Live to Eat Well, Exercise, Be Well in Mind and Body

Rebuilding My Relationships After Assault and Trauma


Health and wellness hinges on relationships. In recent mortality studies, researchers have discovered that loneliness is twice as dangerous as obesity and has comparable health outcomes to those of a pack-a-day smoker. In greater numbers than ever before, people are literally dying of a broken heart.

The loss of connection with my family and friends, or the complete annihilation of once thriving relationships, has been the most heartbreaking fallout from my heartache and trauma. I’m far more sad about the loss of my relationships than about my fifteen pound weight gain. As part of my reconstruction, I am relearning to be in relationship and community with other people, because I know that my health and well-being is largely dependent on the healthy relationships I build and maintain with other human beings. I am relearning to do simple things like respond to emails and texts – which I got really good at avoiding for a long time. I’m finding it easy and pleasant to build new friendships in Montana, but redeeming fractured relationships is more emotional and more difficult, especially from far away.


Sadly, there are relationships that can never be fixed. Just yesterday, I discovered that one of my favorite humans in the world, a kindred spirit if I ever had one at work, passed away in September. And I didn’t even know. I kept telling myself that when I was better, when I had something good to say, when I had a good job, when I was happy, then I would call, I would email, I would visit. Before we lost touch, he confessed his sadness and depression to me at being sick and being lonely. And I did nothing; felt like I had nothing to offer. Now he is gone and I will never get the chance to tell him how much he meant to me and how much I loved him. I can only bottle my tears and cast them into the ever-churning sea of life and death, hoping my message will reach him somehow. I would tell him, first, that I am sorry.

I am sorry. I want to say this to so many people. Foremost, I want to say this to my uncle, one of my favorite humans in the world, who has been increasingly sick for over three years now. A second father to me, he has loved me so wonderfully, without condition. And consumed with my own grief, I abandoned him to his sickness and sadness. Same story. I kept telling myself that when I was better, when I had something good to say, when I had a good job, when I was happy, then I would call, I would email, I would visit. Until then, I had nothing to offer. Then I woke up to find that years had passed while I chanted that mantra; wasted years. Fortunately, I will see him next week, and this time, I will get to tell him everything that he means to me and how much I love him. I will tell him, first, that I am sorry. No excuses.

For me, I think “I am sorry” is easier than “I forgive you”. Because more often than not, I find myself trying to say “I forgive you” to people who never asked for forgiveness and probably never will. Or I am faced with the task to having to say “I forgive you” to people who apologized, but…long is the laundry list of excuses, which makes it hard to identify the apology in the midst of the bullshit. On the night of my assault, alone in a third world country, I sent an email to a handful of friends – a cry for help. Some of them never responded. Some of them responded once, but rarely spoke to me ever again, so great was their need for normalcy. Others, given their own difficult life circumstances, just had no capacity to carry my sorrow. Trauma, be it your own or someone else’s, rocks the boat. And people don’t like to have their boats rocked.

I felt so alone. “Traumatized people feel utterly abandoned, utterly alone, cast out of the human and divine systems of care and protection that sustain life. Thereafter, a sense of alienation, or disconnection, pervades every relationship, from the most intimate familiar bonds to the most abstract affiliations of community and religion.” (Trauma and Recovery, Pg. 52) And so it began, the slow and gradual death of connection. Regardless of how easy it is or not, forgiveness (both the giving and receiving) is essential to my reconstruction, and must be a conscious practice that I engage in daily.


But my story is not without its heroes – those handful of people who, in one way or another, donned their invisible capes and went above and beyond the call of duty to love me and help me, even when I was a miserable wretch. I don’t think I’ve been able to fully acknowledge them and thank them yet. Today would be a good day to start.

Amber Cruz, my best friend since age 13, who tirelessly sat with me in my ashes as I wept for almost three years, and rescued me from homelessness on a handful of occasions. My cousin Nicole Shaw, who also sat with me in my ashes and took me into her home and supported me for three months post breakup and assault while I found work. Those handful of friends, mostly new ones from DC, and one old one from Colorado, who had the nearness and strength of heart to sit with me in my ashes, let me weep, showed me great love and compassion, and invited me to join them in the land of the living through fitness, dance, food, sledding, yoga, mountaineering, and more: Paul Boehman, Candice Brinkman, Nina Elliot, Michelle Pascucci, Rachel Trego, and Tyler Miller. Jed Johnson, my big redneck brother, whose physical girth is only surpassed by his breadth of compassion and generosity. He bought me my car and cared for my parents when I couldn’t. My former boss, Annette Burrhus-Clay, Executive Director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, who answered my late night phone call from a little bedroom in Roatan, Honduras and told me it was not my fault. She would later refer and recommend me to my current job, welcoming me back into the work and movement to end violence again women, now more near and dear to my heart than ever before. To each of you I say, “Thank you.”


While I intend to devote a considerable amount of time to my fitness endeavors in this new year, it must be padded with the spaciousness to build and rebuild relationships with the people I love. Love, let it always be my priority. To each of my friends and family members reading this, I send you my love.

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