Healing happens in a place of safety.

“Did you hear what you just said?”

I didn’t. I had been rambling about my boys. I leaned back into the chair in my therapist’s office to think. The tree branches behind me snatched at my curls.

Yes. My therapist has a tree in her office that is constantly getting stuck in my hair.

I love it.

“That your boys are physical….”

She paused like a teacher giving the pupil a moment to catch up.

“Yes?” I said with my brow furrowed.

And…you love it.” she said slowly.

My hands shot up to my face. I peered at her between two hands pressed against my cheeks. I repeated the answer.

“And I love it.”

I whispered those words in disbelief and then the tears came. I bowed deeply in my chair and beneath that listening tree with relief. Tears of joy spilled forward and then I wiped my face and said,

“I almost made it through an entire session without crying.” Laughing I continued, “You fucking ruined it.”

She laughed but her eyes were harboring quickly escaping tears too.

You may not remember but there was a time where touch felt like the enemy. Connection and intimacy felt like a cheese grater on my soul. My healing required an end to passive consent. My soul needed some time to seek out it’s true loves. My body needed to learn what is safe, safe, safe…I am safe here.

I am safe here.

The little girl I was, the little girl in need of a constant barrier between her heart and connection is leaning into connection and intimacy. She is letting go of her shield. She is slowly backing away from the tools used to fortify walls. She is coming out to play, love, gaze, connect.

I love this girl. I love how she gazes into the eyes of her children. I love how she understands that criticism doesn’t mean that she is bad, dirty or broken. I love that she listens and can lie under a pile of freshly bathed and pajama dressed boys with wild abandon.

I love that she doesn’t seem to feel trapped anymore or not as much.

I have learned that healing happens in a place of safety.

-You deserve to live in wide open fields

I feared that my trauma was stealing joy from me and my children. Honestly, it did steal joy for a time until something shifted.

The story I told my therapist:

I held one of my sons in my arms. I gazed into his eyes and I simply paused. I didn’t move. I let him bathe in my love for him. It was like a freeze ray. He couldn’t remove himself from my adoration. I felt like I might be staring at him like a creep.

“Children don’t stare. They gaze.”

My therapist interjected that tidbit. Science has proven that when you are making eye contact with an infant and you stop, there is an immediate change in their brain chemistry. That chemical reaction identifies our basic need for attachment.

I held him and gazed at him until he was ready to go. All filled up with love.

My oldest son feels no shame about kissing his mother goodbye. My middle son starts his days by leaning into me with his face tilted upwards for a kiss.

“Good morning, momma.”

My boys are physically affectionate and I love it. It has taken 3 years but I am the mother I always wanted to be.

Fearlessly affectionate, hilariously embarrassing and stingy with the ice cream.12015233_10153641036623588_5375878501296692331_o

But mostly that first one.

Healing up,

Tashmica's signature

PS – Let’s talk about this more. Join me here.

My mom is a Fireworker

The other day, I allowed my two youngest to take our dog Lucy around the block for a little walk. Armed with the required walkie-talkies, I watched them meander down the street together. They turned the corner and I turned up my walkie-talkie.

I sat on the porch with my laptop and opened my email. *sigh* Peace and quiet.

“MOM, CAN OUR FRIEND COME OVER TO PLAY?”

Isaac always yells into the walkie-talkie. It’s like he’s not sure he can trust the thing to carry his voice.

“Sure, honey.” I said.

In about 2 minutes they came galloping my way with a little boy I’d never seen before. According to my boys (and confirmed later by my guy), they’d met him before during other walks. They arrived happy and ready to play with their new buddy. Levi reached for the door and I stopped him.

“Baby, we’re gonna play on the porch. I don’t know your friend’s parents yet. It’s for safety.”

He complained a little but I offered up Legos on the porch. Challenge accepted!

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The boys began to talk and build. They negotiated for pieces and created storylines. They came over to show me their new creations and to tattle. Eventually, things got personal and Levi told his new friend,

” My mom’s name is Tasha and she’s a Fireworker.”

