Thursday, June 15, 2017

More Bang For Your Buck

Fourth of July approaches, red white and blue decorations bloom and our thoughts turn to magnificent fireworks.
It is my second year working fireworks. I've learned a few important facts worth sharing. Safety first folks. That should be common sense but I remember being ten and watching my drunken father shoot his brother in the arm with a Roman candle. They had to drive out of state to get the Roman candles to shoot at each other, as New York was a sparkler only state. Imagine them trying to goof off by chasing each other with sparklers. If it seems dangerous, please use caution or at least hold yourself accountable. My uncle always said he just didn't dodge fast enough.
Consider pets, let neighbors know so they can tuck pets inside if they're nervous. Consider where you are going to set them off. A twenty foot tall fountain under a ten foot tree is a recipe for fire, not fireworks.
Have your water handy. You probably won't need it but be prepared.
Now with safety covered, let's talk sales tactics and options.
Tents. I worked for an excellent company last year in Minnesota. Everyone was trained, professional, and prices were reasonable. Be careful with tents though. Not all companies are as high quality as Renaissance Fireworks. A lot use a few items that are reduced price to seem like a better deal than their competitors- and you get so busy being delighted by a small discount on a few things you don't notice you are getting gouged on everything else.
Buy one get one can be cool, but price compare: the store not doing bogos likely has lower per unit prices. It is okay to price around. Math is your friend.
Second, quality in sales experience. You're spending money to have a special memory with loved ones. Go where the sales staff makes your buying fun, where they can find out what you want and offer you the fireworks that will delight rather than disappoint. At The Castle we gathered and watched a display of the new fireworks we were considering selling. We rated them on quality and price. It shouldn't be like buying fast food. Last year, I enjoyed talking with people and helping them out to put togethet fun displays from novelties to heavy weight show closers.
Don't limit yourself by being lured to a little stand when you can go to a larger location with more options.
I was impressed with the giant display of heavy weight 500 gram fireworks we have at The Castle, tables and tables. The alphabet hardly had enough letters for how many we have available. Not ten, easily over thirty options in 500 gram heavyweights and that's a conservative estimate.
Third, assortments. Assortments can be amazing or lame. Skip the single company assortments for ones good fireworks sellers put together. Mark and Jay put fantastic assortments together with great value. No lame fillers. Various fireworks from multiple companies. Shawn, Jeff and Cory put together assortments at The Castle of excellent favorites starting around thirty dollars all the way up to a thousand dollars- worth far more than what you're paying. They know what's good and they put it together for you to make it easy.
Don't let a cool wrapper or gimmicky name be your deciding factor. Find out what it does. Watch the firework on YouTube, is it what you want?
State laws limit what you can sell. In Minnesota we were often frustrated as folks wanted fireworks we could not sell by law. They knew, asked and we had to tell them over and over that we could not sell artillery. They shrugged, left and drove to Wisconsin to by their artillery. We would have loved to sell them what they wanted but our hands were tied by law. We had plenty of people who still bought our fountains, novelties, and 500 gram fountains; as I said our prices were reasonable and we made it a positive experience.
We're working hard to get the Castle and Children's House ready. We have a great team working to make fireworks buying an experience that starts off your holiday with a Wow and a smile. We love fireworks and want to share that delight with you.
Have a great 4th of July!

