Archive for 2012

An Open Letter to Dr. Tuigim

I have known you for a long time.  I loved you as soon as I met you.  You are super nice, hilarious, and brilliant.  I have so many fond memories from high school, classes we had together, marching band moments.  You could and still can always make me laugh.  You are the best shopping partner.  I have too many nights to remember that we partied together…

Which leads me to my next point.  Because you had the courage to admit that you had a drinking problem, you gave me the courage to do the same.  I don’t know if I would have done it had you not done it first.  You could never really grasp how grateful I am for that.  Thank you.

You’ve also “fixed” me because you “get me.”  I’ve seen too many doctors to count, attempting in vain to find the right medicinal cocktail to balance my bipolar disorder.  It was never right until you.  You understand.  You listen, you really listen.  You care.  As soon as you prescribed my new medication, I noticed a huge difference.  I’ve never felt more me.  If that makes sense.  The medication I was on before I saw you was making me feel numb, emotionless.  I couldn’t write.  I couldn’t do anything.  Because of your insight and knowledge and the fact that you truly care, I feel like I’ve gotten my life back.  In a sense, you’ve saved my life.  This might sound over-the-top, but it’s true.  I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately.  I don’t think I’d be where I am now without you.

So I just wanted to thank you for being my friend.  My doctor.  My inspiration to change.

Merry Christmas, Dr. Tuigim.

The Story of Gary

Gary Gibson likes Facebook.

Even more than I like it.  And I’m a hardcore junkie.  He likes that he’s met so many “cool people” on the social network, people he’d never have met otherwise.  People like me!

Gary likes Facebook, but he loves his family on a whole other level.  His son Brandon is 7.  He also has a daughter, Melissa, 30.  Gary is 54.  

He never thought he and wife, Char, would have children together.  Char had 5 miscarriages before they received the blessing of Brandon.  People often ask Gary if he is Brandon’s grandpa.  Well, sometimes they ask.  More often, they assume.  Gary gets a kick out of that.

He was 36 when he got married to Char.  She was 28.  When Brandon was born, he was 47, and Char was 40.  They were very surprised at first that she was even pregnant to begin with.  “We had given up trying just because of her physical nature. Didn’t use any kind of birth control - didn’t think it was feasible. I was probably more excited than she was. The biggest concern at that point was, is she going to be able to carry it?”  Due to all of Char’s miscarriages, the couple was very nervous about the pregnancy.

“For a lot of those years before Brandon happened…quite honestly, I…wasn’t too ‘gung ho’…for some reason years later…a month or two before Brandon…I had been doing some soul searching….realizing I’d been pretty selfish…started to pray about it pretty hard…if it happened, I told God I’d be the best husband and father I could be…”  Gary is concentrating hard as he relives those heartfelt prayers he sent God’s way before Brandon was born.
“I feel very strongly that it’s because of my own desire and mental framework…I prayed and I was sincere about it…it’s been a blessing at my age now,” Gary says.

Of his first child, Melissa, he says, “I was a single father when she was growing up…I wasn’t a good father…when she was 4 or 5 her mother gave me custody. I raised her all those years…I really just wasn’t ready,” he admits.  “When I got custody of Missy I was married, but it wasn’t Missy’s mother. It was a strain on my marriage.”  Gary says that although the fact that he had a child didn’t cause his first divorce, it did prove difficult.  “With Brandon, of course you learn…”

“For the most part,” Gary attests, “I think I’ve done a good job…I wouldn’t give him up for the world.  But I think about, if it’s fair to him…” his voice trails off as he refers to his being an older parent and starting the child-rearing process all over again.

There have been other obstacles in the course of Gary’s marriage to Char.  “My wife just had her second knee replacement.  Before we started dating, she was in a major car accident.  A propane truck ran a four-way stop and broadsided her, crushed her right foot.  She walked with a pretty bad limp…it caused arthritis in her knees.  The second replacement was worse,” he says.  I can tell by the way he speaks of Char that he loves her very deeply.

Despite the trials life has presented, the unknown factors with pregnancy, the physical and emotional pain a severe accident brings into one’s life, and the ups and downs of fatherhood, “Right now life’s good,” Gary says. 

“I take it day by day.  I don’t take anything for granted.”
I always look forward to Gary’s Facebook posts.



Say that name more than a week ago and no one would have flinched.  Now, it is ingrained in our brains and on our hearts forever.  

It is so unfair.  It makes me so angry I can’t even find the right words.  The right words will never manifest for any of us.  It’s just not fair.

Parents should never have to bury their children.  Especially in this case, a case of senseless violence.  How can we as parents feel safe in this world, even sending our children to school?  I’m so afraid.  There are knots in my stomach as I type this.  What is this world coming to?

Like always, mental illness becomes the focal point as soon as the dust has settled surrounding the details of the murder itself.  Murders.  Children.  So many young children, and then many of the adults who cared for, protected, and educated them.  They are and will forever remain heroes.  And the sweet children who died at the hands of this cold-blooded killer will forever be angels until they are reunited once again with the mommies and daddies and friends and relatives who will always love them.

Our country is mourning right now.  This should never have happened.  Nothing like this should ever happen.  As always, right alongside the raised awareness of mental illness, comes the debate about gun control.  When is enough, enough?  When will we actually stop to take the time to discuss these pertinent issues when it’s not the aftermath of a tragedy?
Now is the time.

Now is the time to focus on issues that have been swept under the rug for far too long.  We need to talk about gun control.  No one is trying to take away your right to hunt.  But there is no reason anyone needs weapons designed for assault.  I know there are many out there who disagree with me.  But I don’t see why any of us need guns that are only designed to kill people and not hunt for food.

Mental illness is obviously something I feel strongly about.  We should be talking about mental illness nonstop in this country.  It affects everyone, whether or not you are personally diagnosed.  The gunman is said to have been afflicted, and this has affected everyone.

Details are slowly emerging regarding motive, background, and upbringing of the killer.  Regardless, we will never have the exact answers we want, because there aren’t any.  There are never sensible answers when it comes to mindless acts of violence such as this.

So all we can do…all we can do is remember the victims…the children who should never have had to deal with this, not in this lifetime, not ever.  The teachers such as Victoria Soto who hid her students in the closet while she perished at the hands of the gunman.  I have chills right now just typing this.  She is a true hero.  She will forever be.  I’d like to think we all would have done the same thing she did, but I don’t know.  I am in awe.

If you have a heart, and a soul, this story about Sandy Hook has touched you.  It’s touched all of us on a very visceral level, hit us in places and in ways we don’t like to generally talk about, because it is just too painful.  I want to be informed, but the more I learn about this story, the less I want to know.  I have a six-year-old…
It’s just too painful.

The victims need to be remembered.  Looking at pictures of these children, however…I can’t.  I just can’t.  I’ve been praying for these families nonstop since the news broke.  Praying for the gunman’s family.  Praying for our nation.  This is not a political issue.  Now, more than ever, we need to unite.  If something like this doesn’t unite us, then what will?  It’s not a red/blue matter.  It is a heart matter.

If you believe in a higher power, please pray.  If you don’t, please send positive thoughts to everyone affected by this terrible tragedy.  Right now, it’s all we can do.

Rest in peace, Sweet Angels.

I’d like to talk about my family this week.  From the outside, I think we look “normal.”  We definitely didn’t start out that way.

I met Andy when I was twenty-six.  I was wild.  I’d been dating everyone in the tri-county area for…a while.  By the time he came along, I was done with men.  One of my friends wanted to set us up, but I didn’t want to be set up.  I reluctantly agreed to meet him.
As soon as I saw those dimples, I was a goner.

Andy and I dated for a few months, but I was getting ready to move away (which is why I didn’t want to be set up) so I took steps to break up with him.

Then I found out I was pregnant.

