A Tribute to My Grandmother

Obviously being trafficked, having strokes, and loosing everything I owned to toxic mold was not easy. However, those things are a given. Anyone would struggle with those, and understandably so! These things are hard and complicated on many levels and for many reasons, and these things caused so many other things to happen. Aside from these massive things though, there have been other times in my life that I would consider hard. The hardest moment that comes to mind was loosing my grandmother.

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My grandmother was the only person who I could depend on as a kid. Multiple times she tried going to the authorities to get them to take us from the abuse. Multiple times she went to the school to voice her concerns. Multiple times, she tried to save me from the suffering and abuse to no avail. She was my favorite person, the woman I looked up to. The woman I wanted to be, she was my idol. Little did I know, her life wasn’t great. I remember being a little girl and we would go grocery shopping and she’d let me push the cart. We’d play dress up, well she would watch me play dress up in her clothes and shoes. She would do my favorite puzzle with me over and over again. She was always awake before everyone, the smell of coffee and bacon flowing through the house waking me up with a good morning kiss. She would always let me mix the hot cakes (pancakes) and stand on the stool next to her as she cooked the bacon. Most of my most vivid memories are the times I spent with my grandmother. She was so funny and man could she sing! I remember her 80’s blond hair curled on the top of her head and then picked with the comb and sprayed with 7 cans of hair spray. It was a thing! I remember our schemes to scare my grandfather (which looking back she probably got in trouble for).

Then one ghastly night it was all gone. Her death wasn’t sudden or unexpected but it was far too soon. She had been sick for many months with Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS. I watched her body deteriorate, all while her brain knew everything that was happening. I watched her anguish as she struggled to accept her new normal. She was not a woman who accepted, let alone asked, for help. I would walk into a room and see her crying and quickly wipe her tears away and enjoy those precious moments with me. I was 12 when she told the family she was sick and I was 15 when she passed away. I was with her on her last night. I made her laugh and then my grandfather yelled at her for being to loud and she started having a panic attack. Her Hospise nurse knew this was a sign she needed her oxygen, however this time it didn’t work. I called 911. This was the last time she’d have to endure my grandfathers abuse. This was our last moment of togetherness. This was the last time my grandmother would have to struggle.

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My grandmother has been gone for almost 12 years and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t wish I could call her and tell her about my day. There is not a day I don’t wish she could meet my wife. I know she’d be proud. There’s not a single day that I don’t miss her. There is also not one day that I don’t know she’s watching over me. She loved me, when no one else did. She wanted me, when no one else did.

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Dreaming…

6 years old
A white tool dress
Pink silk on top
Pink tights to match
White buckle shoes
Shiny
They’d squeak
If they accidentally touched each other
Easter sunrise service
A memory
Behind that innocent persona
An abused little girl
With a mask to hid it all
She dreams
What the future will hold
If escape is possible
If she will get the chance
Chance to fulfill her dreams
Her dreams
Having her own family
Doing a better job
Loving
Healthy
Dreaming

Wide awake
Brain is racing
Unable to be pregnant
I thought I was okay
But I am not
I’ve always wanted that experience
From a young age
To carry a child
To birth a child
To do a better job
Give my child the life
The life I never had
I’ve always wanted to adopt
And foster
And I will love them
Just the same
Yet I yearn for that…
That experience
That level of vulnerability
Vulnerability to nature
To the universe
I see life as a series of dances
Some fast
Some slow
Some intimate
Some against the music
Some in tune with the rhythm
Pregnancy is just that
A dance
With its own heartbeat
A weaving of strings
Love no different
No different from adoption
Just an experience
Why was this a dream
Why was this so important
Society’s expectation?

I cry
I grieve
For the loss that will soon be
For the unattainability
For the official end
End of the option to conceive
End of this desire
A new door opens wide
To love
To care
To help
To give children what they deserve
To love children who don’t have love
To care for children who don’t have a caretaker
To help children who need it
I will be the best mother I can be
This dream doesn’t end
It’s just shifted
Shifted away from a selfish desire
Dreaming

Migraine Management

Migraines are different for everyone but the following are some suggestions that have been given to me by a headache program I was in. I am not a doctor, please consult your doctor before stopping or starting any and all medications including supplements.

