The decision to feel after a lifetime of disassociation.

I woke up from another nightmare this morning. Before the alarm clock. Just close enough for me to not be able to fall back asleep, not that I’d want to, for fear of seeing this night’s “bad guy” waiting behind my eyelids.

I’m exhausted. The kind of exhaustion that comes from spinning your emotional wheels and re-experiencing trauma after trauma until you wake up to shaking hands and a racing heart. The kind where naps aren’t even comforting any more because day-mares are now a thing.  But just like every night I lay my head down, I take that gamble because I have no choice.

The decision to feel after a lifetime of disassociation. I made it myself. I did it for a beautiful reason but it doesn’t take from the absolute agony I feel every day. Sometimes I talk about it, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I fall asleep after being on the phone and crying to the point where I scream but make no sound so the person on the other end doesn’t know. Sometimes I wake up screaming in the middle of the night. Sometimes my alarm goes off and I do scream…into my pillow, and cry, hands shaking and heart racing.

Applying eyeliner in the morning with tears in your eyes is impossible and yet I do it more often than not. I have to because my face must be brave when I wake up the 9 year old girl who sleeps across the hall, unaware of what her mom is going through behind her own door. I have to smile and pretend I’m listening when she tells me things about books and friends and school and the charge on her computer. I have to turn my head when a rogue tear escapes, overflow from what’s waiting when I come back inside after putting her on the bus.

I want to crawl out of my skin and cry and scream. I want to be hugged but I don’t want to be touched. I want to curl up on my couch under a soft blanket and stay there until I feel safe again. I want my cat to sleep on me like she used to, purring and sharing each other’s warmth. I miss her. I miss Nancy. And frankly, I miss who I could have been if none of this ever happened and my brain wasn’t riddled with PTSD & triggers. I would love nothing more than to stop this day-to-day horror show funhouse I feel like I’m walking through.

The decision to feel after a lifetime of disassociation. I made it myself. And I have to stand by it now. So I sit down at the dining room table, I finish my coffee through what I hope is the end of the tears for now, wrap up this bit of writing and get on to work. I’ll listen to an audiobook or some music I love as I get through this day. I’ll try to refocus, reframe and readjust. And if the tears come again, unlike steeling myself and stifling them as I used to do in the past, I’ll let them flow, dry my face and keep going. I will get through this. I won’t give up.

As always,
Love Light & Blessings
~Sarah Gallardo

Valentines Day 2017

To be soft.
In a world that is hard.
In a world that will shake you to your core and leave you a shell of a person, in tatters.

For someone who has survived severe trauma this sounds like an impossible task. It feels like exposing every major artery after almost bleeding out, once before. I never fully understood the gravity of this, the sheer ridiculous faith one must have in order to wholeheartedly try at love again, until now.

But before I continue, let me clarify the use of the word “soft”. I don’t mean “to be weak”. For so long that’s what I thought it meant. I believed I needed to be hard to keep myself safe. This is a trap. If we all went through life with our shields up, how would we ever really see or get close to one another? By “soft” I mean open, trusting, vulnerable. I mean not to fight for a “safe distance” in a relationship while simultaneously wanting to feel close to someone. It’s like a porcupine. Sure, they’ve got a back side full of needles, but their tummies are so soft and warm. There is no feat of bravery in showing your quills. Courage is rolling over and showing your soft side to the one you love.

And so I have taken the leap and tried at love again. Truth be told, at first I was waiting for disaster, waiting for the other shoe to drop, waiting for yet another disappointment. My life experiences trained me to expect this. After leaving my abusive ex husband, I had had other tries before. They ended in heartbreak, like the slow removal of a bandaid that never had the chance to heal anything at all. In fact, I learned more about what I don’t want from a partner than what I do want. What I didn’t realize at the time but I do now, is that I wasn’t showing up in those relationships 100%. It didn’t matter what the other person did or didn’t do (not to dismiss their bad behavior), I wasn’t being my authentic self. I didn’t even know who that was. I had become so attached to my armor that I became it. I was a “take me or leave me” girl, and I set it up so that I’d be unfazed if they left. That is not love for anyone involved.