It was rough.  We didn’t get back together just because I was carrying his child.  I’d already determined marriage wasn’t for me.  Well, neither were kids, but…the universe and my uterus had other plans.

Andy still came with me to every single doctor’s appointment.  We did the Lamaze thing (I don’t recommend it.  At least, not in the awkward circumstance with your ex-boyfriend) and overall, he was great.  We just had other issues, and I wasn’t ready to commit to him because of that.

Adele was born on February 12, 2006.  She was perfect.  Andy bought me flowers.  I’ll never forget how wonderful I felt after I had that baby.  The Vicodin had nothing to do with it.  Okay, maybe a little.

Andy began sleeping on the couch in my apartment to help with the baby.  We’d wake in the night together and stay up with her.  

One night it happened.

We were back in love.  I was ecstatic.  Sure, the pre-marital counseling we went through told us eleventy times the odds are against us because first came the baby carriage, then came love…then marriage.  But so far, so good.
Eleanor was born on December 31, 2008.  I loved it because Andy got to experience every single thing with me during this pregnancy.  We were a family.  

My kids couldn’t be more different.  Eleanor is a ball of energy like Andy.  Adele is already a writer like me.  It’s been amazing to watch them grow up.  I never thought I’d have this, and not a day goes by that I don’t fully appreciate everything about it.

Andy and I are also polar opposites.  He’s country, I’m city.  He’s laid-back, I’m an overanalyzing lunatic.  I think we balance each other out, though.  I never thought I’d end up with someone like him, but I feel so lucky that I did.  I love and cherish everything about him, and I need to tell him that more often.  We have so much fun every day, just joking around, being goofy.  Sure, we fight.  But making up is great.

So while I might not have the most unique family on the planet, it is very special to me.  I love them all so much my heart could burst just thinking about them.  This almost didn’t happen.

I thank sweet merciful Jesus every day that I was careless with my birth control.

An Interview with the Young Family

Caleb's Dream Trip

The Beatles said all you need is love. 

Being in the presence of the Young family, I have never seen that sentiment come to life more.  I used to teach with Kent Young and always found him to be a great friend, wonderful listener, and from the way he spoke of his family, a true hero.  He is a great husband and father.  I recently had the pleasure of meeting his family, and let me just say - they are an inspiration.  I don’t know that I’ve ever been so moved by such a pure, genuine love that strongly radiates among the entire family.

Kent’s wife, Janelle (who happens to be beautiful), teaches pre-school. So she’s also a saint.  She’s an artist, too, who is vibrant, funny, and full of life.  She, along with the rest of the family, likes to read.  She also likes to have fun while being a devoted mother and wife.

Sophia, Kent and Janelle’s daughter, (who also happens to be beautiful and is the spitting image of Mom) is 13…but she is anything but typical.  Sure, she likes to do the same stuff her friends do; she likes being a cheerleader, she likes to dance in her basement where she’s hung posters of her favorite musicians – Greyson Chance seems to be the fave.  She is also, however, equipped with a maturity beyond her years.  She is very maternal when it comes to her brother Caleb, 23, who has Tetrasomy 18p. 
Caleb has to be one of the most special people ever in existence.  Kent said his parents and sister really helped with Caleb when he was little, when he spent 7 years in and out of a children’s hospital.  He did therapeutic horseback riding when he was younger.  He comes home often for visits, as he lives in a group home and works at a food bank, sorting and helping to deliver groceries to the elderly.  He also loves the Jesters drama group he is a part of, which puts on a variety show featuring special needs adults every spring.
And Caleb just happens to be the most loving human being on the planet.  I feel truly blessed to have met him.  It is impossible to be in a bad mood when he’s around.  He simply loves everyone, and he’ll tell you that.  He is very affectionate and kind, with such a fun, uplifting personality.  He is a self-proclaimed “ladies man.”  He likes llamas.  Said his mom about Caleb’s phone tendencies, “He likes to role play on the phone.  He becomes a doctor who takes care of people or animals, or a magician in the circus…his imagination is amazing!”  Janelle added, “Aunt Kris usually fills this need in his life - she is now better than me at it!”  He is just such a pure, good-hearted person.  It might sound strange, but when you’re around him…

You can feel the presence of God.

It is obvious since I’ve spent time with Caleb and the rest of the family that they realize what a miracle he is.  This family loves each other fiercely, and they teared up more than once while talking about it.  I really felt that it was a privilege to witness such a display of love and caring.  I think that’s rare in the world today.

Caleb’s sister Sophia had an idea a while back.  Caleb has always wanted to swim with the dolphins.  His family said he has never asked for anything – not once – in his life.  But he really wants to swim with dolphins.  So Sophia began making and selling dolphin sun catchers to raise money for Caleb to go to Florida where they have a program that allows those with special needs to swim with the dolphins.  It’s supposed to be very healing.  Sophia needs $15,000 total in order to pay for her brother to do this.  Especially after meeting Caleb, I want to help more than ever.  And you can, too.  If you’d like to contribute, you can buy sun catchers for $3 each by sending money to:  Caleb’s Dream Trip c/o Bippus State Bank, P.O. Box 519, Roanoke, IN, 46783.  Sophia has also set up a Facebook page titled “Caleb’s Dream Trip” where there is more information.

I love this family.  And I would love for Caleb to be able to achieve his dream and swim with the dolphins.  It is the Christmas season…the spirit of giving is in the air.  And even though we know from the Youngs that all you need is love…
Sun catchers make great stocking stuffers.

Kylie’s Story

I grew up with Kylie Jenkins. She and sister used to come over to my house and we’d play together. I hung out with her once in a while in high school, but not too often. We have recently reconnected and she wanted to share her story of overcoming many obstacles in her life.

On October 11, 1997,Jenkins, of St. Marys, watched her 36-year-old mother lose her life to breast cancer. She woke up to her stepfather tapping on her shoulder telling her that her mother is gone. “I looked over at her to make sure it was real, and she laid there so peaceful with one tear falling from her left eye. At that moment, I lost it. I had never experienced anything so painful in my life of 18 years. I didn’t care about anything. I was in a zone where I felt like everything was a dream. All I wanted to do was go to her grave and lay there and when I wasn’t there, I had to be at home where she died because I felt closer to her there,” said Jenkins.

 At some point, her sister got Jenkins to leave and she never went back. She moved to Lima and began what would be some of the worst mistakes in her life. “I felt so vulnerable and so alone. I began drinking so much that I remember a time when I started crying because no one would give me money to buy beer. Everyone was talking about me and couldn’t believe I was so upset that I couldn’t have a beer. It was so crazy because I had never had an addiction to anything in my life,” Jenkins said.

 Soon after, she met someone who made her feel happy and wanted. “I actually felt okay for the first time since she died. A few months into the relationship, he began hitting me. I remember the first time it happened. I was so afraid. I never thought I would be in that situation. I thought it would never happen again, but I was so wrong. It got worse actually, and before I knew it, I was in so deep and I didn’t know how to get out.” 

This was the man Jenkins learned everything from - and by everything - everything she’d never imagined she’d ever see. She began drinking heavily and smoking weed.  Soon she began selling crack because he did, and she felt like this is what she needed to do to be closer to him and the people she began to consider my close friends and family. “I knew everything about crack. I knew how to cook it, cut it up, and weigh it. I’d spend all night selling with addicts running in and out at all hours of the night with not a care in the world. I wasn’t worried about getting caught even though everyone told us to slow down. All I knew was, I was making money,” said Jenkins. 

Eventually he went to prison and Jenkins was left all alone.  At that point she figured she should stop. Jenkins tried working but the money just didn’t come as fast as it did when she was selling drugs. So she began selling on her own again. “This time, I took it to a smaller town, my hometown. I was making more money than I ever thought. It was coming in so fast and going out even faster. I was making trips to Columbus 2-3 times a day because I was running out.” During this time, Jenkins met a couple boys from Columbus who she brought back with her. They had their own dope and started selling it out of her spot so she got mad. They weren’t giving her any of the money either, so she had to stop it. “I had a friend in Lima that was/is very much not afraid to hurt somebody or rob someone, so I set them up. I let him rob them and we split the money. I didn’t even care that I left them all alone in a city they knew nothing about, with no car and no phone. All I cared about was my money.”

