Being Homeless Doesn’t Make Me Less

This isn’t the first time I have been homeless. In 2016, I was homeless for two days. I slept in a park in Chicago and the rest of the time was spent at a Starbucks. Thankfully I found a friend to stay with so I didn’t have to go to the homeless shelter. This time was different. I found myself in a situation that I had nowhere to go. Many times in my life I have been faced with homelessness but I was always able to find a way to escape being homeless. Now I’m 41 and don’t have the strength to fake it anymore. I’m tired of running and living without any stability, which is detrimental for someone living with a mental illness. Recently I looked back on the last fifteen years and realized that I had move twenty times, most of those were sudden and I had to scramble to find housing. Usually it meant running aka moving out of state. My twenties and thirties I tried desperately to escape the trauma of my past. I failed miserably. When my Mom died in 2012 everything came crashing down. I had no more energy to give trying to be someone I wasn’t and burying the pain deep inside.

So I had to deal with the pain. My Mom was the one person I had who was my champion and losing her made the world a much darker place. It wasn’t until a suicide attempt in 2013 that I started to take care of my mental health. I started to taking antidepressants and going to therapy regularly. This helped bring me out of the helpless dark pit I had been in but I still struggled greatly. The first two years after my Mom died I wasn’t sure I was going to make it, nor did I think I wanted to. A world without my Mom was unfathomable. The grief was raw and deep. I had never endured pain like that. Thankfully I was able to beat the beast and got to a point where I accepted my Mom’s death and was able to move forward from the pain.

I’ve tried hard the last two years to find alternative housing but for various reasons it hasn’t worked out. One roommate was a psycho and another ended up selling his house. I have had to move four times in that time period. This last time I just couldn’t take it anymore. While things had improved with my mental health I was still enduring severe bouts of depression. I’m talking about the deep, dark depression. I would do okay for weeks then I would get triggered, sending me into a dark spiral to the pits of hell. I started to become a wallflower. I hide in the corner of the place I stayed. I tried my best to stay out of the way of others. I would go weeks without talking to anyone other than my therapist. My weight had become uncontrollable. I was over 430 lbs and my mobility was horrible. I could barely walk a few feet without getting tired. I also couldn’t stand for very long. My quality life was horrible. I was alive but not living. I tolerated this for the last five years. Recently something changed within me and I’m not quite sure what caused it. I just woke up and said fuck this to hell. I deserve so much more.

For a good year I was drinking a two liter of Pepsi a day. It had been such a crutch for my anxiety and depression. Up until a month ago I was unwilling to stop drinking Pepsi at all. It felt impossible. I had decided that I would try to become more physically active. That I could manage doing a few steps at a time. On April 15th, I went to the Michigan Democratic Convention in Detroit. Doing something like this meant a lot of walking and I knew that I needed to prepare so the week prior I started to walk with a fabulous cane that my friend gave me. I was determined to get to Detroit, through an ice storm, to support a candidate that fought for those in need. I finally got there and while I was able to walk a bit farther but was still limited because of my mobility. Just walking to the area where the convention was held took a lot of me physically. So I sat most of the time. I sat as I saw the world flash by me. It was a great day and it really helped me put life in perspective.

It was also tough because I went from spending years by myself to being surrounded by a ton of people, that was also why I didn’t do much. I wanted to go to the LGBTQ caucus and vote for Dana Nessel. I did that and was exhausted so I just sat until it was time for the bus to leave. I left inspired seeing so many people step up to make a difference by running for office. I have always wanted to make a difference in this world. In the past I gave so much of myself that it would leave me empty. I use to think that making a difference meant going into service like being a therapist which meant giving up my artistic ability. One of the gifts the universe has given me. I have always been great at taking care of other people including being a fierce advocate for those in need. I was horrible at taking care of myself which just made my mental health even worse.

After 2012, I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t take care of myself, let alone anyone else. I had various attempts at embracing my art but I always gave up because I didn’t believe that I deserved it… nor did I think anyone wanted it. It wasn’t until 2015 when I made a 5ft tree out of eyewear material that I realized the impact that my art had on other people. Even though I was starting to feel better about myself I still struggled to live in a world that needed me. I would fall into these traps of trying to save the world, which meant neglecting my own world. I did so once again after the convention. I decided I was going to run for office, which meant putting my recovery on the shelf. It was really the first time I had ever felt that empowered. Something had clicked in me that I can’t explain. It was then that I deserved nothing but the best.

Overnight I went from not wanting to stop drinking Pepsi to doing so within a week. I also started to walk a lot more. On top of all of that I started to drink water and eat more healthier. Within weeks I started to notice drastic changes in my mobility. I could finally bend down and touch my toes. I hadn’t been able to do that in over five years. I also started to be able to go longer distances. It felt great to start taking care of myself again. My weight kept me from enjoying my 10 year niece. I couldn’t do much with her if it meant getting off the couch. I realized that I was setting a very bad example for my nieces and nephew. I didn’t want them to see me dying on that couch. My health had started to deteriorate lately from my blood pressure to having asthma. I had wasted so much time hiding in fear and I feel like I have this time clock that I need to beat. My fear is that I will die without doing what I was meant to do. I knew if I didn’t make some changes I would die before it was my time. So these factors also contributed to making a change. In December I had a cyst and have had an open wound since then. It’s been slow to heal because of my weight and that scared the crap out of me.

I started to be able to go outside to play with my niece. It was so rewarding and it gave me the courage to fight harder. Then once again I found myself in a situation where I had nowhere to go. I can’t explain the level of panic that goes through your body from having the ground fall from under your feet. I couldn’t endure that panic anymore. I had to do something about it. I finally realized that I deserved so much better. I was unwilling to tolerate anything bad. Since October of last year I realized that I needed to be hospitalized to get my mental health on check but I had put it off due to fear of being confined to a hospital and what it meant after I left… living in a homeless shelter. So I put it off until I couldn’t handle it anymore.