I giggled a little inside wondering what that translated into in the mind of my little one and his friend. I thought about Firemen and Fire eaters. I thought about jugglers with torches burning bright and welders. And then I thought about my work with The Firecracker Foundation.

A fireworker?

Our first vacation of the summer was spent near Charlevoix at Fisherman’s Island State Park. Some families have Disney, some go to concerts. We go to Fisherman’s Island. While I was there making memories with my boys, Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar sat down with Megyn Kelly for an interview.

I read about it and gathered three main points:

  • Consent is not required if your victim doesn’t really remember what happened.
  • The Duggars’ were okay with giving Josh time to get right with God while sacrificing the safety of their daughters and a family friend. Favoritism much?
  • And it’s all fine because forgiveness, you guys. Be cool.

I took a few deep breaths and then set about writing a response to 7 main points in this article. By the time I was finished unleashing the fury, I had nearly 3,000 words. Many edits later and I was ready to offer up 1,000 words to xoJane.

It was published on June 15, 2015 at 5 p.m.

I was really excited to be published on such a wonderful site. But I was over the moon to be able to offer some insights on the appropriate ways to respond to child sexual abuse – especially to communities of faith.

My perpetrator and father was a Christian and even served as a youth pastor for a short time. My faith has been complicated, lost, challenged, found and restored through the process of healing. As I delved deeper into the world of advocacy for child survivors, I witnessed the victim-blaming, slut-shaming and outright protection of perpetrators carried out my so-called houses of faith.

It makes my blood boil.

I don’t expect to agree with ever tenet of the many diverse religions that make up our beautiful world. I do expect that we can agree that no one ever deserves to be assaulted, it is never the victim’s fault and perpetrators should have legal and social consequences for their actions.

I will not lower my expectations. I expect the Godly to raise theirs.

My favorite Bible verse has remained with me throughout my life. It’s actually kind of a violent passage all about the Lord’s vengeance against the wicked. Psalms 10:17-18 declares that the God of the Hebrews ‘defends the fatherless and the oppressed.

As a fatherless child and one experienced in oppression, it feels good to know that the Judeo-Christian God, the God of the Duggars, is a self-described, violent defender of the abandoned and marginalized.

Don’t mistake me as someone who believes that violence is the answer. I don’t but like most, I enjoy the idea of a God willing to kick a few asses for the children. Similar to how I love Iron Man for being both a hero and a narcissist.

I feel like this section is going to give us both problems so I’m going to move on.

When I told my family about this new milestone for my writing, they decided it would be appropriate to set some things on fire in my honor. Fireworks. They wanted to set off some fireworks.

Lucky for them, I purchased a red lantern while we were on vacation but we never used it. My husband and I walked down to the park holding hands. Lucy came with while the boys biked ahead. It was windier than we expected so we settled the bottom of the lantern into the hollowed out section of a stump and lit it up.

We struggled to hold it down until the heat could fill the inside but the wind kept blowing the sides in. We were afraid it would catch fire before it could get over the trees around us. I realized the problem was our grip. We had to let it go. We had to stop struggling against its need to soar.

My story has resided in the gentle hands of a loving family and then a supportive hometown community. I have always been a little worried awaiting the trolls. Maybe that’s why I’ve never submitted anything before. If I never cross the bridge, the trolls won’t be compelled to attack me.

I’ve been protecting the brave little girl in me from the strangers.

My story, who I am and what I do is important. It’s important and it’s growing faster than I can handle or control. It leaves me breathless and overwhelmingly grateful. It leaves me shaken and filled with sorrow. It leaves me exhilarated and exhausted.

It leaves me like a little red lantern, blazing and ready to soar.

I suppose Levi has given me the most appropriate title of all.

Yours,

The Fireworker

The Girl Who Got Up

Everyone, I’ve been brooding.