Sooner or later though, Jenkins’ luck ran out. She was drinking down the street from her grandparents with a friend from Detroit and her sister called to tell her that the police were there towing her car and looking to serve her with five secret indictments for trafficking. “I knew my time was up, so I had my sister pack a bag and pick me and my friend up. He was going to take me to Detroit to hide out until I was ready to face my charges. As we were heading out of town, though, the police surrounded the car and took me in. I was questioned all night. They wanted to know who I was getting my drugs from. Of course I wasn’t interested in telling on anyone so I sat there all night. Eventually I was charged with five counts of trafficking in crack-cocaine. I was sentenced to 4-6 months in the WORTH Center, a rehabilitation center for non-violent offenders.”

 Jenkins wasn’t too thrilled of the thought of being locked up, but it was better than prison.  So she did her time and told them what they wanted to hear. At that time, she didn’t feel as if she had a problem. She definitely didn’t have a drug problem/addiction and that’s what most of the women were in there for, so it really bothered her. She often wondered why she was in there if she wasn’t addicted to drugs so the case managers called her addiction money. 

Eventually Jenkins was released. She didn’t even do the full four months because she successfully completed the program early. She was so happy to be getting out. All she could think about was her boyfriend, the one who she was told to stay away from. “I tried to focus, but something kept drawing me back to him,” Jenkins said. “I went back to my grandparents’ home to serve my probation. I found a job, but eventually took off and ran. I couldn’t stand the 9:00 curfew and not being allowed to leave town. I wasn’t ready to be under such tight constraints. The one person I was strictly forbidden to see was the one and only person I couldn’t bear to be away from.”

“I ran for two years, using friends’ names if I came in contact with the police, and not being able to stay at a job too long for fear they would find me by my social security number.  Of course I began selling drugs again because this was the only way I could survive. I started drinking a lot more as well as using other drugs while partying with new people I met,” Jenkins said.

“I’m so thankful I never really picked up a strong addiction to anything or I might be worse off. In this time, I was involved in two drug raids, but was never taken in. I still to this day cannot understand why I wasn’t caught. Maybe there was some hidden reason? Perhaps some things I still needed to experience (good or bad). I don’t know, but I was never caught.”

Eventually, Jenkins was caught. She wasn’t expecting it at all. She went into work one morning to set up before she opened. She was the only one out in the front when the door opened. She looked up, thinking, ‘What are these people doing? We’re not even open.’ It was her probation officer though, along with a few officers from the sheriff’s department. She asked how Jenkins had been and Jenkins asked her how long she was going in for. “I let one tear fall. It was a relief because now I knew I could get my life together like I’d always wanted to, but also I was sad because I did not want to go to prison for 2 ½ years.”

Jenkins did go to prison though, and it wasn’t fun. It wasn’t too scary though, either, like she’d imagined it to be. Nothing at all like the movies made it out to be. “It was actually more annoying than anything being surrounded by almost 2,000 women that had problems! I slept right beside women that were serving life sentences for murder. I remember entering into the gates like it was yesterday. It was raining that morning which made it even more depressing.”

“It looked like a little village or something with cottages and old buildings lining the sidewalks and people running around in a hurry, but in a hurry for what? We were in prison now, what could they possibly have to hurry for?” She soon found out though….  She basically used her time to her advantage. She worked, prayed, jogged, read, and listened to others’ stories. She wanted to make sure she was ready to be successful once she was released. After listening to some of those stories of those that had been in for the second, third, or even fourth time, she wanted to make sure she never made the same mistakes again. 

“After serving about five months, I was given the chance to prove myself to the judge by appearing before him to ask for an early release. The judge, however, did not think that I was too convincing and sent me back to jail.” Jenkins sat for another three weeks or so and then one day the officer walked into her cell and told her to pack my things up, “You’re going home.”

“I was so happy and thankful that I was given a second chance to make something of myself. After all, I had wanted this all along. So again, I was placed on very strict probation/parole and this time I took it very serious. I knew there was no way I could ever put this all behind me if I didn’t complete the probation. I found a job immediately and got my own place with the help of my aunt and uncle.”

Eventually Jenkins met her husband now of 10 years and went to college and had two wonderful children. She is so grateful for the chance to basically start over and be the woman that she had always intended on becoming. She now has a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and an AA in Marketing. “I have since then gotten my record expunged/sealed and am now working for a very successful company and raising our children alongside my husband. Things haven’t always been easy, but we’ve made the best of it and continue to strive to be the best parents we can be. Not too many people can say they were given a second chance after committing crimes and society often looks down on those who have. For that, I am truly thankful. I know my mother would be proud of me now.”

Corey's Story

Corey Paul has been through a lot.  He went through seven surgeries in which he couldn't walk for two months each, because his tendons did not grow in his legs and he was extremely flatfooted.  Over the course of most of fifth grade through the end of his freshman year, he could not walk and was bullied.  “I was scared to go to school every day.  I kept telling my parents I wanted to move schools, but I never told them why,” Paul said.  “Every day when I went to school, my name was ‘cripple.’ I was pushed out of my wheelchair or pushed into lockers when I was on crutches.” Paul said people would take his book bag and empty it all over the hall or take stuff out of it that he needed.  He added, “I was slapped and hit a couple times. I have had death threats saying not to come back to school the next year.  When my grandpa died everyone asked me, ‘How's your dead grandfather doing?’”  

Paul said he didn't know how to handle it.  He went to bed every day soon as he got home from school. “I felt like I had no one.”  He said his mom came in his room one day and he was bawling, but he had never told her he was bullied. He eventually told her he couldn't take it anymore. Paul’s mother moved him from Shawnee High School to Spencerville High School.  He said his mom also suggested he start going to church, but she wasn't going to make him. “I moved to Spencerville and started going to church, and I had the biggest support group ever. All the seniors my sophomore year were my best friends, and everyone talked to me.  It was weird being the kid no one talked to, to everyone talking to me.”

Paul said he had wanted to tell his story for an assignment in speech class, and most
of his class was “amazed.”  He said none of the students would have ever known he used to be disabled. Said Paul, “My speech teacher, Mrs. Klosterman, has been such a role model.  She has trained me into going into motivational speaking. I'm currently trying to speak to different schools about bullying and helping other kids who go through bullying.”  

According to, “Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”  The fact that Corey Paul overcame this very sad, very prevalent occurrence is amazing.  Unfortunately, many in Corey Paul’s position are unable to rise above bullying and end up taking their own lives.  Paul said, “Most people don't even realize they get bullied.  It’s just getting worse and worse and people have to start standing up.”

Lastly, Paul said, “I have gratitude for everyone who supported me in my new school, and the news for helping me spread my story.  I am also thankful for my church group and the teen advisory board in Lima for helping me spread my story.”

Mary's Story

Mary Johnson grew up in a small town, in what she calls “an extremely supportive and what some would consider pretty ‘cushy’ household.”  High school, said Johnson, was “amazing” for her; she always had a lot of friends and has always enjoyed socializing.  Johnson said, “I probably started drinking when I was 16 or so, and it wasn't long after that, I would smoke pot. Smoking weed led to me trying mushrooms, ecstasy and acid. By the time I was 18, I had done pretty much every drug out there aside from opiates.”

