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Heal [the word for my 2016]



TRIGGER WARNING: This will not be a light post and could trigger a reader who has been through a similar incident. If you or a loved one has been close to a murder, please proceed with caution or skip this altogether.

At the beginning of each year, I choose a word that will shape my actions for the next 365 days. In the past, my words have focused on improving my physical body, career, home or family life. Never have I focused on my mind and soul.

This year my word is “heal.”

I was raised to be scrappy and tough; to fight my way through and not let anything hold me back. I was taught that experiencing emotion was to become dramatic and that only people seeking attention are dramatic. I grew up to be a tough woman who survives great challenges. I also grew up to be a woman who processes emotion poorly. Feeling sad evokes a panic reaction in my body and sets off a cascade of events all leading to another sleepless night.

It’s not the best way to live and certainly not the way I want my daughter to live. So this year my focus is not on my career. It’s not getting in awesome physical shape. It’s not in having a magazine-worthy home. It’s on healing my mind and spirit. This year I am working to unpack past traumas and finally mourn them. As feelings arise I am going to talk about them and learn new ways to process and work through the cascade of emotions that normally knocks me down.


When I was in high school my first “real” boyfriend murdered his family in cold blood. It was a horrific incident that brought national attention to our small southern town. I remember the night so vividly. My family was watching our usual evening television shows when my best friend called.

“You need to go somewhere that you can sit down and close the door,” she said without greeting.

I wandered off to my room and once the door was closed she told me – my ex was being chased by the police and was a suspect in a murder. My parents heard the conversation and within moments the television channel changed and I watched the story unfold in slow motion. The doors were locked and the blinds drawn. Without speaking we hid, terrified that our home would be next.

The details were slow to emerge. His parents bludgeoned to death. His siblings brutally attacked and barely hanging on. A sledgehammer. An ax. A kitchen knife. In the middle of a quiet subdivision where nearly all my friends lived. Off of a quiet road. Blocks from our “excellent” high school.

The police chase ended in a cul-de-sac where the girl who sat in front of me in homeroom lived. The images broadcast over and over again are burned in my memory. A young wild-eyed man, shirtless with satanic symbols scratched into his chest. These images still haunt my dreams.


We never talked about the incident in my house. I was sent to a psychiatrist where I was medicated and told this was not my fault. I was instructed to move on with my life. My mother reminded me that horrible things can happen to anyone and that you never know a person 100%. After several months, I was deemed “healthy” and sent back into the world, my brain a fog of Paxil, unresolved grief, and paralyzing fear.

In time I weaned off the medication and did what I do best – pushed the memory aside. Sometimes a person would bring the murders up and jokingly refer to me as “the girl who dated an ax murderer.” I would brush it aside. “Shit happens,” I’d say. “Life is fucked up.”

My life changed forever that night. I rarely talk about the incident because no one knows how to respond. And how could they? I have only written about it once, in a letter that I never sent. I found the letter last summer while visiting my parents and the floodgates opened. Looking back, finding this letter marked the beginning of my breakdown.

Fast forward to today. I live in a place where “bad shit” happens daily. In fact, this morning we awoke to helicopters circling in pursuit of a man suspected of knifing another to death at the McDonalds down the road. There are constant reminders of how messed up and unsafe our world is.

There are things I see in everyday life that trigger an intense fear reaction. Occasionally I can connect the dots and realize X was causing me to remember Y and that all is actually ok. The bulk of the time, though, I fail to make the connection. All I know is that at one moment my husband is hacking away at a large squash for dinner and suddenly adrenaline surges, my heart goes nuts, hands start to sweat and I begin to spiral, but I don’t have time think about it. I have a family to feed, a child to put to bed, a husband to help, aging cats to take care of so I push it away.

For the past few months, I’ve been paying careful attention to what triggers these feelings and acutely aware of how much this experience has been ingrained into my psyche. I have been practicing love and kindness towards myself when something triggers me. A person sledgehammering a sidewalk at a construction zone. A friend chopping vegetables at lunch. My husband using a saw to repair the house. So many little things bring such an intense feeling of panic and fear. No wonder I’ve been operating in burnout mode for so long.

I know no amount of therapy can erase this and other traumatic experiences from my past, but I do see light at the end of the tunnel for how my body and brain react to triggers. With time and practice I hope to see the man sledgehammering the sidewalk, notice the beginnings of a fear response and then assure myself that in this moment, there is no imminent danger.

