Sober September

I’ve chosen to challenge myself to a Sober September. I am not an addict, nor do I feel myself heading down a path of dependency on substance. I do, however, feel like I need to clear my mind, body, and soul. And one of the easiest ways to do that is to eliminate things such as alcohol. Admittedly I have been experience a bit of anxiety and stress that leads me to look forward to my days off – more for the socialization than anything, but IPA is almost always involved. In my head, I don’t want to condition myself to start subconsciously associating days off-with-friends-with-booze. I should also make a note that I don’t get drunk every weekend, but I have a deep-seated insecurity that forming a habit involving a substance will turn me into my mother. September 26th will be eight years without her already, and I’d like to bring an awareness to the importance of healthy, conscious decisions.  

It all comes down to simply clearing my soul. It feels cloudy right now when I close my eyes and try to look at myself. I’m not a fan of that – not going to lie. I feel like I’ve been trying so hard to do everything at once that I’ve forgotten what to be grateful for. I kicked up so much dust and then complained that I couldn’t breathe, that I couldn’t see. When I went through my break-up this winter, and all the funerals, I went into serious overdrive by applying myself to whatever my desperate little tentacles could grab. 197 job applications (no joke. Wish I was joking. Not joking.), constant travel, minimal downtime; an injured animal wildly throwing its body around at whatever unseen force it senses in a last-ditch attempt to scare the being away. The being in my situation was (is) life. I got sloppy. I never stopped once this summer to think that maybe the thing in front of me was just my life, and my healing. I kicked around whatever I could as if I could outrun myself. I just assumed that life wasn’t good to me for a while so I was going to make it worthwhile on my own terms, and as a result I forgot about all the good that’s already there. I have been “self care” button mashing for months and it’s gotten me nowhere except gifted me more anxiety attacks. Self care is a slippery slope, because sometimes the things that are best for us don’t feel so great. Sometimes you need to stop and acknowledge you are hurt, that you are scuffed up, and that you’re only going to hurt yourself more if you don’t let the wounds be for a while. 

For September, I wrote down what I’m grateful for: 

  • I have a roof over my head that I’ve sustained on my own for over three years.
  • I have a wonderfully goofy, giant, loving puppy who challenges my patience and also forces me to socialize and exercise.
  • I have a job that pays me money regardless of how little each month I get to toss into savings.
  • I have passions like writing, painting, and collecting old books.
  • I have been able to be a good friend, and I have good friends.
  • This year alone I’ve traveled to three states, gone out of the country, and have a trip booked for my birthday week at the end of October – something not everyone is able to do. 
  •  I did not become my mother, and used her tragic loss and my experience with addiction to share my story and help others.
  • I’ve been in love, even if that love hurt me. 
  • I’m a damn good cook.

I am equal parts cynicism and hope.

I Broke up with my Therapist

Jodi has been my email therapist since my break-up in February. It was when I was still sleeping fourteen hours a day, not showering, not eating, not leaving my house that I realized it was probably best to reach out to someone. I stopped recognizing myself and that frightened me, because I spent so many years trying to get to know me better. Suddenly, I wasn’t there anymore. It wasn’t being in the dark – it was being the dark. 

The break-up was the breaking point, I guess. There were the deaths before that; the stress of the relationship before it imploded and then released an amalgam of lies and cheating and false identity. It amazed me how repulsed I became by someone I loved so deeply, and the true root of it was he didn’t know who he was – he never got to know himself. He couldn’t face his past in a way that allowed him to grow upwards out of it, rather, he rolled around in the filth and tried to play himself off as polished.

Polished shit is still shit.

I just didn’t think I was able to have my heart broken further than it already was. I didn’t think anyone could hurt me after seeing the hurt I had been through for sixth months prior. But that’s what’s funny with people – selfish people – they do what they want, oftentimes devoid of conscience. And I still loved him for a time after. I wanted him to be alright because I knew I was stronger than him and I honestly thought he broke himself in the process. I knew he didn’t break me, because I already know me. I just became afraid of myself in the end. That’s when I reached out for someone to talk to. 