Johnson said it might sound like denial, but she was always able to do drugs recreationally. “I could do some blow at a party and not want for it for another 6+ months, that sort of thing.” When she was 19 she decided to try college, so she went to the University of Michigan.  Johnson said that lasted a year because she was too interested in the social scene and sleeping in than going to school. She moved home and worked odd and end jobs. When she was 20 she met a guy from Detroit.  She moved in with him a month later.
Johnson’s parents and friends were confused and devastated. After a few weeks of living with “this pretty much complete stranger,” Johnson discovered that the guy was a hardcore heroin addict. Alone and embarrassed, she didn’t know what to do.  She felt trapped. “My decision to move so abruptly left me feeling like I couldn't tell anyone what was really going on, so I lied and faked as if everything was going okay and that we were making a life for ourselves in Detroit.”

 After almost a year of overdoses, physical and mental abuse, and insanity, Johnson gave up and decided to “show” her boyfriend what it was like to live with a drug addict. So she tried heroin for the first time. “It was surreal how low I had put myself. I didn't even recognize who I was anymore.” This was not the life her parents, friends, family or she had envisioned.  By the time she was 21, Turner was a “full-blown, need-to-use-every-day addict with no morals left.” 

Things took a turn.  Johnson said, “Divine intervention occurred and this guy got arrested, giving my parents a chance to swoop in and ‘rescue’ me.” For 2 years, they tried everything from methadone clinics, therapy, “lockdowns” at their house, “tough love.”  Turner said she would go a couple months clean and then relapse. “I could never make it past 2 months without ‘going back out’ breaking everyone's hearts for the millionth time.”
When she was 24, Johnson reconnected with a boy whom she had always had a crush on.  To everyone, it seemed that things were finally starting to turn around. She would still use occasionally on the weekends, but thought she had it under control and that she was “getting away” with it. After about a year, she moved to Ann Arbor with her boyfriend.  Within 2 months, she was using more than she’d ever used in her life. Turner said she was “spending every penny I made on dope. Conniving, stealing, doing whatever I could to feed my addiction.” She said her lifestyle was killing her and every relationship she had. 

“Josh and I were fighting every day, my parents were so depressed they couldn't even come see me, sleep, or enjoy their lives.” She had just turned 25 in September, and a few days after her birthday, she overdosed for the third time.  Her boyfriend Josh found her in the apartment.  Luckily, she survived. Johnson said, “This being the final straw for everyone, we broke up, I moved home, and went through the most excruciating detox ever. I slowly began to piece my life back together. I went to meetings, began to make amends to my parents, reconnected with my old real friends, and began the long journey of building shattered trust.”  Days turned into sober weeks and sober weeks turned into months.  After getting many sober months under her belt, Johnson made the decision to fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse. She enrolled in school in September and is pursuing her passion.

 “I pass tests with A's, have the trust and love of my parents, have self-gratification, respect from my friends and family. And for the first time maybe ever, I can say every aspect of my life is good. I actually have a future,” Johnson said.  “And I got my boyfriend back!” she added.  “It has been a long, hard road, to say the least, but today life is good!”

Johnson recently celebrated a year sober from all opiates.
“I don't want to jinx myself,” Johnson said.  “Addiction is a wicked, terrifying thing.  I'm not saying I'm ‘fixed’ or safe. I sometimes will have dreams about using or catch myself fantasizing about it.” She added, “But what's keeping me going strong is knowing that I don't have to use. And regardless, I've come a hell of a long way from where I was.”

Gratitude for Our Veterans

My dad was in Vietnam.  He never talks about it.  The only time I heard him talk about it (until now) was when I was bartending (one of my many gigs) and this other guy at the bar initiated a conversation with my dad.  Between washing wine glasses and making mixed drinks, I caught bits and pieces of what my dad was saying.  I knew they were in an intense conversation when I saw that my dad was smoking.  (You could still smoke in bars then.)  He smokes cigars sometimes, but the only time I see him smoke a cigarette is when he’s in an intense discussion.

My dad was drafted into the Army in August, 1967, and served through August 1969, (active duty).  He was in transportation and drove a 2 1/2 ton truck.  From January 20, 1968, to January 20, 1969, he served in Vietnam.

Seeing actual combat and mounds of dead Vietnamese soldiers along the road left an indelible impression.  He said, “Children who were 9 or 10 years old were fighting in the war.  Thank God I did not have to face that situation.  The ones I dealt with wanted food, which we gave some of our C-rations to.”
He said, “I don't remember how early the day started, but usually it was about a 15-hour day on the average. Checked out our trucks to make sure the tires and everything were good and where we were going.  We hauled anything from artillery to beer, oil to food. After the trucks were unloaded we had to go to a holding area where many Vietnamese would gather to try and sell us clothes, junk or ‘themselves.’’  Then the long trip back…and if lucky no ambushes, which would be at least once every 3 days.”  He said once they got everything ready for the next day, they ate, showered, and had a beer to relax.

Walt Mangen (my dad) said, “When I was drafted, I, of course, was not thrilled, but was ready for the experience. When told we were heading to Vietnam, I was plenty worried since it was about the only thing on the news.”

Of his overall experience, he said, “That experience will change anyone, and some never have recovered mentally.  I think most people understand we live in a country that has more freedom, and are thankful to the veterans.”

Lou Pothast served in the Army from 1969-1971.  He was drafted and sent to Vietnam.  Pothast became a squad leader in the infantry.  Jungle combat was what Pothast encountered in his role in the war; he patrolled the jungle for enemy positions.
Pothast said of his feelings when he got drafted, that he was too young to know better or be scared.  He also said of the overall experience, “I learned to detach myself from feeling and situations.”  The fact that such an experience can still have quite a profound effect on someone 40 years later, I would think would make anyone grateful that we have such brave individuals in this world who would go through that for us.

Paul Anderson was in the Ohio Army National Guard from 2000 to 2008.  He was a Combat Engineer, but while in Iraq, assigned to do route clearance.  He said, “For our daily missions we would be assigned a route that needed to be cleared, and we would drive looking for IEDs, aka ‘road side bombs.’” 

When Anderson was in Operation Iraqi Freedom, he was stationed at Camp Liberty in Baghdad.  Of anything that left a permanent impression on Anderson while overseas, he said, “The one year in Iraq definitely left a permanent impression. Just seeing how the people there lived, and how much hate the older generation there had against any foreigner.”
Anderson said, “The day-to-day routine was simple. Depending on what time your mission was, it was just like a day-to-day routine back home. Wake up, eat breakfast, get ready for work, go to work, return home (hopefully without incident), eat dinner, go to bed. There was 
some downtime throughout the day where we could call home, go to the store, or play 
Anderson said of his decision to join the National Guard, “I was very proud of myself. I would have never guessed that it would have changed the way I live my life.  Before I didn't have a care in the world. Now I am pretty cautious about certain things. I really hate crowded places now. I have seen what can happen in a crowded place and it isn't pretty.” 
As far as gratitude goes, one thing Anderson is thankful for is the money the National Guard offered for joining.

Many veterans do not like talking about their experiences, and I don’t blame them.  With Veterans Day approaching and seeing that we’re focusing on gratitude this month, I only saw it fitting to speak to at least a couple of veterans, because I think we can all agree on the amount of gratitude we have for the men and women, past and present, who have served for our country so that we can be free.

J. Crew, The President and Rural King

So there I was, crying in the middle of Rural King. 

Let me back up.  I found out I was able to see Barack Obama when he came to Lima last week. I was ecstatic - it’s not every day you get this chance.  I knew this would be something I’d never forget.  I found out all the information, where to go and when, and made sure it was okay with Andy, because it was his birthday.  Andy was cool with it.

I decided to wear J. Crew as a shout-out to Mrs. Obama.  I arrived at the school and excitedly/nervously went through all the check points.  Once I got into the gymnasium, my excitement skyrocketed.  The energy in the room was on full blast.  You could just feel it in the air.  Something magical was about to happen. 