Based on the diet restrictions you may already have, such as myself I can’t have dairy and I’m suppose to avoid vitamin K. I don’t follow this religiously as some of these things don’t bother me and others do. These are just the ones that are studied and known as triggers or things to avoid.

Most common dietary triggers:
Caffeine: coffee, tea, soda; did you know that even decaf has traces of caffeine?
Chocolate: most cocoa is known to have caffeine.
Monosodium Glutamate: THIS IS A VERY COMMON TRIGGER! Also known as MSG, it is in a lot of processed things usually about halfway through the ingredients list. It is also in almost all Asian food particularly Chinese food.
Processed meats and fish: Mostly nitrites/nitrates are the things to avoid here.
Cheese and other Dairy: Typically the more aged the item the higher likelihood it could trigger a migraine.
Nuts: Avoid nuts, seeds are okay.
Alcohol and Vinegar: these things can cause inflammation. Vodka is the most tolerable as is clear vinegar over say apple cider vinegar.
Certain Fruits and Juices: Citrus and dried fruits, as well as raspberries, red plums, papayas, passion fruit, figs, and avocados.
Certain Vegetables: sauerkraut and peas and beans should be avoided as they can cause inflammation.
Fresh Yeast-Risen Baked Goods: Breads and yeast based goods older than 48 hours are better tolerable.
Aspartame: ‘fake sugar’ is not well tolerated.
Others: Soy and cultured foods can be triggers.

Foods more tolerable:
Meats/Fish/Poultry/Eggs – Freshly purchased and prepared meats, fish, and poultry. Eggs. Tuna.
Dairy – Milk: Whole, 2%, or skim. Cheeses: American, cottage, farmer, ricotta, cream cheese, velveeta, low-fat processed
Breads/Cereals/Pastas – Commercially prepared yeast. Product leavened w/ baking powder: biscuits, pancakes, coffee cakes etc. Cooked and dry cereal. All pasta.
Vegetables – Asparagus, string beans, beets, carrots, spinach, pumpkin, tomatoes, squash, zucchini, broccoli, potatoes, onions (cooked), Chinese pea pods, navy beans, soy beans,
Fruits – Apples, applesauce, cherries, apricots, peaches, and others not on dietary trigger list.
Soups – With allowed ingredients with homemade broths.
Beverages – Decaffeinated coffee, fruit juices, club soda, caffeine-free carbonated beverages.
Desserts/Sweets – Allowed ingredients including sugar, jelly, jam, honey, hard candies, cakes, cookies.
Fats/Oils/Misc – Cooking oils. White vinegar. Commercial salad dressing w/ allowed ingredients. All spices.

It is recommended to keep track of your headaches/migraines including: Date, time, intensity, preceding symptoms, triggers, medication, relief and anything else you see as important.

Preventative Supplements**

Magnesium, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), CoEnzyme Q10 (CoQ10), and Vitamin D3.

Personally I take:

Magnesium Glycinate 500-1000mg nightly or Magnesium L-threonate 1500-2000mg nightly. Keep in mind this can cause loose stools.
Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) 400mg daily. Does cause yellow urine.
Vitamin D3 50,000IU weekly.

Abortive Options – Taken at the VERY first sign of a headache/migraine. Discuss with your doctor what medications may work for you.**
Personally I take:

Tylenol Arthritis at onset. I have also been prescribed a medication to use in the event that the Tylenol Arthritis doesn’t work.

All of these things can be purchased at several places such as Amazon, Sams, Costco, Swanson Vitamins etc.

**CONSULT YOUR DOCTOR BEFORE STARTING OR STOPPING ANY AND ALL MEDICATIONS INCLUDING SUPPLEMENTS.

Resources:

http://www.headaches.org/

https://migraine.com/

 

Again, I am not a doctor, please consult your doctor before stopping or starting any and all medications including supplements.