My counselor was at the tips of my furiously typing fingers for months. I was reaching out to her multiple times a day, lost and wandering around in the shell of myself. I had zero guidance and for the first time in my 28 years I truly was unable to figure out how to unlock my torment. Things came out of me that I thought I cleansed years prior; moments and experiences that unfolded like a flower and I realized that no, I was not completely OK to begin with. But that was OK. I needed an unbiased third party who I could tell my darkest secrets to without having to look them in the eyes. It was critical for my healing to say things that I never said to anyone, for some weird Catholic fear that I’d be punished if the words existed in the open. I whittled myself down – once again – for the sake of un-becoming the dark that I took on in the winter of this year. I realized too, unfortunately, how many awful things I’ve endured in my life. I know I’m not the only one, but there were so many moments that peppered my youth that I thought at one point were normal. The stupid saying panged the back of my head, “God only gives you what you can handle. Remember that!” I chose to remind whoever that I can also handle an abundance of good. 

Therapy made me question if I’m truly grateful for the things I have, or if I’m selfish for constantly wanting more. It helped me to establish for myself a boundary point of striving beyond my means and living beyond my means. I have felt less materialistic in the last few months. I haven’t tried to reach out for disingenuous connections with men who couldn’t care less that I’ve seen death or that my youth molded me into a person who is hardened while maintaining an unbelievably sensitive core. Therapy made me look at myself in a way I wasn’t able to alone. 

Then I woke up today and realized the last email I sent my therapist was a four-month progress photo of my rescue dog, Randall, who I took into my home this April. That was twelve days ago. My mom’s eight-year anniversary is coming up next month and I don’t feel overly anxious or depressed about it like other years.  I am no longer ashamed to say that I resented my mother – not for who she was – rather, for the choices she made that destroyed who she was. Her reliance on alcohol fueled her belief that she could not function as a human without ether as a catalyst. Booze was her God and her Devil – her Heaven and her Hell – and she just existed somewhere in the middle. And while I don’t find myself reliant on booze to be someone in the world, it scares me to be like her one day. It’s why I ask for help even if I’m embarrassed or afraid because, yeah, sometimes we can’t handle it all on our own. That’s when we get sloppy and selfish in a way that is detrimental to ourselves as well as those who care about us. 

I emailed Jodi and I thanked her for her help. I told her that I’m me again. I’m not the dark anymore – not completely enlightened either – but I’m balanced. I unfolded upwards and I look down at all the dirt I came out of, and I am appreciative of how the mess below me nurtured me to be the person I grew into – someone my mother would be proud of, more importantly someone I’m proud of. 

Anxiety

I feel like part of my anxiety is stemming from the fact that I am 28 years old, and when my mom was 28, she was already more than halfway through her life – she just didn’t know it yet. And I’m writing this book about my grandparents and literally sitting in history each day reading love letters and transcribing. I’m stuck in multiple eras. I feel everything. I’m being pulled in every direction. I’m old and young love, I’m middle aged and a child. I’m my mother and I am myself and I feel spread out among the universe. I don’t know whether or not I have feet in the mortal plane, the immortal plane, and the theoretical plane. I feel everywhere. It’s frightening. Because everywhere long enough just becomes nowhere and that’s the last place I want to be.

For who she was

It was never a question of whether or not I wanted to be like the woman my mother was, but rather the fear that I would fade away into darkness like she did. The person I came to know was someone I hardly knew at all, and by the time she died I felt like I watched a stranger die. Her last breaths before me were foreign and unforgettable. It was a strange disconnect to feel like I stopped knowing who she was long before I ever lost her. Seeing her in the hospital bed, the shell of the fabled Super Woman all her friends talked about, but the shell that I learned to accept as my mother. I knew that who she became was someone I never wanted to be. But who she was – that was someone worth knowing.

The older I got, the stronger the hold alcohol took on my mother – the more sheltered she became. She projected a lifestyle onto me that was shrouded in projections of physical insecurities and gaslighting that I didn’t understand until my mid-twenties. Growing up in a household so toxic groomed me to believe that I didn’t know what I wanted – or needed for that matter. It was as if nothing was ever good enough if it was of my own design. No matter what I suggested, I was met with resistance and aggression; I told my mother I signed up to take Spanish in school and she was infuriated that I wasn’t learning French. When I was a teenager, I expressed the need to go to the eye doctor and she was insistent that I only “wanted” glasses to look cool, as if she forgot I had to wear an eye patch as a baby for issues with my vision. I didn’t get glasses until I was 17 and now I wear bifocals for my astigmatism and nearsightedness. And even when I was in college and separated my shoulder playing rugby, my mother told me my injury was superficial and as a result I lost the range of motion in my left arm from never receiving physical therapy. No matter what the issue was, if she thought she knew better then her word was bond. I was compliant because I was the child, I didn’t know better. She was queen because she was mother, she knew best.

