Group 12 – Reunion Group, raw.honest.loved.

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“Vulnerability is the core of all emotions and feelings.
To feel is to be vulnerable. To believe vulnerability is weakness is to believe that feeling is weakness.
Yes, we are totally exposed when we are vulnerable. Yes, we are in the torture chamber that we call uncertainty. And, yes, we’re taking a huge emotional risk when we allow ourselves to be vulnerable.
But there’s no equation where taking risks, braving uncertainty, and opening ourselves up to emotional exposure equals weakness.

‘When I see you doing something vulnerable, it looks like courage; when I do it myself, it feels like weakness.” – Brené Brown  (Daring Greatly)

You will hear me refer often to Brené Brown. Her research and writing has meant so much to me in the facilitation of this project.

She also said something that struck me and made me question my furthering of the project, however, and it was this: “Vulnerability without boundaries is not vulnerability.” Essentially, that we should be careful who we are being vulnerable with – with whom are you sharing? Has this person earned the right to hear your story?
This made me entirely nervous that for the last three years I’ve been putting all of these participants in too fragile of a spot. Sure, the groups themselves have been safe places, ones in which those with whom we are sharing deserve to hear our story because they are sharing their stories as well. But, these stories are also made public, a fact which obviously all participants are aware, however, are there repercussions for them that are too overwhelming? Is the overall outcome of doing these groups beneficial or something I should rethink?

It had been ten months since the last group of the Raw.Honest.Loved.Project had taken place. I missed it. I wanted to get back to it, to get back to talking about things that I feel really matter. But, I wanted to know if it’s worth the emotional upheaval that happens every time, the exhaustion that overwhelms each of us for the next few days. So, in order to answer that, I decided that Group 12 would be made up of participants from former groups. Maybe I could get some answers regarding the benefits vs. hardships resulting after being a part of this project. So, we did it. And I got answers. I got answers to questions I wasn’t even asking.

There is something unique that happened with this group. It seemed like each participant had a realization that they had held back somewhat in their previous group. That they had spoken of their insecurity, and it was extremely difficult, but most of them had spoken in generalities. In their first group, they were dipping their toe in this vulnerability thing without knowing what the outcome would be.
So, this time they were ready. They were going to dig deep, they were going to be specific, they were going to get to the crux of the insecurity. This is not something I asked them to do. To be specific, I only asked them to share their insecurity, to specify whether it was different than previously, to share what effect their prior participation had on the insecurity they had shared (if any), and to share what effect their prior participation had on their life in general (if any).
They got specific on their own. They went deep. And they poured their hearts out.

Depression. Teen suicide. Racism. Miscarriages. Infertility. Addiction. Alcoholism.

None of these topics are easy to discuss.
All of these topics were discussed, plus more.
And no one expected it to be easy. They expected it to be difficult and emotional to share. They also knew that others would relate, after their experiences previously.
What I don’t think anyone expected was how incredibly important some of them would prove to be for each other.
Without making this into a novel, hopefully, I want to let you in on some of the things that went on in this group that you can’t read simply through their insecurity write-ups included here.

Melissa was the first to share. Melissa had participated in the very first group and in Group 9 – Moms & Daughters. Even though she had participated twice, not just once, I felt she needed to be a part of this one. Melissa and I have been very, very close for quite a few years. She is one of the most important people in my life, so, I knew some things that she had been experiencing of late and I felt like this group could be beneficial for her and that her participation would, likewise, be beneficial for others. I had no idea how beneficial, however.
Let me tell you something about Melissa…she’s a pretty private person. She doesn’t share personal/family information with just anyone. She is pretty selective about who is allowed to really know her. Coming into this group, I thought she would share again in a bit of generalities and not want to pinpoint some of the exact trials her and her family had been experiencing.
She read her insecurity, we briefly left the group while I took her photo, we reconvened with the group, and that is when she blew me away. I asked her if she wished to share anymore than what she had written and she let loose.
She shared that her 15-year-old son, Ryan, had conveyed to her last spring (in a text, while she was at the grocery store – just to put this in perspective) that he didn’t think he was going to make it through the end of the year alive. He had been contemplating suicide. You can only imagine Melissa’s response to receiving a text like this. Thank goodness Ryan was brave enough to communicate this with his mom, even if it was so difficult for him that he couldn’t do it in person. Melissa did all she could think to do and took him to a hospital. ***As an odd side note, at this very time, I had just reached the airport, ready to fly out to Iowa for our Group 11, dealing with the very subject of teen suicide. Just as we arrived at the airport, I received a message from Melissa, alerting me to what was happening and thanking me for what I was heading to Iowa to do. I was heartbroken for her and confounded at the timing.*** Melissa ended up getting Ryan checked in for treatment, something he really didn’t want to do. He is now in therapy and working through best he can with the love and undying support of his family. She says in the group, “I don’t know if it was the right thing to do (checking him in for treatment against his will), but he’s still alive. We’re still struggling, we still don’t have a handle on it, but, he’s still with me.” She’s learned that, as Ryan told her, it’s not her fault. But, she also has learned that it is up to her to share her feelings, to let her family know what she is thinking. She can fix herself and herself alone and she can just be there for her family through it all.

As Melissa was sharing this, Ana contributes and relates to Ryan’s experiences, thinking back to her own teenage years and how difficult it was to get through them. As this is happening, I’m noticing Bella. I knew Bella had (and continues to, to a degree) experienced her own struggles with the very topic, as well, and as she is still a teenager, I knew she was going to be invaluable to Melissa. I noticed her wanting to say something, so, we just decided that she would go next with her own insecurity. Almost immediately upon returning from her reading her insecurity and us photographing her with her board, she turns to Melissa and says this:

“Melissa, when I was a freshman, when I was 14, I got diagnosed with really severe depression and anxiety. When I was 16, I tried to kill myself. I tried to overdose on the antidepressants I was taking…and I promise you, what you did for your son is so much more than you’ll ever know. I know maybe sometimes you feel guilty, maybe you feel like you forced him to do something, but one day, after so much hardship, he will get to this point where the little things make him happy again. That’s what my mom did for me and I cannot imagine what would have happened if she hadn’t. And I promise you it was the best possible thing you can do and that he’s sooo grateful, even when he’s hurting.”

Not sure there was a dry eye to be found. It was a serious mic drop moment. I actually said afterward, “Welp, we’re done.” Bella summed up what Melissa didn’t even know she needed to hear. In her wiser-than-17-years, she had provided the exact kind of comfort Melissa needed. And, I know this to be a fact, her honesty and her raw truths, along with Melissa’s (and Ryan’s willingness to let this be told), will go far in helping many others. You never know who your words are going to touch.

There are so many things I wish to write about everyone’s experiences in the group…Sylvia’s fears about where this country is heading, fears about her mixed-race children growing up in a country that seems to be reverting to a disgusting time when racism runs rampant; Liz’s feelings of inadequacy, feeling like she’s a fraud and faking it and people just haven’t quite figured it out yet; Ana’s feelings that she has regressed into less than – that she is a shell of herself and is trapped by her depression and anxiety; Joshua’s feelings on all of the work he’s done and yet how this still finds him empty when it comes to personal relationships that he craves (Oh Joshua, and all the work he’s done! Amazing!); Ian’s feelings regarding his lack of motivation and how much he could be accomplishing if he could just find the drive (and he found the love of his life! YOU GUYS, I somehow acted as the weirdest cupid ever! all because of this project! read that!); Rosie’s admittance about her constant struggle dealing with loss, how the loss of her son is something in the past for most people but is fresh in her face on a daily basis; how this affected her with the birth of her grandson.

Please, please, please read all of their stories, in addition to Melissa’s and Bella’s. I wish I had time to go into detail on each and every one. But, I’m sure I would lose you if I kept spewing out all of the words that are running through my mind regarding this group.
I must, however, discuss Summer.

Summer was originally in Group 10 – Couples. She participated with her husband of 20+ years, Daniel. And they held hands the entire time. And he comforted her and was there for her. Unintentionally, I took that away from her this time. When I realized that I had asked her to participate by herself, I wasn’t thinking at the time about how I was essentially taking away her security blanket of sorts, without having Daniel there. Somehow, Summer still agreed to do this, even though she was going to be so very raw and exposed for the world to see. And she went deeper than I ever would have expected. And she put her heart out there for me, for you, and for herself.
She spoke about loss. About the profound desire to be a mother. About experiencing loss in that way eight. different. times. Being pregnant eight times and having not one child to show for it.
…I hate even writing that and I feel like I need to take this giant pause. We all should take this giant pause and let that sink in. The weight that one bears at the loss of a child is so heavy, and one that I can’t even pretend to understand. But, my heart is gutted for her. And for anyone who has experienced this kind of pain. Make sure to read Summer’s story further down the page, but, in the meantime, I want to relay what she said after she read her insecurity with us, when I asked if she wanted to elaborate anymore…

“It just sucks. And I think if anybody could just not say that one phrase to people…that ‘everything happens for a reason’…because it rips me out inside…and I understand and I try to understand that it’s coming from a place of trying to make the world make sense for everybody and that they’re finding faith in that, and you’re trying to say something because you just don’t know what to say, but, it’s just cruel to say it to somebody who’s had any kind of loss. It’s just a cruel thing to say.”

