Next to me is a photo album open to a page with a large black and white photo of four women at the beach at Catalina Island outside of Los Angeles. The ‘swimsuits’ are long black dresses. The date of the photograph is documented as the late 1890’s.

My husband is deep in a project of scanning his family history so that these precious and fragile inheritances can remain intact and accessible through online media. The job is tedious but rewarding. Yesterday, we had discussed how each photo reveals a story, but that the viewer is only privy to a filtered version of the story based on our own interpretations.

These women at the beach would be unable to vote for 30 more years. There is no doubt that their story of the ‘beach day’ would reveal many differences from our own experiences. We can imagine how hard life was for them, but without documentation through stories, we are stuck within the limitations of imagination.

Often, we think of imagination as a broad forest of possibility. For children, imagination is crucial to development and establishing an identity in a world much larger than them. We pride them for conceiving wonderful ideas and expressing their perspective in ways parents would never think to do. Imagination comes naturally for children, as they rely on the security of feeling that there is a place in the world that appreciates and values them.

But imagination stifles with age. We erase the potential of things and become cemented in convenience. We find a niche where patterns have emerged, filling a space that has adapted to our comfort and expectations. We forget that this place is a story, based on interpretations and filters meant to hold us there for the sake of maintaining homeostasis, the brain’s constant pull to an unchallenged status of existence.

Often, our heart and brain are in conflict during change, which is a good thing when it comes to agitating the waters of self-fulfillment. We fear hurting others. We fear failure. We fear success. Every excuse in the book can be found under the Fear heading because when we learned to silence our imagination there had to be a category for our stories. Freedom doesn’t arrive without struggle, because fear will always reside along resistance to an identity defined by others. Breaking free of limitations, of stories, requires a new perspective which challenges the status quo and pushes against the default structure. Fears can be overcome. Otherwise, nothing would change.

Catalina Island, Late 1890’s

Yesterday, I had the first fraught meeting with a new editor over the first 30 pages of my memoir. Through our respective computer screens, we came to know each other via the discussion of what wasn’t working for my story. Sending my competent-but-not-effective work to a stranger would have scared the Hell out of the old me, but there comes a point when you have to let go of fear, especially when the creative world is calling your name.

“Play with your story,” the editor told me. “The story is cerebral and fresh and you have something big that the world needs.”

The praise was great for validating my efforts, but I paid to hear criticism. The story lacks an effective structure, something to hold its complexity and my voice in one body. As it is now, it resembles a page of amateur spirograph drawings. Remember how the plastic plate would slip from its pivot, ruining the concentricity of the circle? That pivot point is the equivalent of story structure.

Sometimes, letting go of original constructs is what it takes to improve the overall coherence of a story. Psychology is the spine of our emotions and we create stories in our mind to explain how things must be, but what if we’re wrong? What if we toss our own doubts and fears into the air and let them land differently? Where might we go when we accept an invitation to step from a point where we were once positioned to a new, different approach?

So, now I must play and think creatively to better serve the story which only I can tell. How about you? Are you emotionally wrung out? Which stories in your mind can be let go? How might you construct a better perspective of your truth to align with the worth of your one and only life?

The ocean symbolizes the power we hold. Waves lap at the shoreline over and over, pulsing the water in infinite measures with an unfurling scroll that mimics the strength we carry.

Five years ago, I gazed at the sea with an emptiness of spirit and fearful of the life ahead of me after disillusionment revealed the worst of things in the people I had loved longest. I felt betrayed, used, invisible.

I screamed to the ocean, “I am worth it,” weeping for the years I failed to believe this.

The waves crested and fell, the rise and fall of perpetual power. Repetition. Shadow. Echo. What was worth repeating to myself? What would sustain me forever?

I yelled again. “I am worth it!”

The waves rolled and rolled.

Five years ago, my world split open with the truth of a family betrayal. As a child, I was the daughter to blame, insult, and punish for the problems the adults could not or did not want to handle. Growing up, I heard every name and accusation, both verbal and insinuated, from  siblings and parents alike. I was an embarrassment, an idiot, a delinquent, a loser, a pain in the neck, selfish, too sensitive, dramatic, lazy, a problem child, weak, nasty, ungrateful. I ruined the family.

