Pieces of Me

Bits and pieces of my life and of my heart.


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Not Asking For It.

When I was 17 years old I was sexually assaulted.

I was young and I was looking for someone to like me. I spent a lot of my teenage years looking for someone to like me. I felt very unlikeable. Lost even, and I did not know what to do with these feelings. Nobody taught me how not to feel lost. I really wish they had.

The night it happened I was among school friends. We were celebrating the boys school victory in their rugby match. We were drinking. I was drunk. We all were drunk. My assault happened in the stair well of a night club. My assailant a well known member of the rugby team. I said “No”. I didn’t at first. At first I was delighted that he was flirting with Me. Me who felt so unlikeable. It was good and then it was really bad. Bad in a frightening, can’t breathe, I said No, get off Me kind of bad. He didn’t listen. He won. I lost.

The shame is the very worst thing. I didn’t know it then but my shame for that night shaped my 20’s, and not in the best of ways. Shame can kill a person. It nearly killed me.

He told his friends, my friends what happened. Well, he told them what he wanted to say happened. I was called a “Slag”, a “Fat Slag”, a “Slut”, a “Whore”. I remember hiding in the bathroom stall afraid to go to class. I remember hearing my friends talk about me like I wasn’t there. I remember also wishing I wasn’t there. I just wanted to disappear, and in so many ways, for so many years I tried. I tried to make myself go away. The shame got bigger than who I was and it swallowed me whole.

I never told anyone back then what happened to Me. I believed what I heard other people say about Me. I believed I “deserved” it. I believed it was my fault. I believed I was a slut, a fat slag and a whore. There was nobody to tell me any different.

Why write about this today? I work with vulnerable young people. Sometimes their stories mirror my past. Sometimes their experiences remind me of a life once lived, a pain once felt, a shame once worn. The sadness in them reaches the sadness in Me. The story may be theirs but the pain stays the same.Their story may change but the narrative hasn’t moved. When you are sexually assaulted, when you are raped,you are put on trial. You. Not your assailant. Only you.

You who were drunk, who wore a short skirt, who walked down a dark alley, who took a lift from a friend, who didn’t say “No”, who did say “No”, who screamed “No”! You are the slut, the whore, the “asking for it girl”. You are responsible. You are to blame.

I don’t often think about that night anymore. Except when I do. Now I feel nothing but compassion for the lost girl I once was. My shame is no more. I learned that it does not belong to Me and I have handed it back to where it came from. My shame serves me no purpose anymore. I cannot change what happened to me all those years ago but I try and change what is happening to others now. The lost girl in me grew up to be a fierce woman, with a passion to facilitate change. Change in myself and change in others, so when I come across a vulnerable young person in the work that I do and their story resonates with mine, I can listen, I can soothe, I can be a safe place, and I can teach.

Teach that No means No! Teach that being drunk, wearing a short skirt, walking home alone, is not some kind of code for being sexually available. Teach that consent matters. It matters more than anything. I wish that someone had taught it to me, and more importantly to the 17 year old boy who didn’t listen to Me when I said No.

If we don’t teach it, who will?

 

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Why Consent Matters.

This week in Ireland, a man in his 20’s received a 7 year suspended sentence for repeatedly raping his live in girlfriend while she was sleeping. A suspended sentence. No jail time, no punishment to fit the crime. Sure, didn’t he admit what he had done. Sure doesn’t he have another girlfriend who testified in his defence. He is nothing but the perfect boyfriend, says she. Perfect, indeed.

I lay awake last night beside my boyfriend wondering what my life would be like if he did not understand the concept of consent. What if he did not know the meaning of the word? What if nobody taught him what it meant? What if he knew but didn’t care?

I tried to imagine what it would feel like to go through my days and my nights knowing that I was someone’s property, to do with as they pleased, whenever, wherever they so desired. The more I thought about it, the sadder I became.

What does anyone of us understand about consent? Did any of us have a class in school on the topic? Did any one of us have a parent sit us down when we first became interested in the opposite sex and teach us that this is the most important bit of it all? That consent has to come before everything that we decide to share with another person? Consent must come first. Did they? I doubt it. Nobody taught it to me.

