Many Pathways to Healing

What does that even mean? And what does it look like?

 What impedes this path? And what helps it?

After years of observation, experience and endless heaps of research, I’ve been led to some pretty simple, yet profound conclusions. 

The Kids

My children have endured unimaginable amounts of pain, trauma and storms in their lives and I have watched them all navigate their storms in ways that personally served them.

I have watched them all hurt, heal and hurt again. And they’ve observed the same in me.

I’ve also learned that many of us, though well-meaning, are doing more harm than good to our hurting loved ones. 

My daughter

Like many parents with teenagers, I watched my daughter change, in what seemed like, overnight. 

She went from playful, trusting, smiling, open and vulnerable; to closed, a tough exterior, and withdrawn. In such a short timeframe (months), her world went from safe and easy-going to scary and unstable. I was going through my second divorce when she lost her aunt who was more like a big sister or a best friend, her animals, and ended up needing and going through brain surgery. She was diagnosed with a serious and painful form of Chiari. What is Chiari? Well, essentially her brain did not fit inside her skull and was compressing the brainstem, spinal cord and literally being pushed outside of her skull. This is an extremely excruciating disease for some. She was lucky that way. It had affected her ability to swallow, she had constant nausea and tingling hands and feet but amongst those symptom, the worst were the relentless headaches. Pressure headaches. 24/7. Anytime she laughed, coughed, sneezed, stood up and sometimes just at the slightest movement. We had no choice but surgery.

During this time her home and security became a daily moving goal post and the family dysfunction and chaos was at a fever pitch. As she healed from brain surgery we had to flee to a friends home because ours was under threat of a break-in; that’s another equally drawn-out and terrifying story, involving my middle child. The discordance during this period of time was so much that I still have trouble processing it all.

My daughter became like a corked bottle on a stormy ocean; torrential waves thrashing her about unceasingly. No direction, no safety and no control. She was lost and at the mercy of the storm.

Her grades dropped drastically and her soft, glowing complexion exploded into an extreme case of cystic acne. 

But I was full of daily pep talks as if I could speak it all away with those ever-so-magic words, “Be strong”, “You are strong”, “I need you to be strong”…I know, I still cringe and my heart swells every time I think about it. 

She seemed to be developing an eating disorder and became OCD and extremely controlling, not of others, but over herself. It was so difficult to watch. She just shut down completely. She stopped sharing her trials with me, or anyone for that matter-and battled them alone, too afraid to be vulnerable. Too afraid to break. Too concerned about burdening me or others with her problems. Strong. This is what “strong” looks like; shutting down, control issues, a lack of trust, pessimism, pressure and emotional suppression.

It’s not like she hadn’t already been through enough. Abandoned by her biological father before she was born. He even refused to be listed on the birth certificate and ran from her and shirked his responsibility. Robbed of a father and only a baby; when she was 9 months old, I was diagnosed with Stage 3C inflammatory breast cancer that had metastasized. I was given 6 months to live. The first round of chemo failed and my first doctor gave up on me. More tangents and long stories, but where was I? Oh, right- I was too tired and weak to take care of her most days. A single mom living in a little “projects” box of an apartment that I endearingly referred to as “meth row”. Endless chemo, treatments, radiation and nonstop surgeries made it so I couldn’t even hold her most of the time, let alone take care of her, bathe her, change her, love her.

It felt like I slept for a year. In between dreams and eyelids made of lead, so heavy that I could hardly lift them, I would hear her…playing, pushing a chair up to the sink to play in the water, babbling with herself and her dolls, trying to get outside…I  still remember one time I heard her shuffling through the fridge, she then struggle-waddled down the hallway with a pitcher so full of orange juice that her tiny body couldn’t contain it, even with both chubby arms wrapped around, it splashed from side to side and all over the carpet. I managed to peek open my eyelids, half-awake, just enough to see her through the blur. She was standing in front of the drenched carpet beside the empty pitcher, glanced at me and whispered “don’t worry mama, I clean it”, which then involved squirting dish soap all over the carpet. Her spirit, so beautiful. So “strong”. This is when her independence began. Please know while reading these stories that I wasn’t intentionally a negligent mother. This is just how sick I was. There were times that I had some help but most days I was just either throwing up or couldn’t move with a pounding head.

