Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Interviewing The #UndauntedWoman: Elizabeth Brico

Welcome to this second post in my Interviewing the Undaunted Woman series! In these monthly interviews, I'll be talking with women YOU nominate, asking hard questions about how your favorite undaunted women became the strong and admirable humans they are today.

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I've been so looking forward to posting this second interview! Elizabeth and I connected through a bloggers group we were both part of on Facebook, and I'm so glad I found her blog at just the right time in my life. When I found Betty's Battleground, I was still pretty fresh in my transition to mental health blogging and talking so openly about the things I've been through. Her blog gave me comfort and company, and since we first connected, I'm glad to say that through the craziness of life we've been able to keep in touch - she's nominated me for a blog award, and I've guest posted (and been interviewed) on her blog. So let's go ahead and say hello to September 2017's Undaunted Woman, Elizabeth Brico!

1. Tell me about yourself - what's your story, and how did you become an undaunted woman?
When I look back on my life, which I try not to do as much these days, I feel like the cards were stacked against me from the start. My life wasn't as bad as some--I didn't have some of the childhood traumas that other people experience, but I also grew up without a sense of family, and a deeply imbalanced sense of self-worth that still affects how I view myself today.

I was the product of an affair. My father was married, and my mom was his busty Latina sidepiece I guess, though I don't think she thought of herself that way, of course. He had four kids with this wife, and the ones who still lived in his home treated me really badly. I was an only child at my mom's house. So in one house I was mostly ignored or told I was a mistake who shouldn't have been born, and in the other house I was pampered (as much as someone under the poverty line can be), told I was a gift from God, and eventually basically treated like a child prodigy. It was very confusing.

I might have worked through all that, but nobody was equipped to deal with how much it affected me as a teenager. I started using drugs, got into an abusive relationship...and that was it. He was...is...the manifestation of evil on this planet. I really believe that. I seriously can't believe in the inherent goodness of all living things because of this man. How many teenage girls has he held hostage? Raped? Strangled nearly to death? His cruelty is boundless. Now I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and some days it makes me want to die, but other days it makes me marvel at what I've overcome. I'm stronger than him now, that much I know.

2. Have you ever struggled with confidence and/or self-worth? If yes, how did you overcome that struggle - and if no, how did you avoid it?
The weird opposing dichotomy of my two households has really set me up for a weird view of myself. There's a part of me that thinks I'm the greatest writer ever, and a part of me that thinks I'm the living incarnation of shit. Of course, neither are true, but I have to actively remind myself of both things all the time. And I don't really know a healthy way of doing that. Any time I get a compliment on my writing, I temper it by thinking "but also you're garbage," and anytime someone treats me badly, I remind myself "but at least you're a really good writer."

3. It's weird how much I relate to that, actually. So, what is the one thing you've survived that makes you feel most like an "undaunted woman?"
I think the only thing that could make me feel that I'm an "undaunted woman" is that I've survived at all. I've been strangled to the point of seizure numerous times by my ex-boyfriend, I have survived numerous overdoses, some of which were intentional and some of which I still don't know how I survived. There are days that I want to just run away, or die, or stop time, but somehow I keep waking up each and every day. It's maddening and thrilling and thought-provoking. I've recently been thinking a lot about the infinite worlds theory and the inherent aspect of eternal life.

4. And what aspect of your current life do you find most rewarding?
I have been writing articles about opiate addiction and recovery lately...I've been sharing my own experience but also that of others. This past week I wrote about methadone patients who struggled to get their medicine during Harvey. They had to experience the devastating flooding while also being in severe withdrawal, and it was basically due to stigma. Even some of the most liberal people draw the line at heroin or pill addiction. It's so weird, because addiction is a disorder with both a genetic and social basis. Yet somehow the people afflicted with it are punished? I've been talking to the mother of a woman who relapsed because she was forced off of methadone, then arrested due to the relapse. She's pregnant, and they are threatening to force her off of methadone again once she has the baby. So she was arrested due to her disorder, and being further punished because of her disorder. So giving voices to these stories in particular has been rewarding, if scary, because it's meant "coming out" about my own heroin addiction, which I'd been quiet about for a while.

