On suicide and Jesus and not wanting to be a Christian

The first time I tried to kill myself, I was 13. I came home from school and opened a brand new bottle of extra strength Tylenol, and swallowed every pill. I don't even know exactly why I did it. Home was awful and I think kids at school had been teasing me that day and I came home and I...

...I just don't think I wanted to feel anything anymore.

After taking the pills, I sat at the kitchen table and I waited. And when I felt myself starting to die, I got really, really scared. I wanted to die...but I didn't want to die.  I called my mother and told her what I had done. She raced home and picked me up and then she raced me to the hospital.

They gave me whatever it is that they give you to make you throw up. They stuck a tube down my throat. They kept telling me to stay awake. And then they finally let me sleep.

They kept me in the hospital for 3 weeks after that, and then sent me right back home, where everything was awful.  I left shortly after, and spent the next 4 years homeless.

Any thoughts of suicide since then have been sporadic, peppered by half hearted razor slashes on my feet (no one ever looks at my feet), and just a couple of shallow attempts on my wrist. And about 11 years ago, that all stopped completely. I tattooed my wrist with hope so that I would see something besides death when I looked at it.

And shortly after, I met my husband, and my husband helped me find my way past all of that. It's been a beautiful journey, this marriage. It's changed my life.

And then 2015...

2015 is one of the hardest years I have ever experienced. My faith in humanity was completely destroyed. The friendships that I thought were real, were nothing more than casual acquaintances, and gone as soon as everything got ugly. The lies that were being told about me were constant and I had no defense against them. There was so much ugly, and it brought so much of the ugliness of my past back to the surface.

I wanted to die. I really and truly wanted to die.

I thought about suicide every single day this summer, and every single day I fought to talk myself out of it, even if it meant sleeping all day just to protect myself from my own thoughts.

I slept with a razorblade carefully hidden next to my bed.

I imagined how I could do it so that James wouldn't have to find me.

I never stopped thinking about killing myself over the summer...and I never stopped talking myself out of it. I kept going to my therapist. I kept taking supplements to elevate my mood. I kept hiking and staring at the sun. I kept putting up walls to keep those who had hurt me as far away as possible.

I reached out to my friend Mandy and asked if she would take me to church. She asked why, and I told her that I was tired. Tired of having to fight for good things. I wanted to be around people who wanted good things for their neighbors and their community, and who wanted to take care of each other and lift each other up.

I wanted to be around love, and I felt very little love at that time. Church was kind of like a last resort.

So Mandy took me to church. And she made sure that I felt safe while I was there, and when the service was over, I sat there, surrounded by people who I had known outside of church, but never been close to. People who told me that they loved me and that I mattered, and they held my hand and rubbed my back and I cried for an hour and... I felt loved. I felt like I was in the right place.
So I keep going back, and I still feel like it's the right place for me. I've found comfort in the Bible and in reading about the life of Jesus. I've found comfort in the sermons and in the arms and words of the people I see there every Sunday.
But...I don't know if I can comfortably call myself a Christian. I know so many really wonderful people who proudly declare their Christianity and live it every single day. And then I see others who also proudly declare their Christianity and use it to pass hurt and judgement onto those that don't subscribe to their version of faith.

I also have a fear that declaring myself a Christian would possibly lead to people believing that I am someone who would use my faith to hurt them. It's not an unreasonable fear. It happens every day. I grew up in a household with such toxic Christianity that I spent most of my life as an atheist. I thought ...there can be no God if he has made life this painful, and people so horrible and willing to hurt each other in his name. Christians are awful.