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Weed Your Garden

The people we choose to be around have an impact on our well-being.
Surround yourself with selfish people and you will find yourself getting tired, feeling lonely and constantly giving without reciprocation. These folks only notice you when they want something from you or they want an audience. They've got nothing to give but superficial platitudes and often when they aren't focused on enough- they will create a situation just to get attention. They feel entitled. They use charisma and drama to make their life a stage you get stuck on if you get too close. They take. Leaving your garden full of a stubborn, thorny weed that consumes all the nutrients and pushes out the healthy plants.
There are false friends who seem vibrant but are actually there on an agenda to use you, to amuse themselves or manipulate you to their advantage. They listen to you for ammunition. You trust them and you bleed for it. They skip merrily along uncaring or even delighted by the drama and destruction. These folks are dangerous. I've learned you can recognize them when they boast of how they've screwed people over or how they "love their boyfriend because he's an asshole", and the love seeing the wreckage. These are the poison Ivy vines snaking through, looking healthy as they strangle other plants and smear their irritating oil all over others around them, contaminating relationships for their own advantage. Usually financial, but sometimes just because. These folks usually have sociopathic tendencies. They don't want the people around them healthy. They often talk about wanting to see the world burn or society fall, chaos lovers.
On the other hand:
In your garden seek out and nurture:
Authentic friends. People who reciprocate. People who demonstrate maturity.
Listen to what they say, how they say it, how they treat others. How they regard others. Do they regard others?
Do not excuse or dismiss toxic behaviors. They do not just affect that individual, if that person is close to you- it will impact you and those around you.
I've been quietly weeding my garden, ripping out the narcissists, self absorbed, enablers, toxic, false friends, and unhealthy. I'm not responsible for those folks and having them around detracts from the health that I and the people I care about and am connected to have.
I'm taking time to assess, to nurture that garden in my heart.
It is not my responsibility to help those folks, but it is mine to be the best me I can be and to nurture the healthiest relationships I can with those I feel are worth investing in- those who invest back.

I hope you tend your garden. Be careful what you let grow there.

What's in Your Narrative?

In comics, there is a narrator who communicates the pertinent nonverbal information to the reader. In life, we each have a narrator in our heads.
How we are feeling, what we are perceiving: it changes the narrator's focus. The narrator sticks with what we linger on.
I've been fighting anxiety this spring. Fighting anxiety is like trying to beat up a swimming pool full of water. The water splashes, moves out in waves, gets unbalanced but remains mostly in the pool. In the end, you stand there feeling frustrated and exhausted and still anxious- and those closest to you have retreated out of the splash zone. Looking out and realizing you're making no progress, you try harder. The hard work isn't working. The water remains.
The narrator tries to shift perspective but you don't leave the pool. You've got a fight to win for peace of mind. The narrator becomes negative as that part of you knows you are going about this backward but you know if you just push through...
You're soaked.
Some folks rewrite the narrative here. They can't bear the weight of failing and they decide anxiety will always be a part of them. They come up with justifications and long ways of living that take them around every pool in their path.
I stopped fighting the other day, sitting and watching butterflies with a friend. My narrator had a chance to be heard. My narrator said "Flying not falling."
Swim instead of panic. Float. I went out, found myself a little black kitten, knowing I feel better with a little fuzzy companion.
My narrator backed off. Kitten distracted and mind finally not spinning through the worry hallway of my mind. Anxiety grows when it's fed. Confidence grows when you feed it. You can feed one but not both. Float.
Silly as it seemed, instead of fighting the fear and anxiety, I let go and just focused on the positives around me and the things I can change and address. Feeding confidence instead of uncertainty.
The anxiety lessened. Then it lessened more.
My narrator could have been destructive, admonishing me further into a worse state of mind. My narrator could have swept the anxiety under the rug to try to make me look superhuman.
My narrator prefers to stick the neutrality as much as possible. That person you are frustrated with today may turn into an amazing person over the next five years.
Each of us has our own story, it's as healthy as we make it.
I'm enjoying the relaxed muscles and returning appetite, the refreshed confidence that comes with anxiety release.

How does your narrator talk to you?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Finding Balance Again

