Tuesday, April 5, 2011

30 Days Of Truth Challenge | Grow Where You're Planted | Day 5

Day 05 → Think about your childhood ~ does anything come to mind that affected your growth into adulthood?

Seriously?? I don't think I thought this particular writing prompt through very well when I was compiling them for this Challenge. I've covered this question pretty well over the last couple of days (read here, here and here), so I am going to do today's post a bit differently.

April is Child Abuse Awareness Month. I will be doing a full post (maybe more than one) on this later this month; for now, here is an image to start us off...


To see the full Challenge list, click here.
To see Day 1, click here.
To see Day 2, click here.
To see Day 3, click here.
To see Day 4, click here.

Monday, April 4, 2011

30 Days Of Truth Challenge | Grow Where You're Planted | Day 4

Day 04 → Name an area in your life in which you would like to change. What steps can you take this week to affect that change?


Isn't this such a loaded question? I could talk about the weight I want to drop, and how I can take longer walks or eat less bread. Or I could tell you about my obnoxious habit of poking at my poor husband when I'm bored, and how I should probably stop before he has a heart attack or divorces me. Really, there are any number of things I could talk about wanting to change, and any number of ways in which to affect that change, but wouldn't that be just more of the same?

Real change is something not easy to do. It involves a depth of honesty and self-reflection that, frankly, most of us just aren't ready to face. And some things? Some things, you can't change the way you wish you could, and facing that reality takes even more strength, and yes, humility.


The single most frustrating thing about being me - the thing I would change in a heartbeat, if I could - is the anxiety condition that I bear as a scar of a childhood of abuse at the hands of my father. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder manifests itself in many different ways, and each person afflicted has a different experience than anyone else with the disorder. Many symptoms are common to sufferers, but how they combine and affect daily life varies greatly. For me, while I have many different symptoms, I handle daily life fairly well. I go to church, small group, to the post office and the grocery store, and on dates with my husband. I can hold a conversation with a stranger, and maintain long-term relationships. What people don't see is the toll those and other activities take on me over the course of a day or a week, and how certain activities are beyond me completely in some circumstances.

When someone knocks on your front door, what do you do? I know my own reaction...

Who is it? What do they want? Do they mean me harm? Is it still light outside, or is it dark now? What if they are hiding behind the bush beside the door? What if they jump out at me? What if they shove open the door and attack me?What then?? No, no, I'm being silly; no one wants to hurt me, just calm down now. But what if it's someone I don't know, and they want to sell me something or convert me to their religion? How can I get rid of them without causing offense? What if my fear of confrontation takes over and I spend money we don't have? For Pete's sake, I couldn't even say no to that little redheaded 4th grader - and I hate pie!! Or worse, what if it's someone I know, and they want to come in?? That grabby lady at the store yesterday really took it out of me, and I just can't face anyone right now; what if I start crying? And they're not someone who knows or understands why I would just suddenly do that?? Dang it, there's the door again... Maybe if I just sit really quietly they'll think no one's home-- no, wait, the car's in the drive. Would it look weird if I carried this frying pan to the door with me? Maybe if I pour some oil in it first, they'll think I was about to start cooking something - how horrible would it be if they knew I had it because I'm too freaked out to answer the door unarmed?! There goes the doorbell again...

Most of us enjoy feeling clean, and showering is a daily routine for many. Some people dislike showering for various reasons; maybe your shower stall is tiny, dark and cramped, or maybe you have low water pressure which makes shampooing shoulder length hair more of a chore than a tool for relaxation. But I doubt many dread showering because even the thought of it makes them shake from head to toe with dread, break out in an icy sweat, or have violent flashbacks that they can't quite understand (which makes it even worse).

Do I sound dramatic? I'm sorry. I wish I could tell you I am just making all this up for sympathy or new readers, but I'm not. Even writing this down, knowing that people who know who I am in real life will see it makes my hands tremble and my breath quicken; I do not write because I am brave - I write because too many people like me, who suffer symptoms of stress, anxiety, depression, and paranoia, are misunderstood simply because no one steps forward to say "I feel that way too, and we all have very real reasons to feel like we do."