As soon as the podium was being prepared, indicating Obama’s imminent arrival, the energy level went up even a few more notches. Several people spoke first before the president came out.  The woman who sang The National Anthem gave me chills that started in my toes and crept up my legs to the tips of my hair.  It was so clear, so full of feeling, and so beautiful.

Then it was showtime.

As soon as Obama started making his way to the stage, the electricity in the room soared.  I felt like a giddy school girl.  The feeling in that room is really indescribable.  Everything Obama said was met with fervent, thunderous applause.  There was such a sense of unity, of heartfelt expression from him, and of approval from everyone else.  I haven’t experienced that since I went to Gay Pride in Columbus a few years ago.  It’s hard to explain. 

Obviously there are tons of issues that we’ll debate until we’re blue in the face.  And we’re passionate about those issues – rightly so.  But when President Obama said things like, “We’re in this together,” and “Everybody has a voice,” it made me feel differently than those political attack ads make me feel – which is annoyed, disgusted, and annoyed some more.  His speech made me think more about all of us – every American – not just every liberal.

Yes, we’ll definitely have disagreements on various issues until the end of time.  I just wish we could all experience, and hold onto, the strong sense of unity, pride, and hope that I got to experience on Friday.

As soon as the event was over, I was on a high.  I felt great; I wanted to see someone, anyone, and tell them how amazing it was to see and hear the president.  Between a family gathering for Andy’s birthday immediately following, and Andy wanting to spend some of his birthday money right after that, I didn’t get a chance to talk about it.

Our family recently moved – like last week – and even though that’s a good thing, I think I’ve had a ball of stress imbedded inside me from that, from trying to meet all kinds of writing deadlines (and worrying, as usual, that anything I write is good) and I think the magnitude of getting to see the president live turned into this catalyst.  So I was at Rural King watching Andy try on various flannel shirts, and I just started crying.  I sort of have a flair for having emotional breakdowns at the most inopportune moments anyway…when emotions hit me, they just hit me, and hard…and I can’t help where I am or what I’m doing.  I think all the emotion that I felt at the event was inside me, waiting to spill over.  What had just actually happened hadn’t hit me yet.

So maybe it just sounds stupid.  And I didn’t start full-blown bawling right away…I really saved that for the ride home.  But there I was, in the middle of Rural King, fully grasping just how important and real this election is.  We hear it all the time, how important voting is…but seeing the president live, in person…I get it.  I really get it.  We are what make up this country…we are all powerful.  I’m not saying everyone should have a cathartic moment in a farming supply store.

But please vote tomorrow.

“When people tell me I’m a hero…I don’t think I’ve done anything heroic,” said Kathy Jeffries.  Last year around the end of October, Jeffries found a lump.  She had a mammogram and ultrasound done, finding a fluid-filled cyst.  The radiologist said they could give it six months and then see how it goes.

“I didn’t know what to do, I was nervous, scared. I’ve never been sick. Ever. Nothing…I asked the doctor if it was his wife, would he have it aspirated right away. He said yes. Looking back, this whole experience is frustrating. I was frustrated I had to put my life in these people’s hands, trusting him. He was factual. I was being emotional.”

“One in a hundred cysts have cancer,” Jeffries said.  “What did I do?  Because I’m so fat?  Because I drink?”  Jeffries biggest fear now is having it come back.  “There are so many unanswered questions…”

Before cancer, Jeffries said, “I was a workaholic… I am so much more chilled out about stuff.  I used to get upset about things, but it’s heping me take a breath and say it really isn’t that urgent. But in a bad way too, I feel my expiration date has been altered.  You know, that bucket list. We were talking about building a house…before I got cancer.”

Jeffries opted for a lumpectomy.  With chemo, she lost her hair, her skin got so dry, and her tongue was burned; she had to watch her mouth for sores.  “I was feeling tired and woozy. Upset to my stomach. I had mild symptoms compared to some people.”  Though her symptoms were “mild” compared to some others, “losing your hair, that’s what makes you a woman.  Having breasts,” Jeffries said.  After her first chemo treatment, it took “14 days, and all my hair was out. It started coming out in clumps, in the shower.  I just went and got it shaved. I started wearing wigs, keeping my head covered. I had a hard time looking at myself without hair. I felt very ugly. I wouldn’t look when I had my hair off. Looking in the mirror without hair was a reminder that I was sick.”
“People see me now and I’m exercising, trying to live my life…on the inside it’s been less than a year; I still have pains from the surgery.  I feel like my brain’s broken.”

Jeffries said, “I’m a caretaker. It’s the nature of who I am. It was really hard to let people take care of me. I felt weak, completely incompetent. I had to be okay with it.  It’s still hard. I should be focusing on my health and not worrying about little things. I worry that people see me as incompetent. I try to swallow my pride and say, life is different. It’s okay to let people do things for me.”

As far as how this affected her marriage, Jeffries said, “It brought us together closer as a couple. It’s completely changed us. I had to let him take care of me and be okay with it. And he did a fabulous job.  It made our relationship stronger…but there are strains taking care of somebody…”
As far as friends are concerned, Jeffries said, “Some stepped up, wanted to do whatever they could…other friends drifted away, didn’t want to talk about it…I don’t want it to define who I am, though it affected more than just my body.  It affected my relationships.”

“The biggest thing that helped me was knowing I’m not alone”, Jeffries said.  To someone who has just been diagnosed, Jeffries said, “Don’t do it alone. Cancer sucks.  I don’t want it to define who I am, but it’s part of my life.  Get checked every three months.  A year ago when I did a half marathon, that’s when I found it.  And now I’m gonna go get ready for my next half marathon.”

As far as gratitude goes, Jeffries said, “The gratitude in my heart is overwhelming. Everyone who’s supported me and helped me…it’s overwhelming. The love I feel… I want to try to pay it back. I’m trying to heal, my body, and my head.  I just want to try to repay everyone who’s helped me. I don’t know how, but I want to try. Just, when you hear the word ‘cancer,’ when it’s in your life, it changes your life forever.”

Let me just start by saying that I never wanted to have kids and never wanted to get married. I didn’t want either, but I especially didn’t want the kid part. I remember in a college literature course reading Jane Eyre and seeing the name “Adele” for the first time, thinking, That would be a really great name for a girl, like someone’s daughter. Not my daughter, of course, but someone else’s daughter.

I was 26; I’d been with Andy monogamously, which, trust me, was a record for me, for about five months when I started to get the familiar feeling of discomfort. The suffocation of intimacy was closing in on me and closing in tight. We had spent Memorial Day weekend together the way most single twenty-somethings our age did, by binge drinking. We’d partied Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night together, and as the days went on, the stronger the urge for my freedom grew. I invited him over on Memorial Day “to talk.” When he got there, we sat outside on my parents’ deck (since I, admittedly, still lived with them as an aforementioned “twenty-something”) and I proceeded to break up with him through my hangover via straightforward sentiments with the occasional analogy thrown in for good measure (“It’s like I’m a ship and I just need to sail,”) and chain-smoking. After all, he knew I’d been planning on moving away to Charlotte, North Carolina, with my friend Tom. It wasn’t like he shouldn’t have seen this coming. Through it all, he forced a smile, and although I knew it wasn’t genuine , I figured it wasn’t my problem at that point. He shouldn’t have gotten so attached.

Right before he left, he handed me something that I didn’t think much about. “Here,” he said. “Since you were late.” I stared at the e.p.t. he clutched in his hand and kind of shrugged.

“O…kay,” I stammered. “I mean, I guess I’ll take this.” I really don’t remember how many seconds I peed on that stick. I don’t remember what I was thinking while I peed. All I know is, I did do that, and then waited for the result. I looked at the little lines on the stick and looked at the illustration on the box. I stayed in the bathroom for a long time. When I slowly and reluctantly emerged, with a mixture of shock and disbelief, I said, “Ummm…I can’t really tell…I mean, it’s hard to tell…”

Andy took one look at the test and said, “It looks to me like you’re pregnant.” The whole room was spinning, spinning save for those two little lines indicating the life already growing inside me. I asked Andy to leave and then I curled up on the couch and called my friend Missy.