I never knew that it was OK to say “NO”. Honestly, I didn’t. Nobody took the time to sit me down and explain what consent was. Nobody told me that if something didn’t feel right, if I did not want to do something, I had the right to walk away. To say, “No Thanks”, and to not be afraid of making someone angry, of not giving them what they want, of him writing disgusting things about you on the school bathroom wall, because that was his failing, that was his shortcomings, that they had nothing to do with me. That I was strong, I was entitled to say “NO”, and I should never, ever feel ashamed for this. Ever.

I wish they had.

I am a grown woman now, who has learned to say “NO”. It has taken years and even though it is uncomfortable and out of my comfort zone a lot of the times, I manage it. This may displease the person receiving my “NO”, but hey, call it the beauty of being middle aged, it is not as scary as it once seemed.

Imagine not being given the chance to say “NO”. Imagine being raped while you slept by your boyfriend with whom you share a home, a life. Seriously, try to imagine it. How utterly helpless would you feel? How confused, ashamed, angry, sad? How responsible? I know, right? You are thinking, “responsible”? How on earth should any of us feel responsible for something that we have no control over? Responsible for someone else’s violating actions? We didn’t consent. How are we the ones who should feel responsible?

How on earth can we not? We as women are taught how not to get raped.

Don’t wear “slutty” clothes.

Don’t drink too much.

Don’t walk home alone.

Don’t flirt.

Don’t behave “suggestively”.

I could go on and on and on.

I have lost count of mothers whom I know that have sons yet blame the girls for “leading them on”, because they are arriving to the rugby club discos in short skirts. How very dare they, they cry! The girls are “aggressive”, the girls are the “problem”, poor Johnny is going to be lead astray and it will be the girls fault!

During conversations like this I find myself taking lots and lots and lots of deep breaths. Would it be easier to agree? Sure, it would. I am raising a teenage boy for goodness sake. I would love to blame the girls for his hours on snapchat and the hole in the ozone layer that he is making with his bloody Lynx spray, but what kind of a hypocrite would that make me? Nobody protected me when I was his age. I believed that if I said “NO”, I would be be blamed for drinking too many Ritz, sure wasn’t I drunk? Wasn’t I wearing a short skirt? Wasn’t I gagging for it? Wasn’t I just a slag?

Am I the only parent on the planet seeing the big ass elephant in the room all these years?? Surely I can’t be. Surely other parents can see that we are failing our daughters by not teaching them about consent but even more than that, we are failing our sons?! WE NEED TO TEACH OUR SONS ABOUT CONSENT. We are failing them time and time again when we pat ourselves on the back for giving them condoms, thinking we are being 21st century parents by being so “liberal”, but thinking nothing of what their understanding of a healthy relationship might look like, and believe you me, if you are not teaching them, they are learning it off every porn sight accessible to them on their phones, and from each other who have also learned it off another porn sight and on and on it goes.

We have a massive, mind-blowing responsibility to teach our boys that real life is not what happens in the porn world. This exists only for a profit. It exploits and it hurts. Girls do not look like porn stars in real life, nor should they be expected to behave as such.

We have a massive, mind-blowing responsibility to teach our girls that it is OK not to look like porn stars and it is OK not to feel like they have to act like one. This is where I believe we need to begin. This is where I believe the learning needs to come from. Not by teaching our girls how not to get raped, but by teaching all our kids about consent and demystifying our porn industry for the smoke and mirrors that it is and coming back to real, tangible, healthy relationships and how they and us, and everyone go about being in one.

Maybe this is how we protect ourselves from being in a relationship, loving someone, sharing a home with them and being repeatedly raped as we sleep. That guy didn’t know a damn thing about consent and his girlfriends life is forever changed by this fact.Nobody taught him that being in a relationship does not mean that he had the right over his girlfriends body. While she slept!!! I know for sure that I will not be a parent who does not teach my son about consent. This I believe is the corner stone for teaching him about what a relationship should be like and in keeping any women he chooses to share his life with as safe as he can. 

All of us deserve to feel safe, respected, loved. This is the only way that I know how to achieve this. Lets start the conversation with our kids. Lets do more than the pill and a packet of condoms. Lets teach them about consent so that no person need ever feel unsafe in their bed, ever again.


