Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Practice What You Preach

There is a skill in DBT that is used for distress tolerance, where a person uses techniques to help themselves feel better in the moment. Yesterday, I was speaking with a colleague regarding the skill of taking a brief vacation, and how it can be a difficult skill for some to use. The idea is to take brief vacation from whatever is bothering you, so that distress can come down, and when you come back to it, emotions are less intense and you feel more regulated.
In skills group, we give examples of going for a drive, or day-dreaming, or even shutting down your cell phone for a day. When we bring up "disconnecting" from our phones, people often speak about how this will cause a rise in their distress because "I do everything on my phone" or "I feel naked." In a recent group, someone shared that they had used this technique without knowing it, when they went away and could not use their cell phone. They spoke about how in the moments before shutting down, they experienced a great deal of anxiety and began ferociously texting everyone they could before powering off, and then a sense of emptiness as they put their phone away. These intense emotions were followed by two weeks of actually connecting with the people around them.
I often stand up at the front of the skills group and speak about how useful this skill can be.  I make the point that "there was a time when cell phones didn't exist… and people survived. Taking a break from your cell phone, or taking a brief vacation in general, can allow us to experience our lives in a way that we haven't in a long time, and it often forces us to become more mindful."
Yesterday afternoon, I left my cell phone in my friend's car.  In a matter of minutes, I was experiencing all the anxieties that many of my skills members talk about when we bring up this skill. By the time I realized I didn't have it, my heart was pounding and I was trying to retrace my steps to the last time I remembered holding it in my hand. The thought that I had just lost an expensive "lifeline" sent me into frenzy, and I borrowed my girlfriend's cell phone to call my co-worker. Once I knew my phone was safe in my colleague’s possession, the fearful thoughts died down a bit, and I used a little radical acceptance that I wouldn't have it until the morning.
I sat at the kitchen island and became very mindful of all the time this little device strips away from my life, as well as how much power I put into that thing! My thoughts starting churning at warp speed: "How am I going to wake up in the morning? I have a routine every morning; this is totally going to throw me off. What if someone needs to reach me? What am I going to do with myself???" There was a rise in the panic in my chest, and then my Wise Mind kicked in to assure me this is exactly what I need. "Now maybe you can get a blog post written. You can enjoy your morning cup of coffee completely and fully. You can take a longer shower, or make a nicer lunch. You can take a mini-vacation before work."
It turns out; my phone takes up a lot of my time in the morning. I wake up every day 3 hours before I have to be at work. I enjoy my morning time to leisurely get ready for my day. I write, read the news, check my emails and bank statements, scroll through social media, and more often than not, I have a little time to play Bubble Shooter. Without my phone distracting me, I have the opportunity to actually sit down and write a post for my blog that I have wanted to do for an entire year, but have felt too busy, or uninspired, or overwhelmed, or distracted to write.
Just as I mention to my group members, sometimes by taking a brief vacation, you actually come back to the moment feeling refreshed, more motivated, and sometimes more accomplished. I feel like the Universe was sending me a message when I mindlessly left my phone in my friend's car:
 "Practice what you preach, Kate."












Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Other Side

I woke up this morning in a bit of a panic. I don't usually write about hard core issues plaguing our world, but given the past week's events with the election, and what I'm hearing on the news and social media, I felt compelled to write my thoughts down.  For the last few days, I have sat with the fear and anxiety of "what's to come." I have been fearful that my rights as an LGBT American will be taken away, fearful of what our country will look like if protests become more violent, fearful of what the next four years will look like for my nieces and nephews. Fearful for the people I know that are undocumented, or women, or black, or Muslim and what they will have to face as our next President takes office.  I fear the divide and uncertainty of what is to come.
But as I sat up in bed this morning, thinking about what I could do to change these fears and be part of the population to shift the perspective, I realized I have been placing a lot of blame and judgment like so many of those I have seen on social media.  I've witnessed people severing friendships based on who they voted for, people making hateful comments towards those who don't hold the same viewpoint, and people placing blame on others out of fear, disgust, and anger. In the wee hours of the morning, I made a commitment to myself.  "I need to see the other side."