 

~Sarah

My Take on The ‘Opioid Crisis”

Not only was my mother addicted to meth, she also did anything she could to get her hands on opioids. Her favorite was hydrocodone. She would complain of migraines for days, but only when she was out of her prescription for hydrocodones. I have no doubt that she had ‘migraine’ like headaches as these are common in the withdrawal from opioids and other medications. There is a specific type of headache/migraine that is called a ‘medication headache’ is known and talked about amongst the trained eye. My mother had the ‘pink pill’ hydrocodone, at least that’s what her doctors called it. It was the strongest they would prescribe to an out-patient. When she was out of these pills she would go to the hospital and state she had a migraine and then they would go through a list of things they ‘normally’ give and she would say those things didn’t work for her. Finally, they would say something like fentanyl or hydromorphine or hydrocodone and she would agree to ‘try’ that. Even though this was a MONTHLY occurrence if not 2-3 times per month. She never tried any of those other non-opioid drugs, she just didn’t want those cause they didn’t get her high.

My mother always chased the high. Meth. Opioids. Self-harm. Abuse. Erratic and reckless driving. Adrenaline junkie. There were times when she would disappear for days. Sometimes just 2-3 other times a couple weeks at a time. I always assumed she was on some kind of drug binge during these times. She would come back with all kinds of things; candy, popcorn, a new car, new ideas on how were going to live a better life and ‘get away from all these things.’ She talked a good game, but it never happened. We never got away. Sometimes I wonder if the gang kidnapped her during those times and kept her until she no longer looked like she had the shit beat out of her. Everytime she came back she was so high. She abused the system, in so many ways.

It’s because of people like her that there is an ‘opioid crisis.’ It is because of her so obvious drug seeking behaviors that there is a supposed crisis that needs to be put into check. It is because of people like her that those who benefit from these drugs are having a hell of a time getting access to these. It is because of her behaviors AND the doctors giving into these behaviors that we have to now fight to keep the one legal thing that helps some of the time. All of this could be avoided. THERE IS AN ALTERNATIVE.

The legalization of marijuana medically and recreationally has dramatically changed the climate for opioid use! Take the following quote from the Washington Post*:

“…states with medical marijuana laws between 1999 and 2010 saw, on average, about 25 percent fewer opiate overdose deaths than states without such laws.”
“…the typical physician in a medical marijuana state prescribed 1,826 fewer painkiller doses for Medicare patients in a given year.”
“…Journal of Pain found chronic pain patients who reported marijuana use were 64 percent less likely to report opiate use, more likely to report good quality of life, and less likely to report negative side effects from their medication.”

While these three statistics are in regards to medical marijuana, that is a huge step toward the ‘resolution’ of this opioid crisis we keep seeing and talking about. Everyone wants to talk about how it’s an issue and it needs to be changed…well here is what is making that change in so many states! Here is a resolution to this crisis.

~Sarah

 

 

*https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2017/02/28/attorney-general-sessions-wants-to-know-the-science-on-marijuana-and-opioids-here-it-is/?utm_term=.03dbc3fecd87

How Not to Healthcare in America

We all know our healthcare system is not great, along with all else in this country at the moment. As a trafficking survivor, informing my doctors of such is something that seems pertinent to a healthcare provider especially given my specific experiences. My primary care doctor took the information and uses it appropriately, to make informed decisions about my care. He occasionally asks how I am doing with self-harm as it is one of the things that is important to my care. And he asks due to real concern and desire to support in the best way possible not for any malicious reason. This is the same doctor that has filled out all of my paperwork for short and long term disability though my job since my strokes. And the same doctor that is temporarily handling my pain due to issues with my pain specialist that I will discuss. My primary care doctor, is by far the best doctor that I have ever been seen by. He has been my doctor for about 2 years and will be until he no longer practices.

There are several things that work against me in terms of healthcare aside from being a trafficking survivor; I am a woman, I am plus-size, I am gay, and I had strokes at 25 years old. The only thing in my favor is that I am white, my whiteness gets me to be listened to even if not necessarily heard. My whiteness gets me to a room in the ER whereas the black woman across from me who’d been there for hours with a VISIBLE ailment was still in the waiting room. Our healthcare system was built by middle aged white men FOR middle aged white men.