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And then it was 3.

I am 3 years cancer free today. 3 years post what has to be the scariest thing that has ever happened to me. 3 years since the debilitation that was the surgeries and the toxins, the exhaustion and the fear. When I was sick I worried that I wouldn’t make it past 3 months, let alone 3 years so I am happy today. Quietly grateful. Respectful of those who have not been so lucky, and of those who are still in the midst of their own personal hell.
It can be tricky, this “after cancer” business. There is little to prepare oneself for how it feels, how it fits, how it confuses, how it requires us to hang on for dear life until the boat stops rocking. This does not happen immediately after the first clear scan. At least for me, this was not the case. I was caught in the middle of joy and panic, relief and fear, love and hate, admiration and envy. It is a tough place to be.
Expectations of others weighed heavily on me. Everyone has been touched by this disease. I defy you to find someone who hasn’t. Some of us live and some of us don’t. The weight of other people’s loss, for me, was huge. Guilt was strong in me. Survivors guilt, if you will. Navigating feelings of fear and loss, of anger and frustration was challenging for fear of being thought of as selfish for not being more grateful for having survived something that not all of us do. Who do you tell when you feel this way? What do you say without sounding ungrateful?
This was my permanent state of being for at least 18 months after this day 3 years ago. I felt like a horrible person. Of course I was happy, relived, grateful. Of course I knew others had not been so lucky but I was also scared, angry, lost, confused, my body recovering from the onslaught of abuse this disease requires to survive, and I have to say, it was the loneliest of times.
The good news about the passing of years is that it takes a lot of these feelings and makes them smaller, more manageable, easier to navigate. The fear lessens, the anger too. You have days that you do not think of your cancer, then these days can turn into a week, sometimes two or three at time. It is the loveliest realisation to have, these “forgetting your cancer” periods. They make you smile, feel fearless, grateful, blessed. You realise you are making plans again, about your life, your happiness and it feels good. Boy, does it feel good.
I spent the weekend with someone I love doing things that I love to do. I surfed, I swam, I ate, I drank. I tried oysters for the first time and met new people. All new things, new experiences. I had moments being rocked by the most unbelievable feelings of gratitude and joy. I made it.
I made it through the loneliest place on earth and I am finally feeling like I am back home where I belong. I am a different me, a more bloody tired me, but hey, I am here. I am here and I am present and I am loved and I am happy. I am so deeply grateful for getting the chance to keep on living and I plan to allow myself be reminded of this each and every day.
Happy 3 years cancer free day to Me.


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Farewell my friend.

My friend died. Just like that. Gone in the blink of an eye.

I loved my friend. I still do, probably always will. He was larger than life, funny, kind, wise, musical & he loved fiercely. I like to think that over the 20+ years that we knew each other, he loved me fiercely too. He didn’t always agree with my choices but that never stopped him from being on my side. I lost my way for a while some time ago but he never lost sight of me. When I was sick he bombarded my time line on FaceBook with funny videos and never stopped telling me that everything would be OK. He was right.

He touched so many people across so many walks of life. This was his way. An actor, a DJ, a radio star, a lover, a son, a friend, to oh so many of us. He leaves a huge hole in so many lives. He leaves a huge hole in mine. Only last Friday did he post one of his funny videos on my wall. I like that. I like that towards the end I was in his thoughts.

I will miss you Mr.Berns. We all will. The world just got a little smaller today.
All my love, my love. xx


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Bonnie and Clyde.

When I was sick with cancer I had this fear that took up residence inside of me. This fear kept me awake at night for months not being able to sleep without the light on. I couldn’t breathe. My heart would beat wildly and I would allow my mind go to the places that none of us like to visit. What if I died? Who would love my boy? Would I be missed? Have I been happy in my life, really happy?
The further I got from my first all clear scan, the less I felt this fear. Life is good that way. Time does heals most things, you just have to wait it out.

Last night this fear returned. Full force. My heart is still racing, my light is still on and I feel vulnerable. My sleep was broken, my dreams scattered and as much as I love to run, I just cannot make my legs work.

Fear is a bitch. Anxiety too. Together they are like the Bonnie and Clyde of my feelings. All go, all passion, driven, focused, never giving in. Even in the light of day they stay, taunting me, laughing at me, filling my head with all kinds of nonsense.