It has not been pretty. It’s been days of unwashed hair, regular napping and whining about the things I need to do but haven’t actually done when I should really just admit that I have no intention of accomplishing anything more than this run on sentence.

In an advanced move of mental health, I decided that meditation was a step in the right direction.

I can’t even recall why, other than to say that I have been really working on creating a lovely start to my day. It’s a part of my regimen of self-love.

Oh. You don’t have one of those? Weird.

I work hard. As I am sure you do. I’ve noticed since the launch of The Firecracker Foundation I was born that I have an issue with riding the waves of adrenaline like it’s not a tsunami of disorganization, deprivation and denial. Dishes stack up, bills go unpaid, and relationships suffer because I have the gift of single focus.

If in the first semester of the year I came home with a low grade in a class (Math. It was always in math class.), I would spend the next grading period going to tutoring, studying, taking crazy good notes and not failing. To no one’s surprise but my own, that grade would go up and inevitably, other grades would go down.

Laser focus.

I can rock a set of blinders like no one else.download

On the exterior, things go very well. I meet goals and exceed expectations. I accomplish something I’ve set out to do. I let nothing stand in my way.

Nothing. Not a solid night of much needed sleep. Not a single plate of breakfast food. Not an hour to myself or a clean load of warm laundry. Not a fucking thing because who needs rest, sustenance and good hygiene?

Not a person who’s working on something so STOP INTERRUPTING ME!

If you haven’t noticed yet, this is going to be one of those posts that feels like a rant until about the end when my emotions cool off. If you are not comfortable in the inner sanctum of my brain, I would like to direct you to the upper right hand corner red X. That is your escape hatch. Bon Voyage!

I decided about a month ago to delve into militant self-care. Some may call this discipline and boundaries but I don’t like people who use bad language. I decided that I needed to learn to nurture my laser focus with compassion for my mind, body and spirit.

Things like reading for leisure, midday yoga and meditation.

(A point of personal clarification: Facebook doesn’t count, day drinking is not yoga and napping is not meditation)

I honed in on what I would consider a regimen of self-love for the thing I struggle with the most right now.

Mornings.

They are just the worst. I hate their sunshiny faces. I hate waking up and I hate being woken up. I don’t want to rush off anywhere. I want coffee in bed and a good book to read. I want to write. I want to cuddle. I want quiet.

All things I can have.

With the exception of not waking up – hopefully, because I would be dead if I didn’t – I can make all of these things happen. I can require more quiet in my home. I can have coffee in bed. I can read, write and cuddle with my little dog if I just acknowledge that I need to wake up a little earlier to have it.

I choose. Or not.

I mapped out my office hours and started counting down the hours I was giving to the foundation. I had set out with a goal of 30 hours per week and I was exceeding it by  a few hours every week. I have placed margins around my meetings for preparation and follow through.

I made choices that felt like risks.

If I don’t respond to my constantly dinging notifications, will I still be able to coax success out of the foundation. If I’m not always right there, in the thick of it all, will it still be okay? It comes down to a simple reflection of ego. Do I really believe that I have to be in control of it all and if I do, what does that say about the people who work with me?

There is a culture that I set out to create. Who better to lead by example than me?

My life has begun to resemble that of a quirky, professional adult and I dig it.

Annd then the shoe dropped. Suddenly, the meditation practice I had welcomed into my life began to start grating on me. It itched. I didn’t want to sit. I started avoiding the comfortable spot in the corner of my sectional. I started to let the time slip by. I was having a full on, physical and emotional reaction to the very idea of sitting still and breathing.

What. The. Fuck.

I started to panic. I am trying to accomplish something here. I need peace. Why won’t my body let me have it? What kind of shit is this? What kind of person has an allergic reaction to mediation?

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This person.

I started calling on the friends who knew something about meditation. Friends who teach yoga and meditation in their daily lives started getting messages from me like:

Hi there! I am having an allergic reaction to meditation. Is that a thing?

