Recently, I drove an hour across the bridge in the gloomy rain to Easton. I was meeting up with my new dear friend Annie to take some pictures at a foggy farm. The challenge of the day was articulating trauma and anxiety. Annie asked me before I came to think about all the things I no longer need to mentally carry, and to burn them away when I got there. With anxiety, that's a lengthy list.

I've had anxiety for as long as I've known. My parents got divorced literally on my eighteenth birthday, and while part of me realized this was a chance I had to distance myself from my mom and that toxic relationship, I couldn't help but feel like I had more reasons to be nervous.

All of my life, I've tried to take care of everyone around me. The abuse I experienced, I took on alone. When my dad or sister needed me, there was nothing I wouldn't give up to help. I think this is one of my greatest strengths: being there for people when they need someone, healing them however I can. But it also makes me feel very vulnerable sometimes. My circumstances growing up have instilled in me a nervousness of people leaving me -- because I'm not enough for them, or not worth the trouble, or not someone who deserves their love. My mom put that fear in me. It's hard to quiet it.


I'm very lucky to be living a much different life now. I am with someone who makes me feel, everyday, loved and like I am good enough, strong enough, more than capable enough. When I was little, I never thought my life could be so gentle. In dealing with the trauma that comes from growing up with abuse, I've learned that anger, violence and fear is the last thing I want to be associated with. Rather, I want to give out love, understanding and warmth.

Every day I tackle that voice in my head that tries to drag me out of the present and convince me I'm not worth the effort of love or the trouble my anxiety sometimes brings. I must remind myself that I am enough. Again, I'm lucky to have someone by my side to help me remember that when I'm having a hard time with the PTSD that comes from almost 20 years of abuse. Even if it doesn't always feel true, or even if it isn't true for everyone, I am allowed love and gentleness.

That's one thing I can let go of: needing approval from people who don't deserve mine. I'm growing, and learning to accept the parts of me that have callused over. Some days are harder than others but in the cold, in the rain, there's always warmth to be found. Even flowers grow in winter.

So how do I find peace during difficult times? I return to nature, love -- to gentle kindness and happiness. I return to Peter, who is all of these things to me. In a world that is often so harsh and abrasive, one of my greatest personal triumphs is always finding the time, room, and energy for kindness. I take heart in that and know that no matter what, I'm going to make a beautiful life for myself. I'm going to leave my campsite cleaner than I found it.

Compassion is such an underrated attribute that we nearly dismiss it altogether. Imagine if we paid better attention to sympathy and grace. What would happen if we all tried a little harder to be soft? I think the world would be a much nicer place if we valued gentleness as the strength it truly is.
"Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength."

Lessons from my dog

I don't know what we, as humans, ever did to deserve dogs. The saying "man's best friend" doesn't do their loyalty or love justice, in my opinion. Growing up, I've had four dogs and I have a place in my heart for all of them. But there was one dog who -- as dramatic as this sounds -- saved my life. His name was Jack.

Jack came into my life when I was in eighth grade. I remember that the day we brought him home, they put him in a little box-crate for transportation and he kept popping out of the lid. (Hence the name: Jack in the box.) He was a ball of energy and fluff and would nip at my ankles. He really woke up our two other dogs that we had at the time. The oldest, Max, definitely gave us that look of "Really? Another puppy?"

Jack was a chubby, fluffy little goober. He had silly crooked teeth and a very dramatic howl that he would torment my family with if I left him at home for more than five minutes. (We were best buds.) Later in his life, Jack fell very suddenly and unexpectedly blind. He was about seven or eight. I remember realizing he was blind when we were running through the house and he would ricochet off the walls of the hallway, jostled forward by the other dogs. He'd run headlong into the couch, back up and shake it off and try again. After an appointment with the vet, they confirmed: yup, blind. But he still had that goofy grin on his fuzzy little face. It never slowed him down. It never made him mope.

Jack passed away when he was ten years, one month and one day old. It was tax day, and for some reason that stuck out to me as a detail to remember. Three years later and I still think about him a lot. He was the sweetest, cuddliest dog I've ever met and loved my more than I had ever been loved in my life at a time when I really, really needed to be loved. When he was sick, I learned how to place a dog IV and we would have an hour a night doing SUBQ fluids. He had a bed next to mine where he padded off to sleep, tucked under covers and with his head on a pillow like a small child. I had jingle bells on my slippers so he could follow me around the house without running into things or falling down the stairs. He was everything, everything and taught me so much.

First, love unconditionally. Who cares if you think it makes you look dumb, LOVE SOMEONE AS BIG AS YOU CAN. No matter how new or how old the love is, it should be the most important thing in your life. Everything else is negotiable. Each day spent in love is a day we must count ourselves lucky. What a miracle it is to be loved and to be in love at all in the first place. Let them know you love them as often as you can; don't ever let them question for a second where your heart is. Love them when it's hard, love them when it's frustrating, love them even when you're scared to lose them. Tight hugs, lots of kisses.

Next, stay curious. Try new things, explore new places. Don't let fear or circumstance make you hesitate to step outside of your comfort zone. Look at everything like you're seeing it for the first time, like it may be the last time. Say yes, thank you. Be confident in what you say and do, even if you have to fake it -- even if you're running into walls. Never give up. Never quit. When you fall, back up, shake it off, and try again.

And of course, be happy. The most important thing Jack (or "Little Bear" as I often called him) taught me was to not feel sorry for myself. There are so many things he went through when he got older and never for a second did it slow him down. Even sick, and blind, he'd spend hours running away from me in the snow, kicking up little snowballs when he heard me come close to try and grab him, always with that goofy grin that only dogs and certain boys can manage. He loved to play fetch, even if he couldn't always find the ball. He loved to have visitors, even if he couldn't see them. He loved to eat and get his belly rubbed and go on car rides. It didn't take a lot to make him happy, as it doesn't take a lot to make most dogs happy. Simple things were enough. Being with the humans he loved was enough. I will never forget that.

Happy 13th birthday Little Bear.

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