5. It's always a huge deal when you bring something that's been such a protected secret into the forefront - but it is definitely rewarding. Being so open not only gives comfort to others who felt alone, but also assuages our own sense of aloneness, I think. What's your favorite successful strategy or coping mechanism for dealing with challenging people or situations, and how is that strategy impacted by what you've survived?
Dissociation rules my life. It has its benefits and detractions. I'm able to deal with abusive or challenging interactions by dissociating from them, but I'm also unable to enjoy my accomplishments because I'm so heavily dissociated. Derealization is my strongest form of dissociation. Mindfulness is a great way to combat both dissociation and other challenges, but it can bring me too strongly into the present, and force me to inhabit a body that's been through far too many trials.

6. I agree with that completely. Dissociation can be very effective at just getting us through - it's why we can use it without even meaning to. But I find it to be a sad thing in myself too, because it numbs me from things I wish I could feel. What other woman do you most admire, and why?
The writer Lydia Yuknavitch is someone I greatly admire. She was a childhood incest victim, who grew up and became addicted to heroin for a while. Then she suffered a stillbirth--the way she describes that experience in her book, "A Chronology of Water" haunts me. It's very moving. But anyway, she wrote that memoir, and she recently released a successful science fiction book. That's basically my dream--to be a successful literary sci-fi writer. She's overcome a lot of similar (or worse) things than I have and still accomplished the things I want to accomplish. Besides the writing success, she's a powerful, open woman, in a healthy loving marriage, with a really cool feminist son. So...yeah. Lydia Yuknavitch.

7. What one quality serves you best as an undaunted woman?
I've recently developed the ability to--for the most part--not internalize the BS people try to pile on me. It took me a good long while to develop. People like to pile crap on each other a lot, and when they know you've suffered abuse in the past, certain kinds of people target you. It's a sad fact of this world. But I've recently stopped giving these people credence.

8. I've been learning that in recent years myself - it's not always easy! What one quality are you most looking to improve in yourself?
The courage to be independent. Chronic poverty really robs someone of that ability. Knowing I can't care for my kids on my own makes me feel like I have no options. My marriage is not healthy right now. We're at each other's throats all the time, and he has a problem with blaming me for every little thing. I feel like I can't make mistakes in my own home, and it makes it difficult for me to be accountable, because who's going to admit to something when they know they will be yelled at? We're both under the stress of poverty. I don't know if we'd separate or try to work things out if we knew we had enough support and resources to be on our own, but knowing I don't makes me feel trapped. And feeling trapped is not a good starting point for trying to fix things. I think if I had the courage to leave no matter what the circumstances, even if I didn't actually do it, that would help me do what I needed to do in order to either have a better relationship, or to actually leave.

9. Actually, it's extremely courageous to put that out there, I think. The struggle for independence kept me in a toxic relationship for along time - I can relate to feeling trapped, and I would like to encourage you to seek small ways that you can change things for yourself. I'm still working on that myself, so I know it's easier said than done, but ... well, I just have to believe it's possible. I'm betting you can relate to that. But in the moment, if you could do any one thing right now to help other women become undaunted, what would you be doing?
The only thing I know how to do is what I am doing; offering other women platforms to be heard. It doesn't cure everything, but knowing someone hears you can be very powerful. I have Parenting with Mental Illness feature interviews on my blog every month, and publish guest posts frequently. Beyond that, I'm often reporting in my freelance articles on under-served communities, and sharing stories and quotes from other women that way. When you know you're heard, you know you're not alone.

10. Exactly, and it really does make all the difference. Just not being alone can sometimes be enough to start changing everything. If you could stand in front of every woman on the planet right now and speak into their hearts, what would you most want to say to them?
You have inherent value, and you're a person. That may sound weird, but as women we are so often taught that our bodies are objects or property, or that our value comes from what we do, or how we identify. Well, that's not true. We have our own value. We're people. We belong to ourselves - not our husbands, fathers, mothers, boyfriends, girlfriends, wives, employers ... We are our own.