And then...here we are.
I don't want to die anymore. And while I will always be bewildered...and hurt...by the actions of those who came after me this year, I'm not angry. I want to live by the example that Jesus set - I want to feed those who are hungry and I want to replace judgement with mercy and I want people to feel loved in my presence and I want to use my life and whatever gifts that I have been given to shine a light and lend comfort and joy to anyone I might meet. I want to always strive to be better. Not to get to heaven, but because when I try to be better, it betters the lives of people around me, and I believe that that is what I'm here for.
My friend Seth and I were talking about the phrase " He/she thinks she's God's gift" online one day, and he made the point that we should think that we are God's gift to the world, and we should act in accordance. And he's absolutely right.
I strive to live my life as though I am a gift, so that your life might be better for having me in it. I strive to show love, and refrain from actions that would hurt those around me. I strive to forgive those whose actions I don't understand. I strive to love myself enough to know when to put distance between myself and those who might want to hurt me, even if their actions are unintentional.
I strive to be God's gift, both to the world and to myself. I don't know if that makes me a Christian...I don't know if I should care? Christianity feels a little bit like a club. I don't want to be in a club. I just want to follow my heart.
I think I should have a point here...and I'm really not sure what that point is. I guess I feel transformed. And writing here has been so cathartic and you have been so accepting of these really vulnerable moments that I keep tossing out here. And this is another one.
I feel God. I feel loved. And I feel joy. And I cry ALL.OF.THE.TIME.NOW.
But it's because I'm happy. And I get really emotional about the fact that I feel safe loving people again, and not being scared that someone else is going to try and hurt me.

Let them come. Let them say what they will.
I am loved. I have a purpose here. I have this beautiful faith that is strange and unusual and new and right for me. I have come through the fire of this year even stronger, and I will be a gift to those around me. I will continue to love people. I will continue to be grateful.
As always, thank you so much for being here. Thank you for being supportive, and thank you for sharing your life with me. I am grateful and I appreciate you so very much.

When life hands you lemons, paint a mural.

It's 3:00 in the morning and I started to tell the story of how this mural came to be, but I got tired, so I'm just going to show you a bunch of pictures of how great the process of creating it was, and tell you who made it happen. Because a lot of people worked to make this happen, and it's way up there on the list of things that I'm the most proud to have been part of.


Basically, there was this ugly wall behind my bar...

...and Jasmin Garcia had this great idea...

...and a bunch of us really liked the idea ...

...including my therapist, who said that she and her partner would buy some paint for us, because none of us really have any money...

...and a bunch of us had had kind of a challenging year, so throwing paint at a wall for a few hours sounded like the best thing ever...

...and it looked really cool when it was done...

...except it wasn't done...

...we had to wait until dark to outline the letters...

...and we had to leave it like this for a while. People were really polite...like,"oh...yeah...that's...um...nice?"

...and it was nice, even if they didn't really get what was going on and thought Jasmin was just DJing in the alley...

It was so hot on this day. Gross hot.

...but it started to come together...

...and we had to work in the dark again...

...and we painted until 2 am and Shiho climbed all of the ladders and would still be painting right now if we wouldn't have stopped her...

We ended up having to sleep, but we wanted to have the majority of it finished by August First Friday. We are incredibly excited about what we've done so far, and we hope that you'll come by and see our work in progress, because we're completely in love with it! 

These are all of the awesome people who made this happen:

Jasmin Garcia - concept, design and direction
Main Street Liquors gave us the use of their wall
Officer Ryan Winkle facilitated the "can we please paint your wall" conversation
Lisa Schwab and her business partner bought the paint for us
The City of Peoria, Illinois gave us the permits we needed
Shannon Techie helped us figure out what we needed to get those permits
Schuyler Monet gave us great advice and direction
Maris Mednis and Marcus Fogliano took photos while we crawled around on rooftops
Nick Viera gave us desperately needed technical support
Shiho Amano, Laura Cordell, ChelseaAnna Gilmer, Jessica McGhee, Jasmin Garcia, Morgan Mullen, and various neighbors who stopped by while we worked all contributed to painting the mural

And I probably forgot someone because it's 4 am and I'm a forgetful person. Please know it's not a slight. I'm just sleepy. And I'm coated in paint.

Garbage Day

I wanted to come up with a better title for this post but my dogs are being really distracting and I've only had one cup of coffee and I think part of my brain is broken.

I'm not even sure really what I want this post to be about...I just know that I feel like, even though I don't have to explain, I want to explain some things. Or clarify. Or...let's just talk?

A few months ago, when I was hit with the most crippling social anxiety I had ever experienced, I realized that things were going to have to change as far as the business side of me goes. I'm face to face with my customers all of the time, and if I don't want them to think a bad experience might be about them, then they have to know that it's about me. That I'm going through some garbage, and that it might make me a little off.

