If You Can’t Handle My Struggles, You Don’t Get to Experience my Happiness

If you haven’t been through some sort of trauma or loss it might be hard to imagine what it’s like to be triggered and instantly flashback to that time and place where the pain is at. It cuts deep, right to the core. You lose all sense of reality and are in your own horror story. That’s what it’s like to live with triggers when you have PTSD. Often times the trigger is small and insignificant but other times they are a roar. It’s especially difficult when it comes from another person, one you love. Yesterday was one of those days.

My grandmother probably had no intention of triggering me. She is 92 years old and can’t help it. She’s looking through life with different goggles on. While she’s been through her own struggles and trauma she’s not gone through mine. No one really knows what it’s like to deal with grief, loss and trauma. Each pain is unique and each person just as different at the next.

I love my grandmother with all my heart. I haven’t always made attempts to see her. My mental illness has gotten in my way so many times and my relationships have severely been impacted. In my mind, I have believed I didn’t deserve love. So of course I shut away anyone who tried to love me. Isolation is a game that depression plays on you. You will never win no matter what kind of hand you have. You can have a hand of all aces and still lose in the end.

I have made attempts to be in her life. I get the sense that no matter what certain people in my life will always only see me as who I use to be. They talk to me about moving on from the past but they’re not including themselves and how they see me. It’s taken me 42 years and all my adult life to get to this point where I’m finally embracing the real me. I’m finally healing from all those old wounds. Moving on from the past isn’t something that can be forced, nor is there a time table that others expect you to move forward. When you endure decades of living in the past it’s a tough task to overcome. For me, it took being miserable long enough to start fighting back.

I’m the strongest I have ever been that means dealing with a lot of past trauma. The deepest darkest sorrows. Darkness as pitch black as a night without stars or a moon. The only thing that remains is the pain and rejection. You’ve ripped off the bandaid and you must experience it for the first time in your new healthy state. It hurts like hell and shakes you to the core. I don’t have the luxury of hiding anymore though I try with all my might to do so. No amount of Pepsi or junk food will drown out these tearful cries for help. I must endure them if I’m to move on.

Yesterday was one of those days. I was so happy to get a call from my grandmother, asking me to lunch. She was a comfortable stranger and I was so content to see her again. I have missed so much time with her and others, and now time is ticking against me but the sad reality is you can’t force things. You can try all you want but sometimes people can’t move past from your past deeds. Maybe they think it’s just a rouse.

My grandmother knows what my father did to me and for a time she tried to push a relationship onto me. The typical well he’s your father and you must respect him. Then after years of that she stopped. I thought finally she realized the seriousness of what he did to me. Finally she believed me and validated the pain. For many years she didn’t say a word about it. She would occasionally mention him but it wasn’t anything about me. I would just nod and agree, waiting for the next topic to talk about. I got good at changing the subject.

I’m sure her aging has caused her to go back to the old ways. I’m also sure that she’s had a change of heart due to her own ticking clock. She just wants to see her son and grandchild finally get along. I want that same relationship but it will never happen, at least not in the way I need it too. You can’t make someone love you. I learned that a long time ago. Since my Mom died I have had moments of my own changes of heart but those quickly faded at the realization that nothing has changed with him. He’s still the same person who hurt me so many years ago. He’s still just as fanatical with God.

If I’m to ever make a go at life I have to keep our worlds separate. I use to hate him. That almost destroyed me. I no longer hate anyone who caused great harm to me. People that were suppose to love and protect me but didn’t. I use to take the blame but it never was my fault. While I’m awake now that doesn’t mean that I’m gullible. I’m strong enough to realize that I’m the one that’s changed.

I use to think I was deserving of his pain and rejection. That was my purpose in life. Deep inside I was unlovable. That was the biggest lie of them all and I no longer believe that. He’s not worthy of my tears, nor my happiness and joy. I have earned this peace of mind. I have wasted so much time in pain and suffering, that I refuse to put it at risk. This is my time, my life. I can do whatever I want to. I have spent enough time in my shoes that I know what works and what doesn’t. People might have the best intentions of giving you input and advice as to how you should lead your life but usually it has nothing to do with them. I find it interesting that people who have made NO attempt in helping you heal show up at the end with all their opinions about your life. Those who act like they are concerned for you but are just really judging you.

If people really were concerned for you they would take action with you personally. They would help you find a therapist, maybe even offer to take you. Instead they talk about you to others who know you. All the shoulds and shouldn’ts. The woulda, coulda and shoulda.

I got to this point today, all on my own. I had no one to talk to, other than my therapist. I had no numbers to call in the middle of the night when I felt like I was doing. I did it by myself. I use to think that as a weakness but now I realize it’s strength. I’m the strongest person there is, well one of them.

Many hurtful words were transmitted yesterday and unfortunately some seeped in but not enough to stop the progress I’m making. My heart is guarded now by a secret garden. Now that doesn’t mean that I’m not suffering today because I am but I now realize that this pain will pass. I just must endure it, let the poison run out of my wounds. That is the only way to heal. You can’t stuff the wound expecting it to heal, it will only become infected with disease. So when you finally unearth that wound you must clean it and leave it open to heal. That’s when the real hard work begins.

I’m not going to lie, there is a part of me that wants to do but it’s faint and I’m stronger. So much stronger. I must let go of the need for validation of my pain from other people, especially the ones closet to me. It will never happen. That was clear to me yesterday. As I sit across from her I started to float away as she continued to lecture me on respecting my father and letting go of the past. I had checked out but I was still feeling the pain seep out. I tried to justify the pain with examples and it wasn’t good enough to warrant not having a relationship with him. Well that was wrong but that was the past. She even acknowledged that he hadn’t changed. That his views were just as radical as before. I couldn’t understand why she was doing this. I even told her that wasn’t why I wanted to see her. Finally after she started to see that I was upset and stopped. She apologized a couple of times but the wound was sliced open. She dropped me off, at my new place, and I was left stunned and unsure what happened.

All my life I have had people tell me to move on from the past. Which usually meant keeping my mouth shut and pretending like nothing happened. When you silence a violent act you silence the victim. I won’t be silenced anymore.