Though head-strung and independent, she was an emotional child. When she was 5, I remarried and my husband and I, at the time, ignorantly shamed her out of her raw and innocent expression of emotion. We had convinced ourselves we were helping her. We didn’t know we were hurting her. She just had so many problems being bullied at school that we thought her emotional proclivities were making her a target. *a pattern she seemed to have carried over from me.*

I don’t know exactly when it happened but after enough shaming and harping on her to “Stop being so emotional. Be strong.”…she did. And from that point forward, she bottled it all up. Every drop.

After my second divorce I had no idea where we were going or what we would do. Her entire life was up in the air and she had no control over an ounce of it. It’s like I had taken all the contents of her life, scooped them up, put them in a jar, shook them around and dumped them into the trash. She was told to be “respectful”, “it’s not up to her”, “just deal with it”, and “accept whatever happens”; and she was to do it with a smile on her face. Her stability and happiness became a daily bargaining chip. I wasn’t purposefully wounding her but looking back, I can see now that my expectations were unfair and unreasonable.

At 12, right in the middle of my divorce she was diagnosed with the Chiari, and had to quit her true love, tumbling and cheer. Shortly after is when she lost her animals, her aunt, her brothers *in a sense, they had both left home* and her stability. Her best friends gone, her trust gone, her dreams gone, her innocence gone. 

Flash forward to 14 when she began picking at her hands, wrists, arms and acne. This is a form of self-harm resulting from pent-up anger, anxiety and emotions. This happens when the subject doesn’t feel safe to release their emotions amongst others and so they don’t. Instead they become numb, shove their feelings down and completely withdraw. And so they pick to feel, they pick to release and they pick to punish themselves, for everything. They aren’t even aware they are doing it. It’s not purposeful, just a subconscious habit.

I have spent a lot of time full of remorse, regret and silent guttural cries. I just didn’t know, what I didn’t know.  And though I’ve made it my job, passion and life’s purpose to help others, I still fail. I fail every single day, mostly with those closest to me. Unfortunately, and like many homosapiens, I often don’t know what’s right until I do what’s wrong. My life has been one single continuous string of events in which I learned through trial and error. I never trusted that the fire was hot. I always had to touch it first. I didn’t have a blueprint or a manual. Just a lengthy list of unhealthy coping mechanisms and a litany of trauma-tinged patterns. Bad parenting is only one of the many results.

The Boys…

My boys endured their own understated hardships and traumas.

The early years of domestic abuse, divorce, homelessness, recklessness and instability were just the beginning for them…there was plenty more where that came from waiting, in the future. 

For a couple of tumultuous years after my first divorce, we lived out of a car and suitcases. The boys were only 2 and 5. Bouncing from place to place and family member to family member. It was always a new place. A new state. A new city. Constantly driving through blizzards and winding mountains, sometimes where only chains were allowed in the middle of the night. The green flash of the deer’s eyes, caught in the headlights, frozen on the side of the highway became a living metaphor. The break downs, the car and me. Even the days were dark. I was a deer in headlights, and my fear and poor choices had thrust me before many a moving vehicle. I still remember a moment when I had to choose between $5 worth of gas or food for my boys. Naturally, I chose empty tummies. But those moments stick. You don’t forget.

We survived but it wasn’t easy. I became a tight-rope walker of fine lines, always trying not to wear-out the welcome mat with friends and family. The threshold was thin and I was limited on time as they grew tired of taking us in. And just like my daughter, my boys had no control, just along for a rollercoaster ride that they didn’t sign up for and couldn’t get off of. 

