Abuse = PTSD = Stress on Physical Health

“You should take better care of yourself,” is only applicable if someone is in control. Exercise, diet, and the sort can only do so much. Genetics also has a lot to do with it. To a survivor, it feels like victim blaming.

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Trigger Warning: I’m in a particularly blunt mood, so here is a warning about topics that may trigger another survivor: PTSD, Sexual Abuse, Suicide, Disease.

One of the ghastly door prizes from childhood sexual assault (CSA) can be summed up into four little letters – PTSD. PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. While the abuse is horrific on its own, the long term struggle comes from the effects of PTSD. It’s like the nagging little monster that constantly undermines and holds you back through everything you do while you try to heal and deal with the trauma that happened.  There have been many times over the last 20 years where I was fully convinced that I would be fine and productive if PTSD wasn’t holding me back in some regard.

Mostly, I’ve overcome most of my triggers and mental spirals, but they will still sneak up on me. Most of the issues I have these days involve anxiety and stress over every single action, thought, and perceived slight I may have inflicted on someone. Here is an example of a trigger sneaking up on me. I’m sitting at a coffee shop just typing away and I hear someone talking to their kid about the movie The Lion King. Cool, it’s a great movie. Until the father says Nala, the name of the female cub. My brain goes from my normal functioning fast track of thoughts to being tackled by a abusive linebacker holding me down and shoving awful memories into my mind.

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

The man who sexually abused me for almost 4 years called me Nala as a pet name when he was doing his nasty deeds. I proceed to spend the next fifteen minutes trying to fight off memories of abuse, enduring the trial, all the times I was called an attention seeking whore (I was 12 when we started court proceedings), and almost slitting my own throat in a hallway at my high school. Once I surface from the barrage of horror, I quietly pack everything up and go to my car. I’ve shut off all my emotions and most of my perception. Once I make it home, I’m stuck in a mindless fog anywhere for a few hours to the rest of the day. When these triggers don’t happen, I worry almost constantly that I will somehow trigger. In the last 5 years, I went from 3-4 triggering episodes a week to a single episode every couple of weeks, but that means that now I worry about it far more than I used to.

One of the issues of a constant state of high stress, is that it can have negative effects on your health. There are so many studies linking elevated stress (and PTSD specifically) to a decline in health. Here is an excerpt from The National Center for PTSD which is part of Veterans Affairs. They are one of the leading groups in research of PTSD because of the number of soldiers that return home with it.

Two recent studies found that reports of childhood abuse and neglect were related to an increase in physician diagnosed disorders including cancer, ischemic heart disease, and chronic lung disease. It is also likely that a relationship exists between the experience of a trauma and an increase in utilization of medical services for physical health problems. In addition, health care costs have been found to be higher among women who report a history of childhood abuse or neglect than among women who report no history of maltreatment as a child.

Since this a recently discovered association, there hasn’t been much done as far as studies for populations outside of veterans. According to The Refuge:

The lifetime risk for developing PTSD in US adults is 3.5%… The highest rates for PTSD occur among sexual assault survivors, military veterans who have been in combat, and survivors of genocide.

What studies have started to show is that PTSD has been associated with an increased reporting rate of several health issues:

  • Cardiovascular complications
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Musculoskeletal issues
  • Respiratory Problems
  • Sexual Dysfunction
  • Diabetes
  • Chronic Pain
  • Obesity
  • Increased Inflammation
  • Autoimmune Disorders

Which oddly is almost the same list of health issues that results from prolonged exposure to stress. To be fair, there will always be stress and a little stress is necessary to strive in life. But this stress is minimal, and should be about 3-4 on a 10 point scale. Operating at 7-10 for any length at time can be detrimental to health. Stress accomplishes this by causing your body to secrete too many hormones. In a burst, they can do wonders, but long term they tax your organs and body. This also leads to chronic conditions and chronic pain.

Just the anguish from the physical aspect of chronic health issues is enough to make people feel helpless. Something else that makes it worse?

Being blamed for being chronically sick.