Balance, it takes constant work. Walking across a low wire, only a few feet off the ground, you still fall if you get distracted.
You can practice low elements like a low wire with minimal safety gear and logical spotting. Off balance? Step off and start over.
In my youth I spent a lot of time practicing skills on low and high elements. Two line bridges, Cat's cradles, giant ladders, high wires. 
High elements over ten feet up, sometimes over twenty or thirty feet things are different. We did not practice these skills to perform for audiences. We faced them as challenges to overcome trust issues, develop communication and listening skills, to problem solve, develop self esteem, confidence, and teamwork. We all came from broken places, sharp edged children who could cut you with words and who carried emotional wounds that colored our worlds stark.
We learned when you are working with a partner, keep reaching, keep trying to communicate and listen. Instead of taking affront that the anxious person cuts in verbally, understand and sooth. Instead of getting annoyed at the slow speaker, keep catching yourself when you interject. Apologize. Trust. Everyone shares the work. Everyone succeeds together.
We joked, "That which doesn't kill us makes us stronger." The time I shredded my arm catching a fiberglass cargo net, but not quite well enough. The heavy rope I was on pulled me back. Thanks, Physics. The cargo net kept a good chunk of my arm. Bandage on. I went back up.
The last three years, I've spent a lot of time and energy focusing on trying to be healthy in a partnership, trying to encourage my partners to choose to heal as well.
Not everyone wants to heal. Not everyone wants to be what you see they could be, if they were brave enough. Low hanging fruit, habits.
I own that I am working through issues of anxiety, esteem, and that in the two relationships I felt insecure. Why?
Internal? External?
Part of it was knowing my partners weren't interested in anything more than temporary. Sometimes, to feel more secure temporarily, I put that thought on the backburner and kept planning and working forward. The abusive behavior and gaslighting of the first. The second waiting until he was done to communicate issues that we could have addressed months before. We both failed to communicate as well as we should have from the start.
It hurt to realize we had been out of sync for a while. That part of the hurt was not doing the fun things couples do when they love each other, the laughing, flirting, surprise gifts, wanting pictures of each other. We had bypassed that for routine and gradually spent more time in our heads. Resentments build in such a place.
Trying to put pieces back together that were flawed from the start, the pieces seemed to fit better. Hurts were still there.  Feelings of under appreciation, different priorities.
I'm tired. I'm taking time to go back to friends and memories, to look at where old wounds still hide. To address them.
I can trust my friends with the ropes. I've learned that. Giving the ropes back to the people who inspire me, who encourage me.
In turn, there I am, taking the ropes sometimes for them. Because. Trust. Love. We achieve more, we can face daunting tasks easier when we do it together.

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Assumptions versus Communication

Many too good to be true sales pitches rely on assumptive logic. The nitty gritty details would get in the way, so only the ones that serve as bait get dangled. You know you should be wary, should ask more questions but you don't.
How often do you count your change when it's handed to you? How often have you been surprised to find out an assumption was wrong? Drive time doubled because of traffic, relationship stressed due to varying assumtions in both parties, faced frustration of trying to undo damage?
When we meet people we make assumptions. We observe and decide how we are going to interact based on appearance and behavior, communication sitting on the sidelines saying "why won't you let me start Coach- seriously?"
In a world as diverse as ours, this can lead to friction and misunderstandings rather than respect and understanding.
What can we learn or grow with if we communicate. Open minded.
Stress drops away. Trust can have a place. Relief and appreciation are revitalize you.
You can't get anywhere in relationships with others if the relationship is based on assumptions. You can start over. You can create a real, healthy relationship if you are willing to participate and heal.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Ugly Truth

