How To Beat the Holiday Blues

 

Happy Holidays! Yes, I had the holiday blues and yes I still have a reason to smile. HUGE.

 

First of all, I made it. It has now been one full year since my last PTSD-related Emergency Room visit for dehydration due to cyclical vomiting. Let’s take a look at how I did it:

 

(1) I cried a lot. This is not a new thing. I usually want to cry the whole time and do cry most of the time. The difference this year? When I felt like I wanted to cry, I didn’t judge that feeling or conclude that I was an asshole for wanting to cry. Instead, I would get up and go find a quiet space to cry into until I was done and then I would simply rejoin my family.

 

(2) I went out of town just days before the holiday. We took our son to LegoLand to make this Christmas extra magical and it totally worked. The two days we spent in the car was WAY better than spending two days anticipating my annual holiday blues.

 

(3) Activism. I am wearing a dress every day in December as part of the #Dressember movement to raise awareness and funds for survivors of human trafficking. As part of the campaign, I post a photo of me in my dress online and this has forced me to get dressed up every day of a month that I normally spend exclusively in my pajamas. (To check out my campaign, click here).

 

(4) Activism. I am the official organizer for the V-Day Las Vegas 2017 campaign to benefit Refuge for Women Las Vegas, an aftercare program for the trafficked and sexually exploited. This campaign will produce a benefit production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues on February 4 and I am the Director of the show. This means I have to talk to people and participate in life.

 

There are times when I have thought about quitting. For sure. I didn’t particularly enjoy Christmas shopping this year and often experienced feelings of “what’s the point?” Also, I miss wearing my overalls and thought about blowing off my Dressember obligation like every other day. Furthermore, I ran into an incomprehensible amount of difficulty securing a beneficiary for my V-Day campaign and wondered if I was supposed to just give up.

 

Then I think about how I’m glad I don’t live in a box under some sicko’s bed right now. I’m glad I didn’t get stolen from my family and forced into prostitution. As much as PTSD, anxiety, and grief can feel like a prison in your own mind, at least I’m not really in some prison unable to get out. I value my freedom. I express gratitude for my freedom through activism and this heals me.

 

 

XO,

Rachel

THE BEST MEDITATION OF ALL TIME!!!

 

 

I think the worst part about grief is the feeling you get when you tell yourself:

 

We can’t be together anymore. Ever.

 

Or:

 

I will never hold them in my arms again.

 

These statements cause tremendous pain inside, right around your heart and your gut. The pain is uncomfortable and can lead to anger or resentment.

 

Instead of replaying agonizing statements in your mind that cause you to feel pain, listen to this:

 

You can meditate a heart to heart hug with any one at any time.

 

I do it all the time.

 

It feels AMAZING.

 

It works so well, I have to share it with everyone.

 

Click here to experience the best 15 minute healing meditation of all time.

 

You don’t have to suffer from estrangement, loss, divorce, death or major change.

 

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We can all heal through mindfulness.

 

XO,

Rachel

p.s.: For more of my grief-healing meditations and tools, check out my app by clicking here.

 

 

Hello 2016!

 

 

Why is my New Year’s Resolution to forgive myself?

 

Great question. I don’t know. I do and I don’t.

 

When I feel sad or lonely, which lately has been often, I start to feel a little bit of anxiety. Take me in that state of being, add anything else to the mix (forgot something, hungry, etc.), and you have a recipe for me turning on me. Fast. I am talking about zero patience for me.

 

Sometimes I feel like I want to bound after my own self on all fours, like I need to attack myself swiftly and mercilessly. Like a drug, this battle promises to end the anxiety I feel.

 

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I tried so hard to love myself in 2015. I have been working for years now to love myself. But honestly, if you want to knock yourself out…that’s a toxic relationship at best.

 

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I have always wanted to learn more about forgiveness, to pick up this foreign language. It hit me like a slow moving steam roller this past month: you can’t force people to connect with you. I want to. I have always wanted to make connection happen. All neglected children do. Emotional connection is beautiful. Emotional connection involves the healthy process of both letting it go and feeling.

 

Let it go + Feel Feelings = positive GROWTH

 

There is one person in the universe you can force a connection with: YOURSELF.

 

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That’s where compassion for others lives. Deep within the understanding of how hard it is to simultaneously let go and feel. We don’t know what others have to process. We only know what we have to process and that shit is as fucked as it gets. If we could extend the courtesy to others, the courtesy of understanding the whole, not wanting to both let go AND feel, then  it will be easier to consider forgiveness when their failure to do so harms you.

 

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So this morning I looked at my tired self in the mirror and said: I forgive you. And THEN, to make it even weirder, I gave myself a long hug…in the mirror.

 

What was that like?