Yes, you heard that correctly. I’ve been blamed for my hearing loss – my hearing loss started around age 2-3 and regardless of surgeries, remains. I’ve also been blamed for needing my tonsils removed at 19 after 15 years of repeated cases strep throat and tonsillitis. The phrase “you should take better care of yourself,” is only applicable if someone has a way to control what they are going through. Exercise, diet, and the sort only affects your health to a certain point. Genetics also has a lot to do with it.

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

People who have first and second hand knowledge of this are generally more aware of how upsetting a phrase like that can be. Someone who has never seen the effects of abuse may not even realize the connection. To a survivor, it feels like victim blaming.

Long rant aside, this is a friendly reminder that you never know what a person has suffered or survived through. This is a friendly reminder that victim blaming comes in all types of forms. This is also a friendly reminder to try and be more aware of what you say, because every time you speak you have the opportunity to show support or voice blame.

Survivors and victims are every where and we generally try to blend with normal not-traumatized people. Remember 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men are CSA survivors. Next time you are in line at a grocery store, at the DMV, or just in a group of people, count how many people could be a CSA survivor.

Guest Post: Therapeutic Literature – Reading and Writing to tackle life’s major challenges

Writing to help you overcome your problems.

There are countless examples of authors who have used writing as a means of coming to terms with major psychological traumas in their lives. There are many well-known examples. Joyce Carol Oakes wrote of the loss of her husband in ‘A Widows Story’. John OatesTornado DownNicol, the navigator of the RAF aircraft shot down during the Gulf War, relived the horrors of his captivity in ‘Tornado Down’. We can find some examples even among the contributors to the Voice of Literature e-zine. Amanda Whitbeck writes about abuse and Keith Guernsey writes about his recovery from serious illness in ‘Fathers and Sons- Sports and Life’. But although writers claim to have benefited from these activities, is there any real scientific evidence that writing about your problems helps you overcome them?

The Theraputic Potential of Creative WritingThere is some. Gillie Bolton’s book ‘The Therapeutic Potential of Creative Writing’, a how-to book on writing for therapy, has received the support of medical practitioners. There are a number of counsellers in creative writing for therapeutic purposes and it is practised in many countries, including the USA, UK and France. The Metanoia Institute, in Bristol UK, offers M.Sc, courses in it, validated by Middlesex University. It seems, however, to be thought of more as an alternative treatment rather than part of the mainstream of psychological counselling.

 

Can readers benefit as well as writers?

Not everyone is motivated to write about the major crises in their lives, but is there any benefit to be gained by reading about the experiences of others? While ‘Bibliotherapy’ developed out of the introduction of hospital libraries after World War I, the use of reading as a help for people with troubles goes back to the middle ages. In modern times reading is used in various ways in the treatment of psychological disorders, and scientifically controlled trials have demonstrated its efficacy for various disorders such as bulimia, alcohol addiction, sexual dysfunction and insomnia.

What kind of books?

There are three kinds of book which are in common use for therapeutic purposes. There are memoirs or journals, where writers write about their personal situation. This allows the writer to come to terms directly with their fears and feelings, while readers who have had or are having similar experiences can get some relief when they see others in the same position. Then there are self-help books, which offer specific advice on how to deal with what is causing the difficulties. These are of use in cognitive treatments, where the sufferer is encouraged to face up directly to their problems and work out solutions logically.

On the other hand, fiction books, prose or poetry, work in a different way. They use an ‘Affective’ approach where the fact that the victims of the trauma are not real people allows the sufferer to approach their difficulties less directly, thus reducing the emotional involvement and allowing them to discover a path to recovery more easily.

How does it work?

Serious psychological problems ought to be dealt with using professional counsellors, who may employ the techniques of therapeutic writing and reading as part of a programme of treatment. But if you are just finding life a bit difficult at the moment, can you turn to reading and writing to help you get over it? There is plenty of anecdotal evidence to say it can help. It perhaps works as a kind of self-psychoanalysis, helping you bring the causes of your unhappiness and unease to the fore, accepting them and allowing you to move on.

Is it worth a try?

I think it is pretty well a truism in psychological healing that if you think it is working, it is. My advice, as a complete non-professional, is that if you find reading or writing makes you feel better about your problems, keep doing it.       

