I’m Unbreakable!

I had a light bulb moment today, rather bright one too. As I was walking home from my appointment this evening I had thought about some of my tough times. Walking for me isn’t easy. I’m 408 pounds (down from at least 425, probably closer to 450) and my knees aren’t in the greatest shape. So anytime I walk it’s rather painful. Often times I have this feeling of that I can’t make it. Feet turn into miles and I get these hallway moments like you see in the movies.

Tonight I pushed through that uncomfortable feeling as I knew I had to walk almost double what I normally do one way. I purposely planned on doing my assessment for therapy and psychiatry services at the end of my appointment to get blood drawn, as I knew I could walk home afterwards. So rather than have the medical transport driver take me home, I had him drop me off at my appointment. Initially I thought about doing on another day, which meant walking there and back. I figured I was less likely to go as the assessment was just a walk in. So having something scheduled would make me complete it. For someone with a mental illness, not having a therapist is problematic. I had struggled to find a place that took my insurance and thankfully my primary care doctor recommended this place.

It wasn’t until after 4pm that I finished the assessment. I hadn’t ate since 10pm last night, so I was starving. So I decided to walk to the Panda Express which I thought was closer than it really was, which made my walk home even longer than I originally anticipated. I will be honest, my first thought was to take the bus home. As I was eating in the nice air conditioned restaurant I saw the bus stop. It was hot out and I really didn’t want to walk home. Well the bus gods were not on my side today, as the last stop had come and gone. So I reluctantly made the truck home. Thankfully I had a soda to keep me refreshed and I just told myself that I would take a lot of breaks. I don’t do very well in the full sun, it drains my energy very quickly. Fat people aren’t meant to be out in the sun, we’re much like vampires.

I normally walk to the local grocery store, well at least the two times I went walking. One way it’s about a half mile if I don’t take any shortcuts and I usually do. Each way I have to take at least two breaks. By the time I’m home I’m usually pretty beat. So going home tonight I had to go twice as far one way. My first thought was take take a bunch of breaks. It helps to make the trip not so daunting but then I saw the time and it was getting close to the time I meet with all my neighbors. We sit around talking about everything. I call it the meeting of the minds. It’s really my highlight of my day. I wake up looking forward to it. I wasn’t going to miss tonight or be late. So I decided that I was going to cut my breaks in half. It was kind of a challenge to see how quickly I could get home. Each stop I barely sat for two minutes and off I went. By the last stop, which was almost 1/4 of the way home, I was exhausted and wanting to quit. That just wasn’t an option for many a reasons. I started to feel defeated again and then I thought about the hard times that I had endured throughout my life.

That’s when the light bulb exploded. Through all the suffering, pain and hard times I was still here. All those moments that I thought I had broken in two were just an illusion. Feeling broken isn’t something new for me but this last time felt definitive. I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to come back from losing my Mom. It was the ultimate defeat. I thought I was broken for good and I mean completely severed in two broken. Even in the toughest time in my life I was still alive and well, then it dawned on me…

I’m UNBREAKABLE!!!

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It was the greatest energy boost I could get. The rest of the way I just booked it home. It felt like I was running a marathon and was on the last leg to the finish line. I was determined to get home in time for the meeting of the minds and I did. As I made it to the lawn on the comlex I collapsed on the ground and just stared up into the blue sky and felt great. I took a deep breath and got up to go inside. The person I was two months ago would have never went downstairs to do some more walking in order to socialize with others both due to physical and mental reasons but today was different. I took another quick break in front of the chair. I got freshened up, grabbed my lawn chair and my water and I was out the door within ten minutes of getting home.

I made it on time too. We usually meet around 6:30 pm and  that’s when I got there. I was the first one. 7 pm rolled by and I was still alone. Then a few minutes later one of the residents came by and sat with me. I was so relieved. I thought I was going to be alone and that made me sad. When I don’t get to have my visits it’s a major bummer. So we sat and for an hour and talked. It was really nice. It feels great to be apart of the community. This complex I live at is unlike any other apartment complex that I’ve lived in before. Once a week on Tuesdays the complex has a coffee and donuts gathering in the community room at 8:30 AM. I’m not a morning person at all so today was the first day I was able to get up in time to make it, which was torture seeing all those donuts and not be able to eat them due to my lab appointment at 2 PM. So I took two of them home. It took all the willpower I had to not eat them. I put them aside and took a quick nap before my appointment.