 

I already told you, WEIRD. But also awesome, thanks for asking. Soothing actually, I’m not gonna lie. This is going to work. I am going to tell myself: I forgive you, every morning until I have the self compassion to allow myself to make simple mistakes without thoughts of physical retaliation. I want to model self compassion and self love to my child. I will do the hard work. Me and me. And when it is done, I will feel FREE.

 

I am excited for the freedom.

 

XO

~Rachel

Year End Review

 

Validation is a basic necessity for humans, like food, shelter and water.

 

People will go toward one another, against all odds, despite mortal danger, just to say:

 

Hey…

 

is it raining on your face, too?

 

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Withholding validation from your loved ones is abuse, which is a crime.

 

If you are doing this, cut it out.  If this is being done to you, speak up.  Use your voice.  If using your voice leads to silence, estrangement or catastrophic retaliation, give yourself a hug, you brave human being.

 

This is growth.

 

Growth is painful.

 

2015 has been the year of growing pains. Have you felt it? The intensity has been insidious. 2016 cannot come fast enough. My New Year’s Resolution? To forgive myself. Finally. Wish me luck.

 

XO

~Rachel

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That’s How Much I Love You

This morning my son wrapped his arms around my neck and hugged me. Hard.

 

“I love you, Mama; if you were a sock, I’d be your shoe.”

 

My heart. Exploded.

 

I tell my son this all the time because it’s from one of our favorite bedtime stories.

 

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This was the first time he ever thought to say it to me.

 

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I am so grateful and so full of love. In this moment, I am also overwhelmed by the haiku I wrote for my son:

 

HE’S NOT MINE TO OWN,

I WAS MADE TO PROTECT HIM…

BEFORE I WAS BORN.

 

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At some point during the whole becoming a mom stage of my life, I realized my protective capacity was off. Off like…I would kill myself to save someone else…from boredom.

 

My son saved me. Before he was born, I was slowly dying…and I didn’t even care. I had toxic relationship poisoning. Were it not for my son, I never would have began my self love journey. My son taught me to rage against the dying of the light. RAGE. Don’t fuck with my son’s mom. I matter.

 

For someone who realizes that they were created to be a weapon of war, a tool of destruction, the very idea that you “matter” can be overwhelming…and confusing. When I started to ACT like I matter, I lost almost every single person in my life.

 

What’s up, grief?

 

If you are not on board with me loving myself,

 

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I’ll grieve you.

 

What did one year of boundaries do for me?

 

(1) Could not meet son’s teacher vs Had son’s teacher over for dinner

(2) Hospital every couple months vs No Hospital in 9 months

(3) Wanted to go to a support group vs Hosting a support group

(4) Could not stay asleep for longer than 2 hours vs Sleeping up to 5 consecutive hours per night

(5) Living in constant FEAR vs Only experiencing fear when appropriate (NEVER!)

 

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I have my health, I have my family, I have love and I am GRATEFUL.

 

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XO

~Rachel

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Cleaning Out My Closet

I read this clothing article recently that has totally blown my mind.

 

Here is the link (click here).

 

Article highlights: this yoga pants wearing mom got rid of her entire wardrobe in exchange for like 37 articles of clothing she feels really good about resulting in optimal coordination and closet organization. Seriously read this article, it has changed my life.

 

Within hours of reading it, I had collected 4 garbage bags full of clothing to donate to charity.

 

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Plus I went all Joan Crawford in there…

 

No wire hangers

 

And I got rid of an overflowing garbage bag of undesirable hangers.

 

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Not to mention the overflowing bag of clothing I am mailing to my goddaughter and the medium bag of clothing that I am mailing to my best friend. I made a SERIOUS dent in my closet.

 

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I have never been able to thumb through the clothing in my closet and really see the items before. As though they might be giving away awards for having “the most” clothes, my closet was packed so tight, many plastic hangers snapped in the process of weeding out the most tired pieces. I found a dress in here that I don’t remember ever even seeing before. (YES!!!)

 

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This is just the beginning, I am far from whittling down to only 37 pieces of clothing. I can’t believe I am even doing this. Getting rid of dresses is a BIG deal for me…that and sentimental tee shirts, old tank tops, hoodies and shoes (I’ll just come clean here and admit: I hoard clothes).

 

My closet has always been open to my friends and family for shopping. Hence all the extra gear that looks terrible on me and my tendency to mail boxes of clothing to my closest friends semi-annually.

 

One of my greatest memories of my cousin Kelly is how we used to shop in each other’s closets. Being six years younger, I was always ridiculously grateful for the opportunity to peek through her jam packed closet. I could borrow whatever I wanted! It was the experience of a life time. Seriously. I remember everything about it, the poor lighting, the danger of the shoe boxes that always seemed about to come crashing down on your head from the top shelf, her smell, the piles and piles of 90’s clothes.