Contributed by  James Gault

 

James Gault

 

Links for James Gault:

Amazon Author Page; Facebook Author Page

James Gault Book Links:

Ogg; The Redemption of Anna Petrovna ; Teaching Tania

A Life Changing Writing Prompt

This last weekend I went to a writing retreat. Typically, one goes to a writing event to learn about writing, marketing, publishing, and so one. What I didn’t expect to learn about, was myself.

This last weekend I went to a writing retreat. Typically, one goes to a writing event to learn about writing, marketing, publishing, and so on.

What I didn’t expect to learn about, was myself.

During a panel titled “Writing About Your Life”, which I figured would mostly be about stuff I already knew since I spent the last 4 years writing a memoir about my life, I learned that I truly believe I am where I am supposed to be in life. After finishing the writing prompt, I felt like this would be a good exercise to share on my blog.

So, you start off by picking an event that changed the course of your life. Then you write a summary about what actually happened as you remember it.

The first thing that came to mind was the day that I almost attempted suicide. I was already struggling during my freshman year at high school, and every little mistake I made always felt like the end of the world. Every failure, no matter how small, was just a constant reminder that I was a failure as a person and good for nothing. So on this particular day, I was supposed to give a speech about a sentimental object in my English class. There had been a fight at home the night before and I had forgotten my item and my speech at home. Since it was a scheduled speech that we had to sign up for ahead of time, failure to do the speech on that day would result in a failed grade. No exceptions. So, when my name was called, I told the teacher I didn’t have my speech and walked out of the class.

Now up until this point, I had done a lot of research about the best ways to commit suicide. I had already decided how I wanted to kill myself, but I hadn’t chosen a place or time. Quite often I kept a small pocket knife on me because I would walk to school every day. On this particular day, I decided that my knife would be the perfect way to end my misery. I was sitting in the hallway just outside my classroom. The door to the classroom was at the end of the hallway so there wasn’t much foot traffic.

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My mind was on an endless loop of every failure that I’d had up until that point in my life. A broken record of being told that the childhood sexual abuse that I endured was my fault. That because I was abused as a child I ruined their family. My own voice in my head told me that I would never amount to anything and that I could never escape the cycle of abuse.

I slowly pulled the knife out of my pocket and opened the blade. The glint of the shiny silver blade intrigued me. It was peaceful knowing that something so beautiful would put an end to my miserable life. As I started to pull the knife to my own throat and prepared to tilt my head down so that it would only take one swipe, a classmate that I knew walked by at that exact moment. Startled, I quickly hid the knife before my classmate could see what I had. He only gave me a simple hello and continued to walk by.

It was in this moment that I realized I had hit rock bottom, and the only way I would be able to survive was to get up, feed my stubborn nature, and fight to live the life that I wanted. I told myself that someday I would no longer be a victim, but instead I would be a survivor.

Now the second part of this exercise was to write about what would’ve happened.

For me, there is a very short would have been scenario. If that classmate had not walked by me at that exact moment… It could’ve gone two ways. Either I would’ve slit my own throat and died, or I wouldn’t have made the cut deep enough and been taken to the hospital. If the second scenario had happened, I probably would’ve continued to spiral out of control until I managed to take my own life.

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The third part of this writing exercise is to contemplate what should have happened.

I will admit, that at first, I struggled to come up with an answer for this.

Among the 30 or so people who were attending the panel either typing or writing away, here I sat at a loss for words. What should have happened in that pivotal moment? The only answer that I could come up with was that what actually happened is what should’ve happened. I spent somewhere around 10 minutes trying to come up with another answer. Something witty or creative, but in the end what actually happened felt like it was exactly what should’ve happened.

 

Now I know this is kind of a dark piece of writing. It was a very dark time in my life, but I wanted to take a moment to show that when we reflect on the actions of the past we may find that however dark that moment was, we managed to find the light. It wasn’t right away that I knew I had made the right choice. For several years I considered suicide, but it no longer made sense for me. The idea of struggling to survive no longer sounded daunting. I knew it was going to be a lot of work, but I had a goal and it felt achievable.