All I could think about today was getting to have a donut. I wasn’t thinking about not being able to eat until evening when I scheduled my ride for so late in the afternoon. So I was starving. Finally after a long, productive day I was able to eat my donut at 8 PM and it was delicious! This football shaped long john donut felt like the reward from my marathon win and I enjoyed it.

Back to being unbreakable. Yes, I’m long winded, this I know. It was a huge revelation to have. This week hasn’t been very easy, well since Friday. Honestly it’s probably been the toughest few weeks in regards to my mental health since 2005. For a survivor of sexual abuse and one that has PTSD having flashbacks is a very common thing. As common they are each one is just as unsettling and jarring as the last one. Last Friday was the four year anniversary of my Mom’s death. Not thinking about what day it was I scheduled a doctor’s appointment for that day but I didn’t think about it until I was in room waiting for the doctor. Each minute that passed that room began to turn into my Mother’s hospital room. Even the nurses desk reminded me of the nurses station in the ICU unit my Mom was in.

September 9, 2012 was the day a hole was punched through my heart. I spent the last 21 days in her ICU room, rarely did I leave the room. I slept on the small couch in her ICU room, well slept isn’t really what it should be called. Anyone who has spent a considerable amount of time with a loved one in a hospital room knows what it’s like. Still to this day hearing the beeps from the machines send me panicking. The day she died was the worst day in my life. It was also the scariest and most alone day too. She had a rare form of Cancer and we had to travel to Nashville for anyone to help her, which was over nine hours from home in Michigan.

My Mom had stabilized and things weren’t looking good but we still had hope. My sister had just left to go home for a few days as the kids were starting school. Her stats has improved slightly.  There was no indication that things would go the way they did. She was stable and we held onto hope that she would recover. The next day I was awoken to my Mom being surrounded by Doctors, nurses and medical staff. Her one good lung (and that wasn’t the greatest) had collapsed and they had to put in an emergency tube into her chest to inflate the lung again. I was rushed out of the room not really knowing what was going on. They finally were able to stabilize her and I was relieved.

The next morning at 5AM I was awoken again to her being surrounded. This time things were much worse. Her kidneys were failing. They told me that they were going to put her on dialysis and that if things didn’t improve in four hours that she wasn’t going to make it. Again I was in shock but I held onto hope. Four hours passed and she didn’t improved. There was nothing more that they could do and wasn’t sure how much longer she’d live. Here I was in a foreign city, alone and eight hours away from home and everyone I loved. I never felt so hopeless and alone. I had no one to turn to. No one to help me. Normally my Mother was the person I ran to when I needed help and this time the woman who was always there for me was dying in front of me and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do to stop it. I sat behind the nurses station in shock. I felt like I was five years old again. My Mom’s last 21 days of her life she was on a breath machine so she was never awake after she went in for surgery. Never did we think that the words she spoke when she was taken in for her second surgery would be her last but they were. I wish I remember what she said…

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The last moments of her life was probably the most peaceful moment in my life. When she was taken off life support there was no movement or even a gasp. She laid there still as I watched her flatline. It wasn’t like you see in the movies. It felt like I could feel every last heartbeat. It was slow, almost eurythmic. She was gone. I felt so horrible for my sister who didn’t make it back in time before she died. Call it plausible deniability but up until the last hour of her life I still had so much hope. It never dawned on me that she could die from the surgery. I’m the biggest fear of death and I thought it would have come up prior but it didn’t. We anticipated a long road of recovery for my Mom but that wasn’t the case.