I was the family scapegoat.

Scapegoating* a child is more than verbal abuse, which serves as a gaslighting technique to break down the child’s self-esteem. Often accompanied by emotional neglect and physical abuse, she is the adhesive component of a dysfunctional family system so that adult accountability can be avoided. It is a role so crucial to the dysfunction that betrayals are denied, destroying the victim’s trust in her own perception. Starved for approval and normalcy, she learns to suffer for love.

Scapegoating is an invisible abuse. The mind of the victim has been derailed and she cannot see the abuse for what it is. Scapegoating is therefore difficult to detect and will last until it is confronted, often when the grown child reaches her 30s, 40s, 50s, or longer, when she finally confronts the truth of her emotional deprivations. Long-term exposure to any abuse is traumatic.

Five years have passed since truth and disillusionment set me free from the role of blind victim. I celebrate October, my birth month, as a commitment to my strength and integrity. This is my favorite month to honor and celebrate my inner child who grew up doubting that she was worthy of love. She was a champion of resilience.

Healing began when I finally saw the people entrusted to take care of me for who they really are. These past five years, I have deepened my understanding of the family cycle of trauma. Through intentional writing, I have processed my experience and expanded my self-belief from victim to warrior, and it is my obligation and my honor to share my story for those without a voice or the language to articulate their own experiences. Creating deep connections with others requires raw and courageous truths. I celebrate the resilience of humanity who possesses the strength of mind to overcome their fears and furies. Autumn is a season of transformation, and as the temperatures plummet, I celebrate the reward of fierce introspection and the truth that sets us free from the tethers of illusion. This month, I honor the courageous hearts who have not given up believing in themselves. 



*Educated by Tara Westover is a beautifully written account of scapegoating.

A list of questions to ask yourself if you suspect you are the family scapegoat.  

A child should never endure abuse at the hands of an adult. If you think a child is being exploited in any way, please call for help. National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453)

Trigger Warning: Content contains sexual violence/trauma

The author Jessica Stern has been a huge influence on my writing work. She has written many books on terrorism (which I have not read, sorry, Jessica), but her memoir continues to inspire me with a single line. She wrote, “This is the worst impact of severe trauma: the victim loses faith in the evidence of her own senses.”

When I read this, I practically lifted my butt out of the chair with elation. Somebody finally understood me!

My story is not Jessica’s. Her memoir, Denial, A Memoir of Terror, reveals her journey as an expert on terrorism and her resilience to fear despite the extremely dangerous situations she willingly immersed herself in. Her investigative questioning to understand this resilience lead her back to her teen years when she and her sister were violently raped in their childhood home. As an emotional response to endure the incident, young Jessica willed away her fear. Afterwards, there was no memory of the event, as the trauma blocked her perception from her reality. She went on to live with a depleted sense of fear, which would explain her later obsession with danger. She wanted to feel something.

Trauma robs our perception of reality. This manifests in normalizing abnormal situations/behavior that we would typically avoid. The emotional wall meant to protect us has taken over, and rises each time the behavior occurs. We see it often in others, but it is much harder to see in ourselves as we have adapted to our own devices of self-protection. For whatever reason, this is a concept I continually obsess over and find absolutely fascinating. My own memoir delves into this notion, and whereas I have no expertise in the neurological manifestation of denial, I get it. I understand how emotions can be erased.

The way back to sensibility is through honesty, scrutiny, and one of the toughest jobs of adulting, emotional inquiry. We cannot arrive on the other side of trauma without the detective work into our own pasts. This requires guidance, support, a tribe, a community, an expert on trauma, loads of self-care, and absolute and endless loyalty to ourselves. It is not easy work, but when we regain our sensibility, we repair the broken link to the fullness of our identity.

Know that wherever you are in the journey, you are not alone. There is great power in each of us to immerse in healing, and many sources and methods exist for support. I like to think of myself as a friendly delegate. I’m happy to share links I have found helpful. Please email me if this interests you. Most of all, be kind and love yourself. You are so worthy of love.