I tried to defend myself, falling into my old patterns. I knew that certain people judged me for being so open about my struggles both on my blog and on Facebook. I’m empathic enough to feel things deeply. The silence says everything. I told her the things he said like I was going to die of AIDS and be alone in the hospital. It didn’t matter. Her need to fix things were a priority over my pain and suffering. I don’t blame her. Nor am I upset with her. I’m hurt, deeply but I will be okay. I know who I am finally and working on myself. I don’t need to be fixed. I just need to heal, allowed to flourish into the beautiful flower that I am inside.

I finally know my impact, even though my grandmother doesn’t. She made it clear how my Aunts felt about my airing my dirty laundry in a public forum. She even said they didn’t approve of me talking about my father either. I tried to convince her that people did find me inspirational and she stopped me, saying that no they didn’t. It was like she was yelling at me. It shook me to the core. She might not see my impact but I do. I understand that my message isn’t for everyone. There are those who will judge me and that’s their right. There are many out there who need to hear my voice. I hope that I’m their lighthouse leading them to shore like so many were for me, like my nieces and nephew. I know what it’s like to feel so alone and no one should have to endure this but they do.

Our pain, trauma and experiences aren’t dirty. Keeping the bottled up is what makes them dirty. There are others who will try with all their might to keep your pandora’s box closed. Don’t let them. Fight with all your might. Speak your truth no matter how loud the no’s are. Your voice is one of the greatest parts about you. The shame of others is not yours to take on. We don’t owe anyone anything.

So I’m going to live life the way I want to. It’s my choice to have a relationship with my father and I chose not to be apart of his toxicity. I love myself too much to endure the pain any longer. I will endure this pain one last time and then I will move on. Which means that I will have to suffer through this week. I will have to fight the needs to overeat. To numb out the pain. It’s already started and I’m struggling to fight but I am. I just have to get through these few days. I realize now that the storm always pass. I no longer will be swept under by other people’s floods. So while I might be eating junk food and drinking Pepsi like crazy I know that tomorrow is another day and I will get back on track. This trigger is just temporary. I will suffer for only a short time and I will push through. I don’t want to leave my apartment today but I’m going to anyways. I don’t want to brush my teeth but I will. I didn’t want to put the meat I bought last week in the freezer but I did. I didn’t want to write this post but I did. I didn’t want to call my grandmother today but I did.

I’ve learned that recovery is about pushing myself out of the discomfort. Do the things my mind tells me not to. Depression is a liar. While the diagnose and disease is real but I refuse to let it hold me down any longer. I will use my struggles and pain to help others. To spread awarenesses about the things that matter to me most like mental health and the homeless. Those with mental illness are some of the strongest people out there and so much stronger than those who try to deny it’s existence. If you beat homelessness you are the definition of strength. Those in my family couldn’t bear an ounce of that struggle. They live in luxurious, glass houses and have never had to endure the pain and struggles that I have. I use to want to be in their houses but I now realize it’s just a mirage. So I’m going to make my own home and fill it with the people who love and accept me for who I am. If you can’t handle me when I struggle, then you don’t get to experience me when I shine. Sure you can get a ticket but you will only be afford for the nose bleed seats.

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Stop Derek from Being Homeless

https://www.gofundme.com/dereksnewhome

A few weeks ago I received an eviction from the people I rent a room from to be out of here by the end of the month. It was unexpected and unfounded. I’ve been a great tenant, paying my rent on time. I’ve come to find out that they want someone else to move in. Now they’re trying to push up my move out date by a week, which has left me scrambling for a new place to live. As it stands now the only option I have is to go live in a homeless shelter. I’m trying to raise enough money to help pay my rent (for my own place) until my SSI court date in Feb next year.
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I’m disabled and unable to work. I’m waiting for a court date for SSI disability, which will be Feb 2017. I’m hoping to raise enough money to get me through until that date. I’ve suffered from major depression disorder and PTSD most of my life. There hasn’t been a time in my adult life that I haven’t suffered from depression and PTSD. When I have a PTSD episode friends/family become strangers and strangers become enemies. It’s like being in a war zone. My current living situation has pushed me to my limit, as the last few months have been extremely stressful living here.

Stability is something I’ve never had and something I’m so desperate for. Being able to get my own place would bring that into my life. Lately I’ve made an effort to better my life. I’ve consistently been in therapy and on medicine since 2013, as well as seeing a psychiatrist. I’ve recently moved all my services to this county and having to move out of this town would put my health at risk.

I have a new therapist who I love. She’s working on a new treatment for those with PTSD called EMDR. It’s helps the patient to reprogram traumatic events into more healthy ways. I’ve finally taken my life back after four years of complete hell. In 2012, my Mom died from cancer causing me to spiral into a deep, dark depression. It’s taken me four years but I’m finally starting to feel like myself again. I’ve come to terms with my disablity and now realize that I need to treat it like diabetes.

I’ve tried to do this on my own and that doesn’t work. So I’m asking for help. I’m so very scared to be homeless. I’ve made a lot of progress the last few months and I want to keep moving forward. I’ve also started to embrace my art again by working on a new comic book. My passion for art has helped me through some very difficult times in my life. Having my own place would give me a safe space to create new works of art.

I’ve suffered for too long and finally realize that I deserve better. I’m taking my life back and I’m determined to get my own place. No matter what is thrown at me I don’t let it keep me down. Every time a hurdle is placed in front of me I clear it. I will keep climbing this mountain until I get a home of my own. While the last two months have been some of the worst times in my life it has helped me find an inner strength that I didn’t know was there. All this time I thought I was broken but I always rebound. Then it dawned on me through all the bad things in my life I’m still here. I’m strong as steel.

Thanks for taking the time to hear my story. Please consider sharing this campaign with everyone you know.

Here are some of my recent sketches of my comic book. Also follow my facebook page for DragZilla! DragZilla is the story of a gay man brutally attacked because he’s gay. He cries out for help and in his hour of need a glimmer of light appears. A goddess like entity, who goes by the name Glimmer, transforms him into a drag queen superhero. He starts off his journey to find justice for his attack but in the process becomes a beacon of light for the LGBTQ community. I’m really excited to have started work on this new project of mine. Having my own place would help me bring to life DragZilla!

