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LJ Idol: Week 2 [Mar. 21st, 2014|01:45 pm]

The snow fell heavily. She worried about her wedding dress. Her father carried her from the house to the car and from the car to the church. Once inside, she was surrounded by her friends and family. It was a bittersweet day, for the bride was barely seventeen and pregnant. This was more a marriage of necessity than of love, although, if you asked her, she'd swear she loved him more than words could convey.

Four months later, her daughter was born. They lived in the basement of her childhood home. Her father had been kind enough to make it into a kind of apartment for them. Her husband worked full-time, and she prepared to start her senior year of high school, knowing her mother would care for the child.

Time passed. They bought a house. A son was born. She worked as a hairdresser, a waitress, and a bartender. Her husband worked long hours as a truck driver, and spent Friday evenings in whatever bar he could find.

As the kids got older, an air of discontent settled over the household. This marriage of necessity was holding her back. Her daughter was disabled. Her husband wanted to live in the wilderness. She longed for a normal life, a good job with benefits, enough money to do the things she loved. Instead, she depended on her husband for insurance, and the tips she made to buy extras.

Eventually, her children left home. Her daughter went to graduate school and her son got a job. Both were out of state. She and her husband were finally alone. Both realized they were unhappy, but neither could do anything to fix it.

Today, little has changed. Her children have returned to the state of their birth. Her son lives at home, and her daughter is just a few miles away. Her husband dreams of living far from civilization. She only wishes her house wasn't falling down around her. At fifty, she is a bitter, lonely woman. Sure, she has friends, but that's not enough. Those who know her well are afraid of her dramatic mood swings, her anger, her contempt. All she can see is her own unhappiness, and her inability to fix it.

Before falling asleep each night, she looks back on her life. She thinks of all the things she could have done differently, wishing she could go back and find the step she missed. One misstep on life's road to happiness has eluded her. Unfortunately, no one is able to go back in time and fix things. She knows this, and falls asleep with the taste of resentment on her tongue. Tomorrow, she'll wake up and begin a day just like the one that came before, a day filled with unhappiness and bitterness. Nothing will change. Thirty-four years ago, she began to walk this path. Her only option is to see it through to the end, no matter how unappealing it proves to be.

This has been my contribution for week 2 of
If you enjoyed this, please consider voting for me when the polls open on Monday evening.

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LJ Idol, Week 1 [Mar. 15th, 2014|09:03 am]
[Current Mood |amusedamused]

It's a typical morning in Arlington, Texas. I'm reading, and Susan is watching something or other on TV. I can't tell what it is, since I'm not known for paying attention to such things. The air conditioner hums in the background, doing its best to keep the oppressive heat from entering our apartment. It's peaceful. I feel myself starting to drift toward sleep, not really because I'm tired, but because I'm relaxed. I'm almost there when she looks at me and says, "How are you, my pinnacle of shit?"

I'm immediately jolted awake. What the hell is a pinnacle of shit? Well, I guess I know what it is, but why did she refer to me that way? She didn't do it nastily. In fact, it was rather like an endearment, albeit a strange one.

I have no idea what expression I'm wearing, but she starts to laugh.

"Wow!" she says through the laughter. "I don't even know what that means. It just came out of my mouth."

Her laughter is infectious, and, before I know it, I'm laughing right along with her, despite the fact I'm pretty sure I've been unintentionally insulted.

This is my entry for week 1 of

<LJ user="therealljidol">

If you enjoyed this, please consider voting for me when the polls open on Monday evening.

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Here I am again [Mar. 5th, 2014|07:43 pm]
[Current Mood |thoughtfulthoughtful]

It's hard to believe I'm doing this again, but it's even harder to believe this is the last season of LJIdol. I've participated for the past five seasons, met a lot of stellar writers, made some friends, and, basically, enjoyed myself. Many of you already know me, but, for those who don't, I'll do my best to give you a bit of an idea of who I am.

I'm Shannon, 33 from Michigan. I can hear people repeating it. "Michigan?" Last season, I lived on Long Island. Before that, I was in Texas, but, in the summer of 2012, I moved back to Michigan where I was born and raised.