The next day we left Nashville but my heart/soul stayed in that hospital room. For over a year I spent every day in that room. I could close my eyes and I would end up back in that room. Even sleeping I would still be in that room. I almost thought I was never going to find a way out but eventually one of the doors was a way out. I was constantly in a flashback. Things got so bad that I had to be hospitalized and that helped me out of that room through therapy and medicine. I’ve worked very hard to stay out of that room and it’s been one of the toughest things for me. PTSD wasn’t something new as I have it with the abuse but this time it almost did me in… but it didn’t. I have spent a good portion of my adult life in and out of the hospital with depression and the PTSD but this time seemed final.

I thought I was broken for good and no amount of tape would put his humpty dumpty back together. I had come to terms with the fact that I wasn’t going to be fully there for the rest of my life. I had gave up and didn’t want to fight anymore. I didn’t want to die anymore but I didn’t want to live either. So for almost three years I was a zombie. I lived in the land of the inbetweens. This year has been quite different (some by force) as I have this resolve and determination that I haven’t had before. A kind of fuck this shit attitude and I don’t mean the kind that you just don’t care about anything. The kind that you do care so much that you’re not willing to put up with the shit you use to. I’ve done my fair share of settling. I guess that’s what I was, I was settled into the fact that I was going to be half a person for the rest of my life.

Well not anymore. I have this willpower that’s intoxicating. I feel like I have on these boxing gloves that won’t come off. I’m kicking butt and taking names. I’m determined to build a better life for myself. A world with stability built on a solid foundation. So tonight I was reminded of all this. Through so many hard moments I was still alive and well, and still kicking. All this time I thought it had KO’ed me but it didn’t… not even close. I didn’t realize this until tonight as I was hot and tired, feeling like I was going to give up. I thought about my current pain and the pain I’ve endured the past thirty years and it didn’t even measure up to what I’ve went through.

I’ve been kicked down so many times, treated poorly and told I was worthless. For thirty years I’ve listened and took it to heart. I’ve believed everyone who has hurt me especially the ones who were suppose to love and protect me. I thought they didn’t love me because I was lacking something but all this time it was them and not me. These moments, those teardrops were all a reflection of them and who they were as a person. They were the ones who were without.

So Friday was a really tough day. I was stuck in this hospital room in a PTSD bubble. I was in full trigger mode. I could feel myself floating out of the room. I wanted to run as fast I could but I had the strength of mind to know that I needed to stay there in order to get the help I needed. So I pushed through. I was put through even more obstacles with the new doctor as he didn’t have the greatest bedside manner. I was already out of the room by that moment and I could feel myself go further away. I started to do some grounding exercises. I started to tap my leg repeatedly so fast it felt like I was in the middle of Kentucky Derby. Thankfully the student doctor was a woman and was very kind. She helped me gain exposure. I was in the middle of a major panic attack, probably the worst one in ten years. Panic attacks weren’t something new to me, as I have had them throughout different times in my life. Though up until a few months ago I hadn’t had one in a very long time. That was part of the reason I was there to see the doctor was for my anxiety. I had started to flashback about everything and I mean everything. Every bad moment in my life was being played back like I was in a movie theatre full of people.

Not only did I push through, I stood up for myself… which hasn’t always been my strong suit. I will take care and advocate fiercely for other people but my own. The Doctor was dangerously uninformed with the LGBTQ community and HIV/AIDS. He had referred to being negative as being clean… which is a huge NO NO as it’s deeply degrading. You get clean in a shower, not when you’re negative. I let him have it and I even wrote a complaint on the organization’s website. He was also very uninformed with the drug PrEP. It’s sad when the patient knows more about something than the doctor. I had also been fasting as I was hoping to get a glucose test completed because I’m prediabetic. My appointment was at 2:30pm and the doctor didn’t even get in my room until 4pm. So I had waited almost an hour in that room, in a panic attack and deep in a PTSD cycle. It was tough but I did. They kept me waiting so long that I missed the lab hours by thirty minutes as I didn’t get out until after 5pm. So I had fasted for nothing. I was triggered, angry and starving but I didn’t let it defeat me. I just pushed on and did what I had to do. That’s what I’ve always done. I might not be good at many things but I’m an expert at surviving.