I love that this interview ends with those words: "We are our own." They're words that have meant so much to me personally for so long - so much so that they found their way into one of my books. Years ago (before I finished my first novel) a friend of mine and I were talking; we were exchanging stories, and I marveled at how many of her stories were love stories. I marveled too, at how many of her love stories ended so peacefully and with so much goodwill. Men seemed to come into her life just when she needed them, when they needed her, and she seemed to attract the sort of men who knew what they were in her life for, and how to leave it well when their time together was up.

Somehow romance novels and heroes came up (duh) and she said it was interesting that I didn't have any hero stories (I had been saying how much I admired hers). I was hurt for a moment, and said I didn't think it interesting at all, but sad. And then she said something to me that changed my life. From that moment, a little something bled into my life that has never backed down since that moment. She said, "No, it's good - because you have learned to be your own hero."

Later, when I wrote a rape survivor with PTSD, I wrote her with a tattoo - given to her against her will. It said, "MY OWN" and was meant to be a permanent reminder, like a brand from her attacker. But she took it back - both her life and her body. She took that tattoo and had it remade, turned into a mark of reclamation.

All because of one conversation, one little simple concept. We are our own.

Thank you for taking the time to be here, Elizabeth, and for the reminder of such an important moment of change. I wish you the very best in your endeavors - and that you're blessed with opportunities that will give you the freedom you need to thrive.

Thanks for hanging out with Elizabeth and I today - I hope that if her story was one you can relate to, you'll also be able to take some encouragement from it. Strength prevails. Sometimes it's slow, but it happens. Strength prevails.

If you enjoyed this post, I'd love for you to drop a little encouragement in the comments for Elizabeth, and maybe even share some of your own stories with us! Click here to find out more about what it means to be undaunted - and how you can nominate your favorite undaunted woman to be interviewed right here on the blog! The first interview was a total success, I loved sharing this second one with you, and I'm already excited to introduce you to October 2017's Undaunted Woman!

While you're here, I'd love for you to hang out and follow along with my journey; if you subscribe to this blog by filling out the "subscribe by email" form in the sidebar, you can rest assured you'll never miss a post! And while the darker content of this blog may not always be easy to read, I truly hope that through the light days breaking up the darkness, we'll learn from and inspire each other.

Come on over to Patreon too - you can sign up to sponsor my writing journey for as little as $1 a month, your dollar gets you access to all sorts of content - including photos and mini-blogs from my personal life and advance peeks at my fiction writing, which is a pretty slick deal for just over $.03 a day. Want a little more,? For $2 a month you'll also get to vote for upcoming content, read my upcoming poetry release as it's written, and have access to weekly L.A.F.F.S. - and the best part is that as my patronage grows, so do the benefits for every patron! Our goal right now is 25 patrons, and when we hit that goal, I'm going to start posting daily PhLogs!! (Click that link. Most are subscriber-only, but one each month is marked public - there's even a little tribute to my favorite "person!")

However we stay connected, whether it's through my books, this blog, social media, or even Patreon, you can always rest assured that my brand is built on the concept of what I write and who I'm writing it for. "Love Stories and Lifestyle for the Undaunted Woman." So whether you're a first time reader or a long-time loyal follower ... from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Saturday Sentiment: A Letter To Those Living With PTSD

I've been having a lot of fun with this particular post series this year, writing letters to both the younger me and the older me, as well as to the husbands my daughters will someday marry. It has been a lesson in growth for me, not only as I revisited my past self to share my wisdom of today, but also as I contemplated what wisdom I might possibly have to share with the me of the future. It took strength and kindness to write to my future sons-in-law, because what I most want to say is, "If you hurt my daughters, I will gut you," but I must also remember that those future men are right now some other mother's precious young sons. They are people too, and they will come to my daughters with their own mix of needs - their own mix of quirks and injuries. Their own mix of monsters and shadows from their pasts.

