Let’s Breathe Together
“All my life I’ve had to fight.” Sophia, The Color Purple
One year after leaving an abusive cult where we have spent our childhood merely surviving, my sister and I curl up on a second-hand couch in a mobile home sitting on a Tennessee, small-town trailer park, and we weep together as we watch “The Color Purple.”
It will be the below scene that will stick in our minds forever. When we become adults, we will smile together, softly making fun of ourselves, recalling how real the separation anxiety and fear of abandonment was for us.
This movie scene will make my brother’s face come into my view, time and time again, a nine-year-old little boy clinging to my father’s legs as our mother pulls him away. The sheer helplessness in my father’s eyes will never leave my peripheral vision. I will hear my brother’s screams echoing inside of Sophia’s words. I will see the white blonde of his sweaty hair pasted to his forehead, the redness in his cheeks and the shuddering of his heaving shoulders from so many sobs.
This movie scene will remind me of Prins Samuel, a man from India, who came to the cult in the early 80’s and took a liking to my teenage, older sister. Terrified that she would be taken back to India, I write in my memoir, “Cult Child”, about the afternoon Prins and his travel companion come knocking at our cabin door.
“I pick up my book to read for a while when there is suddenly a loud banging on the door. It’s louder than usual, but I ignore it for Leis to answer. The banging continues so I go to the top of the ladder. Leis is at the door with her back pressed up against it. She signals to me with her finger to her lips.
“Who is it?” I say in a loud whisper.
“These two guys from India who are here visiting. Prins and Max. Shhhh! I’ll tell you in a minute.” She whispers back.
We stay silent as the men continue to knock, and I lay flat against the floor of the loft peeking down as one of them cups their eyes with their hands to look inside our cabin through the bay window.”“Cult Child” excerpt
Body memories come in waves, signaled by rapid heart beats and sweaty palms. I recall ducking down the cult compound pathways with my sister and avoiding the men from India at every turn. The days they were visiting seemed endless. We worried. We hid. We were terrified of being separated.
So many moments in an abused child’s life are filled with the anxiety of abandonment and separation. As a child, my sister was my only lifeline. If she was taken away, my last strand of feeling any severance of “protection” would have been erased. In abusive situations, when the children are removed from the abuse environment, keeping children together is crucial, unless one of the children is harming the others, of course. Abused children can create a deep bond with one another; a bond which helps them survive. Separating them becomes an additional wound.
In my song, Capable, I write:
“See ever since I arrived I’ve been fighting to keep all the pieces alive; from drowning.”
To live a life of fighting is exhausting for a child. I was already exhausted physically, psychologically and emotionally by the time I was a teenager. This is part of why abuse victims struggle so much when they become adults.
Imagine you begin working at three years old. You rise before dawn to do field work. You work all day until you go to bed at night. Your sleep is often interrupted and limited to 4/5 hours a night. Riddled inside of these grueling work days you are also subjected to physical and emotional abuse, neglect, sexual molestation and extreme mind controlling beliefs. Additionally, you witness this same abuse happening to other children.
Imagine spending your whole childhood fighting to process every moment of your day. In later years, I can tell you, that you will want to sleep for hours, days, weeks, months and sometimes years. You will want to somehow rest your mind, but by the time you get to a place in your life where you can rest, your mind won’t be able to sleep anymore due to its inability to expel the insomnia that years of trauma memories create.
If the first eighteen years of your life are filled with fighting to survive, by the time you enter society after high school, when you should be excited about starting your independent life, you are already very tired. When you reach fifty-years-old, the cusp of your life, you feel as if you are seventy-years-old in spirit. That’s the weariness which sets over the mind, body and soul of an abused human being.
No child should ever begin their life fighting through environmental combat battles day in and day out. They fight to protect their mind until adults break it and fill it with their own ideals. Children fight to have just a voice, a choice, an opinion or any respect in their little lives. They are often brushed off by adults and the system and not even considered an actual “person” until they become eighteen.