Now I realize the importance of give and take, compromise, communication, trust, honesty and vulnerability. I have taken the leap. I showed my soft side to the most amazing man I’ve ever met. This after four years of attending a weekly domestic violence support group, becoming a trained counselor and still going to one on one therapy every week, to this day. So yes, I put in the work to learn about choosing to surround myself with healthier people. I’ll always still be learning. But I know this, I have a wonderful friend and partner by my side. He taught me what it feels like to truly be loved. He’s my person. He’s someone I can learn with, grow with and tell the truth to without being judged. And the most beautiful feeling of all; I can trust him with my soft side knowing he’d never intentionally hurt me. It’s not easy. We make mistakes, we fumble, we flounder at times. It takes work. We’re not perfect and we both know it. But I think we’ve grown to love that about each other, and in the process I think we’ve grown to love that about ourselves.

There is no such thing as fantastic reward without fantastic effort and fantastic faith. To me, the most real, down to earth, splendidly simple kind of love that I have found is the most fantastic reward of all.

As always, thanks for reading!
Love, Light & Blessings

~Sarah Gallardo
To S.B.

You Are Enough

There I was, at a dinner like any other. Something we had done so many times before. Sitting in a daze of the phrase, “You are enough”.

Maybe it was the way that he held my hands and looked into my eyes when he said it. Maybe it was the fact that I know he never minces words, that he means what he says in serious conversations always. Maybe it was the fact that I so desperately needed to hear it, and more so believe it. Whatever the reason, there it was. Said. Out of his mouth and lingering in the air between us, waiting for me to pluck it from its orbit and soak it into my soul. But no part of me wanted to do that. Walls, barriers, barricades, crocodile motes, pitchforks, fire and brimstone… All the training throughout my life began to kick in. “You have to do more. Be more. Give more. You have to prove yourself.” And all the lessons people had taught me about love. “I’ll give you this if you give me that. Sacrifice yourself for no return. I will love you if you give me… (Oh my God is this really what I think?)… I will love you if you…”
I had to stop. In that moment I had to put my head in my hands and hold onto it for fear that it might explode, rustling my long straight hair as if to close the curtain around my face so I had something to hide behind. There was really no point. I know the look on my face gave me away. But as hard as I tried to avert his gaze, I couldn’t. He held me there and refused to let me go, making me hear it, making me see myself the way he did. There were a few times I could recall being trapped in his eyes before and seeing, really seeing each other. But never like this.
He had asked me how I was feeling. Something we agreed to check in with one another about more often. I talked about how I’ve been struggling lately. A particular event that happened in my personal life recently, was affecting me so much more than I wanted people to know about. So much more than I wanted to know about. He was there when it happened, a reminder of horrible things from my childhood, and he’s been there ever since. No judgment, just understanding. Only, I’ve been there too. Judging myself the whole time. Holding myself accountable for offenses that had been done to me in a time when I was powerless to stop them. Telling myself I should be stronger. I should be better. I should be over this by now.
I’m not.
And I can’t pretend to be anymore. That masquerade does me no good. It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t do this to me but, I can’t forgive myself. Yet…

But here’s the good news… I’m not alone. I haven’t always chosen the best people to surround myself with but I think I’ve got it right this time. They love me. They want to protect me. They forgive me when I can’t. And my dinner date, the one whose eyes can hold me in a moment and calm me in a panic. The one who has stood up to protect me when I couldn’t do it myself. The one who held onto me when I let go of myself. Well, he’s enough too. He’s more than enough. We both are.

A Letter To The Man Who Molested Me:

Part of me wants to write so I can spill this out of me and leave it. Almost like I can remove it from myself as I type these words. Part of me doesn’t want to write at all, but curl up in a ball on my couch in a comfy hoodie, covered in a blanket and watch Pixar movies while eating ice cream all day. As you can see, I chose to write.

