Scars, bared: The concussion

24 Apr

It’s mid-October, 2009.

Wednesday.

My freshman year of college. John came down to stay the night with me, and we had a great afternoon. We spent the day bumming around town, shopping, going out to eat. Now we were winding down, and getting ready for bed. My phone buzzes. One new message, from a number I didn’t have saved in my phone book. My stomach flipped over, because I knew this was never good. Regardless of who was on the other side of the message, there was only one way this was going to end.

“Who is that?” John asked.

“Hmm, I’m not really sure,” I tried to answer as light-heartedly and nonchalantly as possible. I opened the message and my heart sank as I immediately knew who it was from. Mike Johnson, a boy I had graduated from high school with. He was a star athlete, popular, and good looking. Everything John hated in another person. To make matters worse, I used to have a crush on this guy, and John knew it. Never mind the fact that it was at least three years ago, it was still asking for trouble.

“Laura. Who is it?”

He was more stern this time, and I could hear the anger starting to build up. I couldn’t tell him that it was Mike. It didn’t even matter what the text was about. In fact, the text was only asking me what general education credits were covered by a class that we ended up in together. Honestly, I think he had a girlfriend at the time anyways. But none of that would matter to John, all that would matter is that Mike texted me.

I told John that I didn’t know who it was. He made me show him the text, and he wrote down the number that it was from. I didn’t want to hand my phone to him, but I knew that ultimately I had no choice in the matter. He would get that number either way, I might as well take the easy route and just hand it over. When he gave me my phone back, I replied to the message, and acted like none of this was bothering me. John wouldn’t accept that, and his fury was building by the second. He kept threatening to text the number to find out who it was, so I finally told him.

“Mike Johnson? Are you kidding me? You’re cheating on me with him, aren’t you?!”
“John, no, I promise. Shhh, please, my roommates are sleeping..”
“No. I always knew you were just a stupid whore. This is fucked up.”

I tried to calm him down and keep him quiet so my roommates wouldn’t hear the things he was saying to me, but it didn’t work. I reassured him that I would never cheat on him, and that Mike and I hadn’t even been talking previously, it was just a class question. Of course, he didn’t believe me. One thing led to another, and he stormed out of my dorm. I wasn’t sure what he was going to do, it was cold outside, and I didn’t want him out running around alone. I knew that I would end up having to take responsibility for whatever he did out there, so I followed him to try to convince him to come back inside. This point of the night is where things get fuzzy, where I’m not exactly sure what happened and when. I remember being in the stairwell, as he told me that our relationship was over. I was crying, and begging him not to leave. He told me that if I didn’t let him go, that he would do something horrible. I told him that I didn’t think that he could, and he got in my face and told me that he and his brother once killed someone together. Of course it wasn’t true–as far as I know–but he was trying to scare me, and I wouldn’t have any of that. Under the surface it was working, but I wanted so desperately for him to believe that I wasn’t intimidated, hoping he’d stop trying. I stared him back dead in the eyes and said to him, “That’s bullshit. You would never. Stop trying to act tough because it’s not working, you can’t scare me.”

That was the last thing I remember before everything went black.

The only memories I have after that conversation are in fragmented clips. I remember him lunging for me, grabbing me by the shoulders. Then darkness. I remember him shaking me. I remember the point of impact where my head slammed against the brick wall, and then falling to the ground. Black. I don’t remember screaming, but I remember hearing myself scream. I remember him lifting me up off the ground, trying to calm me down. More darkness. Again, I remember hearing my own wailing, but I don’t remember actually having the energy to cry. At this point, John helped me until I could stand by myself again, and then he tried to run. He said, “Now I’m going to go to jail. I have to run now, or you’ll never see me again.”

And there I was, in this horribly twisted situation. I’m standing at the top of the stairs, holding my head as it throbbed, my vision blurring as I, once again, was the one begging him to stay. I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t want him to leave and end up getting a phone call in a couple hours that he had done something even worse. I wanted someone to comfort me, and like all too often, I was forced to turn back to the one who hurt me in the first place. I had other friends who might help, sure, but how could I possibly explain this, without having to explain mine and John’s history. Without having them look down on me for allowing him to treat me like this. I could call my parents, but I knew they would be upset if they heard that John was sleeping over with me. I felt like I had no other choice but to do whatever I could to keep him around.

I promised him I would never talk to Mike again. I promised him I would be a better person. I begged him to please, just come upstairs, don’t make me sleep alone. If he wanted to leave tomorrow then so be it, but I just couldn’t handle it tonight. Finally, he relented. He brought me upstairs and helped me into bed. The entire room was spinning, and I had never had a worse headache in my life. I could feel a huge egg forming on the back of my head, and all I could do was cry. I laid in bed and cried but I couldn’t sleep. My eyes were burning, my mind so desperately wanting to shut down, but the pain was keeping me awake. John was indifferent. Sure he laid next to me, but he put in a movie to watch instead of making sure I was alright. I don’t know how I ended up falling asleep, but eventually I did. In the morning I woke up in a haze, got dressed, and went to class. I was walking down the hallway and I realized I couldn’t keep my balance. I kept falling to one side or the other, and when I looked down at the floor it was morphing back and forth as if I were in a funhouse. I knew something wasn’t right, so I went down to Health Services to have the bump on my head looked at. The nurse asked me how it happened. I knew I couldn’t tell her the truth, so I told her I slipped and fell in the parking lot. She told me I needed to see a doctor right away. I asked her if she thought I could drive myself, and she said no. I called my dad and told him that I had fallen the night before, and that the nurse thinks I need to go to the doctor. He said he was on his way. Obviously John couldn’t be around when my dad showed up, so I asked him if he could just hang out in my dorm until my dad brought me back home (John didn’t drive, so he had to wait for his dad to come and pick him up that night). Crazy part? He said no. That he would be too bored. He wanted to go to the mall. I asked if he could take the bus over, but he said no, he wanted me to drive him. So here I am, barely able to walk in a straight line, head still pounding, and John is asking me to get behind the wheel so he can hang out at the mall.

Naturally I did it, and got back to school just in time for my dad to pick me up. By then, the pain in my head was making me so sick I was afraid I would throw up. When the doctor finally saw me, he said that I definitely had a concussion, but because it appeared to be such a hard impact, that he wanted to do a CT scan to make sure I didn’t have any bleeding in my brain. Do you want to know what the sick part was? I almost wished I did. I wanted something horrible to happen, something that would finally make John realize what he’d done. A concussion was serious, but still not uncommon. After hours of waiting in the emergency room, the results came back. There was no bleeding, nothing life-threatening, just a bad concussion. No one seemed to be completely convinced by my parking lot story, but I stuck to my guns.