Yet, they are people. Children are individual little beings, who have entered this planetary dimension with their own unique DNA.
Everything my siblings and I did was a “representation” of our mother, according to her. When I fucked up and became incarcerated at the age of eighteen, she wept embarrassingly in the visiting room…. EVERY TIME SHE CAME!
“Where did I go wrong? How can you do this to me?” My mother lamented.
Ah, the sweet scent of martyrdom, almost confessing before blaming me. In my lowest moments, she somehow succeeded in always making them about her own failures, failures she never really ever identified, though. If she walked the edge of accountability, it was only in private and always to her own advantage, vauge and hollow.
To hear my mother tell it, I was the “wild child“; the “black sheep” of the family. I had always been the difficult one, the loud one. You know, the youngest ones usually are, she’d say. Enter her fake lipsticked smile and an invisible hand to the forehead in angst.
In Rise Of Sila, the totality of my mother’s psychosis emerges, manifesting sad remnants of a cult that starved her and snatched her mind the moment she stepped foot onto their first compound is emerging even more. It’s not easy to examine. Some days I can dig in. Other days, I must rest.
All her life my mother fought. All her life my grandmother fought. Into my Moravian ancestry, women fought to survive, working themselves into death, sick in body and shattered in soul. This is why I decided to stop fighting. I had to break the generational trauma of lives filled with suffering. Why I stopped fighting is a multifaceted thing.
I stopped fighting because I cannot win. I stopped fighting because I don’t want to win.
Who was I fighting? Everyone, including myself.
Why was I fighting? Fear. Fear of abandonment, loss and hurt.
Most humans fight out of sheer fear.
I’m a major Game Of Thrones addict. Arya Stark is one of my favorite characters. The child in me relates to everything about her journey in this series. She was born having to fight. She lived having to fight.
In one season, Arya finds herself inside of the arena of the faceless man. He teaches her to become no one. She becomes blind so that she can see everything. She spends days, hours, minutes, fighting off her inner demons and rage, and when she is finished, she emerges as a mighty warrior, able to wield her slender sword with exact precisions. She develops the ability to become the very person she must eliminate. She becomes a woman wearing her emotions like a badge of honor, yet still, she understands that being no one is the true way of the warrior.
I am nobody. Nobody is perfect. Therefore I am perfect.
All of my childhood and a large part of my adulthood, I felt like a “nobody”, the kind of nobody who was lower than the swamp. My mind battered my own existence in deep ways. My thoughts told me I was destined to be an overweight food addict all of my life. I believed I was a “Jezebel” just like the cult pedophiles had described us young girls. To myself I was not worthy of anything good. I would never “have” anything good. I would never “be” anything good.
Then one day, I just stopped in my tracks. I had no more energy left to keep fighting. I had to make a choice. I turned to myself. I looked at the “nobody” that I am.
I explored her and I learned so much. What was I trying to win at? Being me? Who was I? I had to go faceless. I was fighting no one. I re-defined my understanding of what it truly meant to be “nobody.”
I dove into myself blindly.
Straight into the bottom of my own nothingness I sank. Do you know what is inside of the dark matter of yourself? Let me tell you, loves. There is infinite possibility. You will fight the darkness fiercely at first. That’s what you’re used to. Fighting. Your whole life you’ve done it. You’ve been separated from yourself, trying to win a war with no one.
The truth is, we are actually ever morphing, infite streams of something. I stopped fighting because without me fighting, I had no one to fight with. Everything I projected outward was really about my innards. Faceless, I roamed my own hallways. I left slain apparitions in the dark corners, lighting them on fire as I passed.
It takes two or more to tango, and so I merged every one of my inner enemies into my nothingness. They evaporated inside of me and became one with my existence. Without me fighting, they don’t have to hide. Together we stand in the Light of truth.
When I accepted that I was no one, I realized I am all of me.
