Creating New Memories

Some weekend inspiration for you ⭐️
#Repost @enjoythej0urney (@get_repost)
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Do you attach meaning to certain objects and places? My whole life, I’ve
shoved away and hidden the things that bring up bad memories for me. I never throw them away (just in case, as my OCD says) but I try to keep things out of plain view that bring me pain. ⤵️
How do you do this with something as large as an apartment? How do you cover up every wall that reminds you of the people who hurt to remember? How do you stay recovered in a space where it feels like the ghost of your sick self is lingering?⤵️
I moved my room around. 3 times. I’ve changed the furniture in my living room. I’ve painted over my bedroom walls. I reorganized my kitchen. And in the midst of that, I started to understand that we can’t cover up every physical thing that reminds us of pain. When it’s just a stuffed animal in the closet, or a bed switched to a different side of the room, it’s one thing. When it’s desperately trying to find a way to remove every single thing that brings back the hurt, it’s unrealistic and unattainable. Once you can accept that, you can search for another solution.⤵️
My solution? Create new memories. It’ll feel wrong for awhile. You won’t want to laugh in the room that reminds you of betrayal & judgment, but if you try, you will. You’ll feel like staying in a room that does not make you feel anything at all, but you’ll push yourself to be uncomfortable instead. Slowly, you’ll accept the pain. You’ll notice your feelings and you’ll let them go. And then you’ll realize that it’s okay to release what once hurt so badly, because it does not negate the fact that it happened. You came, you saw, you felt. Now, you move on.

 

My body belongs to me

#Repost @fatisnotanadjective (@get_repost)
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On May 28, 2013, my life turned upside down in a way I could never imagine. What started as a simple, online friendship turned into an in-person meet up that didn’t go as planned. It turned into a day that I would never forget. It was the day that I was sexually assaulted. Being 14 years old, I knew something wasn’t right but I was too scared to say something.
On May 28, 2014, I attempted to take my own life because to me, it seemed like there was no other way out. My mind was flooded with the “it was your fault” thoughts and the nightmares would not go away. I was unable to escape the constant flashbacks and the feelings of disgust. I wanted out.
On May 28, 2015, I would wake up everyday, still hoping that I could eventually shower away my disgust. I thought that washing away the external dirt would erase the dirtiness I felt, but it wouldn’t. So time and time again, I would keep trying.
On May 28, 2016, I came to the realization that I couldn’t do this alone. I told someone.. It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it was also the bravest thing. I wanted my life back and some day, I wanted my body to feel like my own.
Today, on May 28, 2017, I am refusing to give him the power any longer. This monster of a human is not worth my endless tears, horrible night terrors, continuous dissociation, and vivid flashbacks. I am worth more than what happened to me. My body belongs to me and it’s time for me to start treating it that way.
#fatisnotanadjective

Pops of Color

#Repost @leenahlovesherself (@get_repost)
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I love how this photo is mostly black & white with a splash of color. When you’re struggling with mental
illness (or even just life in general) everything can seem like a blur and like every thing is very one-note – like there isn’t any color or light.
However, even in the worst times, there are some pops of color. It can be SO challenging to see them, but they are there.
One way that we can find these moments is by choosing to practice mindfulness. When we anchor ourselves to the present moment instead of being in the past or future, we are able to see the little pops of color that life has to offer, even when times are tough ✨
(Photo by @cmrfx, wearing an @aerie bralette and a @capezio tutu)
#MyFlawsAreFierce
#BopoBallerina
#MentalHealthMonth

Give up on Me: One Stubborn Patient, Two Persistent Providers and the Struggle to Heal

“Bri saved her own life”

Bri credits Amy and Dr. Rajendran for saving her life. “I told them things,” she says, “I couldn’t imagine ever telling anyone.”

“To me,” says Amy, “Bri saved her own life. I just supported her along the way. She did the work.”

Seven months later, Bri is still doing the work. When she feels depressed, anxious or like she wants to hurt herself, she tells someone. She talks about it and gets the support she needs. She started a body-image blog, which has picked up followers as far off as Germany. She got her GED and is going to school to become a psychiatric nurse. She wants to pay it forward.