I was so angry with John inside, so horrified that I had just spent all evening in the hospital by his hand, so hurt that he didn’t seem to care. And yet, I was stuck defending him. Keeping him safe, lying to everyone around me about what truly happened the night before. It’s a twisted feeling to contradict yourself in such a way; everything I was feeling inside was the complete opposite of everything coming out of my mouth. I trusted nobody, at this point it was evident that even I could not be trusted. Who do you turn to when you can’t even rely on yourself? You turn to what’s familiar, what’s constant, what’s strong. John was familiar, he was constant, and he was strong. I had been with him for so long, and became so entwined in his mind games, I didn’t know anything different. If we weren’t together in person, he constantly had to be in contact with me. And although it was in the worst way possibly, he was strong. John became my rock. When I sank so low that nothing around me made any sense, I always understood him. It may have been wrong, and completely destroying me, but it made sense. I knew how to make him happy, I knew how to upset him. I could see his mood patterns a mile away, and I swear I could feel an assault coming a week before it actually happened. It hurt, but as any victim of trauma, I came up with coping mechanisms. I learned to deal with it. It became my reality and the idea of leaving it for something completely different scared me to death. As self-contradictory as it felt, I was determined to defend him, keeping his name as clean as possible even while simultaneously destroying my own.

~~~

Week one: Introduction
Week two: Where it all began
Week three: Summertime sadness

 

Welcome to week four of Scars, bared. The content that you will be reading over the next few weeks was of pivotal value to my journey in recovering from and moving past the trauma of this relationship. As I worked through the pain via my keyboard, I couldn’t help but consider how helpful this kind of perspective would have been when I was in the throes of the relationship. From then on, I decided that I was going to get my story in the open, in the hopes that it would help others from getting stuck where I did, for as long as I did. If I could spare even one soul a fraction of the horror that I experienced, then it would all be worth it. I set out to write a book, and to be honest, I actually finished it. But even though I technically wrote to conclusion, I never felt that I was really in a satisfying “book ending” place in my life. So I saved it away to a hard drive and kind of forgot about it.  And while authoring a neatly wrapped book may no longer be in my future, I have decided to post the most important chapters as a series of essays–Scars, bared— in hopes to make a difference in at least one person’s life. So stay tuned, I truly believe that throughout the course of the next several weeks there will be something of value for everyone. Names have been changed. All other details are entirely true.

 

scar [skahr]
noun
1. a mark left by a healed wound, sore, or burn.
2. a lasting aftereffect of trouble, especially a lasting psychological injury resulting from suffering or trauma.

bare [bair]
verb
1. to open to view; reveal or divulge.
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Scars, bared: Summertime sadness

16 Apr

The first summer of our relationship was extremely rocky. I had been looking forward to it all spring, excited for the chance to spend so much more time together, going out to the beach, going for walks, all of the fun things you get to do in the summer. Unfortunately, the summer didn’t exactly start on the best foot. A week before graduation, I was in a bad car accident leaving his house one night. The accident wasn’t my fault, one of the other people were badly injured, to the point of ending up face down on the ground, bleeding from the head. I was horrified, and the experience was extremely traumatic. I didn’t sleep that night, I thought about that woman constantly, worrying about her condition. In the end she was alright, obviously in rough shape, but no permanent damage. Regardless, I couldn’t get behind the wheel for weeks. Even riding as a passenger in a car was really nerve-wracking for me, I was so jumpy and on edge about every sudden movement.

Because John didn’t have his license at the time, me not driving meant that we weren’t seeing each other. Considering that this is the guy who would get pissed at me for not coming to see him two days in a row, he was definitely not happy with me. I tried so many times to explain to him that I just wasn’t ready to drive again, but he chalked it up as me not loving him. I was complaining to my parents about it, and I remember my dad coming into my room to talk to me. He told me that when he was dating my mom, that if he had no other way to see her, he would have walked to her from another town if that’s what it took, because he loved her that much. That really made me think, and it hurt that John really didn’t care about me as much as I had hoped.  Because of course by then, the entire point of the conversation which was “John doesn’t act like he loves me, because he’s kind of a dick” didn’t exactly connect–instead the lesson I took from it was “John doesn’t act like he loves me, because I am unlovable.” It was really hard on me, and was causing me to beat myself up. I kept thinking that maybe he was right, I was just being a baby, I should really just suck it up and drive again. One night he was in town at a friend’s house, which was a much shorter distance from my house than John’s was, and I gave in. I drove over there, very cautiously, but it was still a pretty high-stress drive. We hung out all evening, and then it was time for me to head back home. I was feeling pretty good, so I hopped behind the wheel and gave myself a pep talk. The difference now was that it was dark out, like it was when the accident happened. I started driving, and I didn’t make it four blocks before I was pulled over on the side of the road, shaking and sobbing hysterically. I had to be picked up, and I was furious with John for forcing me to do this when I wasn’t ready yet.

The summer continued with one incident after another. He didn’t come to my graduation, or my grad party, both of which he had promised to attend. We were getting along alright through June, until I had to go to orientation for the college I was enrolled in for the fall. It was only an hour from home, but John was really upset about the fact I would be leaving in a couple months. While I was in Duluth, he randomly texted me and told me that he didn’t want to be with me anymore, and not to contact him. It came out of nowhere, and I was devastated. I was nervous enough about college, and our orientation was overnight. I didn’t know anyone there, and I spent the night crying in the dorm room, trying to talk to my Dad on the phone before my phone died. I kept telling myself that everything would be alright, and that this was just another one of John’s episodes and that when I came home everything would be fine again. Well, it wasn’t, and he ignored me for two weeks. Just like that. No fight, no warning, just a complete cold shoulder. I was crushed, because these things never lasted longer than about twenty-four hours. I literally stayed in bed crying all day every day for a week. When I finally started to accept that it was over, I called John to ask for my stuff back, and surprisingly he picked up. I asked him if I could come and pick it up and his response was “No, you can’t, I’m with my girlfriend.” and then he hung up. Needless to say, this sent me back into hysterics for at least another couple of days. Eventually I found out from one of his friends that it wasn’t even true, he just said it to upset me. Of course. A couple weeks later, he texted me saying that he missed me. And naturally, being the dependent girl I was, I jumped at the chance to take him back.

I wish I could say that the rest of the summer went smoothly, but it didn’t. We got in many more fights, and he was always making me feel like I wasn’t good enough for him. Every time he told me he was dumping me, I never knew what to believe. I would always tell myself just to stick it out because he would come back, but I was also scared of hanging on like that in case he actually meant it this time. I wish I would have taken that horrible summer as a sign that John and I were just not meant to be together, but the thought never even crossed my mind. Every time we would fight, he found some way to place the blame on me, so I continually had it in my head that the secret to our relationship finally getting better was in my own improvement as a girlfriend. I tried and tried to be the best I could be, yet always seemed to fall short. In turn, I felt like I deserved all of the disrespect from him, but nothing had prepared me for what I was about to experience at the end of the summer.

It was sometime in August, a few weeks before I was supposed to move off to college. Because of this, the tension level was high between us. I was excited for such a big change in my life, yet felt guilty about it because John was so upset with me for it. One evening I was at his house, and we started arguing about something in his room, I don’t even remember what it was. He was in my face, which was nothing new, but this time something different happened. He slammed the bottom half of his palms against my collarbones, knocking me to the floor. I was in shock, I couldn’t believe what had just happened. I sat there for a moment, stunned, before I started crying. Instantly he began apologizing, hugging me, telling me he had no idea why he did what he just did. He promised me it would never happen again, and not wanting to even think about the reality of the situation, I tried to immediately wipe it from my memory. I denied to myself that it even happened, tried to convince myself that I just stumbled and lost my balance, tried to morph my own memory into something less hurtful than what I was feeling.

Unfortunately, over the course of the next few months, the physical attacks became more frequent, and incidentally more severe. Every time it was the same thing: we would be arguing, and he would snap. He’d hit me, push me down, throw me against the wall. Afterwards, he would be the one in tears, begging me to forgive him, telling me he had no idea what he was doing, blaming his past, the way he was raised, or the way his mom treated him. There were times that he’d even claimed to have blacked out while it was happening, and that he didn’t remember what he had done. I didn’t know whether that was believable or not, but there were times when I could tell, it wasn’t even John anymore who was beating on me. It was a stranger, someone I had never known. I also think that sometimes he didn’t even understand the severity of what he was doing to me. There were days that he would see bruises on me, bruises that he had inflicted, and get very concerned, asking me what had happened. I would look at him and remind him, “John… You did that…” and he would be appalled, you could see it in his eyes. Overall it was just the most twisted situation I had ever been in in my life, and I didn’t know what to do, so by default I did nothing.

~~~

Welcome to week three of Scars, bared. One thing I want to mention in commentary before going any further, is a reminder that I am sharing a series of my writing from when I was freshly out of the relationship. The content you are reading is at least 7-8 years old. I want to assure anyone and everyone that I have recovered well from the trauma that I suffered, in part due to the process of writing through my experience. Over the past decade, I have found solace in friends and family, in church, in bars, in rehab, in counseling, within myself, and outside of myself. It has definitely been a long journey but I feel very good about where I am at. Yes, I have struggled with the roller coaster of depression over the last couple of years, but I do not feel that it is directly related to this relationship. In fact, my ability to even share these details with you is a testament to the level of healing I have experienced and my desire to let others know that it’s possible to get out, to heal, and to live a fulfilled life again. Of course my past will always be a part of who I am, and some pain will never truly be forgotten. But like I’ve said, if sharing my story saves even one person out there from going through the same thing, then it has all been worth it.