I am everything I observe and absorb. Now, I dance with all of it; the fear, the danger, the anger and the evil. I dance it into my own joy and worth. More can be eliminated in synced-together movements, than in the brutality of battles and war. If this isn’t clear to you yet, stop fighting. Stop trying to win. Be still for a while. Observe yourself.
Stand within your nothingness so you can be all of who you are. Inside the nothingness there is no need for validation. Worry dissipates. Fear gets sucked into your self love. Anger expresses its pain, processing itself inside the brilliance of your confidence.
I ceased fighting, and now, standing in the silence of the nothing, I hear everything.
As I have lived my own survivorship and spent the last few years deeply connecting with trauma survivors, I see three distinct phases of the journey.
Thriver (and for some, Advocacy/Warriorship)
I think one of the most difficult breaks in the healing process is moving from the victim to survivor state. The victim state of mind sees the downfall with everything in life. Solutions aren’t on their minds, they can only see everything bad in their world. Any solution offered, the victim stage will say they’ve already tried it or give a reason why it won’t work.
When I was in the victim stage, I recall having a fear that if I healed, I would have nothing to spawn my creativity. I was so incredibly wrong. As I have healed I have created so much more and so many amazing things. The fear was a farce.
The Survivor stage includes a mindset of knowing we have survived and believing we can still survive. Survivor stage is a small exhale and sometimes the longest stage as we are learning strengthening and practicing wellness and self love. In the survivor stage we face our anger, fear, hurt and deep pains. This stage is a boundary setting stage and a period of strengthening our minds. In the survivor stage we are starting to see the world around us as a place of possibility. We are embracing our ability to heal and determined to do so.
The step from survivor to Thriver is a smaller one. When we reach the state of thriving we have come into a place where we have embraced that our past is actually the past and we don’t have to live there now. In the Thriver stage we don’t see obstacles, but instead, opportunity. As Thrivers we take our horrible situations and tend to barrel through them because we realize that all things do pass. We tend to write out and create through our moments of pain instead of projecting them on others or drowning in them. We have no issues enacting our boundaries and don’t care who gets mad about it, as we understand our right to put ourselves first.
In Thriver stage we are empowered to know that healing doesn’t mean we don’t still have impairments from our abuse, but that we can absolutely get through it. We don’t have to stay in it. As Thrivers we embrace that our thoughts will set a course for our days and we learn that positive perspectives and energy will change and often make rectifying problems much easier when our thoughts are rooted in solutions, acceptance and great possibilities. We accept moments and people as they are. We aren’t as easily offended. We learn to be and let be. We fight for things that matter and let inconsequential situations fall by the wayside.
For those in differing stages of healing, please know that it can take years to get through these processes. Please be patient with yourself. When you take the step out of victimhood into survivorship, congratulate yourself!! That is a MASSIVE step!
I used the processes that I introduced in my interactive journal “Becoming Gratitude”, to move from feeling like a victim, to feeling the success of changing my world view and the perspective of my own existence and surroundings. It absolutely re-wired my brain for the better, in just a short five minutes a day.
You can check out the journal here:
Another amazing book that, if the writing processes in it are followed, will help a survivor really begin to embrace their emotion freedom is “PTSD: Time To Heal.” When I found this book I was ecstatic. It confirmed to me that all the handwriting processes I had done were absolutely on point. Handwriting our pain is not only crucial, but the absolute best process to follow, as the brain must slow down to process through our pen. This book gets into the physiology of why handwriting trauma is a crucial part of the healing journey. You do NOT have to be a prolific writer or speller to do this work. You just have to actually DO the tasks!
You can check out this book here:
Processing trauma isn’t easy. Neither is holding it inside. To be afraid of healing is akin to willingly drowning. Two major components exist in the survivor stage.
1. Being willing to do the work, WANTING to do it and reveling in moving towards being a Thriver.
2. Accepting and creating solutions and boundaries.
I believe every victim can become a Thriver. It is simply a matter of choosing to do the work that brings us there. I was sick of being in pain all of the time and tired of only seeing the negatives in my life. I grasped onto gratitude like a lifeline, and it absolutely changed my world view in just a few short weeks.