I share my home with my partner of almost a year, two dogs, and, of course, the Winter Solstice Cat. One must never forget the feline. You know the horrible winter we're having? It's all due to the wrath of this very aptly named cat. Just ask those who know her. Her power knows no bounds.

I'm a voracious reader, a High Priestess of the Feminist Dianic tradition, an audiobook reviewer, and a sometimes writer. I have a Master's degree in clinical social work with an emphasis on mental health. I'm a strong advocate for those who struggle with chronic mental health issues. I know some of what they struggle with, since I've battled similar demons most of my life.

So, that's a bit about me. I look forward to the start of the season.

This is my contribution for week 0 of

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Am I insane? [Mar. 4th, 2014|11:07 am]
[Current Mood |excitedexcited]

Maybe I'm insane, but I can't resist this last opportunity to participate in LJ Idol. So, here is my declaration to participate in Season 9 of
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Maybe I&#39;m insane, but I can&#39;t resist this last opportunity to participate in LJ Idol. So, here is my declaration to participate in Season 9 of
<ljuser=therealljidol>&lt;lj user=&quot;therealljidol&quot;&gt;

Good luck to all who participate. Let&#39;s make this final season count.</ljuser=therealljidol>
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Caroline [Feb. 27th, 2013|03:29 pm]
[Current Mood |desolate]

What do you do with a grief that steals your breath and weighs down your every movement? How do you bear a loss so great that it seeps into the very marrow of your bones? What can be done about the dreams that wake you in the night, leaving you confused and alone? To these questions, I am seeking answers. To these questions, I fear answers cannot be found for there is no instruction manual for those of us who grieve.

She was born on December 15, 2003. Eighteen months later, I met her for the first time. Half lab and half golden retriever, she walked proudly by my side until the summer of 2012.

Another is by my side now. Another guides my steps, keeping me safe from passing cars, overhanging branches, and all other obstacles that are in my path. He is not as confident as she was, not as assertive, not as self-assured. Very simply, he is not Caroline. I've felt her loss every day since I officially retired her. In some ways, I've been grieving since late July. Now though, my grief is so much more than I ever thought it could be.

On the twentieth of February, she drew her last breath. No one could tell me why. She hadn't been ill. Her vet visit had yielded nothing out of the ordinary. She was a perfectly healthy nine-year-old dog. Even so, she died in the early morning.

One week later, I do not fully remember that day. It comes to me in bits and pieces, everything clouded in a strange kind of fog. I remember kneeling by her side, my hands in her fur, my body convulsed with sobs. Talk of cremation, of cleaning the carpet where she had died, of other inconsequential things all runs together in my head. I heard it then, probably even answered, but now, it just rushes over me, an ocean of indistinguishable sound.

Sometimes, I stop whatever I'm doing and wonder how I'll manage without her. With Caroline by my side, I became more than I ever thought I could be. I felt so little fear as she guided me, and, for me, so prone to anxiety, lack of fear is truly a priceless gift. She gave that to me, that and so very much more. With her, I came as close as I probably ever will to becoming a professional opera singer. She became accustomed to curtain calls and even learned to bow on stage. Some nights, I think the curtain rose and fell for my retrievador more than it did for me. Quite the diva was Miss Caroline.

For her, I wished every happiness in retirement. I wished I could make her understand that she hadn't been replaced, that my love for her was solid and deep as it had ever been. Sadly though, I doubt she understood these things. She learned to enjoy retirement, but a part of her always yearned for the harness.

As I sit here, one week to the day after her passing, I find myself struggling to find words for what I am feeling. Usually, words come easily, but I just don't know how to describe this incredible loss and the grief that has come close to crippling me. I feel as powerless today as I did last Wednesday. Despite what people wish, my grief has not lessened. In fact, there are times when it seems to have strengthened, for I'm no longer quite so enveloped by the fog that protected me right after her passing. I am forced to go through each day with the knowledge that she will not greet me at the door. I am forced to remember that I am responsible for the care of only one, rather than two, black dogs. Above all, I know she's gone, and I wonder if the loss will break me. I'm told that it won't, but I can't honestly say I believe that yet. Someday, I might come to realize the truth of those words, but that simply isn't where I'm at now. At this moment, my grief is strong and all-consuming. My days are measured in minutes, for one minute at a time is all I can manage.