2015 is the year that I unravel the large, tangled mass of yarn that is my life and try to make something beautiful with it. I'm unraveling. There are knots. It's gonna take a minute to get through all of them. And I've decided to unravel in a very public manner, because I'm very, very tired of pretending to be someone that I'm not so that people will feel ok about me. As it happens, the people that wanted me to not be me, were never going to be ok with me anyway, not in any version. So I might as well be the me-est me I can be, and if people are not ok with that, then it's not me...it's definitely them.

This all makes sense, right?

The thing about unraveling all of these knots in such a public manner, is that I know that it's harder for some people to read it than it is for me to tell it. I mean - I've been living with this for years, and the things that really hurt my heart now probably aren't the worst stories that I could tell. "When I was 8" was hard to write because now it's out there. Like - everybody knows. When people who were molested talk about feeling dirty and ashamed - that's a real feeling. It's embarrassing. And it totally shouldn't be, but it is. And going about your daily routine knowing that people might look at you like you're tainted...it's...uncomfortable. I mean, I'm still going to talk about stuff because I am committed to the unraveling, but it is absolutely, without a doubt, less than comfortable. 

But talking about it now doesn't break my heart, because it's been with me for so long. I've become a little bit hardened to it. There are cracks in that shell, for sure, but time has made each recollection of the events a little less god awful.

But...for people who know me, and didn't know this...in this moment, today, I think it's harder to hear or read than it is for me to talk about it. And I am not sorry for writing about it, but I'm sorry if it hurts you to know it. Legitimately. I know there are people hanging out here with me, coming along for the journey, who have such big hearts, and I know that you hurt when other people hurt.I love your big hearts, but I know that some of this is difficult to hear. So I want you to know a few things. 

First - there's a lot to be unraveled, and there are going to be more difficult things. I just want to give you a heads up so that you can take care of yourself.

Second - if my experience mirrors your own, you can absolutely send me a message if you just want someone to know. A few people have done that and I'm so grateful that they felt they could share that with me. The thing is, in those instances, I'm not really sure what the right thing to say is, because at the heart of it...there is nothing to say. I can just be a person you can tell. And so usually I just send a brief message and a little emoticon heart back, which might seem like the least I could say, but is actually the most. Because it means that I hear you. And I'm with you. And you can tell me. And I have no judgement, and I know where you're at, and I'm here for you, in the best way that I can be.

Third - Unraveling a horrible past doesn't mean that I'm just going to be sad and serious all of the time. I'm still going to laugh. I'm still going to dance. I'm still going to sing and make stupid jokes and be ok. And I'm going to try and break up the unraveling here on the blog with some posts about other things ...things I love. Like dogs. And business. And art. And photoshopping my husband into a two headed dinosaur with my best friend, Oprah Winfrey.

And finally, if you see me and you want to talk about it, we can talk about it. And if you don't want to, we don't have to. If there are posts you can't read, I totally get it. I promise I'm going to post something about cake and cocktails and puppies soon. And business. And photoshopping my husband.

I guess I just...I just wanted to talk to you about where this is all going and make sure that we're all ok. And again tell you how much I appreciate your support and your friendship and your gigantic hearts.

When I Was 8

A little while ago, I realized that whenever I talked about being a kid and the subject of how old I was during any event came up, I would say that I was 8.

The truth is, in comparison to most people I know, I have very few solid memories of my childhood. I own approximately 20 photographs from when I was a kid, so I can't even really use pictures to jog my memory. I'm not really sure when the most traumatic events from my childhood happened, but I feel like the worst of them happened when I was 8, therefore, everything has just become "when I was 8 years old" when I talk about it.

The reason that I'm bringing that up is because, when reading about people who finally come forward with a history of abuse, a lot of people won't believe them. I mean, if they were abused, why didn't they come forward sooner, right? Why did they wait so long?

I can't speak for every abuse victim, but I know why I never pursued any sort of action against the people who sexually abused me (yeah - there was more than one. Three, to be exact.). First - my memories are screwed. Like, they are so disjointed and all over the place, it's just a disaster trying to put them in any sort of order. Apparently this is not uncommon with childhood trauma. When everything is a mess in your life, it remains a mess in your mind for a very, very long time.

The worst memory that I have is really, really bad...and then it's just blackness. Like - I literally cannot remember past a certain point. I can guess what happened based on my unfortunately very vivid recollection of what I do remember. I'm pretty sure I know what happened.  But I'll never really be sure. The most vivid part of that memory is waking up the next day and thinking something along the lines of, "I really didn't like that.  I don't want to do that again. But I don't want to make ***** mad."