I hope you will give yourself the gift of healing. You deserve it. You CAN do the work, and you will be so much stronger for your fight and your life! Being a Thriver has empowered me in so many ways. I believe in you.
When I was a small girl and well into puberty, I lived an abused, contained life through which I was disallowed any individual choice or voice. As I grew into my early preteen and teenage years, I found secret ways to write small poems and release emotions I needed to purge. In the Alaskan tundra, down off of Richardson Highway, on a cult compound, deep inside forests of evergreen trees, are the remnants of thirty five-year-old paper journals I hid there as a child.
After leaving Sam Fife’s Move of God cult, I spent my life writing, not as a forced concentration, but as a part of who I am and was. I have always written in journals, on remnants of paper, glued or tucked inside of those journals, and jokingly laugh that when I die, my sons and grandchildren will have a field day going through my writing. I sometimes envision my granddaughters as older women, laughing as they read my thoughts and the most secret parts of my heart.
When I decided to open up my online store, Designs by Vennie, I passionately wanted to have products which are unique to the inspiration of writing out our trauma and documenting our triumphs. I also wanted to wear my cause, Survivor Voices.
Last year was a year of creating digital art and taking photographs. I was releasing so many of my memories through the layers and collages I created. I chose the ones which impact me the most as covers for my journals.
I created t-shirts and matching caps to support wearing this cause of us survivors being able to own our voice. We have the right to speak our truth. We have the right to be believed. We have the right for justice and respect. We are not mentally ill. Our abusers are. I want this apparel to be a simple statement which can start a strong conversation.
I loved this watch because it has multiple colorful bands to choose from and brings color into my wardrobe. It’s also sporty and inspires me to go take walks, since it is sweat proof and sporty. We survivors deserve to love ourselves. We should go outside and get into nature to remind ourselves that life is worth living. Wearing a watch is also good for the writing process. If you have a memory or thought to write in your journal, you will be able to immediately note the time, which is an important part of documenting our journey.
May your life be filled with color. May your pages be filled with the truth of you. May you proudly wear your voice, start a conversation and without shame, tell your story.
I am heady from the smell of ocean. I walk slowly to the vast, rolling surges of white foam. My son, the cinematographer, snaps photos of my bliss, following silently as I dance and skip. Life becomes different when I am with the sea. It is humbling for me. It is reminding me that I am small within the realm of infinite reality.
I am surrounded by my family. Babies toddle about, smashing sand into hollow, plastic turtles, their faces giggling. This joy that has emerged from the depths of my ancestral traumas and struggle, has instilled in me a deep appreciation for the small nuances of life. You see, this journey has been a scattered learning curve filled with crashes and burns. I have been into the depths of its darkness and risen into the brilliance of its light. I will not fall again.
I press my toes into the sand, aware of the soft scrub of the grains against my feet. I enjoy the firmness of this beach, impacted, forcing me to dig into and be present with the awareness of this feeling. Grounded inside the sensation, I let the earth infuse with my skin, sending her energy into my spirit. She is soft and firm. I am safe above her. There is no rumbling of engines or honking of horns. I am here in this moment completely alone.
The wind lifts my dress. I am in surround sound with the soft roar of the waves. They are a symphony rising and falling, reminding me that in an instance, swells can turn. She reassures me, that even if pulled into here tidal arms, sleep will be cool and peaceful. I feel every cell filling each drop of her endless depths move inside my skin. We resonate together, as even the seagulls crying out to the fish become a faded echo. On this shore, I see dimensions I’ve never traveled before. I see possibility. I see me in the sea.