The Meeting of the Minds

That’s what I call my nightly visits with my neighbors. When I first moved into this apartment complex I would notice a group of residents sitting by the pool. They were there every night. They were always so friendly. At first it was a little off putting as I’m kind of reserved and shy. I’m from that way of don’t talk to strangers. Plus if I’m in the middle of a depression/PTSD episode then I’m even more inward. It’s not like I’m unsociable. I just get nervous around new groups of people. If the people I love will hurt me, what will strangers do. It’s that sort of thing. Plus when you’re gay you learn to stick towards people like you.

At first I would just say hello and goodbye whenever I went to the pool until one night I had the courage to sit with them. Eventually it would become a nightly thing for me to do. Regardless of how bad of a day I’ve had I know that I have that to look forward to. Lately my depression has started to fight with me and I’ve struggled to get out of the house. In the past it would be common for me to not leave my house for days, even weeks. Lately I’ve had days where I didn’t want to leave the house but I force myself. Today was one of those days. I’ve not been feeling good physically so that just made me want to stay in but I forced myself into the shower and went down there for the meeting.

Saturday I didn’t make it down there. It was the first time in weeks that I didn’t go but I didn’t let that mood keep me down for long as Sunday I was back down there. I even had one of the neighbors ask where I was. So that made me feel good to know that someone cared enough to miss me. It’s so easy (especially with PTSD) to think that everyone is against you, when that’s always been your experience. I’ve been forcing myself out of that comfort zone and it’s become one of my favorite things to do.

Lately I’ve been opening up to them more. I was really nervous to tell them that I was gay and had a disability. As much as I love them, they do have the tendency to gab. They know everything that goes on at the complex down to who lives where . As you start to get to know people better people start to ask you questions like what do you do for work, etc. They had started to do that with me and it made me nervous. Plus they see me all the time and they have to wonder what is my deal. I know they’ve made reference to other people like me who aren’t working. In the back of my head I wonder will they judge me but I’m at the point in my life where I don’t have time to worry about stuff like that.

A few days ago I let a few of the residents know I was gay. It was brief but I had let the cat out of the bag. Tonight I went even further. I had mentioned that I had a bad experience at  Doctor here in town and they started to ask questions. At first I wasn’t going to go into it but I said what the heck and spilled the bins. Then the whole group (about seven of us) started to talk about being gay,etc. No one verbally chastised me or made me feel less. They were supportive and listened. It was really nice. A few of them said that they had gay people in their family too. It was really refreshing to be around a new group of people and be accepted.

I also know that they were going to start putting things together about my disability. I talked on more than one occasion about going to the doctors and knew they were going to ask more questions. The potential rejection for being gay is nothing new and it’s something I’ve become accustomed to. My disablity on the other hand is something I’m ashamed of. I know I shouldn’t but that’s the way I feel. If I had a physical ailment then I’d feel less like people were judging me. A little later they started talking about one of the residents who use to come around all the time and now has stopped and barely talks to anyone. One of the residents talked about how he’s known him for a long time and referenced to him having a mental illness as being odd.

I started to take it personal. It felt like he was calling me odd. I quickly checked those feelings at the door. Then they started to talk about well maybe he has depression to which I chimned in about my experience, that there were times I would isolate myself and didn’t want to be around other people. I even mentioned that I had PTSD. It was really self affirming to stand up for myself and others in my situation. There is so much stigma still about anything related to mental illness. After I started to open up a few other people mentioned that they had taken anti-depressants in the past. I’ve learned that not everyone is out to get you, nor do they mean any harm. Sometimes people just need to be educated and shown a different way.

We talked about everything for about five minutes and then moved onto something. We talk about everything. They ask me how I’m doing and ask me what I did today, to which I replied not much. Our meetings are a great release as we can talk about our day or what’s bothering us. Cats are often a topic of conversation as we have adopted a stray cat named Mazzie. She always comes up and makes the rounds getting attention from each of us. She’s like our mascot. It took her a while to get use to me but now she comes through my legs and lets me pet her. For the longest time she’d sit at the edge of the pool and stare at me forever.

I kind of feel like this is my own Golden Girls. We all care about each other and look out for each other. One of the residents fell recently while walking and sprained her ankle and broke her toe. She’s not been able to come out with us the past few nights. Every Tuesday the complex has coffee and donuts in the morning. This morning one of my neighbors brought her a few donuts. Another neighbor brought her a card with all our names on it. Just like the Golden Girls sometimes we get on each other nerves. Like we have a Rose of the group. I sometimes wonder what they say about me when I’m not there. lol Though if you’re a quiet one they don’t tend to talk about you. I’ve never heard anyone talk about two of the residents who are a couple I think. They remind me of the Odd Couple. They’re a lot like me we talk but it’s not really heated.

If you’re quirky or a spitfire someone is going to have something to say when you’re gone. Like one of the neighbors is really sassy. I love her. Recently we got the pool maintenance guys a thank you card and she drew obscene pictures on it, well obscene for old people. She’s always picking on other people but in a good hearted way. She’s one of my favorites. She’s always so personable and always accessorize fabulously. One of the ladies is the opposite of that. She’s kind of your typical grumpy old woman types. I mean she’s not grumpy per say but occasionally she will be. It doesn’t occur all the time but when she gets going, watch out.

Since meeting with them nightly I know everything that goes on in the community. Today’s topic was the local Kmart closing. It was brought up numerous times today. Also the local buffet place Old Country Buffet closed on Monday unexpectedly. That was also a hot topic. Who needs a newspaper when you have them. Just because most of them are older occasionally they talk about stuff that make me blush like condoms and vibrators. So anything is game for discussion. Many of the residents don’t have family nearby and this is it for them. People get busy with their lives and it’s easy to get left behind. Many of the residents in my group have lived at the complex for a very long time. Like over ten years. I’m the newbie.

So far we’ve had an indian summer. Today was near 80 and that’s rare for Michigan. I know sooner or later the cold weather will arrive. I’m rather dreading winter for many reasons but mainly because our meetings will be sparse. Winter has always been tough for me in terms of my depression. Any type of forced isolation just magnifies my depression and PTSD. So it makes me nervous knowing I won’t have these nightly visits to boost my morale. I think I might check with the office to see if we can have the clubhouse one night a week for our meetings. If I had my own place I’d open up my home to them.