 

When I got to be like 16/17, that’s when Kelly started to take an interest in some of my clothes. The pride I felt. To this day.

 

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That’s Kelly on the right wearing my dress! With a cowboy hat!!  She is standing with her best friend, that’s why their smiles are so radiant; they love each other like I love my best friend. If you have one best friend like this in your lifetime, consider yourself blessed, be grateful.

 

This is so hard to write.

 

Our bodies remember the anniversaries of traumatic events even if our amazing brain chooses to give us a break from the details.

 

I am the kind of person who always wants to know WHY. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what my body is trying to tell me that my brain does not want to talk about.

 

It was 15 years ago that I lost my cousin, Kelly.

 

That was so fucking hard to write.

 

I actually had to take a break to scream cry and spill huge tears down my cheeks…

 

…And then I gave myself a hug.

 

Kelly was my hero. She was the kind of woman I was certain I could never be. Bold. Independent. Strong. Desired. Fearless. Beautiful.

 

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When she smiled, she looked exactly like Brooke Shields and when she was angry, she reminded me of Julia Roberts.

 

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From 13-18 Kelly’s prom calendar was full. She was always getting ready to go to a dance. I remember this one time I stood in the middle of her photo shoot with her date, so confident that my shorts and tee shirt ensemble was not a problem, holding hands and smiling like I was supposed to be there with them, too. She was my Disney Princess.

 

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Blonde with green eyes, the most voluptuous figure and the most fun to be around. Honestly. You were lucky to know her. She was more fun than anyone, always looking for adventure.

 

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Confident and cool, my cousin Kelly was the opposite of me. I never even got asked to go to one of my own school dances, let alone some other school’s dances. I would not consider my teen self to be fun-loving so much as safety-loving.

 

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Kelly liked to jump out of planes. She loved the water; being out on a boat fishing, even all by herself, would make her happiest. She loved to hike and camp, anything outdoors. She also loved beer and swore like a sailor. She was so bad ass.

 

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I never even went camping until I was 18 years old, already in college. It was almost 2 months after losing her. Camping was what my best friend wanted to do for her 19th Birthday and it was the perfect way for me to honor my cousin and my grief. Whenever I go hiking or camping, Kelly is right there with me. Kelly is always with me.

 

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When she left this Earth, I wished it was me instead. For years. I wore this gold heart ring she had given me for Christmas all the time for the first year. I spent a lot of time trying to negotiate that trade.

 

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I cherish every single memory that I have of my Kelly. My chest is super tight as I try to breathe through the steady stream of tears that have stained and rendered my glasses almost useless.

 

I have a million things I want to say. I stop because I fear I won’t be able to explain properly.

 

The sun used to shine on Kelly. It just did. It was obvious if you were there, but you weren’t so you’ll have to just take my word for it.

 

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She is my angel hero.

 

XO

~Rachel

 

PS–Cleaning out your closet may cause grief.

and that's ok

Positive Mantras & Parenting: The Help

{originally published January 14, 2015}

 

Shifting from negative mantras to positive mantras was probably my greatest success of 2014.

 

I pushed myself through every day of my life, all the way to 2014, using hateful, terrorizing, emotionally crushing negative mantras. I was not always aware I was doing it. It was habitual to say the least.

 

The only reason I decided to stop doing that was because of the look on my therapist’s face when I told her that’s how I got myself through high school, college and law school (and the bar exam, my wedding planning and pregnancy). The look on her face suggested that was not a good idea.

 

So, I agreed to try out positive mantras. It was tough at first because I did not realize how huge the shift was going to be. I had to care about myself for real. I had to be sorry when I slipped up, which was tough because, at first, it felt very natural and almost soothing to just allow myself to tear into myself. But when I was finished, it wasn’t soothing at all (obviously) and I regretted what I considered to be “backsliding” into old bad habits.

 

Over the course of the year, I found myself doing many things to solidify my shift into positive mantras. Research, reading, journaling, mixed media art (#hellosoulhellomantras), meditating, EMDR, self hypnosis, yoga, etc.

 

Want to know what the single most helpful activity has been?

 

Parenting.

 

By far, the easiest and most effective method for my shift was to use positive mantras on my child.

 

When I was pregnant, I read the book The Help and was very moved by the mantra that the nanny uses on the baby (“You is kind, you is smart, you is important”).

 

you-is-kind

 

My big pregnant self was sobbing thinking about how helpful that would have been, if my parents had used mantras like that on me when I was a child.

 

Ever since my son was born, I have told him this every day:

 

You are kind. You are smart. You are important. You are my son. I am your mom. I take care of you. You are special. You are an angel. You are made out of stars. I am so proud of you. You make me so happy. I love to be your mom. We are a family. I love you.

