Thursday, July 30, 2015

A Cold & Broken Hallelujah

In 1741, in Handel's Messiah, there was a chorus of Hallelujah. Centuries later, Leonard Cohen created a beautiful song anchored by his own chorus of Hallelujah, to which John Cale of The Velvet Underground added additional lyrics when he later covered the Cohen version. Years after that, Jeff Buckley entered the realm of the immortals with his powerful version of Hallelujah, based on the Cale cover's reworking. Numerous other artists throughout the years have reworked and recorded their own versions inspired by the beauty of it.

The song has been embraced in all its flowing, ever-changing versions. It impacts people from all age groups and walks of life. Hallelujah carries a powerful message unique to the person who hears it. One of those rare types of songs which transcends dissection and allows people to relate to it on a personal level applying it to their emotional core for reasons of faith, longing, hope, loss, or struggle. 

It is a graceful reminder of the human condition.

Survivors understand the idea of "a cold and broken Hallelujah." The longing which reaches out, the cry of loss, and the hope of faith in our lowest moments. A prayer for remembering and the deep-seeded tug of needing something beyond this lonely place.

Create within yourself a place to contemplate and remember. Find an outlet to give voice to the whispers that cry within. Embrace within yourself the hope which may mourn, but reaches out regardless. 

Sing your own version of Hallelujah. Become your own chorus. Heal the cold and the broken you carry with you. Our stories matter. Our individual songs endure.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Pants on Fire

Surviving forces you to navigate a lot of lies and face a lot of liars. 

Big and devastating lies, small and white lies, lies of omission or deflection, and lies of hope or attempting at protection. The lies of others or to one's self. These lies can manipulate your outlook, change your hopefulness, and alter your course during times when it is hard enough to stay on track.

During the challenging and stressful times of traumatic events, people lie. Some lie to boost hope, while others lie to avoid reality. Many lie to facilitate decisions as others lie to paint a better picture. People will lie in attempts at providing support and we will lie to ourselves because the truth seems too hard to bear. 

But, in the end, lies hurt and cause great damage. They can rage like a wildfire and burn down important bridges to survival. They wreck havoc often at a time when the depth of hurt is already too deep to easily climb out of.

We all have to make an effort to tell the truth, even when they are the hardest of truths. Because, even the darkest truths can give us the strength to see clearly what we are facing, so we can fight it head-on. We can be enlightened by that truth, even when trudging through the shadows.

No matter what lie rationalizing reason, fight the seductive ease of lying. Even painful truths have the power and grace of truth. Find the truth in yourself and seek it from others. We are indeed the roads to our own enlightenment and need to make our journeys as honest as possible to find the path which is right for us.

The fight is hard enough without being hindered by lies. Breathe brave and exhale with honesty. It makes the next breath easier.

Saturday, July 25, 2015


A couple of days ago while on a flight, the steward decided to randomly change up his routine safety speech. So, over the plane's intercom came the following:

"In the event of cabin depressurization, stop screaming. An oxygen mask will drop, secure it over your mouth and nose, and breathe."

There was an instant reaction on my aisle to this particular wording, one of shock, awe, and amusement. But as we looked around the cabin, the other passengers were preoccupied with pretty much anything other than paying attention to the in-flight safety instructions. They had missed the brutally simple honesty of the speech entirely. 

However, my aisle felt Fight Club's Tyler Durden would have gotten a kick out of the irreverence of that particular passenger service announcement.

Stop screaming and breathe.

During events of trauma and chaos, especially when our emotional or physical health are on the line, we all tend to panic. It is a natural, primordial response. Panic is part of our survival instinct.

However, panic is not the best form of coping. In complicated times of crisis, it can be very counterproductive to healing and surviving intact to the point of actually causing additional damage or set-backs. There is a reason the idea of a Zen state has survived for centuries and the search for it is an integral part of meditation.

We need to focus, to find a calmness within ourselves, to stabilize and clarify, and remember to take the time to inhale. Breathe deep. 

Stop screaming and breathe may be the simplest and soundest advise any of us could ever get.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Quicksilver Lining

During bad times people seem to find themselves looking for silver linings.

Trying to focus on the positive like a tangible, delicate edge of light which can be found in the most oppressively dark of situations. Ironically, the element of mercury is often referred to as quicksilver, which, although beautiful in its color and form, is a highly toxic poison.

