads come in. STEM Reads is an awesome monthly book club for kids (ages 4-8) who are eager to explore the wonderful world of STEM. Each month, your little readers will receive a box in the mail filled with two (or more) handpicked, kid-friendly books, exclusive Author notes, engaging learning activities, and fun surprises.

We received our very first box today and could not have been happier to see that the theme for April was “Math Mania”. Included in the box is:

  • The Boy Who Loved Math: The Improbable Life of Paul Erdos by Deborah Heiligman
  • Annika Riz, Math Whiz by Claudia Mills
  • Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse To Stay Up Late by Laura Overdeck
  • Math Dice Jr. Game
  • Puzzles and Games for Math
  • Exclusive Author Notes From Deborah Heiligman, Laura Overdeck, and Claudia Mills
  • Math Mania Achievement Badge Sticker

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I love that there is a chapter book for Noah!
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And a beautifully educational picture book for us to read as a family.
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We loved learning about “Uncle Paul”!

The kids were instantly drawn to the dice game, while I was excited to see Bedtime Math included. It’s basically a math devotional – a quick two page read per night that presents your kids with mathematically based problems to solve. What I love the most about Bedtime Math is that they have different categories of problems. Aria answers the Wee Ones question, while Noah answers the Little Kids question and challenges himself with the Big Kids one.

The kids were entertained for nearly three straight hours– no fighting and no X-Box requests! Which is a miracle in our house, especially on a Friday afternoon when the kids are in weekend mode. After I tucked them in and we did our Bedtime Math, they asked if we could play the math dice game again after breakfast.

We can’t wait for next month’s delivery and are already taking guesses on what the theme will be! If you want to join in on the fun, STEM Reads is generously offering $10 off your first order! Just be sure to use this link to redeem this special offer!

Happy reading, mathematicians!

 

 

My Best Friend’s Engagement

Last Friday I was on my way to get Tim from work when Kathrine, Bri’s sister, texted me.

“Shelley!!!!!!!!! I need your help!!! It’s super important!!!!! But you can’t tell Bri!!!!!”

“Ok!!!”

“Kyle needs to know her ring size….”

I have never called someone so fast. By the time she picked up, I was already sobbing, instantly overcome with complete joy. See, Bri and I have been best friends since we were five-years-old. We grew up like sisters, finding second homes in one another’s families. We’ve been by each other’s side through every heartbreak, every triumph, every age and stage. She is the most generous and loving person who works her butt off to take care of her family. She deserves all the happiness in the world and since Kyle has been in her life, that’s exactly what I’ve seen. They complement each other so well and are so supportive and encouraging of one another. They’re also total weirdos who just get each other. 

With all of that history and knowing who Bri is as a person, I was so grateful to get to be a part of this moment in her life. 

Bri, 

You are going to make the most beautiful bride in the world. Kyle is the luckiest guy and you two are a match made in heaven. (Seriously, y’all are nuts, but were clearly made for each other) 

I love you so much, 

Shell 

A Disclaimer of Sorts 


There are so many topics that I want to explore here. Some lighthearted and fun, and some topics that may take an extra dose of bravery to talk about. I’m still finding my blogging voice and it’s fun (and therapeutic!) to figure it all out as I go. 

Since I find myself sharing about motherhood more and more, I want to make something super clear:

I will admit that I know nothing. But even within that statement I am confident in my abilities to find what will work for my children. I know nothing, but I trust the hell out of my own intuition. 

I’ve learned the right amount of shushes and the perfect kind of rock to get my babies to sleep and the perfect ratio of salad to mac n cheese to ensure their plates are clean. I’m a master in the art of Noah and Aria (but them alone).

I just want to make a commitment here to you all, on this little blog of mine that I will always share ideas and things that have been helpful or beneficial in the process of raising up these babies with the caveat that I know nothing (nothing at all) about how any of this might work, or be totally off basis when it comes to your family. It sounds like a disclaimer, but it’s the cold hard truth.

Most importantly, I respect and recognize and marvel at you, my fellow mamas who are experts in your own right about your own sweet babes and what makes their worlds go round. There isn’t another woman on this earth that knows what works for them better than you. And isn’t that something worthy of great pride? 

Because this whole experience of parenting… it’s about making mistakes and holding our ground and learning our way. I’ll keep sharing my story and I hope you’ll all be here to help me keep it real.

On Powering Through

On Powering Through

I dropped the ball last night. I challenged myself to write a blog post, once a day for 100 days. Yesterday would have been Day 7- one straight week of blogging and a small milestone I was stoked to reach. But then yesterday happened.

I resigned from my job at 12:20 pm in the afternoon. I felt relieved for the better part of an hour and then reality (aka my manager) set in.  Long story short, on April 24th I will be starting my new position at St. Joseph’s hospital foundation. I can’t wait for this new role and a fresh start.

In the meantime, however, I’m left in a dreary, borderline-toxic situation. But it’s not hopeless because I have a choice. I can either take personal offense to everything said and done against me for 2 more weeks and let the negativity of others infect me. I can get angry and become bitter. I can vent to my friends, husband, and colleagues around the clock about the injustice of it all. Basically, I have the option of letting my feelings run the show and being a self-righteous, miserable brat.

OR I can choose the hard way, the way that, at the end of the day,  I always end up wishing I chose. I can stay and I can power through with grace and dignity. I can keep my head up and a smile on my face. I can vent through prayer and remind myself who is ultimately in control. When others dump on me, I don’t have to take it personally, because 9 times out of 10, it has nothing to do with me. I can choose to keep my head bowed down and keep my focus on doing good work.

So that, my friends is my choice in this situation. I choose to recognize that it is an insanely huge blessing that:

  1. I even have a job to stress about
  2. I have another opportunity lined up and a reason to give my resignation
  3. I have a choice in the matter

Once I change my perspective, I’m able to be grateful for the entire experience, the good and the bad. I can choose to celebrate the life lessons that I learned here. Yes, they were rough– but going through it is the only way to learn it.

Most importantly, I choose to enter into this new opportunity with a renewed focus and sense of purpose knowing that my worth and my value are not, never have been, and never will be tied to a job title or a company.