And then I went to therapy.

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I sat in a comfy chair and regaled my therapist with all of the amazing ways I was taking care of myself. I rambled on and on about how good I was feeling about it even if it wasn’t perfect. I shared that my handy meditation app reports I’ve meditated for 3.5 hours. Even though I didn’t do it every day and I didn’t have a perfect system down, I felt like I was making progress. I told her that I loved the quiet space I was carving out for myself when my boys weren’t home but I hadn’t found a perfect way to protect that peace when they came home.

My boys + Quiet = not a thing.

I then expressed my concern with the physical rejection I felt towards the meditation I had been enjoying. 3.5 hours worth of enjoyment and suddenly my body was all – this is dumb and I don’t want to do it anymore.

After some discussion, she asked me if I noticed how many times I’d used the phrase “not perfect”.

The discussion led me to a memory.

He used to knock me out of my chair. I would be sitting at the table eating dinner and then I wouldn’t be. I’d be on the floor. Sometimes the chair would land next to me and other times, the strike would come so fast the chair would sit unaffected by its loss of me. It was like one of those magic acts where the table cloth is pulled out from underneath all of the dishes with dramatic flare.

I would find myself on the floor with a stinging cheek and hurt pride. The table would be awkwardly silent. Violence has a funny way of inviting silence. I would slowly gather myself up on little legs, right my chair and sit back down at the table.

This time I would be better. This time I would stay focused on what mattered. This time I would chew with my mouth tightly closed and then I would be worthy to stay at the table.

But I would forget. My mind would dance around with the happy thoughts of the day or I’d get squirmy as 7 year olds do. I’d dig my fork into another bite only to find myself on the floor again with a stinging cheek and a fallen chair.

And I would get up again. Usually it only took two solid smacks out of my chair before I remembered that my mouth was meant to be closed.

After my father died, my mother took me to a dentist to have my teeth checked and I was diagnosed with a cross-bite and an overbite. It was a feat of physical control for me to close my mouth when I ate.

Single goddamned focus.

I was reminded by my therapist that meditation is creating new neurological pathways in a brain told a violently reinforced lesson: You are not worthy to sit at this table.

And every time I settle into my couch for meditation, it is the equivalent of me getting up off the floor and saying, “Yes, I fucking am.”

Love from the girl who got up,

PS – I’ll have more on what I’ve learned about mediation in my next Open Letter.

PPS – Click here to Vote for The Firecracker Foundation in the Big Bang-quet Challenge!

Just a job

A couple of weeks ago, I stood by my table among many other entities seeking out interns at the MSU Earn, Learn and Intern event.

I felt awkward.

I am proud of my work. I believe that there is no end to what a student might learn working with me and my team of firestarters.

But I watch.

I say sexual trauma and children in the same sentence and I watch the recoil.

The step away and back. The inner shudder.

I know, guys. I know.

It’s hard words. It’s hard truths and ugly realities. I know it and if you work here, I won’t shield you from it.

When we go into the darkness, we go all in. There is no dipping your toe in. It is a full push into the muck. It is a deep dig into the dark to find the light.

A friend shared an article with me over the weekend.

It start’s out:

“Sometimes when the phrase trauma survivor is mentioned, there is such heaviness in the air, such hesitation and deliberate conversation that I just want to shout—”Don’t be afraid of survivors; don’t back away. They might be you and you might be them.” So instead of starting with what is challenging, stressful, and complicated about working with survivors, I want to celebrate our strengths:”

The article is called, “Survivor Strengths:” Excerpt from “Survivors on the Yoga Mat

I read it and then thought, “Ah ha.”

You see, I don’t believe in convincing people to work with me. Not here. Not in my place.

I think you have to want to be here. It’s that good. It’s meant for you. Or it’s just not.

However, after reading these notes on how survivors exist beyond their trauma, my perspective began to shift.

Imagine: all of this good wrapped up in one person who has been badly injured.