Humans like to ask question, “What if?” What if this thing hadn’t happened or on the flip side what if this thing that didn’t happen did happened? Quite often, we sit and reflect on our decisions or non-decisions of the past. Rarely do we feel confident that we made the right choice. Usually we only reflect on the wrong decisions when we should be reflecting on the right decisions.

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Take a moment to think back about a big decision you made that you know was truly what should have happened. Then use that to have confidence in yourself.

This post was featured on Voice of Literature e-zine.

Saying it Out Loud

Women are taught all the ways to not get assaulted… Let’s ignore the fact that it’s the attackers fault, but we all know the list below is necessary when it really should have to be.

So often I’m with someone I know. Someone I’ve talked to enough to tell them that I was molested as a child. We will already be in the midst of a emotionally charged conversation when I say:

“I was sexually abused as a child.”

There is something about that phrase that will make the nicest people I know verbalize violence against those who hurt me. This last time was a very sweet woman I’ve known for about 3 months and she has never been anything other than kind, but with this reveal, I saw her face and demeanor change in a flash. On one hand you could say it’s because she is a women and we women have to stick together, but I don’t fully agree with that. I’ve known male friends who had the same reaction. Time and time again, I’ve revealed this bit of history about myself and I’ve seen all types of reactions, but I have yet to reveal to someone who didn’t believe me.

Well, aside from when I first spoke out as a child. As an adult, I’ve never be accused of being a lying attention seeking brat or a family destroyer.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had negative reactions that leaned towards blaming a 4 year old version of myself for not telling someone sooner. I’ve had to explain to them that these abusers raised me to be complicit in these activities in much the same way that a child will clean their room or eat their vegetables. They don’t want to, they don’t like to, but they do it because an adult they were told to trust by a parent told them they have to do it. As a child, being sexually abused was equivalent to eating my broccoli at dinner. When I explain this to them, I see realization hit their face. Childhood sexual abuse is much more complicated than they expect, and it’s not the same as adult sexual assault.

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Women are taught all the ways to not get assaulted… Let’s ignore the fact that it’s the attackers fault, but we all know the list below is necessary when it really shouldn’t have to be.

  • Don’t drink outside the house
  • Don’t get drunk
  • Don’t do drugs
  • Don’t have sex
  • Don’t let anyone fix you a drink
  • Don’t leave your drink unattended
  • Don’t dress inappropriately
  • Don’t walk inappropriately
  • Don’t tease men
  • Don’t be alone with strangers
  • Don’t walk outside at night
  • Don’t walk alone
  • Don’t wear earbuds or headphones while in public
  • Don’t enter isolated areas
  • Don’t sit in your car in a parking lot
  • Don’t give men the wrong impression
  • Don’t refuse a man’s advances
  • Take self defense classes
  • Stay aware of your surroundings
  • Keep pepper spray on you
  • Hold your keys as a weapon
  • Check inside your car before getting in
  • Stay on the phone when out alone
  • Always walk briskly, confidently, and unencumbered

All of these things are what women are taught so they don’t get sexually assaulted. This shouldn’t even be a thing aside from the fact that most of these only “protect” women from a minuscule percentage of sexual assault situations, not to mention that, and hold on tight here, MEN GET SEXUALLY ASSAULTED TOO! 

The lack of awareness not to mention the lack of appropriate awareness is staggering. Here are some facts that are backed by numbers:

  • You are 3 times more likely to be attacked somewhere you are comfortable instead of walking down the street or sitting in a parking lot. The majority of places where people are assaulted are in their homes, schools, daycare, church, work, and any other place you feel safe.
  • 3 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted before they turn 18. Picture that for a moment. In a classroom of first graders, if there are 8 girls, 6 of them will be victims of sexual assault before they are adults.
  • 75-90% of perpetrators accused will never see trial or jail time.
  • Less than 10% of people are falsely accused.

All of this knowledge and fact is based on reports that are estimated only get filed in less than 30% of those who are abused. Let’s thank RAINN for these numbers. Some of the stats I pulled a few years ago before they updated the page and I kept as notes while writing my Memoir.