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Flying away [Aug. 2nd, 2012|11:28 am]
[Current Mood |raw]

This evening, I'll fly away, my body weightless in space, my spirit heavy, longing to be back on the ground. Usually, I hate this place, and I long for nothing more than to flee as fast and as far as I can. Today though, I'm torn, for a piece of me will be left behind, and I'll be even more tightly bound to this place, the place of my childhood, of some of my greatest joys, but also my most crushing grief. It's the place that stole my innocence, that sent me running 900 miles as soon as I possibly could. It's the place where I found and lost and found my voice again.

So, I'll fly away, returning to a place that isn't quite home. It's more a shelter, I suppose. It's a place that has allowed me to heal in some ways from the grief that brought me there. But, as I fly away, my soul will yearn for her, the one who remains on the ground, by my choosing, not hers.

Today scares me more than I can say. I'll navigate the airport with just a cane, and the not-quite-adequate sighted guide of one of my aunts. I'll board a plane alone, and sit for 2 hours. Something will be missing, a part of me will be empty in a way it hasn't been in so long.

How do I walk out the door today? How do I leave her behind? What does she understand about my leaving, and why she's not coming with me? Will she feel abandoned? Will she adjust, and, will I? A new person for her, a new dog for me. Two, blended into one, now torn apart by her retirement, and my need for a dog to walk beside me, doing the job that Caroline has done so well for so long. Part of me is afraid he won't measure up. I know every dog is different, just as no two people are exactly alike. Still, after seven years with such a stellar guide, I'm frightened by who I'll be receiving next. He works so differently from her. He seems so submissive, so subtle, where she has always been assertive. The transition will be difficult, I fear, and, today, as my emotions are raw to the point of something approaching a physical pain, I question my strength to do what I know I must do.

Today, as I prepare for what is the hardest day I've faced in a while, I ask Goddess to give me strength and to grant me peace. May her love encircle me, and keep me close, for I fear only that will keep me together.
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Seven years, and then goodbye [Jul. 29th, 2012|12:31 am]
[Current Mood |broken-hearted]

For seven years, she's been by my side, slightly ahead, leading the way as she was taught to do. For seven years, we've read each other's body language through harness and leash, navigating airports, university campuses, stages, and city streets. For seven years, she's been my constant companion, never more contented than when she could press her body against me. I nicknamed her "Velcro Dog", so strong is her need to be close to me.

We were an unlikely team at first. I was twenty-five, and still very bonded to my first guide who waited for me back in Texas with my partner. Caroline was a spoiled diva dog, raised by a class of seventh graders in a Baltimore boarding school, trained by a man who saw her as more than just another dog in the string he trained every day. We were brought together, woman and dog, neither one feeling much commitment or connection to the other. She worked for me because she was supposed to. I went through the motions, giving commands, offering praise and corrections, but it took us a good seven months to become the confident, inseparable team we are tonight. There were days back in the summer and fall of 2005 when I wanted nothing more than to give her back to the school. Now, seven years later, the thought of traveling without her breaks my heart.

And yet, that time has come. We'll do our last working walk tomorrow. She'll guide me confidently through two airports, only to have her harness removed for the last time, and her care turned over to someone else. My grandmother will adopt her, and I hope they bond. Well, in a way I do. In another, more selfish way, I hate the thought of being forgotten by this large black dog who has taken such good care of me for the past seven years.

In just nine days, I re-enter the halls of Smithtown's Guide Dog Foundation. Another dog will soon occupy the place that once belonged to Caroline. I will have to learn to work with him, to love him, and to read him. Hopefully, it will come naturally. Hopefully, we won't be such unwilling partners. I've met him once, and he seems sweet, but only time will tell. I never thought Caroline would turn out to be such a stellar guide. I must remember that things happen as they are meant to, and not necessarily as I might will them to.