When I was sick I wrote. Blog after blog. It was the only way that I could calm myself, purge myself, help myself. After I was sick life happened and I needed this purging less and less. Why is it now that this fear returns? Someone close to me is sick. Sick how I was sick. Maybe her fear is becoming mine? Maybe the all clear bubble has burst? Maybe this is normal? (God, I pray to be normal, whatever that means). Last night sucked. It sucked big. My Bonnie and Clyde causing all sorts of trouble. To me, to my head, my heart, my soul. “Just breathe”, I keep telling myself. Whatever you do don’t forget to breathe…

Writing helps. My heart beats a little slower. Breathing too, it calms the nerves. I know exactly what it is I am afraid of. I have always known. Maybe a post for another day. Today I just want to ease the fear. Today I wish it to take a back seat so that I can be loving, kind and patient with those I love. I wish to get the most out of my day, and somehow get these legs of mine to work so I can do the best thing I know to rid myself of these feelings. I need to run. I need to move. I have been able to outsmart Bonnie and Clyde before. Why not today?


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When your best isn’t good enough.

My son is 13. I tell him all the time that as long as he does his best he will be happy. Things will work out. He will be OK. I tell him this because I really believe it to be true. It is what I try to accomplish in all that I endeavour to achieve and I throw myself into whatever it is with all of my heart, all of the time. When something does not go my way or turn out the way I had hoped, usually I can retrace my steps and see where I possibly missed a bit or didn’t give something my full attention, and this I can always learn from, carrying it forward, improving all of the time. I teach my son this when he is disappointed with an outcome. I teach him to look at the situation, be honest about his effort and see where, if any, the areas that may need to be improved upon. Usually in both my life and in his this is enough. Usually upon reflection we can see what needs to be made better. Usually this is enough in dealing with the let down, and usually we can move on without any regrets.

Usually.

My son is 13. He has not had enough life experience to know what I know,to know how it feels, really feels, to come up short and have no idea why. I throw myself heart and soul into something, give it my very best shot and still come up short. Still lose out, still hurt, still end up on the wrong side of the street. Try as I may I cannot see where I tripped up, what I missed, didn’t see, didn’t hear. How do I prepare him for that? Will he think me untrue? After all, it is me who keeps telling him, and myself, that as long as you do your best all will be well. What happens if I stop believing this?

What happens when your best isn’t good enough?
How on earth do you reconcile yourself with that?


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This cannot be our way.

So here’s the thing. I don’t care much for Joan Burton and her politics. She has, in my opinion, launched what feels like a personal attack on lone parents this year, of which I am one. I also don’t ever pretend to know a lot about politics, so if you have mistaken this for some kind of political broad cast, then I would stop reading, now.

What I do know a lot about is people. Mostly because I am one, and a lot to do with my education and the work that I do for a living. It is my job to empower, to lead by example and to do my very best to facilitate change in young people who have been let down, by their parents, their schools, society, and very often themselves. I believe completely and utterly that each and every one of us has this responsibility no matter what the job we do and no matter what number, or not number of kids we have.

Those of you who know me and who take the time to read the words I throw together will probably have figured out I only do this when something is bothering me. It’s like my 21st century diary. I have, and will always use written words to explore my feelings, to make sense of them, and in return make sense of myself. What I find most challenging is making sense of others but today I am going to give it my best shot.

During the summer I had a run in with Irish water meter protestors that left me scared and anxious for weeks. This happened on my own property, in front of my son with only one neighbour coming to my assistance. I was verbally abused by ten grown men old enough to be my Granddad and physically shoved by one of them. They claimed to be “peacefully protesting’. They deemed it fit to speak for me and refuse the installation of my water meter, bullied and scared me back into my own home when I chose to stand up for myself. These men roared obscenities at me and took photos of me on mobile phones without my permission. I was a woman on my own without anyone to protect me, and it scared the pants off me.

Yesterday in Jobstown a much grander version of this happened. Like her or not, a woman was held hostage in her car while an angry, aggressive mob refused to give her passage. I cannot imagine how frightening that must have been, for anyone at anytime. It could be your Mother, sister, daughter, friend neighbour. It could be you. It most certainly could be me. Again.