What is worse than surviving an abusive relationship? Dealing with the aftermath, the scars and insecurities is hard enough but worse: dealing with well meaning people who want to believe the false face the abuser approaches the public with.
It must be an exaggeration. She must be overreacting. It is a little misunderstanding. He says nice things about you, the implied unspoken being: so how dare you tell me what he really treated you like. How dare you take the mask I want to believe off the guy or gal I like.
It is not easy to verbally express what you go through. What you wake up because your mind is reliving it again. The torturous words intended to push you to self destruction. The physical abuse. The control, manipulation, constant gaslighting. The ridicule and humiliation. The repeated nightmare of the worst moments. Struggling in a friend's bathroom to avoid having fingers broken. Breathing and accepting that you might die in a moment when for the ninth day in a row you've had the person dry fire a handgun at you from two to three feet away.
Just a joke, it must be. I didn't see any of that. I've known him for years, he's just a little crazy and loud. Excuses. Excuses. Excuses that corrode and isolate abuse survivors more.
Who wants to have a heart to heart with someone, who in their opening statement empowers your abuser? When you think back and realize how bad it was and where was everyone? Didn't they hear? Didn't they see? Why didn't they say anything? In a silent way they let it happen. Weather the storm. He needs you. He doesn't mean it.
Seriously, why don't you just talk to him? He is so nice. Everyone knows you can't believe a word he says except when you discuss abuse, now somehow his words have validity? You hear the contradiction well meaning people do not  realize they are voicing. It hurts. You hear "I would rather believe a notorious liar with a known history of abusive volatile behavior than you. Period."
People come up to justify their continued friendship with both of you. That's fine, your choice. But when you do not want to hear what we dealt with and you tell us what a good friend our abuser is you are telling us you are okay with them abusing us and others. You are telling us you want the fiction that the truth discomforts you. You want the blind eye and we can't unlive the darkest moments and bottom line: you were not there for us. We faced it alone. You didn't step in. We went to our private places, you had a normal evening. We dealt with emotional explosions, threats of physical violence, mandates on how we had to appear to you. We tried showing you by resisting directives and arguing or expressing lesser points- we paid in privacy later but you still missed it, minimized it, justified it for your own reasons.
Do not speculate. Talk to us. Listen to us. Our experiences and emotions are valid. Our safety is important. Do not empower abusers. Do not strive so hard to love the mask they make for you. Tear it off and really understand the horror we deal with in knowing you would rather love and support a falsehood than be there for a real human that was treated inhumanly.
You would not befriend someone who tortures animals. You will explain to me the finer points of someone who spent two years making my daily life hell. Where I coped by blogging about every emotional or psychological bomb I was trying futilely to diffuse. My blog was my figurative defense attorney- a regular plea that he would read like some barbaric king to laud the praises of then dismiss as he gleefully entertained himself hurting me.
I'm awake again. Its the middle of the night. I hate thinking back. I hate talking about it. It isn't going to go away. Perhaps eventually it will lessen. Quietly, I find the friends who understand. Who have also survived or who understand abusers and masks. They make it easier. We talk. We understand the isolation that the hurt, the unintended betrayal and empowerment the community offers those who hurt us. He said she said. And he said nice stuff. She must just be bitching. She's a she. She's a She and it happened in a relationship: 50% off the validity of her words; as we can choose to dismiss on the grounds of the relationship is over so they're just bitter. It could be a He it happened to for the same reason. Same justification. Eww. Relationship gonbe wrong. Sigh. File it under: Invalidate and sweep under rug. Stop. Do not perpetuate a cycle. Do not aid an abuser by dismissing their actions. They didn't do it in front of you because they know you would not have tolerated it, you wouldn't have been able to like them if you heard or saw. That's why they wait until they have you alone. They set you up. They play games. They fuck with your head. They quietly remind you they have all the power and control, you have nothing. Community doesn't intentionally endorse this but unintentionally it empowers it. 
We go through each day focusing on goals. Focusing on the friends who encourage us to think and be healthy. Focusing on coping with the scars and fears. Focusing on never wanting to ever have to be in close proximity to the person who threatened us. Who belittled us. Who criticized everything from what we ate, how we look, how we make decisions, what we wear, how we feel, as they wasted our money and told us how much we needed them. 