Let’s talk about that – “Everything happens for a reason.”
Can we just call bullshit on that line, please?
Sure, there are reasons for everything.
Scientific reasons. Health reasons. Mathematic reasons. Emotional reasons. All of the reasons. But when does this line ever actually comfort someone? When does it do anything more than relieve your own discomfort for a brief second by giving you something to say?? Don’t get me started on things like “God has a plan,” “He/She is in a better place,” and the always-cringing “God must have needed another angel”.
As Summer said, most of the time these comments come from strangers. Strangers who asked if she had any children (a common question, understandably) and for some reason demanded to know “why not??”
Guess what, guys? Sometimes it’s none of our goddamn business.
Sometimes we need to realize that someone may be going through a bigger struggle than they are willing to share…a bigger struggle than we, as strangers, are deserving of knowing. Let’s just keep that in mind.
First off, maybe just don’t ask the questions of which answers we’re not entitled. You don’t really need to know “why not,” you don’t.
Second, if they have shared their struggle and we don’t know what to say, how about nothing…? Maybe an “I’m sorry” and that is all. Maybe an “I’m here for you,” if you really are. Maybe a hug. Maybe a comforting, brief hand holding. But, maybe really nothing at all.
Not “everything happens for a reason.” Not “God has a plan.”

There are so, so, so many more things I could say about this group. So many things I could say about how participating has affected them. How their participation has affected me. How I am always without words for several days after each group. How beautiful and equally exhausting each experience is. How much I want to shout all of their stories to the world to see who they stick to, who they help. Because I know they do. And it’s why I will continue with this. Indefinitely.

Thank you for sticking with me. Thank you for reading their stories. And now, in their own words:

(p.s. we did something a little different this time and, instead of ME reading everything their friends/family wrote in to them, we surprised them with these messages from their friends/family member’s own mouths. RIGHT OUT OF THEIR FACES. 🙂  Those who were able to do so either came in to record with us or sent me recordings. I thank each of you SO MUCH for this. I can’t even tell you how much it meant to your loved one. Ask them. They’ll tell you. I, for one, appreciate you greatly. All of you who wrote in and especially went out of your comfort zone and recorded a video. You are awesome. Thank you.)

(p.p.s. I will include links to their prior groups when I am not rushing off to work. I will maybe include videos, as well. So, come back later. There may be new stuff for you. ❤ )

Group12Melissafinal

Melissa (Group 1 & Group 9 – Moms & Daughters)

“That I will fail my children.
I am still struggling with my same insecurities as the last round I was in, “Mothers and Daughters”. I can handle my personal failures. Failing my children is gut wrenching.”

 

Does this differ from your insecurity in your prior group? If so, how?

 It doesn’t. My family is what matters most to me, so that is where most of my insecurities lie.

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your previous insecurity?

 “I was in round 1 and I played it safe with my insecurities. I have issues with my body, but don’t well. I revealed that I’m really good at putting up a strong front, but I’m scared on the inside. In Group 9, I addressed the challenges of raising children.
Since my last group, we have struggled more as a family. I felt broken, my family felt broken. I tried to be strong, but I couldn’t keep that up. I had to give that up. I fell apart, each of us felt apart. But we didn’t give up.
We are truly Raw, Honest and Loved.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your life in general? How have you felt since participating?

 “The past year has been really rough for me. I know I’m not perfect and was never meant to be. I’ve learned to own my shit.
In those dark moments when everything seems to be crumbling down around me and I’m fighting to keep my head above water, whatever choice I make at the moment is what I am capable of. And that’s okay. My words may have been wrong. My actions could have been better. I’m not perfect, I wasn’t meant to be.
Living my life does not make me a failure. My mistakes do not own nor define me.
I have control over me, not my husband, not my son and not my daughter. It’s not my fault, it’s no one’s fault. Sometimes it is what it is. And that’s okay, I’m okay.”

melissachoice

Melissa’s friends and family ~

Gail – “Melissa is very kind, generous and passionate. I admire her ability to separate herself from a conversation without saying anything negative but yet still listening to what others have to say and respecting their opinions. I love how she is passionate about her family and friends. Melissa has a quiet confidence about herself that is encouraging and makes those around her confident. She is selfless, compassionate and fun-loving. I feel as though I have become a better person by having her in my life. Melissa is a beautiful person, both inside and out. I appreciate her and love her for the person, friend, wife and mother that she is.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“Not sure when she started this, but she has always been a beautiful person to me.”


Ryan – 
“That she is willing to sacrifice everything for the sake of others’ happiness. She comes home from work and cleans, cooks, cleans that, and then repeats everyday, not to mention also taking care of her mother. I would never be able to do that. My mom keeps our family from falling apart. If she never had, everything would have gone to shit years ago. I love her.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“She has a more upbeat view of life.”


Lily – (Thank you for the video, Lily!)
Mom, it is one thing to say that I love you because you’re my mom, but to me I love you because you’re also my best friend. I look up to you so much more than you think. You are so empowered and strong that, no matter what, I know you will stand up for yourself and everyone you love and that makes me so proud to be your daughter. You don’t take enough credit for what you do as a parent and as a friend. You help Ryan and I get through so much and you are always there for us when we feel nobody else is. I can’t thank you enough for being the amazing, beautiful, sassy woman you are. Also not to mention your fabulous dab skills 😉 I LOVE YOU MOMMA YOU ROCK!”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“She seems more open and refreshed, so now it feels like we can talk about anything and there’s no fear of judgment…it’s hard to explain but that’s what came to mind.”
Alana – “Hey, Melissa…you didn’t ask me to write in for you. Preeeeeeeetty sure you didn’t ask me to write in for you the first time, either. Because you’re like that…and you probably think I’m going to embarrass you. Because I am. Maybe.
I cannot NOT write in for you, however. You’re too important to me to pass up talking about.
You are my sister. My Filipino, lumpia-cookin’, bacon fried rice makin’, sister from another mister. You are my blood even without being my blood. I like a lot of people…I’m a pretty social girl…but there is a small handful of people that I keep in my pocket, that I know are solid, loving, loyal, hilarious friends that are in it for life with me. You are unique in that way. We have laughed so hard we cried, on many occasions. On fewer occasions, we’ve cried so hard we’ve laughed. When you hurt, I hurt, and I’m damn sure the same is true, vice versa. You’re the first to call me out when I’m being a dumbass, in the most hilarious way possible. You’re the first to hug me when I don’t even know I need it.
You are tough as nails and mushy as a marshmallow. It’s one of the things I love about you. You put on a tough exterior (and, don’t get me wrong, you’re pretty badass), but, you hurt and you feel and you care and you love. While this all makes you one of the best friends ever, it also makes you one of the most fantastic moms I’ve ever known. Your heart is carried with Ryan and Lily. You worry about them, you cry when they are hurting (even when you’re doing your best not to), and you rejoice when they are excelling.
You are everything I want to be. You’re one of the best right-hand ladies I have. We will always be connected. I will always keep you close, and not just because of your killer lumpia. I love you, Melissa!”

 

Group12BellafinalBella (Group 2 – Teens)

Oh boy. Fuck. Shit. Here we go. This was really hard to write at first but it’s gotta happen.
I am totally, completely, absolutely worthless.
All I am capable of is exhausting those around me. I am too loud and too emotional too often; I will never be loved. . This seems like a huge thing, something too over-dramatic to be an everyday insecurity, but it’s something I carry everyday. If I think about it too much, I melt down confronting the thought that nobody could ever love someone with so much baggage. Nobody will ever want a girl with daddy issues, or depression, or anxiety, or problems with trust. Nobody will ever want someone with the tendency to explode emotionally over the smallest thing, or someone who will rant for hours over a random fixation that changes every day- someone overwhelming and inconsistent. Nobody will ever want someone with messy hair and too much eyeliner and no real talent. I can’t even succeed in killing myself. I will never be worth investing time in because I am broken, something you complain to your friends about, something you avoid, and something you hate. From tip to toe, I am soaked in flaws, all adding up to one obvious conclusion:
I am unlovable. I am scary. I am worthless.”

Does this differ from your insecurity in your prior group? If so, how?