You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people. – Genesis 50:20

The content that you will be reading over the next few weeks was of pivotal value to my journey in recovering from and moving past the trauma of this relationship. As I worked through the pain via my keyboard, I couldn’t help but consider how helpful this kind of perspective would have been when I was in the throes of the relationship. From then on, I decided that I was going to get my story in the open, in the hopes that it would help others from getting stuck where I did, for as long as I did. If I could spare even one soul a fraction of the horror that I experienced, then it would all be worth it. I set out to write a book, and to be honest, I actually finished it. But even though I technically wrote to conclusion, I never felt that I was really in a satisfying “book ending” place in my life. So I saved it away to a hard drive and kind of forgot about it.  And while authoring a neatly wrapped book may no longer be in my future, I have decided to post the most important chapters as a series of essays–Scars, bared— in hopes to make a difference in at least one person’s life. So stay tuned, I truly believe that throughout the course of the next several weeks there will be something of value for everyone. Names have been changed. All other details are entirely true. 

Week one: Introduction
Last week: Where it all began

scar [skahr]
noun
1. a mark left by a healed wound, sore, or burn.
2. a lasting aftereffect of trouble, especially a lasting psychological injury resulting from suffering or trauma.

bare [bair]
verb
1. to open to view; reveal or divulge.

Scars, bared: Where it all began

9 Apr

One new message.

“Hey, do I know you? You look familiar. You’re amazingly beautiful by the way! We should totally chat! :)”

Eighteen words. It was a simple Myspace message. I had no idea that this single message was about to send my entire life into a tail-spin.

It wasn’t that my life was so different than any other high school senior, but it was a pretty pivotal time for me. Almost eighteen years old, getting stir-crazy at home, applying for college, and finally feeling like an adult. My life thus far had been on the sheltered side, but there was nothing wrong with that. My parents raised me well; a relatively respectful young lady, member of the National Honor Society, attended youth group regularly at a modest little baptist church, a clarinet player in band and captain of the Rifle Corp. I had seen my rebellious years of high school, probably experimented a few too many times with “recreational” substances–but I like to believe I emerged a strong, independent, put-together girl. Speaking honestly, my heart had already been claimed by this point. I met a boy on a mission trip in Pine Ridge, SD several years prior. He was from Colorado, but we stayed in touch through letters, then by email, and soon enough were spending hours on the phone together every night of the week. His name was Drew, and he was the best friend I’ve ever had. I knew our friendship had the potential to grow into a really great relationship, and he felt it too. Deep down, I wanted nothing more than to get through my last year high school so I could pursue a college in Colorado and he and I could be closer together. I had the rest of my life all figured out, it was going to be perfect.

Until September 15, 2008; when everything changed.

His name was John. John Doe. He was charming and a smooth-talker, and damn was he cute. I had a thing for those skater-boys, you know, the ones with the skinny jeans, who listen to metal and headbang at shows. He had the most kissable lips I had ever seen and this gorgeous hair that had the perfect flip from under the yellow bandana he would always wear. I had seen him around town before, actually in the restaurant where I worked. Ironically, I had seen him there with his last girlfriend. She was beautiful, she looked so kind, and real. Not like the dramatic, resting-bitch-faced overly made-up rocker chicks I would expect him to be into. I remember thinking to myself how he must be a really good guy because she looked like such a nice person (SPOILER ALERT: abusers intentionally prey on “nice people”! We tend to give them the benefit of the doubt, and give too many “second chances” to improve bad behavior. But at least my judgement of HER was right, because to this day she is one of my best friends and what we like to refer to as the only good thing either of us ever got out of dating him lol).

My friend Emma knew who he was, and we had talked about him a few times. Eventually, his older brother happened to add me on Myspace. I recognized the name instantly, and found John in his friends. “Are you sure you’d like to send this friend request?” Hell yeah I’m sure! Later that same night, I received a message from him.

“Hey, do I know you? You look familiar. You’re amazingly beautiful by the way! We should totally chat! :)”

Amazingly beautiful? I was flattered already. We messaged back and forth a few times before exchanging phone numbers, and began texting. This went on for a couple weeks, he was a total sweetheart. He showered me in compliments, and texted me constantly. I fell fast, and hard. The only problem was, any of my friends that knew him seemed to be leery of the whole thing. Emma warned me that he was a player, and a jerk. How could that be? Clearly she wasn’t thinking of the same guy as me– the one who only ever had kind things to say. When I thought about it, I remembered him telling me that Emma used to like him, but he didn’t like her back. I told myself, obviously she’s jealous that he is giving me the attention that she never could get from him herself. That’s why she’s saying these things.

Days later, an old friend of mine sent me a message on Myspace. “John?” she said, “good luck with that one.” I didn’t know what to make of these warnings, but I credited them to jealousy. After all, I already felt like I knew John. He told me all about his life, and how much he had been through. He told me that his mom walked out on his family with no explanation when he was only eleven years old, and that dad was dying of cancer. He didn’t drive because he was too busy taking care of his dad to ever attend driver’s ed. He told me that he was picked on in school, and got played by girls. It broke my heart, and I had no idea how these other people could be so cruel. Instantly, he had me at his mercy. I decided that I would be the girl to show him what he deserved, to treat him well when no one else would. I told myself that I would not be just another person to come into his life and hurt him. I wouldn’t leave him hanging, no matter what. Subconsciously, I made this promise to myself that I would be the one to turn his life around, and I had no intentions of walking away from him until I fulfilled that. Little did I know that such a mental commitment would tie me down to this horrible, heavy anchor that was dead set on dragging me to depths deeper and darker than I had ever imagined.

~~~

The months leading up to my actual relationship with John could be described as bipolar at best. Within about two weeks of meeting him, I experienced his true colors for the first time. He was an extremely jealous person, always looking to stir up trouble. However, he was also incredibly crafty. His favorite trick was to intentionally instigate fights, but do it in such a way that he would leave the other person convinced that he or she had started it. He would set me up with loaded questions, seemingly harmless at first as we were in the process of getting to know each other. Later down the line, one by one the answers I had given would come back to bite me. For example, he asked me if I liked getting attention. This almost seemed like a given, I assumed he had meant attention from himself, and what girl would tell a guy that she doesn’t want his attention? So I answered yes, of course. I had no idea that that simple answer would give him the ammunition to call me an “attention whore” for the next two years (because, after all, I said so myself). Another thing John would do is get me to talk down on myself in moments of vulnerability, and then he would play up those insecurities down the line. For example, in the very beginning, during that flirty puppy-love stage, he told me that he really liked me. I answered that I liked him too, but then he told me that he would never ask me to be his girlfriend. That crushed me a little bit, so I asked him why. His reasoning was that I was too good to be his girlfriend. He was too shy, too poor, too broken, and I was too outgoing, too successful, too happy. He made me feel guilty for everything I was proud of. From day one, he took the bare bones of my identity and twisted them into something I didn’t like. He used my positive characteristics against me, putting me on the defense and causing me to subconsciously begin to smother everything I had ever loved about myself.

The first time John and I had ever met up in person was about a week after our initial contact online. He was going to a local rock show, and asked me to meet him there. I went with a couple friends who frequented these shows, and I was absolutely giddy with excitement. I saw him hanging out with a group of friends, and I approached him. To my surprise, he was extremely cold, blew me off, and walked away without ever looking me in the eyes. I was crushed. What did I do wrong? I spent that entire concert questioning myself on every level possible as I watched him pretend I didn’t exist from only a few feet away. He flirted with girls in front of me, smiled at each of my friends, and generally made me feel invisible. Eventually I’d had enough, and just wanted to go home. I left the building to walk to my car. I had almost reached the edge of the property, when I heard someone call out to me.

“Hey, you! With the purse!”

He was talking to me. Just as I was on the edge of breaking, John swooped in and pulled the Prince Charming act. He walked me to my car, and we talked and flirted and he gave me a hug before I left. Positively smitten, I drove home with a grin on my face and butterflies in my stomach. The complaints of the night faded from my mind, and to say I was hooked would have been an understatement.

Over the next couple months, our first meeting continued to repeat itself. He would never commit to making plans with me alone, but when we hung out in a group he would always follow the same pattern: ignoring me for every other girl in the building until I was so hurt and so furious I was ready to storm out, and then pulling me back in with attention and affection and kind words. He would tell me that I was so much more to him than these other girls who would come and go. I held onto those words, but this continued for so long that I began to revisit those feelings that there had to be something wrong with me, that he must be embarrassed to tell the world that he felt the way he described to me in private.

About a month later, he and I and a few friends were hanging out and the moment I had been waiting months for finally happened: he kissed me. It was like fireworks; thank goodness we were sitting down because I was so weak in the knees I probably would have fallen over. From then on the chemistry between us was off the charts, and he didn’t pay attention to anyone other than me. And, like any hopelessly romantic seventeen year old, I was convinced that because everything “felt so right”, it had to be. We continued to grow closer, and I convinced myself to oversee the character flaws that I was noticing in him more and more each day.