The truth is, those things WILL touch my daughters, just as the things my daughters have survived WILL touch those boys. And as humans, my daughters and their husbands will mess up together. I only hope that I have taught my daughters how important it is to love the people in their lives actively - not only with the power of emotional feeling, but also with the strength of behavioral choice. I pray daily that my sons-in-law are being taught those same lessons somewhere.

But while I've been having fun writing to myself, and writing to the men of the future (and maybe having some sway over the men of the present?), I've also thought it would be a special honor to write to the you of today.

This blog (and in many ways, my novels as well) runs on the belief that people are survivors. That we are born and bred with a certain dignity and strength. That despite what we survive, we can continue to choose to move forward. It might be slow, and it might be terribly, incredibly painful - but it can be done in bits and pieces, one small step at a time.

In surviving trauma, we don't always move forward at the same pace other people wish we could - but if you're one of the people spending every day trying to get from one moment to the next ... if you're one of those people who walks through life while the shadows of the past continue to haunt the present ... if you're one of those people who trudges through every day regardless of the lack of sleep, regardless of the stress-induced body aches, regardless of the change of appetite or lack of motivation ... then I'd like to tell you something.

Dear Trauma Survivor,

I don't know how you ended up with PTSD. I don't know if you're a combat veteran, a rape survivor, an abuse survivor, an accident survivor, a cancer survivor, or a survivor of some other trauma that I haven't had close enough experience with yet to think about. I don't know if you're living with PTSD alone, or if it's the kind of complex PTSD that comes with survivor's guilt or crippling despression.

What I do know is that you are a badass. You are a warrior. Life threw you into a pit - and you, with the strength of a grizzly bear and the ferocity of a honey badger, clawed your way back to the surface and kept on moving.

Even if you cowered in the beginning (like I did), you eventually stood up and squared your shoulders. You raised your chin and found your voice again. And you made a change.

Even if you couldn't help what was being done to you or what was happening around you - you made it through. Even if you felt utterly useless and completely powerless - you pushed on, from one moment to the next, taking breaths even when you couldn't take steps. Even if you were drowning in hopelessness and self-doubt so thick and heavy that you couldn't even breathe through it anymore, you still kept on, one heartbeat at a time, making it through by the sheer animal force of your own will to live.

You made it.

If you're a survivor now, and no longer a victim, you made it.

You might be scarred and battered, but you're here. You might be aching and injured, but you're alive. You might be bent and cracked and damned near demolished completely ... but you're stronger than you think you are, and I have proof.

Look in the mirror.

Look at the face of a survivor. Look into the eyes of a warrior. Examine the heart of a hero.

That's you.

You with the bad memories and the nightmares and the fear of being alone in the dark. You with the exaggerated startle reflex and the hypersensitivity and the vigilance to never sit anywhere with your back to the door.


You, who survived the worst of what life has to offer, who missed out on privilege points but had the nerve to demand a second try. You, the human soul who was dealt a terrible hand and yet you found the strength to recreate your own deck of cards.

You, with the strength and will to win the game.

I see you. In part, I know your struggle. In part, I know your weakness and your strength. In part, I know your wounds, and what you crave in order to find healing. I don't have to know you to relate to you - because I am you.

In the mirror, I see my own wounds, my own bruised and battered spirit. I see it wrapped in the armor of "I don't care," protected by the shield of "it doesn't matter," covered by the inadequate bandage of "I'm fine." I see my suffering, hiding behind mismatched eyes and a face just beginning to show the wear and tear of my time in this life. I see the heart too, if I look hard enough - the beating, meaty, blood-filled bit of muscle that sustains life for me even when my mind is so busy aching that I can get up to walk to the bathroom and forget I had to pee before I even get there.