Both silver and mercury in liquid form can flow seamlessly, or separate, beading into individual droplets. They can also join or re-join flowing back into themselves.

Times of crisis, trauma, and illness have uniquely intricate, tendril veins flowing through them of both types of silver, the hopeful and the toxic.

Combining and weaving together, seamless despite their differences. Moments of hopefulness can be lined with foreboding senses of dread, while suffering can have superior moments of peace and graceful relief. During our struggles, the lining of silver and quicksilver can blur and become one.

This silver mixture has moments which are uplifting and disheartening, sometimes simultaneously. Silver in all these complicated forms can be mesmerizing when flowing within you and it's not easy to separate yourself from the mix.

Toxic has a way of lingering and linings have a way of evaporating too easily.

As survivors, in our fight to endure, we can't just be on the lookout for silver linings, we need to create and nurture them. Be thankful for every delicate edge and work to expand them into the whole of us.

Whether the lining is in the form of relief or support, fleeting or long-lasting, we have to hold them close and allow the hope in. As survivors, we have to battle to keep the toxic out and lessen its hold on who we are.

When toxic silver cuts to the quick, we have to breathe brave and make from our wounds linings of a more forgiving, healing silver. To survive, it is important to create and cling to whatever silver linings when can and let the toxic quicksilver drain away.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Fragmenting Distance

One doesn't have to be alone to feel loneliness. It can occur surrounded by people or in a crowd.

Survivors often feel loneliness acutely, either because their situation creates actual isolation or the overwhelming perception of it.

Even amid utter chaos, when struggling to survive, life slows and bogs down. It can feel like trudging through ever deepening and thickening mud with no belief that we will ever be able to rise from the muck.

Other people's lives go on with the normal ebbs and flows, while a survivor's routine life gets lost in stagnation or backslides into worsening places beyond their control. It is crippling to observe the lives of others from a lonely place.

This leads to feelings of widening isolation. There is the overwhelming sense that you are in it alone. The loneliness of it is deafening.

We can lose the ability to reach out and hold on. We can become paralyzed at the thought of asking for more help or needing someone. We doubt intentions and worth.

We accept the loneliness because we begin to believe we don't deserve more. Part of something meaningful and the shared happiness of companionship becomes so far from reach as to be unattainable even in our dreams. We can no longer see a future which looks any different then the present we feel so trapped in.

Physiological studies have shown that nostalgia can aid in weighty moments of loneliness and have a restorative effect. A perception memory which counteracts loneliness by increasing a perceived social support. Remembering that support and companionship triggers feelings of wholeness and safety of worth. It validates us in the memory.

Ironically, this does not always remain the case with survivors, because being reminded of things often shines a glaring light on how much they have lost and how altered their life is now. So, while there may be a momentary relief in remembering, it is often followed by an increasing feeling of isolation and leads to a despairing level of loneliness. It compounds our distance.

It is very hard to convince ourselves in these moments that we are not as alone as we feel. It is hard to see a time and place opening up for us again where we can feel closeness with other people and let in any love or support. It is difficult to see ourselves as part of something else.

We feel beyond isolated. In feeling this alone, we close off, turning inward, creating even more isolation. It is a vicious circle and a dire Catch-22. It is hard to survive and endure trapped in this tightening bubble. Overtime, loneliness can actually manifest itself physically in damaging ways, which adds to more feelings of isolation.

There is no quick fix to this type of emotional and social fragmentation.

What works for one person to reestablish a meaningful connection may not work for another; and, what works for us one moment may fail with epic proportions in the next. Distance of self is not easy to battle back from. Distance, at its core, often creates and expands loneliness. Distance can swallow closeness whole.

When alone, try to reach for something, someone, or a memory of connecting to make you feel less alone in that moment, even if that moment doesn't linger.

When in a crowd, try to connect with something, someone, or the idea of reaching to anchor you to a less lonely place, even if only for a second.

Then, build on those moments. One brick of connection at a time laid on top of the loneliness, until we have built something stronger and more tangible to connect with.

Even if those bricks exist only within ourselves, they don't have to exist alone.

Thursday, July 16, 2015


Into the Valley of Death rode the six hundred...
I am Sparta...