In DBT, it's all about seeing the other side.  It's all about the balance between acceptance and change. Regardless of what side we all stand on politically, it is our responsibility to see the other side so that we can bring each other to the middle ground.   If we all stay stuck in our extreme points of view, just so we can "be right,"  we will never be happy. If our sole purpose is to let the other side know how much we disagree with their standpoint, we are simply fueling the fire.
Let me be very clear before I move on.  Choosing to see the other side does not mean I like all their opinions and beliefs.  This does not mean I condone the ideas of taking away rights and making sweeping generalizations about any given group.  I most definitely do not.  However, I can accept their opinions and beliefs and not like it.  This is the dialectic.

When I run our DBT skills training, one of the key points we go over are the DBT Assumptions.  People who tend to commit to our group are those who have a very difficult time regulating their emotions, which often can lead to a life of misery. (This I know first hand) The goal of DBT is to have  Life Worth Living, and there are often old habits that can really get in the way.  So, the brilliant Marsha Linehan (who developed DBT) came up with these assumptions to help people in the groups gain some acceptance and structure before the skills are even taught. An assumption is a belief that cannot be proved, but we agree to abide by it anyway. I use these assumptions in my everyday life, and at this moment in time, I'm needing them more than ever to access my own skills.

1. People are doing the best that they can.
If we as a collective were able to come to an agreement, that at any given time, people were doing the best that they can, would it allow us to have some forgiveness and acceptance? I know for me, when people aren't doing exactly what I think they should be doing, saying this allows me to let go of my expectations and release judgment.  If people are doing the best that they can, I make the assumption that this is all they know...right now.

2. People want to improve.
In general, people want to improve their lives and be happy.  This includes those people on the other side of our own political views.  They believe, as much as those of us on the opposing end, that things need to improve in this country.  We may not understand it, but it is as real for them, as our dreams to improve this country.

3. People need to do better, try harder, and be more motivated to change.
#1 and #2 are not a free pass in my eyes.  As Ms. Linehan says, "the fact that people are doing the best they can and want to improve, does not mean these things are enough to solve the problem." This goes for all of us.  If we don't make every effort to work harder towards the change we want, things remain the same.  I think I saw this in myself and in others this election season. I shut out the negative comments, turned off the TV when I heard our President-Elect make statements that offended me, looked the other way when people were raising their signs, and all this did was keep me in my own bubble.  I chose not to see the possibility of a divided country because I was "doing the best I could."

4.People may not have caused all our own problems, but we have to solve them anyway.
"People have to change their own behavioral responses and alter their environment for their lives to change."- Marsha Linehan. This is the one I've been struggling with.  I hear so many people saying things like "Well, let's just see what he does." And this just does not sit well with me.  While I turned a blind eye to the negativity of the campaigns, if I choose to sit back and let rights be taken away and the divide in this country expand, then I am part of the problem and not the solution. On the other side, I wholeheartedly believe that people who voted for our President-elect, believe in his way of solving problems. This is hard for me to come to grasps with, so I am tryin to look at it from a place of "there are people in this country who see things as problematic and needing to be solved." 

5. All behaviors (thoughts, actions, emotions) are caused.
There is always a cause, even if we do not know what it is.
Just as I have sat for days thinking "How? Why? What's Next?" people on the other side very well may have felt the same way leading up to the election.  It's not something I understand, but there are reasons for their thoughts, feelings, and actions.  And they are as much human as the rest of us are.

6.Figuring out and changing the causes of behavior work better than judging and blaming.
"Judging and blaming are easier, but if we want to create change in the world, we have to change the chains of events that cause unwanted behaviors and events."
I have to admit, I would love nothing more than to point the finger and blame those with opposing views than my own. But I know that all it will do is incite their anger, and then my own. I don't want to be stuck in a vicious cycle. This is the hardest test of using my nonjudgmental skills. It's very easy to get pulled into the blame game out of fear. But I don't want to live in fear, I want to be a part of a community that gets together and spreads the light of how we can unite and learn from one another. 

What I want more than anything, is to be able to lay in bed at night with the woman I love, and rest easy knowing that our rights are as much protected as our white heterosexual neighbors.  I want to be able to look my friends in the eye who voted for an opposing party, and understand what it is they want to see change in this world.  I want to gather with people who clearly see the extremes in this country, and work together to find the balance.  Whether you choose to buy into the idea that there is truth in both sides, is completely up to you, but I would like to find the dialectic, I'd like to see the other side...and work towards synthesis, peace, and unity.