A person that sees more for having seen less. A person who understands what you’ve been through and knows that silent compassion is the best medicine; today. It may be different tomorrow and that’s okay.

This and so many other things that survivors of all kinds of trauma hold out as true gifts refined over time.

Perhaps, my job is not to convince. That still rings true. Earn Learn Intern

There are members of my team who are survivors. I am a survivor.

What if the lessons are in recognizing that survivors can be a source of inspiration, great healing and hope despite real, devastating tragedy?

What if the lessons are in not fearing survivors as a community?

I think I am going to print this off and pass it out whenever I hand out my internship positions.

I don’t have just a job. So why would I have just an internship to offer.

Sincerely,

Tashmica

PS – Just in case you’re curious, here’s the link to The Firecracker Foundation Internship Opportunities.

 

 

Jarring

It’s the only way I can describe it.

Seeing, hearing…feeling my own story can sometimes be jarring.

I had the opportunity to share my story in a documentary called Every Two Minutes. It was produced by a talented team of students at Michigan State University who invited survivors to share their experiences. The film looks at advocacy services in the Lansing, East Lansing area.

It also holds pieces and parts of many survivor stories.

Including mine. 

Tashmica Torok / Survivor Interview / Every Two Minutes from Every Two Minutes on Vimeo.

Earlier this week, it was posted on their Facebook page and I watched my interview uncut for the first time. 

I know my story. Obviously.

I lived it.

And still, sometimes when I hear it out loud, it is jarring.

The train goes off the track. The cheese slips off the cracker. 

Es no bueno. #forrealz

On the night of the first test screening, I remember having this moment in the dark where I realized that it’s gone now. My story is out of my hands. It can be shared, ignored, judged, posted, reposted or honored. 

I have very little control over it anymore.

I looked around the theater and thought to myself, ‘They all know. These strangers know.’

Weird.

It just feels weird. 

The things I share are personal to me. They are the things I have suffered, learned, tried, dreamed and sometimes hidden. There I am. Just there in a studio with bright lights cast on me as I unfold it and line it up for you in the best way I know how.

I feel vulnerable and exposed. 

Somehow, even after sharing it a hundred times, hearing it told back to me in my own words is disconcerting. It’s an awful story.

I share it here again because even though it’s uncomfortable, I believe that if I stand firm in the conviction that my story belongs in this world, that other survivors will too.

They may never share the way I do but they may share in the moments that count the most: when all it takes to help someone begin to heal is to say, “I know. It happened to me too. Here’s what helped me.”

 

Soul to soul. Survivor to survivor.

Sincerely,

Tashmica

 

 

 

 

 

I made it up.

When I was in 5th grade a new family moved into the rental house next door. Out of the four children who lived there, two were the exact age as my brother and I.

We were delighted.

Well, I was delighted because I was a born extrovert who loved making new friends. I’m probably projecting those feelings onto my brother. Nonetheless, we played together during the last summer before ‘playing together’ became ‘hanging out’ in 6th grade.

In their backyard, we were invited into an old, dilapidated greenhouse. The wooden structure was rotting from disuse and weeds grew up between the stepping stones. Some of the heavy windows were leaning in on themselves or littered on the ground.

The potential was enormous.

The next day we brought our offerings together. Leftover paint, discarded dishes, pillows and a few books all piled together to improve the livability of our new digs. We repainted the wood – complete with our own handprints – and the loose windows were pressed back into place. We even hung up some sheets like curtains.

Once we were done, we rested comfortably in the space we created from the best of what we could find to share with each other.

This weekend I hosted the first orientation and advocacy training workshop for volunteers of The Firecracker Foundation. We announced it’s existence about a month ago and the response surprised me. Out of 25 spots available, 21 people registered and 17 were able to participate.

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That’s a lot more people than I expected.

They were each required to obtain a DHS Clearance as well as proof that they were not listed on either state or federal sex offender registries. They had to register for the training and give up 4 hours of their day on a Saturday and Sunday of the same weekend. The commitment was big.