A letter to the man who molested me:
Hi. You know me. You’ve known me for years. I remember you always holding a beer, working on cars in our yard, when I was growing up. I remember that you used to get shaky and need another drink. I remember you being rude and upsetting my mother. I remember screaming at the top of my lungs for you to get out of our house one summer day. I herded you out like Amalthea in The Last Unicorn when she forces The Red Bull back into the ocean. All of maybe 9 years of me. I was small but big at the same time. I got in trouble for that.
I remember being upstairs in my bedroom, with a curtain for a door, which was kitty corner to the bathroom. I was 13, home alone and just about to fall asleep. Our front door was always unlocked. My father prided himself on the fact that his friends and family could stop by and feel like our house was theirs too. You did feel that way, didn’t you? You came to our house to use the bathroom. You had drank too much. Then again, you always did. The distance from the bar to your house must have been too far, even though our house was the other way. Did you know my dad wasn’t home? I know why you didn’t just pee on a bush in our yard like you used to do if all the guys were there.
I remember hearing the door open and close downstairs. At first I thought it was my dad, having come home. It wasn’t. I remember seeing your profile through the curtain in my doorway and pretending to be asleep. I thought that if I play dead, like a possum, you might just go away. You didn’t. I could smell alcohol…so strong, like you had bathed in it. Stale and sweaty. My spit spattered face wetter with the tears that were sliding down my cheeks, escaping from the corners of my closed eyes. I remember wishing that I no longer existed. Feeling that I was disgusting and that I couldn’t ever tell anybody or they’d think I was disgusting too. I felt like a leper. Broken, wasted, used and discarded.
I have never been the same.
I was blamed for my depression. I was told that my panic attacks were me being dramatic and to walk it off. I was blamed for the behavioral results of the pain I went through. And I blamed myself too. Hard. Hated myself, in fact. I cut myself, burned myself…I couldn’t feel it. I couldn’t feel anything. My wounds could not be touched because they were so deep. They threw pills at me like I was a guinea pig. I lost years of my life to “finding my right combination of medications”. My fault. My depression. My fault. My fault…
I worked at getting better. Through severe abuse, through rape, through suicide attempts that I wished were successful but weren’t. My struggle to live, to heal, was like trying to run through quicksand, with a couch strapped to my back, and no desire to do it.
I am still here.
And you know what? I’m better than anyone ever thought I could be. Including myself. I help people. I show others what it is to be strong by doing it every single day. I take responsibility for my life no matter how hard it is. Because at the end of the day this life is mine, and how far I go in it is up to me.
You, my ex husband, my dysfunctional childhood…are the couch I tried to carry for so long. My fault…my burden. No. I’ve cut the straps and let it all fall off. It does me no good, so I let it go. I let you go. And I don’t need you to admit it, or anyone else to believe me in order to feel validated. I know the truth. And I know it’s not my fault. It never was.

What you took from me is gone. I’ll never get it back. But that’s ok. Look how far I’ve come without it! And look how all these years later you are in the exact same place. I don’t hate you. You don’t deserve that from me. You are sick and you always will be. But me? I am strong. I am stronger than you. You don’t matter.

A Gaggle of Geese Cross the Road

Yesterday, as I was driving into Middletown on Rt. 9 S, I saw a gaggle of geese in the process of waddling their way across three lanes of highway. They were trying to cross from the right, over to the median on the left. I can only assume that they were going to traverse the lanes going north, to get to the lake on the other side.
As does happen on highways, people were driving 65 to 70 miles an hour. We had to round the bend in the road, so nobody could see the geese until they were very close. I remember being in Drivers Ed class and being told that if it’s possible you could cause an accident by avoiding an animal in the road that you should continue moving forward, hence running over the animal. That rule never set well with me. I understood why they would teach us that but I wasn’t happy about it. And to be honest, I haven’t followed that rule, always risking an accident over blatantly killing something with my car. (There’s a story about a turtle, but I won’t get into it now)
On this particular evening I happened to be driving in the left lane. The geese hadn’t gotten close enough to where I was driving yet. I remember fighting the urge to pull my car over and guide them across the highway like a vigilante, donning my invisible traffic director’s vest and getting them across safely. I thought twice, however, as I’m sure I would be risking certain death. I continued moving forward with a horrified look on my face as I saw the cars breeze past. At that point I became very angry with the drivers who seemed not to care about the well-being of these beautiful creatures. As I motored on down the highway, however, my perspective shifted. It occurred to me that geese can fly. I then became annoyed with the geese. “Hello! Guys. You have wings. Kinda ballsy to just saunter across the highway like that, don’tcha think?”
I know that geese are very loyal birds who travel in a tight-knit circle. It’s possible that one of them was wounded or that there were babies. I began to create a back story as to why they had chosen to walk and not fly. Their leader’s wife, the matriarch, had taken ill. The gaggle put her in the middle of the circle and escorted her across the highway, knowing exactly what they were risking. It was an act of sacrifice, love and bravery.
Whether that is true or not, isn’t quite the point. I’m not sure if anyone involved in that situation was happy about their choices and the outcome. But I did come up with a moral to this story, so here it is…
If you can, if it is within your capacity, if you are equipped, ready, willing and able. If you are presented with the choice, please don’t think twice.