 

I tell him this, without fail, at nap time and at bed time. I also tell him that when he is cuddly, or sad, or when I just don’t know what else to say. This is my filler.

 

At the end of this month, my son will be 3 years old. For the past 6 months, he has been whispering the mantra along with me. I could not be more proud. I know he believes every word of it (why wouldn’t he? It’s all true).

 

What’s even more amazing—I am beginning to believe every word of it about myself. I am kind. I am smart. I am important. I am a mom. I will take care of myself. I love myself. I am special. I am an angel. I am made out of stars. I am so happy. I love to be Jackson’s mom. I have a family.

 

It’s hard to totally change certain core habits. I know. I did it. Through, research, reading, journaling, various forms of therapy, art work, blogging, meditating, yoga and parenting.

 

I don’t care how old your children are, start the positive mantras with them today. Do it for them and for you. Do it every day.

 

XO

~Rachel

 

Haiku by Rachel VanKoughnet:

 

He’s not mine to own.

I was made to protect him

before I was born.

 

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Bill Murray in St. Vincent

{originally posted December 10, 2014}

 

Went on a hot date over the weekend to the movies and saw Bill Murray star in St. Vincent.

 

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I love Bill Murray. I am not done considering my overall opinion of this (very) dark comedy, but I am way overdue in sharing the part that immediately resonated with me…

 

Yes, it has to do with grief.

 

Bill Murray plays a character who (spoiler alert) loses his wife. The conversation he has with the little boy he babysits is very relevant to me. It went something like this:

 

(little boy) I’m sorry for your loss.

(Bill Murray, angrily) Why do people always say that?

(little boy) Because they don’t know what else to say.

(Bill Murray) How about, what was she like?

 

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So I’m in the movie theatre and I just burst into tears, trying to tell my husband (yup, I’m talking during the movie now, too) that: IT’S NOT FAIR!

 

What’s not fair?

 

The way society forces us to shut down our grief. I’m sorry for your loss is the same thing as saying: that’s enough, shut it down, this conversation is over. That is not polite, that is cold and rude. It’s also unhealthy. What was she like? Now that’s a conversation opener. Brilliant. Much warmer. Demonstrates that you care.

 

So I have already started doing it. Asking people who are grieving: what was she like? And the result is beautiful. I recommend it. Relationships never die. Trust me. Even if the other person dies, your relationship never dies because it lives inside of you. Keep talking about your loved ones who have passed, it strengthens your relationship; makes it grow.

 

I was trying to tell my best friend about this concept and saw the 1987 version of the movie The Secret Garden in my head. Remember when that little girl finds the key and opens the Secret Garden door for the first time? What garden?! The brown overgrown piles of sticks and dead leaves were so high and thick; you would never know we finally made it to the garden but for the title of the movie. That’s where your relationships go that you think are dead. That’s where the relationships go that you wish were dead. Relationships never die. They are just waiting for you behind the wall you put up.

 

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Am I blowing your mind? Watch this video I made:

(Relationships Never Die: The Secret Garden).

Revisit your relationships—every single one of them, as they are all living inside of you. Take inventory. Roll up your sleeves and be willing to do the hard work. Gardens don’t bloom in a day.

 

XO

~Rachel

 

A Double Haiku by Rachel VanKoughnet:

 

Always with Despair,

sometimes I think I can count

my friends on one hand…

hand orchids

…then I remember:

you keep your friends in your heart.

I’m never alone.

Relationships Never Die: The Secret Garden

{originally posted December 6, 2014}

 

Relationships never die.

 

This is a major epiphany for me.

 

There have been many relationships in my life that I wished would die; that I believed were already dead. It made sense to me at the time and went right along with my former erroneous belief that relationships die when one of the parties thereto passes away. That’s not true at all. I know this now.

 

I write a lot about grief. It’s kind of my thing.

 

Grieving has actually strengthened my relationships with those that have passed.

 

Believing relationships can die is what leads to neglect, the weakening of that relationship.

 

Admittedly, part of what sparked the epiphany for me stemmed from the blog I wrote about my brother and an insightful comment from a fellow INFJ that went like this:

 

“The attitudes and emotions behind this post seriously gave me goosebumps. The power of sibling relationship still baffles me today. What a journey I’ve been on in my own life trying to account for it. You’ve reminded me how precious that relationship is – like a flower you can hold in your hand for a short time, it eventually transforms into something new. It disintegrates into the soil. It joins the earth and nourishes new growth. The process is very painful. Our consumerism culture tells us to throw away withered flowers as if they are no longer Life. We have to go out and buy new flowers if we aren’t so lucky to have a garden. I’ve learned to appreciate the future of a blossomed flower. That momentary joy you experience in its beauty transforms into cycles of creation that flow through our earth, our home. A flower becomes a source of vitality for all living things. Relationships are no different. The imprint a person leaves on you resonates in the beauty and kindness you share with others, in your ability to transform yourself, in your ability to light up the world around you. Thanks so much for sharing this in all the difficulty that it presented to you. I hope it was cathartic. I hope it helped you shift into a space of receptivity so that you too could benefit from the vitality your brother shared with you.”