~~~

Making excuses for the way he acted was a huge mistake. At the time they seemed minor in the face of our blossoming relationship, but in reality they were blatant red flags. For example, you may be wondering what happened to Drew, the friend I was convinced would be my husband one day. Well, John had jealousy issues with him. Although Drew and I spoke on the phone nightly, John started to make me feel guilty about it. He ridiculed the fact that I cared so much about someone so far away, and led me to withdraw from a friendship that to this day I have been unable to replicate. I told John from the start that Drew was my best friend, and that even if he and I dated, I wouldn’t give up that friendship. At first John acted like that was okay with him, but as the weeks passed he eventually told me that he wouldn’t ever date a girl with a guy best friend. Honestly, I think I grew tired of waiting for the day when I could be with Drew. I was lonely, and I wanted a tangible relationship, someone I could touch and hug and spend time with. This underlying desire fueled my feelings for John, and probably had something to do with all of the warning signs I chose to ignore. Like any true friend, Drew worried about what I was getting into with John. From over a thousand miles away, even he could see the danger that was right in front of my nose. Once again I credited his wariness of the situation to jealousy, and became even more stubborn. This caused tension in our friendship, and we began to talk less and less. Secretly, I was okay with that, because I knew it pleased John to see our communication dwindling.

On December 13th, John’s band was playing a show, and we were hanging out together between sets. He told me that he was thinking about asking me to be his girlfriend, but he wasn’t sure if he actually wanted to. That increasingly familiar pang of confusion hit me once again. I didn’t know how to take that: whether I should be happy that he was even considering asking me out, or offended that he had reason to doubt me. The way he said it insinuated that I hadn’t given him good enough reason to want to be my boyfriend, and made me feel as though I had to prove myself. This began two years of a twisted struggle that consisted of him being a terrible boyfriend, but me being the one constantly feeling the need to prove my worth. He indirectly devalued me in ways I could never have controlled, and if I didn’t immediately try to talk myself back up he took my lack of effort as a sign of not caring about him. At this point, I was so sure that if he were to ever ask me to be his girlfriend, these problems would dissipate. The back and forth, the uncertainty, his hot and cold feelings for me, just wouldn’t exist in a committed relationship. If he asked me out, all of those questions would be answered, and we could move on together.

Four days later, John asked me out. We were hanging out at his house, it was the first time he’d ever invited me over. We were watching movies and joking around and when I was walking of the door to leave he grabbed my hand, pulled me back in, grinned at me and said, “So, are you gonna be my girlfriend?” Of course I said yes without hesitating for a second; I was so happy to finally hear him make a commitment to me. On the way home I had already texted everyone I knew to let them know the news. But by the time I arrived home, it’s not surprising that John had already changed his mind. He texted me, “Maybe this wasn’t a good idea. I just don’t think we would make a very good couple.” I’m pretty sure I burst into tears. How would I explain this to all the people I just told that we were together? I begged him to give our relationship a chance, to give me a chance. Finally, he agreed that we would try it out, and that he wanted me as his girlfriend.

Those first couple weeks were great. We got along well, loved being around each other, and never fought. On New Year’s Eve his band was playing a show in town, and I ended up getting there late because I had some things to do first. I remember showing up at the doors, and before I could get two steps into the building, someone yelled, “Hey! It’s Doe’s girlfriend!” and I was greeted by a group of people who seemed so happy to see me just because of who I was dating. It was such an amazing feeling. I had never experienced it before, and truly felt like I was someone. When John’s band finally got on stage, there was a group of younger girls all screaming over John and the other band members. It didn’t bother me, because the girls always loved them. But halfway through the set, John called for me to come to the stage, took off the zip-up he was wearing, and put it on me in front of everyone. I was absolutely beaming. I had never had a guy so extremely proud of me before. To want to show everyone in the entire room that I was his girlfriend. It was one of the best nights ever.

The sad part is, as great as the night truly was, I look back on it now and see it completely differently. All these years later, I don’t see it as my boyfriend being proud of me, I see it as a public expression of possession. There were obviously a lot of other guys there, and while John was on stage he had no way of keeping me from talking to any of them. So he put his hoodie on me in front of everyone as a way of marking his territory. Like a selfish child writing his name on all of his toys. It’s really kind of heartbreaking to remember little moments like that, and how naive I was at the time. His jealous tendencies, always wanting me to spend time with him, being in constant communication… I thought that it was cute, and showed how much he cared about me. Now when I think about it, I feel so disgustingly disrespected. I feel like I was such an object to him. Something to own and be possessive of and use when you needed but stash when you’re bored. But you know what they say: Love is blind. It’s hard to see these things when you are so infatuated with a new relationship.

~~~

We would get along for about a month before the fights began. I still remember our very first fight. I skipped school one day so that we could spend the entire day together. But when I went to pick him up, right away he wanted to go to his friend Dave’s house. We went to hang out with Dave, and eventually it became evident that John planned on spending the entire day there. I asked him quietly if we were going to have any time alone, to which he replied in rage.

“You are so selfish, all you think about is yourself. Why do you have to be so needy?!”

This caught me completely off guard, and I ran downstairs alone where I burst into tears. After giving us both enough time to cool off, I went back upstairs. (This would also be the day that I found out that “cooling off” is not a concept that exist in John’s world. Giving him time and space would only cause his anger to stew.) I tried to go up to John and give him a kiss, but he pushed me away. Naturally this caused another argument, and he ended up telling me that this relationship wasn’t working out. He dumped me, and I stormed out, crying. I didn’t know where to go. I couldn’t go home, because my mom was home and I was supposed to be at school. I drove around and cried and cried, and eventually ended up back at Dave’s. John refused to speak to me, and I begged him to give me another chance. Finally, he agreed that he didn’t want to break up for real. He kissed me, told me everything was alright, and went back to talking to Dave. Business as usual, as if nothing had even happened.

Over the course of our relationship, our fights would follow in this pattern. Every time there was even the slightest trigger, he was trying to completely end the relationship. Yet he always ended up deciding he wanted to stay together. It was so exhausting for me. Every time it would happen (at least once a week) I would be devastated, convinced that I was being dumped for real. My friends got tired of it, and eventually quit responding to my “OMG I need help John and I just broke up! :( :(“ texts because they always knew we’d get back together. I tried to take that same confidence, days when he would “break up” with me I would stay calm and tell myself “just let it blow over, you two are still together, it’s going to be fine”, but the less upset I seemed, the longer he would keep the fight going. Eventually, I’d end up believing that we were over for real. Each time it happened I had to question if THIS would finally be the time he meant it, but it never happened. Even on my first birthday of our relationship he pulled the same bullshit. A friend of mine had dissed on his band and made it sound like I agreed with her, which I definitely didn’t. Of course John freaked out over this, wouldn’t believe me when I told him I wasn’t ragging on the band, got all of the other members to get mad at me, and then “dumped” me. I spent my entire birthday in tears until finally around midnight he said that he wanted to “give me a second chance.”

It was the most twisted and emotionally draining experience to have to deal with on such a regular basis. I know that this is the point in which most people want to shake their heads and say that it’s my fault for not leaving at this point. But by the time it became so frequent, John had already done a really good job of convincing me that I couldn’t live without him. And honestly, knowing in the back of my mind that I had totally thrown away everything I had with Drew to pursue John, I was too stubborn to just walk away this soon. In only a matter of months, he had isolated me from all my friends, broken down my self-esteem, and led me to completely rely upon him. When we weren’t together, he was always texting me about all of the girls that were hitting on him, but he would do it like he was just trying to show he cared by telling me what was going on. In reality, it made me feel like dirt, and I was constantly worried about not measuring up to my competition. He never wanted to spend time with my family, which was also hard on me because my family was really close. I didn’t want to tell my parents that he never came over because he simply didn’t want to, because I knew they would instantly dislike him. So instead, I was constantly making excuses for him to them, too. We always had to be together, and if he didn’t get to see me on almost a daily basis, he would get really upset with me, and accuse me of not caring about him. The fact that he never wanted to be around my friends or family, but always wanted to be around me, obviously meant that I would never get to see anyone else in my life except for him. I spent my senior year of high school withdrawn from the classmates I had grown up with, burning bridges that had been built for years, and spending time uncharacteristically quiet and alone. Unfortunately, with everyone going their separate ways after graduation some valuable ties with old friends have been severed indefinitely. I lost one hundred percent of my male friendships, and have only been able to repair a few of those. It kills me to think of all of the bonds I broke, but it’s just another one of those regrettable outcomes of the relationship that I’ve learned to accept, and move on.