"I’m pregnant.” I started bawling the second I said it out loud. While I don’t explicitly recall her exact words, I know they were full of surprise. I couldn’t stay home by myself so I decided to go to her house. But first I threw away my cigarettes – you know, just in case I decided to keep it.

I suddenly forgot how to drive. How to breathe. All I could focus on is wanting desperately for the tears welling in my eyes to not start streaming down my face, wanting desperately to suppress the urge to smoke every single one of those cigarettes I’d thrown away.

Wanting desperately.

I had wanted desperately for a lot of things lately. But not this. Not like this. Not in this context, and not like this.

Why did this happen? How did this happen and why did this happen to me?

He had done this; he had wanted this. He didn’t want me to leave, so he made sure to do something to keep me here.

It wasn’t possible. It’s not possible. There’s no way. No way.

No way I’m pregnant.

When I got to Missy’s (who, at the time, lived with Tom, the friend I was moving with to Charlotte) she came to the door with a face full of sympathy (although I swear there was a little of Thank Jesus it's you and not me in there). She hadn’t told Tom yet, so we went upstairs to find him packing for our move. “Hey!” he said, and then, “What’s wrong?”

“I’m pregnant,” I blurted out, and then immediately burst into tears once again. His entire face changed as he came over to me. He and Missy were both just staring quietly, unsure of what to say in this surreal circumstance. I made a lame joke about not having room for a play pen in our Charlotte apartment and Tom half smiled as we made our way down the hall to their computer room to do some Googling. The next few weeks changed my life forever.

The days and nights that followed consisted of me crying off and on, slowly telling more trusted friends, and nibbling on Saltines to put my miserable 24-hour nausea at bay. The night I found out, after trashing my Camel Special Lights, I went out and bought a bottle of prenatal vitamins, again, “just in case,” and I was convinced the entire time I was in line at Kmart that everyone who passed me could already tell I was with child. Every night when my parents were safely in bed I went online and learned everything I could about abortion. The questions I kept coming back to were, Will I feel guilty? Will I regret it? I read a lot about those themes and kept telling myself that this thing, this “baby,” was just a cluster of cells right now; it wasn’t really anything, and this was not in my life plans. I called the people I trusted the most, and looking back, almost everyone I told about the pregnancy had children. They all said the same thing, “You will regret not having the baby. You will never regret having it.” I told them all the same thing, “But I’m different; I’m not you. I can’t have this baby; I don’t want this baby.” All I could do was think about how all-around hopeless the whole situation was and cry myself to sleep at night.

I eventually made an appointment at the nearest abortion clinic. One of my friends took off work to drive me. I called the clinic the morning of and asked all kinds of questions. “Oh, girls come in here, some of them seven or eight times,” was one of her answers when I’d asked about the pain. I’d been brushing my hair in the mirror and froze. That floored me; I was having an abortion conversation like we were talking about a pedicure appointment. The woman on the phone said, “If you’re at all not sure about this, don’t come in. Take some time to think about it.” I hung up the phone and stared into the mirror. Who am I?

The following week I moped around the house, staying in while everyone else partied, in general just feeling sorry for myself. How could I do this? I didn’t want to be with Andy. If I kept this baby I would do it on my own. I’d have to stay around here, which I hated, but I knew I could never move away with Andy here. He’d want as much involvement as I would, should I come to terms with having this baby.

Then one night, it happened. I had a dream filled with baby’s cries – my baby’s cries. In my dream I went to pull my baby out of her crib. It was a girl. Her name was Adele. It was then, that I knew.
I could do this.

And I did do it. I followed my heart, my gut instinct, and I feel that my life right now is exactly what and where it should be. Andy and I ended up falling in love when Adele was four weeks old – but that’s another story.

The bottom line is, I made the best decision for me…and I’m glad the decision was in my hands, that I had that decision to make.

I went to a facilitator training last week to help me, and all who attended, facilitate the support groups we’re set to do.  I’ve been facilitating my bipolar/depression support group, Shelter from the Storm, for a few months now, and I was really looking forward to the training because I love learning, in general, plus this is content I’m very interested in – or else I wouldn’t have started the support group in the first place.  I knew this training would help me become a better support group facilitator.

I arrived at the training on day one, not really knowing what to expect, besides assuming it would be informative…other than that…well, training I’ve been to for other jobs was always pretty boring. Partly because those jobs weren’t right for me, and partly because some people should not be in the position of training anyone to do anything.  I’m sure some of you have been through similar experiences.

Well, let me just say that from the very start, I knew I was going to love this training.  Initially, with all of the trainees thrown in together, we were kind of quiet.  Hesitant.  Looking each other up and down curiously…you know, just not really sure what to expect.  Once we started doing activities together, we loosened up a bit. I started to get to know some of the personalities of some of the people I was interacting with.  It’s hard to explain…and this might sound corny, but…it felt like I’d known all these people my entire life.  I’ve had that feeling a lot lately.  I’m not going to quote the Bible or anything here, but this past year for me has been the most “magical” year. I think people have been coming into my life for a reason.  A specific reason.  Every one of them.  Including, and maybe especially, everyone at this training.

I won’t go through every activity we did, step by step, but just kind of give an overview of it all.  The first day we pretty much broke the ice, engaging in those intial conversations, learning about our backgrounds, which support group we’d be leading.  I just felt so welcome and “at home” with the workshop trainers…each one is a unique, deeply caring person, and I could tell that simply by looking into their eyes.

We learned a little about empathy, about how some of the people coming into our support groups might feel.  Everything was so interactive that it wasn’t possible to feel bored.  At the end of each day we had a “community meeting” where we all met up and contributed our thoughts about the day.  Even though I actually consider myself an introvert, I felt compelled to speak quite a bit during this whole process.  I think because I just care so much about it, and it definitely helps to know that the people training you really, truly care about you and about what you have to say.  I think that’s rare.
The second day of training was wonderful.  We were introduced to the concept of a “labyrinth” and how to make one…then how to go through one.  (A labyrinth is kind of like a maze, except with a maze, you have different choices of path and direction; with a labyrinth there is one single path that leads to the center and then back again.) This might sound crazy too, but before the labyrinth we made that day was even started, I envisioned the final product to be exactly as it was.  It was beautiful.  Each of us took turns walking through the labyrinth we made out of some craft supplies - colorful yarn, realistic-looking fall leaves, candles, and affirmations to stop and read along the way.  There was also music playing (which I’d also envisioned) sort of Enya-esque, and soothing. Once we walked through the whole thing, there was a bowl in the middle and we were to each take a card and pour this packet of sand we’d been given into another dish.  The sand represented something we wanted to let go of.  The card contained a concept and then an explanation; mine was about being in the present – something I’d actually been thinking a lot about.  The whole experience was very spiritual for me…I just could feel it in the air.  I felt so peaceful during the labyrinth experience.  It was my favorite part of the training.

I also feel that the experience opened me up more.  I felt more comfortable talking within the group after that.  On the inside, I’m a shy person…on the outside, I just go with the “fake it ‘til you make it” philosophy, like when I’m teaching.  I pretend to be confident and hope that I come across that way.
The three days of training was just so much fun for me…but it was more than “fun.”  It was one of those experiences that I feel truly bonded a group of people together.  I felt the same way after I attended a court-ordered weekend class because I got a DUI six years ago. I also felt the same way after both times I’ve done jury duty.  (And I might be the only person who actually loves jury duty – but I do.)