 

Thank you does not do justice to the gratitude in my heart for these words. Words are my favorite. I got lost in this garden The Child Philosopher created for me and just sat there for weeks… examining…taking inventory. I treasure these words. They lead me to the most beautiful and peaceful understanding: relationships never die.

 

I have been desperately trying to explain this concept to anyone who will listen to me for awhile now. So I made a YouTube video about it (click here to watch). I hope you can find peace in the message as well.

 

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Happy Holidays.

 

XO

~Rachel

PS: subscribe to The Child Philosopher!

Love a Veteran?

{originally published November 11, 2014}

 

In honor of Veteran’s Day, here is a link to a brilliant 20 minute video about how to cure Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). If you or someone you know suffers from this injury, please watch this video to learn how to feel better immediately.

 

I have always considered myself a Veteran, though I have never been in the military, I was in the war at home. Domestic Violence. Abuse and Neglect. I am a survivor.

 

One of the many different things I do to recover from my complex PTSD injury is research and read. I cannot recommend the book Sacred Contracts by Caroline Myss enough. This book has taught me so much about myself provided an excellent guideline for how to do the HARD WORK of getting to know my true authentic self.

 

This book asked me to consider what my family legacies are. What are the things that family members have been doing to each other for generations? Right away, my brain answered: we don’t talk to each other. Ever again.

 

The reality of this family legacy legitimately precludes me from ascertaining what the other family legacies might be, but recently my brain released another answer…and it hit me like a ton of bricks: we think we should kill ourselves.

 

Terrible! I know, it’s disgusting…but hear me out…

 

In my family it was understood that making a mistake (such as stuttering, dropping something, striking out at baseball, etc.) would definitely lead to an overwhelming sense of shame that would absolutely be cured by just killing yourself. Like that would be the only way to be relieved or released from your indiscretion. Living with the shame…that would be unbearable. It was a joke…I think.

 

The thing is, years later, my paternal grandfather actually did kill himself.

 

I had only met him once. I was 16 years old and cashing them both out of the express lane at the grocery store when my paternal grandmother advised: “we are your grandparents…see, we won’t hurt you.” I smiled painfully and handed them their change and receipt, as my brain processed the information. Publicly. I had never met them before even though we lived just up the street from them and walked past their house all the time. Legacy #1 Cut Ties Forever.

 

I know my paternal grandfather was a Veteran. I heard that he was disturbed by his experiences in the war and that may have lead to his decision to end his own life.  Considering suicidal ideation as a family legacy has actually helped me tremendously. It’s not me. It is a learned behavior. It can absolutely be undone.

 

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There is no indiscretion that should cause a person to take their own life.  Every mistake can be undone with LOVE. I promise.

 

If, for whatever reason, you don’t take the time to watch the video about how to cure PTSD, I can break it down for you into 2 words: LOVE YOURSELF.  Love is gentle. Love is kind.

 

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XO

~Rachel

 

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*Haiku by Rachel VanKoughnet

“Like a horror film,

Sometimes all I see is loss

…suffocating me…”

Oh, Brother…

{originally published October 6, 2014}

 

I want to talk about my brother, Jody.

 

I call him my brother because he literally embodied the definition of the word for me at a time when I was very confused about its meaning.

 

Brother.

 

I always had them. I am the youngest of three children and the only girl. Divorce and remarriage changed all that. In so many ways.

 

My oldest brother (by 5 years) did not speak to me from age 11 through 18. We never discussed why when we spoke from age 18 through 22 but it was always assumed that it was not my older brother’s fault at all, even though we lived in a small town of almost 2000 people. Even though I was just a little girl. I won’t ask him now, since he hasn’t spoken to me from age 22 through the present (age 32) and because I don’t care to hear the answer, I already know.

 

My other older brother (by 18 months) was the kind of best friend who, it was understood, would rather be with our older brother if he could, but since he can’t right at this particular moment, then we could be best friends as consolation. The kind of best friend who allows you to sit at his cool kids lunch table in high school but doesn’t say a word to you for that lunch hour every day for a year. WHY??? I don’t know, I always assumed it was because I was worthless, but I asked him recently and it seems to be simple high school survival behavior he deeply regrets.

 

The combination of the above two paragraphs left me in a weird spot in high school with regard to the word “brother.”