Usually when I have a PTSD episode it can take me a week to come out of it but that night I was outside sitting with the residents like nothing had happen. That was new for me and it felt great. I still wasn’t close to 100% but I wasn’t going to let that stop me from enjoying my nightly visits with the round table, that’s what I call it. While I was aware of a lot that day it didn’t dawn on me that I was still full in the PTSD cycle. When I’m triggered friends and family become strangers, and strangers become enemies. Nothing and no one is safe. It’s like living in a war zone. It’s a horrible place to be. I have had episodes where I have hid underneath my desk at work, or barricaded my door.

Writing for me has always been a great release. It’s like journaling for me. Often times I don’t have anyone to talk to, so blogging helps with that. Therapy is the one time I have to talk and I don’t have that right now. Hopefully that will change soon as I did the assessment today and have the intake on Thursday. As I had said previously lately I’ve been having flashbacks about everything including the sexual abuse. The last ten years the sexual abuse hasn’t been on the forefront of my problems. I knew the pain was still there but it didn’t cause me a lot of problems, well at least not indirectly or at least I thought. Recently I’ve realized that monster has always been there, it was the puppet master directing me all this time. For the past ten years I didn’t want to talk about the abuse in detail. I could tell people it happened but I couldn’t go into detail it was just too hard. My latest therapist I saw her for one and half years and I never went into detail with her. Trust is huge when dealing with sexual abuse and that takes a long while.

Here’s the thing about trauma and pain, no matter how hard you try to hide it eventually the pain will seep through the cracks. My latest living situation reminded me of some bad times in my life, the early years. So it has triggered the sexual abuse, the mental abuse from my father and the loss of my Mom, and everything hurt in between. As I was writing my last post I began to open the gate and I was flooded by emotion. It felt like I was drowning.

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Very quickly my room turned into the room where I was molested. I was transported back to that time, very much like the other world in Stranger Things except the monster was my cousin. There was no escaping him and when I returned home just like Will I was never the same. So at 5am Monday morning I was back at that cabin on Long Lake in Michigan in the year 1986. I relived every scary, dirty moment. I mean everything. It was like it was happening for the first time. I reached out and could touch the walls. The other times I’ve been so triggered it ended with me being hospitalized. I was almost there but again I pushed through. The next day I felt horrible I didn’t end up getting to bed until noon but I made sure to wake up for my nightly visits with my neighbors. Again I pushed through the pain. It was tough to push through and remind myself that these people weren’t strangers, out to hurt me but I did it!

In the past, after a major PTSD episode I withdraw from everything and everyone. There have been times that I haven’t left the house for weeks. Everything goes downhill. I stop caring about anything including my personal grooming habits. I become more depressed until it gets so severe it snaps me out of it. That’s the worse thing about PTSD often times you don’t realize you’ve been triggered until weeks later. The last bad episode in May of 2013 I was in the middle of a month long trigger and I almost killed myself but yesterday was different. The past two months no matter what’s been thrown at me I’ve dodged every attack and jumped every hurdle. The more that’s thrown at me the stronger and more willful I become.

Tonight I was able to look back at the past four days and see all the strength in between all the bad moments. It’s never been not being strong enough. It’s always been not realizing how strong I really am. Looking back I just saw how strong I always was. I wasn’t the shadow, I was the tree… strong rooted in the earth and fuck anyone who tries to tell me otherwise. I don’t believe them anymore. Thirty years of deep suffering and pain, and I’m stronger than ever! It’s taken thirty years to discover that I’m UNBREAKABLE!!! So watch out world, I’m coming for you.

I will do what I’ve always done, get shit done. So if you try to stand in my way I’m just going to jump right over you. Obstacles don’t have a hold of me anymore. It’s not to say that tomorrow isn’t going to be easy because I know that healing takes a lot of hard work. Setbacks are normal and expected but the key is to get back up. It doesn’t matter how many times you do it, just as long as you keep doing it you will be golden. It would be nice if I could say tomorrow won’t be as hard as the last but I know that’s not how life works. I have to open back the wounds and heal some more. To get to where you need to go sometimes you have to travel back through the place that scares you the most. I think it’s important to remember that no matter what you endure in the future you’ll never be back to that moment in time. It might feel like you’re stuck in the past but really that’s just a lie. Nothing can hurt me any more deeply than losing my Mom and the abuse did. The flashbacks are bound to happen again and it might be just as severe if not more but I now realize that I have the tools to fight them. I have my sword and shield to battle all the demons. Plus I have my Mom who is now my guardian angel.