I had no choice but to take the leap I had been avoiding. I checked myself into the hospital and spent two weeks in a psychiatric program. One of the reasons that I wanted to make a change was that I missed being around people and doing fun things. I would see people share pictures and stories on Facebook about the fun things they were having with their friends. I wasn’t having any of that. I longed for friends again. Sure I had friends all over the country but no one in person to really spend time with.

Being hospitalized isn’t fun let alone being in a psych ward. You are stuck, with no way out. All the doors off the floor are locked, even the elevator you had to use a key card to operate. You are surrounded by a bunch of people you don’t know, some who have severe mental illness. One day I was awoken to the woman next to my room screaming at the top of her lungs. Each sentence made no sense and it was like she was talking to a room full of people. She was loud and violent. This went on for a good hour. Later that day she was talking like she was the devil and ended up having to be subdued and sent to the other side of psych ward for the worse cases. Another patient was extremely abrasive and confrontational. So much so that he had to have a tech with him at all times as he was unpredictable. I avoided him like the plague. He treated other patients horribly usually those who couldn’t stand up for themselves.

Overall most of the patients were amazing. It really opened my eyes about the world. It wasn’t my first time in a psych hospital. It was my fifth time. Each time was just as scary as the first. The last major hospitalization was in 2014 when I was living in Chicago. During that time I met a lot of wonderful people who I became friends with afterwards. A few I’m still friends with.

This time was no different. I really feel that I was meant to be at this hospital. Originally I wanted to go to another hospital that my therapist recommended but they wouldn’t take me because of my weight, which just added to shame of my weight. It’s so humiliating to be told that you’re too fat to be admitted to a hospital. Even the place I ended up had to give me a hospital bed because my weight. In the past, this would have led me into a spiral out of control but this time that didn’t happen. It just added fuel to the fire to fight. I kept drinking water and made sure to go to all the groups. It was the first time that I wanted the help because I realized I deserved to heal.

By the second week there was a small group formed. We spent many nights playing games and talking. It was like our own breakfast club. It was amazing. What was most amazing about the experience is I finally felt accepted for who I am inside, a transgender woman. About six months ago I came to the realization that I was trans. I had worked hard with my therapist to become more comfortable in my skin. Prior to being homeless I had decided to change my name to Drew and I had started to tell people.

One thing I struggled with was how I could have gone 41 years and not have known that I was trans. Looking back I now know there were many signs. I had always said that inside I was a woman with a male body. I had thought that was because I was a gay male but recently I realized that it was much deeper than sexual orientation. Working on my comic book Dragzilla, the story of a drag queen superhero who fights high kicks one high kick at a time, helped me to discover that I was trans. I had created this character not realizing that I was Dragzilla and the stories I were writing were my own. Dragzilla not only gave me purpose but she saved me… I saved me…

At first I wasn’t going to say anything about being trans in the hospital because of fear. I was afraid of how others would respond, especially patients. There is a lot of ignorance out there and I have seen how many treat trans people. I was put in a room with four men and something didn’t feel right. I was going to stay silent but I started to look at my hospital band and it listed me as a male. It got to a point where that m became so large and loud that I had to tell my doctor. You would think that we live in a time where medical professionals would be educated and empathic to being trans but that’s not the reality. So I was nervous. My last therapist made transphobic comments before I realized that I was trans. I stopped seeing her after that and now I have a wonderful therapist who has helped me embrace my transness.

The doctor right away asked if it would be okay if I got my own room. The staff also started to use female pronouns. They even asked if I had another name that I wanted to be called. I said yes but that I wasn’t ready to go by Drew because it would confuse the patients and I wasn’t sure I was ready for the rejection. It was until I realized once again I was living in fear of what others thought about me. I was changing who I am because of others so I told the staff that I wanted to be called Drew. I even changed the name on my door to Drew. I started to tell patients that I trusted, the breakfast club. They accepted me fully and I felt like I was on cloud nine. The first person embraced me from the start, she was amazing and totally fabulous. It was because of her that gave me the strength to start talking about being transgender openly. Everyone was so supportive and accepting.

All my life I have felt like no one saw me for who I really am. This was the first time that I was being seen for the fabulous, beautiful person I am. I finally was embracing who I was both inside and out. I didn’t have to hide anymore. I was free.

I really feel like the hospital prepared me for living in a homeless shelter. The hospital forced me to interact with strangers and be able to tolerate an uncomfortable situation. I was also walking a lot more, which definitely has made a difference being homeless. I have to walk everywhere. On Monday, I had to walk a mile to get to a place to spend the day, as the buses were closed due to the holiday. A month ago I couldn’t even go a few hundred feet.

The difference today is that I’m forced to walk because I have to take the bus if I want to do anything and staying in the day shelter all my time would drive me crazy. There is no comfort at all. It’s basically folding chairs and a room. Plus people are loud and there is only a few desks. My big issue with being homeless (outside of safety) is finding things to do during the day. You need to leave the night shelter by 7am and you’re not able to come back until 6pm. So that’s a lot of time to fill, especially in this heat.

When I first started walking before I was homeless it was controlled. I could choose how far and would stop when I was tired. Now I don’t have a choice and I am not able to take breaks like I did in the past. Previously I could take a day break to allow my body to rest. Lately I’ve pushed my body so far it’s tough to walk a few blocks. I hate that feeling you get when you are so exhausted and sore that you start to panic. It feels like a million miles away until you can rest. I can’t do this is a common thought. Though I push through, stopping as often as I need. The heat doesn’t help matters either.