I decided to turn it into a game. I found string and I put it across my bedroom door and I told everyone that my room was now a museum, and no one was allowed to cross the red velvet rope to get inside. I then moved a pillow and blankets into my closet, told everyone it was my "fort," and that's where I started sleeping.

The thing is - I didn't even realize that I was being abused. I mean, if you knew that you were being abused, you'd be like, oh hey! Stop that! You're abusing me! Or something...right?

But...when you're young and naive and trusting and really, just a kid...you literally have no idea what the hell is going on. For me, I just knew that I was uncomfortable. And I didn't want anyone to feel bad about me being uncomfortable, so I just...worked around it.

Our family also had deep Southern roots, and those roots require that you keep up appearances, and you never, EVER let anyone know that anything is wrong.

When life was probably at it's worst in our household (I don't know exactly when - when I was 8?), the Department of Children and Family Services came to see me at school, and pulled me out of class for an interview. They wanted to know about life at home. Was it good? Did I feel safe? Did I want to talk about it? Did I know how my brother got that black eye?

It's good. I feel safe. There's nothing to talk about. I think he fell down.

When I got up to leave, I could see the sweaty outline of my handprints on the table and I remember feeling terrified that they would be able to tell from that that I was nervous, and lying.

I mean - think about that. Life at home is absolute hell, and I was scared that the people who wanted to help me might find out. Because abusive people just screw up everything about the way you think and what's supposed to be normal. Because they're abusive.

A few years later, in a family therapy session, I told my mom about the sexual abuse. She loudly declared that I was manipulative and lying and that I was trying to destroy our family and her life. So...you know...telling someone didn't really turn out so great.

Years later, I know people that know and love *****. And if I really got into this history, they would be hurt. I don't want to hurt people. And, I'm pretty sure that they wouldn't believe me anyway. After all, the ***** that I was so afraid of so many years ago, is not the person that they know today. And besides, the official stance from my family is that life when I was a kid was practically the Brady Bunch.

Everything was awesome, we swear.

So, in a nutshell, why do I think people don't come forward? Because their memories are chaotic, and people will use that against them. Because they literally may not have had any idea at the time that what was happening was abusive. Because telling someone  might be worse than what's actually happening...or you might think that it could be worse. And because, when you finally do decide to tell somebody about it, the flat out refusal to believe what you say hurts so much, why on earth would you ever want to talk about it again? I mean - what's the point? So you can relive the traumatic event and people can call you a liar?

No thanks.

But then...you know...you get to a place where you feel like maybe, if you talk about what happened to you, then other people will feel ok talking about their experience, and you can all hold each other up during the healing process, because you are absolutely not alone, and that's really comforting to know.

And then somebody is like, "Well why didn't you say something sooner? I mean, if it really happened, why didn't you call the police or something? I just don't believe this really happened."

And the reason is because it's just not that simple.  And until you have been completely violated by the people that you trust most in the world, you're never going to know how you would react. You're never going to know what it's like to be on this path. The very best thing that you can probably do is listen, and try not to loudly declare the million reasons why your own life experience dictates that someone with a completely different life experience must be a liar.


I wrote a while back about being the subject of a LOT of local gossip and rumors, and how painful it was to be the subject of such horrible things. At the time, I didn't get into specifics, but in addition to the emotional toll, the financial toll was pretty severe. I own a business that struggles pretty regularly, but is growing - financially, we do just a little bit better every single year.

When the worst of the rumors hit, we had the worst month that we'd ever had, in over 5 years of business. Business that month declined over 50%. In addition to not being able to take paychecks that month, we added the cost of doctor's visits and medication for me, because the stress of the situation was so severe. During this time, lots of people told me that the best course of action was to "just ignore" the rumors. Unfortunately, it wasn't possible. Rumors were literally affecting every corner of my life.

As our business started to recover, and as I started to recover, I found this folktale:

There was once a young fellow with a nasty problem: he talked too much about other people. He could not help himself. Whenever he heard a story about somebody he knew, and sometimes about somebody he did not know, he just had to tell it to his friends. Since he was in business, he heard quite a lot of rumors and stories. He loved the attention he got, and was delighted when they laughed because of the way he told his “anecdotes,” which he sometimes embellished with little details he invented to make them funnier and juicier. Other than that, he was really a pleasant, goodhearted man. One day he heard something about another businessman in town. Of course he felt compelled to share what he had heard with his colleagues, who told it to their friends, who told it to people they knew, who told it to their wives, who spoke with their friends and their neighbors. It went around town, till the unhappy businessman who was the main character in the story heard it. He ran to the rabbi of the town, and wailed and complained that he was ruined!