Is this how we deal with things now? Is this where our anger leads us? Off down a path of no return with our children and grandchildren watching, taking note and keeping score. Is this what we really think will bring about change? Really?

We are all hard done by in this country of ours. We have been savaged by our governments and we have a right to how we are feeling, yet it pains me to see what we are becoming. How was what happened yesterday, or what happened to me a “peaceful protest”? Have we become so numb to the violence and destruction that is pumped into our homes on a daily basis that we have now reached the same place? Violence begets violence. Hatred the same. Surrounding a car with people inside and flinging bricks cannot be something to celebrate. Can it?

Where will it end? When will people feel like they have gotten their pound of flesh? When someone dies? When our children who are following our lead are the next ones out of the gate? When?

I don’t have the answers. I wish I did. What I do know is that we, the Irish people, full of saints and scholars are better than this. Much better. And I hope and pray that this ends before it’s too late. Before our actions cannot be reversed, and from what I can see of late, we are closer to that than we think.


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Breaking the frame.

When I was training to be a psychotherapist there was a term that was frequently used by those who trained me. “Breaking the frame”. This is used to describe when something intentionally or unintentionally is done by the therapist that does damage to the therapeutic relationship. Say you had a client coming to you who you knew to be angry by the way they carried themselves, the way they spoke, looked,by the way they made you feel. Say this client believed themselves to be the very opposite of angry, almost angelic. They were completely unaware of their anger, or just too afraid to deal with it. Try as you may to create space for the anger the client came week after week unable to have the awareness that the anger was the one thing blocking all other things. This can take it’s toll both on the client and on you, the therapist, hoping each week that the space you create will be enough. You speak about what goes on for yourself in supervision in the hope of doing no damage to the therapeutic relationship you are trying to maintain. Sometimes this is enough to hold the space. Sometimes working on yourself allows the client to move forward, and then sometimes it is not. Something happens either to you or to the client, and the anger that has been floating around comes to the surface and all hell can break loose. Your client, depending on how much they have the ability to cope with their reality, may in some cases never return, or it can be the very best thing that can happen, outing their rage and giving them a whole new perspective.Either way this is a huge risk. Either way a lot is asked of client and of therapist, with neither knowing the outcome. This is called “Breaking the frame”.

Last weekend a frame in my life was smashed into a million little pieces. This frame belonged to a loved one, and it belonged to me. We have both held this frame very tightly since I was a little girl, neither of us daring to break it for fear of what may come to pass. The thing about holding onto something so tightly is that sooner or later it will crack under pressure. Nothing, or no one can sustain pressure forever. The break came in the blink of any eye, so fast neither of us noticed it had dropped, and when it smashed into a million little pieces neither of us could take it back up off the floor and put it back where it belonged. That’s the thing about things we break, they are never really the same after we glue them back together, and worse than that, sometimes the breaks cannot be fixed.

I am sitting here today with all these broken pieces sitting in my lap and I have no idea what to do with them. “Put them back together”, some might say, but do I really want to restore the frame I had? The frame that was held so tightly I could barely breathe for most of my life. This is where the courage comes. The courage required of both parties when the frame gets broken, and in this one person may have more courage than the other. I cannot know what my loved one will do, all I have is my side of the street. What do I want my side of the street to look like? Will it be scattered with broken frames, or will I choose to have it clean and clear?

I know which one I will choose. I am weary of frames that take too my of my weight to bear. Maybe this is the freedom I have been been seeking lately. Maybe it is time to let go. Let go and have the courage to break more frames. As scary as it is maybe this is where my happiness lies.


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Am I a bad friend?