So the moral of the story is we’re much stronger than we realize. We wouldn’t have gotten this far if we weren’t. Surviving is the hardest thing in this world to do and once you’ve done enough of it you become a warrior. We are warriors. I’m ready for wherever the universe wants to take me and I will do whatever I have to in order to be happy. Everyone deserves that.

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There Is No Expiration On Dreams!

I had a thought the other night, that my life hadn’t worked out the way I had expected it to. Then I thought about my Mom and how she must have felt the same way when her marriage of over 30 years ended… and her two kids (who she loved with all her heart) grew up and move away… There is this great sense of loss from the realization that you’re life isn’t anywhere near the way you had envisioned it to be so many years ago.

I just turned 40 this year and I’m having to start all over again. Very much like my Mom had to do when my father left her for the last time. Here she was in her early 5o’s having to face a scary world alone. Independance is frightening and not always comforting. Though my Mom finally had her freedom it came with a price. Being alone for someone who is codependent can be a very unsafe place. She gave her life up for her husband and kids. It wasn’t until recently that I understood the loss she felt when my sister and I left.

It heartbreaks me to know the pain she felt in the last ten years of her life. I would do anything I could to change things. My Mom had to fight for everything she had, against all odds. She could have given up but she didn’t. Living on her own was often times difficult both physically and emotionally. She suffered plenty and I will always regret not being able to make her life less painful.

My life also hasn’t been easy. I fight every single day. I fight the tears. I fight the demons. I look back at the last twenty years and I wonder where did that time go. For most of that time I’ve lived in fear. Fear has crippled me. It has stunted my growth. I’m trying very hard to overcome it all. I don’t know if I’ve ever felt so alone. Everything is scary.

I never thought I would end up this way barely able to take care of myself, with very little to my name . I don’t know who I want to be anymore or where I want to go but all’s not lost. I have hope and I’m determined to change my life for the better. I can’t keep living my life this way.

So I’m doing what I have to survive. There is one thing good thing that the sexual abuse has taught me and that’s how to survive in the darkest of environment. The abuse and the pain turned me into a Navy Seal. My Mom was exactly the same way.

While I might not know who I want to be there is one thing that I do know. Is that I want to be happy and I deserve to be. I’ve just have to keep on trucking through that muck. It’s not easy but it’s something I must do. I’m determined to get my freedom back no matter how hard and long I have to fight. Life is too short to settle and stay hidden.

So while I grieve over the person who I wished I had became. I will honor the person I grew up to be. I’ve always been on the same path I just took a few scenic routes to get to my destination. I still can be that person I’ve always wanted to be. I mean I already am. I’m strong and fearless. I’m an artist and I’m spiritual. I’m not perfect but my heart is pure. I must remind myself that you never get to a point in your life where you can’t get what you’ve always dreamed of. No matter how old you are there’s never a point where it’s too late. Our dreams don’t have expirations. That is something I need to remember during the days when I’m tired and feel like turning back. Going backwards won’t make my dreams come true but hard work and determination will.

So I’m starting down a new path. A place where I will build my foundation one pebble at a time. A foundation built on love, hope and dreams.

Coat of Many Colors

Watching Dolly’s movie about her life called Coat of Many colors reminded me of many things. There was a line in the movie that hit me most and it was Dolly saying that growing up was not only some of her hardest times but best times as well. I wish I remembered the quote exactly, as it was more eloquent.

I have to agree. I can look back at my life and see all the wonderful things. There was a time that all I could see was the bad. Like little Dolly when she lost her soon to be brother to heaven, my heart hasn’t sung in a very long time. I’ve been angry at God… angry at Mama. I’ve tried to do it alone because I didn’t want to hurt anymore but that doesn’t work either. God is like love, without it the world becomes a very dark place.