Rewinding a bit to being in the hospital with my strokes for most of July 2017. While in the hospital I spent one night in the ICU (intensive care unit), 5 nights in the IMCU (intermediate care unit) and several in the stroke/neuro unit. During my stay I saw several neurologists as they do rotating shifts and they all thought I was being dramatic, if not for the scans I do not think they would have believed me at all. One neurologist in particular, ordered a psych eval because she literally thought I was crazy, this is what she told the psychologist. The psychologist and I had a good talk though, about my history being a trafficking survivor and with self-harm and my mental illnesses. We talked about the fact that my anxiety is a contributing factor in my pain and vice versa, which I stated not the psychologist. I think that is when he realized the neurologist was being judgemental and not professional. This is also the neurologist that withheld all of my medications for almost a full 24 hours including the blood thinner that I was put on because I almost died. This is when I was labeled drug-seeking because I was in pain. As if a tear in ones artery isn’t painful!

As someone with chronic pain, I learned quickly that you almost have to play dumb when it comes to medications otherwise you are seen as drug-seeking. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia originally in 2011. This was the beginning of my journey with a diagnosis of something that, at the time, I didn’t know was not seen as a real disease. Since then so much has happened resulting in many other diagnosis, a multitude of ER visits, and several specialist visits. I taken about 100 different medications through the last 7 years, most of them not working. Each time I’ve seen a new doctor, it’s been the same introduction, leading with my trauma history, into the laundry list of diagnosis, my current medications and providers, and lastly what I’m seeking from them. This last part is where you have to watch what you say. You can’t go into a doctor and state you need pain medication or even an antibiotic. This request has to be thought about, refined, and stated in a ‘correct’ way. If you get upset, cry, or seem anything but calm, cool, and collected you get labeled as dramatic, drug-seeking, and crazy.

The dreaded pain scale. Anyone who’s ever been inside an ER knows what scale I’m talking about. This 0-10 pain scale is what is standard in our healthcare system, 0 bring no pain, and 10 being the worst pain imaginable. First off, as humans, I don’t think we ever have a 0 level pain, not this day in age at least. Secondly, they define worst pain imaginable as someone sobbing not being able to make out words and curled up in the fetal position. Yet, if you present like this you are told to calm down and use words and if you don’t talk to them they can’t help you etc. Then you are labeled as dramatic, drug-seeking, and crazy as mentioned above. So here we are at this crossroads of a no win situation. When you factor in chronic pain, you have to take in consideration the definition of chronic which is something that is never ending or relentless something that has lasted for more than a few months. When one lives with this pain, they develop a higher pain tolerance the longer they live with it. That being said their pain scale changes, when comparing the pain of someone with chronic pain to the pain of someone without is not only unfair but also unrealistic. Those of us live with a pain level that is higher than most people could function with. For example, my average pain level on this arbitrary scale is at 8 but in reality when compared to someone who doesn’t have chronic pain it would probably feel like a 12-15.

Navigating the healthcare industry is a minefield already, and then you throw in Donald Trump’s election, the healthcare “reform” he’s done, and the laws he’s set in motion in terms of discrimination make this an impossible task. This has given doctors the ability and validation to be jerks. This has allowed them to label us as these things and corner us because of the things we have no control over with no legal recourse. Slugging through this broken system is dangerous, anxiety inducing, and costly. Please take someone with you when at all possible so you not only have a witness but also someone to help you remember what was discussed in terms of treatment.

~Sarah

What Does Freedom Mean?