My mother wasn’t always like that, though. She wasn’t the woman who was afraid to drive more than 30 minutes away from home and refused to drive on a highway. She was loud, funny, sharp-witted, and adventurous. She was a real estate entrepreneur who spent more than ten years making a name for herself in the industry as a broker. Her childhood friends – who I am still very close with – described her as a talented writer, a comedian, a partier, a road-tripper, and a wonderful, honest companion. The woman I got growing up was overbearing, sheltered me, body-shamed me, and eventually just expected me to do well for the fear of being met with something else that might trigger her to drink more. Part of me wishes that I grew up beside her and got to know the person her friends missed so much; When she died, so many old friends approached me saying how “like her” I was. I couldn’t believe that I was anything like the woman in the casket. She was angry and refused to take credit for me being successful in anyway. “You’re just like your grandmothers,” she wrote in the last email I ever received, when I was sitting in my bedroom at Oxford University. She never said, “You’re like your mother.” I hated that. I hated that we were so disconnected, especially towards the end of her life when I was growing into a woman who wanted nothing more than to relate to the one who made me.

After her death and following my graduation from college, I tried to learn a bit more about who my mother was before she became the alcoholic recluse who raised me. I knew she was skilled operating a sailboat. She learned to waterski barefoot when she was a teenager, something I never learned. When she was young, she told her mother that she was going to visit girlfriends in Florida but instead moved to the Southwest for three months to live with a boyfriend. She snuck out of her bedroom window enough times that my grandfather silently nailed her window shut from the outside. She went to concerts, smoked weed, and hung out late. Who was this person?  How do I become closer to someone who isn’t here?

Now, at 28, I learned the best way to honor a relationship I never had is to live my life as the person she was before her disease consumed her. I experience life as if she was young and next to me, and living through me. I have traveled the world, gone on spontaneous, day-long road trips. I’ve encountered strange people in interesting places. I’ve been too drunk, up too late, and I’ve also gone to bed too early. I made a name for myself like I saw her do when I was younger. I forgave her for my childhood. I embraced her adventurousness and created my own adventures.

July 17, 2018

It is so easy to be my mother. It is essentially effortless to turn around, pick up a bottle, become a functioning alcoholic starting at seven in the morning when my night shift ends, pass out within an hour of pounding liquor, waking up in the afternoon and no one questioning it. My life would have numbing, functioning alcoholic sleep. I never saw myself wanting kids, so I could easily get away with addiction. My job pays well, I live alone, and I have an elderly dog who is low maintenance. I wanted to kill myself when my mom died but didn’t have the gumption to do it, partly because I felt like I’d be a failure and I was terrified of being a failure in my mom’s eyes dead or alive, especially when she told me on her deathbed that she was sorry for failing me. Instead, I lost a bunch of weight on my own in an obsessive control-freak episode. I tried out new jobs and stopped smoking weed and limited my drinking. I began to write and write and model my writing outlet to the likeness of Augusten Burroughs’ Lust and Wonder and David Sedaris’ many-a-memoirs.

I then again lost the sense of control, so I read more about what to do when I wanted control, and how to release the illusion of control. I allowed myself to be used by men because, let’s face it, my male role models were less than stellar throughout my existence. I lacked a lot of female guidance growing up, and realized in my 20s that I’d have to do a lot of the growing up on myself. This is why I don’t like the idea of having to fix or take care of people, although by nature I am a fixer. I have a fear of dying alone, do activities with myself for the peace and quiet, but ultimately want to find someone to adventure with.

There is an intolerance that exists within me towards people who are incapable of communicating, and it hurts relationships but I admitted to myself that I’d rather have no relationship than pretend everything is alright. I don’t know if I’m happy; I don’t know if I’m depressed, either. I know I’m doing what I want in the confines of whatever financial resources I currently have. I think what I am is dissatisfied with how certain aspects of my life have turned out thus far. I want to be published and I want to have a stable, healthy romantic relationship. I fear that if I tick everything off my bucket list, I’ll just die – and that’s the last thing I want to do.