Sunday, June 12, 2016

Too Close for Comfort

As I sat down this morning, with my coffee in hand and opened the news on my phone, my heart sank at reading yet another report of gun violence. "Approximately 20 dead in Florida club shooting, 49 injured." Yesterday, the report was of an up and coming singer shot and killed while she was signing autographs after a show. In the past, these news stories would certainly have been a topic of conversation in my world, but these days the topic of gun violence sends a chill down my spine that wasn't there a year ago.
These days, I hear of gun violence and it makes my heart hurt. I feel my blood run cold and anger rises up through my stomach into my throat.  Tears burn my eyes and my breath quickens. I am sickened by the tragedies on the news related to what is often reported as "senseless acts of violence." I'm not sure we can call them senseless anymore though.  Our gun laws have provided people with the rational that they have every right to walk into a nightclub, or an event, or even their own home, and take someone else's life.
A year ago, I'm not sure I would have been writing a post on my blog that could possibly stir up controversy, but a year ago I hadn't yet lost one of the most important people in my life to gun violence. A year ago, I would have shuddered at reading the news stories I read this morning, but it wouldn't have affected me the way they do today. I certainly wouldn't have decided to sit down at my computer and post anything like this on my blog. Even as I write this, I'm wondering if stating my very strong opinions on this subject is a good idea, but I'm doing it anyway, because I have this public platform and the opportunity to share the pain that resonates in the aftermath of gun violence.
To the people out there who believe that we as Americans should have the right to bear arms, should be able to carry a concealed weapon, should be able to have an arsenal of guns in their homes, or should not have to go through rigorous background checks in order to own a weapon, let me share with you another side of that equation... the pain that accompanies losing someone you love, at the hands of someone who believed the same as you:

At first, the pain is unbearable. It feels as though you have ice water flowing through your veins. You cannot feel the ground beneath your feet, it is as if the earth has disappeared from under you. You cannot hear yourself speak or scream or cry because as the news sinks in, your heart is pumping so hard that it deafens any noise you make. No matter how hard you try, you have images that consume your thoughts of losing your loved one in this brutal manner. You are afraid to close your eyes and at the same time, want desperately to fall asleep so you can wake up from this nightmare. You are awoken in the middle of the night with tears puddling on your pillow, and what feels like fire creeping up your chest. Your arms and legs go numb. You feel as if someone, or something, is stealing your breath.
As the weeks pass on, you feel like you are being drowned in an ocean of sorrow while the tempest of anger swirls through your mind.  Any time your loved one comes to mind, which is often, it is as if your heart is physically being ripped out of your chest through a pin-sized hole. You begin to fear forgetting what they look like, or what their voice sounded like, or how they smelled, and you search fervently for pictures or videos or even their perfume to keep them cemented in your memory.
Months pass, and there is still no sense of peace.  You still wake up in the middle of the night, having dreamt about them, and the loss is even more tangible. You are reminded, yet again, that it was a gun...in the hands of a monster...who created this pain that you will live with for the rest of your life. As more time passes, and nearly a year has gone by, you awaken to reports of mass shootings and murder/suicides. That wound in your heart that you have been tenderly caring for, is ripped open once again, and this time does not just bleed for your own loss, but now is bleeding for the families and friends of these victims, from yet another catastrophe caused by a person who held that gun in their hands and believed that they had the right to take someone else's life. That wound in your heart now bleeds and aches for the pain you know the victim's loved ones will have to live with for the rest of their lives. The pain has multiplied.

Now I know that this is a controversial topic. I know that there are people in this country who own guns and do not turn them on their loved ones, or bring them to a concert with the intent to kill, or bring them into a nightclub to commit a massacre. I know this. I know that there are people in this country whose belief in the right to bear arms is accompanied by wanting stricter gun laws. I know there are all sorts of sides to this that I'm probably not even touching on or aware of. My goal in writing this is not to hold up the dialectical tension of this topic. My goal is to shine the light on the part of this story that will not get the media attention the way the person who committed the crime gets, or the horrific details of the act of violence itself.
This is about how those of us who have been affected by gun violence will never really heal completely. This post is for the loved ones of the most recent tragedies in Orlando, but more specifically for all of us who feel the weight and agonizing grief of losing someone to this type of violence. May peace eventually settle into the cracks in your hearts where the pain currently resides.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

On the Rise


 This afternoon, I had the honor of being the Keynote Speaker at an Education and Employment Luncheon. A couple years ago, I shared the speech I gave as a recipient of the excellence award at this same luncheon, so I thought I would make it a tradition and pass this one along as well. The only thing that could have made this event sweeter, would have been if my former employment specialist was there to hear it. There is no way I would have made it to this point if I hadn't met him...


