I am awakening to myself—and the experience I’m having is strange and exhilarating.
It’s as if I have been asleep for many years and am only now returning to who I am at my core. This journey has not been an easy one, as it involves continuous sacrifice and introspection. What prompted me to embark on this path were general feelings of malaise, angst, anxiety, and sadness.
I am a survivor of trauma, more specifically, traumatic events.
My life almost ended years ago at the hands of someone close to me. Instead of describing the traumatic event (which can be traumatizing for others), I will describe the events that occurred immediately afterward, and the lessons learned since then.
Within weeks of the attempt on my life, I moved into a tent in the backyard of a dear friend who understood my situation. I couldn’t remain living in my own home, as it was the scene of the crime and too much for me to handle. The flashbacks were unbearable at that point. I was reliving what had happened to me in flashes, throughout the day. They would come to me during a meeting, chatting with friends, watching television. It didn’t matter how distracted or how engaged in an activity I was, the flashbacks intruded my emotional and mental space.
Later I lived at Sally’s home—another friend—for nine months before I found a tiny cottage in the woods to call my own. The locals were really friendly and supportive.
We congregated at the bar each night to people-watch, discuss the day’s events, and drink. I was known then as “One-and-Done Jess,” as I would purchase a mug of Uncle Dave’s IPA (my favorite brew) and sip on it slowly throughout the evening. When my mug was empty, I left the bar for the day.
This routine worked for me, as it provided support and friendship. What followed thereafter was problematic.
My “one-and-done” slowly evolved, and one beer turned into two or three at the bar. This grew to be expensive, so I finally broke down and visited my local liquor store to purchase a case of IPA. This soon became my daily habit.
During this period in my life, I was not only a daily drinker but at times, a blackout drunk. Friends came to my aid on a few of those nights, placing me into an Uber and away from the party. I have had times when I replaced food with beer because I needed the calories—I needed something in my stomach, but food was not the option. My life had evolved into a repeating cycle of drinking, feeling badly about drinking, admonishing myself for my self-abuse, and then drinking more to mask my feelings of shame. The cycle repeated endlessly, and I was starting to feel as if I had no control over my life, myself, or my drinking addiction.
Flash forward four years to a pharmacy in Los Angeles, California. I was standing in front of a pharmacist who was listing off all the potential side effects of a prescription I needed to take.
I’d barely been listening to her until she reached the drug interaction portion of the lecture: “Make sure to not drink any alcohol for eight days or you’ll get violently ill.”
My world became topsy-turvy, my vision narrowed, and I felt myself grow anxious.
This was the turning point for my life’s path. I was confronted with my own addictive behavior in that moment. It wasn’t the pharmacist’s fault. It wasn’t my job, or my family, or my friends’ fault either. Frankly, it wasn’t a matter of fault but rather fact. I was an alcoholic. Though Alcoholics Anonymous and rehab programs have been a part of my story, at that point, I hadn’t been ready to make the changes needed to face my demons.
Today, I am ready to do so. I am ceasing to numb my trauma and I am learning how to heal.
But how to begin this process of healing?
I would need to start at the beginning. I would need to look back at my life’s journeys to find my answers.
At age five, I was a trophy-winning jazz and tap dancer. Ages seven through nine were spent as a ballerina with the Long Beach Ballet Company. At 12, I discovered the Renaissance Faire circuit, then dedicated 10 years of my weekends to the faire as an actress and singer. You’d find me right in the center of every drum jam.
When I was 18, I surrounded myself with hippies. In the late 90s, the best advice given to me was “go vegan, wear hemp, and recycle.” I was a madwoman for Mother Earth. I would go on long walks on the weekend, picking up trash as I walked. I encouraged my family to recycle and was studying natural healing. My life was filled with people who encouraged me to take care of the earth and myself. I found joy in my artwork and the process of self-expression.
However, at 19, I became a single mother. Then, I married at 22 and had second child nine months later. Raising a family in poverty in central California, those $2-a-dozen burrito deals look pretty good. I wasn’t thinking about Monsanto-owned corporations, or a healthy body. I was thinking, “How can I feed my kids?”
The continued breakdown of my sacred values was evidenced by my lack of recycling. I began to throw my aluminum cans in the trash. Why? According to the maintenance man at my apartment complex, “They mix the trash and the recycling together.” I bought the cheapest food, clothing, and body care products because my budget was more important to me than my values.
And that turned into 20 years of just chasing the rat race. I have been stuck in an “I’m too busy,” self-indulgent, and convenience-seeking mindset.
The result is before you; here I stand, unable to deny my falsehoods any longer. Unable to commit atrocities to my body or my soul or my mind again. My conscious self has awakened.
She sees the life that I have built for myself and tells me, “Oh, little one. How far you have strayed. Your soul is bruised and worn. Take heart. I am here to help.”
So, once again, I surround myself with conscious people, yet I am finding we’re in a whole new world. The sage advice of “go vegan, wear hemp, and recycle,” is still solid, but my friends, my tribe, they have gone even deeper over the past 20 years. It’s about consciousness-raising. It’s about connecting with the life force of Mother Earth. It’s about hearing her cries for help and making changes to soothe her strife. It’s about listening to that same cry within our own bodies and minds and souls.
“Free me!” scream our bodies, like genies caught in lamps. “I’ve been a thousand years in chains, and I need freedom!”
In my mind, there is a new persona who is speaking new—or perhaps forgotten—truths.
I’m finally motivated to change my life by changing my perspective on life. I’m tired of the general malaise, angst, anxiety, and sadness. I’m not numbing any negative emotions. I’m refusing to reach for a substance or escape activity.
I’m feeling my feelings completely (even when it hurts to feel). I’m practicing active journaling, so that I can find the language to express my thoughts. I’ve found that naming what is going on in my mind and body is an incredible tool for change! What type of content I consume is evaluated critically, to determine what media feeds my soul and creates life and light within me. I’ve found a support system with people who hold similar ideals and goals as the ones I have set for myself. For my goal of abstaining from alcohol, I’ve reached out to groups supporting and celebrating alcohol-free living.
I’m practicing self-love and self-care. My inner critics are in the process of being accepted, loved, and healed. I am working on patience with myself and my progress made, and not comparing my journeys with others’ journeys, as we each have our own path to walk in this world.
I’m staring my trauma in the face today, knowing that I am a survivor, growing stronger as a result.
The flashbacks of the traumatic events still come to me unbidden. However, I am learning the skills needed to ride these awful waves of terror. Running away is no longer an option for me—instead, I am working on developing healthier coping skills. With dedication and time, I am slowly healing. It is a difficult endeavor, but it can be done. I am healing my inner child and letting her dance and sing once more.