Retiring Caroline has been a bit of a traumatic process for me. So many have shown me kindnesses. I thank them all for their support. you are too numerous to name, but I thank all of you who have listened to me cry,, calmed my hysteria, offered an ear or a shoulder, or continue to send me positive thoughts and energy to get me through the day. That's how I'll make this transition, I realize: one step, one thought, one day at a time.

A part of me remains with each dog I retire, just as a part of both of them lingers with me. Caroline has taught me confidence, a skill that is hard-won for the woman who prefers to fade into the background with her head in a book, rather than to be noticed by a crowd of people. I'm not sure what I've taught my Caroline dog. I don't know what part of me will be left behind when I leave her in my grandmother's care. Whatever it is, I hope it allows her to enjoy the happy retirement she deserves. One who worked so hard and so well deserves nothing less, after all.
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a voice in the darkness [Mar. 12th, 2012|05:31 pm]
[Current Mood |thoughtfulthoughtful]

Eighteen months ago, I made a journey, and a complicated journey it turned out to be. A cat, a dog, and twenty-eight boxes made this journey with me. I was leaving one life behind, and traveling nearly two-thousand miles in order to start a new one. There was nothing easy about this. Cats don't like change, and, to be perfectly honest, I'm not a huge fan of it either, and this journey was filled with nothing but change.

Even now, so many months later, my life is filled with various uncertainties. My guide dog is retiring. I'm planning another move. Jobs are hard to find. My family is filled with crazy people. In fact, before I sat down to write this, a good friend of mine sent me a tweet that said, "Nothing in your life is stable." Truer words were never spoken. For me, stability is a thing of the past. Do I like it that way? Not really, but I can't change it. So, I'm just doing the best I can to live with it.

Over the past two seasons of
I've found myself moved time and time again by the writings of
In many ways, we've traveled similar life paths. When I read the stories she shares, I'm reminded that I'm really and truly not alone. Somewhere, not all that far from where I used to live, someone has been where I am now. She shares her experiences with grace and eloquence. I don't get the sense that she does it to make people feel sorry for her, or in order to get mountains of praise heaped upon her head. Instead, her telling is straightforward and factual, and it reminds me that, even in the face of so much uncertainty, there's a chance I'll come out of this in one piece.

I've received support from many people these past several months, both on and off LJ. However, it was through the words of a virtual stranger that I realized that there is a hidden core of strength somewhere deep within me. I may not always feel strong or capable. I may be afraid, depressed, or beaten down, but, at the end of the day, I'm where I'm supposed to be at this precise moment in time. Things will change in time. Until they do, until I'm able to take the steps that are necessary to bring change about, I'll be okay. Waking up in the morning, trusting in Goddess, loving my animals and my friends. All of these things will keep me going.

Thank you
for helping me to realize this.

This has been my entry for
I've made it back into the actual competition. Thank you so much to all of you who have helped me get here.
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The Second Look that never came [Mar. 1st, 2012|05:53 pm]
[Current Mood |contemplativecontemplative]

She cowers in the recesses of the walk-in closet. Outside, the sounds of his rage penetrate this most precarious of havens. She buries her face in the satin of her wedding gown, and begins to pray to a god she's no longer sure she believes in. She has prayed before, countless times, but her words seem to have fallen on deaf ears. God, who is supposed to be her savior, has never protected her from the brutality of the man she married.

It wasn't always this way. There was a time, although she really can't recall how long ago it really was, when he claimed to love her more than anything in the world. Their marriage was blissful. She couldn't have been happier.

Then, things began to go wrong. The cases he worked weren't solved. The chief of police grew angry, and her husband grew bitter. The man she married had begun to change. He still said he loved her, but only after he'd hit her.

This house used to be her shelter, but now, it serves only as a reminder of the hell her life has become. Her head has made contact with every one of its walls. Her blood and tears have stained the floors. It's a prison now, and escape is something she only dreams of.