Friendships don’t come easy to me. Never have. I struggled socially as a teenager always trying to fit in but never quite making the cut. I watched as other girls joined groups effortlessly and try as I might I always ended up on the outside looking in. In hindsight I believe I took up too much space. I needed too much from people and maybe that scared them away. It wasn’t like I was trying to make people dislike me, I just didn’t have the self awareness back then to really get who I was and to really understand the way that I worked.
I spent most of my 20’s in self destruct mode. I was lonely. I was sad. I didn’t like myself very much so I tended to attract people who were just like me. For a long time, in these relationships I found safety, a solace of some kind. Like attracts like after all and I felt understood for some time.
When I moved back to Ireland in my 30’s to raise my now 13 yr old son, that old feeling of aloneness returned. I found it very challenging to make friendships, to find people with common ground, to feel like I fit in after 12 years away from my homeland. It was only when I went to college to study psychotherapy did I finally begin to understand how I worked, and I finally began to make relationships that were not just based on like attracting like. I began to open up and to trust myself and more importantly trust others. I have made some lovely friendships since this time, some that have lasted and some that have not.
Lately that old feeling of aloneness is creeping back in. The trust I had in myself is slipping and I have no idea why or any clue how to stop it from happening. I am turning inwards, not sharing, not speaking up, just spending heaps of time by myself feeling lost. I don’t have huge numbers of friends. Lately I envy those who do. I have tried to surround myself with lots of women but it never really works for me. Those feelings of never quite being good enough come back so I tend to stay close to a few. In this I wonder am I too much? Do I need too much? Demand too much? Expect too much?
What is the difference between a balanced friendship and one that is one sided?
What do I bring to the table and should I have more friends? My goodness I feel like I am 16 all over again writing this, except I am not. I am 44.
When does the comfortable with my lot come? Does it ever? Maybe I am too self aware for my own good, or maybe I am perfect just the way I am. The measure of a person surely isn’t how many friends one acquires but the quality of the friendships one does have.
Right?


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Lone Ranger

This morning one of my neighbours, I have no idea who, referred to me as a “Lone Ranger”. This was in relation to my recent run in with Irish Water meter protesters that stopped Irish Water from installing a meter in my home when I had given them permission to do so.I was live on air challenging the men who intimidated me both physically and verbally when this neighbour of mine, anonymously texted in.

Lone Ranger.

That’s the guy with the horse, Silver, Hi Hoing all over the place, right? But I know how this neighbour was implying it and exactly what they meant.

I have two schools of thought on this. My first thinking, my very first reaction when the text was read out to me, and all the thousands that listen, was one of aloneness. After all, calling someone “lone” anything implies that you are all on your own, over there in the corner all by yourself, not a part of the collective massive (my neighbours), and that in and of itself can be a very difficult place to be.

This aloneness is not unfamiliar to me. I am by definition a “lone” parent. That means I parent all by myself, all of the time, and with this comes loneliness that you wouldn’t believe. This way of being forces me to dig deep, to strive hard, to stand my corner, fight my ground. This way of being makes me fiercely independent, incredibly passionate and extremely opinionated about things that need to be challenged and need to be changed. Does this make me different to some? I suppose it does. I am never content in sitting on my heels allowing someone to speak for me. I could never get a good night sleep if I was afraid to speak my truth. Does this alienate me from some people? I would be lying to say that it didn’t and even a bigger liar if I said it didn’t hurt sometimes being this way.

My life, that Monday in question would have been a lot easier if I had stayed in my home and allowed a group of people dictate what happened on my property. My life would have been a lot easier if I had not put myself in harms way. My life would have been a lot easier if I had decided to not involve the Gardai, not spoken up to my neighbours, not written my blog post, not gone on 96FM, and not have challenged the lies spoken about me and the incident this morning. Instead of all of those really difficult things I could have shut my curtains, shut my mouth and my neighbours wouldn’t have to text in to radio shows calling me names. But here is the thing. I would rather not live at all if I had to live my life being afraid of what other people think of me. Does it hurt when I am not invited to the party? Of course it does but that is a hurt I can live with. The hurt that is a million times worse is that voice inside that screams in pain when I am not being true to who I am. That pain is unbearable. That pain does the most damage, both to me and to those I choose to love. I would rather be a Lone Ranger a million times over than spend one second allowing the crowd decide for me, and if I have to keep shouting and keep fighting for what I believe in, then so be it.

To the neighbour who called me a Lone Ranger, I say Thank you. Thank you for seeing in me the ability to take a stand even when it is scary. Even when it is lonely and yes, even if I am the only one.
I will be able to sleep soundly tonight in the knowledge that I took a stand and that is more important to me than ever following a crowd.

Hi Ho Silver!