Wednesday Word: Thankful

*affiliate disclaimer at bottom of post*

It's November now, and as we move beyond the excitement and the fun of a purposely horrifying Halloween, winter begins to wrap itself around East Tennessee - and I don't know about you, but I can feel myself drawing in. Closing up, just a little. Backing away from things that hurt, letting go of people who aren't what's good for me ... and sinking just a little more deeply into myself.

No matter how well you know someone - or think you do - there will always be things you don't and can't know about them. You may have gone to school with the same girl from Kindergarten to high school graduation - without ever knowing that her brother or her grandfather would come into her bedroom every night. You may meet for coffee once a week with your best girlfriend from college - and have no clue that her husband beats the hell out of her two or three times a week.

You can follow a Twitter feed, examine every picture on Instagram, scroll through Facebook for hours ... you can buy a book or read a blog or even build a friendship ... but no matter how thoroughly you think you know someone and no matter how closely you study them ... there will always be always be fragile little things still lying hidden just beyond the scope of your reach.

It's why we work so hard to earn the trust of our loved ones, and why it stings perhaps more than most of us would care to admit when that trust is denied. Or when the price of it is set too high. We've all been there, haven't we? We all know the burning shame of realizing that someone we thought trusted and believed in us ... doesn't.

But I've talked about this before - the way the bitterness of life makes the sweetness sweeter - when I tried to decide if I would want a beautiful, peaceful, level sort of life, or if I would prefer the wild dips and twists and turns of a rollercoaster life. In the end, I chose what I chose specifically because the beauty of life just isn't quite as palatable without the ugliness. It can't be - because we need the contrast in order to see and appreciate the difference.

That's why I'm extra thankful lately.

The past several years have been impossibly tough on me. I started a career, published a bunch of novels ... and lost a relationship I still greatly valued at the time. It was a toxic one, yes, and I was already beginning to realize it ... but by then, toxic was familiar to me, and the comfort of that relationship was something I needed and treasured. Watching it die was hard. Knowing my own part in it was hard.

Knowing that it was for the best for everyone involved was hard.

But it taught me so many new things about myself as a woman and about life in general. It taught me more about what I want in life, what I deserve in love, and that I don't have to settle anymore - not in romance, not in friendship. It gave me confidence even as it humiliated me, because I learned how wrong it was by experiencing the injustice and surviving the pain of it.

I thrived in some instances, and in others, I crumbled and cried and dwelt on the pitiful shame of a mess I know I got myself into.

I went into therapy, I took steps to find treatment for my PTSD, and I began to change my life in small ways. I distanced myself from people who supported me in word only - not because I wanted my own way, but because I deserve honesty in my relationships, and my life no longer has room in it for people who don't respect me enough to mean what they say. I separated my sense of worth from people who needed me to stay small so that they could feel bigger - because every person deserves to have people in their lives who lift them up and empower them with faith and confidence that comes through in both word and deed.

And even in the darkest moments, I fought ... and I tried ... and I survived ... and I grew. I grew a thicker skin. A stronger backbone. A more patient spirit. A greater sense of compassion. A warrior's determination to keep pushing forward.

I became strong enough to believe in my ability to change certain things, however slowly. I became confident enough to say and do some things that had been needing to be said and done for a long time. And I learned that it's okay sometimes to ask for help when you're lost and not sure which way to go - especially when what you need help with is learning how to save your relationship, learning how to let go of a relationship not worth saving, and learning how to tell the difference. I've been exploring sites like Regain.Us, learning more about myself as a partner as well as what I want in a spouse - and I love that they have articles like this one, which coach you through the process of finding a local relationship or couples counselor if you need one. I like knowing that while I'm single I can still work on being a better partner, and that when I find myself no longer single, there are sites like this one that will help my significant other and I learn to keep our connection strong.

More importantly, I learned to allow the darkness in my life to make me see and appreciate the light so much more. Eden has had surgery four times in the last two years (five in her lifetime so far), and every time I gave her away to be put to sleep, I gave greater thanks when I saw her again, alive and awake and still mine. For almost a decade, I didn't have a car of my own (our family shared one car, and I was frequently without the use of it) - and now, every time I start my van I give thanks for the jingle of the keys dangling against my leg and the chirping of an engine belt that desperately needs to be replaced but is at least still turning, which (to me) means that at least for now the transmission hasn't finished eating itself to death.

My little family has struggled mightily to make it through the challenges set before us in the last few years, and we still have a great deal of struggling to do. But at least for today, Team Kennedy is still in the game, and that's all that counts.

Despite what feels sometimes like constant, unending crisis, I am making constant, unending adjustments to my perspective, searching for blessings where sometimes there just don't seem to be any. I celebrate my readers here, because having this place to come and express myself and my journey means the world to me. I celebrate every single book sale - even the free downloads of Fat Chance - because they mean someone is interested enough to invest something of themselves in my writing. I celebrate every single one of my Patrons, because their contributions literally help keep my world spinning around.