The leaders of the training, Kathy, Doug, Jerry, and Meghan, each brought something magnificent to the table.  Kathy is very intuitive, reflective, insightful…she just has the ability to make everyone in the room feel relaxed.  Doug possesses a refined dignity and thoroughly observes his surroundings.  Jerry is both hilarious and intellectual – the best combination.  Meghan is very accepting and kind, and like I told her at the training, I love her voice.  It’s almost melodic…graceful.  And all of the trainers were graceful.  They were also warm, caring, deeply invested, and charismatic. 

I really could go on forever about what I enjoyed about these few days…I think experiences like this do bond people together.  I felt a connection with everyone who attended the facilitator training.  We spent quite a few hours together, and each one of us wants to help people – I think I felt connected to everyone right away because of that, and then, through getting to know people better, related to them in many more ways.  I met so many strong, intelligent, funny, amazing individuals, and it is one of those experiences I will look back on as being one of the most extraordinary of my life.
My bipolar/depression support group meets Mondays from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at the Delphos public Library if you, or someone you know, may be interested.

Overcoming Breast Cancer

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which obviously affects all involved physically and on a deep emotional level.

It is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

This is also something that touches people in a visceral way – physically and emotionally.  Opal Sproul, of Waynesfield - my grandma, found out she had it in 1983.  She found a lump in her breast taking a bath. She was 61. She had surgery in February 1984; they did a modified radical mastectomy and took out all the lymph nodes and some muscle. After the surgery that took her first breast, she had the second one removed two weeks later.  She had to have physical therapy to regain strength in her arms.  She now has bone scans every year to make sure there’s no growth anywhere.

I remember when I was really little, I was sitting in my parents’ hot tub with my grandma.  I asked her why she didn’t wear a bikini.  She said, “Because I don’t have any boobs!”  While I didn’t fully understand it at the time, it was the first time I realized she didn’t have breasts.  That made an impact on me, and I’ll never forget it.

My grandma uses prostheses with her bra, and she doesn’t like to wear anything low-cut because of the scarring.  She had a good attitude about the whole thing, though, saying she didn’t have a need for her breasts anymore. They didn’t define who she was.

My great aunt Laura was 52 when she was diagnosed, four years earlier than my grandma. She just had one breast removed and then had chemotherapy and radiation.  Laura had a reoccurrence at age 60. The cancer had metastasized to her liver.  She had chemotherapy again. 

One night the doctor said she wouldn’t make it through the night.
In the morning, Laura sat up and said, “You gave up on me, didn’t you?”

She went on to lead a productive life; she kept working for several years.  She died in 1996, from complications of breast cancer, the result of the chemotherapy, and cancer growth in other areas.

My aunt Darlene Chiles, of Waynesfield, started getting mammograms before she was 40, because she has fibrocystic disease, which means she has lots of cysts and lumps. She’s had 3 biopsies over the years, and she’s gone back for more magnification mammograms and ultrasounds.

 In April of 2011, they sent a biopsy of her left breast to the Cleveland Clinic for diagnosis. The pathologist had said it was a complex sample. The diagnosis was:   invasive breast cancer out of the duct and into the breast tissue.

Darlene then went to an oncology surgeon.  She talked to friends who had breast cancer. She went to a doctor that a friend had had years before.  “I knew I wanted them both removed, with mom having both removed. I was never really worried, I knew from the time of diagnosis I was gonna be fine. I knew it was just a bump in the road.”

 Darlene missed 2 weeks of work for her masectomy.  She didn’t have incisinal pain, just pain from the positioning of her arms during surgery. She opted for reconstructive surgery. “And they look good,” Darlene said.  (And they do.  I’ve seen them.)

As far as advice for others going through this, Darlene said, “It’s going to a top-notch facility to get screenings done and not missing those anniversaries of getting them done. You have to be an advocate for your own health. If you’ve got a feeling, go with it. There was never a doubt in my mind that I wouldn’t be perfectly fine.  Everybody was real supportive.  In the grand scheme of things it wasn’t a big deal for me. A lot of people think it’s losing their femininity, losing breasts. Small price to pay. Never have to have mammogram again.”

Darlene also said that having a good support system and friends and family who have been through it helped her. Plus, she got, “new boobs. I show my boobs a lot. I didn’t used to flash my boobs quite so much.”  She continued, “Who you are isn’t contained in any body part. Having surgery doesn’t change who you are. You are the same person.”

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is not limited to spousal or family abuse.  It can also occur in the form of intimate partner violence, meaning relationships in which people are dating.

Craig and I met the summer I was twenty-one, home from college until fall classes resumed.  My friend Stephanie and I had plans to go out.  Looking good, as it was the summer she and I spent every second of the day lying in the sun ingesting little more than cigarettes and Diet Mountain Dew, we were both tan and skinny.  (I didn’t say healthy.) 

One night we drove to a bar the next town over.  Much of my early twenties was spent doing very important things like drinking until blacking out.

We were on the dance floor when she nudged me, “Look over there!”  The most muscular arms I had ever seen in person, attached to an overall smokin’ hot body and face that was clearly out of my league was in my direct line of vision.  The buff and hunky types were never what I’d go for, because, well…they’d never go for me.  “He’s hot,” I said in awe to Stephanie, wiping the drool from my chin. 

Hope was immediately abandoned, as I would never possibly gain the interest of a human being that impossibly good-looking.  Somehow, though, he and his friend made his way to us and seemed to actually be interested.  And the hot one was interested in me.  He started making small talk and I obliged but never put much stock into it, figuring he was merely being nice.

After a while, the bathroom was screaming my name.  Once inside, a girl that I’d seen with him earlier said, “Craig wondered where you went!  He really likes you!”  Disbelief doesn’t even begin to describe it.   I turned to stare at myself in the grungy bathroom mirror, looking hard to try and see what he saw.
When I exited the bathroom, the bar was closing down and he was waiting for me.  “So can I get your number and we can get something rolling?”  he asked.

It seemed too good to be true.

Craig and I began dating and I was on top of the world.  He was by far the hottest guy I’d ever seen, and I was still in shock that he’d find someone like me attractive, even though men were recently appearing interested in me - I’d “blossomed” since high school, which means I went from a B to D-cup. My hair had also grown out, which apparently can make a world of difference for men (although as it turns out, the focus on the body inevitably becomes, um…much lower…which they prefer without hair.  Go figure.) 

The signs were subtle at first.  We were on a date and he asked me if there were one thing I could change about his body, what would it be?  Laughing, because his body was ripped to perfection, I giggled out a “Nothing!”  Assuming he’d say the same, I asked him.  “You could work on your arms,” he said with a semi-disgusted smirk.  My heart sank and I felt a lump grow in my throat followed by a little anger.  I calmed down a little with the rationalization that, well, yeah, I guess I could work on my arms, right?  What’s so wrong with that?

Working on my arms turned out to be hour-long sessions in the gym with him as he also proceeded to tell me what to eat.  A vegetarian at the time, I didn’t get enough protein from food to build the muscles he wanted to see on my body, so he recommended I buy cases of protein bars and drink protein shakes. He sat me down one day and said, “Okay, I have a diet and exercise plan laid out for you.”  He then proceeded, like a military officer, to bark at me that I was not allowed to let anything remotely tasty touch my lips from this point on.  “There’ll be no doughnuts, no more pastries, none of that.  We’re gonna whip you into shape!” 

While many people pay big bucks for dieticians and personal trainers to motivate and sculpt them into perfect-bodied individuals, I hadn’t asked for this.  It felt degrading and made me sad.  At the same time, for whatever reason, I went along with it, replacing my hurt with intense motivation to do whatever it took to please him.

Craig and I started working out regularly together, and he pushed me through workouts, harder and harder with each one while he simultaneously powered through his own gym routine, sweat dripping from his blue bandana.  Jaw clenched, veins popping, he grunted angrily with every bicep curl, lat pull-down, or squat that he performed, stopping now and then to guzzle water from a gallon jug and shoot me a casual thumbs–up.  Proud or impressed were two states I hadn’t seen from him until we hit the gym together.  His eyes would widen and he’d smile, congratulating me every time I completed a difficult set. 