 A lot, yes. At fourteen, I don’t think I was ready to be very raw with Group 2 – I didn’t know Alana or the other adults helping out at all, and the few girls that I did know I had just met a few months prior at the start of my freshman year. At the time, I had just been diagnosed with severe depression and had a very hard time coping with this idea. Unfortunately, this only amplified the insecurity I had already developed (namely) after years of emotional abuse by my dad. My previous insecurity was a real one, but I think it was the undetailed version of my true fear.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your previous insecurity?

The project helped me realize I wasn’t alone, and that I could be brave and talk about the things I kept inside that were hurting me. Even though I still struggle with my mindbeast (new word), the sliver of time I got with my group was forged in my memory, and in many ways reminded me to keep going on later when things were rough.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your life in general? How have you felt since participating?

 As mentioned above, the memory of participating in the project triggered positive, comforting thoughts that reminded me that I don’t have to be perfect and I don’t have to be defined by what I am insecure about. After RHL, I also grew much closer to a few of the girls from my group, and these lasting friendships have had a HUGE positive impact on my life!”

bellachoiceBella’s friends and family ~

Adam – Dear Bella, You are a wonderfully smart person who is very committed to being there for their family. Seeing that in someone is very special. Your passions are very important to you but you don’t let them get in your way.
You tend to be hard on yourself due to prior experiences/over-arching thoughts and you should know that you are brilliant.
Don’t stop being brilliant.”

 


Ruby – (Thank you for the video, Ruby!)
“I admire how outgoing, creative, kind, good-humored, thoughtful, intelligent, beautiful, and loving Bella is! She is an amazing friend and I love her so much.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“I didn’t know Bella that well before she participated in this project. But, since becoming much closer, I have definitely and without a doubt watched her grow and unleash her true self. It’s been such a beautiful experience getting to know my now best friend.”


Maya –
“Bella not only has a beautiful heart and mind, she is one of the most down-to-earth people I know. I know I can talk to her about anything and ask for advice and get a realistic answer. Bella has a personality that makes you love her. She is a reliable friend that you can always count on and is a confident person with a strong opinion. Whether it’s about politics, art, or music, she is not afraid to voice her thoughts. As well as having a beautiful heart and mind, she is quite beautiful herself. Bella is a strong-hearted young woman with so much ahead of her. I know that whatever life presents, she will overcome it gracefully.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“Bella seems like she has become so much more confident in herself and really seems like she is enjoying the company of her friends. She has grown so much in the past two years and seems like she really found out more about herself. Even in this short timespan I have really noticed a positive change in Bella.”
Alana – “Bella, When you first did the project almost three years ago, meeting you for the first time, I was already impressed by you. You were timid, yet bold. You were sad and yet unashamed. You put your heart out there, you broke down, and you found understanding in the group. You were there for the other girls, as well, understanding and encouraging them.
Since the group, I’ve watched you grow. You are a super talented photographer. You have a laugh that is addicting. You have a shyness about you that is sweet and somehow inviting. You are very self-aware, maybe sometimes detrimentally so. Things you see as flaws in yourself are so often things that draw others to you and make them feel closer to you and understood by you. You have the ability and the insight to make so much change in this world. You have empathy and compassion for so many others; I just want you to have the same for yourself. My wish for you is that you show yourself the same kindness, love, patience, and understanding that you demonstrate for the people in your life.
You have soooo many opportunities available to you, with the talent and drive you possess. You have already done so many cool things. I’m so excited to see what Montana has in store for you and to watch you take this world and make it yours. High school is such a crazy time, trying to find your way among everyone else doing the same, so many influences affecting the outcome. I swear to you, it gets better. Sometimes it’s easier, sometimes it’s not. But, it does. It gets better. I look forward to seeing the adult you become and the effects on all of the people who are destined to be inspired by you. Take this world, grab it by the balls, and don’t look back. ❤ “


Ursula – “
I love so many things about Bella. She is beautiful inside and out. I love that she has a bubbly personality and a real zest for life. I admire her tenacity and the way she dreams big. I am so excited to see what her future holds because I know it will be incredible. I admire her for having so many closely held causes that she fights for and I admire her passion. I love that she is so empathetic towards others and that she is a loyal friend. I love that she is my daughter.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“Every year that passes, Bella becomes more and more confident and fully herself. She is great at sticking to her guns and sticking up for herself. She is more resilient, she takes what she needs from difficult moments or experiences and moves forward instead of being “stuck.” I am proud of how she is evolving and taking care of herself.”

Group12SylviafinalSylvia (Group 4)

 “I find myself feeling powerless and fearful. I am afraid of our society and what the future holds for my children. I am afraid of the change I see in people, in the way we treat each other, in what seems to be a startling and sudden increase in violence and racism, in what might happen if we continue down the road we are on. I have this sense of foreboding… something big and bad is coming and I can’t stop it and I am terrified I won’t be able to keep my family or myself safe from it. This causes a lot of anxiety in me, and it affects the way I live my life from day to day. It makes me feel trapped and chained to my fears, instead of freely living my life every day and enjoying all of the wonderful things and people in it.”


Does this differ from your insecurity in your prior group? If so, how?

Somewhat. I still have a fear of conflict, but it seems to have taken more of a back seat to my current anxieties. It feels like my “scaredy-pussness” has shifted from having an overwhelming fear of conflict and how I am viewed to a fear of a more generalized sort…one that encompasses more areas of my life and puts me on almost constant edge.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your previous insecurity?

The project is wonderful in that it really shows that even something that feels like a huge negative quality or insecurity might not even be apparent at all to those that love us and care about us. I found it very interesting that so many people were surprised when they read my write up as they had no idea I felt that way about myself. It made me feel stronger just to know that my closest friends and family really did think I was strong, among many other wonderful things.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your life in general? How have you felt since participating?

I love that in times where I feel down on myself, or can’t seem to remember why I have people in my life that care about me or value me, I can pick up my book that has all of the kind and loving words from my loved ones, and be reminded that I am worthy. It’s made a big difference to me and I am so grateful to be part of something like this.”

sylviachoiceSylvia’s friends and family ~ 

Leah  – (Thank you for the video, Leah!)“Sylvia has the most profound appreciation for life. I don’t say that because she has all the answers about existence but because she lives in the present while working towards her future in the best way she can. She navigates herself in an ‘always aware’ manner even though she may not see it that way. I know myself and many around her do. Whether I am emailing, talking on the phone, or sitting across from her she radiates an almost special kind of joy. An energy that radiates from her love of her husband, kids, meema, friends, sister, other family members, and all that’s in her life. Even when struggling with bad news or a hard day she can find even the tiniest thing to laugh and smile about because she is grounded by her deep appreciation for all that she has. It’s one of the most stunning qualities I have ever seen in anyone before and the rarest. Sylvia is unique and someone to aspire to be more like. One of the most loving and selfless wives. One of the most positive and patient mothers. One of the most loyal and giving friends. One of the most grateful and supportive family members. She is one of a kind and should never forget that because it’s what makes her so amazing. Her beauty is flawless from the inside out.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“I think having read what everyone wrote about her helped her embrace how much she was loved and how much she really loved in return.”


Chelsea –(Thank you for the video, Chelsea!)
I love that Sylvia is such a great and warm person who is excellent at all she does. She is a wonderful mother! Sylvia is beautiful inside and out. She is such a great cook. She is strong, with a big, lovely heart!”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“She has since become a mother of two and is now married. She is positive and stronger and happier than ever and I’m so proud of her and love her to bits!”


Justine – (Thank you for the video, Justine!)
Sylvia is one of the most caring people I know. She is always available for family and friends when they need to talk or vent no matter how busy she is. And, she is so practical in her advice and comments (never given unless asked for). Sylvia is always honest in what she says, but says it with love.
Sylvia is also very careful about people’s feelings and really thinks about how things will affect the person before speaking.
She is an amazing mother. She is so patient with her boys, explains why she is disciplining them and just enjoys being around them. One can just see the love when she looks at them. They are her priority.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“Sylvia has always been a confident person, but now I think she carries that confidence with more ease.
I still don’t think she realizes just what a fantastic person she is.”
David – “Sylvia is an empathetic person, as sincerely as a person can be. I doubt she knows how obvious this is. Her love for others and her concern for their well-being shows in many, many ways… from tangible efforts to the comments she makes outside of their presence. When she’s allowed time to care about herself this much, there is no doubt that happiness and humor are contagious. This crazy world seems a bit more normal, and a lot more promising because she is a part of it.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“Any changes must be things within her, because she is the same beautiful person she has always been.”

 

Group12LizfinalLiz (Group 9 – Moms & Daughters)

“Am I enough? Am I doing a good job at being ME? Would my dad be proud of me? I feel sometimes like I am a fraud. If people only knew what was really going on inside my head, i would be exposed. I fake it all the time – I fake being a good mom, being good at my job, being a good partner, being a good daughter, being a good friend. If they only KNEW! I am a hot mess. Often, paralyzing feelings of inadequacy keep me frozen. I can’t move on something because if I do, I may fail. If I fail, everything will fall down around me. I will undo everything I have worked for. Being frozen in fear makes me out to be a flake, but it’s all stemming from a deep-seeded feeling of doubt.”