~~~

Welcome to week two of Scars, bared. The content that you will be reading over the next few weeks was of pivotal value to my journey in recovering from and moving past the trauma of this relationship. As I worked through the pain via my keyboard, I couldn’t help but consider how helpful this kind of perspective would have been when I was in the throes of the relationship. From then on, I decided that I was going to get my story in the open, in the hopes that it would help others from getting stuck where I did, for as long as I did. If I could spare even one soul a fraction of the horror that I experienced, then it would all be worth it. I set out to write a book, and to be honest, I actually finished it. But even though I technically wrote to conclusion, I never felt that I was really in a satisfying “book ending” place in my life. So I saved it away to a hard drive and kind of forgot about it.  And while authoring a neatly wrapped book may no longer be in my future, I have decided to post the most important chapters as a series of essays–Scars, bared— in hopes to make a difference in at least one person’s life. So stay tuned, I truly believe that throughout the course of the next several weeks there will be something of value for everyone. Names have been changed. All other details are entirely true.

Last week: Introduction

Next week: Summertime sadness

scar [skahr]
noun
1. a mark left by a healed wound, sore, or burn.
2. a lasting aftereffect of trouble, especially a lasting psychological injury resulting from suffering or trauma.

bare [bair]
verb
1. to open to view; reveal or divulge.

Scars, bared: Introduction

2 Apr

I’m lying in the middle of a field. Staring up at the clouds with the sun beating down on me, listening to the birds sing and the grass rustle in the wind around me. Everything is so calm, so peaceful. Well, except for my cell phone buzzing incessantly where I dropped it a few feet away. I ignore it. I shut my eyes and allow myself to drift in and out of reality as I wonder to myself: when did life get so difficult? I wish this was all there was– just me, the field, the open sky. And the woods, providing a safety net between the world and me. No, between him and me.

I check my phone. Nine missed calls. Thirteen new messages.

“Where are you.”
“I’m going to find you.”
“If you don’t answer me I’m going to call the cops.”
“Laura, I’m sorry.”
“No, I’m not, this is your fault. Where are you stupid bitch?”
“Answer me now or you’ll pay.”
“That’s it. The cops are looking for you, and if they don’t find you they’re calling your dad, and then he’ll know you lied to him about where you are today.”
“I fucking hate you.”
“I swear to god you will regret this day forever.”

I don’t have the heart to read the rest. To be honest, I don’t even care. I feel safe out here. Detached from the nightmare that I live on a daily basis. Out here, I feel like even if it is just for a few minutes, I can pretend my life is perfect again. I want to stay out here forever.

My life wasn’t always like this. At one point I was a normal teenager, with normal worries. But now, things are different. While every other girl in my class is complaining about boyfriend problems– you know, the kind where he didn’t call her back, or he didn’t buy her the right kind of flowers– I join in and I laugh along, silently longing for problems as trivial as theirs. My boyfriend problems were not so easy. I had to keep myself constantly under check. Every word, every move, every thought; because absolutely anything could set him off. Sometimes it would be at no fault of my own, sometimes he would just have a bad day and need someone to take it out on. I became very aware of his moods, of every word he said or face he made, every loving gesture I did or didn’t get, there was always a reason. I had to stay on top of it. And when I let myself slip? You better believe that I would pay for it.

Suddenly, I snap back to reality. I hear rustling. I make out a figure on the edge of the clearing. I think to myself, “It’s got to be over by now. He found me, and he’s coming to apologize.” His footsteps become more defined. He’s stomping. Cussing. He’s still angry. I’m just lying there on the ground, frozen. Do I get up? Do I run? Do I stand up to him? Do I apologize? I never can tell. I never know what is going to be the magic response that will simmer down his anger, or what will set him off on an even worse rampage. So I lay. He picks up a stick, and by stick, I mean it could have been a small tree in and of itself. He growls, “I’m going to fucking kill you.” And you know what? I believe him. I think to myself, this is it. This is the end. There’s no one out here, no one even knows that I’m not sitting in class at my school an hour away right now. These woods are abandoned, and even if he left my body in plain sight it probably wouldn’t be found for weeks.

I don’t realize it, but I’m crying now. I’m shaking. He comes closer and closer and, like usual, I shut my eyes and brace myself for what is about to come. But, oddly it doesn’t. He stands over me and just looks at me. Holding my breath, I know that I’m not in the clear just yet. His eyes have iced over with that all-too-familiar cold, hard, stare that he gets when he’s in a rage. Those eyes see right through me, to them I am a rag doll. A punching bag. I’m anything but his girlfriend–I am something to destroy rather than someone to love and protect. He tosses the stick aside. I exhale a sigh of relief until he bends over, grabs me by the hair, and yanks me up off the ground. He hisses into my ear “You better watch it, the cops are looking for you. Someone saw you run out of the building, and they reported you. This is all your fault.”

As he continues to drag me along by the hair, I’ve already mentally distanced myself from the situation. A skill I’ve picked up over the last few months, it’s a rare form of sanity for me. I don’t cry, I don’t fight: my body is on autopilot. I wonder to myself, are my eyes as empty as his right now? It’s like I’m watching a bad movie where two robotic shells of people are caught in a horrible game. I feel sick to my stomach with empathy for that poor girl, but the girl’s identity isn’t my own anymore. We tromp through the woods, and when we finally get back to his apartment complex, he lets go of my hair and threatens that I had better act like nothing is wrong, so I don’t get in trouble. We climb the stairs to apartment 223, and he turns on the TV like nothing ever happened. I almost chuckle in irony as I realize, there was no sign of any cops. The cops were never called, they were all part of his game to scare me back to the house. I wander into his bedroom. Slowly, the events of the morning begin to come back to me. I see the shattered glass all over the room, from the photo box that I had just made for him. When he had gotten mad at me, he tore it off the wall, smashed it, and ripped up the photos of us. I begged for him to stop, not to break it, I had worked so hard on it. He didn’t appreciate that, and he shoved me to the floor. His rage not satisfied, he had then grabbed me by the shoulders, picked me back up, and threw me against the wall.

The wall. There’s a hole in it. Was that there before today? No, it wasn’t, because I see my hairbrush lying on the floor next to it, broken in half from the impact causing the hole. I’m sobbing uncontrollably now. It’s then that I realize my leg is throbbing. I pull up my pant leg to find a horrid dark purple and yellow bruise on the inside of my calf. How did that happen? I think he threw something at me, but what? I look around the room, when I see it: the bottle of pills. The painkillers of which he told me that I should take the entire bottle, and do the world a favor. When I yelled back, he threw them at me, and that’s when I took off running for the woods.