Freedom is a funny word
By definition it means independence
By definition it is the lack of oppression
The absence of restraint
It is privilege
Freedom is a fleeting sense of self
It is the illusion of control over fate
Freedom is a lethal weapon used when all else fails
It is the destructor
Freedom is the deceit of your nightmares
There is a girl I used to know
She could wake up before anyone else and make breakfast
And clean the whole house in one day
Go for a walk with her dog without feeling like she would pass out
She used to work a normal job
And advocate for her fellow survivors
She took advantage of her freedom
And then it was ripped from under her
With no warning at all
Out of her control
That girl is who I used to be
Today I am a prisoner in this body
My brain is screaming
My heart keeps beating
And my lungs keep breathing
But my body doesn’t keep up
It needs to rest
It tells me to stop and take a break
I don’t want to rest
There is work to be done
There is a life to be lived
There is a calling to fulfill
I had a plan
Damn it, I had a plan
I am free from my traffickers
And from the life that enslaved me for so many years
I am free from the addictions that plagued me
The self-harm
The drugs
the eating disorders
I am free from the oppression of the “church”
I am free from so many things that used to weigh me down
But I have this ball and chain
This ticking time bomb
Restricting my every move
Don’t eat the following list
Don’t do A, B, and C
Don’t live your life
Take this medication
And this one too
Eat a specific type of meat
Don’t eat to much vitamin K
Take it easy
You can’t work because *insert reasons*
I didn’t sign up for this heavy ass burden
I didn’t accept these terms and conditions
Freedom is a perspective
It is one’s ability to make the best of their situation
To gear up and fight even when they are tired
Freedom is a beautifully placed means to an end
It is where strife and fate collide
It is when the universe bestows a glimmer of light
Freedom is a perspective

~Sarah

Blog Number Two – 2018 Goals

New Years Resolutions caught on a long ass time ago and I’m not entirely sure how or why. To be honest it’s kind of dumb and genius at the same time. It forces people to set goals but doesn’t hold them accountable to set reasonable goals or to keep their goals. It’s a cultural norm that sets people up for failure and perpetuates a cycle of self-hate, inability to make effective change, and ruthless laziness and lack of commitment. That being said, I have made some goals for myself this year and I plan to keep them or at least attempt.

1. Blog once a week – This is my second blog for this year! It’s only two weeks in but I am proud to say this is completed before the end of the first week!

2. Lose 10% body weight – I’m already down 5lbs!

3. Sleep and emotion Logs – This is going well, my hope is to be able to see a pattern develop so I can’t understand myself and my brain better.

4. Save $1000 – Who doesn’t want to save?! But mostly this is because we have some smaller debt we need to get paid off and then work on getting a loan for a home of our own.

5. Read one book each month -This is important for me as it will help me have a break from school reading as well as help me with relearning how to read/focus with my visual changes from the strokes.

6. New Years jar – This is something we attempted to do last year and did not complete as other things got in the way such as health issues. This year my goal is at least one thing per week into the jar.

7. Finish first draft of Memoir – Writing my memoir is hard for me. It brings up things I have worked through as well as things I have not. It also will probably bring to light some things I may have repressed, I may not finish it this year, but I believe it is a good goal to have.

8. Self-care at least twice per week – Self-care is something I have alway struggled with for many reasons, but this year I am taking care of me. It is the only way I can get my health at least somewhat under control.

9. Get my bachelors degree – I should have my classes finished by the end of June. And then I plan to walk at graduation in August.

These things are goals I have set for myself of things I would like to accomplish this year. I am a goal oriented person and since I do not work currently, I have a lot of time to compete these things.

Attempted Reconciliation

In the recent months there has been a lot of conversations between my wife and I about religion, spirituality, and God. I’ve posted a few times about my hurt and disappointment from the church and my ambivalence about God. Yet it is not as simple as a belief or disbelief in God or the church. I have struggled with the bad shit that happens to good people, the bad shit that happened to me my entire childhood, and the bad shit that has happened to us in the last 6 months. If God is all powerful and all knowing then why doesn’t he prevent or stop these bad things? Couldn’t he have prevented me from enduring all of the bad shit I had to endure? Couldn’t He have given me good parents? Couldn’t He have spared my sisters and all the other trafficked children? Couldn’t He prevent homelessness? Couldn’t He stop racism? The answer to these questions is YES! He could prevent them. The next question is what has haunted me for years, most of my life actually: Why doesn’t He stop these things? The ‘Christian’ answer to this is that God has a plan. No matter how much I asked these questions, no one could answer them beyond some form of ‘God has a plan.’