Does this differ from your insecurity in your prior group? If so, how?

My group was the moms and daughters – so I was more focused on being a woman, and how my relationship was with my daughter. Being a mom to my kid. Feeling inadequate as a mom is only one piece of my general self-doubt. A big piece – but only one layer of a juicy onion.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your previous insecurity?

My girl and I are close – we were tight going into the group, and out – even more so. I think it helped her see I wasn’t making it up when I would tell her – “even the beautiful girls have bad days!” The group gave me more credibility with Caitie, somehow. Strengthened the trust level with her and that fed into me feeling more legit as a mom. I am doing right by her because she is a good kid – with a future. She makes good decisions because of what I have done as her mom.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your life in general? How have you felt since participating?

I am much quicker to squash other peoples’ self talk. Funny, I am not kind to myself, but am the first to point out the negative element to others. I say, “Be nice to you. No one else will be as mean and harsh as you are being to yourself. Knock it off!” – But I can’t seem to get myself to follow suit.”

lizchoiceLiz’s friends and family ~

Caitie  – (Thank you for the video, Caitie!)“My mom, Liz, is the most amazing woman I know. She is constantly putting my needs before her own. She is generous, kind, empathetic, and creative. She has a heart of gold. She continues to surprise me with her talents. She kicks ass at making jewelry, and she definitely knows how to bust a move. She never fails to make me giggle and I am so grateful to have such a close relationship with her. I love you more than you will ever know.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“My mom hasn’t been as quick to judge. She is more like “don’t judge until you know their story first”. Also, when I’m not having a good day and I’m hating on myself she says “What would Alana tell you right now”? In the sense that we’ve both learned a lot about ourselves, and how to love ourselves doing the RHL project.”


Michael – (Thank you for the video, Michael!) 
I sat to follow the instructions but the words seem to be repetitive … your motherly, nurturing desire to be consciously motivating, ambitious, creative, and loyal …things you already know about yourself; so I closed my eyes to find a thought more visual. It’s easy to point out the traits that show how wonderful you are as a person, how delighted I am to know you, your family and the positive springing effect in my own life while you’re sharing the beauty of hopefulness.
‘With my eyes shut …I see a porcelain doll dancing in the window in an antique shop with a smile on her face, there are a few books in the window also, while they are in pristine condition their titles worn away. On the other side of the window, in various cool hues, a seasonal mist but there are no clouds; from inside a man waves to a female child under a pink umbrella holding a bag of art supplies. This might be a painting with soft almost undefined pastel lines.’
Thank you for sharing your story with me.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“We’ve known one another a long time but we didn’t really know each other, so it wouldn’t be fair to lay an answer proper here. I support her progress as she feels the project has been beneficial.”


Dianne –(Thank you for the video, Dianne!) 
Liz has a heart of gold. She jumps to the rescue when or wherever there is a need without hesitation or even a concern for her own well-being. As an example, she offered to house, feed and even provide transportation for an old friend who needed a place to live “temporarily,” and when that favor lingered on for nearly a year, she found it very painful to tell him that it was time to move on.
It took great strength for her to finally take this step.
Liz is creative, designing jewelry from found or even discarded objects. She has her father’s eye for seeing the potential beauty in things the rest of us see as shabby. And she also shares her father’s skills in craftsmanship, qualities that are especially admirable in a woman.
As a single parent, Liz works very hard raising her challenging teenage daughter. It is never easy to parent a teen, but she deserves much credit for tackling this job single-handedly.
For these and many other strengths and qualities, Liz is a unique, strong and beautiful person, from the inside out. She is much loved.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“Liz continues to grow in important ways, becoming financially independent and becoming more confident in her career, and finding the strength to deal with a 15-year-old daughter!”


Adam – (Thank you for the video, Adam!)
I love you because you accept me for me. You don’t walk in front of me or behind me but beside me. Your loyalty and willingness to give your all is something that I thought I would never find in another human being. You compliment me in ways that I can’t even describe. Just by being you, you have helped mend parts of me that I thought would never heal. You are my missing puzzle piece and my better half. You’re the foam on my latte. Not to mention it’s so hard to find a girl with “no” not in her vocabulary. This is the point where I’m supposed to say an ending, but quite honestly there isn’t going to be an ending.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“She wears her heart on her sleeve since I’ve known her. If anything, she’s been defined and distilled.”

 

Group12SummerfinalSummer (Group 10 – Couples)

“I am not a Mom.
I am not a mom so that makes me less. Less in a physical way. Less emotionally. Less biologically. Less socially. Less spiritually. Less in a human way. Being able to have a child is something that I took for granted. I come from a long line of breeders. Women that tried to prevent pregnancy and failed. I was a condom baby. My sisters were each a different form of birth control gone awry. I thought it would be easy. In fact, I spent years being super cautious. But, it wasn’t. It isn’t. In my youth and as a younger woman I didn’t want children. So, when it came up socially – when it came up in every complete inappropriate way – I was indignant. I stood up for my right to not have children. I spoke out loudly and proudly and confidently in my decision. Then a switch in my heart turned on and we were ready to have a child. We were excited and scared and expectant. And then I lost the first pregnancy. Then I lost another that threatened my life. So then I moved home. Then it became 8 losses in what has now been 9 years of heartbreak. Now, I am a woman that has had eight pregnancies and has no children. I’m not a Mom. Even though I want to be. Even though I’ve tried desperately to be. So that leaves this ache and need that is so deep, so private, so painful. Yet, this unbelievable amount of pain, of grief, of mourning, this private hell is open for public scrutiny within three sentences of meeting a stranger. I am reminded every day that I am not a Mom. With innocent enough, completely intrusive questions.
Questions that knock me to my knees and socially dictate that I only allow a public flicker of the pain to show across my face as I answer, “No, I don’t have any children.” Then comes the “Well, why not? You would have been a great parent,” and all of me wants to scream “I THINK SO TOO BUT THE UNIVERSE AND MY BODY TEAMED UP AND DESTROYED THIS DREAM 8 GOD DAMN TIMES. STOP TALKING TO ME.” And instead, I stand silently, awkwardly, letting the pause happen and then a weak smile cross my lips, anything to try to get the person to just stop talking to me. From seeing the pain I am walking around with. Because I already know I am less. I hear that voice at the edge of my pain that says ‘you don’t deserve that kind of happiness. You weren’t worthy.’ Not worthy of a basic biological function. How’s that for feeling insecure? Everyday there are reminders of how incomplete, how much less I am. From every marketed image of a woman in every media outlet to the quiet that is our life when it’s just the two of us at home on Christmas morning. I am fighting desperately to keep the bitter out. To not fill that big void of what we wanted, what we planned, what we tried for with a mounting and consuming bitterness. The bitterness grows to an all consuming pitch every time I hear, “Well, things happen for a reason”… If only the people saying this knew that one statement reinforces every painful and damaging thought I already have, it offers not a glimmer of comfort and makes me want to scream, “How can you possibly believe in the cruelty of what you are saying?” I still fight for the right of any man or woman to proudly and confidently know themselves and make the decision to not have children. But for me, I haven’t been allowed to make that choice. It’s been forced. I am not capable of creating a baby. So in that way I am less. Less in the eye of society. Less the baby, less the family, less the role of Mom I dreamed of and wished for. In these ways I am less me. I am not a Mom.”

Does this differ from your insecurity in your prior group? If so, how?

“The last time I participated in this project my phrase was “the sadness will consume me”. It was the larger pain. It was the all-encompassing lifelong struggle with feeling like not enough. Participating this time, I am sharing a very personal and more recent example of a struggle I am facing in my life. It touches on the entire struggle I shared last time but in a very specific, almost tangible struggle I am trying so hard to work through and accept. I was dealing with this same pain, insecurity and mourning last time, but it was buried inside of the larger thoughts. This time it’s more focused and a smaller piece of me. A piece of me that consumes me. But, it does not define all of me.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your previous insecurity?

Being in this project threw my darkest and worst fear and all of my worst thoughts right out into the light. It stripped them bare. It allowed the crushing weight I had allowed to build on my soul to be lightened. I didn’t understand the crushing weight I was living under. Facing my thoughts, my fear in a public forum left me no more room to keep it hidden. It left it no more room to grow. It took away the overwhelming feeling I wasn’t even able to fully articulate before the project and lightened the weight and place I held it in in my life.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your life in general? How have you felt since participating?