Whether the Charge of the Light Brigade or the Spartans' stand at the Battle of Thermopylae, throughout history people have fought against impossible odds. 

People have struggled alone against unimaginable forces and have taken a stand when everything aligned against them should have made them lie down. 

It isn't easy to survive insurmountable odds. The struggle is long and the battles are bloody. The outcomes are not always what we dreamed of, planned for, or intended.

But, life wants to cling, even through fear and trauma. Hope tries to linger, even in the darkest places. 

We each have strength buried deep within us. If we reach deep enough, we have the power to fight, even when our reserves are dwindling and our options begin to pale.

During my brain surgery and long-suffering, on-going recovery, I have often found myself at a standstill, come up against a wall, and felt utter defeat. Defeat which has coursed through my every vein, physically and emotionally. Yet, with a paralyzed spirit and debilitated health, I have forced myself to stand and brace against the onslaught.

I have whispered to myself with a voice only I can hear... "I am Sparta."

With a legion of horror bearing down on me, no support in reserve, and no hope galloping across the horizon to save me, I have stood alone screaming.... "I am Sparta."

With no strength left, I have fought. I fight still... "I am Sparta."

In the end, I may win, but I may not. 
I may be victorious, or I may be decimated by defeat.

But, I will stand even when broken beyond reckoning.  
I will breathe brave until I have no more breath in me.... for I truly am Sparta.

This is Survivor Jewelry's 100th Post and "We are Sparta." 
Because even when we stand alone, we stand for something bigger then ourselves.

"Ancient sparta theater" by Κούμαρης Νικόλαος. Licensed under Attribution via Wikimedia Commons -

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Stress, anxiety, and loss of control play unfortunate parts in the struggle to survive. The emotional toll can be extreme while the the mental toll exhaustively debilitating. Compound these and the worry and damage will find ways to manifest itself physically.

People may put on weight through a binge or lose weight with a loss of appetite, suffer crushing panic attacks and uncontrollable crying, become paranoid or unrealistic, seek dangerous ways to cope through escaping into the misleading numb of drugs or alcohol, or turn to self-harm to try to regain a sense of control through injury. Thoughts and actions can plot elaborately suicidal or casually painful.

It affects the core of who you are and hurts. You can get lost in it. Fixate and become obsessive. The mind overthinks and the heart grows weary. It eats away at you.

Once lost in the maze of anxiety, it is hard to regain control. Often survivors grapple with the stress by creating these physical outlets as a way to re-channel the pain.

Watch for the signs hiding behind a survivor's smile. The truth is in their eyes, on their bodies, in the way they walk, or wear their clothes. Subtle cues on and around them that show the truth of the loss of control gnawing at them. (Some are not so subtle to the point of being far too painfully obvious.)

As a survivor, stop for a moment amid the madness and look for the signs within and around you. Try to regain control in a way which doesn't cause further damage by acknowledging and accepting what you can not control. But, forgive yourself the moments when it becomes too much.

Life is bigger and harder then it prepares us for. We have to find a way through it and the manifestations of its toll on us all.

(Note: Right now, this survivor's chewed up life is acute and obvious on my hands, if you bother to look close enough. When touching hurts, something is wrong. We all must fight to breathe brave, but it isn't always easy.)

Friday, July 10, 2015

Unfinished Sentences

In writing, when an author chooses not to finish a sentence, but instead to continue with additional thoughts, a semi-colon is utilized. Literature's way of finishing a sentence with another sentence.

Quietly, a movement based on a similar ideal is taking root with survivors of depression, addiction, self-injury, and suicide. Some of the survivors and their supporters are choosing to get a semi-colon tattoo to show support and remind themselves of their commitment to continue choosing life. (Maybe you have seen one and wondered about it origins.)

Project SemiColon is a survivor's story and foundation started in 2013 by Amy Bleuel which embraces much of the same philosophies and choices of Survivor Jewelry.

It is vital to every person facing trauma, crisis, and illness to embrace that their story is not yet complete. To understand we are each healing, surviving, enduring, and making the choice, despite our adversities, to survive.

We, at Survivor Jewelry, embrace all people and recommend any inspiration which helps others survive. Reach for help wherever you can find it and search until you find the right fit for you.