You are not Gone

Winter finally came after an impossibly warm December. My hand touched the case which would take you away forever, after I already lost you forever. My hand print held onto the metal and wood for only a moment and I saw each time we held hands. And I saw my mother’s hands. I saw the hands I would never hold again. The winter took you away. As we stood outside in the below-freezing January wind, I thought to myself this was the least we could do for you. You survived prison camp; you marched 18 days to what was supposed to be your death during one of the coldest winters in the history of Europe. You survived on stolen root vegetables and a bartered egg. And when you returned home you still managed to be one of the kindest souls to exist in this place where we live.

I was a minute too late. The doorbell rang three times and with no answer I knew that something was wrong. On the drive to you I thought to myself if they gave you your last rites. I thought, of course you were given your last rites. Of course you would be forgiven. Of course you were a good man. In that minute I felt regret for you dying alone. Silent. Alone. A minute too late. And it’s funny how that minute took away the 28 years I had spent with you awake. 28 years exchanged for a minute was not worth it and in that minute – that time gave me 28 years worth of pain. That much pain came out in heaves rather than sounds. Tears came out like glass and I felt every single one as a future reminder to moments I will not get back and moments I will never experience. I was stripped bare of that energy; that soul is gone. It was suddenly cold and frightening and the choice was to remain there, on the floor of the hospice center, or face the body you left behind in suite number four.

You used to leave me notes when we lived together. They would always start with “K-” and list your daily tasks. If you left the house before I woke up, you would simply write, “GOOD MORNING” in big, blocked handwriting that always reminded me of Legos as a child and I never knew why. When you lay there in the hospice center, writhing around in your own head, you opened your eyes for a moment. You looked up and saw me, standing over you, adjusting your blanket because I knew you always liked your hands tucked in. “Good morning,” you said with a faint, genuine smile. It was eight in the evening. The pallor of your face, the whiteness that is associated with any hospital setting was dimmed by how unbelievably bright your blue eyes looked in that moment. I said “good morning” back to you and tucked you in. You smiled. Then, in a flash, I disappeared in your eyes and you became fixated on something – someone else – in front of you. Your eyes lowered and your brows furrowed. “What?” you leaned your head forward as far as you could, “Oh. Well, alright then I’ll come with you.” I stopped you and asked where you were going. You didn’t explain, just repeated that you had to go. I knew you had to go.

Fail Forward

This is about failure.

This is about the inevitability of failure, the understanding and acceptance that sometimes your work may just not fit into the criteria of what an agent is looking forward. Does it mean your work isn’t good? No. Does it mean you have more work to do? Always. Failure is not infinite and improvement should never be finite. This rejection email – my nth one – doesn’t make me cry in the dark, wondering why I’m not good enough to have my book published. It doesn’t make me want to give up writing; it makes me want to write more. Failure and rejection makes me realize just how much this means to me, and how much being an author and a writer means to me.

In a technological world, my phone has become the hub of games, social media, various apps, texting, email – whatever I could imagine. There is no escaping social media if you want to be a known writer in 2019 and I am noticing more and more how I have to mold my image on the internet to become acquainted with other writers and readers of the world in order to share my stories. I’m not a huge fan of social media, but what I have noticed is, the more serious I’ve become about writing, the less serious I’ve become about maintaining a social media image. My output has gone from posting a photo (or more) a day on Instagram to writing something everyday – whether it is a poem, an essay, a thought, or a handwritten entry in my journal. My energy has shifted from image through immediate visual stimulation to providing a story that allows someone to create an image for themselves. And honestly? I love it. I feel like the “me” I write about rather than the “me” I post about is the more genuine form of who I truly am. I feel like I am living a better and more sincere life by letting my words define me than my carefully taken photos of moments in my life I’d rather hold onto than moments I need to express in order to be a healthier version of myself. So yeah, in a sense, in this email, I failed to meet whatever this agency was looking for. And that’s OK, because whoever comes across me and selects me will select the genuine me, the real me, and the business aspect will be a much more enjoyable one. I’m grateful to each agency who read my words and whether or not they want to take on my projects is relative to whatever impact my words may have. I can take the failure because it isn’t really failure. And any failure is a forward failure as I stumble towards the future I want to create for myself.