“Right after the project I was more raw then I think I’ve ever felt. I curled up with Dan and we just processed. Sometimes together, sometimes alone. We kept the dialogue open between us and kept discussing how we were feeling as we began to heal.
After giving it some space and some time, the one thing I saw in my own experience, in his experience and within the group was the power to just “say it.” It’s become my own personal mantra. I come from a family that didn’t let the secret, dark and painful stuff out. The beginning of my relationship with my partner was spent keeping all the secret, dark and painful stuff tucked and hidden. All of that not talking about stuff led me to live a life constantly trying to discern what someone else was thinking, feeling, doing. It left me creating entire internal stories that were not based on facts, truth or reality. I listened that night to my own voice releasing that insecurity and realized how powerful just having the ability to “say it” out loud was in letting it go. I also watched the human I know better than anyone else on the planet release his insecurity by reading it aloud and watched how that changed him. How had I spent 25 years with him and not known what was holding him back and weighing his soul? Sometimes you just assume people understand or know something. Or you assume you understand or know something. Until you “say it” you have no chance to open up communication and understanding. You block all of those opportunities to connect, learn and share.
I’ve spent a good portion of my adult life also playing the middleman. Interpreting for family. Running protective barriers around them. Trying to help control how information was shared, what was shared, how it was shared etc. Trying to explain intention. Trying to control the painful emotions, conversations and events. I am now pushing back on those closest to me and instead of trying to protect them and run interference, I am pushing them to have direct conversations. Pushing them to stop making up what’s happening/happened and ask the person in question directly. It’s a slow and painful process. For all of us. It’s also the strongest and most open I’ve ever felt in each of these relationships. It is more transparent. More open. More genuine. The secrets we protect have the power to destroy. I’m done with intentionally holding secrets. It’s a new stage in my life, the “just say it” stage, and it’s a welcomed breath for my soul. I don’t think I could have landed here at this particular time without having gone through this project.”
summerchoiceSummer’s friends and family ~

Patricia – “Talking about Summer is so easy to do. She has the biggest heart and gives love to all willing to accept her. She is an amazing talent with a creative eye both behind and in front of the camera. Strong and smart, even in adversity, she rises to face all that is handed her.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“Not sure I have noticed any change in Summer. She always greets me with honest and sincere love… the best of her.”


Jessica – “
Summer is more determined than anyone I know. She is motivated beyond belief and pushes through when all the walls are caving in. She’s thoughtful and has a way with words that can bring tears to your eyes. She sees the glass as half-full. She is strong even through disappointment. Her laugh and smile are genuine. I admire love and respect the woman she is. She’s beyond talented with her camera. Her eyes raise the ordinary to extraordinary. She is committed to her husband and they have an inspiring relationship and love story.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“She is more honest. Not that she wasn’t before but she’s sharing more and putting herself out there more. Rather than keeping things bottled up and closed in. She’s taken ownership of areas of her life that she was private with before – her work, her health, and her relationships with others.”


Daniel – (Thank you for the video, Daniel!)
Summer,  I love you because of George! (For the uninformed George is a wild Muscovy duck that about two weeks ago adopted our rooftop as it’s home in downtown Tacoma.) The very first day I walked in the door and you told me his (we later learned he’s a she) name was George, and I knew. I knew because I’ve seen it happen thousands of times over the years I’ve know you. I’ve seen it happen with everything from a piece of discarded piece of furniture on the side of the road, to a potato bug trying to cross a busy street. You are in LOVE!! All the way, and I mean all the way, I mean the kind of Love that poets attempt to capture. The kind of Love that makes you giggle for no reason, that makes the world brighter. The Love that destroys limits and understanding. It doesn’t need a reason or to even make sense to you. You just are. That is absolutely the number one reason I Love you.
I’m not sure why, or when it happened, or what I said or did, which god or demon I pleased, but I’m blessed that you Love Me in that way. Being in the depths of your Love gave me the freedom to be Me. I feel like I should put parentheses here for the uninformed and explain how I use language simply and all that, but instead I’ll return to trying to bare my soul on paper and pretending that knowing other people will be reading this scares the shit out of me.
Thank you for LOVING Me. I look forward to the next 70 years!

Yours forever + 2
Daniel

P.S. did you see how I was being Me and making a joke when I was feeling emotional vulnerable? Seriously, though, I feel blessed that you Love Me.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“The biggest change I’ve seen in Summer since the Project is that she is more forgiving of herself.”


Kirsten –(Thank you for the video, Kirsten!)
“Summer, What can I say… you are an amazing woman. You are talented in so many ways. I respect and admire your many gifts. You love with your whole heart. Once you decide to love someone there is nothing you wouldn’t do for them. You give more than you receive and that is something I admire about you. You have always been my big sister and have always looked out for me. In turn, I have always looked up to you. Your strength inspires me to be a better me. You are dedicated to your family and friends. Your sense of humor is great and cracks me up. Your love and infatuation with George makes my heart smile for you. You are an incredible person who is always striving to be even better. You are relentless in your efforts to always improve on you. You are a great storyteller who has an incredible ability to bring out the emotions of others through your words. You never pretend to know all the answers and aren’t afraid of admitting that. You are a good friend who always remembers to check up on important things in other’s lives. I could go on for days but I am a procrastinator and there is a fast approaching deadline for this… So I will leave you with this, you are pretty darn great, someone I love and admire. I am honored to be a part of your life. 
Love you most,
Kirsten”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“The biggest change I have seen in Summer is that she is actively working to say what she feels. She is working on being direct. I do not know if this is a reflection of her participation in the last group, but it is definitely something I think is great. The environment in which we grew up taught us how to put up a front and pretend everything was perfect. Her renewed effort to breakdown those walls and openly express her feelings is admirable. I understand the strength this takes for her to do so and I am so glad she is on a path to being more true to who she is, letting go of the past.”

 

Group12AnafinalAna (Group 4)
“I feel pale, somehow, compared to who I was before. Like I’ve lost who I am amid all my recent upheavals, changes, and struggles. I’m less funny, less clever, less pretty, less kind, less social, less…. everything less. I feel like I’ve faded.
It’s as if a fog of anxiety, depression, and illness has wrapped me up and cut me off from the vivacious parts of myself.
More hoodies, less dresses, more black and gray, less color. I feel monochromatic in every sense of the word.
And I feel like everyone is impatiently waiting for me to step back into myself, pick up my hair dye bottles and erupt into my colorful, sassy, witty, comforting self. And I’m over here waiting to feel real again.”

Does this differ from your insecurity in your prior group? If so, how?

 “Before, I felt like a burden, an unwelcome obligation to the people in my life. And while I still struggle with that from time to time, it’s not prominent at all. I think this new insecurity is fundamentally different.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your previous insecurity?

The people in my life have made it very clear over the last couple years that I offer more than I ever thought I did. That I have intrinsic value. The people in this project helped me see through unbiased eyes. They saw a valuable person who is loved.
I saw that they couldn’t all be wrong.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your life in general? How have you felt since participating?

“It made a tremendous impact. I forgot how powerful being open, soft, and vulnerable could actually be. It’s a needed type of strength, the type that allows you say the important things to people before they need to be said, before you’ve lost the chance.
I don’t judge as quickly, either. In fact I find I rarely have snap judgments at all. This really opened my eyes to how everyone I meet has a whole life; things I’d never know and I have to be gentle of that fact always. With everyone.
I feel braver than I did before.”

anachoiceAna’s friends and family ~

Amy – (Thank you for the video, Amy!)“Beloved Ana,  How DID this chick end up in my nest? What kindness of fortune presented me with an opportunity to share in the adventure of a lifetime, being mother to such an enduringly passionate soul rife with unimaginable spirit, endurance beyond the telling, child-like delight, encompassing compassion, insight into realms unseen? How did such a generous nature develop in one who has struggled over terrain that would daunt the courage of those deemed heroic? What conspiracy of otherworldly souls contrived to capture your imagination and verse you in their ways in order to assist your navigation of the world in which you grapple with realities undeserved? No matter what answers might be, it remains unquestioned that I have been blessed by your presence in my life, gifted by your love, delighted by your spirit, inspired by your enduring perseverance, captivated by your whimsy, and made forever aware of the better angels who battle with demons…. thank you for the gift that is you.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“This remarkable young woman has shed from her life influences that sought to keep her in a state of disbelief regarding her genuine worth. That courageous action freed her to move ahead, to embrace new relationships that honor her and in turn are honored by her. She has emerged from a cocoon of self-doubt into a winged self-awareness that allows her to test those wings in the genuine support and encouragement of those who know her true self and love her delight in its awakening! YOU ARE REMARKABLE, daughter mine, one of the greatest delights of my life.”