 

When I was 14 my mom and I went to go live with her boyfriend who later became my stepfather. My stepfather also had 2 sons and a youngest daughter, just like my family. Jody was 5 years older than me, like my brother Kevin, and I fell in love with him immediately. It was embarrassing. I knew we were now family, even though it would be 2 more years before our parents officially married each other; I knew it would not be appropriate to be IN LOVE with my future step-brother.

 

Sometimes I would make him food. He was so skinny. Unlike me or my brothers, Jody could eat anything and it never showed. He admitted to me a decade later that he always had to secretly throw away more than half of his plate that I prepared because he didn’t want to hurt my feelings that he couldn’t eat all of it.

 

He didn’t want to hurt my feelings.

 

I could tell. He was doing what I was doing: we were watching each other. He read, understood who I was, and he wanted to protect me. The more we got to know each other, the more clear it became that we truly understood and practiced loyalty.

 

Loyalty.

 

That word has always been among my top 5 personality traits. That word has also always haunted me. Why??? Because I was giving it and not getting it, the loyalty was not always reciprocal. I used to think that’s what drew Jody and I together: our understanding of, appreciation, and yearning for reciprocal loyalty.

 

I understand now that it’s much more than that.

 

I remember the last conversation Jody and I had together, 6 years ago now. We hadn’t seen each other in awhile and he was skinnier than ever. He lit up when he saw me. I know he lit up because not only did I see it with my own eyes, but it also reflected back into me and I actually felt warm and loved.

 

He was telling me he received my wedding save the date. I rolled my eyes like: oh that old thing and told him all discouraged that I wanted it to have been much more creative but I’m not good at that stuff so my save the date is actually kind of boring compared to what I’ve been receiving in the mail from more artistically inclined friends. Blah Blah Blah. Boring.

 

Jody shook his head slightly, smiling, and told me he had never even seen a wedding save the date that was a magnet, he described how excited he was to open my mail and be reminded that I was going to marry Chris. How he loves to see it on his fridge every day. His sincerity was so calming to me; his support was palpable.

 

Jody was always a fan of Chris. I remember when Chris and I hosted our first Thanksgiving together at our first apartment in Buffalo. For a variety of reasons, that holiday meal was extremely stressful to prepare (I won’t go into that here) but, long story short, the combination of our divorced families and the tardiness of the meal resulted in a miscalculation of wine intake and a pass (out) on dinner.

 

What I’m saying is: by the time the food finally made it to the table, Chris had to excuse himself from the table and literally never came back; therefore, I hosted our divorced families for the first time by myself.

 

If you know me, you can look right at me and know what I’m thinking. My face is very expressive. Jody watched the tension in me rise to a boiling point. He smiled at me. He told me the food was excellent. He told me he was having a great time. It was right around his Birthday so I made him a cherry cheesecake pie, a new recipe. I had asked him what he wanted for his Birthday cake and was startled when he told me no one had ever asked him that before. Cheesecake. I had never made one, but I bake pies so I made that for him special and was so worried it would be a flop.

 

We sang Happy Birthday to Jody, his son blew out the candles and, even though he was so full from dinner, he ate his entire huge piece of cheesecake. His Birthday cake. He hugged me so hard. He loved his cake! I found my smile again.

 

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Before he left my apartment that evening Jody told me: don’t give Chris a hard time. I looked at Jody sideways, he never told me what to do before, but Jody just smiled at me until I smiled back and said: ok.

 

That really blew me away at the time because I was like, why shouldn’t I give him a hard time?! What’s the big deal, why do you care what happens to him? Because I know Jody, I already knew the answer. Just like me, Jody could read people, and, just like me, Jody decided immediately he loved Chris.

 

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This is the Christmas card Jody handed us just a couple weeks later. Jody was excellent at picking out greeting cards. They were never random. The card says:

 

“For You, Sister, and your family. Your home is a happy and welcoming place where there’s love in the air and a smile on each face…”

 

I cried when I opened this card. I cried because the one thing I have ever wanted my entire life was a family of my own and I knew Jody was right: me and Chris were a family now. I cried because Jody was being my brother and I needed it. I cried because Jody’s heart was so big.

 

Chris and I always talk about the time Jody lent us his boat. It was a disaster. Something happened and the boat kept filling up with water?! We were super concerned that we were going to sink his boat and that he would be angry thinking the boat was filling up with water because of something we may have done. When we got home, Jody just laughed and said: I’m sorry that happened! He was smiling while we explained how worried we were that we had done something wrong. Jody was not at all concerned. He shrugged and said it’s ok, he would fix it. No big deal.