I get so frustrated. I’m at the point where I want to do so much more than I can. I would like to be able to walk as far as I want without any pain or discomfort. I’m having to push through in order to leave the shelter today and it’s tough. Like today I wasn’t going to leave the day shelter because I had an appointment at 11am but the kitchen wasn’t really stocked. They had cereal but no milk. Yogurt but no spoons. Stale donuts and that was it. So I didn’t eat this morning. I wasn’t going to leave because my body needed a rest. I’m having trouble walking very far because of my thighs, they hurt when I move. I had two hours to kill before my appointment and I was starving. There is a Burger King a few blocks away and I dreaded the walk knowing how hard it would be and it was. There is such a sense of relief when you make it to your destination. BK even had lounge chairs so I got a cheap meal and relaxed for an hour. Thankfully there was a store across the street where I bought some Motrin and that helped get me home, which was a struggle.

The conditions of the day shelter are very minimal. I have been leaving each but tried to stay there after my appointment was done as I didn’t think I had the strength to do the walking needed to go to the library. That was until people again were being unbearable and I just had to leave. It was either my santity or my body and this time my sanity was the priority. If it hadn’t been for the Motrin I wouldn’t have been able to walk the four blocks needed. I’ve started to have charley horses and those are horrible. I hope my body holds on long enough until I can get through this patch.

It’s almost been a week of living in the homeless shelter and it definitely isn’t easy. It’s not as scary as I thought but it’s pretty miserable. You learn to go without many things and one big one is comfort. When you are with a home of your own you take for granted the luxuries given like a comfy couch, your own shower and being able to cook in your own kitchen. When you are homeless there are no comfy couches where you can watch tv from. There is no privacy when you take a shower and you have no control over the kitchen where you live.

I hear all the time that being homeless is a choice. That those living in shelters do so because they want to. Some would like to make it out to be this fun, luxurious lifestyle when that couldn’t be further from the truth. You go without a lot. The soup kitchens have very basic food and it’s very much like prison food. A prime example was today for breakfast as I already stated, this is nothing new. The shelter is understaffed and funded so they do what they can. Often times I skip the meals because there is nothing I will eat. They usually have lots of granola bars, sometimes sweets but not very much in terms of substance that will fill you up and keep you satisfied. A lot of times I stay hungry. Then I will splurge and buy fast food. I won’t be able to do that often on my minimal income I get from state disability of $200 a month. I’m already low on funds.

Being MTF trans I was hoping that the homeless shelter would be able to accomodate me by not being around men but that didn’t happen. Thankfully I have really started to transition, other than growing out my hair. So I can kind of blend in but it’s still tough. They acted like I could get seperate show time and that didn’t happen either. So I’m doing what I have to in order to survive. At first I worried about using the shower around men but now I just don’t care. I get in and out as fast as I can. I don’t have the energy to worry about it. I have enough on my plate already. This shelter does have seperate rooms so that helps. I still have to share it with a man but it could be a lot worse like the other shelters it’s all open bedding. So I’m looking at the blessings.

Some might see this as me not being grateful but that’s not true. I’m thankful for what I have but I believe it’s important that the general public is educated to know what it’s like both in removing the stigma and getting the help that the shelters and homeless need.

Like I said the biggest challenge is finding places to go during the day. Thankfully the library is close and I can get on their computers 3 hours a day. I can also use their table’s to work on my comic book. Though on weekends I have no choice but to go to the hospital cafeteria. One thing I have noticed is craving a regular life, having a purpose. Surviving isn’t a great purpose. Yes, I have my comic book but the homeless life leaves you with tunnel vision. Today I just couldn’t take being in the shelter and I bolted out the doors. I keep hoping that someone I know in the area will invite me over to hang out but that hasn’t happened. I have even put out hints on Facebook with no luck. Even with going to public places there is no privacy or a way to relax. There is no alone time. It’s one thing to be having fun with your friends it’s another thing to be out by yourself trying to relax.

I crave for connection but am very careful as I don’t know who to trust. Many people at the shelter keep to themselves. There are definitely groups that stick together and they’re usually loud and unpredictable. People are suspicious and that’s to be expected. There are all types here at the shelter and sometimes it’s tough to tell the difference. I hear people talk about being on parole and others just talking nonsense, and it makes me really nervous. Safety is a huge issue with being homeless. People are desperate and some are willing whatever they have to in order to get by. Sometimes people are just greedy. For example, at the kitchen the other day they had maybe 10 small cartons of chocolate milk. One woman got three and she tried to get a fourth.

The other day I ran into this woman in line for the kitchen. I almost wasn’t even going to go down to the kitchen but I thought I would see what they were having. MK was her name. She had short hair with a pink bow in it. She was wearing a tutu like shirt with some cute pattern on it. It was in the high 80’s and she had a faux fur scarf on. She was a mix of Hello Kitty and a club kid. I knew right away I was going to like her before I started talking to her. Once in a while they will have something substantial in regards to food. This time they had scraps of ham. I will admit that I’m rather picky and don’t like things like salad, etc… which is usually what they have. So whenever they have meat like this it’s a treat. For me, whenever I get something like that I will gobble it up like I haven’t eaten in weeks. I got a plate and started to sit down. At first I wasn’t going to sit next to her out of shyness but today I decided to sit down next to her.

Her personality matched her appearance. She was bubbly and full of life. MK reminded me a cross between Hello Kitty and a club kid. Her voice reminded me of Shirley Temple or Betty Boop. She was adorable and fabulous. It was very interesting sitting and talking to her. She noticed that I drank Crystal Light and started to give me tips on mixing different flavors. I told her that I was  trying to be more healthy and she said that she was diabetic so she understood. MK’s boyfriend was just as interesting. He had a goth look to him with face tattoos and piercings. His name was Kraven or something like that. They both live on the streets, I think in the woods. Both were in their early 20’s. MK talked about loving to cook and missing the ability to do so. It’s interesting to talk to the homeless and hear about their lives before. I hope to run into them again as they were interesting to talk to and was my first real connection with someone on the streets. Most people I can’t relate to because no one is as flamboyant as I am. MK was unique and special. I felt like I could be myself with her and I knew she wouldn’t judge me. That’s something I don’t get with the rest of the homeless population. I keep my transness to myself for the most part. I still wear my headband so I’m able to embrace who I am in a small way.