Courtney –
“I love her enthusiasm. It’s so real and genuine and infectious. Incredibly unmaterialistic, she values the little things and small gestures in life. She is truly the nicest and most generous person I’ve ever met. I wish, one day, to be able to show just a fraction of the kindness that she shows so effortlessly every day.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“I’ve noticed more confidence. She’s happier. She smiles a lot more, that real, genuine and infectious smile I love so much.”


Micah – (Thank you for the video, Micah!) 
“Dearest Ana, I know you don’t hear enough about how wonderful you are, and how much I admire you for how you approach every day, especially now after all of the changes over the last couple of years. You have the biggest heart of anyone I know and I think it’s only gotten bigger since you’ve started to learn how to love yourself as much as you do the people you keep close around you.
It takes great strength to remove the negative influences around you, especially when those are people you’re close to and have known a long time. Even when you don’t see it, it’s there and a part of you now. And I think it’s even greater that you don’t hold any contempt for those people and still wish them the best that they can get. There’s not time or place for hate in your life!
Your excitement is contagious and I know I’m not the only one that loves being around you and the positivity it brings. You play life on hard mode and still come out ahead! I can’t wait to see where you take your life now.
Lots of love,
Micah”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

‘Since the previous session Ana has become much more sure in her own life and in her ability to drive her own fate. I started noticing the changes in her almost immediately after the session, and they’ve only grown outward from there. I believe that the experience with this project was one of the influences that drove her to make hard choices in her life that are now leading her to a better and more independent future. I can’t express how happy I am to see her deciding what’s best for her own future and removing the toxic people in her life that only held her back ever since she participated in this project.”


Erica – “
Ana has always been passionate and kind, incredibly patient listener, and loyal friend.”


Madeline – “
Ana is truly special; I am lucky to have her in my life. It is not a secret that she has her demons, but she is one of the strongest people I have ever met, and never gives up. She is very loyal, and passionate about what matters to her. This can be seen in how she cares for those she loves, and in how she fights for what she believes in. She accepts those she loves completely, despite their flaws. I have seen her have to cut people out of her life, but even then it is obvious that she accepts them and wants what is best for them, but she has learned that she also needs and deserves what is best for her. I admire the strength it takes to take care of herself and distance herself from people who are hurting her, that she cares for.
I trust her to be honest and to call me out on it if I’m doing something stupid and don’t want to admit to it. I trust her judgment, as she is insightful and often sees things that others miss. She’s knowledgeable too, and challenges me to think about things I hadn’t considered.
She is eloquent, and writes beautiful, expressive things, both joyful and painful. She shares so much – her thoughts, time, and energy. Her enthusiasm and joy are contagious and adorable. Her sense of humor, wicked and ridiculous, and we can have a conversation that is crazy and perfect (zombie octopi). The joy she gets from planning something special for a loved one is obvious. She worries about us too; sometimes more than she needs to, but her affection and care are easily apparent. She makes sure we know we are loved.
She is a stunning individual, someone whose soul shines. I am a better person because of her.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“I have seen changes in Ana in the last few years, although which have been since her previous participation and which have happened otherwise, I’m not sure. I feel like she has gotten better at loving herself, and at times when that is more difficult, admitting to herself that all of the positive traits others see in her are there, even if she has trouble seeing them at times. She seems to be more accepting of the fact that it is okay to take time for herself, regroup, and go forward. Like she can forgive herself for not being able to do everything, all the time, and that others can forgive that too.”


Cat – “
Ana is a special light in this world; caught in this place that wasn’t built for people like her. She is possibly so much more real, that she is raw, and that’s why this world fails her.
Ana is unique; so very much her own entity, that it is difficult to summarize what comprises an Ana.
Ana is emotion; she is care and glee and love with everyone she chooses to keep in her company. She is also sorrow, nostalgia and fury for those close enough for her to feel their injustices for them.
Ana embraces ideas too big for most to fathom, and still finds appreciation and joy in the most humbling notions and gestures.
She’s too smart for her own good.
She’s too good for her own preservation. And she is something rare and precious that should be protected.
She is my friend; muse; confidant; sister; wifey and fae-kin. My world, at least, is better for having known her.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“Old habits die hard; Ana surely still struggles with her fears and insecurities, but in the time since the initial project, there are some changes to note. While she is still soft hearted, and can bruise easily sometimes, she will more readily forgive herself now. Likewise, she is also quicker to see when it is other’s actions that are pressing in on her, and braver in the face of it; she has set boundaries for the treatment of herself and others and diligently holds these lines. Ana continually challenges her own boundaries of comfort and knowledge and approaches situations with a ready mind, when she may have shied before. And when such instances arise, as they will, she knows herself well enough to reach for help when she needs it.”


Group12JoshuafinalJoshua (Group 7 – Men)

“My main insecurity is in my ability, or lack thereof, to have & maintain some kind of romantic partnership, and by extension, whether I will ever be a father and start a family. I’ve often pictured myself as the one among my siblings that would never have kids. But that image of myself has been melting away, along with nearly every other limiting thought or identity I’ve had of myself. I believe that I could be a capable father, but the question becomes whether that is the best route for me to take, as an individual, a (hypothetical) partner, and a member of society . . . and whether it is in the cards for me at all, anyway.

While I am occasionally driven almost mad by the desire to be a father, my insecurity is more focused on having a partner. A companion. Someone with whom to have a healthy, mutually supportive relationship in which we both flourish individually and together. Having historically been someone who dives too far, too fast, into relationships, and having a knack for subconsciously picking chaotic situations, I have to be very careful. And as I’m changing and growing so much on my own, I have to wonder: What does romance even look like for me anymore? I am fine-tuning my life and my routines, becoming ever more a minimalist, following spiritual & creative pursuits, and needing significant amounts of solitude. While I think I have something to offer the world, people in general, and addicts in particular, I’m not sure what I have to offer a partner. Certainly I want romantic companionship (despite my best efforts to convince myself otherwise), but, again, I just don’t know what that looks like for me anymore.”

Does this differ from your insecurity in your prior group? If so, how?

Yes, my insecurity in my prior group was about feeling like an utter failure, a completely confused, underachieving mess. Now I am only a confused, underachieving mess when it comes to romance.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your previous insecurity?

“Participating in RHL allowed me to think in a focused, organized way about my life and insecurities. It gave me a goal, a solid reason, to think & share about myself. It gave me a chance to connect with other people and to begin to see the chasm between my self-perception and the way other people saw me, and the damage that self-perception was doing. My insecurity did not immediately diminish, but I had done the important work of identifying it and sharing it.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your life in general? How have you felt since participating?

“Coincidentally, before I was asked to be a part of this group, I wrote a letter to Alana on this very topic, which I shall copy below:

Recently, I made friends with someone who, it turned out, also participated in one of the Raw. Honest. Loved. groups. In talking about it with this person, I realized that today I feel so distant from the person I was then, when I was in the group. At first, I had no desire at all to read again what I’d written for the event. But over the following couple of days, curiosity built and when I found myself at a computer, I also found myself reading my submission again. Sometimes it is good to remind yourself where you came from.
When I read my submission, I read a person struggling with self-hatred and fear, and being honest, but not yet being honest enough. There was no mention of my alcohol abuse. I’d yet to take the leap of seeking mental health treatment. I felt lost and powerless and I was certainly confused. At that time, I may have made certain steps in the right direction (such as participating in RHL, which was my first experience of group therapy), but in my insecurity letter, I was dancing around some of my most major issues, which reflected how I often danced around those issues in my regular life. My self-medication with alcohol, which had already wreaked such havoc on my life and friendships and romances, was one of those issues. I know my depression was preexisting to the flourishing of my alcoholism, but my drinking seemed to have exacerbated my depression to some awful degree. RHL was a good first step that I am grateful for. But I didn’t follow it up with anything. No change in my routines or habits, no substantial efforts to change or better myself. I continued to struggle in the same patterns, and had not fully admitted and embraced some of my fundamental problems.
Eventually, I started mental health treatment, and receiving my diagnosis of Major Depressive Disorder, PTSD, and alcoholism was validating. All my life, I’d really felt I just wasn’t trying hard enough, and that if I’d made better choices, I wouldn’t be depressed. I remember being afraid that they’d tell me I was just being weak, and that I needed to suck it up and get on with life. I guess I preferred to suffer in limbo rather than risk being told that I wasn’t mentally ill. But no, the intake therapist said that I in fact had a “whopping case of depression” (which I guess in clinical terms is Major Depressive Disorder). As validating as it all was, I still wasn’t ready to get better. I kept drinking, and I didn’t last more than a month in therapy, missing appointment after appointment and eventually dropping out altogether. My drinking worsened, somehow, and I further isolated myself. I missed all sorts of social events and obligations, I made no progress in finding or keeping work, and I caused a lot of worry for many of my friends and family (whichever ones had a concept of what was going on). I missed a gallery showing & reunion of RHL participants because I was a complete mess. I wasn’t well enough to go anywhere, but even had I gone, it would have been a lot like going to a high school reunion and having nothing to say except that you are unemployed, you drink too much, and you hate yourself. (Or say nothing at all.)
That pattern was essentially how my life went for the first year or so after participating in RHL: knowing I’m cataclysmically depressed, hating myself, feeling completely inept and fearful I would never be able to do what it takes to dig myself out of my hole, and as often as I could physically manage, drinking myself into a stupor. Occasionally I would do something mildly productive, maybe string together an achievement or two, but nothing continual or that would provide me any stability. In February of 2015, I had another heavy night of drinking, this time at a friend’s party, and another obnoxious two- or three-day hangover . . . nothing particularly unusual, but somehow or another, this time I felt I was completely and utterly sick of the way my life was going. I was tired, and sad, and frustrated. Many, many days and nights I had laid around just wishing I would die, and I had been slowly drinking myself to death. I quit drinking February 17 of 2015, and I began the process of trying to find some kind of treatment for my addiction. I knew my drinking was completely out of control, and with all the failed attempts I’d made at quitting, I knew I needed somebody else’s help, and as well I knew that I’d never make it in mental health therapy if I didn’t get my drinking problem under control. I managed to find an organization that offers chemical dependency treatment in an intensive outpatient setting with licensed chemical dependency treatment professionals. I knew that was something I needed – something structured and involving professionals. So I mustered the strength to go down there and apply and start treatment. My beginnings were very humble. All I could really manage was going to my group counseling sessions, eating tons of junk food and watching endless episodes of The Wonder Years on Netflix. (I did eventually finish the series. It’s not as good as my nostalgia led me to believe it was.) But it was far, far better than what I had been doing. In April, with the help of my alcohol rehab counselor, I got back into mental health therapy. In November of 2015, I graduated from my alcohol rehab program, and I continue my therapy. Still sober, of course.”
joshuachoiceJoshua’s friends and family ~