Read this inspirational story at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Black Girl Magic

Starting this Friday off with some #selflove and #beauty 💕💕💕💕 For my African Queens 👸🏽

#Repost @fatisnotanadjective
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As I previously mentioned, I will be posting some of the pages I have found the most inspirational throughout the month. Today- let’s show @sassy_latte some love!!! #Repost @sassy_latte 
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Black girl magic, you ask? Is it real?
We are told our skin is too dark, yet we glow with pride. We’re told our hair is kinky and short, yet we grow our Afros big enough to block out the sun and locs so long they drag on the ground. We’re slut shamed for birthing children by different men, yet we raise our children, often alone, with passion and perseverance. We’re told we’re ghetto, loud, and dumb, yet we’re quickly becoming the highest educated population in the country. We’re told throughout history that our bodies are exotic and should be used sexually, yet we’re learning to stand in solidarity and take back ownership of our sexuality. We’re painted as desperate arm candy to rappers and athletes, yet many of us own our own businesses and organizations.
The list goes on. The obstacles never end. The judgment never ceases. The only thing that holds true is that Black Women keep shedding light on these myths. We keep our heads held high. We keep surpassing boundaries placed around us. We keep charming the masses despite being told we’re nothing. We keep pushing back, fighting for ourselves and one another. We keep proving you wrong and changing your mind. What else could that be?… To come from the ashes of slavery in America, to endure the metaphorical shackles of the present, and to be born-again QUEENS? … It has to be Magic. Black Girl Magic. And only We have it.
#fatisnotanadjective

My girl @fatisnotanadjective knows what beauty is!!!!

#Repost @fatisnotanadjective with @repostapp
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Today’s theme for self love boot camp is flashback Friday. Usually the idea of this is an old picture of you and a more recent picture but to me, that’s not helpful. So- I want to put a little spin on this and compare my old thoughts to new thoughts.
In addition to this being a flashback Friday, I also want to include the turn it around project.
In the depths of mental illness, I struggled with the thought that I was never good enough. But, through a lot of hard work, dedication, and thought challenging, I have learned that I am more than good enough. The most important thing is that I feel good enough for myself, and I can finally say that I do. The things I once hated about myself have turned into things I love.
I am not saying that negative thoughts never happen, because they most definitely do. There are days where getting out of bed seems like the hardest task. But eventually, (maybe after a couple hours, a couple days, or heck, even a couple months) I realize that my worth goes beyond the shitty thoughts that flood my head.
I know that it can be so hard and sometimes such a battle in your head, but keep fighting my loves. It’s never too late to turn it around.
#fatisnotanadjective
#selflovebootcamp
#turnitaroundproject #washedaway #rolemodelsunite #booklovers

Trials Come In Bunches But So Do Comebacks

My testimony
by Christopher Chavez
Christopher’s Facebook

I come from a divorced home. My mom raised me, and I have one older brother and one older sister. My mom told me that I was conceived during a reconciliation; I was unplanned and it was an overwhelming time for her. My father was an addict so he was absent most of my life; growing up was hard without a father, my mom worked tirelessly to provide for us.  I was a very needy child, I remember always wanting people to like me and I was always looking for a father figure.

 

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The abuse started when I was six or seven years old. I was abused verbally, mentally and physically. The main abuser was a relative; he felt that because I didn’t have a father that he should step in and “discipline” me. Sadly, at times my mom would ask him for help in bringing that “discipline.” I remember being taken into my grandfather’s room and being smacked so hard that I couldn’t move my neck afterwards. To make matters worse no one knew I suffered with ADD and a learning problem ’till much later in life.

I remember being hated by relatives because of my behaviors; they felt sorry for me but at the same time they were cruel. I have been to eight schools in my life – that instability affected me greatly. I never had long term friends and was often hated for being the new kid.  I was forced to go to church as a kid so I had some basic fear of God. However during my sophomore year in high school I turned away from God and started to smoke weed; some friends lured me into the drug scene. During that time my family had also lost our family home and we were living with our grandmother, so I started smoking cigarettes, then drinking, and smoking weed.  I didn’t care for the high I felt so I stuck with weed until my senior year then I tried meth.

I remember I wanted to get away from my family – I wanted out. I did think about suicide at times to escape my pain but I didn’t want to go to hell. I almost bought a gun from some gang members to kill my abuser, but they wouldn’t sell it to me. They asked why I wanted one and when I told them the truth, they said they didn’t want to be involved with that. After I went to continuation school I felt even worse about myself and more depressed. I was nineteen and older than everyone else because I had been held back two grades. So all I did during school was drink and get high; it was the biggest waste of my life.

For the next four years I went head first into drugs. I was doing meth just about every day, until it came to a point where I stopped because I had a nervous breakdown. I started hearing voices and seeing shadows; I went to God and stayed sober and tried to change my life for the better. I managed to stay sober for five years, then I started using again and hanging out with old friends. That’s when I got into smoking crack. I would go with Simone who would steal a car and we would drive down to the projects in Compton and get a couple hundred dollars worth of crack. During those times we never got caught – it was God’s Mercy that we never got robbed or shot at.