I started this post a ball of nervous energy. Frantic after news of a tragic occurrence down the road, scared to drop my daughter back at school after the holidays and terrified to return to an empty apartment for the day. Although writing this has taken up the bulk of my child-free time, I feel like a gigantic weight has been lifted. It is freeing to speak openly about my secret and, dare I say, healing.

Do you have a word for your year? If so, what is it?



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  1. nonsequiturchica #
    January 4, 2016

    Belle, what a terrible story! I can imagine how having someone that you used to date do that to their family would leave quite a traumatizing impression. I hope that you are able to practice telling yourself that you are not in any danger.

    I don’t have a word for 2016, but I think that you have chosen a good word for your year. I’m glad that writing this post helped as well.

  2. Jos #
    January 4, 2016

    Wow, healing. That sounds like the perfect goal for you this year. I hope you are able to process all of those emotions and find some healing and closure in 2016. ((HUGS))

  3. January 4, 2016

    Thank you for sharing this story. What a horrible thing to live through! When I was in my mid-20s, my 19-year-old cousin was murdered and it haunted me for years. The nights were the worse. I was thinking I was finally “over” it (do you ever really get over that, though?), but seeing how your experience has bled into your life today has made me realize that I possibly haven’t moved as far past it as I thought. I still can’t sleep with the bedroom door open to a dark hallway. It’s weird. And difficult to let go.

    I wish you a lot of healing this year, Belle. Healing and peace.

    • January 6, 2016

      The nights are the worst. I think becoming a parent has also brought a lot of it up, too. I fear for Sabine, the choices she will make, the people she will trust. I look at her little friends right now, all innocent and filled with wonder and hilarity, and wonder which will grow up to commit a horrific act. I want to protect her from everyone and everything while still letting her be free to learn and experience. It’s an impossible quest and one that keeps me awake night after night. I am so sorry you have also lived through the trauma of murder. It is an experience unlike any other and one that will remain with us for the rest of our days. I hope we can learn to live with the memories, rather than fight against them. xoxo

  4. January 4, 2016

    Wow. I hope 2016 is full of healing, more than you can imagine.

  5. jaclyn #
    January 4, 2016

    I am so sorry you went through this experience, and I hope the new year brings you peace and serenity.

  6. January 4, 2016

    Holy moly, that’s rough. I’m sorry you had to endure that. It’s truly awful.

    I was sexually assaulted in 8th grade by 3 boys (rescued by two other boys just before being raped) and I NEVER processed it. I went to a counselor later in high school for something totally unrelated, and my parents never suggested I discuss the assault. Not their fault – just odd. To this day, that moment in my life affects much of what I do and how I feel. I don’t hide it from people, but I don’t talk about it either. It’s a strange thing, carrying something so traumatic with you for the rest of your life. It makes me sad that you’re carrying something traumatic as well. 😢

    Calm. That is my word. I failed today, but up until today, I’ve done great. 😵

    • January 6, 2016

      Oh Courtney, I am so sorry to hear about your experience. I can’t imagine how hard intimacy would be after something like that. It makes me sad that our parents never encouraged us to speak about these things, especially given the prolific writers we are! Clearly opening up about things is good for us! I think Calm is a perfect word for 2016 and I don’t think it is something you can fail at, maybe just do a little better some days than others 🙂

  7. January 4, 2016

    I’ve been thinking about my word for a while. I was going to go for Achieve, but that sounded far too clinical. Then I went for Accomplish, but the definition of that was simply ‘to achieve’. I finally settled on Complete.

    I will complete things I start. I will live a complete and whole existence. I will be completely in the moment with the people I love.

    I know you will find a way to heal this year Belle. You deserve it!

    • January 6, 2016

      Oh complete is an excellent word! I, too, need to complete things I start. Maybe I’ll start today with that sewing project I cut out and then hid in the closet! Good luck in your 2016 quest to complete. May 2017 come with no loose strings!

      • January 6, 2016

        Sewing will be a big part of my quest to complete too 🙂

  8. January 4, 2016

    I want to believe that we can heal from things like this, I really do, but I too struggle. Sometimes I’ll feel strong, like it’s all behind me, that I’m in CONTROL. And other times, like almost the entire month of December, it’s like a sickness of anxiety and self-loathing invade my being and no amount of positive thinking can make it go away until it passes on its own. But I won’t stop trying. This year I finally wrote about my big bad secret on my blog and a HUGE weight was lifted, it seemed the entire WP community reached out to give me a hug. I have moments of regret, regret that I revealed myself in that way, but more often I feel relieved, empowered, and hopeful that we can ALL move forward from our trauma as better people and stronger mothers. It’s not easy, Belle, but THIS is the first step. Proud of you for taking it.