The last few days I have been feeling a bit down because the reality has set in. That this will be my life for a while. Just repeating day after day. Having to leave at 7am each morning and having to find a place to stay. A lot of the times I feel so alone and I cope with it the best I can. It still catches up to me occasionally. Lately I keep wanting to call my Mom. It’s the thought, I should call my Mom she will make feel better but then I realize that I can’t and that makes me sad. I had a dream last night about her where she died all over again. Usually there is a moment where she dies and comes back to life, only to die all over again. I feel those moments of grief all over again. It’s just as intense when it first happened in 2012. The rest of the day I’m left with this aching sorrow.

My Mom was the one person I had. Our relationship was complicated at times but I knew that she loved me. She was always there for me. I no longer have this relationship. The struggle with living with a mental illness is often times you isolate yourself. You get into your head that you don’t deserve love. So you push people away or you get your life so far off track that you find yourself with no friends. For me, I moved away from all my friends and a life I loved because I self destructed. Deep down inside I didn’t believe that I deserved all this love and support. I have struggled ever since.

After my Mom died, I went inward. I was living in a small city with little money and no car. Making friends was almost impossible especially if I wanted someone LGBTQ. I went almost five years of talking to very few people. I became almost a hermit. For weeks my therapist was really the only person I would talk to, at least in detail. If it weren’t for my visits with my niece I probably wouldn’t have any other substantial connection. The longer you isolate the harder it is to come out of it. I would have moments where I tried to venture out into the world but it always led to me getting spooked and I would head back down to the rabbit hole. When you are homeless you don’t have a hole to hide in, well I guess you could find a place in the woods but I don’t have what it takes for that.

Now that I’ve awoken I have this sense of urgency of needing to get my life together. Recently my health has deteriorated and it has scared me senseless. I have wasted too much time living in fear and hiding. There are no guarantees and I don’t want to die without leaving something behind. Now that I’m taking better care of my body it feels great. The upside of being homeless is the walking and that’s helping me to lose weight. I just have to get past this phase of pain. I went from not moving at all to walking daily at least a mile. Before May my days consisted of waking up in the couch I slept in and watching tv. Only getting up to eat and use the bathroom. So it’s definitely been a major adjustment. The motrin is definitely helping. Today it was easier to walk, though I was still in pain and discomfort. My biggest issue is my lower back because I carry a backpack. I’ve tried to lighten the load as much as possible but it’s still pretty heavy because I carry supplies for comic book. Eventually I will be able to walk with ease and be able to go longer distances. I can’t wait for that day.

Next week I can file for section 8 housing. You have to be homeless for 14 days before you can be put on the waitlist. The only way to get on the waitlist these days is to be homeless. The waitlist hasn’t been open to the public in years. I’ve checked off and on for five years and I haven’t seen it open once. Even with being homeless it can take anywhere from three months to a year to get your voucher. Once you have the voucher you can live anywhere in your county that takes the voucher and then you pay 30% of your income. A few people in the shelter had recently received theirs and both had to wait six months. So it could be a long haul for me. I’m struggling one week in and can’t imagine what I will be like in six months. I just hope that it doesn’t take this long.

There are a few complexes that are project based near the shelter, that have seperate waitlists. One in particular has had a lot of crime there. The local news station did a report about the crime a year ago. So that’s a concern of mine. I almost rather wait it out until I can get a voucher, so then I can choose where I live. There is an apartment complex that I applied for in early May that is promising. It’s in a fairly nice part of the city. The only issue is I need to find a doctor who will say that I’m disabled. My primary care physician isn’t able to sign it because of the health department. It’s against their policies to get involved. Ideally a psychiatrist would be able to fill out the HUD form but I can’t find one who takes Medicaid for my county.

This speaks volumes to our current system. So many people who are homeless have some sort of mental illness but because resources are slim people find themselves in bad shape. If you don’t treat mental illness it can cycle into other types of mental illness like psychosis. Many of the homeless are veterans who have PTSD. What is sad that my Community Mental Health (Lansing) covers three counties and their services are pitiful. You can only see their psychiatrists if you have what they consider a more serious mental illness like schizophrenia. They can afford a new four story building but they can’t offer psychiatry care to those with Medicaid. For someone with mental illness being seen by a psychiatrist is extremely important as you need the medicine management. I’m forced to get my medicine managed by my pcp, who is not equipped to properly adjust my medicine based off my needs. So I just get by. I have to be hospitalized in order to get my medicine back on track, when they start to not help me. It’s sad that is what it takes to get healthier.

People think that there is all this help for those who are poor but honestly there isn’t. The resources out there are maxed out. Most think if you become homeless that you can get help right away. That’s not the case. There is no offense in homelessness, only defense. I could very well be living in a homeless shelter for a good year and that’s no way to live but you must do whatever you have to survive.

All the shelters have time limits. The one I’m in now has a time limit of 30 days. It’s possible to get an extension but it’s minimal. So that means jumping from one shelter to the next. For me, that’s even more problematic because at least the one I’m at is more secure and safe being FTM transgender. The other shelters are open dorms with hundreds of bed all next to each other. There is a city mission that you can stay for 90 days but there is no where to hold your stuff so what you have you must carry around. Currently I can leave most of my stuff in my room and it’s for the most part secure as no one is allowed upstairs during day time hours. I just hope they can accommodate me for being trans because otherwise my life will get even more hectic.