What do I wish I could change about my life? I don't think that's the right question. You see, the things I've experienced in my life have affected me powerfully, and not just in ways that cause me grief. Because of my experience as an abused child, my heart is soft towards others who suffer. I am more ready to run to the defense of the helpless, even though doing so resurrects my own painful memories. No, I wouldn't change the things that have already happened to and around me; I am who I am because of those things, and I wouldn't change that for anything.

But change is not a bad thing! Does embracing who I am because of my experiences mean that I have to accept debilitating phobias and crippling anxieties? Absolutely not!

For most of my life, I simply avoided things that made my life difficult, or that provoked a negative fear response. But over the last year, I realized that living a life of avoidance and isolation is a poor way to live, and I resolved to do better. So I got a dog.


This is Butters! In conjunction with my physician and therapist, Nick and I decided that acquiring the use of a service dog was in my best interests. Unfortunately, the only people in the United States who can acquire a psychiatric service dog are members of the Armed Forces who are diagnosed with a mental illness as a result of their service to their country. Thankfully, it is legally permissible to train your own service animal, and use them without restriction, as long as they meet the legal requirements to act as a full fledged service animal. So, armed with a prescription from my doctor and a letter from my therapist, I adopted an eight week old Chihuahua / Fox Terrier cross breed puppy last March, and began training him as my service dog.

The details of how to train your own service dog could easily take up a full month of posts, so I will refrain from going into detail right now. The main thing, for this discussion, is that Butters's job is to act as a tool that I can use to calm myself down when I have an attack of anxiety, or when I begin to feel paranoid. When I answer the door, he comes with me, and provides a visual reminder that I am safe (he would never attack anyone, its purely a me-thing). If I am having a hard time showering, he hangs out in the bathroom with me while I do my thing, and I talk to him to distract myself. When I need to go to the grocery store, but the thought of all those aisles and people freak me out, I put Butters in his service harness, and off we go. When I flew home from Kansas last summer, he sat on my lap all the way home.

There are other things I can do to make my symptoms easier to bear. An open shower in a well lit bathroom relieves the feeling of being trapped, and an front door with a peep-hole or window allows me to see who is there before I open the door, greatly relieving my paranoia. Sitting in an aisle seat, or at the back or a room often works to relieve unpleasant feelings, as does giving myself plenty of time to get places and settle in, instead of rushing around which makes everything worse.

These tactics don't always help. Butters is still young, and can't go everywhere with me yet; no one would like it much if he started crying in the middle of a movie because he's bored, or begged at Olive Garden, or sniffed ankles during church! He stays in the car or at home in those situations, because he simply isn't ready for that level of service. And while taking him for walks has allowed me to enjoy the outdoors without trepidation once again, there are days when his puppy exuberance is just too much for me, and trying to get him to walk in a straight line is more stress than it's worth. Some days...well, some days it doesn't matter how well behaved and on point Butters is, because I wake up feeling anxious and unsettled, and absolutely everything - from an innocent remark from Nick to another driver looking at me as they pass me on the road - sets off a horrible chain reaction of anxiety and physical symptoms that leave me trembling and unable to form a coherent sentence. Those are the days when I have to make a choice - participate in my life, and risk a serious meltdown, or stay at home and wait for it to blow over.

Every day brings different situations and different choices. PTSD is a chronic illness without a cure; I live with the scars of my childhood every day. What I choose to do with my days is up to me, and I choose to live them to the full extent I am able in each situation, and to thank God that I have the opportunity.

This week, I will take my dog for a walk

To see the full Challenge list, click here.
To see Day 1, click here.
To see Day 2, click here.
To see Day 3, click here

Sunday, April 3, 2011

30 Days Of Truth Challenge | Grow Where You're Planted | Day 3

Day 03 → As a child, how did religion or faith impact your life?