Jesse –  “Google’s definition of a saint is as follows:
“A person acknowledged as holy or virtuous and typically regarded as being in heaven after death.”
Josh has always met this criteria. I have seen Josh at his lows, and his highs, but he is the living definition of a saint. He is an intelligent, artistic, and beautiful human being, inside and out. I have been lucky to call him my friend. He has, and will continue to do great things. He touches more lives and hearts than he realizes.”

 

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“He has grown to love himself more. He also has become a stronger person.”


Donna – “
I love his empathy and caring, his ability to see through people to their good on the inside. I admire his desire and ability to help others see the best in themselves.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“He has gained in confidence and self-esteem, he is very focused on all the good things he wants to accomplish for himself and others in similar situations, his spirituality and happiness.”
Ann –  (Thank you for the video, Ann!) “Compassionate, kind, intelligent, artistic”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“More self-confident and determined. Less impulsive, thinks things through before making decisions.”


Tina – 
“Joshua is incredibly easy to talk to, sometimes after a long conversation with him, I think “jeez, I really threw it all out there” but it just comes easily when talking to him. He gives awesome advice, & he’s a great listener. He’s also great with kids, gives his whole heart to them, & they love him too!”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“Joshua has gone through huge changes since the last time he did this! He’s a recovered alcoholic, I think it’s been over a year, I know he’d say “recovering”, & I know there’s always new challenges, but he takes every step in the name of sobriety, & he takes it seriously. It’s not just sobriety that’s his goal either, it’s anything that he thinks affects his life in a negative way, he even works on small social ticks he feels get in the way. He’s working very hard to rebuild his life as a whole.”


Susan – 
“I admire his openness, his reflectiveness, his ownership of feelings and his constant inquiry into how he “works”. He cares about his family and friends. I adore his sense of humor and wit. I admire how smart he is on many topics. I admire his musical talents and abilities.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“He is more reflective and owning of his feelings. He continues to grow in all avenues and I love being a part of it!”


Tyler –
“Even in hard times, Joshua has always been there for me in periods of struggle. I have watched him crawl from the bottom to the top, and through that entire process he remained a faithful and kind friend to everyone. The ability to remain sincere and friendly during one’s darkest hour is very indicative of strength and perseverance, both traits that Joshua certainly exemplifies.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“When I filled out this form about Joshua last year, he was fresh into a fight against his own demons, and frankly, the demons were winning. Today, Joshua is dominating that battle, and continues to push forward every day in establishing a much better life. I am very proud of him for pulling himself up from the ground and turning his life completely around.”

Group12IanfinalIan (Group 7 – Men)

So many to choose from. My current main insecurity would have to be that I’m not doing enough. Not living life to the fullest. I have so many unfinished projects that I KNOW will be successful, but I can’t seem to find the time or motivation to finish them. It makes me feel ashamed.”

Does this differ from your insecurity in your prior group? If so, how?

 “Very much so. My prior group insecurity was based on love and romance, impermanence and not being remembered when I’m gone.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your previous insecurity?

 Well, this project has been incredibly important to me, actually. As it turns out, I’ve met the love of my life as a direct result of this project. She read what I’d written before and that encouraged her to reach out to me. RHL is actually directly responsible for my finding lasting love and the healthiest relationship I’ve ever been in.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your life in general? How have you felt since participating?

I tell people regularly that they have probably never in their lives met someone that’s as happy as I am. I have literally everything I need in my life and with no exaggeration, I can say that it’s a direct result of this project.”

ianchoiceIan’s friends and family ~

Sharon – “Ian can do anything! Not only does Ian have a good heart, he is intelligent, creative, patient, and really a nice person!

Christine – “Ian is and has always been a dedicated, loyal friend, father, and family man. Honest and trustworthy, always willing to help, and always a gentleman.”

 If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

 “He has finally found love and it is wonderful to see him in a great relationship!”

Liesl –  Dear Ian, First off, I miss you! I smiled when I saw messenger light up and it was you.
I don’t get to see you as often as I would like but I do know this: You are there. I feel you there. Through the phone, computer waves and wires, with a watchful eye. Always on the ready to help in any number of matters at a moment’s notice. Kinda like Santa. Myth and mystery most of the year followed by sheer joy when I do see you.
And Santa is how I met you. Remember? Santarchy. You were the tall, dark and stormy Santa with those eyes that just seem to see so deeply into your soul. I remember thinking you belonged to THAT group. The edgy, Tacoma artistic folks dressed in black or some sort of hip retro thing. I emailed you in awe and shared I thought those kinda people just don’t hang out with a girl like me. How I would have missed out on all the awesome that is you with that mindset.
As I got lucky enough to get to know you, you were the one who encouraged me to write. You said you felt like I was right there in the room with you in conversation when you read what I wrote. I will take that with me the rest of my life. You encourage, well inspire, the artistic and creative in those you let in.
How many random nights did we find ourselves chatting about your latest writing or film? Or you espousing on the finer point of Insane Clown Posse or the movie I JUST had to see. Or last minute help desk freak outs where once again I’d fried my computer no thanks to something I never should have clicked on in the first place. The save from the side of the freeway when my truck broke down? Remember that?
While I’ll save you the Golden Girls “Thank you for being a friend” moment, I do want to thank you. For your kind heart, your spirit, your generosity and your gift for seeing endless possibilities in well, me and everyone who has a chance to get to know you.
See. Here’s the deal. You are one of the glorious ones Ian. The ones we love. The ones we hold deep in our pockets and close to our hearts because we know how rare friends like you are. Because you share you. All of you. Nubby bits, warts and all. And I’m so grateful for that.
Now, about my hard drive…
XO Liesl”


Rhi – “
Dear Ian, You continue to be the most fiercely loyal person I know. When you have decided to let someone close to your heart you protect them with that same heart like you would with anyone in your close family. Your enthusiasm and willingness to help people who need it is one of the reasons I love and respect you so much. You are genuinely a valuable person with a rad soul who is respectful and loving of animals, children and the elderly. I love how vulnerable you are with them even against the stigma of being a man and what that means you should be to the rest of society. That being said, I have no doubt you would use your man-power to defend your loved ones, or even just the underdog being unfairly treated. You have always been a sensitive and romantic individual but now that you have finally found the love of your life you are absolutely not ashamed to show your love and passion to her no matter who is in the room and it has softened you even more. It has really allowed you to grow more compassionate and aware of those around you because of your journey. I love the way you conduct business with that buttery-smooth voice of yours. It fascinates me to watch you make a commission while in a nonchalant conversation with a client who just called to ask a simple question and you are always honorable and fair with your business skills; always making sure that your clients are getting what they need to make their lives more convenient. Your video talent and unique ideas impress me more and more as the years pass and I am just so incredibly honored and fortunate to be able to call you brother.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

Ian’s transformation is probably the most dramatic I have seen. Before he did the project a couple of years ago he was struggling with direction and joy. Because he put himself out there, vulnerable to the world about his doubts and secrets, he attracted someone who identified with his character and they have been together ever since. He has grown into a man who can see a productive, loving, passionate, prosperous and full future; just because he exposed a tender part of himself for the entire world to see and judge. Instead of being scared he was brave and now he isn’t fearful of the future anymore.”