My head is spinning, and I can’t see straight. My heart is racing and I begin to look at that bottle of pills with a whole new level of appreciation. Maybe he’s right, maybe I should just swallow them. How else do I get out of this hell? I walk over, pick up the bottle, and dump it into my hands. But I can’t do it, so I pop one or two to help with this splitting headache and toss the rest. As I collapse on his bed and shut my eyes, finally surrendering to the dark peace of sleep, I can almost hear his voice in my ear, “You stupid coward. I knew you could never follow through.”

~~~

I sleep for hours. By the time I wake up, it’s dark outside. I panic, because I know that he hates when I waste our time together sleeping. I roll over, and find an envelope on the pillow next to me. Opening it, I find an apology letter. It tells me how much he needs me, how perfect I am, how ashamed he is by what he’s done to me, and how it will never happen again. Because he loves me. As I finished reading, he comes into the room with a home cooked dinner for me to eat in bed. He apologizes again. When I finish eating, he crawls into bed just to cuddle with me. He treats me like a princess, and he seems so genuine, I know that he has to mean it.

I let myself drift back to sleep again, this time in his arms. I tell myself that this is the last time he’ll ever hurt me. Sure I thought about wanting to get away from him earlier, but how can I now? He is being such a sweetheart. And he feels so horrible about what happened, it would be cruel for me to just break up with him like this. No, I’m going to give him another chance. I know he can be better, and I’m helping him be the best person he can be. What kind of girlfriend would just abandon him while he’s hurting? Wait, but I’m the one hurting. Or, I was. No, now I’m confused. He’s the one crying. I truly feel bad for him, and my heart is so tired. I won’t leave, not today, I just don’t have the energy to handle another heavy moment. If he hurts me again, then I’ll leave him. And I mean it this time. Just not tonight.