I wonder what happens inside of the mind and spirit when a human just walks into the sea? Eventually the body becomes numb from the dropped temperature. I imagine there is scramble and a struggle against the pulling of the waves as the limbs lose the ability to fight. An acceptance washes over when the mind realizes it will never return to shore. The eyes close and gulping in the salt, the waves become one with the spirit here. Inside this liquid world, beings exist, the same as me; different environment; Otherkin. It is not a walk I desire. It is a wonder, a curiosity, a movement of my mind.
I am grateful for my life. It is big within this smallness. It is filled with surviving and thriving. It sings the songs of promise. It tells me to hold on, keep fighting and stay strong.
I stand inside this diminutive yet immense piece of planet; one so beautiful, yet filled with abominations beyond the imagination. I must return to the reality of my mission; my dedication, to make a difference. But just for today, I escape, just me and the waves. I am infused by the sea and my family. This is where I am balanced; when all is calm; where there is no storm; when we drift gently and in harmony with the tides.
The other day I was having a conversation with a fellow trauma survivor and writer. She posed a question to me.
“How do you balance everything you want to do and keep your head together?”
There are many blogs about creativity which advise on this subject, and many of them contain very valuable information. So, I had to answer her from my own personal perspective. Instead of repeating what is suggested, I wanted to answer her direct question about my daily process specifically.
You see, I am a free-flow creative. Forcing me to follow a set schedule is a sentence for the death of my creativity and passion. It is the driving force that will push me into emotional flat feel. I will strain against the confined system and begin to have a growing irritation towards the control of a schedule until I wither.
Any rigid type of living, for me, is a recipe for depression as I stare at the screen because it’s 1 PM, this is my scheduled time to write, but I don’t want to be writing at the moment. My soul wants to create art, work on other projects or even rest for a while.
Many branding gurus advise to stick to that strict schedule and don’t vary from it. because that is how successful people happen! So it was that I redefined the meaning of success for myself.
Do I pay attention to the marketing side of my brand? Absolutely. I am a lone wolf with a friend who helps me with computer tasks when she can. I have no expectations of her. She has a family and helps me for free. I bow and kiss her feet for that! 95% of my brand is solely controlled and operated by me.
Do I read branding blogs? Absolutely. Following branding bloggers like BadReadheadMedia, by 30 Day Marketing Challenge author Rachel Thompson, have given me excellent information. Partaking in Twitter hashtags like #MondayBlogs, #SexAbuseChat and #NoMoreShame, have helped me connect with some great trauma survivors who are vulnerably baring their souls. Connecting with creative trauma survivors, like artist Liz Ianelli and podcaster Matt Pappas, keep me inspired.
What I don’t do is allow what I read about suggested success methods to pressure me. I glean what feels fitting for my own life and my brand, and I incorporate it. I don’t change the specific routine I have for my-self care, a routine for which no specific schedule really exists. I make a “to do” list almost every day (because 1/2 of it is usually carry over from the prior day), and if there’s a timeline due, I make note of it. In the end, though, I always do things in a rhythm which matches my own positive flow. If something sinks me, it’s not for me.
Being a trauma survivor and a creative can be daunting. When I put too much pressure on myself, I tend to drop into shutdown. My creativity flow is dependent on the state of my mental health.
I always put my mental health and quest to continue being the healthiest before everything.
If two hours is all I have to give to my creativity on some days, that’s what I give. Some days I don’t create at all. Other days I catch a wind and go for hours. All of this is is unpredictable and unknown for me.
My creativity is flowing water at a pace I currently feel happiest following. I cannot re-carve the banks of its river. Instead, I float its calm stretches and row its rapids, staying with the grain of the waves and enjoying the view along the way. To me, this is balance. For me, this is the best route to reach the vast sea of success.
I hope you stay balanced through your creative journey by putting yourself first. I hope you take walks in the trees or lay in the grass and count the clouds. I hope you free flow with yourself, absent of any painful expectation, and know that if you care for the growing plant of your creative well, you are guaranteed to grow into the tallest tree.
P.S. Today I accomplished vacuuming and this blog post. SUCCESS