On weekends there is no day shelter where I stay, nor is the kitchen open. So you must find alternative places to stay and eat. Which I usually do anyways but there is something about not having the day shelter that makes me feel panicky. I guess as basic as it is I know that it’s there. There’s this fear when you are out in public that you will be asked to leave because you’re seen as loitering. Even at the library I fear if I stay too long they will confront me and tell me to leave. This is especially true on Sundays when I usually go to the hospital cafeteria because the library is only open for a short period of time. I use my privilege to my benefit and know that there are some people who don’t have that luxury. Sometimes it’s easy to tell if someone is homeless. The problem with the length of time it takes to get housing is when people start to deteriorate. Six months down the road I’m sure I won’t look as put together as I am just one week in being homeless. Right now I carry most of my life in a bookbag and I can make myself look like a student but eventually people will notice if I come to a public place too often.

These are all the things that run through my head. Some are just in my head and others are real dangers/fears. I have days where I feel good and being homeless doesn’t feel as scary but then others where it just gets to me. Overall I am handing it pretty well. Recently I had a friend who messaged me about me being through a rough patch and at first I thought what rough patch. At first being homeless felt like the scariest thing ever but once I faced it the truth was it wasn’t scary at all. I mean at times it is but overall it’s just annoying and uncomfortable. Of all the things I have endured in my life enduring homelessness is minimal compared to the pain I faced in the past. I was able to survive my Mom dying, so this is nothing. Once I was able to move past the pain and grief of losing my Mom then nothing else will ever hurt me again, at least to that level of pain.

I don’t have time or energy to worry about stupid shit anymore. Like whether someone wants to be in my life or not. I use to let something like destroy me but now I just don’t have the time to hurt over it. I’m too busy trying to figure out how I’m going to eat or sleep, or just staying safe being on the streets. Figuring out how I will do my laundry and make it so I’m not dirty. I’m just trying to survive.

I have this new sense of strength. My will power has always been a struggle but lately it’s like the energizer bunny. I know where I’m going is so much better than were I have been. I’m finally learning to love and accept myself. I just have no more fucks to give and the few left over I’m shedding one by one. Others can judge me all they want. As RuPaul says, that’s not business. One day I will look back at this time as test of my strength. It will be proof that I can tackle any problem. That nothing is too big or scary for me to overcome. You can’t get much lower than living on the streets. I guess that’s part of where my resolve comes from. There’s great power in realizing that no one can kick you further down than already. Often times it was from your own doing.

For over ten years I have tolerated horrible things. I felt like I was less than and built a life where I was a pitiful, useless person. This was especially true the last five years. Losing my Mom knocked me to the ground and I stopped trying to get back up. So I accepted the fact that I was going to stay on the ground until I died. I stopped believing that I could get up. I also thought I deserved to be on the floor. The thing about misery is that you can only handle so much before something is done. You either end it all or you start fighting. This time I was closer than ever to giving it up but I had this mustard seed of fight left in me and as I pushed myself more the bigger I realized it was. Now I realize that my strength was always ginormous it was just covered by a ton of trash. These experiences are only adding to my strength and brilliance.

I can do anything I set my mind to. I deserve great things and will make them happen. You don’t realize how important independence is to your health until you lose it. That’s the difference about today is that I’m finally living life on my terms and I’m determined to do whatever it takes to take back my independence. I crave for the stability that comes with independence. I know some people in my life have judged me for my life choices, like going for disability but the thing is they haven’t had to endure the things I have had in life. They’ve not had to walk in my shows. They’ve also not been able to have the knowledge and experience of the twenty years of my adult life. They don’t see the patterns and broken record that I have been on. The years of instability due to my mental illness. I recently counted up the number times I have moved since 2016 and it was over 20 times. Most of them were similar situations like I am today but back then I had the strength to move to another city or state. I no longer can live that way.

I’m finally taking both my physical and mental health serious. I’m treating my depression, anxiety and PTSD like Diabetes. I know realize that I must manage my systems until I die. That means taking medicine and being in therapy for the rest of my life. A big part of why I can endure what I am today is from taking care of myself. I have always been horrible at doing that. Since 2013, I have been on medicine and in therapy. I have never stuck to anything that long. This is a huge accomplishment for me. It’s been five years that I have stuck to treatment and the only other time was a year and a half back in 2004. I use to wait for other people to validate both the pain and progress. Whenever I didn’t get that it would send me spirally back into the grief and sorrow. Now I realize that the only person I need it from is myself.

You will wait a lifetime for other people to treat you the way you deserve. I’ve learned you can’t make anyone like or love you. Either they do or they don’t. You shouldn’t have to convince people to be in your life. If you do what kind of relationship is that anyways? I want people in my life who embrace who I am and realize that I am a treasure. Friends who make an effort to be in my life and enjoy my company just as much as I enjoy theirs. I miss playing board games and laughing. Going out to dinner with friends and talking about life. Seeing the latest sci-fi/fantasy movie in the theater. Having small get togethers at my place, where I cook for others. I want the life I have always dreamed of but was too afraid to make it happen.

I’m going to embrace the gifts the universe has gave me and fulfill the legacy I was meant to achieve. I will make Dragzilla a success. I hope that she can save others like she did me. I really feel like that is something I was meant to do. I believe in my idea fully and feel it’s something that the world needs to hear. We still live in a world where this a lot of hate, especially towards those who are LGBTQ+. So many queer people don’t have anyone to look up to, many of them children. I know what it’s like to be treated less than because of who you are inside. That kind of trauma eats away at your soul. Growing up I didn’t have many people to look up to. So I turned to Superman and Wonder Woman. I know that Dragzilla has that power as well. Actually I do. A while ago I realized that I was Dragzilla. The stories I was telling were my own. I’m the superhero of my story.