I recently lost a huge chunk of non-writing income that I depended on to keep things running smoothly for the girls and I, and I spent that day in a tear-filled panic, trying to figure out how I was going to cover that gap and make things work in spite of what was changing - but even as I sobbed and struggled and brainstormed, I also got myself moving immediately. My shirt was wet with tears but I set some things in motion. My hands shook so hard I could barely lift a water glass, but I made some phone calls. My face burned with shame, but I reached out and asked some friends for guidance. I had some conversations that were hard, learned a little more about who is there for me and who isn't - and how to tell the difference. I had some talks that were uplifting and encouraging. And I set up a gofundme campaign in the hopes that it would help bridge the gap.

I raised $90 with that campaign so far (at the time of this writing), and I also had someone who quietly sent me a private donation through Paypal (you can do that here if you want to help), for which I am incredibly thankful. There's still ground to cover before things are back to where they need to be, but having so many people reach out to me in that way was encouraging, empowering, uplifting.

Yes, it was embarrassing and I hated doing it. Yes, there's a certain humiliation in saying, "I'm not enough." But there is strength in numbers, and there is power in community - a power I had largely forgotten about as I came out of the fog of 2016 and realized how very little personal community I actually had. This year has been a year of growth for me in so many ways, and I'm thankful to have lost or let go of so many people in recent years - because while there were parts of it that were downright excruciating, that emptying of my life made room for so much more richness in new friendships.

The changes in my life in the last 58 months have been a terrifying whirlwind of highs and lows, and sometimes I'm still not sure how I made it through with my sense of self even slightly intact.

But I did it. I'm struggling, and some days are so hard I'm not sure I can keep on. But I'm still standing. I'm still breathing. I'm still learning and growing and changing.

And I'm thankful.

Life has been super stressful lately (Seriously, it even literally made me come down with something. I've been sick for a full week now.) so I've had to be careful about getting enough rest and letting myself decompress. When this most recent crisis hit, I had just barely started to ride the upswing out of a particularly ugly PMDD-induced depression, and the sense of relief I felt was instantly dashed. I'm walking around in a stress-induced fog of sickness and exhaustion, but one of things that has helped me greatly has been allowing myself time to curl up in *my favorite sleeved blanket and read a good book. Lately I'm reading the *Keeper of the Lost Cities Series - and while I'm only on *book three (of six so far), I can definitely say that these are great reads. They're technically YA Fantasy, but the YA classification is not limiting in the slightest and these books are definitely hefty enough to keep a reader interested for a while. The story is strong enough to pull me in and hold me, empowering enough to remind me that all obstacles can be overcome, and engaging enough to have me always looking for time to crack them open. Plus it's nice to read a book with such a strong focus on such a strong female character.

If you're still reading, I'd like to thank you for being here, and I'd like to invite you to reach out in the comments. Let me know your favorite stress-busting technique, or leave me a motivational quote of some kind (I'm a sucker for those). Make sure you take some time to look around while you're here too, and if you find something that resonates with you, share the link with your friends! I'd also love it if you subscribed to this blog by filling out the "subscribe by email" form in the sidebar - that's a great way to make sure you'll never miss a post!

You can help the support the upkeep of this site by donating any amount here, and if you're a book lover like me, come on over to Patreon for a whole new way to read my novels - WHILE I WRITE THEM! You can sponsor my fiction writing for as little as $1 a month, and your dollar gets you access to all sorts of content: one new romance chapter a month, two brand new poems, and access to weekly L.A.F.F.S.! But the best part is that as my patronage grows, so do the benefits for every patron! Our goal right now is 25 patrons; when we hit that goal, I'll start dedicating each of my blog posts to one special patron, which means YOU could be getting public shoutouts right here on the blog!! And when we get to 50 patrons, I'll be posting TWO fiction chapters every month instead of one. In the meantime, I just edited all my previous PhLogs and made them public - so go check 'em out!

However we stay connected, whether it's through my books, this blog, my social media profiles, 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" isn't just a slogan or a tagline - it's a purpose and a goal. Click here to find out more about what it means to be an undaunted woman - maybe you'll find that you already know the perfect nominee for our next Undaunted Interview!

And as always, whether you're a first time reader or a long-time loyal follower ... from the bottom of my heart, thank you for being here.

NOTE: This post is a partnership with Regain.Us, in conjunction with my love of their site and content combined with their love of giving couples a better, more personalized way of learning how to communicate more effectively with their partners in order to nurture thriving relationships. All thoughts, opinions, and ideas expressed in this post are my own - and as you know, I would never recommend any site, service or product I didn't authentically love.

SECOND NOTE: I often use affiliate links in my product mentions on this site, so remember that if you choose to click my product links and end up purchasing through them, I will probably receive a (very) small commission for referring you to the merchants and products I love best. Rest assured that this is at no extra cost to you - but also know that my family and I appreciate your support! (If you'd like to see a list of other companies I'm currently working with, click here.)