~~~

Welcome to scars, bared. The content that you will be reading over the next few weeks was of pivotal value to my journey in recovering from and moving past the trauma of this relationship. As I worked through the pain via my keyboard, I couldn’t help but consider how helpful this kind of perspective would have been when I was in the throes of the relationship. From then on, I decided that I was going to get my story in the open, in the hopes that it would help others from getting stuck where I did, for as long as I did. If I could spare even one soul a fraction of the horror that I experienced, then it would all be worth it. I set out to write a book, and to be honest, I actually finished it. But even though I technically wrote to conclusion, I never felt that I was really in a satisfying “book ending” place in my life. So I saved it away to a hard drive and kind of forgot about it. But as you may have seen, a few weeks ago my ex was arrested on domestic assault charges. As satisfying as it was to know he was finally seeing consequences to his actions, it also broke me inside to know that nine years later he was still hurting other people, still ruining lives. I guess I had convinced myself that one day he would just grow up and find a girl he could love without destroying. So I found myself between the same rock and same hard place that I’ve been in ever since the relationship ended: wanting to move on and never give him another thought in my life, but also feeling like choosing to look the other way while innocent girl after innocent girl blindly walked into his life was essentially leaving myself responsible for anything that happened to them. Then, I remembered this writing. And I feel that now is the time to share this part of my life with the world, even if the personal details sometimes suck. It is the least I can do. So, while authoring a neatly wrapped book may no longer be in my future, I have decided to post the most important chapters as a series of essays–Scars, bared— in hopes to make a difference in at least one person’s life. So stay tuned, I truly believe that throughout the course of the next several weeks there will be something of value for everyone. Names have been changed. All other details are entirely true.

~~~

Next week: Where it all began

scar [skahr]
noun
1. a mark left by a healed wound, sore, or burn.
2. a lasting aftereffect of trouble, especially a lasting psychological injury resulting from suffering or trauma.

bare [bair]
verb
1. to open to view; reveal or divulge.

I Can’t Stop With a Love Like Mine

16 Oct

Alright yall… this is about to be a weird post. I’m here to talk about Prof but I’m also here to get emotional. Let me take you on a little journey…

Several years ago, I stumbled across the great MN hip-hop hidden gem that is PROF. I had heard his name around before and never took much interest, but once I pressed play on that first song I found (Animal!) I was hooked. He had a handlebar mustache and a music video filled with sock puppets, but there was something undeniably captivating about his energy, and I instantly began scouring YouTube for more. Completely obsessed from the jump, it wasn’t more than a month or so after discovering him that I set out to attend my first Prof show. At that time the shows were still pretty small, I packed up and drove from Duluth to a little bar in St. Cloud to check out the scene.

LIFE. CHANGED.

A surprisingly charismatic party boy not afraid to take himself too seriously, from the moment Prof took the stage it was nothing but love and good times. I’m a frequent concert-goer, and as a 5 foot nothing ball of energy who needs to fight her way to the front row in order to see the stage, I was used to having to knock elbows and cop an attitude to get to where I needed to be. I will never forget my surprise when my friend and I came up behind a group of college-aged guys all standing right against the stage who overheard my excitement about seeing Prof for the first time, and one turned around and exclaimed, “Wait – this is your first Prof show?! Oh man you’re in for a treat — here, you guys need to stand in front of us!” and made room for my friend and I to get prime front-and-center viewing. I present to you: the Gampo family. Throughout my years of superfanning over Prof, you have probably heard me say time and time again that there is no fan base like Prof’s. Because he’s been flying under the media’s radar for almost a decade, his promotion has been mostly word-of-mouth. This has created an extended network of loyal Gampos, a web weaved through passion and dedication and a little bit of party, and that family mentality is undeniable at any event. Not only is there tons of love between fans, but the way we are treated by Prof himself and his management team is completely unmatched in the industry. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

First Prof Show :)

Very first Prof show – St. Cloud, MN

Back to my own ride.

That night in St. Cloud my world was rocked and my expectations for live music would never again be the same. Caught up in the energy, the passion, and the pure love of the art– I was hooked. Prof said he came to party with us- and he meant it. The show was completely interactive, fans were getting pulled up on stage and sang to, pointed out and recognized in the crowd, shots were poured, it was like a huge dysfunctional family reunion. We got our picture taken with Prof after the show, and I was completely starstruck. Instantly I became “that fan”… tweeting at him nonstop (and to my surprise and excitement, discovering that he actually makes a point to talk back to his fans), bumping his music, ordering merch, making all my friends listen to his albums, and constantly waiting for that next concert. Luckily with Prof being a Minneapolis native, I never had to go longer than a few months without finding a show within a couple hours driving distance. And it was always the same: go to shows, buck out, jump around, scream the words, learn some new ones, make friends in the crowd, wait for Prof after the show to get a picture taken, and giddily yell in his face “OMG THAT WAS AMAZING I LOVE YOU SO MUCH” before scampering off to wherever the rest of the night would take me.

As time went on and I began travelling further to get to more and more shows, he started tweeting me back more often, chatting with me comfortably in person, liking the pictures I posted on Instagram. Like I said before, Prof is crazy charismatic and treats his fans like gold, so I knew it was just what he did and still assumed I was another blank face in the crowd. Until Soundset 2014 which was probably the day I have fangirled the hardest of my entire life. I went up for my turn in the meet & greet line, and when I walked up Prof yells “HEYYYYY!” as if he recognized me, and then he actually told me that he did. “Whatever, you probably say that everyone!” I said back to him, and when he responded by knowing my name before I had to say it– I was completely floored. I literally almost started crying. “YOU HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THAT MEANS TO ME!” I blubbered at him like a psycho. And he got serious for a minute and said, “Nah for real, I know who the real fans are, who keep coming around and talking to us and reaching out. You think I don’t see you, but I see you!” and I can’t even describe to you the feeling of being validated like that by someone that you look up to and respect (and fangirl over!) so much. That was when it really hit home. This dude is legit. This movement is for real.

Soundset 2014

Soundset 2014 Meet & Greet

So, I could write for hours about everything that has happened since then, the memories made and bonds created. In the fall of 2014, Prof went on the North of Hell Tour with Atmosphere and Dem Atlas, and I followed them around the country wherever I could. Driving, flying, staying up all night to get home in time for work, it was incredible. And in every city, every state, I was shown nothing but love. At a show in San Diego, CA I had one of Prof’s managers come up to me for the first time. We were sitting and waiting to get a picture with Prof after the show, when this guy comes up to me and goes – “Omg! You’re Laura, aren’t you!? You’re from Minnesota! We all know you, we see you everywhere!” and that was when I met Mike. One of the guys on Prof’s original team, and one of the coolest, kindest, and hardest working guys I know. The family keeps growing.

Over the past year and a half I’ve met more and more of the crazy back-busting team who run around behind the scenes making this whole movement possible, I finally officially joined the street team, and oh- I spent my birthday at a Prof show in Jacksonville, FL, where I had my birthday announced from the stage. I’ve been to upwards of twenty PROF shows, seen him live in seven different states, and am gearing up to hit multiple stops on the Liability Tour that’s about to kick off. I’ve got PROF tattoos, a voicemail from Prof himself on my phone, and photos of him holding my dog. In making all of these points I’m not trying to brag up myself, I’m bragging up an artist who has the genuine love for his fans to make a point of doing all of this stuff. There’s nothing special about me, I’m just one of many who take their passion and loyalty for this team to the next level. There are tons of other fans who are well known by Prof, his team, recognized at shows, called out on social media, and generally treated like gold. That’s the craziness of it all. It never ceases to amaze me, but like I mentioned before, it’s why Prof’s fan base is MASSIVE even with little-to-no media coverage.

And now, we come to the present. To today. It’s 10/16/15. Prof recently signed on with Rhymesayers Entertainment, and today marks his first national album release. He’s been putting out albums for almost a decade, dropping them for free simply for the love of the art. Today, shit gets real. I can’t think of any artist that deserves this more. To finally get the real recognition, and the platform to get noticed by the media and sell some albums. I’ve been listening to this record nonstop since it started streaming yesterday, and it is unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. If you think you know Prof – think again. His styles are all over the board and the emotions are everywhere while still hanging on to that classic PROF party clown theme. I was so excited for this release, but wasn’t expecting to get legit emotional like I have been. I’m so proud not only of Prof, but of everyone behind the scenes putting their blood, sweat, and tears into this record over the past three years. They deserve this more than anyone.

If you like good music, good people, good beats, good vibes, and aren’t easily offended – you need this record. You can find it on iTunes at: http://bit.ly/ProfLiability. Gampo life!

prof_0914prof_0815

prof_0215

Zombie Pub Crawl 2014

Zombie Pub Crawl 2014

A Goodbye Letter

2 Mar

“I keep putting off writing this letter, because it’s honestly the hardest goodbye I’ve ever had to say. I’ve said many goodbyes in the past- none of them easy- but the pain of each of them dulled by you. You’ve always been there for me, when I’ve needed to cope with pain, calm my nerves, boost my confidence, mask my introversion, increase my energy, mend a broken heart, hide from my own thoughts, or appear more attractive. But it’s ironic because in the end, you’ve only destroyed my hope of possessing any of the thing you promised me.

“My love affair with you has brought me crippling anxiety, isolation from those who love me, migraines and fatigue, broken relationships, total humiliation, and an inescapable hatred of the face I’m forced to look in the mirror every morning. You’ve burned through piles of cash, dug pits of debt, disregarded my health, distorted my perception of myself and the world I live in, and left me emotionally paralyzed.

“Sure, you were fun at first. For a fleeting moment, you gave me a taste of everything I ever wanted (and more). You made my life feel exhilarating and adventurous. But sooner than I could even catch my breath, you snatched the rug out from under my feet, leaving me a mangled pile of shattered dreams and aspirations, desperately trying to put the pieces of myself back together. Time after time, you chewed me up and spit me out, yet I pathetically continued to crawl back to your seductive lies.

“But I’m choosing today to break the cycle. I no longer need your cheap thrills to give my life meaning and value. No, I am a daughter of Christ- defined by his never-ending love and grace. You see, the glorious riches God promises me, He WILL deliver. Riches not of this world, but of an eternity so incredible I couldn’t begin to comprehend. He can mend my broken spirits, ease my pain, comfort me in times of trouble, restore and renew my mind, give me peace and rest, and lead me to a far brighter future than your manipulative tricks could ever hope to offer. It’s time to part ways for good, I’m not sorry, and by the way- it’s not me, it’s YOU. I’m taking back my life. Though you tried, you will not defeat me.

Goodbye, forever.

-Laura, 12.15.14″

The above is titled, “To My Dearest Vices”. It’s a goodbye letter to chemicals that I wrote while I was in MN Adult & Teen Challenge’s inpatient program. I know I haven’t written in ages, but that is part of the reason why. I’ll give you the super condensed version: I relapsed back in June, thought I could keep my head above water, but then slowly watched my life crumble around me before checking into treatment on November 24, 2014. My new sober date is a few days before that, November 21, 2014. As we speak today, I’m 101 days sober. Totally and completely, which unfortunately I couldn’t say last time. Sure I was “sober” – I hadn’t been drunk since the night before my sober date, but I still had drinks here and there if I knew I was in a situation where I could honestly only have one and not get drunk. And though it wasn’t often, I still didn’t feel the need to turn down anything other than alcohol (after all, that was my only “problem”). Anyway, I think the evidence speaks when I say that can only be kept up for a short amount of time. If you light enough matches, eventually you’re gonna catch fire. Personally, I’m amazed that I lasted 15 months. I could rationalize this and explain away that, but there’s no sense in dwelling on the what-ifs and should’ve-beens. In the end, I’m here today, and I’m sober, and my body is totally and completely detoxed for the first time in probably four years. And I feel AMAZING.