I’m not powerless. I’m powerful. It’s the struggles and hardships that define my character. The trials and tribulations I endure are not flaws, they are strengths. These hardships and experiences have made me into the beautifully fabulous person I am today. My light is shining as bright as ever and I will no longer dim it because of the fears and wishes of others. It’s not helping anyone to be hiding my light. Overcoming homelessness will be just another part of my story. It will be a testament to my strength and resilience. So whatever life brings me I will persevere. I will persist regardless the size or strength the opponent is. I realize now that I can handle anything.

The following quote sums this all up.

Our Deepest Fear
By Marianne Williamson

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness
That most frightens us.

We ask ourselves
Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?
You are a child of God.

Your playing small
Does not serve the world.
There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking
So that other people won’t feel insecure around you.

We are all meant to shine,
As children do.
We were born to make manifest
The glory of God that is within us.

It’s not just in some of us;
It’s in everyone.

And as we let our own light shine,
We unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.
As we’re liberated from our own fear,
Our presence automatically liberates others.

 

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The Stigma of Having a Disability

Today I read an article about this woman with down’s syndrome and how she had got a job at her sister’s salon. When Jenna was asked what her favorite thing about working at the salon she stated that she didn’t have a favorite thing because she loved everything. Here was a beautiful woman just full of sunshine and she didn’t let her disability stand in the way of her being happy. Her sister is advocating for more businesses to hire those with disabilities especially those who have down’s syndrome.

The article made me think about my own disability and those with a mental illness. There is still a lot of stigma attached to having a disablity especially if it’s a mental illness. Whenever I tell someone new about my disability there is always this fear that I will be judged or they won’t like me. I’m learning to stop being a people pleaser but that takes practice.

Lately I’ve been spending my evenings sitting with my neighbors at the apartment complex I live in. When I first moved in I would notice a group of the residents sitting together and talking. At first I was a little put off by it, as I was very reserved and didn’t talk to many people, let alone people I didn’t know. They were always so friendly whenever I came to go swimming. It took me about a month and I started to join in on their conversations. Before long I became apart of the group and most evenings I’m outside with them talking about life. I love living here. These meetings give me something to look forward to, it’s really the highlight of my day. I’ve been very lonely lately and it’s really helped to fill that void. In the past I’ve always been very social so this has helped me blossom back into the social butterfly I use to be.

After you spend a good amount of time with people they start to ask questions and that always puts me in a very awkward situation wondering if I should tell them about my situation. I’m forty years old on disability. I have had this cover that I tell everyone that I’m a graphic designer which is true but it’s more of a hobby than anything else. What if I tell them and they don’t want to hang out with me anymore. Those are the things that go through my mind. Most of the residents are older and are on a fixed income as well but I know that some will wonder why I’m on disability so early in age. If I tell them I’m on disablity will they ask more questions as to what kind of disability.

My history with having a mental illness is not everyone understands it. Some don’t validate it as a disability because they can’t see the symptoms. If only mental health was treated just like general health then matters would be so much better. So if you have a disability that’s a mental illness you really have this stigma attached to you. People with depression and other mental illnesses are good at hiding it. On the outside it might seem that the person is happy but underneath is a lot of pain and suffering. I can see why some would see the disconnect but many of us have learned how to survive in a world full of stigma. Sometimes it’s easy to just pretend you’re okay.

If having a mental health disability wasn’t enough I also have the added stigma attached to being gay. I’ve always been really hesitant sharing that information with new straight people in my life. It took me about a month and it finally came up tonight. I’m in this new mode of not caring what people think, well I’m learning, so when one of the residents was talking about another resident who was in his 50s and not married implying he might be gay. She did the hand gesture to imply that he was gay. I started to cringe. I know she didn’t mean any harm by it but I couldn’t not leave the conversation without taking a stand. I didn’t confront her on it. I just made a couple of comments about that it’s not always the case about single men. Then another resident started talking about if you’re boyfriend is wearing nicer jewelry then you might having something to worry about. I replied well that wasn’t always the case, that not all gay people were fabulous like that. I then said that I was one of them but I said though I’m still fabulous. The one lady goes are you gay and I said yes. They laughed at that and we went on talking about something else.

In the back of my head I wondered were they thinking negatively of me now. Those are just fears and I can’t entertain them. Even if they did it has nothing to do with me. All I can do is be me and live the life the best of my ability. Some people will judge me and I really don’t need or want them in my life. It’s hard to let go of caring what people think of you. I’ve done it most of my life so it’s going to be a hard habit to break but I’m working on it. The same goes with having a disablity. Those who judge people with disabilities are the ones with the true disablity.

I think that’s the misconception that we’re half a person, were not able. I use to think my disability was just that. It made me feel like less of a person. I now see the value in myself and realize that my disability is what makes me special. Having to endure years of depression and PTSD has gave me the tools to help others who are walking down the same path as I have. I’m stronger and more empathetic for having to walk that path. I also judge life on one’s impact. You don’t have to have a college degree or even a job to impact other people. I know that I bring joy into people’s life. Just today I was talking with the complex manager and she talked about how she loved having me live here. She also talked about my joyful personality. It made me feel wonderful that she saw me for who I am. I don’t always feel that.

I think it’s important to not get caught up in those who don’t see you. Some people just don’t have the ability to see past something. That’s their flaw not yours. Sometimes you just have to let it go, which is tough as nails at times. Awareness is also important and something I’m working on creating with my blog. People can change and if other’s don’t take a stand and advocate for what they believe in, nothing will ever change. Some people don’t understand why I’m so public with my struggles. I know people judge me for that, even people in my own family. That’s just apart of the stigma, that you’re suppose to keep mental illnesses covered up. Being open about a mental illness will put shame and guilt upon the family name. This does more harm than good. They’re not living my life so they have no right to speak for me. They don’t have to fight the same battles nor have they had to experience what I did.