My mother taught me my first scripture verse when I was only two years old ~ Psalm 1 ♥ Blessed is the man... I began to sing at a very young age, taught again by my mother from an old hymnal and her memory of praise songs from the 60's and 70's ~ As the deer panteth for the water, so my soul longeth after You...♪♫ I grew up in Sunday School, vacation Bible schools, and eventually Missionettes, learning tenants of the Christian faith, memorizing scripture verses, and singing singing singing... Every night, before bed, Mom tucked us in and read from my Bible story book and a daily devotional for children.


When I was four years old, I asked Jesus to come into my life and heart. At such a tender age, all I really knew about God was that He had created everything that ever was, that because mankind chose to walk away from Him we were all lost in sin and bound for eternity in hell, and that because God sent his only Son, Jesus Christ, to live and die on earth as the ultimate sacrifice for sin, if I chose to live for Him instead of sinning and living for myself, when I died I would go to heaven forever, instead of hell, and that I would make Him very happy. I had a great deal of awe and respect for God, and it was an easy decision. Despite knowing about hell, fear of going there was never something I thought about - I knew that God loved me and because I loved Him, too, it just wasn't something I needed to worry about. I loved to sing songs to God, and when I ran out of words I knew, I made up new ones and new tunes, and I would sing for hours and hours about how much I loved God. I even remember telling my Teddy about Jesus!

My mother wasn't the only one who taught me about God and the Bible. My father spent more time on the subject than I think anyone realized. While my mother taught me about Noah's ark, my father told me that God expected a wife to submit so utterly to her husband that she never even thought something with which her husband disagreed, and as a daughter, my job was to practice godly womanhood with my father so that when I married one day I would be a good wife to my husband. While my mother taught me that God values honesty and personal integrity, my father told me that my mother was an unsubmissive wife and that I could not tell her about my role in his life because she wouldn't understand that we were only obeying God. Both of my parents taught me that it is wrong to do things that cause other people to "stumble" (to do something they know is wrong), but while that meant not back-talking in front of my younger siblings, to my mother, it meant something very different to my father - it meant hiding the truth from my mother, that her husband had declared me his second wife, and treated me accordingly.

By the time I was twelve years old, I had a very divided belief system. From my mother: God loves me and expects me, as His child, to respect and obey my parents, be kind to my sisters and brother, and share the Gospel with those who do not know Him. From my father: God loves and blesses men, and uses women and girls to make them happy and help them do His will. Even as a very young child, I instinctively knew that my father's belief system was flawed; even though there was a time when I believed that the flaw lay in my own evil heart (because I was never happy and hated what my father made me do and say), I still knew that the real God had not created me to be only a play thing for a man. I felt enormous guilt at the lies I had to tell my mother, to protect my father's secrets, and I hated the role I was forced to play to make him happy. I believed that it pleased God to tell the truth and to be nice to people, and my father's expectations - always enforced with violence and abandonment - forced me to do things I knew deep in my heart displeased God. I was, at times, afraid of divine retribution, but more than anything I grieved that I made God sad.

I was too young to understand that my father's sins where not my fault, and that my mother's animosity was the result of a shattered marriage and fear and isolation. I lost myself in learning new scriptures, new stories, new songs, and in doing what I could to please God, and make my family happy. I couldn't change anything about my life, so I chose without even realizing that I did so to ignore what made me sad, and embrace what made me happy. I wasn't a perfect daughter or sister or friend or Christian, but I did the best I could, and despite everything I was a happy child.

My father traveled a lot, and when he was gone I was able to let go a little of the "Alena" he wanted me to be, and instead be the Alena I was ~ a little girl who loved playing with other children and who loved to learn. When he was home, I put on the costume of "princess" and "lover" that he expected, and I did my best to always anticipate him so that he would be happy with me. I played a role for him, and I was the only one who knew it was a role... and despite my best efforts, I couldn't please everyone. I became despised by my siblings as "the lucky one", who always got to go with Daddy. No one saw what happened when we were alone; all they saw was a spoiled little girl who thought she was better than everyone else.