Coping

Death is a matter of perspective. As I’ve gotten older, I accepted that dying is an inevitable and unavoidable occurrence that unites us as people just as much as breathing. Each person’s encounter with death is relative (as are all things in life) to what they have already experienced, and what they are mentally and emotionally prepared to experience when the time comes. Death is a wave that, if not learned to be ridden, will pummel whoever it encounters.

From the ages of 17 to 20, I lost both of my grandmothers, as well as my mother. My first grandmother succumbed to her third bout with breast cancer on Christmas Eve morning of 2007 after learning it spread through her body, into her bones, and left her in excruciating pain. I was still in high school, and it was the first “real” death I experienced. Before my nana passed away, I didn’t see her for several days. I missed her, I was sad, however I realize now at that time I didn’t have a solid grasp on the finality of it all.

My dad’s mother left the world July 1, 2008, after complications from an otherwise routine stomach surgery. I saw her the day after I graduated high school – she apologized for not being able to make it, but couldn’t wait to be home again. The following day, she aspirated on a bottle of water as she lay in bed in the hospital. When my parents were called, we learned that she flatlined for 17 minutes before she was resuscitated, and was waiting for us – brain dead – on a breathing machine. It was the first time I saw a lifeless, living, person. I remember my dad telling me to say “goodbye” to her, although she wasn’t there. I remember shrieking as I approached the bed because the oxygen that was forced through her body pushed her chest up and made it look like she was jumping at me. Eventually the children were taken from the hospital room, the plug was pulled, and she died within a couple of hours.

I remember being angry. I didn’t think it was fair that she died in a way so stupid and avoidable. She was supposed to be home that week. She was supposed to come to my graduation party; she was supposed to be alive. It wasn’t fair to her or any of us, especially after losing Nana only six months earlier. At the time, it was like no one could catch a break. I remember my mother being absolutely inconsolable. She sobbed into her pillow on my parents’ bed one morning that she was her mother too. It was that weekend where my mother hit a turning point for the worst with her drinking habits.

My mother died September 26, 2011, at 9:45 in the morning. I know the time because I watched her die. I was in the first semester of my final year of undergrad, when my dad called me to tell me she was in the hospital. My mom suffered. She suffered for years with alcoholism, and eventually it became an extension of her as well as an extension of our family. Wine every night was normal, rum on the weekends was expected, and her chain smoking was since birth. I knew nothing different, and it wasn’t until I was older and more aware that I began to challenge her addiction, only to lose in the end.
We all lost in the end. My mother suffered a very painful, very long death. I learned that when a person dies from alcohol consumption, the alcohol is what does the consuming. She had ammonia poisoning in her brain as a result of her liver and kidneys failing to flush out the toxins in her body. Her skin turned yellow, and her corneas looked like egg yolks. She stopped eating from the lack of appetite that comes with severe alcoholism – and while she only weighed about 80 pounds, she carried roughly 30 to 40 pounds of water weight due to edema swelling. I remember seeing her the first time and thinking she looked like she was in her third trimester.

As her liver broke down inside of her body, a process known as necrosis, I watched helplessly while she reached into the empty air, clutched her stomach, moaned, and furrowed her brows. She was unable to open her eyes and sat for a day or two in a weird coma limbo, where parts of her worked, and others did not. Eventually, the poison overtook her body, and she lay for several days stripped of any medical equipment except for an oxygen mask that forced air into an otherwise dead woman. It didn’t scare me as much the second time around, to see a body lurch upwards at unwelcomed oxygen. I stayed with her morning and night, praying for her death.

Her addiction to me was the embodiment of Pestilence, War, and Famine rampant within her. She was wrought with disease, would not eat, and fought an internal battle of mental illness that she lost. I watched the Apocalypse of self in my mother. In the end, the thing I feared most – death – was the only thing I could have wanted for her.

When she finally died I felt an overwhelming wave of relief that I didn’t expect, and it eventually turned into guilt for having a sense of joy at her release from mortality. I didn’t want her to die, but at the same time I was glad that she wasn’t suffering any longer. She didn’t have the emotional turmoil, the addiction; she didn’t have to fight so hard. It was then up to me to learn how to live without her, how to cope without any female figures in my life, where to place blame, and where to learn no blame was ever to be placed in the case of her death.