So I’m going to keep being me and live the life the way I want to. Being authentic will only help me to grow it will also give others the courage to do so as well. I will finish with one of my favorite quotes by Marianne Williamson. We are all meant to shine…

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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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How to Become Un-Broken

This is something that I’ve been thinking about lately. How to fix what’s already broken. I’m not talking about a vase or mirror. I’m talking about the human spirit. Now some would argue that a human’s spirit can’t be broken but when you’re at that low point it’s hard to see outside in.

Life is full of ups and downs. You get knocked down and you get back up. Each time you’re knocked down afterwards it becomes more difficult to get back up. It starts off as a pebble and before you know it you’ve got a gigantic boulder. A boulder so heavy that it feels impossible to get back up.

After my Mom died (almost four years ago) I was kicked to the ground. It was the first time in my life that I’ve gone so long before getting back up. Losing my Mom wasn’t the first time I was knocked to the ground but it was a KO punch that’s kept me at the bottom. Most of my life I’ve felt broken but I’ve always mended the wound. I guess I’ve only patched the break but this time there was no denying I felt broken.

For me, the key will be not expecting to be put back together the way before the event because that will only set myself up for failure. There are just some things in life that can’t be fixed like my Mother’s death and the whole that was punched through my heart. No amount of therapy and growth will ever completely fill that hole. It’s a gaping hole that I need to cope with. Like having diabetes I have to manage the symptoms.

So rather than trying to fix what’s broken I guess I just need to start building a new model of myself. Start from scratch and build the life I want to. That’s not easy as I’ve got a lot of digging to do. I’m at the point in my life where I don’t see a clear path to happiness and freedom. I have an idea of who I want to become and what I want to do but nothing confirmed. Like I know I want to do something artistically related where I can give back to others.

Today I was reminded (again) of my impact on this world. Often times I’ve wondered how in the world can I help other people when I feel so broken? I’ve since realized that there is no time but then to share yourself. We live in a world full of hurdles, mountains to climb. I know that I’m not the only person struggling in life. So I guess I just have to keep doing what I’m doing and have faith that things will work out for me.

Having faith hasn’t always been my strongest quality. I struggle with it daily. I’ve failed a lot of times and it’s never easy. I’m tired of being disappointed. I recently watched a video of Oprah (who I love) and in the video she talks about failure. She says, failure is just there to point you in a different direction. It really opened my eyes about the failures in my life. I’ve always been a strong believer in good things can come from bad things. That doesn’t make it easier but there is some relief to know that the disappointment and rejection will propel you towards what you deserve and need.

After I came back from my art show in NYC last August I expected my life to change but instead I came home to a lot of emptiness both physically (as I gave away something very deep and precious to me) and mentally. In many ways life became more complicated afterwards, not easier like I thought. Each hurdle I jump I ask myself when will life get any easier. In my mind the experience of creating the tree and traveling to NYC for the show would propel me towards a life where I created full time. When that didn’t happen (yet) it became a reminder of my failures. That’s the difficult part when you’ve failed a lot, is not allowing past failures to add to the weight. I’ve struggled with overcoming it and it’s not a skill that I’ve quite mastered but I’m not giving up.

Each failure will lead you closer to what you need. I have to remind myself of this. If I didn’t get something is that it wasn’t meant for me to go down that road. There is something better out there for me. That’s where having faith comes in handy. It’s facing failure and knowing that it’s only a detour to get you back on track. I also think it’s important to remember that no many times you fail there’s never a point where you stop succeeding. You just need to keep putting yourself out there. Wave your arms about like a crazy person if you need to. Scream to the universe that you’re ready for whatever is out there.

So I guess that’s where I’m at today. I don’t quite feel as broken as I use to be but I still don’t feel I’ve moved much ground. I’m still unsure and uneasy. I don’t know if I will ever be 100% again but I have to keep trying. I won’t lie I’m beat. I’m worn out. I might be moving slowly but I still am moving. Even if it’s a snail pace, as a dear friend once told me, you’re still in motion.

Some days are harder than the other but I refuse to give up. It’s just not who I am. I’m tired of the rejection but I won’t let that stop me from living my dream. I just hope it happens sooner than later. I deserve to be happy and whole again, as we all do.

Til It Happens To You

You won’t know how I feel… Couldn’t be more of a powerful statement and for anyone who’s been at the end of victim shaming it really rings true. It’s common to hear things like it gets better in time or pull yourself together when you’re falling apart. We live in a society that interrogates the victim rather than the abuser. If you grow up in that world how else would someone feel if they’ve endured the abuse and are faced with coming forward.

From the start of Lady Gaga’s performance of Til It Happens To You my eyes began to leak to the point where I thought my eyeballs were about to burst from the sockets. I could hear my voice in her vibrato, it was loud and clear.

I went years of being silent, afraid what would happen if anyone found out. The silence ate away at my soul, it forever altered me. To this day, I still remember that first night going to my parents bedroom door and stopping myself from knocking. I was afraid that they wouldn’t believe me. I mean who would believe that my cousin was sexually abusing me, him being male as well. So I wiped away my tears and fell asleep on the couch. When morning appeared I tip toed back into the lion pit (the bed where I was abused) in order to not alarm anyone.

I woke up like nothing had happened and continued to do so for a week until our supposed vacation had ended… but the hell had just began for me. While most boys were going through puberty naturally I was forced into submission of it all. My innocence stolen in a matter of minutes. That was my first interaction with sex and it was more damaging than a lightning bolt to the brain.

For years, I hide it all… I grew up believing that I deserved it, that it was my fault. Why else would it happen to me? My body turned into a piece of meat, property for whoever wanted it. I gave away my soul like a stack of newspapers. I burrowed myself into that black abyss for the next seven years. I watched life pass me by. I desperately wanted to scream bloody murder by my lips were paralyzed. I had to put on a brave face and act like everything was okay but it wasn’t.