About five years ago, I sat at this very same luncheon, somewhere near the back of the room, and as close to my employment specialist as possible. I didn’t know many people in the room, and I wasn’t the type back then to just spark up a conversation with strangers. In all honesty, it took some convincing on the part of my employment specialist for me to even come to the luncheon, but he promised that there was going to be an incredible and motivating keynote speaker, and that this was an event that never disappointed.

Back then, I struggled with a lot of anxiety. The head tremor that is hardly noticeable now, drew stares and questions back then. I was terribly self-conscious about myself, and convinced that I was never going to get better.  At that point, I had decided I wanted to start working again, but that negative voice in the back of my head kept telling me that I was too uneducated, too depressed, too unlikeable, and too shaky, for anyone to want to hire me.  Despite my employment specialist and people in my support network telling me otherwise, I truly believed that the only thing I was good at was not being good at anything.

I sat at that luncheon that day, staying quiet and trying to just blend in. When the keynote speaker took the stage, like everyone else in the room, I gave her my full attention. I wasn’t expecting to be so moved, but her speech that day made me realize I was limiting my potential. She spoke of the struggles she had faced in her lifetime, the heartache and obstacles that seemed to follow her around like a black cloud, and ultimately, her decision to stop looking in the rearview mirror of her life, to take back control and pursue her dreams. I remember vividly watching her with tears in my eyes, and jumping to my feet to give her a standing ovation when she finished her speech. My employment specialist had been right. This was an event that did not disappoint.

That quiet young woman who walked into that luncheon unsure of herself and wanting nothing but to blend into the background, walked out of there wanting to change her life.

For the next year, my employment specialist worked tirelessly to help me listen to and find my dreams. He encouraged me in my recovery and pushed me to think outside the box. When there were bumps in the road, he reminded me of the goals I had set for myself, and helped me to figure out how I was going to reach them. He, along with my therapist, my family, and the friends I had made on this recovery journey, were my cheerleaders when the self-doubt would creep in.

In that year, with this incredible circle of support I had built around me, I found something I had been looking for my entire life. I found myself.

I spent the next couple years working with BRS, who even further helped me find my passion and my voice. I started writing a blog about having a Life Worth Living and how I use the skills I learned in DBT, and in life, to continue to recover and move forward. Within months my blog had gained the interest of readers from all over the world and the feedback I received boosted my confidence and belief in myself that I was on the right track. My goals of getting a job expanded to goals and dreams of motivating others with my story. I was able to get an internship with Marrakech as a peer employment mentor, and eventually I was hired permanently for that position. The same agency who had provided me with the most incredible employment specialist and support in finding work, was the same agency that saw my strengths and helped me meet one of my goals. That year, I was asked to speak as a recipient of an Excellence Award at this luncheon.

Once I started gaining traction, I couldn’t stop. I received my certification as a Recovery Support Specialist three years ago. I applied for a job with the state, and I was hired. I have been the Recovery Support Specialist for Young Adult Services here in Stamford, for nearly 3 years now. Not only do I get to work with some of the most incredible young adults I have ever met, but I get to help them along their recovery journey by using my life experience. What they probably don’t know, is that they continue to help me as well. They have taught me patience and compassion, humor and hope, but most importantly, they have taught me about commitment.  That entire table over there is my reminder to never give up.

What the young adults, along with anyone else who knows me will tell you, is that a huge part of my recovery, and now my life, is DBT.  DBT stands for Dialectical Behavioral Therapy and it’s based on the idea of balancing both acceptance and change.  The goal of DBT is to create a Life Worth Living.  It entered my life nearly ten years ago, however it’s effectiveness didn’t sink in for me until I started putting the skills into action, all around the same time that I began to figure out who I was and what I wanted to do with my life.  For the past year, I have been co-facilitating a DBT skills group at my agency, and next week I will complete the intensive Core Clinical Training.