It wasn’t until my wife and I were talking a couple of weeks ago that I started to be able to reconcile this. My wife was explaining that the way she has attempted to reconcile this is to understand that God gives humans free will/choice, and we choose to do what we want with that. That some people’s choices both individually and as a group, hurt others. That those actions are “other people’s sins”. If God were to stop these things it would infringe on the will/choice of those making the decisions. What He does do is pick up the pieces, He cares for and nurtures the sufferer. God is like a good parent. As parents, we can only protect our kids to a certain point. There is always going to be ‘rebellion,’ it is in our DNA to be independent and make our own decisions.

This has lead to a lot of thinking on my part, a lot of processing of what this could mean. Does this allow me to reconcile or rationalize things that shouldn’t happen but do? What does this mean for my life? How does this affect what justice means? If I accept this [logical] rational, does that make me complacent? The question of why if He is capable of it does God not step in will always haunt me.

~Sarah

To Live or To Mold

As many of you know in July I had a series of strokes which was the first domino in a series of ugly events. My strokes left me unable to work and while I have used this as an opportunity for going back to school it has left us with only one income. School has been great for me and I have done really well in my classes with the best GPA I have ever had. I am even looking into grad school which is something I only dreamed of doing previously and now it is becoming a real option. At the end of September we not only moved to a first floor apartment but downsized as well. The move was doctor’s orders but also we were down to one income so a cheaper apartment would allow us to allocate that savings elsewhere in our budget. It also allowed me to have an easier time leaving the house as I didn’t have to navigate the stairs with less than one eyeballs vision and a cane.

From the moment we moved into the new apartment though, all three of us had been sick. We honestly didn’t think much of it due to the stress of my health issues and then the move. We know stress can cause illness. Then my wife got a horrendous rash from head to toe, which we initially thought was due to our recent switch from liquid fabric softener to dryer sheets. After a voluntary trip to the after hours doctor with a steroid and anti-itch medication prescription in hand, we went home. The rash decreased to a somewhat manageable level for a couple weeks until Thanksgiving break hit. When it flared up again it was much worse. Bad enough for my wife, who HATES doctors, to wake me to go to the emergency room at midnight on a work night. Upon arrival at the ER and speaking with the doctor, we were asked if we had been exposed to meth or mold as the rash looked like a chemical burn. This sent us on a hunt for the problem, convinced at this point it was our apartment that was the culprit for her rash. We dove into Google looking for some answers and we found them alright. We found more than we would have liked to find. Our apartment was either a previous meth lab or infested with toxic mold. I’ll save all the gruesome details of at home testing and the going back and forth with the apartments and sum it up with our apartment is infested with toxic mold.

We tried for 2 weeks to get our apartments to do mold testing with a certified mold inspector before they went in and did any kind of cleaning. They refused. So we called lawyers who were no help as they don’t take mold cases in Texas any longer if you live in apartments. Several did tell me however to watch out because it’s common in Austin for apartments to go in and ‘treat’ and then do the testing so they can say it’s negative. Great. We called the Health Department and low and behold they do not take these complaints any longer and referred us to the Austin Tenants Council. Yes you read that right…the Health Department does NOT take toxic contamination cases any longer. They did warn us through that if we take anything out of the apartment and contaminate another place we are then at risk of being sued for contamination. This is awesome news! The Austin Tenants Council told us we had to have 25 square feet of CONSECUTIVE VISIBLE mold for them to step in and help. An apartment doesn’t have a wall that is 25 feet! Similar to the Health Department, they warned us about not taking anything out of the house either do to the risk of being sued for potential contamination and for our own health as you cant clean toxic mold. Mycotoxins are terrifying for the record. We called an independent mold inspector, the best in Austin, and they quoted me a very decent price to come out and inspect so we were going to hire them ourselves. That was until they got the address from me and then I was told, “Oh we don’t work with your apartments, they don’t do what they’re supposed to do. You are not the only people who’ve called us to come take a look. Also, it is against your lease to have an independent contractor come out it all has to go through your corporate office.” This is when we knew we had to get out of there.