As I talk I listen. So many men and women have come individually, talked of what they are dealing with or have dealt with. What hurts each of us the most: the hurt. The isolation. Hearing alleged friends conjecturing to us and our loved ones that we are oversensitive, overreacting, misunderstanding. Support us. Stop wanting to believe the excuses and dismissals. We didn't fall down the stairs. We didn't deserve to have someone try to break our fingers because we did not jump to one of their rigid rules. Listen. Be aware of the mask. Tell us we don't deserve it: that is the best truth you can give us. Give us a place that is safe. Give us someone to talk to where our words are safe to express without judgements or danger of them getting back to where they hurt us worse.
I appreciate the friends who realized and intervened in a healthy way. The ones who saw the severe depression, anxiety and isolation. The ones who persisted, to be there then and now. People who had an idea of what I was not saying. Who solidly approached the problem with practical sense and compassion. Letting me work it out and validating, reminding me who I was and could be and that I could choose healthier choices and people.  The friends who explain abuse and behavior of people who don't understand. The friends who communicate safety and support. The friends who look us in the eye and give us permission to heal and remind us that we were not deserving of the abuse and that we are allowed to heal, that our emotions are valid and they let us cry when we need to, which is far to often. The friends who love us even on days we struggle to like ourselves.   
As I sit here awake in the middle of the night having to mentally process again. Having to work on scars and wounds he told me I deserved as I am a terrible human being that is so deplorable no one but him could possibly tolerate my presence. Seeing the gun. Feeling the struggle in the bathroom. Watching my friends Melissa and Amy figure out they could stop him by walking in with a smile when he started shouting, when they heard my voice raise with stress and defensive words. Seeing the look in their eye as these beautiful women stood for me when I didn't believe in myself enough to try. It hurts to remember what they had to hear and go through. But go ahead, invalidate their experiences, tell me how we overreact and are overly sensitive.
What caused that distress and severe sensitivity? Not being treated like a human being. Being tormented and terrified and hurt. But wait? Shhhhh. Don't talk about it. It makes people uncomfortable. Don't talk about it. He doesn't want to people to know how he is when you were alone and the mask was off, they might treat him like the asshole he is. They might call him on his behaviors. The community might have open communication. It might be harder for him to flatter his way into another relationship. The next unwitting person might have a chance to hear something other than the gaslit version of his history that makes him sound like he was just harmless and misunderstood. They might hold him accountable. Him. Her. The abuser. They might avoid the nightmares, anxiety attacks, depression, isolation, the shaking, the fear, the rage and the humiliation of having to remember it and express it to process it and to try to neutralize the poison.
Do not stay in an abusive situation. You do not deserve it. There are places to go. There are people who  can help you deal with finances, getting the things you need to live, you are not a burden. You do not deserve it. You deserve to be safe. You deserve to be treated with respect. Your feelings and experiences are valid. You deserve to be treated with respect. You do not deserve humiliation, pain, punishment. You do not deserve guilt. You are not guilty. It is not your fault. We will not be mad at you or stop being your friend because you left or because you are being abused. There is nothing wrong with you. You are not a monster. You are not repugnant or undesirable. You are beautiful, human. You aren't perfect, but that is okay. You make a wonderful you. We value you for who you are. You are brave. You survive. You survived.
I fight the anxiety. I sit here expressing to heal. I sit here thinking of the wonderful moments and people in my life. Thinking positives and breathing, reminding myself I am safe. Reminding myself of constructive goals I am working on. Trying to keep healing and growing.
Putting together resources to start a safety net of support for abuse survivors working faires. Taking time to gather and connect strong resources and working on the framework so a solid network of volunteers who support each other and are there to talk to for those going through or dealing with past abuse to go to for support and community connections if they need more than a supportive conversation. Figuring out what we need, what would help us all heal and grow. Speaking out. Each time I do, my words echo back from another trickle of people dealing with abuse issues hearing they have permission to break the silence- supporting each other. It is hard to speak. It is hard to feel. And the feel doesn't ever fully go away. Someone has to speak. Silence is endorsement. Silence is an ally of Abusers. Quit buying the mask. Quit trying to invalidate our experiences. We aren't buying that mask again and we don't want to hear why you like it. Would hurt you too much to look behind the mask is that why you jump to rationalize our experiences that you weren't there for? Your judgement is empty. Your conjecture invalid. Your choice to hurt us by rubbing the mask in our faces? Not nice. Not healing. Not telling us you are trustworthy. Not demonstrating integrity. 

  If looking would hurt you, we faced them without their mask- consider that and you may start to understand the sorrow and isolation. You can't handle a horrible peek at what we starkly faced. Paint another sparkle in their eye, use the broken glass of their words and deeds to make their smile glint in the light. So shiny. So friendly. Such a good person you say, as our heart bleed from being chewed up. Such good people abusers are, just misunderstood?