I was raised in a very similar background as Dolly. My family was quite religious, Southern Baptist as a matter of fact. Many of my Sundays were spent in a similar church as shown in the movie. I don’t remember the fire and brimstone but I do remember all the singing. For a moment I was transported to my Mama and grandmother singing. I’ve tucked away my spirituality because of the fire and brimstone not realizing I was giving up the singing.

I think the moral of the movie and the testament of Dolly’s life is letting your heart sing. I can’t remember the last time those melodies plucked at my heart strings. My heart stopped singing long before Mama died.

While my childhood wasn’t quite like Dolly’s in regards to be poor we certainly didn’t have it easy. While I was watching Dolly’s Mother portrayed in the movie it was like my Mom was on the screen. My Mom did what she had to do to provide for us including making crafts for extra money to get my sister and I the things we needed.

My Mama did grow up in a family much like Dolly’s as they were very poor. To help the family my Mom had to work in the muck fields which meant picking onions in the sweltering summer sun. When kids were out playing she was out in the muck. The house she grew up in was the size of a small apartment with an outhouse for a bathroom. There were nine children in the family as well. So it was a full house.

I don’t know when but my Mom also stopped singing as well. We were both very codependent. She grew up with a father who was an alcoholic. From a very early age she learned how to walk on eggshells and was groomed to expect it out of life. Her adult life only mirrored that just like mine has.

When you grow up in dysfunctional family you learn how to survive, not to live. Chaos becomes the norm and it transforms you into an altered being. One where you tolerate other bad situations because you feel that’s what you deserved.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cycled through these moments where I’ve questioned what will happen next… as in when the ground will fall apart underneath my feet. So many times it’d fill up a book.

I’ve been beat down before but I’ve always gotten my voice back within a considerable time. While I’m further from that bad place (where I tried to kill myself two years ago) my voice is still soft. I don’t know how to get it back. It’s the exact feeling when I was being abused. I wanted to yell but nothing came out.

It’s been three years since my Mom has died. What keeps me from singing??? My therapist recently asked me if my father was a wise man. At first I thought why the heck she was asking me but after a few moments I said no… that he was foolish. She then asks me what I believed such an idiot and to which I replied I don’t know…

Ever since I’ve been scratching my head wondering why all these years I’ve listened to foolish people. I’ve let them keep me from singing for far too long. I’m just not sure how to create the life I deserve.

I’ve built a world around all the wrong things. Life (a happy one) seems so far away. No matter what I refuse to give in to the hopelessness. At times those voices are so loud they’re painful but I’m just angry enough to say fuck it. The good thing about getting kicked to the ground, you can’t go any further.

I would just like to use all that junk (the bad feelings, people not believing in me, the pain, the grief, abuse) as fuel to fight. To just say fuck it to the world and push through. Up until this point it’s dragged me down.

There is great resiliency in taking a stand and saying you’re fed up. No one has control over me but me. I don’t know how or when but I will move forward from it all.

So I’m going to put back on my coat of many colors as I’ve earned it. I’m going to hold onto my songbook and wait for the day I have something to sing about again. The notes are still there deep inside of me. I just have to discover them and I will…

 

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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Million Dollar Mama

Connie 236

To some tonight probably wasn’t the best night to watch Million Dollar Baby but to me it was something I had to do. I kind of dreaded today being you know what… Up until the evening I was handling it okay, even with the countless status updates wishing everyone a “Happy Mothers Day.” It wasn’t until I saw a endless stream of all my facebook friends posting pictures of them with with your moms or moms with their children that knocked the wind out of me.

My sleep schedule has been disrupted and I found myself not sleeping last night. Normally I would have crashed at some point but I knew that I couldn’t do that with having a very important meeting tomorrow about a job… So I spent most of the day lounging around in bed watching tv, fading in and out ever so often. My nieces had watched a scary movie and came downstairs to get me to come upstairs to keep them company while my sister was outside.

My nephew came inside and started to watch Million Dollar Baby. I had heard about it but knew very little about it other than it was a boxing movie with Hilary Swank. As sports is really not my thing, neither are sports movies. As I watched I became intrigued for some reason. Here was this girl, as boss called her, that against all odds was willing to do what it took to get her one shot.