    • January 4, 2016

      Hi! I saw your comment on my blog. Thank you for reaching out. I am friends with belle on fb – you can find me there and add me. My last name starts with a D. 😉

      • January 5, 2016

        Hey Courtney, I’m not friends with Belle on Facebook, but if you ARE interested you can find me by searching Steph Mignon. No pressure either way! In 2016, I hope to grow the group so survivors like us can support each other. 🙂

    • January 6, 2016

      Oh Steph, I didn’t catch your post (I am a terrible reader these days) but am so happy you found support in our community. My therapist said that much like infertility and miscarriage, we never “get over” these events. They will forever be a part of us and we will always have moments of fear and sadness. What we can do is learn how to accept these parts and let the sadness/fear come and then go. Not to fight it. It’s so bloody hard but I hope with time and practice it can become as second nature as breathing in, and breathing out. xoxo

      • January 6, 2016

        I guess that’s all we can do! Sounds like you have a great therapist. I am so glad that we live in an age where talking about these things is no longer taboo – because I really believe that this is how we will be better for our daughters!

  9. January 5, 2016

    Oh Belle. There are no words. I’m so sorry your life has been marked by such a brutal event. Abiding with you on this journey of healing. I hope you find the peace you are looking for.

  10. January 5, 2016

    Oh Belle. What a horrifying experience to carry within you. This healing from trauma: it is so much work. Thank you for sharing this story, and this pain. Heal is such a powerful word. I have two words this year, a phrase really: Slow Down.

    • January 6, 2016

      Slow down and be present was mine last year! I found some mindfulness practices and yoga to be extremely beneficial last year as well. xoxo

  11. January 5, 2016

    How terrible!!! I hope you will find healing this year.

  12. January 5, 2016

    Holy F Belle, I’m sure it’s been a terrible year finding the letter and bringing it all back, but the healing you are going through is visible to us on the outside. Through admitting how you are feeling, talking about the scariest parts of your past. I truly wish you a year of unending healing.

  13. jesicabrennan #
    January 5, 2016

    Ugh, we have more in common than we realized Belle. Not only was my cousin just murdered as you know (did that really fucking happen???) but my high school was one of those that had a school shooting. That kid murdered his parents the night before, slept in the house with their bodies then came to school the next morning and shot up the cafeteria. I was thankfully not there but one of my best friends was shot 4 times(he lived). It was an extremely traumatic experience, one I know I’ll never “get over” and one that gets brought to the surface with each and every school shooting (why are these still happening???) I’m so sorry you had to experience such a horrifying experience and watch someone you thought you knew commit such terrible acts of violence. My heart is with you.

    • January 6, 2016

      Oh Jesica, I have no words. I can’t watch coverage of school shootings, let alone imagine living through one. I’m sending you lots of positive energy as Obama’s new gun control concepts work their way through our government. Such difficult times to live in. xoxo

  14. Karaleen #
    January 5, 2016

    Wow….so much to process at such a young age. I’m so sorry you had to go through this. But I do understand the triggers and fear. Oh the fear. I have a lot of that and have spent the better part of 30 years trying to manage it. My words for the fear….Overwhelming and sneaky. it just sneaks up on me and then I have to actively bring myself down and manage it….look it in the eye and not let it win. It is hard, but doable. You are taking a good first step. I’m so glad writing it down helped….

    • January 6, 2016

      It is so sneaky. I often don’t even realize what is happening and at times think I am sick or dying because it sneaks up so quickly.

  15. robin #
    January 5, 2016

    I don’t even know what to say, this is so terrifying. I can’t imagine feeling safe being in a relationship for a long time after this. I’m so glad you are starting to process this now. And amazing that you are going to take this year to heal and take care of yourself. ❤

    • January 6, 2016

      It took a long time to feel safe, and even now in my safe and secure marriage, there are moments of fear. Thanks for your kind words and support.

  16. January 22, 2016

    Holy shit, Belle. I’m so sorry…and so proud of you for taking this on. You’re super brave (that’s what carrying on while your heart leaps out of your chest in terror feels like to me, anyway, is bravery), and I’m going to have to think hard about a word for my year too. XOXO

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