 

Jody could fix any boat, he was a real genius at it. Most people would at least tease the person who almost sunk their boat, but not Jody. He was very careful with my emotions. Probably why he didn’t tease me and say: blah blah blah, when I shot down his compliment of my wedding save the date magnet.

 

9-19-09. That was my save the date. It used to haunt me. I mean, who sends out a save the date over a year in advance and then dares not to get married that day? Me. Some of my friends still have that magnet on their fridge and I used to look at it as a symbol of my failure and be like: why are you doing this to me, take that thing down at once!!!

 

I don’t see 9-19-09 like that anymore. Ever since I started to embrace the grieving process, I also started to see 9-19-09 as an inevitable part of my journey. That actually did have to happen that way. I didn’t make a mistake. Not at all.

 

Today I allow myself to say: I am that person who rescheduled their wedding date due to grief. If Jody wasn’t doing 9-19-09 then neither were we. I planned a totally different wedding that did take place on 5-8-10 because life happened and I adapted. I honor my body and I do what feels right when it feels right.

 

My brother Jody is with me all the time. Even so, I still feel his absence and I still mourn our connection on this earth. I wish we could spend this Thanksgiving together and our Birthdays and Christmas. Anything.

 

I’m not done talking about my brother Jody and I never will be.

 

XO

~Rachel

 

PS: Full Disclosure: while writing this blog, I cried the whole time…on a spectrum ranging from silent stream of tears to scream sobbing; I also used my shirt as a tissue after the box of Kleenex next to me ran out.

Kelly Rae Roberts, will you be my friend (yes, no or maybe)?

{originally posted June 10, 2015}

 

Before Disney’s Frozen, there was this:

 

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I saw it in a shop window in Boulder City, NV on April 21, 2013 and almost had to sit down because I was so…struck.

 

I was overwhelmed.

 

I felt strong, sad, lonely, inspired, hopeful, angry, joyful and I was not sure whether I was going to scream or cry or scream cry.  So I just looked at my husband and said: she’s coming home with us.

 

She hangs on the wall outside of my bedroom so that we can see each other at the start of each day.  Let it go.  I move forward.

 

I google searched the artist the next day and was struck by how similar we are (http://kellyraeroberts.com/about).  Kelly Rae Roberts gave up her career as a social worker to follow her true purpose and she has a toddler boy.  If I hadn’t gone to law school, I would have been a social worker for women and children in domestic violence situations.  If I hadn’t given birth, I would probably still be practicing family law, but I too felt compelled to follow my true purpose; I just didn’t know exactly what that was yet.

 

There is this cute little stationary store in Village Square in Las Vegas called Alligator Soup.  I walked by it one day and could see them on the wall, even though the angle was not ideal, so I went inside and just stared.  Like a dozen Kelly Rae Roberts pieces staring back at me, calling to me, pulling at my heart.  When the clerk asked me if I needed any help, the tears brimming in my eyes spilled over and I had to take a minute before I told her that oh yes, I was taking some home with me.

 

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“Kindness matters.  The hope and kindness we give to the world not only nurtures us but it becomes a gift for someone else to receive for their own healing.”

 

Every single time I look at it, I pause and am moved by its beauty.  It is hung on the wall when you enter the front door of my home.

 

Kindness is a huge theme in this household.  As an advocate for social change, I understand that it is the loss of feeling, the loss of caring, the loss of kindness and compassion that is my BIGGEST hurdle.  If people don’t care, then things stay the same or get worse.  If things are SAD and people FEEL sad, then they are more likely to DO SOMETHING to change it for the better.

 

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“The whispers of our lives want us to take notice. They may just be whispers, small voices tucked deep inside the pockets of our hearts, but we must hold their possibilities close to our chests and allow them to step into the light.”

 

This piece…you know…I don’t want to say any of them are my favorite because I love all of them…but this spoke to me the loudest.  Obviously because I saw potential in myself that I was not tapping into. An important part of me was in the dark. I owned this piece for 5 months before I allowed myself to say: I am a writer. When that happened, I stopped crying every time I looked at it.  I don’t cry because I am just so proud of myself for having the courage to be ME.

 

Part of being ME involves sharing my light; that fills me up. I could not stand to be the only one basking in the glow of Kelly Rae Roberts, so I started buying them as gifts for family, friends, people I just met…Off the top of my head I can think of 17 pieces of Kelly Rae Roberts art that I have gifted away and I get even more joy out of that.

 

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So I treated myself to what I consider to be the crowning glory of all Kelly Rae’s: Kindness Changes Everything.  My son pointed it out and said “pretty” for the first 3 weeks this was hung in our family room and I think that his awestruck facial expression alone was worth it.  I want my son to know the truth: kindness changes everything.