In 1998, the story came out, and I was suddenly free of my father forever. No longer did I have to pretend to think I was perfect and better than everyone else; no longer did I have to pretend to hate my mother and my sisters and brother. At long last, I could play with my sister and not worry that my father would come in and change the game, and make me do things that hurt both her and me. Finally, I could throw my arms around my mother's waist and declare how much I loved her, without having to worry that my father would be angered and punish me for being a "traitor" for being nice to his "unsubmissive" wife. At long last, I was free!

But it didn't work out like that. Nine years of playing a role is not something you can shake off over night, and it is not something easily forgotten by those who suffered. My siblings didn't trust me, and they harbored great resentment for the apparent favor I enjoyed from our father. My mother, so hurt by the betrayal and years of abuse at the hands of her husband, could not easily shake off resentment towards the daughter who had somehow stolen the man she loved, and treated her with such disdain and disrespect. And I didn't know how to stop being that person; I didn't know how to convince them that it had all been a role, and not the truth. I couldn't fix what I had not broken of my own will.

Through all of this, I still believed that God was worthy of love and devotion. I still believed that when I died I would live with Him in heaven; there were days when I longed for death, just to escape what I could not change. And strangely, I never blamed Him for not protecting me from my father. If anything, I felt guilt that I was not able to prevent my father from sinning; I believed that there was something fundamentally wrong with me, that caused him to sin.

Later that fall, I went to a Christian youth convention, and my heart began to change and heal. Watching the kids around me that weekend, I realized that they had something I didn't recognize or understand - Joy. Their faces shone with joy and love as they sang along during the worship service, and it made my heart ache. ♪♫ Shout to the Lord, all the earth, let us sing... ♫♪ I loved God, but I wasn't happy, and it went much deeper than even that - I had no joy. ♫♪ Power and majesty, praise to the King... ♪♫ I was so tired...tired of being miserable, tired of trying to win back the love and approval of my mom and siblings, tired of feeling like I was responsible for the destruction of my family. ♪♫ Mountains bow down and the seas will roar... ♫♪ And in that moment, I cried out to God. I fell down on my knees, tears blinding me, bruising my knuckles on the cold concrete auditorium riser. I cried out to God, and told Him that if He really wanted me - if He really loved me and wanted to do something with my life - He could have everything. ♫♪ ...at the sound of Your name! ♪♫

My life began to change. I didn't get my miracle; my sisters and brother continued to distrust me, and my mother struggled for a long time with appropriate blame placement. But my heart began to heal, and I learned that even when I couldn't find comfort or peace at home, I could find it in prayer and worship. It took time and a lot of un-learning to find and destroy the wrong beliefs seeded in me by my father, and I discovered along the way that not everyone embraces the reality that victims of childhood sexual abuse are not to blame for what happened to them. At fifteen, I spent a good six months refusing to read my Bible, go to church, or pray because I had been so hurt by a woman in my church that I felt abandoned by God. But eventually I realized that no one was going to rescue me - I had to do what I knew to be right because it was right, and not because it was easy.


Faith was the framework of my childhood. My mother poured a solid foundation when I was barely old enough to talk, and she began to frame out the temple of my belief system through stories and memorization of scripture by the time I was two years old. My father put up walls of his own, weakening the structure with cheap imitations of truth. Eventually, I had to tear down a lot of the existing temple to find the flaws and damage he left, so that I could rebuild with quality in mind. In some rooms, the damage was so extensive that only a controlled burn was enough to rid my temple of rot and decay. My temple was dedicated to God when I was born, and by the time I was seventeen years old, I had made the decision to dedicate it again of my own free will.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on His law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
which yeilds its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff that the wind blows away.

Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgement,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous;
for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked ill perish.

~Psalm 1

To see the full Challenge list, click here.
To see Day 1, click here.
To see Day 2, click here.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

30 Days Of Truth Challenge | Grow Where You're Planted | Day 2

Day 02 → Would you say your childhood was happy? Why or why not?