So it’s been really nice to make these friendships. It’s really helped with my depression and PTSD. I’ve had some very tough weeks and these meetings have kept me grounded. Thankfully I have an intake appointment for therapy this week, so that will help. There’s a depression support group that I would like to check out as well. I just need to keep myself busy this summer. I hope to get a YMCA membership soon. That will help fill the void of not being able to swim. Oh how I miss the pool. It’s such torture to sit next to an empty, covered pool. It was a great summer so I really shouldn’t complain. My neighbors also have helped with my transition of moving away from my family, which was very difficult. So I’m thankful for this place and I love being their neighbor.

My neighbors have helped me blossom up again. I’ve become a lot more social and getting outside has helped me to lose weight. I’ve lost over 18 lbs so far. My blood sugar and bp are back to normal levels. My personal grooming has improved dramatically. So I’m on the right track. I just need to find alternatives to help cope with the winter and the loneliness.

 

How To Stop Taking Things So Personal?

That’s the question I’m asking. I think the only logical answer is repetition. As a former people pleaser (well I’m working on it) this task can be extremely difficult to overcome. When you’ve built your world around it overcoming it just takes time. Tonight I found myself in a similar situation, where I was starting to take something personal. Boundaries are really important for a sexual abuse survivor and sometimes when you put them up not everyone will respect them. Especially if there a person who doesn’t have any or few boundaries. So when you face someone like that it can be a fight or flight situation. Most the times for me it’s been a flight situation. I hide in the rabbit hole where it’s safe and I wait for that person to leave.

Lately I’ve been doing the opposite. The person I use to be would not only take it personal but take it period. Those days are over. If someone treats me poorly I’m going to stand up and say something. No is a powerful word to a survivor and sometimes you have to continue to use it until the person gets the hint. After a situation put me through that I started to feel bad. Like why did this person treat me this way? Before it was what did I do wrong. Quickly I changed my thought from I’m worthless to I’m strong as steel. Even after you’ve confronted the situation the personalization can still seep in. If will find the smallest of crack and find it’s way into your brain.

If it finds the way in it will light up all the other wires in your brain that relate to that. Every single hurt, every single word it will stir up. So you not only have to fight the current battle but all the battles before it. I’m stronger than ever and I refuse to give into that beast. I won’t let it take me down that road anymore. I deserve more.

I don’t deal with confrontation and I never have. I stay as far away from it as possible. If you’ve been victimized enough it becomes a way to keep stay safe. You learn to surround yourself with people like you. I think that’s only natural. Sure some people will argue that people need to venture out into other circles where people have different viewpoints but for someone struggling just to stay alive you do what you need to do to survive. I’ve lived many years living in an environment where it was brainwashed into my brain that I was different and I was ostracized for my views and beliefs. I was an outcast and you go where all the other misfits go. Maybe one day I can surround myself with other kind of people but today I need to do whatever I can to survive. Peace is very important to me and so is stability.

I’ve surrounded myself with bad people most of my life and I’m working on changing that. I can’t play fast and loose with my life anymore. I can’t take any chances in terms of my healing. I have too much to lose. Plus I really don’t want to be around people who don’t care about the things I do. Like for example, republican gun loving extremists. I’m a hardcore liberal but even I don’t constantly post political stuff. Why would I want to be friends with someone who was constantly feeling the need to boast his views and his way of life.

I’ve finally got to the point in my life where I can accept differences and not feel the need to convince others of mine. I’ve been at the end of that with my Father and his religious beliefs. I don’t want to be like that person nor do I want to have someone like that in my life, at least full time. I guess for me it’s your approach. There’s a neighbor lady of mine who loves Trump and one day she was going on and on about him but she wasn’t trying to get us to love him… nor was she trying to convince us that she was right and we were wrong. Though no one was really engaging her. I know I certainly wasn’t. I’ve done the whole debate thing and the only thing you get from them are headaches.

The person I use to be would  have totally written her off. She’s just like my family. I now see her for the person she is underneath. Now if she starts to disrespect my boundaries that’s a different story. She’s always been so nice to me and I enjoy having her in my life in that way. Now will we become best friends, probably not but it’s nice see her out with the other neighbors.

You get to a point in your life where you want peace and you do whatever you can to keep that. Some people won’t understand that and love to argue but they’re not me. They haven’t lived my life. I’ve had to cut certain people out of my life and I don’t think there’s nothing wrong with that. I think it can be quite healthy to weed out toxic people.

It’s a fine line of balance. I can see why people feel so passionate about the matters that affect our lives. It’s not always been easy for me to separate the beliefs from the person. Like for example, a person who loves Trump. Here they are willing to vote in a President that will most likely take away my rights, that being marriage equality. How do you go about being okay with that? Many of my family are like that. Not only do they support Trump but they don’t believe gay people should have any rights. Why should I have to sift through the dirt to find out if a person is homophobic? Sometimes it’s easier to not put myself in the same room as that person. It’s like a gay person going into a straight sports bar. I wouldn’t feel comfortable going into one not because I don’t like sports because I know it could put me in harms way or at the very least I would feel like I couldn’t be myself or would watch how I acted. No one should ever have to hide who they are out of fear but that’s the reality we live in.

While I enjoy this neighbor and love seeing her, in the back of my head I wonder about the other stuff. Usually most of Trump supporters have something in common with each other. I mean Trump is pretty anti on a lot of different matters. Rejection is no fun and part of the reason I look for others like me. You learn to gravitate towards people with the same way of living life. Maybe one day I will be strong enough that I will be able to be good friends with a Republican but I’m not promising anything. Everyone has their right to believe in what they want to but it’s when you’re beliefs start to infringe on my rights that’s when it’s a different story. It’s also why sometimes I struggle to separate the two.