Five years from now, one of you will be up here sharing your success story. You will be honored by the invitation to speak, and you will also wonder if what you have to say or how you say it will affect anyone in your audience. The answer is an unwavering yes. Five years ago, my life course changed when I came to this luncheon. I believe there is a power here, among peers who are working towards their goals, regardless of whether or not they have identified them just yet.

That young woman who sat towards the back of the room five years ago, is not the same woman who is standing before you today. What I know now, but didn’t know then, is that nothing in this world is promised. Life takes unexpected twists and turns, whether we are ready for them or not.  There are choices that we face everyday.  We can choose to be the quiet one in the back of the room afraid to make a move or speak up, or we can choose to be the one who takes a chance, maybe even falls down, but gets right back up and takes the stage.

It is an honor to be present before all of you today. Although there are faces I have not seen, and people I have not met, what I can tell you is I am humbled to be in your presence.  You are all here because you are taking a chance.  You are taking important steps towards education and employment.  You are allowing yourself to be vulnerable and are walking bravely into the unknown. You are exactly where you are supposed to be, and heading directly towards your dreams.

This is the day where we honor you.


Saturday, May 7, 2016

Just Keep Going

I woke up this morning with the need to write. While sipping my morning coffee, all sorts of ideas crossed my mind on what today's post would be about, but once I opened my computer, I just stared at the blank screen with a blank mind. That's not usually how this blogging thing goes for me. I often wake up with an idea, or a topic, or even a title, and I get busy. This morning, however, there are so many topics floating through this head of mine, it's hard to clear out the clutter and know where to begin.
The first topic that crossed my mind was a piggy-back on my last post of letting go of control. I was thinking about Radical Acceptance and how lately it's been a struggle for me.  Just when I think I have completely and totally accepted something, I find myself ruminating about it again, and getting stuck.
Then I thought about how Mother's Day is tomorrow, and writing to celebrate both of my mothers. I thought about this being a post about the deep love and gratitude that I have for these magnificent women,

Now here's something interesting that just happened.  As I was in the middle of typing this blog, my computer started underlining everything I am writing in bold red, as if I am spelling everything wrong, or have some massive run-on sentence happening. (That's not completely rare...for me to have run-on sentences) Maybe this is my computer's way of saying "Girl, this isn't what you are supposed to be writing about!"  So maybe this is a sign. That's what I'm going to take it as.
I'm staring at the screen, trying to figure out what I need to do to fix this problem, I'm distracted by all this red, underlining every word and sentence I write. I'm feeling frustrated, and now judging myself, and wondering if this is going to be the worst blog I've ever written.  "When people read this Kate, it's not going to make any sense. They can't see the red lines. This is just going to be a mish mosh of terribly written, unconnected words."

Maybe, this is supposed to be a blog about the unseen.

When people hear my recovery story, or sometimes a story about myself or my life, I often get the response of "I never would have known!" or "I can't see you as depressed or unhappy, you are always smiling!" or "You struggle with being invalidating and judgmental?" Yes.  Yes I do. Underneath the exterior that I project, is a girl who constantly questions, analyzes, and judges what I put out there. As much as I work on letting go and radically accepting what is, there is a sliver within me that wants to hold on, even if it doesn't serve me well.
I am still in the process of learning the balance. I teter between being incredibly proud and confident of who I am, who I have become and who I strive to be, and beating myself up for my faults. I see-saw back and forth between loving myself to the fullest, and being unsure if I am my most authentic self. I look inward for answers, and I look outward for approval and guidance.

In DBT, one of the assumptions we have is that people are doing the best they can, and people want to do better. We also believe that change only happens when the person wants to change. In writing this blog what I realize is that I can fully accept that I am doing the best I can, and I DO want to do better.  I also realize that what I want to change, is the unseen. I guess this brings me back to the beginning of this post. Radical Acceptance. In order for me to change what no longer serves me, I must radically accept that I am doing the best I can, and I will continue to do better.

This also brings me back to Mother's Day...to honor the two moms who have loved me and encouraged me no matter where I was in my life.  To the two women who have always loved me for exactly who I was in any given moment, and who have pushed me, whether they were aware or not, to be the best version of myself.  To the women who looked past what others could not see, and who showed me how to look at things I could not see in myself.

To Mom, who passed down to me this incredible gift of writing and being expressive, who taught me that giggling at myself is imperative, and who is always impressed with my smallest accomplishments, even when I cannot see them...I thank you and honor you.