I am curls and laughter, music and clumsy, and I love my little sisters and brother. I love to make you smile ~ please let me help you! Washing dishes with Aunt Tanya, I cut open my finger on a suds-hidden knife; blood is scary, but these tears are from fear of disappointing you, more than from pain. I dance on the coffee table, singing my songs, laughing and mischievous. I am a mermaid princess with long black hair, swimming in my bathtub ocean. See my whale friends? They just look plastic and tiny; really, they are strong and mighty and swim with me all day! Now I am a mommy feeding my Big Doll ~ thank you, Mommy, for making her for me! Jessica's Big Doll has yellow hair, but mine has brown like me, and I think she is the best...

Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and Fourth of July at Grama's house, with all my cousins, every year after year after year. Grama makes potato salad, and I love the mustard and relish best. Heather, Timmy, Jessica and I wear black olive fingernails, or maybe we are aliens? Kim and Kelli sit with us at the kiddy table, but they prefer not to share their toys; little girls mess up Barbie hair and lose their clothes and shoes, you know. Silks and lace and beads from Grama's dress-up box make us pretty princesses and brides, or clowns and scallywags, all! Richy the cowboy has a faux fox tail, and nicks Grampa's boots from by the door; he is too small, and leaves them lonely on the front porch, running barefoot through the soft green grass in the front yard. Heather and I sit on the steps, shivering in big cozy towels fresh from Grama's dryer, wet from the sprinkler still spinning spinning spinning in the sunshine...

Icky green caterpillars crawling on thistles, crawling on my sister's arms, her smiling face ~ eeeewwww!! She laughs and throws them at me, icky green slimy caterpillars that bite, and I run screaming screaming screaming! I get her ~ dark red clay down her shirt, coats her skin, makes her look like the Indian children we see in town; dark damp red clay from the deep cut in the hills above our house, where we drive our Tonkas and Barbies make their Indian cave houses. Dark damp red clay that stains Barbie's long blond hair; I leave her there, in the cut, under stones and damp red clay ~ she fell so far, up up up at the top of the cut, so far, taller than me with Jess on my shoulders and Richy climbing, stepping on our shoulders! I leave her there, under dark red staining clay and stones...

At Grama's house, cutting trees with Daddy, stacking logs and branches, watching trees fall *crash bang boom* Arms scratched, heaving hurrying keeping up with Daddy, itchy wood chips and dust in my pants and tee shirt, carrying stacking moving logs with Daddy and Grampa. Watching Daddy under that tree, scared worried exhilarated guilty, watching Daddy struggle free. Hide behind the tractor, kids, he's in a foul mood! Heaving carrying stacking logs and branches, working hard, breathing hard, sweating itchy sticky wood chips and dust...


A cute boy down the lane shows me baby birds on the ground, dead, falling from their nests high high high in the hay barn eaves. One baby bird squeaks, and I put him in my pocket, help Mommy and Jess and Richy carry jugs of clean water back to the junk yard house, try not to squish the baby birdy; I am strong, and cary two jugs in each hand ~ and I am only nine! Mommy helps me keep baby birdy warm in a little box, and tells me he eats squishy worms from his mommy's beak; worms taste terrible, but I chew them up and feed them to baby birdy, then he dies and I am sad. Mommy helps me dig a birdy grave in the dirt outside, and I say goodbye; my next birdy will live, and the next, but none of them do. I eat a Robin Red-Breast's breast ~ Jess tricks me! I cry a little, and decide she is mean. Cute boy with the hay barn is not impressed by my selfless chewing of worms for baby birds and laughs at me, stomps my dying baby birds flat. I kick him in his butt and call him a poophead...

I am four today, on a bus in Mexico! A nice man with a black mustache gives me a cupcake, but Mommy throws it away and tells me about strangers. There's a huge huge frog in the neighbor's toilet tank, sitting on the ball, sitting there croaking and looking at me with his huge huge wet eyes! I want to flush him, but the grown ups tell me to go outside. I almost step on a black snake ~ a viper! ~ but Daddy lifts me up and the snake misses my baby toes; Daddy is my hero! The ocean is big, and sand feels funny, but Jessica cries and screams ~ she is afraid of the ocean and its roaring because she is just a baby...