I see you. I see those things in you, just as I see them in myself. Because they're valid. And while some people are not required to dig so deep ... while some people are gifted with another, less challenging path, I am proud of you. I am proud of your grit and your determination. I am proud of your willingness to keep on, even when you can't see a good reason to do it. I am proud of you for having what it takes to walk through darkness when there is NO LIGHT to guide you - and only a dwindling hope that if you trudge on, the light will come again.

Because knowing you're out there, trudging through the darkness with me, mostly out of reach but still so very THERE? That is my light. You push me on.

Because you're amazing, and strong, and an incredible, almost unspeakably powerful inspiration.

Thank you.

I have to tell you, I went in search of a very specific concept for today's "Featured Favorite Product" - and as I searched for what I wanted to share with you, my book wish list grew like there was no tomorrow. It's probably a lucky thing I've got such control at times - otherwise I might have one-clicked myself right out of next week's gas budget! I did find what I was looking for though. This book, called I Am Here Now: A Creative Mindfulness Guide and Journal, is a powerful exploration of practicing mindfulness and the discipline of drawing yourself consciously back to the moment you're in.

Mindfulness practice has made a world of difference for me, and even when I'm at my worst, exercises similar to the ones shared in this book are my most effective and favorite tools. Making an effort to stay with the moment I'm in has helped me shorten panic attacks more times than I care to admit, and mindfulness games I can play by myself are part of how I manage to sleep at night. So this book looks like a $10 miracle to me - and I think if you're a PTSD sufferer (or just a person who wants to practice being more solidly in this moment), it will be pretty miraculous for you, too.

Quick Disclaimer: Since I am using affiliate links, remember that if you choose to click any product links on my site and end up purchasing through them, I will receive a small commission for referring you. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you, but my family and I appreciate your support. (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with on a more regular basis, click here.)
Do you or someone you know suffer with PTSD or something similar? Please remember that there's no reason at all to suffer alone or in silence. Even if traditional therapy isn't an option for you, there are self-help books like the one I shared above, support groups, and countless other ways to seek effective help. I know it doesn't erase the trauma or the symptoms ... but sometimes even just having someone to talk to can make all the difference in the world. If you'd like to, leave a comment below to share your experience or your thoughts - or just something encouraging for people who are living with PTSD. If the comment section is too public for you, I would like to encourage you to send me a personal email at the address found on my contact page (it's near the bottom). I know from personal experience how much a listening ear can mean in a moment of suffering - and if you need one, I would be happy to provide it.

While you're here, if you'd still like to hang with me and follow more of my journey as a writer, a mom, and an abuse survivor with PTSD, subscribe to this blog by filling out the "subscribe by email" form in the sidebar. This blog may not always be easy to read, but I truly hope we'll learn from and inspire each other along the way.

Make sure you come over to Patreon too - sign up to sponsor and support my writing journey for as little as $1 a month! Your dollar gets you access to all sorts of content - including photos and mini-blogs from my personal life and advance peeks at my fiction writing, which is a pretty slick deal for just over $.03 a day. For a little more, you'll get to vote for upcoming content, read my poetry and weekly L.A.F.F.S., listen to podcasts, and even get your name on my personal mailing lists - and the best part is that as my patronage grows, so do the benefits for every patron! Our goal right now is 25 patrons, and when we hit that goal, I'm going to start posting daily PhLogs!! (Click that link. Most are subscriber-only, but one each month is marked public - I think there's one about my dog being scared of a piglet, too.)

However we stay connected, whether it's through my books, this blog, or on Patreon, you can rest assured that my brand is built on the concept of what I write and who I'm writing it for. "Love Stories and Lifestyle for the Undaunted Woman." And what's an undaunted woman? Click here to find out more about what it means to be undaunted - and how you can nominate your favorite undaunted woman to be interviewed right here on the blog! The first interview was a total success, and I already can't wait to introduce you to September 2017's Undaunted Woman!

For those who just want the inspirational parts of my content without all the personal aspects, connect with me on social media - that's where I like to share all sorts of things, from self-care tips to mental health quotes to song lyrics and more. Either way, whether you're a first time reader or a long-time loyal follower ... from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here.