Jayme – (Thank you for the video, Jayme!) For my Ian, When I laid eyes on you more than twenty years ago, I thought you were one of the most beautiful men I’d ever seen. It took all those years, after reading what you wrote in your Raw, Honest, Loved interview, to make me really want to know you. I remember that you wrote that you weren’t afraid of being hated, but that you were afraid of not being loved, and of being forgotten. The vulnerability and strength that you shared was unlike what I knew about other men. You stirred me up.  My love, my other half… I can tell you, with no doubt in my heart, that you are loved completely and you will never be forgotten. You have changed every facet of my life for the better. You challenge me to be a better woman, a better partner, and a better human. I’ve truly never known anyone like you, someone who is unfailingly generous, loyal, supportive, and kind, without expectation. You have a way of making me feel precious and safe, all the while making me feel capable of everything. I’m still astonished at the depth of you, and how you make me feel.

You are the truest friend I’ve ever known. I love to watch your “thinking face” when an idea strikes you. I love your enthusiasm about everything that could be more beautiful or more efficient or just better in an Ian kind of way. I love that there are still people out there who see you dressed always in black, and they don’t know that you are made of the fluffiest pink kittens. I used to think that was a secret only I knew, but anyone who knows you, knows the sweetness of you. I love that you giggle at cartoons, and that you hold my hand every chance you get. I love that we kiss in line at the hardware store, and every second with you is an adventure and a delight. I love that you watch over me, and my children, and I never ever have to doubt anything that you say. Your word is made of iron. I love that you refuse to give up on something that you’ve started, even when it means hours of cursing at your computer, because it has to be done right.
I still see the most beautiful man, Ian. I see it in your blue eyes that make me shiver, and I see it in the way you treat people. I see it in how passionate you are about fairness and doing what is right. I see it your optimism and concern for others. You are made of magical things and I’m so grateful and happy to be by your side.
Yours forever, Jayme”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

 “While I had traveled in intersecting social circles with Ian for many, many years, I can’t recall ever having a conversation with him prior to 2014. We’d been Facebook friends for a few years, and the night he posted the Men’s Group, I was intrigued and more than a little smitten. Also, jaded and very pessimistic about men in general. However, I was moved by what he wrote. Moved enough to have a few glasses of wine to work up the courage to message him. After a few weeks of messaging, I invited myself over to use his hot tub, not expecting anything like a date, and certainly not expecting to spend hours and hours talking with him, like we’d known each other a lifetime already. Raw, Honest, Loved changed MY life, and I wasn’t even part of it. It brought us to each other, and for that, I’ll always be thankful.”


Group12RosiefinalRosie (Group 3 – 55+)

“Right now I am a complete mess!!! As far as my insecurity about loss, well it hasn’t changed really. It’s different because I’m not as numb so the reality of my son Brian not being here cuts like a knife and I feel it. It was very evident when my Grandson Jameson was born. I helped in the delivery along with Kristen’s mom and Jim’s stepmom and it was a beautiful moment, but Joan and Lindy were crying and I was locked and loaded. I turned into the coach and cheerleader. They see this beautiful little baby boy and can’t stop crying and I’m thinking, “What’s wrong with me? Why am I not crying?” I never held him until that evening. Well, I didn’t want to get too close or love him because if I did I knew in my heart I would lose him or get hurt. I also didn’t want to hold him because it was a part of me, which meant it was a part of Brian. This still scares me, but I love him and he is my best bud and he loves his Grammy!!! It all sounds so silly, but it’s how I feel or felt.
Body image sucks and the whole “am I good enough” bullshit. God, will that ever end?”

Does this differ from your insecurity in your prior group? If so, how?

 “Nope, not really. It’s just different in the intensity. That comes and goes.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your previous insecurity?

 “I am able to verbalize my feelings a bit better when it comes to Brian. When it comes to the body image…. Its just believing them for myself that is still hard.”

What effect, if any, did participating in this project have on your life in general? How have you felt since participating?

I know the value in this project and how it can keep people from hurting themselves both physical and emotional. I can reach out beyond myself and help others. I have had a few wonderful things happen to me: 3 CD Covers, Grandbaby, Photography, travel.”

rosiechoiceRosie’s friends and family ~

Ron – “I’ve known Rosie for the last four (4) years and found her to have a number of attractive qualities that many women would desire. As one of the most creative individuals I’ve met, Rosie has an incredible eye for photography and ear for music.
Many of the photos I’ve observed are more than just a picture bur, rather, they tell a story of the depth and heart of her view of her surroundings. Her compassion for nature and wildlife are captured through scenes of soaring eagles or the waves on a surf, an image of unbridled freedom. Her artistic creations expressed through her sensitive spirit and compassion for others is truly exceptional.
Her love for music and vocal abilities provide enjoyment for all both on stage and off. Expressing her gift of song launches all who listen to a magical place. Audiences of all ages continue to enjoy her musical abilities.
Rosie touches the lives of many with through her many talents and gifts.”
Leah  –(Thank you for the video, Leah!)My Dear Rosie, When I see you, I see Jesus. You have been through so very much pain and struggle and through that have known deeply what the grace and love of Jesus feels like. So much so that you exude it out of every ounce of your being. You are simultaneously a lighthouse and tractor beam of heavenly comfort and understanding. It’s so difficult to put to words how beautiful your heart is because I feel like so many of these ideas; grace, forgiveness, understanding, have been diluted into a hall pass or pat on the head. They have been cheapened, and by themselves do not do you justice.
You are not merely strong. You are a fighter. You do what is right and necessary, not what is easy or comfortable. You protect all that is precious in your life fiercely. You take on yourself what others are unable or unwilling to do without ego. You do all this while fighting your own demons within the confines of a tired and broken body, and yet only a precious few even know a fraction of the depth of your physical pain.
You are a survivor. You keep going. No matter how difficult, how painful, you keep going and – although I know it isn’t – you make it look easy! You are constantly reminding me of the silver lining. That doesn’t just make you strong. In my book, that makes you Super Woman.
Of all the things that you are to me, the part of you that I am most thankful for is your trustworthiness. In a world of deception and lies, I know that you are trustworthy. It is a rare and precious gift to know that your heart can be safe with someone. That is what you make me feel. You make me feel safe. For that, all I can say is thank you. You are so much more than words! I love you!”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“I have had the great fortune to see amazing growth in you Rosie. This past year in particular I have seen walls come down around your heart that I know have been there for many many years. I have seen you be brave with your heart and with your life. You have made powerful changes and taken career and relationship chances that I know were very difficult. I know that for a long time it has felt as though your pilot light had gone out. I can see your fire coming back. I am so proud of the deep work that you have done, and are doing and I know that Brian is too! I love you!”


Debbie – (Thank you for the video, Debbie!) “
Rosie has always been a very gentle and loving soul. She is very giving and caring to others more so than they are in return. She is strong and more creative than anyone I know. She really has no idea just how truly amazing she is. I have known Rosie McPherson for 48 years. Since 5th grade. I can’t think of anyone who makes me laugh more or whose company I enjoy more.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“I have known Rosie for 48 years and, though we don’t talk all the time, when we do it’s like we just talked yesterday.”


Larry – 
“One of the things I love about Rosie is her support of others. She’s always been quick to help others. She’s very talented with the camera and is usually willing to help and share her talent with others. She has a laugh that addicting and a smile and spirit that special.”

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“I think her confidence has grown quite a bit since becoming part of this project. She’s always helped and believed in others it’s good to see her believe in herself now. :0)”


Sandy – “
Ahhhh this list could get pretty long – Rosie is tenacious – loving – kind- a promoter – resilient – beautiful – humorous – fearless – fragile – tender – strong – you get the idea – Rosie is a beautiful mix of every adjective at extreme polar opposites – at anytime – she is spontaneous & planned & organized – she’s a bit of a minx at times – a big dose of wonderful sarcasm and raw truth!!! She has endured more on this earth than many others and she still smiles & laughs & knows how to play – and still she grieves and cries – my favorite thing about Rosie is that we have known each other for a very long time and she loves Jesus which tells my heart we will be friends throughout eternity <3″

If you knew this person before they participated in this project previously, what changes, if any, have you seen in them since?

“Rosie has always been free spirited and at times legalistic (hey Mom) – she’s a fascinating mix of all kinds of wonderful & I just adore her – Love you Rosie girl – always have, always will ❤ Sandy”

 

 

 

 

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