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Dealing With What Time Does Not Heal

Life happens. For better or worse. Beautiful moments, exhilaration and inspiration skipping your heart and blooming your smiles. Jagged painful moments: fear, sorrow, shame and anger are sharp edged as the gouge into your mind carving wounds there that time does not heal. Hoping the memories grow less poignant, less destructive does not lessen their impact.
Accidents. Medical issues. They rip away our assumptions of safety and strength. They take people we love in a moment leaving us with memories we hold fast to, as they are what we have left. Those memories and the unsettling knowledge that we are all fragile, mortal, and nothing can be taken for granted.
Abuse. Abuse scars us. Leaves us limping and torn inside, vulnerable. We begin to perceive ourselves as bad, flawed, broken. We perceive that somehow we deserve this and when we look around we see the people around us unaware of what hellish warping has happened to our view of ourselves and each other. It is difficult to break the cycle. It is hard to talk about the pain. The humiliation. The fear which becomes your constant companion. Part of you fights to take your power back, part of you becomes resigned as the community around you seems unaware or even accepting- making you wonder if perhaps you deserve the abuse. The critic in your head uses it all for ammunition.
Time makes it easier to talk about but the feelings come back. They are always with you. Folks seem uncomfortable around you, not always knowing what to say; they often say nothing or change topics which spirals you further into isolation. It gets more difficult to express the things you need to so you can heal and go forward. Depression and anxiety become constant companions you struggle with.
Even harder: when people you love still compliment and express positives about the people who hurt you. When they help an abuser, even if it is not related to you- it feels like bricks in a wall. Part of you wonders, do they understand what you went through? Do they conceive of how horrible a person can be and has chosen to be to you? A quiet voice whispers " they don't believe you."
No one wants to see the worst in a friend, even when its in front of them.
Abusive people can be very charismatic. They do not abuse everyone. Things get dismissed as jokes or moods. Do not talk about it. People might get uncomfortable. Do not talk about it, the abuser doesn't want people to know or to hold them accountable.
You have to talk to heal. The abuser gave up the right to be respected when they chose to use words and actions to torture you. This. This is truth. Talk. You might save someone else. You will save yourself. Talking with supportive people, healthy people- this helps you redefine yourself. It helps fight the inner critic. It helps you heal what time alone cannot.
The feelings do not go away. They are there when you triumph and when you fall down. Some days the feelings make it hard to get out of bed and go through the motions of a day. It is hard to go through life with an emotional prison sentence you got but never deserved. You did not deserve to be treated badly. You do not deserve to have someone feed your demons for their amusement and benefit. You deserve to be treated with kindness. Respect. Love.
One of the hardest steps is dealing with the shame and humiliation. You stayed for a while. Why? Stop punishing yourself is easier said than done.
You find your communication skills and focus slide into a variable setting you cannot always control. You assume you have to stay in a bad place. You try to keep drama low. You try to keep people around you from getting angry. You judge yourself harshly and the downward spiral continues as your mind exaggerates your weaknesses and imperfections.
The abusers words follow you and haunt you. Is there something wrong with you? What if they are right and you really are worthless and terrible?
Wrong. It is hard to see the positives when you are stuck in the cycle. You fight it in your head but part of you feels and whispers: if they were wrong why am I still vulnerable and why do people still think its okay to let them get close to you? People assume they aren't going to be abusive. Abusers say wonderful things about you to everyone but you- it is one of the ways they manipulate the perception people have of them.
This is one of the hardest things to deal with. You find yourself withdrawing from good friends because they go have good times with the abuser. They cheer on positives for that person while you are struggling with anxiety, nightmares and despair having no idea that their actions hurt.
Then at the darkest moment someone walks up. Someone you barely know. They tell you what they are facing. What they struggle with. They read or heard about your struggle. They know you know. They know they can talk to you. They know you know what they are feeling, thinking and going through. You talk with each other. You connect. A little bit of the burden lifts as you share it.
Then another person finds you. Not always people you expect. They share their story. They know. You know. You share the burden again.
After a while you realize that the tip of the iceberg is what folks see; what is underwater: that is what you start to perceive. You realize something needs to shift.
Dealing with my own issues I have found myself mentally identifying friends who are Angels, who I feel safe with. Who I can talk to. Who help me remember to laugh and create a safe place for me. Who react by giving my feelings and experiences validity rather than more heaps of stinking doubt and silence. I realize with the numbers of people quietly finding me that I am not the only one needing Angels. That with Angels around, the pain although present is something that can be dealt with.
This week I am reaching out and starting to work with many friends to create a volunteer network of "Angels" who we will train to outreach and help abuse survivors receive the emotional support to heal and step forward within the Renaissance festival community. We heal together, alone we hurt. Awareness changes the shape of our worlds.