In the beginning, she held out some hope. Surely, as the wife of a policeman, she was entitled to some assistance. Maybe he could get counseling. Maybe they both could. Surely, resources were out there. All she needed to do was reach out.

But reaching out had only caused her more pain. His fellow officers refused to believe her stories. They would cover for him, protect him. She was collateral damage, not worth protecting.

And so, here she is tonight, hiding in a closet, as chairs are overturned and dishes shattered. Every crash signals the crumbling of one more dream, the dashing of one more hope. No one has bothered to help her. They looked at her, took in the bruises, the blackened eyes, the marks on her throat. Just as quickly, eyes were averted. No one wanted to see. No one wanted to get involved. So, she's alone, praying he won't find her, praying the alcohol he has consumed will incapacitate him before he makes it up here. All she can do is hope for one more night of safety.

Her tears fall as she realizes, not for the first time, just how bleak her circumstances truly are. She's alone. All she can hope for is one more night of safety, and, if she doesn't get it, who will really care?

This has been my entry for week 3 of Second Chance Idol. Thank you for reading.
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Finding the balance [Feb. 23rd, 2012|05:08 pm]

Ringing phones, whispered confessions, angry outbursts, and hysterical questions. All of these things were part of my graduate school experience.

Starting in 2005, I was a first responder on a local sexual assault line. I often took overnight shifts, as my partner worked nights, so the ringing of the phone wouldn't bother anyone but me, and, as someone who is all too familiar with insomnia, I would probably be awake anyway. So, as I took classes that were supposed to teach me to be a competent therapist, I also talked people through their various crises.

You might find this a strange thing for me to do. Not only am I a sexual assault survivor, I'm also a person with a number of mental health issues of her own. Often, people asked me how I thought I could help others when it was impossible for me to help myself.

At first, I found this attitude discouraging. Maybe people were right. Maybe someone as broken as I am has no business trying to assist others. Obviously, I haven't done so well with improving my own life circumstances, so what would make me think I could make a difference in the lives of others?

Slowly though, I came to understand one of the most important lessons I have ever been made to learn. It takes more than textbook learning to make someone a good, helpful, competent therapist or crisis line worker. It takes an innate sense of compassion, good listening skills, and the ability to help people problem solve. I learned to sit back and listen to the outpouring of grief, anger and disbelief. I learned that answers weren't always expected or even desired. I came to understand that I wasn't there to fix people. Instead, I was there to help them make it through the night.

It has been said that the darkest hour comes just before the dawn. During my time on the phones, I realized this was true. Our demons come out to taunt us at night. Sometimes, they come in the form of nightmares or flashbacks. Sometimes, a body deprived of sleep falls prey to the tricks of the mind, and a person finds themselves reliving some of the most horrible experiences they were ever forced to endure. I can't tell you exactly why this is so. I can simply attest to the fact that it's true.

Although crisis line work came naturally to me, I did have to find a way not to let it affect me too deeply. Because I have experienced similar things, it was often very easy to become triggered myself. If someone talked about being raped, it wasn't hard for me to drift back to my own time beneath the body of my attacker, and the helplessness those memories evoked. Those experiences could be a help, rather than a hinderance. I just had to learn how to let that be possible. I found that, having experienced some of the same things, I was able to empathize with them very easily. I could understand their fear, their self-loathing, their helplessness. I had been there. Did I admit this? No. I was taught early on that crisis line work was not about me and my experiences. Instead, it was about the callers. However, I feel that, had I not experienced some of these things, I probably wouldn't have been nearly as effective as I proved to be. Sometimes, you just had to be there. Sometimes, you have to have walked a similar path to truly grasp what another person is going through. Simply reading about the effects of sexual assault isn't always enough. On the job training is all well and good, but it can't instill the emotions that true experience instills. And so, if there can be a positive side to the horrific events I've lived through, maybe it's the fact that I can now bear witness to other survivors, and help them make it through just one more night. One night at a time. This is how I first began to make a difference.

This is my entry for week 2 of second chance idol. The polls will go up later this evening. If you enjoyed this piece, please consider voting for it.
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