To Mamaria, who, no matter how disappointed I was in myself, taught me that disappointment is the place where you learn to forgive and become a better human being.  Thank you for encouraging me to look deeper within myself and for helping me find myself when I was lost. And thank you for giving me a love for laundry that hardly anyone understands.

I'm still staring a full screen of words underlined in red, and I'm totally okay with it. It inspired me to let go of judgments and just keep going.



Saturday, April 23, 2016

Letting Go Of Control

Lately, the Universe seems to be trying to teach me a lesson in control, or rather, a lesson in letting go of control. This theme, has weaved it's way through my everyday interactions in my personal life, my work life, and even in my dreams. For someone who has never thought of herself as a "controlling" person, the Universe has been showing me otherwise.
What I've realized most recently, is that for the last seven or so years, being in control meant that I was doing well. It was the evidence to myself that I was in recovery from the mental illness and symptoms I had struggled with for the majority of my life. Being "in control" meant that I  was in charge of how I reacted, how I moved forward, and how I decided to transform my life. Control meant I was getting better. 
On the opposite side of the spectrum, when I was over my head and completely consumed with the symptoms of mental illness, I felt out of control...powerless...paralyzed. I didn't feel like I was well enough at that point in time to take control of my life, and I allowed the unpredictability of depression, anxiety, and a raging eating disorder to dictate my every move. Seven years ago, control was an outside force that I willingly gave to my very unstable emotions, or anyone I thought who could offer some relief from my suffering.
Recovery, meant taking back control. What the Universe keeps presenting to me, however, is that I sometimes take that valuable lesson to the other extreme. Needing to be in control of situations or interactions doesn't always come from my desire to continue on my Life Worth Living journey, it often comes from fear. Fear that if I let go of control, my whole life and everything I have been working towards will crumble and fall apart. Even though my reasonable and logical mind knows this isn't true, my emotional mind begs to differ.
I woke up this morning reciting the Serenity Prayer in my mind: 
"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference." 
There is a place and time to be in control. And there is freedom in knowing when to let go of it.  I'm working on my awareness of this repeating theme. I can share the control with the people in my life... I don't have to fear that letting go of control in my relationship will lead to disaster. I don't need to dictate how things have to play out in every aspect of life. In fact, I don't actually have that kind of power. Pretending like I do, only distances me from others and farther away from the life I want to have.
So here is the lesson the Universe has taught me recently...There is a balance between being in control, and letting go. Learning to be aware in the present moment, without putting my own expectations and agenda on it, will mean I can see what is needed more clearly. It also means the answer might not reveal itself right then and there. And that's okay. If I am able to let go of the illusion of control, then over time I will be able to the harness the control that I am supposed to have.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Out of sight...On my mind

Today is my thirty-sixth birthday, I've been waiting all day for my best friend to call and remind me that I'm still older than her, and how ridiculous it is that we have been in each other's lives for more birthdays than we have not. I keep expecting the text message from her, affectionately calling me our pet name since high school: "Pookita," letting me know she'll call me when she gets out of work. Today is my thirty-sixth birthday, and my first birthday in twenty three years that I won't hear her voice, or read a text message from her. She is gone from this earth.

I think of her everyday, and feel the weight from the grief of losing her, in moments I least expect. There are moments when my body stops me in its tracks...tears well, the lump in my throat rises, my heart begins to pound, and I feel like the ground beneath my feet has dissolved. It feels like the sadness will never end...because my best friend is no longer here on this physical earth.

I spend a lot of energy fighting this sadness, in fear that I will fall apart and never regain my footing. And I also spend a lot of energy reminding myself that this kind of emotional pain is expected, and justified, and that the last thing my beautiful best friend would ever want to see from heaven is for me to throw away all the hard work I've done and let the sadness of losing her rule my life. It's the last thing I want too. I want to find the balance between the two...experiencing the heartache without being controlled by it. I want to be able to remember her with more smiles than tears.  I know this is possible, and I know it will take time.

Tonight, on my thirty-sixth birthday, I have carved out this little pocket of time to honor the woman who will forever reside in my heart. The tears are falling as I think of twenty three years of birthday wishes, and my smile is beaming with genuine gratitude that I had her in my life for as many years as I did. She may be out of my sight, but she will forever be on my mind.