Teen Challenge was an incredible experience. I am so thankful that I went. I grew more in those thirty days, and learned more about myself, than I have in years of counseling combined. I learned that over the years I have nurtured three primary self-destructive characteristics: Low self-esteem, people-pleasing, and perfectionism. The three of which weave together and create something even more destructive: codependency. And on top of that, codependents are by nature extremely high risk for falling into abusive relationships and- SURPRISE!- addiction. Funny how that works, huh? Overall, instead of just trying to quit drinking and get sober, for the first time I am really learning those underlying parts of my being that drive me to addiction in the first place. And once again, after spending years in counseling and burying my nose in countless self-help books, for the first time I feel that I am actually able to DO something about my issues. I feel like a completely different person than I was three months ago. Of course I still have a lot of work to do, but I feel at peace with myself. My confidence is growing. I’m learning to seek God’s approval, rather than carrying the weight of the world’s opinions on my shoulders. I’m learning how to adopt a spirt of forgiveness, first and foremostly for myself, and secondly- for my abuser. That’s huge for me. I’m realizing that doing my best is enough, that I’ll never be perfect- and that’s ok!- because I don’t have to be. I’m ready to become the person I was made to be.

Since getting out of Teen Challenge around Christmas, I’ve been attending outpatient treatment there. It’s Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights, all evening. The weeknights I’m not at treatment, I’m trying to make it to Substance subgroups. On the weekends, if I’m in town, I’m taking care of housework, running errands, going to church, and doing whatever else I didn’t have time to do during the week. Oh, and on top of that, I’m still working full time at Land O’Lakes, in a new position- doing development on the ETL team. That is super challenging for me. Between all of that and still making time to snuggle with my furry baby, I’m a pretty busy girl at the moment. But it’s all really good for me, and I’m excited to see where this will all take me. However, I AM going to continue to use it as an excuse for being an absentee blogger… :)

I hope this spring has found you all in good health and high spirits. Thanks for reading and I promise to be back soon! Love you all!

My Time at Wilder Adult Day Services

17 Sep

I keep wanting to write more statuses about my experience yesterday with the Amherst E. Wilder Adult Day Services center, so I decided to just blog about it. This day trip was a “Diversity & Inclusion” event planned by the boss of my current team at work for a team-building/personal development event. Having spent so many little “volunteer trips” with schools, etc. at nursing homes, I was expecting the day yesterday to be so depressing. Because nursing homes are depressing, ya know? I actually really hate spending time there. But at Wilder, regardless of the client’s age, physical limitations, mental health, anything- they are fully engaged and treated no differently than the staff members or volunteers. One thing that was stressed to us by the staff before we met the clients, was that we were NOT there to pity the clients. We weren’t there to babysit them or take care of things because they are so incapable, we were there to help them build their strengths and have the happiest and most fulfilling life possible. The clients’ sense of independence is VERY much respected, and a huge priority for staff.

Because I am just going to keep going back to all the little bits and pieces of the day anyway, let me walk you through our entire experience…

We got to Wilder first thing in the morning and went through about an hour of orientation. A staff member explained what the program was, walked us through some aging empathy exercises, and prepped us for the day’s events. In a nutshell, the Wilder’s Adult Day Health center is part of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, and is kind of like day care for adults (though they stray away from the term “adult day care” because it sounds very patronizing). Basically it’s for those who have any kind of mental disability, physical limitation, or just plain aging that requires some supervision during the day (usually while their primary caregiver is at work, etc) but not so much that they need to be in a nursing home. The Wilder Center is also geared towards low-income clients. The empathy exercises we did included things like layering gloves on one hand and being asked to write out a grocery list (arthritis), putting in earplugs and trying to focus on a video while others talked loudly around us (like being in a public place with a hearing loss), and wearing glasses that had yellow clouds or white spots on them (cataracts/glaucoma) and trying to read our handouts. At Wilder there are three different levels of clients, and they hang out in separate rooms accordingly. There is the main room (the “Day room”) that serves the majority of the clients. Then there is the “Great room” that serves clients in the beginning stages of dementia/memory loss. They require more attention than those in the Day room, but are still fairly independent. The last room is the “Sun room”, which serves clients who are heavily affected by dementia/memory loss. I spent my day in the Day room.

So after orientation we went out to begin work with the clients. My boss Shirleen and myself joined baking group (some people refer to the different areas as “classes”- i.e. Baking class, Art class, Music class, etc. The staff members at Wilder prefer to call these “groups” because once again they like to take the stance as strengthening the client’s skills vs. treating them like they are incapable and need to be “taught” even the most simple activities) to help prepare the day’s snack. Apple crisp!!! With freshly picked apples. YUM. We sat at a table with about four clients, and all cored, peeled, and chopped bags and bags full of apples, put them into pans, added the crisp on top, etc. This is where I first met Muayad, who I wrote about on Facebook :) he didn’t say much during cooking group, and eventually got tired of all of our girl talk (he was the only male at our table) and decided to go work on art instead ;)

After baking, we joined the rest of the Day room clients. They were sitting in a huge circle (about 23 of them) learning about Land O’Lakes and then, as an activity for National Adult Day Services Week (yep, it’s this week!) were all discussing the things they loved about coming to Wilder.

Some of the responses included…
“Because all of my friends are here”
“When you’re here, you become a family”
“It feels like home.” (to which someone bitterly piped in… “BETTER than home!”)
“We all love each other”
“The music… and Walter’s dancing!”
“Yoga class!”

One client even said they hated weekends because they miss their friends too much and they get sad that they have to go two whole days without coming to Wilder. It was really neat to witness firsthand just how happy everyone was to be there. After discussion a staff member announced that it was time to play balloon volleyball. I’m thinking to myself, is she crazy!? But nope, she was serious. They lined up the wheelchairs and regular chairs in two rows of 5-6 on either side of the net, and started the game. I couldn’t believe how intense it was! I was laughing so hard the entire time. I was completely blown away by the spiking power of some of these folks, and they were all so competitive… cheering on their teammates, trash talking the other team, booing the refs for calls they didn’t agree with… It was hilarious. And what continually stuck out to me was how the staff spoke to the clients. At first I was almost surprised at the little jabs they would make, teasing them, etc., but they truly treated the clients as equals. And you can tell that they really appreciated it. There was just such a strong atmosphere of mutual respect that was unmistakable. Anyway, eventually we quit for lunch. Part of my team from LOL had spent the morning outside grilling, and we served the clients a delicious BBQ meal.

After lunch, we played more games. The next game was “Chicken Toss”. Everyone sat in a circle again, and in the middle of the room was four buckets, red yellow green and blue, and corresponding colored rubber chickens. The concept was simple: the clients walked up to the tape line on the floor, and had to try to throw the chickens into the buckets. If they made a chicken in a bucket, they got 25 points. If they landed a chicken in its corresponding colored bucket, they get 50 points. Everyone’s name was written on the white board, and the goal was to have the highest score. Once again, my immediate thought was “oh my gosh, half of the clients are so brittle, they’re going to hurt themselves just trying to throw that chicken three feet”, or “that lady can barely walk straight, how is she going to have the coordination to land a chicken in a bucket?”, but once again I was mistaken. In fact, not a single client had less than 25 points, so everyone got at least one into a bucket. Even the clients in wheelchairs played. Then they made us have a turn (at first I tried to pass- to which this little old lady with a walker yelled in a surprisingly loud voice, “what are you, TOO SCAAAARED?!?!”, which was then followed by a room full of laughter, so naturally I had to do it) The thing with this game though was that it wasn’t competitive at all. Everyone had to walk up and take their turn individually, and all of the clients would cheer for them and encourage them, no matter who it was. They all seemed to truly be friends, which was really cool because the room was full of clients of all different strengths and abilities. For example, some were in great physical health, but had obvious mental illness. Other’s were sharp as a tack, but had debilitating physical conditions. Many were a combination of both. But no matter what the reason for coming to Wilder, they all showed genuine love for one another. It honestly felt like a giant family.

The next game we played was “Retirement Bingo”, where all of the squares were phrases of things people in retirement do. I wrote about this on Facebook already, but this is when I got to sit with Muayad again. He needed help with Bingo because his English was not great. My first instinct in a situation like that is to sit quietly and just point out his bingo squares to him, but I kept thinking about how much the staff stressed talking to the clients and making them feel valued and respected. So instead of discounting him because he was difficult to communicate with, I started asking about what his first language was (Arabic), and as soon as I gave him the opportunity to talk about his home, he went from being completely silent with me to talking so fast I could barely keep up! He grew up in the Middle East and then moved to Italy in college. So English was actually his third language after Arabic and Italian. He told me all these stories (some of which I understood, some I didn’t) about Italy and about his home, and how hard it is to learn English here in America because everyone pronounces things so differently! He kept referencing the way we Minnesotans pronounce our “O”s :) Honestly I’m not even sure what his disability was (and we obviously weren’t allowed to ask) because apart from his language barrier, he seemed sharp as can be, and though he was older and obviously slowing down, when he got a Bingo, he jumped up and charged towards the prize table faster than I’ve ever seen any man with a cane walk! This other lady at our table (everyone called her “Mrs. Claus” because apparently she never takes off her Santa hat, haha) won two different bingos, and Muayad was laughing so hard and kept telling me how every time they play bingo she always wins twice, because she’s lucky.

After Bingo we got to eat our apple crisp (it was delicious!) and then did some wrap-up activities and headed home. I was SUPER sad to leave, and now all I can think about is going back. I was asking about volunteer opportunities, but they are only open during the day on weekdays, so apart from quitting my job I’m not sure how I could possibly make that work. Which really sucks. It’s strange because for some reason yesterday morning while I was getting ready to work and kinda dreading the day, I literally thought to myself, “When did my life become so empty?” I feel like my daily life is so bland, I love the company I work for but when it comes to my actual job and the day-to-day work I do, there is not the slightest ounce of passion. Yeah there are some things I prefer doing more than others, but I really don’t get excited about anything at work. And I honestly can’t picture myself ever getting super passionate about anything in the corporate world like I have seen some of my coworkers get. I assumed that it was just part of life to go to work, do your thing, come home, and find passion on the nights and weekends, but I don’t really know if I’m cut out for that. Furthermore, a couple months ago I was going through my old memory box at my parents’ house, and found an essay that I had written in tenth grade about my future career. The essay was about how I wanted to be a counselor, or something I could be emotionally invested in, and know I’m helping people, doing something I love. I wrote that no matter what anyone says, I will never work a 9-to-5 desk job just because it pays better, because that’s not how I’m wired and that’s not where I find my satisfaction. …Well, here I am. So that was kind of disappointing to read because I grew up and became exactly what my 16 year old self was determined never to become. To be honest I have been battling myself on this issue ever since I started full-time work, but I’m slave to my student loans. I swear if I didn’t have those tying me down right now, I would quit my job and travel, or at least move somewhere new, and make just enough money to pay the bills living cheaply, at least for a couple years until I feel emotionally prepared to settle into something permanent. Because no matter how much I love the company I work for, I am having the most difficult time accepting the fact that after years and years of being determined to travel and see other places and do work that I’m passionate about- I’ve nailed myself to the cross that is corporate life. So I’m sorry that this just got depressing but when I blog I just start typing and see where the wind blows me… That is all for now. Time to go ponder where my life is headed.