We lived in that apartment for two months to the day. It only took two months for us to lose LITERALLY everything we own. Books, photos, clothes, furniture, family heirlooms, dishes. Everything. We had to walk away completely. Luckily my wife has family who has opened their doors to us in this time of need. We have had some amazing people from the shelter we adopted Charlie from come around us and help with some things like a bed big enough for Charlie, some dog food, and some clothes for us. We have found this wonderful room to rent to help us get back on our feet, it just so happens that the man has a dog who Charlie was instant friends with which will be a good transition for Charlie. We had to break our lease to get away from the toxic environment that was going to continue to make us sick and could easily kill me with my autoimmune conditions which will follow us for a while but it is worth it if it means our health and lives will not be continually at risk.

This has been a super overwhelming time. Everything has suffered. Our physical health. Our mental health. The health of our dog. At a time when we are getting hit again and again by life, we are also surrounded with support and things just happening to work out at the right time. It is extraordinarily difficult to walk away from everything you own. A lifetime of everything you have built. Furniture handed down from family. Things you bought with your first paychecks for yourself that you love. A home built lovingly piece by piece; blankets, artwork, photographs, kitchen needs,book by book and walk away from everything. From yearbooks and family photographs. From odds and ends that mean nothing to anyone but you. A strange little Knick knack given to you by a dead relative. Souvenirs of traveling. The flowers from your wedding. Crystal glassware from your grandmother. A odd little wooden pig given to you by an old friend at a hard time in your life. Years and years and years of collecting hundreds of books. Gone. In an instant. Then dealing with all the people around you second guessing your decision, telling you that you are wrong, that you are overreacting. When you are doing NOTHING of the sort. It was an agonizing decision made out of nothing but sheer desperation and need. A decision that could LITERALLY be the difference between life and death. It is absolutely the most difficult decision we have made in our married life. It isn’t easy. It wasn’t made lightly. To realize how little people actually know you if they think you could make this decision without a second thought or a care. To be anything but calm.

To live the tragedy over and over and over again as you remember little things that you’ll never see again. Things linked to memories sometimes forgotten that you get to smile at and remember events long past that bring you joy. A funny little keychain from Mexico that goes with a story of a funny event that you never think about until you see that keychain. A book you read on a road trip that brings back memories of your family. A picture of a time forgotten except in that photo. All of those big little things are gone.

How do you grieve such a huge loss all at the same time? Honestly, a fire would be easier. A fire would destroy everything the same way but a few things would be different. One, insurance would cover it. Two, you wouldn’t have to make a decision to walk away, that decision would be made. Three, people would actually understand your grief and not blame you for it. Four, no one would question your pain. You would just get to feel it. I wish it had been a fire. Instead….mold has stolen a part of us that we will never get back.

As someone who comes from trafficking the way I have…it stings even more to once again not have control over my life. To have things like this just happen to you is even worse because it is triggering on so many levels. To walk away from everything into the unknown. But I’ve done it once. I know I can do it again. With my wife at my side, I have faith that everything will work out. That we will recover from this. That I will survive as I always have, like the Phoenix. I am born from the ashes again and I will rise.

~Sarah, Co-Authored by my wife

Unquestionable

Not to long ago I considered myself a Christian. For years I was part of the church, most of my life actually. In early high school though I decided being part of the church was something I wanted for my life, my family and my children’s lives. It was what I needed at the time to cope with my life. I became part of several different churches, all with the same outcome. Disappointment, hurt, judgement, and confusion. Abuse. As previously discussed in NOT YOUR CHURCH, I have wrestled with a lot for a long time when it comes to the church. Only recently have I become comfortable with my struggle and really decided to sit with it. Quantify it. Discover it. To develop the ability to talk about it and learn from those experiences. In this time of discovery, I have learned 4 main things:

1. Religion is not finite: 2+2=4 is finite.One’s beliefs and relatability to the earth, other people, and [a] higher power(s) is something that is going to be tuned to what the person is experiencing in that moment.What is going on the world, how the climate is, and many other factors. A finite religion is going to disappoint. It is going to cause pain. Simply because it does not change.