We are emphasizing the wrong awareness. Instead we should be teaching children how to identify and say no to family members who want to touch them inappropriately. We should be teaching children personal boundaries and it’s okay to say no to an adult if something bad is happening. We should be teaching all young adults responsibility for their actions and the true meaning of consent. We should be teaching people that sexual assault is a horrible crime where victims struggle to survive. Anyone can be sexually assaulted by anyone. No one is automatically immune to sexual assault because of their age, gender, race, orientation, or any other aspect.

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The outrage for victims should be more than something shared between survivors, victims, friends, and family. Outrage for what is happening should be transparent and announced. Telling me that the thought sickens you does no good if you continue to vote, represent, protect, or support a perpetrator. That is just placating me and that is useless. I don’t need people — victims and survivors don’t need to be placated. We need to be heard and we need justice.

D.A.s need to stop dropping charges because it doesn’t seem like a win for them. Bargaining for a plea of guilty shouldn’t be the only way perpetrators end up in jail. Claims of sexual assault are not the victims fault regardless if they did something irresponsible. The person who sexually assaults another person for any reason is to blame and should be punished. When there is almost no threat of punishment, this horrible crime will not stop. Without that, child predators and even adult predators will continue to abuse because even if they are revealed, all they have to do is find a new victim. I’ll say it one more time…

Perpetrators will only stop when they know they will be caught and punished.

Legislation and culture needs to change so that victims are protected instead of perpetrators. Its wrong to sexually assault another human.

If you’ve been sexually assaulted, I believe you. I don’t need to know your story. I don’t need to meet you. I believe and support the various campaigns that have started up to help awareness and survivors.

#startbybelieving

Instead of New Year Resolutions

When setting New Year Resolutions just doesn’t meet your needs…

With all the talk of New Year Resolutions or goals, and all the negativity that comes from them, I wanted to take a moment and say a little something…

New Years Resolutions/Goals are exactly what you make them. If the idea of setting goals or resolutions for a year doesn’t appeal to you, then don’t. Don’t be pressured into making a list that will add to your current stress. If you like the idea of making changes and the start of the new year is good timing, then use the opportunity. Use all the good vibes and energy to move you to make improvements in your life. If someone asks what your resolutions/goals are tell them if you want to. If not, it’s not their business.

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Here’s what I am doing this year. I don’t have a goal or resolution, but a focus. I want to spend this year on improving a few areas of my life. I’m not setting a goal that I must obtain at some point by some date this year because I don’t feel that it will add value to my life. More than likely, it will add stress and disappointment. I also believe that things that bring value to our lives is fluid. Something that seems relevant in January may not be in June. Now if I had a specific date that I needed to finish something, then I would put a date on it, otherwise it seems arbitrary.

Things I want to focus on this year:

  1. Diet – I’ve been on an ant-inflammatory diet since November to help some chronic pain I’ve had since a back injury in 2015. To date, chronic long term daily pain is non existent as long as I follow the diet. I want to improve how well I stick to it and not mindlessly eat food items that will cause pain.
  2. Exercise – I want to improve my exercise habits so that I feel stronger.
  3. De-clutter – I often feel stressed out about how much stuff I have  that I don’t use. Listening to the Minimalists has really helped me see that this is contributing negatively to my life instead.

These are areas in my life that I want to improve on, so I’m choosing to focus on those areas. Actually, I started all three of these before the new year, but they are still important to me and I feel they would add value to my life. I don’t want to add stress by putting a due date on these improvements, mostly because these all seem like ongoing habits I’m trying to build that will be apart of my lifestyle. There is no point to de-cluttering if I plan to stop and let clutter build up again.

What is your relationship to New Year Resolutions/Goals? Are you working to bring more value into your life this year?

 

Speaking Out About Sexual Assault

It takes great courage to finally speak about our traumas. We risk rejection, humiliation, banishment, and so much more. As an individual, we can be easily silenced, but as a whole we cannot be silenced for long.

It takes great courage to finally speak about our traumas.

We risk rejection, humiliation, banishment, and so much more. As an individual, we can be easily silenced, but as a whole we cannot be silenced for long. Not everyone is at a place where they can speak out, but those that can should. It’s important to keep your self physically and mentally safe, but if you can speak out, it would be the most selfless action you can take to help stop this abuse. The more that speak out against sexual assault, sexual abuse, and sexual harassment, the more society will change.