Each night we made a habit to pray. And pray they did. They prayed for the ability to choose their own food, open their own fridge, play with their own toys without having them yanked out of their hands by other kids, choose their own channel on the TV and sleep in their own bed. They prayed for a happy mom, and a happy, safe home. 

And when they finally got that years later, (at least the home part and some semblance of stability) mom still wasn’t happy. I became an unstable, suicidal alcoholic and their life was a waking nightmare.

The long term result?

My oldest son became a perfectionist. A professional pessimist. Mr. “play-it-safe”, the exact opposite of risky and unpredictable, the exact opposite of me (the old me). He was always the one to feel the obligation of “fixing” when chaos ensued. He carried my pain, his siblings pain, his pain and the weight of the world’s pain, all on his shoulders. He was self-loathing, constantly hard on himself and so paralyzed by anxiety that he dropped out of high-school. He also developed a disorder called dysmorphia which basically means that he had totally convinced himself that he was hideous (which he’s not, not biased). He was depressed, unable to sleep, unable to share his own pain and experiencing suicide ideations.

My middle child turned to ill-intentioned friends and self-soothing with drugs (which we all really know to be self-sabotage) He was constantly running, running from the pain of depression and anxiety, killing it with avoidance, and washing it down with denial, and risky behaviors. Starting at around the ripe, old age of 13, he began stealing my car late at night with his friends and around the same time, using drugs, which only escalated over the years. This led him down a very dark and grim path, eventually losing friends to OD’s, his freedom to the justice system, his dignity and ultimately more than words can express. 

The Rainbow…

But there is a rainbow after the storm. They are all in the process of healing and learning the art of resilience when life throws them a curve ball. 

All of them continue to heal and hurt and heal again. 

They each found an outlet and managed to carve out their own path to repair that works for them. 

They all still struggle at times though. So do I. That’s life. *don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.* But we show up for each other when we make mistakes and we try not to shame each other or ourselves when we fail. We are all still learning the art of imperfection, which just means recognizing and embracing life and healing as one ongoing process of lessons and love.

My oldest son is a musician and at the magic age of 14, he decided to learn guitar and I believe that in a way, it saved him. He went to therapy for a couple years, went back to school, got his diploma, went to college and is now a web designer with his own business. He is always learning and exploring healthier ways to release and navigate the challenging, anxious moments in life with music, working out, and creativity. He’s an avid reader and always interested in growth and self-improvement (healing). I call him a life ninja, a title that he rejects but I just call it as I see it. I really look up to him and the way he continues to hone his skills and ride the waves of life with grace.

My middle child, oh the poor middle child, so lost in the shuffle. His outlet, also around the same age was snowboarding. And he was really good! Honestly he was just always the kid who excelled at any sport he tried, Judo, Baseball, Gymnastics, Wrestling, Skateboarding, BMX, Rollerblading… But addiction has a way of stealing our talents, our joys and our power. He’s 21 now, in treatment, focused, working hard, loves fishing, working out and is building and creating a new future for himself. Watching him brave the storm and hold himself accountable everyday takes my breath away. He’s doing what he has to do, reclaiming his sovereignty and remembering who he really is. He’s on the hero’s journey, climbing his own Mt. Everest with the face of determination and sheer will.

My daughter is in club volleyball now and swears also that “it saved her”. She journals, pushes herself academically and continues to face her fears on a daily basis. She has her entire future mapped out…just imagine. I can’t. I’m a “creative” and still mapping mine out.

The picking has almost completely vanished and she began talking to me again. But I had to wake up, get real with myself, confess my folly and expose my role in her pain. I had to recognize how I had wounded her and commit to correcting those errors. I can’t change the past, but I can make the future better.

Her face is clear now. Her eyes are bright, and her smile and light are returning, a little more everyday.