Remember, we all have a story to share and, with a belief in ourselves, we have yet to write the final chapter. Our stories are not over. Our voices will be heard. Create your own semi-colons and continue to breathe brave.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Little Red & Her Wolf

In the old fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood, the child in the story remains nameless, defined and identified solely by her red-hooded cloak. 

Survivors can relate to this as they often find themselves categorized by the illness, trauma, or crisis they are facing. Survivors' identities lost to and defined by what they are fighting to survive. (IE; cancer patient, drug addict, alcoholic, brain surgery candidate. et cetera)

In the same fairy tale, the villainous wolf is broken down and his identity exposed by Little Red's recognition of his suspicious parts.

"What a deep voice you have!" 
   "The better to greet you with."
"Goodness, what big eyes you have!"
   "The better to see you with." 
"And what big hands you have!" 
   "The better to hug you with."
"What big teeth you have." 
   "The better to eat you with!" 

Trauma, illness and crisis can manifest itself like the wolf.

"What a deep voice you have":
Coming to terms with your situation is like greeting something darker then you had expected. A voice deep inside you that resonates with ramifications throughout your life.

"What big eyes you have":
Realizing the truth of your situation, as you start to see the bigger picture and feel the weight of the scope of it, is enlightening and scary.

"What big hands you have":
Dealing with the chaos of your altered reality successfully is aided by the support of those around you and accepting belief in yourself. Circling the wagons and pulling people close can provide great comfort in times of turmoil.

"What big teeth you have":
Trauma, illness and crisis are like violent attacks. They affect every part of who you are. They tear with invisible teeth, leaving you exposed, hurt, and vulnerable. Trauma wounds on very deep levels.

Surviving can be like living in a nightmarish fairy tale, surreal and too real simultaneously, defined by its parts. But we can not forget an actual girl wears the red-hood and a villainous wolf lurks with great intent on harm.

We may have to wear the hood for a while, but who we are can remain whole beneath it. We may have to fight an obvious enemy disguised or hidden from view, but we can be honest about what we are facing and what it looks like to us. 

In truth, any happily ever-afters are elusive, and it is the journey we are on which makes our stories worth telling.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Hand it to Kübler-Ross

In 1969 Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, a Swiss psychiatrist, wrote a book, On Death and Dying, inspired by her work with terminally ill patients. The Kübler-Ross Model broke down the emotional stages a person go through when dealing with facing a terminal diagnosis. The model was embraced by the public, survivors, and many types of therapists, but the medical viability of her model is still debated within circles of research.

The five stages she found were Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. Not always experienced in order or in their entirety.

Over the years she expanded the model to include any and all forms of personal loss. Divorce, rejection, loss of a job, addiction, incarceration, infertility, diagnosis of disease, and the death of loved ones were added to the model. She also included minor losses who experience lesser subsections of the model.

Survivors are well aware of these emotional categories, only for them it is not a mere model or series of emotional possibilities. These stages become an integral part of their daily reality during times of crisis, trauma, and illness in ways which can not easily be dissected by research or categorized by theories.

The truth is the order changes constantly and the stages overlap with a tendency to contradict each other. Some of the stages are less frequent or severe, while others can be overwhelming and shockingly debilitating. They manage to repeat, pounding away at your strength and rationale.

Survivors do deny: It isn't happening, it isn't that bad, and it isn't over. Things will change beneficially.

Survivors are angry and rage: Hate, blame, I don't want this, and I don't deserve it.

Survivors will bargain: I will change this, I will do that, I will give this to get that, and make all kind of deals.

Survivors become depressed: I can't do this, it is too much, it hurts. Sadness, discouragement, and moments of complete hopelessness.

Survivors come to accept.

This one is tricky. Acceptance is the most complicated of the stages, for it has a variety of grey areas and different forms, dependent on what you are facing and how you choose to accept it.

Maybe you admit to having a problem or abandon attempts to fix something broken. Perhaps you resign yourself to the situation or the embrace the need to treat it to find a resolution. Or you just let go and move on, confronting the eventual outcome. Acceptance can involve peace and grief. It can be a relief or carry the weight of the reality of what is coming.

There is no wrong or right way to endure the stages. There are no directions to the model which will completely set the course of your situation. But, while it is important to allow yourself the chance to work through what you need to, it is equally as vital to not allow one stage to pull you off course.