 

I started to follow Kelly Rae Roberts’ blog and I noticed that she began to do this “wear your joy” project right about the same time I noticed that I needed to start putting myself back together after the “new mom” phase.  Showering, getting dressed in clothes that make you feel like YOURSELF, smiling when you look in the mirror.  Thank you Kelly Rae Roberts for the wear your joy project.

 

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This is me being kind to myself for my 32nd Birthday.  I am wearing my new boots and Kelly Rae scarf from my mom and enjoying my new Kelly Rae iPhone case that was my birthday gift to myself.  I blow dried my hair! I was beginning to recognize myself again after having a baby, which is a miracle because I very dramatically told my close friends that the old Rachel died and this less passionate, more boring shell of a person was here to take her place. (Thanks for letting me vent, guys!).

 

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“Slow down. Breathe in the season. Wish upon a star.”

 

Breathing is a big deal for me.  I don’t always remember to breathe.  This was a Christmas gift from my Aunt Pam and I LOVE it! It hangs in the hallway between my bedroom and bathroom and I can see it from my bed. I see her when I wake up, I breathe and I smile. Thank you, Aunt Pam!

 

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“Dream. My wish for you is that you feel the full breath of  possibility. And that love and kindness embrace your heart always.”

 

This was my Husband’s 2014 Valentine’s Day wish for me. It hangs on the wall next to my bed. I try to breathe that in as much as possible. My Husband wanted to remind me to give myself the love and kindness I deserve, to protect my own heart as I practice courage on a daily basis.

 

It’s not easy. But it is the right thing to do.

 

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“Remember who you wanted to be.”

 

I remember when I was in first grade and began to write stories for the first time. We used the rectangular paper with the dotted lines that ensured your printing would be huge and hopefully legible.  I remember watching my classmates struggle to finish the assignment: write 4 sentences, a paragraph if you will.

 

I got bored waiting and wrote a much longer story, mine took up 4 pieces of perforated paper and still I waited for my classmates to finish.  I remember feeling energized, excited and competent.

 

My first grade teacher was one of my all time favorites.  Mrs. Andelora supported my strengths and encouraged me to pursue what came very naturally to me. I think about her all the time. Mrs. Andelora was an amazing teacher.

 

I remember now who I wanted to be: a writer.

 

Kelly Rae Roberts wrote this ebook that has helped me embrace the HOW; it’s called Flying Lessons.  I bought the whole Shabang, parts 1, 2 & 3 and highly recommend it to anyone interested in owning a successful creative business.

 

What REALLY struck me about the ebook was a random link.  The link brought me to Liv Lane’s blog and her blog contained a link that brought me to an entry from 2012 in Kelly Rae Roberts’ blog.

 

BAM!

 

That’s when I figured it out.

 

Finally.

 

Like me, Kelly Rae Roberts was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder shortly after her first child was born. We are kindred spirits.

 

When I purchased my first Kelly Rae, Let it Go, I didn’t even know I had PTSD yet…but I knew what this meant:

 

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The cage…over her brain…the wings…

 

Here is an excerpt from Kelly Rae Roberts’ blog:

 

“I wanted to share this story because I believe in telling the truth of our stories. Not all stories we hold close need to be released, but some do, I believe. And this is one of those stories for me. With every piece of art I create, I release it out into the world in an effort to make more room in my heart spaces for more, new, fresh art. If I hold onto it, I can’t move forward – I need the mental space. Same is true for some stories – they need releasing so that we can make room for new, fresh, emerging experiences and new stories, so that we are no longer defined by a particular story by holding it too close.

Besides, our connections live inside our stories, where we see ourselves mirrored in one another’s stories, where comfort and belonging reside. Some of these stories are private and some are not. Either way, there is just so much, so much beauty in our brokenness and our wholeness. I believe in sharing both.” (Kelly Rae Roberts).

 

The courage it took for Kelly Rae Roberts to speak out about her PTSD caused a visceral response within me because I’m supposed to do it, too. I am supposed to share my messy, complicated story.

 

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This is my Kelly Rae Roberts writing furniture.  My Husband got them for me for our 4 year wedding anniversary this May because he believes in me and wants me to succeed.  I cried so hard when we unwrapped the huge package, I could not believe how LOVED this couch made me feel.  Our cat understood immediately and has been napping on it ever since we brought it into the bedroom.

 

The chair sits at my vanity in my bathroom and every day when I get out of bed and get myself ready for the day, I sit in that beautiful chair and declare: “I choose hope.”

 

Thank you Kelly Rae Roberts. For everything.

 

The next creation I launch will be my YouTube video about PTSD and it will be in the month of June in honor of PTSD awareness month.  

 

Stay tuned!

 

It’s about to get real.

 

For more information on PTSD, please visit the website: a gift from within.

 

Thank you for your support!

 

XO

~Rachel