But she still has her crosses to bear, at 14, *sigh*, I remember well…the heartbreaks, the popularity contests, the deep, heavy emotions, the awakening to the state of the world and imperfections of the human race. 14 is hard. So hard. But she’s surviving it and at the end of the day she knows she is loved and supported. I try to equip her with the tools needed to face the world but sometimes I’m not so sure she needs it. She knows so much more than I did at her age. I call her “Little Buddha” because her wisdom just blows my mind.

I often feel the awareness of my children surpasses mine. Most days I can’t tell who is helping who. All I know is I feel so grateful to bear witness to their stories and greatness and watch them rise from the ashes, so determined to learn from their trials, letting them “refine, not define” them.


You’re probably wondering about me now.

Well, the only difference between the old me and the new me is that now I do my best to stay self-aware, hold myself accountable and learn from my actions. Though I’m human and I still slip and slide down that hill, I try to catch myself. I just don’t allow myself to descend all the way back down the mountain anymore. Now I allow branches to smack me around and break my fall. I’m a lot more open to learning these days and I try to pause as often as I can in the tricky moments and observe myself, and when I’m able to, I’m usually able to bring myself back to awareness, accountability, responsibility and truth. 

It’s my turn now to be “strong” but I’m doing it different. I’m doing it with vulnerability and honesty. Somedays it feels like I’m on top of the world, conquering it all and enjoying the view. Other days it’s like I’m at the bottom of a canyon paddling upstream with a hole in the boat. But I’m learning. I’m improving. And I’m growing.

I try not to make my issues their responsibility to fix anymore. No more picking up the pieces for mom. And though I still mess up, I know the power of a sensitive, heartfelt apology. I know the power of pulling myself back up and dusting off my knees. I know the power of showing my children, by example, that change is possible. 

How have I mended? Well I’m still in the thick of it and surrendering myself to the idea that I may continue to find myself in an eternal state of repair.

And that can be and is, a happy ending.

I have found my compass, my passions, continue to learn and share and…I met someone. Someone who gets me, listens, doesn’t shame, holds space and has the same goals in mind. For the first time in this life I feel in sync with someone and he is definitely a significant piece of my personal puzzle, and I, for him. Don’t get me wrong, it comes with it’s own set of challenges but we embrace the lessons. I know I’m fortunate and that not everyone has that “special someone”. I’m aware of my privilege but I also know that most, if not all of our healing ultimately comes from within. Though I love every moment of our time together, we both realize that our “special someone” is also, ourselves.

The truth is we are never totally out-of-the-woods, it’s a cycle. We break. We mend. We fall. We get back up. We start over. 

The top of every mountain is the bottom of another. Life is birth and we are constantly giving birth to our selves. Fortunately the intelligent creator gives us brief periods of rest in between the contractions and the ongoing pain of birthing a new us. We have to accept that in life this is a pattern. Hopefully life’s trials won’t always traumatize us but if we are doing it right, we will become better captains of our own ships. Brave and skilled. Growth and evolution means we will always be shedding old skins. This is an ongoing, and at times, agonizing, system of progression and evolution.

And if we can just recognize this for what it is and accept it in ourselves and each other, showing up with compassion and understanding, we can heal, slowly and perfectly-imperfect. Healing is recognition, growth, accountability, acceptance and also…pain. Healing is the willingness to keep showing up for others and for ourselves no matter how much it hurts. And healing is embracing this cycle as wholeness, beauty and reality.

Animals…(keep scrolling, you’re almost done. promise)


Lola is my dog. She’s a mutt. A giant, goofy, black beauty. We think she is probably a mix of German Shepard, Lab, and maybe a dash of Border Collie? We don’t really know.

My son brought her home on a cold, winter night about 5 years ago. *without asking*, the classic. 

She was about 9 months old at the time, the equivalent of a human teenager, and she was afraid. Her “home” had abandoned her. They couldn’t keep her anymore because they were “having a baby”. The man shoved her in the car, shut the door and that was it. No hugs. No goodbyes. It was pretty clear she didn’t mean much to them. 