 

 

 

 

 

FLY!
As always, thanks for reading!
Love, Light & Blessings
~Sarah Gallardo

Surviving Domestic Violence- Rebuilding Life Through Art.

I am thrilled to support two amazing women and Sister Survivors, Ewa Grochowska and Vanessa Stevens, by attending an upcoming art expo and luncheon. The Power of Purple campaign is presenting Surviving Domestic Violence- Rebuilding Life Through Art. The event will take place at the Holiday Inn, 10 Laurel Blvd., Norwich, CT., starting at 10am. The cost is $36.00 per person. For more information visit SafeFuturesCT.org or call (860) 884-8945.

I asked the lovely ladies to share a few things about the event and what it means to them. Here’s what they had to say:

My name is Ewa Grochowska, on April 4, 2012 I went from being a victim to a survivor of Domestic Violence. This does not define me but it has molded me into the person that I am today. In December 2013 I created Freedom4Ewa to advocate for all of us who have been affected by domestic violence. I volunteer my time with children living in domestic violence shelters by providing them with art
programs. I use a portion of the proceeds from my artwork sales to purchase the art supplies.

Currently, I have art programs at Safe Futures in New London, CT and Prudence Crandall Center in New Britain, CT. I am heavily involved in continuously reaching out and working to advocate for the domestic violence community. Because of my motivation and continuous efforts I have had the opportunity to speak at high-schools, universities, to individuals and non-profit organizations, newspapers, news stations and initiating campaigns where I share my story of abuse and survival to spread awareness. I share my story to reach out to other victims and survivors so they know they are not alone. I want to inspire others and give them strength to move on from their abusive pasts. It is my life’s mission to end domestic violence by doing preventative work and spreading awareness!

My ceramic sculptures come from a place within me that is much deeper and intimate than I can explain in words. The ideas are pulled from my personal life experiences and deal with love, hurt, my heart, my mind, my body, and soul. It is a way for me to take all of the pain that I have experienced in life and bring beautiful artwork with deep meaning to the world. The pieces that I produce signify strength and beauty. The strength my pieces convey is something I have personally regained after surviving years of abuse. My art has evolved into a symbol of love, with a strong, positive message of survival and determination. Each individual piece of sculpture represents a part of the survival process that I myself have conjoined with the love of art–specifically sculpting. Each piece evokes a stage in the healing process of surviving domestic violence. I am using my artistic abilities to introduce art into the lives of children that are survivors of domestic violence. The process of producing my art is very layered and emotional, as is every aspect of my life. I take a simple wheel-thrown bowl, and turn it into a sign of strength by sculpting withered flower pedals that breathe life from within.

Vanessa:

The survival and recovery of Domestic violence is a crucial part of where I am mentally, physically and spiritually in life today.
Since the Safe Futures luncheon event focuses on the healing power of art, I’m honored to be a part.  Healing through music was the foundation of my personal survivor/thriver story. It is humbling any time I am to be referred to as a role model for other survivors if that is one way they become inspired.
I want nothing more than my project to be a resource for survivors, service providers, and future thrivers.
I continue blogging, and submitting my articles and short stories about women or overcoming abuse. First songwriting, singing and now writing has been a talent of mine, and what worth is our life if we don’t exhaust our gifts and talents by giving them back through serving others? I know without a doubt I will continue supporting causes that support awareness and prevention, and the work people like you Sarah, and Ewa are doing.  Thank YOU.
Vanessa Stevens
The Purple Song Project Inspiring survivors of abuse it is possible to thrive  and to find freedom within
 Purplesong.com
http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/ThePurpleSongProject

I was carrying the weight of all I had been through. I physically took it on. 