Imagine the individual stages like the fingers on your hand, working in tandem or on their own, but still utterly a part of the hand. 

The stages are only part of your trauma, crisis, or illness. There is a bigger whole, affected by the pieces, but still you. Don't dwell or stagnate in a stage, but give yourself time with each stage, they are part of you.

Denial can give you the time to wrap your brain around something overwhelming. Rage is an outlet to vent, releasing fears and frustrations. Bargaining can show you what is important and what you can let go of. Depression is natural, it is impossible to always be positive and crying can help take the sad out of you. Acceptance can help move you forward in a way that makes the most of you and your individual needs.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Invisible Rainbows

Today, I got caught in a torrential downpour with my mother. A survivor herself, currently she is struggling bravely through rehabilitation to regain use of her arm and learn to walk again after a debilitating fall and surgery. 

Coming from dinner with friends, I slowly had to maneuver her and her wheelchair from the car into her convalescent center in the pouring rain. It was a slow process, which could not be rushed despite the buckets of Southern rain dumping on us. Beyond damp or a little wet, we both got biblically soaked.

Once inside, we were hit with a blast of air conditioning and both began to shake with chills. But as soon as we reached the nurses station in our drenched state, there was a flurry of concerned activity. 

People rushing from every direction to help. There were suddenly towels and quick assistance in getting my mother into dry clothes and a warm bed. I was offered more towels and a change of clothes, which I refused focusing instead of getting my mother settled in. I knew I would be home soon where I could shower and change.

Afterwards, when I was headed home alone still soaked, I saw a large and powerful rainbow arching over the clouds above our house. 

There are unique levels of concern and aid in times of crisis and trauma. But, there are also situations and reactions which can be very isolating. There is a thin line between the beauty of a rainbow and the devastation of a storm. These lines are often defined by the people involved and can be very hard on the survivors.

Instantaneous trauma can trigger a surge in assistance. In general, following an accident or injury, people will run to provide assistance or call for help. After a diagnosis of illness, family and friends will come together to offer help and provide support.  A person in immediate need, or directly after trauma, usually finds many types of support in abundance.

Long term trauma can have the opposite affect. People may empathize and have genuine regard for the situation, but it becomes hard to deal with crisis on a regular ongoing basis. People will step back or limit involvement, checking in during long intervals or politely inquiring about the current status. Worse, people can ignore a survivor's actual need, because it is now routine. For some people, there are only so many times they can help before it becomes too much to handle.

If the trauma is something which manifests itself physically, the reactions can be even more profound. People will look away, avoid eye contact, or actively make an effort to prevent personal contact. Worse, they can act like you are not even there.

It can be incredibly painful for a survivor still fighting to survive to find themselves suddenly so isolated. Often a survivor can feel almost invisible. Their struggles unrecognized and their calls for help unanswered. It's very scary and lonely to suffer unnoticed, to cry unheeded and truly hard to survive without assistance.

If we walk away or turn our backs on people in need, we miss the opportunity to provide genuine support for another and lose the chance to share with them the breathtaking moments of our humanity which so often occur in the darkest times of our lives. These moments are often the most profoundly powerful we can experience as human beings.

If we actively make the choice to avoid the storms devastating another person's life, we will forever miss sharing the beauty of rainbows which explode with grace down through breaking storm clouds.

Saturday, July 4, 2015


Over two hundred years ago, America declared its independence. It was bold and decisive. It was brave to face the unknown with a plan, a goal, and a dream of something better.

Survivors struggle with independence.

During crisis, trauma, and illness there is a strange balancing act of needing to stand on our own and needing the support of others to lean on. There is a unique time in the healing process where we still need help, but also fight to move forward alone.

Whether it is something basic, like assistance walking or getting dressed, or something once basic but now more complex like driving or being left alone, independence suddenly becomes something scary and involves fortitude.

Independence is freedom, but even freedom falters on occasion. Do not grow disheartened if your first attempts leave you tired and clingy. Do not give up if you try and at first do not succeed. Don't beat yourself up if sometimes you still need to hold on for dear life.

Growth and healing is a process. Needing help during times of hardship is human nature. Allow yourself the freedom to take your time. Allow yourself the voice to declare what you need and need to try to accomplish on your own. It is alright to depend on others while finding your own independence and it is also alright to take some steps for yourself on your own.