Sure my first thought was to try to get her to see why Trump is bad but I realized there was going to be nothing I could say to make her see things differently. It would just be wasted energy. So I just sit back and let her go on and on about him. It’s tough to live in a world where people are so blinded by their fears and discomfort that they’ll put others lives in jeopardy. It goes deeper than taking things personal. Though I do have the foresight now to realize that these people are the ones with the issues, not me.

My Aunt and Father are very much like this. You should see their facebook page. It’s anti-Hillary this, anti-dems this… and not just them but gays as well. They don’t even see how much hate they’re spewing, it’s rather toxic. I look at people like that and I just feel bad for them. They’re so radical in their beliefs that they cause harm to other people and are proud to do it. My Aunt is so blinded by her faith and discomfort she doesn’t realize who she is hurting and people like her are very willing to vote our rights away. They can’t see outside of their tunnel vision. The sad reality there are millions of people like that in this country and I think that’s why Trump scares so many of us. He just doesn’t care about other people and people just love that about him. You can take the whole not caring what people think too far, to the point it turns into narcissism.

I still struggle with letting go of the personalizations, especially with my family. My Aunt is nice to my face but then is posting all this hurtful stuff. How does one not get hurt by that? That’s why I just stay away from people like that. It’s not that I don’t agree with her beliefs, which I do, but that she’s so willing to vote away my rights. Marriage equality gives so many LGBTQ people so many rights and it boils down to safety and security. Taking away the right to marry will harm other gay people. Yet people like my Aunt don’t see it this way. They’re so insecure about their faith that they have to prove to the world their way is the only way and they’ll vote for things that prove just that. I love my Aunt and I know underneath she’s a good person but I can’t have that in my life. It’s too painful. So I stay away. It’s just better that way.

I’ve come a long ways and I have further to grow. One day at a time. That’s it for now. Thanks for reading! Huggs

Making the Impossible, Possible: The Journey to Triumph

Re-Visions Event in NYC

Creating the Tree of Spectacle Triumph has been a journey from start to finish. Just like life creating the sculpture wasn’t easy by any means. Creating this beautiful tree tested my patience, stamina and will. I jumped through hoops and didn’t let roadblocks prevent me from pushing forward. That’s the message in my story is to persevere regardless of what is thrown at you.

This journeyEdit_IMGL3627 started last fall when I entered my rose sculpture in ArtPrize, an international art competition in Grand Rapids, MI. When registration started for ArtPrize I debated entering due to the registration fee. I kept getting messages that doors would open. The messages started off as a whisper but eventually turned into a roar. I really feel my Mom was behind the messages. Even after I registered I kept getting the same message. A month after ArtPrize ended I received an email about a possible commission for an eyewear manufacturer in New York using eyewear material in the piece.

treeoflifeupdatedWhen thinking about a proposal I thought about what I wanted to create. At first I struggled. Then I thought about this tree I first started to create over ten years ago. It started off as an oil painting where half the tree was alive and the other half was dead. It represented the best parts of ourselves and the pain that we endure. The living part was the phoenix that rose from the ashes. It’s taken me many years to realize that I’m not my pain or troubles. The Tree of Triumph is my best, true self.

The inspiration for the original tree was a lilac bush that grew next to my family home. It was my pride and joy. In the spring the sweet fragrance would float throughout my home. I loved that lilac bush. Next to the lilac bush was an old corncrib. One day my father decided he was going to tear the corncrib down. Not only did he tear it down he set it ablaze. The flame was so hot that it bubbled the paint on the siding of the house. You could feel the heat inside the house. The flames were higher than our house.

Once the flames had dissipated all that was left of the lilac bush was a charred out skeleton of what use to be a beautiful, vibrant living creature. I was devastated. My father on the other hand acted like it wasn’t a big deal. It was just a bush to him, not important. He just brushed off my tears like it was nothing.

I thought all was lost. Spring wasn’t the same without those purple, fragrant blooms. The blackened skeleton was a reminder of the hurt my father caused. What I couldn’t see were the roots deep within the ground. Years later they arose from the ashes and life had sprouted again. It took some time but eventually the lilac bush grew to four times the size of its former self. It took a big portion of my adult life to realize the moral of the story.

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You can destroy my branches. You can knock me to the ground but you’ll never reach my roots. The roots represented my heart, soul and spirit. It was the first time I regained the power that I allowed others to take. No amount of hurt or pain will reach my soul. So it’s significant that the heart of the tree is surrounded by the roots.

I submitted my proposal and patiently waited for an answer. The date given passed and still no word. I had started to think I wasn’t selected. Another few weeks went by and finally I received word that I was one of seven artists selected. I was beyond ecstatic. My sculpture was going to be displayed during an art show in New York City. It was a dream come true. It’s one of the best things to ever happen to me.

Creating a sculpture using unconventional materials is a complicated, challenging process. It was my first sculpture of this size. The final sculpture was over four feet tall and four feet long. The next six months pushed me to my limit and tested my will. Creating the bark was a very tedious process of hot gluing small piece of frame onto the skeleton which was pvc. This wasn’t your typical glue gun. It was a professional glue gun that carpenters use with temperatures going past 400 degrees. Due to the intricate aspect of the branches, the quick harden time of the glue and the small frame pieces I had to use my hands to attach the pieces. So you probably can guess what occurred fairly frequently. I’m surprised I still have feelings in my hands.

Creating sculptures out of unconventional materials is very physically demanding and the tree was no different. There were times that my hands, arms and legs were covered in burns, scratches and cuts. It looked like I had been a fight with a cat and lost. Towards the end I had so many cuts on my hand that it became very painful to use my hands but I pushed through. Reaching through the branches felt like I was reaching through a briar patch.branches

There were aspects to the tree that were very tedious. Creating the bark was a very lengthy process. At times it felt like I was never finish it. Imagine gluing small pieces of frame to a large area. It was so tedious that it gave me panic attacks. Creating the leaves were also very tedious process due to the number of lenses needed to fill the space. Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would take over 3,000 lenses. Most of these were treated and hand painted. I then had to hang each one to the branches and that part took forever.

Creating the Tree of Triumph meant bringing my inner demons into the light. The tree represented my best self and the darkness was ruthless in trying to stop me. There were times I couldn’t even look at the sculpture because there were parts of me that still believed that I didn’t deserved it. I faced the darkness and once again pushed through.