I was groomed into believing that was what love meant, to have it all taken from you. You’re not worth the salvation. So you suffer on, cry into your pillow and go on. No one even noticed that I cried myself to sleep almost every night. It was like my tears were attached to a silencer.

For SEVEN years I watched him raised up by my family. They all adored and loved him. I was the chunky, overly sensitive black sheep. I actually grew up believing my parents didn’t love me, that’s how damaging abuse is. If I didn’t speak up how else would they have known. They had no idea that I was dying inside every time they did something for him or praised him. My cousin was the star quarterback, the captain of his basketball team. The girls all wanted to be with him, the boys all wanted to be his friend.

I grew up believing that NO ONE wanted me…

To the point where one day I just exploded. One too many cracks in the dam to support any more tears. I was proven right. I had reason to doubt other’s believing me, as it came true. A father is suppose to protect his children, instead he went hunting with my abuser the next day. I was told to forgive and forget. How can you forget something like that, not the abuse but your Dad telling you that your feelings didn’t matter. It’s not something you ever get over. Another boulder piled on my grave.

Boys will be boys, others in my family said. Just get over it. He would never do that. I was shunned and exiled. How dare I speak up? My place was to stay silent, take the abuse. That’s how courage was repaid.

More times than not survivors pay the price of coming forward. Rather than lifted up others tear us further down. They’d rather add to the pain than face the reality and truth that something like this could happen. Sweep it under the rug.

“Until your world burns and crosses, until you’re at the end of your rope… til your standing in my shoes I don’t want to hear nothing from you… because you don’t know… til it happens to you… you won’t know how I feel…”

That’s what I’ve been yelling for so long. I’ve screamed so loud that my vocal cords are scorched. You do whatever you have to survive and I have. I won’t ever hear the words I need to hear from the people who’ve done me wrong and even then it would be too late. I’d rather have Lady Gaga sing to me any day. Her words are like kisses upon my pillow. That’s the power of coming forward, other’s hear the ballads of your bravery. Those who are struggling and so desperate to for some comfort. Someone to believe them, and not tell them it’s their fault. Most people don’t come out and say it’s your fault but it’s in the reflection of their words and actions.

For the last two hours I have listened to the song on repeat. Each time the melody is just as loud and clear as the moment before. I’ve cried so much I’ve ran out of tissue. The song is the anthem of the unbelieved, the castaways… There will be others who just won’t get the message, who will say things like what a mediocre song. This song isn’t for them. It’s for you and me. It’s for any survivor of sexual abuse/assault.

There’s great power and taking a stand. Just like when the survivors joined Lady Gaga on stage holding hands with messages like not your fault and survivor written on their forearms. Having a voice is such an important tool for a survivor something so many take for granted, the ability to speak up and be believed. While NO might only have two letters in it, it’s one of the most powerful words ever spoken. We’ve had that right taken away for too long. This song is saying NO… to being silent… to speaking up…

Often times I feel my voice disappear. I can sing it loud and clear when it’s standing up for someone else. I’m a great champion for others… myself not so much. I’ve tolerated less for so long that I’ve forgotten there is any other way. That’s what is so great when others stand up it gives you the strength and courage to do the same. Whether it’s reporting it for the first time or the hundredth time. Healing is a lifelong battle for a survivor. There will times that your sea is calm. All it takes is one big wave and you relive those moments all over again.

You can’t control flashbacks (of the event) anymore you can control whether or not it’s going to rain.  Your brain is the camera and that negative is forever polarized into your consciousness. Often times it won’t take much. It could be a smell or a sound and instantly you’re back where it all began. I still can clearly picture the house where the abuse happened. There are a lot of things that I’ve forgotten as I’ve gotten older, that isn’t one of them. I remember the shower where I tried the filth off. Soap doesn’t reach your soul. I can close my eyes and see every part of that cabin. Anything to not see the act in that bed. Focus on the wall, on the curtains just don’t look down. Hide beneath your pillow and pretend you’re sleeping.

Until it happens to you, you’ll never know just how damaging sexual abuse is… and how prevalent it is. If we don’t speak up, nothing will change. That’s why the message of this song is so very important. To say to society it’s not okay to be marginalized.

It gets better in time we are told. I’m almost forty and it hasn’t got better but damn it all I’m determined to be happy. I fight daily, more than anyone will know. I shouldn’t have to fight so hard but that is the reality of life. I’m tired but I will keep on moving forward. My life has to mean something. If I can give comfort to another brother and sister who’s hiding from the same kind of demons then that will be my purpose.

I’m tired of feeling damaged, broken… unlovable… Currently I’m in the fuck it attitude. I’m done trying to convince others to believe me. I’ve spent most of my life desperately trying to plead my case with people who are both blind and deaf to my tears. I’ve done just about everything to drown out the pain to the point where I just want it all to end.

In the end, no matter why, I’m still here. There is great strength in that statement. I could be homeless tomorrow but I’m still here. I can’t let those who’ve hurt me win. I just can’t. I don’t want my life to have been in vain. I see Lady Gaga living her dreams (and her fears) and that gives me courage that one day I can do the same. Turn my pain, the hell into art in order to help others. I’m learning to embrace the light one day at a time.

I don’t know how I’m going to obtain it or when but I’m going to hold on until I achieve it. The future is unknown and I’m not confident about most things lately but there is one thing I’m certain about… My future is going to be better than my past. I will keep walking until I find my home.

If you’re reading this and have felt the same know that we walk the same path. I know how it feels to be alone, to feel so desperate it drives you mad. Hang in there. You’re worth it, as I am. I know how you feel…

Huggs

 

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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