She didn’t give up… neither in herself or boss. There was something about her resilience that hit a chord in my heart. I guess in a way I saw my self in Maggie’s eyes. It was then that I realized that no matter how many times I was kicked, knocked down to the ground that I would always get back up…

The odds were stacked against her but that didn’t stop her from breaking free from the mold that imprisoned her. She saw something in herself that no one before had ever seen. She was born into trailer trash but that didn’t mean thats he was trash. She had plenty reason to stay down with how her family treated her but she got back up and kept swinging until she broke through.

The only way she could survive was to fight and I’m not talking the punching she gave in boxing but her will to survive. She wasn’t going to give up without a fight. Each day i’ve hid from the world was another day my naysayers won. The only way I’m going to get through this world is to go out fighting with all my might. It won’t happen hiding in my room.

We all deserve our shot… our one moment in the spotlight. The spotlight is living our dream whatever it may be.

Watching the movie wasn’t easy for me to do being as it reminded me of what my Mom went through the twenty one days in ICU. It was like I was reliving those moments all over again from the bedsores to the sounds of the respirator to the last few breaths. Maggie wanted to go out fighting on her terms to the sounds of other’s cheering her on chanting Mo ChuisleIt was a reminder of that would have been my Mom’s wishes as well.

My Mom also went out fighting on her own terms. I wouldn’t have wanted her last days or years in misery not being able to enjoy the life she lived willed full of love and laughter from her family. It would have killed her more to live a life full of complications and pain. One where she wouldn’t be able to do the things she enjoyed and loved, like playing with her grandbabies. Mom wanted the last memories of her grandbabies to be one of love and happiness.

It wasn’t easy living that day all over again visually. I have certainly re-lived that day over and in over my head but to see it on screen was quite different. I forced myself to endure the torture as there was deep lesson to be learned. It was then that I realized you don’t have to win to be a winner. Even though Maggie lost the title fight she still came out of it a winner. All she wanted was a chance and she got it plus something she didn’t bargain for the family she so desperately needed. When her own family was only interested in their own interests Boss was there right by her side until the end.

I was also reminded of the last few weeks of Mom’s life and how my sister and I surrounded her with love. I know often she questioned many things in her life, including whether she was love. Mom’s life wasn’t easy, she also had to fight for everything. She departed our world for heaven knowing that she was loved deeply and unconditionally… That we saw her for who she really was, just like Boss saw Maggie for the fighter she was.

I always thought the biggest gift my Mom gave me was her love but I know realize it was her determination and willingness to fight. That’s a true sign of a winner. It’s not the number of wins or losses but it’s the willpower to make it to the final round.

So watch out world I’ve got my boxing gloves on and I’m ready for my shot in the ring.

 

The Difference a Year Makes

It’s been a while since I have wrote on my blog. I just passed my one year anniversary of my suicide attempt and I have been reflecting on the last year. While I can’t say that I’m happy I can say that I’m in a better place mentally than I was a year ago. While I still struggle with depression it’s not as extreme and when I do have a flair up the episodes don’t last as long.

Someone asked me what changed things? I must admit I struggled with answering it and I still do. I think the biggest difference is taking an antidepressant, as well as therapy. I’m in the process of trying to find work and as scary as that is I’m ready to have purpose again. You can only hide for so long before you go stir crazy and that’s where I’m currently at.

I think the main reason I struggled answering the question of what changed is that I’m still in the process of changing as I haven’t got to the point where I’m happy. I must admit most of the time I’m miserable. I hide in my room a lot and I know that’s not very healthy. I miss having friends that I regularly see and do fun things with. That’s the struggle with living out in the middle of no where there’s nothing to do or see. It also presents a problem when meeting someone as most people don’t want to drive that far. Also not having a car puts a damper in going the distance.