The tough part of creating a sculpture out of unconventional material is that for a big portion of the time creating it there isn’t a clear defined picture of what the final picture will be. It’s not until the end that you start to see the picture. It wasn’t until I started to add the leaves that I was finally able to see what I had envisioned. It’s amazing how quickly the final picture comes to the surface. It’s like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon.

The art that I create is very time consuming. I like to create little biodomes. My specialty is creating creatures out of the unconventional materials. A part of the design included a little girl swinging from the tree which was based off my seven year old niece. I also included one of the creatures (the frog) from my rose sculpture. It was my way to honor where the tree came from. If it wasn’t for the rose I wouldn’t have gotten this opportunity.

Connie 236The creation of the tree was a family event. My nieces and nephew helped me paint lenses. My seven year old niece was quite the helper. She would come down frequently asking if I needed any help. My sister was my sounding board. Many of the decisions like not painting the bark came from her.  My brother in law was my technical expert and made sure the sculpture was secure during the long trip in a Uhaul to NYC. I couldn’t have created the sculpture without their help so it was really important to make them a part of tree. I had them each sign a lense and put it on the tree. It was my way of honoring their contributions and support. While they couldn’t be there with me in NYC they were definitely there in spirit.

Original Sculpture

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During this whole experience I have felt a strong connection to my Mom to the point where I would turn around thinking she was there. She was one of the person I turned to as a sounding board and I found myself physically turning to her thinking she was there. I strongly believed she brought me this opportunity.

I thought that challenging aspect was done but boy was I ever wrong. Originally it was my understanding that the sculpture would be crated. With over 3,000 lenses the sculpture was extremely heavy, at least over 200 pounds. The shipper just wanted to bubble wrap it and cover it with a furniture pad, and throw it on the truck.

cocoontreeI had spent the past six months (over 1500 hours) in creating this beautiful creature and I wasn’t about to let it get broken. I put my heart and soul into this tree. It had became a part of me because the tree represented me. I became a part of this tree and it a part of me. When I had the idea of driving it to New York City it never dawned on me how rough of a ride a Uhaul moving van is. Thankfully my brother in law came up with a system that would keep the sculpture secure in the back of the Uhaul. He attached it to a pallet and then boxed it in between the wheel wells. Finally he secured it by attaching a 2×4 to each side.

The trip was only suppose to take 10.5 hours. The client wanted it at their location at 5pm. I made sure to leave enough time for stops, etc. I had tried to fall asleep the night before but with the nerves and excitement I wasn’t able to. So I left for NYC with only 4 hours of sleep in 48 hours. I left at 4am. About 5 hours into my trip I started to become very sleepy to the point where I struggled to keep my eyes open. I did everything possible to stay awake including blaring the music and turning the air on full blast. Anyone who’s driven on highway 80 through Pennsylvania knows that the terrain is very hilly and rough. Imagine driving on it when you’re majorly sleep deprived. On top of all the hills there are many drop offs. It got to the point where I couldn’t even look at them as they made me seasick.DSCF8390

Around the fifth hour I was pulled over by a cop. He said I had went over the white line and wanted to make sure I was okay. He ended up being really cool but it just added to the nerves of the trip. Anyone who has ever driven a Uhaul knows it’s like driving a boat.

I had downed a red bull, a Starbucks cold drink and several Mountain Dews in the hopes that it would keep me awake. About into the seventh hour I went into this sleep deprived state where I felt like everything around me was warped. It was like I was on this major trip. It felt like the mountains were coming at me both in fast forward and slow motion all at once.

Towards to what I thought was the end of the trip I started to count down the hours. I counted down the hours to help comfort me. The last two hours I started to become so tired I wasn’t sure I could make it but I knew they were expecting me and I couldn’t let them down. So I continued to push through.

Eye of the Tiger came on the radio and it helped give me the steam needed to finish the trip. I finally got to New Jersey during rush hour mind you. At this point I was so tired that I was wired. I continued to count down the time until Manhatten came into sight.

Finally I could see the city. I wasn’t ever so happy to see a city landscape. It was around 5pm when I drove into the city limits, so you can imagine how crazy it was. The traffic went from a slow pace to a crawl. I was stuck in a traffic jam. I was only 15 minutes away from my destination and only one mile from my next exit which was the Lincoln tunnel. What I didn’t know that there was an accident up ahead.lincoln+tunnel+traffic

It took over ten minutes to move .05 of a mile, if that. Anyone that’s driven in a major city knows that traffic jams are inevitable. About an hour into the traffic jam I started to lose hope in getting to my destination in a timely matter. I had already missed my time to drop off the sculpture. At this point I just wanted to get to the dinner that evening with all the artists but as the time crept by I realized there was no way I was going to make it. All of a sudden I hear this bang. Someone rear ended me. I was like great how can this day get any worse. Thankfully there was no damage to the Uhaul and the only damage to his vehicle was to his license plate which was bent in half on the ground. How does one hit a huge moving truck with the brake lights on and stopped???

Finally after four hours in the traffic jam I was back on track. At this point I thought the plan was for me to go to the hotel and drop off the sculpture in the morning but when I contacted the client I was told that it needed to be delivered tonight. I was told if it wasn’t delivered tonight it wouldn’t be in the show. The next thirty minutes I pretty much circled time square over and over in a Uhaul. I was starting to panic. Imagine driving a huge truck at 11pm at night in Time Square. I was sure I was going to hit something or someone. There were people all over. They crossed the streets in mobs like ants out of a ant hill. Eventually I said heck with it and started driving like a mad man.time-squares-at-night-wallpaper-2

I finally made it. I should have known the night wasn’t going to get any easier. Earlier I had a bad feeling. There was one point during the traffic jam where I almost turned around to head home. When I opened the back of the truck the first thing said was it’s not going to fit. I could also tell they really didn’t want to have to move the sculpture. I have always been upfront with them on the size and weight.

We get the sculpture into the main lobby and I’m dumbfounded when I see the elevator. The door was extremely narrow. I honestly never saw an elevator so small. There was some discussion about getting the sculpture into the elevator. Someone suggested leaving it in the lobby. I wish I had pushed for that. I was informed that they learned the day before that the freight elevator was broken.