 Nobody would like to deal with him after this. His good name and his reputation were gone with the wind

Now this rabbi knew his customers, so to speak, and he decided to summon the man who loved to tell stories. If he was not the one who started them, he might at least know who did.

When the nice man with the nasty problem heard from the rabbi how devastated his colleague was, he felt truly sorry. He honestly had not considered it such a big deal to tell this story, because he had heard it was true; the rabbi could ask anyone. The rabbi sighed.

“True, not true, that really makes no difference! You just cannot tell stories about people. This is all lashon hara and hotzaat shem ra, slander, and it’s like murder—you kill a person’s reputation.” He said a lot more, and the man who started the rumor now felt really bad and sorry. “What can I do to make it undone?” he sobbed. “I will do anything you say!”
The rabbi looked at him. “Do you have any feather pillows in your house?” “Rabbi, I am not poor; I have many feather pillows. But what do you want me to do, sell them?”
“No, just bring me one.”
The man was mystified, but he returned a bit later to the rabbi’s study with a nice fluffy pillow under his arm. The rabbi opened the window and handed him a knife. “Cut it open!”
“But Rabbi, here in your study? It will make a mess!”
“Do as I say!”
And the man cut the pillow. A cloud of feathers came out. They landed on the chairs and on the bookcase, on the clock, on the cat which jumped after them. They floated over the table and into the teacups, on the rabbi and on the man with the knife, and a lot of them flew out of the window in a big swirling, whirling trail.
The rabbi waited ten minutes. Then he ordered the man: “Now bring me back all the feathers, and stuff them back in your pillow. All of them, mind you. Not even one may be missing!”

The man stared at the rabbi in disbelief. “That is impossible, Rabbi. The ones here in the room I might get, most of them, but the ones that flew out of the window are gone. Rabbi, I can’t do that, you know I cannot!”
“Yes,” said the rabbi and nodded gravely, “that is how it is: once a rumor, a gossipy story, a ‘secret,’ leaves your mouth, you do not know where it ends up. It flies on the wings of the wind, and you can never, ever get it back.”
 It seems to be human nature to believe the worst about someone and to share that news with our friends....neighbors....customers. We're so ready to assume the worst regarding another’s actions, allowing ourselves to believe that the words we're throwing to the wind won't really matter. We seem blissfully unaware or uncaring that the gossip we speak can — and often does — significant damage to the subject of the gossip.
I'm not innocent of this - not by any means. It was only when this touched my own life so painfully that I truly realized the damage that "just words" can do.

I had an art show recently, and shared the paintings that had been part of working through the past year's events. People asked me about the feathers and the elephants. The elephants had to do with two things. I had watched a movie (Frank - probably one of my favorite movies) where the central character spent his entire life hiding inside a large, paper mache mask. At the time, I felt like all of my pain and humiliation was so visible to the world, and I just wanted to be able to go about my life without people seeing me cry all.of.the.time. I wanted to live inside of a mask. 

I was also reading a lot about the social structure of elephants and how these herds of elephants would just...take care of each other. They would risk their own lives to save each other, they traveled to honor their dead, they stood up together in the face of extreme danger....I felt so betrayed in my own life by people I had considered friends...I wanted that "elephant bond."

And the feathers...well...feathers are words, gone with the wind. At the beginning of my show, I placed 100 feathers around the room. At the end of the night, there were 14. I found some later...stepped on, wet, twisted....not even remotely resembling the original feathers that I placed around the room.

Not even remotely resembling the truth. 

And the rest of the feathers...I'll never get them back.

I hate that the past year was the way that it was. But I'm also grateful that I could learn such a powerful lesson. Our words are never "just words." They have the power to lift people up, and they have the power to tear people apart, and once they are spoken, they can never be taken back.  My hope is that I will always carry this lesson with me, and that my words will be spoken with only good intentions.

Actually...I know I'll always carry this lesson with me. It means that much.