She was anxious, hyper, out-of-control, scared, untrusting, had no training and no boundaries. 

I knew it was going to be a long road with her. 

I didn’t expect her to trust me, love on me or even obey me. How could I? Had she ever even known rules, safety and love? I’ll never know but her behaviors sure didn’t seem like it. 

She would hardly make eye contact and was very much in her own world. It almost seemed as though she had ADHD. Studies are now revealing close links between ADHD and trauma but that’s for another blog.

I did my best to understand Lola, give her plenty of space and earn her trust…slowly. It took a lot of patience ( *full disclosure, some days I really failed at this) and it took a LOT of time. 

Over time she improved so tremendously. However, she did suffer some setbacks over the last couple years. 

We ended up moving to an apartment where she had little space, no yard and no freedom. Instead she had a shock collar-something I said I’d NEVER do. I still remember the day she accidentally tested the perimeter of the collar. We were playing and she ran just a tiny bit too far and it shocked her.

Her yelp and the way she looked at me is something I’ll never forget. I think that moment was a big set back in the realm of trust for her. A divorce also meant she lost two of her best friends. And we lost two more this last year to the afterlife. She became noticeably depressed, despondent, lost her energy and turned gray, overnight. She’s almost 6. That’s not normal. Some of her energy eventually returned, but so did her fear of cars, her digging, jumping and scratching at the back door. I also noticed separation anxiety set in as well. 

Is Lola totally rehabilitated now? No, not at all, but she has greatly improved. 

Whenever Lola experiences a set-back, I can see what’s happening and during those times I try to show up for her with extra comfort, patience and understanding. Ok, and maybe an extra snack. 

You see sometimes we heal only to be hurt again, and revert again… only to need to heal…again. 

This is the cycle of life.

So if you’ve “healed” and then backslid, cut yourself some slack. Healing is recognition. Healing is the ability to learn. Healing is patience. Healing is love.  Healing is an endless cycle, like the clouds, the rain and the storms.

We just need to remember in the midst of our storms, pain and healing that clouds never stay and the sun never leaves. 

Lola’s path of pain, trauma and finding the cure was unique to her. What hurts and helps each of us is so personal and unique. 

This is Rain, Lola, (the giant black one blending into the couch) and the little guy behind the couch is Sauske, my son’s Mini Aussie. They all heal together, with support and the power of unconditional love. I’ve noticed that many people who have endured mountains of trauma are animal lovers. And it makes sense. Animals are safe. 

Now the key is to find out how we can be safe for each other.

Imagine if we could show up for each other and ourselves like animals do, with forgiveness, acceptance, unconditional love, comfort and consistency. 

They are phenomenal teachers for humans. Animals don’t love with conditions. They don’t make promises they can’t keep, hold grudges, shame you, break your heart or abandon you. The worst thing an animal does is something they can’t control, they don’t live forever, but I think The Creator designed it that way. Sometimes we have to lose what is precious to us in order to really appreciate it. Part of what makes them so valuable to us, aside from their saintly nature is knowing how fleeting their existence is in our lives. 

Animals are consistently good to us. They just are. And being consistently good to others seems to always come with the constant threat of also being taken for granted but maybe, just maybe we can try to stay aware of this truth. And maybe,…we can do it anyway, knowing the risk, knowing it’s worth it, knowing it’s the right thing to do.

Maybe we can make an agreement with ourselves to recognize each day, all that we have to be grateful for.

The past is gone, and the future makes no promises. We make plans and God laughs but we have today and today we have the chance to be present for someone who needs us, without shame, without telling them “to be strong”… and sometimes, that someone, is us. If we can show up consistently and unconditionally with love, perhaps we can heal. 

Trauma and healing isn’t one path or one thing; it’s life, it’s love, and it’s an enduring ache. It’s ugly, it’s messy, it’s stunning, it’s wonderful and it’s different for everyone. 

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