These three situations taught me that the act of dying – and coping with dying – were all matters of relativity. There was no right or wrong answer for why my nana had to have recurring cancer, or why my grandmother had to drink water laying down, or why my mom chose a bottle over her family – and more importantly – herself. Eventually, I stopped blaming death. I stopped questioning why the world took people from me, and instead looked at what I could do to better understand the way the world worked. The following work of fiction is from the perspective of Death, the immortal. Its purpose is to show different sides to the workings of the universe, and to allow interpretation and understanding through fantasy. I truly enjoyed writing this, and I hope they help those looking to see deeper than simply the loss of life.

Not a Victim

I recently had the pleasure of being part of an event with Equilibrium Booking that benefited an organization called VIBS, or Victims Information Bureau of Suffolk. Local bands, vendors, and artists such as myself came together in order to provide an environment that was not only fun, but safe and free of judgment. We were able to raise money, have raffles, network, and enjoy each other’s company and express ourselves without barriers. Each vendor table – each musician – was their own entity; each person a color that, when put together, created an incredible, bright piece of art on an otherwise very rainy January evening.

It was serendipitous that we held our event on the same day as the annual Women’s March; I even had a friend who attended the march in New York City come to our “As We Are” show. Both floors of the venue were beaming with talent and the food truck outside encouraged many of us to brave the freezing rain for snacks in between sets. I was fixated on the stage as powerful front-women threw their bodies and voices around without any reservations, each one in her own bubble of expression, each one at the helm of her own existence. I watched artists paint and read astrology and laugh without a care in the world. All the mingling and association was liberating in a world where this type of environment is generally approached with caution.

The bittersweet aspect to our As We Are campaign is that it was designed to create awareness and provide a healthy environment for victims and survivors of sexual assault and abuse, as well as domestic violence. It is a hard truth that in our world, men and women are ruthlessly subjected to both mental and physical tortures by people that they – more often than not – trust. They are made to be strangers within their own bodies, they are twisted by the manipulations of a less-than human who takes pleasure in and gains their power from holding innocent people under thumb.

Due to the lightheartedness of the event, I did not speak to the crowd, understandably eager to hear the next band, to dance, and to have fun. When I brought the idea of this event to Jackie and Guistina of EQ, though, all I had in mind was the idea of helping others feel less alone, after being subjected to sexual assault myself and feeling like I didn’t know who I was for quite some time.

My first off-campus freshman party ended in me fighting a man off of me on a cold February night while he tried to keep me pinned to the hood of a car and rip my sweatshirt over my head to obstruct my vision. Yes, I willingly kissed him. Why? Because I was a college freshman. Yes, I did tell him that I didn’t want to have sex with him. Yes, I did tell him I wouldn’t get into a car with him. Yes, I was frozen inside of my own skin trying to rationalize why this man I didn’t know was treating my body with the same comfort and acquaintance as I had with myself. I wondered why he thought his hand belonged in my pants without thinking he needed to ask my permission. I wondered why I couldn’t move.

My survival of sexual assault happened when I snapped. When he tried to pull my sweatshirt over my head and – I swear – the anger of my dead grandmothers, my rugby team, my ten-plus years of jiu jitsu threw him as far away from me as possible with enough explosiveness to scare him and make him throw his hands up – his white flag. I found my friend, got a ride home, and found more friends to cry to and to try and understand what just happened to me. Was I wrong? Was I going to be alright? I survived. I was breathing; my heart was just about jumping out of my chest. My friends would believe me, right?

No one tells you that the easiest part of surviving sexual assault is the actual act of surviving it. No one prepares you for the mental and emotional trauma. No one warns you of the friends who sympathize with your assailant because you “looked like a whore” or you were being a tease. No one prepares you for the loss of self that oftentimes follows a horrible event like this, where suddenly you don’t even know what you like anymore because you know your own body far less than you originally thought.

And then I found myself, almost ten years to the day, standing among 100 or so people, each in a happy aura of expression and acceptance. People ran around in bliss, and no one was required to outwardly say they were a victim, or a survivor – just there for support and love. In that space, among art, friends, my boyfriend, and a good beer, I realized how good I am at surviving, how much I wish that for anyone subjected to assault or violence from a stranger or otherwise to feel proud of survival. I want those people to thrive and live how they deserve. I am grateful to EQ Booking, to the bands, to the environment, and to organizations like VIBS who understand it doesn’t stop with just surviving, but it’s possible to be yourself again – and even better.