I was helping, experiencing, giving, going through, pushing past & overcoming so many major life events without thinking about myself. I forgot how to be kind to myself, how to forgive myself, how to take care of myself. And I no longer cared to try.
Before my aunt died I was in great physical shape. I exercised every day, sometimes twice a day. I took pride in the fact that I didn’t need to rest like people said I should. I pushed myself so hard physically that I ended up in the emergency room for overexertion. My heart rate wasn’t slowing down enough for me to get REM sleep. I left the hospital with a prescription to rest. Ha! What? Me? Rest? The doctors were not impressed with my want to push through this too.
Reluctantly I tried the rest thing. Two weeks later my aunt died suddenly. My whole world changed after that day. Grief, sadness, overwhelm, anger, frustration, grief, disappointment, regret, grief, grief, grief.
More things in my life unraveled after that. Relationships ended, goals changed and I tread water through it all. I tried hard to look like I was sailing swiftly, easily gliding across the water. I was not.
Fast forward to now. Today. This moment. I have come to realize that I am a whole person. I am multifaceted. I don’t always have it together. More importantly, though, I realize that I don’t have to. Not all the time.
I’ve remembered what I had forgotten. And that is that I need me more than anyone else does. I can be gentle and kind or relentless and harsh to myself. I can make or break me.
Before, my self care regimen consisted of going to the gym, getting my nails painted, taking baths, hiking, reading & taking myself out to the movies or dinner. I am now adding energy healing, cleaning/ organizing/ designing my home space, writing, meditation, yoga, alone time & the quest for balance in my life.
This is a work in progress, as it comes more naturally to me to take care of others before myself or push myself to unreasonable limits. But I am not a martyr. I am a whole person. I’m a work in progress. And I’m excited to see where this new road of clarity and self-care will lead me. Better yet, I’m excited to see where I will lead it.
As always, thanks for reading!
Love & Light,
Sarah Gallardo
Founder & Executive Director of Sarah Speaks Up

sarahspeaksup.org

I’ve always hated Valentine’s Day. Boyfriend, married, single or otherwise… Not because I hate love or chocolate or teddy bears, but because I don’t like being told what to do and when to do it.

Christmas: A time for peace, love and joy. Ok.
New Year: A fresh start. Ok.
Easter: A time for rebirth. Ok.
Halloween: A time to be creepy and eat candy. I don’t know. I don’t get Halloween. Yeah, yeah… It’s another Biblical reference. All-Saints Day. But we all know that nobody cares about that any more. It’s about the candy and wearing things you can only wear one day a year… Ok.
Valentine’s Day: A time for acts of love that you should be showing people throughout the year but most of us don’t. Ok, people. Hallmark! And every co-conspiring store imaginable! What about the single people, like me? What if cherubs freak me out? What if I’m allergic to chocolate and teddy bears? What if don’t want to? Huh?
(Deep breaths…) I’m ok.
So, yes I do have plans on Valentine’s Day. I will be spending it with my beautiful daughter. In the evening I will be giving an interview on a TV show called Bully No More. It airs on Skye Cable TV Channel 13 every Sunday at 6:00. I will be discussing the fact that February is Teen dating Violence Awareness Month. This sparks a great parallel between bullying, teen dating violence and domestic violence. I’ll also be discussing my non-profit organization, Sarah Speaks Up.
After that my daughter and I will be meeting my fabulous, talented, motivated friend Rita, for dinner. We have decided to spend this holiday making a difference, loving each other, and most importantly LOVING OURSELVES! We are doing what we have decided. Not feeling forced to find a date, but to share friendship and simply enjoy each other’s company.
All that being said, my daughter is still getting a necklace, pad and pen set with hearts on them and an oversized Hershey’s hot chocolate mug with candy and a teddy bear inside it. My Valentine this year, Rita, is getting… Well, Rita might actually read this so I’m not telling.
Valentines Day, I have complied with your theme of love, but on my terms.
XOXOXO,
Sarah Gallardo

sarahspeaksup.org