The positive reaction I got was what drove my addiction to please him, and my addiction to attain bodily perfection.  He became increasingly complimentary with the more muscle I gained and fat I lost.  And I thrived on it.  While he had never seemed too fazed by the fact that I was working toward a Master’s degree in literature and had a lot of smart things to say, he was thrilled to notice that my behind was firming up.

Because Craig, who appeared to have other interests when we first met, like golf and Jim Carrey movies, slowly was revealed to be more and more superficial, I figured the problem lied in me.  Maybe I was too judgmental.  Having a great body is no small feat, right?  Deep thoughts are overrated, I told myself. Aren’t we all superficial on some level?  Clothes and make-up meant a lot to me; maybe Craig and I were more alike than I thought.  Maybe it was just me.  Besides, how could someone so crazy hot be wrong for me?

My exercising spiraled out of control and my now fervent desire to emulate a cover girl on Women’s Fitness caused me to stop eating altogether, and when I did eat, I got rid of it most of the time.  Craig was so proud of me at this point and loved to show me off like a shiny new car.  He hadn’t stopped offering his “constructive criticism,” however, with helpful tips like, “You know if you get your waist smaller your boobs will look even bigger,” and “If I were rich I’d take care of that bump on your nose.”  He also freely distributed his fashion advice, which means he preferred that I dress like a stripper, and I politely accommodated. 

All my friends hated him and tried to at first tactfully, and then not so tactfully, tell me we weren’t right for each other, but by then I had invested so much time on the relationship and money on a gym membership that it seemed like a waste to give up now.

I became obsessed with pleasing him. 

Although I had smoked when we met, I gave it up for him even though he chewed tobacco, because that was okay for some reason.  Smoking behind his back one night and his discovery of this led to him going ballistic, screaming in my face and becoming unacceptably aggressive.  Somehow I always turned it on myself, explaining away his anger and rationalizing that, ‘He’s right; smoking isn’t healthy.’

So many times during the course of our relationship as my identity slipped further and further away, I told myself I was actually becoming a better person with Craig in my life – after all, my body had never looked better. Plus, he really tried sometimes.  Even though he didn’t manage to get flowers sent on Valentine’s Day, it wasn’t his fault.  All the florists were just booked.  But he watched Sex and the City with me one night.  I mean, come on - what guy does that?! 

His constant remarks about other women became normal to me; I figured all men did that and I was overreacting.  His opinions became my opinions; I started agreeing with him.  He liked when I made out with other girls, so I did that, too.  Essentially, I became everything he’d ever wanted, down to my perfectly manicured fingernails which I’d always bitten away at before, but he’d found that “horrible.”  My hair was cut the way he wanted.  I was his Pygmalion.  Had he gotten the reference, I would have told him this, but I’m pretty sure that’s not explained in MuscleMag.

When I went back to college, he visited me on the weekend that it didn’t interfere with his workouts, only to pack duffel bags full of supplements, cases of tuna, and I can’t forget carrying cooked chicken breast in my purse if we did go out, so he could eat his protein around the clock. 

When we weren’t going out drinking, we’d spend nights renting movies which we never got through because we always started messing around.  Sometimes it would start out playfully, sort of like a wrestling match.  Being the smaller, less muscular of us, I’d do my best to fight back, because sometimes he didn’t know his own strength. 

One time to make him stop pinning me to the ground, which was really hurting me, I grabbed at his chest.  He got in my face with an expression full of rage and screamed, “Don’t you ever grab my pec again!”  It really scared me and I immediately I started crying.  He half-heartedly apologized and left my house while I was still in tears.

He became rougher and rougher with me on a regular basis.  Inside, I was dying, sinking, drowning.  This didn’t feel right at all, and the realization of what was happening was breaking me.  Even though a voice in the back of my head was whispering that this wasn’t right, this wasn’t healthy, this wasn’t me, I told the voice to shut up.

He visited me at college one weekend in January and we went to a small party one night at a friends’ house.  Michigan had literally six feet of snow on the ground at this time.  Craig and I snuck off to the bathroom, something not unusual for us.  Our making out was getting pretty heated.  Somehow, some way, something changed.  He began banging my head repeatedly, hard, against the tile bathroom floor.  All I can remember is digging my fingernails as hard as I could into his arms, to the point of drawing blood, so he’d stop.  He finally did.  To scream at me. 

He ran out of the bathroom yelling that he’s done with me, he’s done with my parties, done with my friends, done with everything.  He didn’t explain further and I don’t know what his motivation was, but it didn’t matter.  The ten or so people in the room who had been immersed in the party, laughing, drinking, and listening to music, immediately became somber deer in headlights, their eyes darting from Craig to me and back again, wondering that the heck was going on.  How did I feel at this point?
Numb.  Frozen.  Paralyzed.

My first instinct was to sprint out of the house and not look back.  So I did.  In my thigh-high boots, leather mini-skirt and beaded tank top, I just ran and ran the best I could through the semi-shoveled sidewalk between the six-feet of snow. 

Between huffing and puffing, I looked back and he was nowhere to be seen.  I was a bundle of fear, hurt, and sadness - packaged in a leather mini and sparkly tank.  A car full of guys pulled up and asked if I needed a ride, so I got in.  My address somehow escaped my lips and I luckily got dropped off without being gang-banged. 

As soon as I reached my apartment, I called my best friend Steve, sobbing about what had happened.  Steve said he was on his way over, but Craig got there first.  Somehow he turned the whole thing on me once again, that I had angered him to the point of violence.  And I believed him.  Apologizing through my sobs, I begged him not to leave.  After all, he was so angry and upset with me, and I had caused it.  It was just a big misunderstanding triggered by drinking.  ‘This wasn’t like him,’ I thought, something I’d thought many times.

We stayed together far longer than we should have.

The funny thing is, the realization that my identity was gone and I had no idea who I was anymore and I abhorred the thread of me I had left – the me I was with him - didn’t hit me when it should have – it came out of the clear blue sky one day when I wasn’t even with Craig; I was alone.  Since I spent all my time at the gym anyway, I had gotten a job there by this point. Working the front desk, aimlessly flipping through a magazine,something struck me like cognitive lightning.  ‘Who am I?’ I wondered.  ‘When is the last time I did something I enjoy doing?  What do I enjoy doing?’  This wave of truth washed over me; I felt my whole body come to a conclusion.  Did I know who I was anymore?   Not at all.  Being myself, doing the things that fulfilled me, engaging in activities that brought me peace, following paths that agreed with my sensibilities – where…where did that go?
I missed me.

It wasn’t a quick, painless process.  The break-up dragged on and on, complete with those post-break-up drunk dials (cue Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now”) that I regretted every time.  There were days I could not physically get out of bed.  Kleenex made a killing off of me.  Logically it made no sense – I was leaving something very unhealthy and damaging – something to this day I’ve not gotten over. 

Heartbreak followed because of everything I had put into it and I had wanted it to work so badly.  Even though all along I had really known he wasn’t the one for me, I had wanted him to be the one.  The reality that he wasn’t and that he never would be, left a giant aching hole in my heart…because I had known this but had refused to accept it.  There was sadness, intense sadness.  The sadness wasn’t because he was gone.  The sadness was because I had been gone for so long.

It’s taken years to recover from my extremely damaged self-esteem, and it’s still a struggle, though not nearly as bad as it was. 

I still have trouble setting foot in a gym.

About Me

I have an MA in literature from Eastern Michigan University and I write a couple of regular columns for The Delphos Herald. I am the mother of two young girls, and the wife of a firefighter. I am also bipolar (with generalized anxiety disorder) which somewhat accounts for my occupied mind. I rely on sarcasm the way others rely on oxygen.
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