My sculpture was at least four feet tall and four feet across. The elevator door couldn’t been bigger than three feet across. I suggested angling the sculpture into the elevator. They got the sculpture in the elevator but getting it out was another story. I couldn’t watch them try to get it out. I honestly was done with the whole situation so I sat in the conference room knowing something bad was going to happen. Never in my worst nightmare did I imagine what I would walk into…

Every branch was broken and lying at the base of the sculpture. They had tried to fix it by shoving branches into the wrong holes. They basically decapitated the tree. It was like they dropped it from the top of the building. I was in complete shock. In just a matter of minutes they had destroyed something that took 1500 hours to complete. Until you see the pictures of the demolished piece you can’t begin to understand how badly it was broken. In a sculpture that size a strong foundation and structure is crucial in securing the piece. Individually plastic lenses don’t weigh that much but when you use thousands of them they become very heavy.

Broken Sculpture

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On top of them destroying something I put my heart and soul into I wasn’t treated very well. One of the employees started to take his frustrations out on me, accusing me of lying about being stuck in the traffic jam. I was dumbfounded by the whole situation. If I wasn’t so out of it and delirious I would have never let them put it in that small elevator. After spending over twenty hours in a Uhaul my night ended with them doing the worst thing you can do to an artist. I was told that they could fix it. I didn’t have a lot of faith. We agreed to come back the next day which was the day of the event.

I didn’t get checked into my hotel until 1am. Thankfully my good friend lives in New York City and came over to my hotel. I don’t think anyone would have questioned if I did have a meltdown but I was surprisingly calm. I obviously was upset but I didn’t let it destroy me. Prior to my Mom passing away I would have totally turned into Chicken Little. I posted on Facebook that the breaking of my sculpture didn’t even make my top ten list of bad things that had happened to me. When my friend left I had accepted that my sculpture was destroyed. I had come to terms with the fact that I was going to show a broken piece.

After I had dropped the Uhaul off in the Bronx I headed to the office. I wasn’t sure what I was going to walk into. I had four hours to salvage my piece. The event started at 7pm. Thankfully one of the employees was experienced with construction and offered to help me put it back together. I had used pvc to build the structure. When they broke the piece they not only broke apart the branches they broke the connecting pieces. So you couldn’t just connect pieces anymore because there was big chunks missing.

Thankfully I had packed my glue gun and brought a lot of supplies just in case. If I hadn’t brought my glue gun I’m not sure we could have put it back together because we used the glue to connect the pieces together. After a few hours he was able to rebuild the structure the best he could. There were still three main branches that we couldn’t put back together which left a lot of holes. I had put a lot of effort in creating the shape of the tree.

When I finished the sculpture I was relieved to be done. I had very little energy left in me. I felt accomplished for finishing it but I was also relieved to not have to work on it again. So once again I was forced to give more than I had and rebuild something that took countless hours to create. I got on the floor and began to work my magic which again meant burning myself with that boiling hot glue.

I worked on the sculpture until the very last minute. I did what I could to rebuild it. Most everything on the sculpture had something wrong with it. The wire butterflies were bent out of shape. The iris was broken, so was the dragonfly and girl. Thankfully the damages to the creatures were minor and I was able to fix them.

We had done the impossible and was able to put back together the broken pieces. The salvaged sculpture was a lot more rough and exposed than before. The shape of the tree was also drastically altered. I was relieved to have a finished piece to show. There wasn’t anything else I could do.

Salvaged Sculpture

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The event was amazing. I met so many wonderful people, many who had no idea that earlier that day it was a broken mess. I wove the whole experience into the theme of the piece. It’s not coincidental that of all the pieces that were broken the roots weren’t touched. I was able to weave what happened into the story of the piece which many of the guests at the event were able to connect to. I talked to many people who themselves also had moments in their life when they felt broken. Without the sculpture breaking I’m not sure the impact would have been as strong.

It was very symbolic that the sculpture was broken. The theme of the piece is resiliency, rising above the difficult times in our lives. There have been times in my life that I have felt just like that broken sculpture. When something traumatic happens we are forced to pick up the broken pieces.brokentree14

While I wouldn’t want to relive this experience ever again there is a part of me that is glad that it happened. It was a major confidence boost. I could have given up. I could have thrown a fit. I could have went home with my tail between my legs but I didn’t. I pushed forward and didn’t let anyone stand in my way of getting what I wanted and deserved. There have been many times I have cowered down in defeat. This wasn’t one of those moments. This was my moment of triumph.

Like the tree I was strong. Stronger than anything that ever happened to me. You can cut my branches. You can cut my bark. You can even knock me to the ground. You’ll never reach my roots and I will always rise from the ashes.

I’m not alone. There are so many people out in the world who themselves feel broken. After my Mom died I wasn’t sure I could go on. It felt so broken that I didn’t believe I could be put back together. That’s why my sculpture breaking wasn’t really a big deal because I had already gone through something a million times worse. This was nothing. It was also out of my control. I couldn’t bring my Mom back, neither could I undo my sculpture breaking.

The sculpture breaking just added to the depth of the piece. It multiplied the strength of the piece exponentially. The Tree of Triumph is confirmation that the impossible is possible. We are never truly broken as our soul always remains in tact. No power or force will ever reach that. So say what you want to me, it won’t hurt or affect me.

So many people have been apart of this journey. This has been the best part of this experience. I have received so much love and support it’s lifted me up from depression and my troubles. It has proved that I deserve so much more. Losing sight of your dreams makes for a very dreary world. This journey has proved that our dreams can come true. Just keep moving forward. Even at a snail’s pace you’ll reach your destination. Our trials and tribulations make us into who we are today. I wouldn’t have been able to handle this journey if I walked down an easy road.

Check out my new artist website:  http://www.derekstephens.net

Progress Pictures

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This is What Hate Does

Friday’s monumental Supreme court decision left me feeling so many different feelings both good and bad. Mostly ecstatic but there was a tinge of sadness looming. You might wonder how could I feel sadness on such amazing day. I should be nothing but happy right?