I’ve learned once you get yourself in a deep hole it takes time to dig out of it. I’m learning to work on my patience and having faith. Having a job will be a huge step to my happiness. They say money doesn’t make you happy but not having any can make you miserable. A job will lead to a car and a car will lead to meeting new people…

I won’t lie that I still occasionally think about you know what… but it’s usually a quick passing thought when I’m feeling rather down. I’ve noticed lately having this coping skill of taking deep breaths when I’m feeling panicky or rather down. It’s been occurring rather naturally without thought. I also feel a stronger presence to my Mama. When I take those deep breaths I feel like she’s there with me.

A long time ago I learned to disconnect to cope with trauma. When you repeat a pattern over and over, year after year it becomes apart of you. Changing that pattern isn’t an easy task as it becomes hard wired in the clockworks of your mind. I’ve failed over and over but I never gave up. I made the conscious choice to reach out for help when I had the pills up to my mouth. I desperately needed help and that was the only way I could connect to it.

When you’ve been disconnected for a long period the harder the impact when you plug yourself back into an outlet. I’ve tried over the past nine years to get plugged back in but every time I would get shocked and run back into seclusion. Living a heart-centered life can get you hurt, especially if you don’t have a solid foundation and a toolbox of coping skills. That’s been my greatest flaw. I have tried to build a life on a flimsy foundation and an empty toolbox.

This weekend I took a leap of faith by entering an art competition called ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I have always been artistic in some form or another. It’s always been my dream to have a career that I can utilize my creativity but I’ve always shied away from pursuing it because I didn’t feel I deserved it.

I put off registering for ArtPrize for days as I was afraid. Afraid of succeeding, afraid of being seen. Being a survivor of sexual abuse there’s a fine line between being seen and not being seen. I think about when I abused I was a happy child full of life and love. I was vulnerable. I catch myself still feeling like I’m that 10 year old boy still. I must remind myself that not only am I an adult now but that was a long time ago. I no longer have to hide because I can defend myself. All these years I’ve been the first to stand up for others but have rarely stood up for myself. I’ve waited a lifetime for others to stand up for me… when it was me that needed to stand up.

Registering for ArtPrize felt like running through the finish line. I’ve forced myself to not only look fear right in the eyes but to also push right through it. Fear is like a ghost. It’s just an illusion and much smaller than it appears. The further you push it away the bigger it becomes until one day that ghost turns into a monster and takes total control of your life. Whenever you try to change a destructive, negative pattern it will alert an internal warning system. That ghost will do whatever it takes to keep control.

So it’s doesn’t surprise me that today has been a rather difficult day. I had the sky is falling moment and my urges were telling to me to abort the mission and run back into hiding. I’ve noticed this determination to not give up. Perseverance to push through the storm. You can only put up with enough misery before you throw your hands up in the air and say that’s enough!!! Well THAT’S ENOUGH!!!

I can have my dreams and live a happy life. I deserve, everyone does. My goal is to live life fueled by my passion and live it through my dreams. I know the pain I’ve endured was not in vain there was purpose for it. I hope to be able to use my art and creativity to inspire and touch those who have been in my shoes. Those who feel lost, down and out…. who feel they’ve been left behind and forgotten.

My biggest challenge will be breaking the pattern that I deserved the pain and the actions that caused it. For too long I believed I was this hideous, unloveable monster. While I can’t say that I don’t see and feel that monster but I’m determined to shed that unwanted skin. I have and will always be a teddy bear. Someone who goes through life with an open heart, not afraid to be a big kid. Sure there are things I need to change in my life and most of it is just shedding away the negativity. There is a lot about me that I don’t need to change and that’s what’s deep within… my heart and soul… Those are gifts, not curses.

I believe the biggest thing that’s changed from last year is that I now I have hope for a better life something I didn’t have before my breakdown. I was drowning in my sorrow, pain and grief. Without hope I had no reason to live as all I could see was darkness. Hope has shined a light back into my life. I must continue to work on letting my own inner light shine.

Light is meant to shine, not hide in a box. Human’s are like flowers as they need sunshine and water to grow, without it they will surely wither away to nothing. I had convinced myself for years that I was a just a weed but now that I’ve brought back water and light into my life I realize that I’m a flower. Now I just need a space to grow and blossom into the rose I was meant to be.