2. Beliefs are going to and should change overtime as we learn and grow: When we are kids a lot of us read or watch things such as Cinderella and Snow White or more recently Frozen. These are fairy tales, where love at first sight happens, the good guy always wins, and an obstacle is overcome to create this love story unlike any other. Yet, most of us know that this is not always how life ends up. We grow up and learn that life is brutal, money is a very necessary evil, and love at first sight is not how love typically works. Beliefs in other things such as religion and/or ethics are similar. As we learn the ways of the world, our beliefs are going to change. Another example being that for most of my life, while I would have never admitted it, I was very colorblind in my thinking, actions, and beliefs. I had no idea the privilege I have as a white person. I had the very common belief that if I was in the wrong it was up to ‘those people’ to teach me. I fell for the ‘ we are all the same on the inside’ and ‘color doesn’t matter’ bullshit. I used words like ‘ghetto’ and ‘gangster’ to describe things that were neither of those things. These things contributed to the further marginalization of people of color, and while unintentional it was still very damaging and I had to grow. I had to learn. It is my job to change these beliefs, to learn and grow. To take responsibility for my own learning. For myself. In this I think religion should be similar, that we take responsibility for our own growth and we strive to make the world better. That old constructs are sometimes the very thing that needs to be destroyed in order for love to grow.

3. Creating boundaries and admitting fault where it is due: One might not understand how these things go together, but hear me out. Take the following as an example: In the recent months I have had some health issues which lead me to need home health care. One of the services they offered was a social worker, she helped me get access to some community services as well as getting my advanced directives done. Once these things were done the social worker came 2 more times, and while I agreed to theses appointments I really did not want her to come any longer as my needs had been fulfilled. The appointment before last she was at my house for 4.5 hours and the last one for almost 2 hours. Mind you this appointments are suppose to be 1-2 hours at most. After the previous appointment, I discussed with my wife and the speech therapist about my uncomfortableness with the situation and both told me I needed to set boundaries. This woman simply had my trapped in conversation inside my own home, and was not professional enough to keep things not private. She invaded my space, she demanded my attention, and she demanded that I share personal things with her in the name of ‘helping” me. With the last appointment I told her I had X amount of time to meet. This boundary was not respected so I called the supervisor and spoke with her about what the issue was and the visits have since ceased. – In this situation, creating boundaries was hard but it was necessary. It isn’t my fault what the situation was, but I didn’t set boundaries with the social worker in the beginning which was my fault. If we don’t set the correct boundaries, it is not our fault that the person in power took advantage of the situation; but it does then require us to do something about the situation. Taking the time to set boundaries in the most safe and healthy action we can take. This sometimes means involving someone else as a way to protect yourself from further harm.

4. Guilt vs shame: These terms are used interchangeably most of the time. Personally, I feel as if there needs to be a defined and distinct difference. Guilt is an appropriate feeling of remorse where as shame is an inappropriate feeling of remorse. If you steal something from someone a feeling of remorse is appropriate. If someone does something to you such as abuse, a feeling of remorse is inappropriate and damaging. In the church we are taught to shame ourselves for everything, this comes from the concept of sin in that we are sinful in nature and have to atone for the “original sin of man.” Atonement is inherently shameful. Oftentimes we are asked to atone for things that we do not have responsibility for. We are asked to atone for things that happened to us or things that we were forced to do because we did not have the agency at the time to say no. The church does not make that distinction in my experience. We are asked to seek forgiveness for any perceived wrong that we may have committed regardless of intent or ability to alter our circumstances. While seeking forgiveness is cleansing, it can also be self-serving to seek absolution from a godlike entity instead of the person we actually harmed. The church asks us to take on sins that are not our own and because of that we can harm ourselves in our quest to absolve ourselves of others sins.