As logical as that seems it wasn’t the case for me. When something is brought out into the light I’ve learned that those still left in the darkness will do whatever they can to keep their worlds safe, even if it means dragging you back into that pitch black hole. I purposely didn’t read comments on various media website knowing there would be hateful comments. For the most part rarely do I engage in someone’s rant but regardless it can seep into your consciousness before you know it.

With the sea of rainbow on my rainbow feed I started to ponder why do I let these people bring me down so? What is it about them and the situation that hurts so much. Out of hundreds of rainbows there were only a few storms. While the storms weren’t directed at me I could still hear the booms and bolts.

It’s funny something can happen to you twenty years ago and in a flash you are transported back to that time left feeling what you had put aside.

I’ve been at the end of the religious persecution. Sure I wasn’t kicked out but I often think that would have been the best thing that could have happened. Certain words you don’t ever forget. While they don’t call you worthless, they say everything but. Words pile up like heaps of trash in a landfill.

What that hate and intolerance does is make children feel less. They grow up to hate themselves. Parent’s are suppose to love and pick you up, and the sad reality for some children that just doesn’t happen.

I’ve heard a lot about religion this weekend and I guess it’s triggered me. I think the most damaging thing someone who promotes hate does is pushing people away from God. That’s the biggest abomination and they don’t even realize what they are doing.

Sure while it’s wonderful that we have equality think about the children who still live in households that don’t love and accept them. They are children of God who are pushed out into the world all alone, floating in outer space.

Tonight I watched a video tonight made by an organization called Catholic Vote. In the video are people who believe marriage is between a man and a woman talking about feeling ostracized for their beliefs. They wrap their ignorance, bigotry and hate in a very pretty bubble. They are clueless to the fact that they are only spreading hate, not the message of love they say they’re doing.

This message reminded me tonight of my own experience. I hate myself. You get told you’re going to hell enough times and eventually it sinks in. I’ve covered it up and put it aside but my actions proved otherwise. I’ve forgotten how deep seeded it was. Sure I had glimpses into that dark box like with my weight, etc.

I didn’t get help when I needed it. No one was there for me. I had to endure it alone. So I did the best I can and tried to move on. I coped by replacing one harmful choice for another. So many children don’t get the help they need. Many runaway… many turn to alcohol, drugs and sex… many die…. My drug of choice has been food. I buried my horrible feelings one piece of pie at a time.

So how do you begin to love yourself? I guess the first step is seeing the truth. Do what you have to do to heal if that means screaming at the top of your lung then do it. We are entitled to our anger but bottling up that anger only eats away our core until you’re left we very little fight.

I’m tired of hating myself. Tired of feeling that I don’t deserve love. Tired of thinking God hated me. Tired of thinking I am going to hell. Just tired. I have to remind myself that I’m out of that harmful situation and I never have to go back to that place.

Some people just don’t get it and probably never will but I won’t stay silent because five people were brave and stood against tradition families can finally be protected by having available all the rights that marriage brings including benefits, adoptions and so many more. The Supreme Five has helped remind me of my own inner courage and I know it has to so many more.

For children growing up in a world filled full of hate they desperately need to hear our message. They need something to hold onto. They need to know that they’re not alone.

Healing is a lifelong process. It’s much like cleaning up a landfill. You get one area cleaned up to only find another pile of trash that you forgot about. If you keep at it, even at a snails pace, you’ll eventually get to that diamond. You’re worth it and so am I. I might not fully believe that yet but I’m going to keep going until I do.

God isn’t this tightly ball of yarn put into a cramped little box. God is all over. His/Her love is free, unconditional. Again this is something I must repeat over and over. I won’t lie there are still parts of me that believe that I’m going to hell but as time goes by that becomes less and less.

I’m comforted knowing that the percentage of those against gay people are becoming smaller than smaller. What they’ve tried to do to us, has become of them. Outcasts. The tides have turned and there’s nothing they can do about it. It’s important to remember that there are those who still have to deal with that kind of hate. Gay people can also still get fired for being gay in many states. So there is work to be done but this is a gigantic leap towards equality.

Ready…

I’m ready for a new start… something different. I’ve been hiding for a long time. It didn’t just start when my Mom died last year, I’ve been doing it for as long as I have known and it’s gotten old…

I’ve put up with a lot in my life and tolerated less in my life. I have had enough and can’t keep tolerating less for myself. Expecting that everyone will let me down and then allowing those feelings from taking risks and putting myself out there. It’s a fact of life that people will let you down, they will hurt you and nothing you can do or say will ever stop that. If you put people up on that pedestal they will always fall.

A long time ago I put other people as my center and no wonder I crumble every time I am hurt!!!

Either way I am harmed. At least when I am out in the world I am enjoying life but staying in this cave just brings me more misery. I think I continue to hide as a way to punish myself. I think the only way I could rationalize certain things happening to me, like the sexual abuse, is that I deserved it. Like why would God let something like this happen to me and the only way I could rationalize it away was that I deserved it.

So I have lived most of my life feeling like I deserved the bad things that happened to me to the point when good things would come into my life I would go running away like I was on fire.

I’ve lived life like a victim.

Now I feel like I have nothing left to lose. I’m ready to move on from the past and all the bad feelings that go along with it. The biggest lesson has been that I deserve a lot more than what I have lived. I’ve allowed other people to hold me back. No one else but me did that. It was me and it will be me who allows wonderfulness back into my life.

Losing my beautiful Mother in a way was a wake up call for me. At first again I thought God was punishing me by taking the one good thing in my life but I realize now it was my Mother’s greatest gift for me. She always saw the best in me, even when I felt the worst.

I’ve realized that I don’t need my Mama to hold me up anymore because I am strong enough to do it on my own. No one can tear me down any longer and I can do whatever I desire… to my heart’s content!

There’s so much I want to do, so much I’ve wanted to do and I’ve realized I can do it all and then some. I just have to let the energy flow and allow the wind to blow me where ever I’m meant to go.

So I have to be patient and understand that everything is a process and getting out of this cave will take some time. I just have to remember that I’m doing what it takes to get out of this darkness once again and hope that the next time I feel like hiding I will fight with all my might to not allow the darkness to pull me under, once again…