This toxic rape culture that is so present today could become something of the past. Imagine a time when a sexual assault report is taken as seriously as a murder charge or theft charge. A time when the perpetrator is on trial and not the victim. A time when victims have support and perpetrators are abhorred and scorned by the public. A time when the majority of perpetrators go to prison instead of a fraction.

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With current events and recent movements like #metoo, it feels as if we are moving forward once again. More people are coming forward to tell their stories instead of staying silent. There will always be people who need to remain silent for whatever reason, and that decision is theirs and theirs alone. And that is okay. If you are not able to speak out, or don’t want to speak out. That is your decision and something that is in your control. Please never let someone make you feel ashamed because you can’t or don’t want to speak out loud about something so painful. Control was taken away, learn to take control of your life anyway you can. You may feel alone, but there are people out there who will understand and can understand what you went through.

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I first spoke out in a moment of weakness and fear. Had I known what would happen, I’m not sure I would have chosen that place and moment and time. A distraught elementary school student crying on the playground telling another child that they had been sexually abused. Immediately the school and police were involved. I was forced to tell my story over and over again. I was one of the lucky ones. After two years, one of my three abusers pleaded guilty. He went to jail. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop him.

As an adult, I am eager to share my story. It is still painful, but knowing that the pain I went through could help prevent someone from being abused or ease their journey by the slightest, is enough for me. That is why I chose to write a memoir. Instead of focusing on what I endured, I chose to write about the obstacles I had to climb over and how I did it. I know that everyone is different, but I hope that reading a success story will help build hope in strength in those who are still struggling.

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If someone close to you told you that they had been sexually assaulted by someone else that you were close to and trusted, would you believe them?

 

 

 

To Honor Those Who Have Moved On

In the last 10 years, I’ve met so many wonderful and interesting people. I’ve helped people heal and return to independence, and I’ve held their hand as they slipped on from this world into the next.

I’ve worked as a CNA (Certified Nursing Assistant) for over 10 years now. I hit the 10 year mark in July. In my time, I’ve met so many wonderful and interesting people. I’ve helped people heal and return to independence, and I’ve held their hand as they slipped on from this world into the next. I’ve laughed and cried with them. Through all of this, I knew I would eventually write a book dedicated to those I’ve taken care of. It has been a long time coming because first I had to get my memoir finished, but while I look into getting that published, a new manuscript has taken over my waking thoughts.

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Usually during November, you can find me furiously typing away at my keyboard trying to keep up with NaNoWriMo goals. That’s National Novel Writing Month for anyone wondering. Basically, during the 30 days of November, hundreds of thousands of people all over the world try to write 50,000 words of a novel. Averaged out, that’s about 250 pages. Quite the challenge. I already had 2 projects planned out because I like to bounce back and forth between the two, but a home health client said something to me recently that inspired me to attempt a third project during this year’s NaNo.

My working title is “To the Grandchild I Will Never Meet”. This is not MY story. This is not the story of a single person. This is a story of hundreds of voices over 10 years. This is a creative fiction story of regrets and hopes that I’ve extrapolated upon from many voices. This is the book that a person can read who has longed for a grandparent they never met, or don’t remember. I hope this book will give them closure if they are still grieving what might have been; to help them imagine what kinds of memories they would have had. I also hope it will help inspire people who are first time grandparents who don’t have memories of their grandparents.

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I’ve always wanted to help my patients and clients get their voices heard. Maybe one day I will help write someone’s story, but until then, I am writing what so many of them wished they could remember or live long enough to experience. Death is a time of longing and grieving, but I’ve learned to take their lessons to heart. Each client inspires me to change one thing about myself. Maybe it is to say “I love you” when I would be too shy or too busy. Maybe it is to remember that life is short and I should stop putting off tomorrow what I can do today. It could even be that I need to make changes in my life now so I won’t have the same regrets. Regardless, I feel honored to help each and every one of them, and didn’t know how else to thank them since most of them have moved on.

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Let this book show my gratitude. Thank you for the honor of assisting you when you needed it most.