They jumped through all of the hoops with a smile on their face and joy in their hearts. Again. I may be projecting.

Come Saturday morning, they were there and ready.

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I was there and nervous.

I don’t know if you are aware but I have never done any of this before. I’m basically making this up as I go along. However, let me also reassure you that I am not flying by the seat of my pants. I’m humbly asking questions, seeking advice and asking for a lot of help.

There’s a little flight too. I dream and plan and hope for what this foundation can be in spare moments, notes, emails and phone calls to friends. I have high hopes.

I am then taking all of the best I can gather, piling it up and making it an offering to the community. I am not alone in my efforts.

Together we are learning how to protect children, how to serve their families and how to take care of ourselves through the process. As a team we are gathering the best of what we have to offer and laying it at the feet of a community of children who have been injured. We are helping them renovate and rehang the windows.

In my mind, that greenhouse is being fervently repaired and tiny buds are starting to sprout.

As most things do, it will flourish with love.image

Spring is certain.

Tashmica

 

 

Scaredy Pants: An Indication That You Are Doing It Right

Have you ever had one of those weeks where you see yourself sliding down the hill of self-injury? You know those times when you can feel the slow burn turning into a forest fire but you’re not wearing shoes so you can’t stomp it out.

That is how I have been feeling lately.

It has been a steady stream of bad choices. They are easily dismissed when you excuse them with, “Oh, just this once.”

I have been a hard-drinking, food-binging, insomnia-riddled and over-committed fool of a woman for the past three weeks.

I didn’t even see the hole in the bag where I keep my crazy tucked safely away. It was like an air leak in a helium balloon. You don’t know why exactly but you can feel yourself losing altitude anyway.

I think I am scared.

No. I know I’m scared.

I can see fear poking his ugly head out behind all of my very best self-medicating behaviors.

I’ll have that cheesecake with three glasses of red wine, please. Wait. I didn’t order the fear.

Except, I did order the fear.

Like an appetizer special, I ordered the fear the moment I started asking questions.

I have seen my father through the eyes of people who had no idea what he was doing to me.

I have heard things like –

“He was such a good father.”
“He was they joy, child.”
“He made me feel safe.”

My father was loved. He was respected. He was feared.

My father had to work his ass off to keep the world from knowing that he was sexually abusing me and he did.

He made the choice to hide his crimes against me instead of living honestly and without guilt.

Abusing me was apparently worth the trouble.

That is scary.

Check out how this 6-year-old deals with fear.

the Scared is scared from Bianca Giaever on Vimeo.

It is scary to see my father through the lens he created for others. It’s even scarier to think that of all of the people who knew him, I was the only one cursed enough to travel through the rabbit hole we shared.

FML. Am I right?

There were other rabbit holes though and I am starting to travel through them.

My father’s military records should be on their way to me in the next few weeks. My mother should be delivering a box of family photos for me this weekend. I have to sit down and schedule my first research trip down to Anderson, South Carolina – where my father grew up. I’ve been dreaming and thinking of ways that I can help children who are working to survive our shared story.

Mostly, I have been working hard to avoid one question.

What if I am not strong enough to do any of it?

Followed by the equally useless doubt-filled questionnaire:

What if I think this will lead to some evolution of my spirit and all it will lead to is a nervous breakdown?

What if I am already crazy for even asking questions to begin with?

As of today, I am 7 days away from my birthday month.

I am giving myself 7 more days to be afraid. I am giving myself 168 hours to sit in the reality of what I am choosing to take on. I am accepting with deep breaths that this is some scary ish.

I am repeating to myself that I am not afraid of fear.

On May 1st, the first day of the month I was born in, I am going to move forward again.

I am going to shake out these paralyzed limbs and continue on.

Because sometimes fear is the greatest indicator that you are doing something right.

Like a boss._JRM2362

Or something.

Love to you all.

Tashmica