Grampa's arms around me, warm chest against my back, my little mittened hands in his feed the deer, watch the deer lick the big salt-lick, eat oats from the deer trough. Sneaking sneaking, Grampa's not looking, I taste the oats ~ yum! Sneaking sneaking, nobody's looking, I taste the salt-lick ~ yuck! Standing on Grama's blue couch, nose on the window pane, watching Grampa feed the deer, pet the deer on their long fuzzy ears, pet the baby deer covered in red fuzz and white spots...


Home school field trips, with lots of other kids; I want to meet them all, but Jess is shy, and Richy is angry ~ they play Red Rover Red Rover, and Richy is angry, he is crying, he hides in the bushes, hits me and yells go away! Jess is It, and I we all hide, and she cries because she is just a little kid and she can't find us; I pretend-cough and she finds me and she punches me in the arm ~ "You're It!!" We go to Grant-Cours Ranch in Deerlodge ~ it's a museum, and I want to see inside the big big house and all the farm buildings; we play on the big farm wagon by the parking lot ~ Shane, Cheri and me. Daddy finds me ~ I am in trouble, I am not supposed to play with boys, I belong to Daddy. Everyone stays in tents outside the Schubert's house in Anaconda; Mommy and Daddy and the babies in the big tent, Jess and Richy and me in the pup tent, Cheri and other girls in the other pup tent and BJ and Shane sleep outside our pup tents in sleeping bags. No one is really sleeping ~ giggle giggle talk talk ~ but Daddy is angry and I am silent, I do not want to be in trouble for talking to boys, they are my friends! Embarrassed and scared, I snuggle Jessica who is asleep, and try not to kick Richy who is asleep by my feet at the bottom of the tent...

We build together, almost every day; Playmobile, Lincoln Logs, wooden building blocks. We build other worlds, escaping into make-believe, loving our lives through plastic and wood and metal toys. Reinventing ourselves ~ princess, cat, horsey, dog, soldier, Indian, explored, mermaid, bandit, knight, missionary; anything goes. Daddy plays with us sometimes, down on the floor like a great big kid, building castles and forts and laughing as red-headed Gila monster Rosie crashes through the cities of our imaginations, roaring giggling laughing! We love Daddy in those moments, piling on, a dog-pile of flailing limbs and flying hair, screaming laughing tickling abandon...

Sometimes I am afraid. Wish I knew Alice ~ she went down the rabbit hole, she could take me back with her, down the rabbit hole, down down down the rabbit hole. Misty likes to dress me up in big girl clothes, big girl clothes and make-up and hair, hairspray thick makes me choke and cough; her daddy likes it when Misty dresses me up in big girl clothes ~ I am afraid of her daddy, my Daddy's friend Kevin. Dark dark dark...run away, watch those kids on tv, stupid kids in school, stupid stupid...I didn't run away, Daddy, I swear! Confusing, conflicting, frightening ~ it didn't happen, what didn't happen, it didn't happen, singing laughing playing...


I love summer, especially at Grama's house; bright sun, warm breeze, cold sprinkler, and most of all swinging. The swing tree, so big and strong, Richy climbed it once, high high high, even Uncle Robert couldn't reach him! Big boy smiles, striped shirt, dirty jeans, fuzzy crew cut hair. I love those swings ~ two rubber straps hung with ropes, one low one high, swing swing swing. Jessica winds the bench swing, chains wrapping tightly pinch little fingers ~ be careful! ~ twist tighter, let go, spin spin spin! Blue eyes sparkle, darky blond tresses flying behind her, spinning spinning spinning, around and around...

Dark days come, dark days go, Jess and Richy and Rosie and baby Hannah remain. I love being a big sister! Playing house, playing mommy and daddy and baby; I forget the hard days, to remember the happy ones...

To live.

To see the full Challenge list, click here.
To see Day 1, click here.