I never stole anything, it was my friend who did; I was just along for the ride but if we would have gotten caught I would have been in just as much trouble as the driver. A few years later I got sober again and tried do the right things, but drugs damage your body, spirit and emotions. I couldn’t get myself together.  I ran into hard times, started smoking weed again and began hanging out with the wrong friends. It was the year 2000, I had just gotten a good job as well as my own apartment, then drugs came back into my life again.

I was in a motel room doing meth. I decided to do a hundred dollars worth in one big line, and after I snorted it my nose began to bleed everywhere. My heart was beating so fast I could have sworn I saw it pounding out of my chest; I ran into the shower hoping it would calm me down but it didn’t do a thing, so I started to cry and ran outside naked screaming for help.  Someone brought me inside and called 911; when they told me that help was coming, I fell to my knees and began crying out to God, asking Him to not let me die in that state.

That was one of three times I that I rode in the back of an ambulance. The second time I was upstairs at someone’s house. To make a long story short I had to jump out the second story window to get help then walked to the fire department. I was taken to the hospital because I was overdosing again. The third time I was at my aunt’s house. I had done meth, alcohol, and crack everyday for two weeks straight. I had gotten sick so I took some robitussin, but by the second day I started feeling faint. I felt weaker and weaker and began to look pale; my body was ice cold. I called 911 and they gave me oxygen because I felt like I couldn’t breath. After that night I had people saying goodbye to me because everyone thought I was going to die. I cried out to God, “Help me! I wanna live!”

Then in November of 2004, I rededicated my life to God, and never touched alcohol or drugs again. I did, however, have to deal with the aftermath of my addictions. I suffered from horrible anxiety, nightmares, and had a very difficult time trying to rehabilitate my mind. I had lost everything and was starting my life over from the bottom. I realized that staying sober meant the difference between living and dying.

I know God gave me a another chance for a big reason; I’ve stayed sober all these years by being rooted in a church and cutting off all relationships with anyone that used drugs or partied. I also found role models to look up to, such as my cousin Danny Perea who used to be a heroin & cocaine addict, Adam Goldstein AKA “DJ AM,” as well as some well known ministers on TBN. As of today I am one of the leaders of the youth ministry at my church and I’ve witnessed to them many times about about my past with addiction and speak on abstinence too. I give all glory to God for saving me from myself, and refer often to the Bible verse that got me through the darkest of times:

Psalm 118:17 says, “I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.”

 

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On a side note, my father came back into my life in 2005. He is now sober and recently married. He opened up and told me that he had been living on Skid Row for twenty-one years during his addiction; he now does ministry work on Skid Row every weekend and feeds the homeless with his church. I just want to close and say that if God can change my life he can change yours; a better day is coming, don’t give up.  Jesus loves you so much that He died for you. As well there are plenty of programs such as AA that are available for you. You can also find wonderful programs through your local church. Someone is always ready to help you.

“Trials come in bunches but so do comebacks” – Christopher Chavez

If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please contact: 1-800-273-8255, or visit: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s Website

If you are an adult victim of child abuse, please contact: Help for Adult Victims of Child Abuse

For help on drug and alcohol addiction, please contact: National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc.

Brian Changed My Life Forever

by Andre Villa
founder of theStitch.com

Hi, my name is Andre Villa and I’m the founder of a new start-up called theStitch.com.  I first heard about Project HEAL SoCal through new friend Nikki DuBose, volunteer director for Project HEAL SoCal. Their mission of promoting a healthy body image and self-esteem completely resonated with theStitch’s rallying cry of Embrace Your Own Beauty – or #EYOB, so when Nikki told me about Project HEAL’s Surf Workshop with Saltwater sessions, I knew theStitch had to find a way to be part of it.

Saltwater Sessions’ approach to helping people recover from addiction – with a surfboard – is both unique and life-affirming. As they say, “Surfing isn’t easy. Neither is sobriety. Life, like the ocean, can be unpredictable.”  They give participants “the skills they need to stay on board. In the water and in life.”

I personally have a deep connection with surfing even though I have never been able to successfully catch a wave in my life! A San Diego surfer named Brian Brokaw changed my life forever… here is my story.

My friendship with Brian started the summer that I turned ten. We lived in the same neighborhood. In fact, Brian lived across the street from us – but he was seven years older and played varsity football for San Pasqual High – so he wasn’t part of the bunch of kids that spent the hot summer days playing outside together.  There was football, baseball, flash-light tag, pickle – you name it, we played it!

This one particular day I was bored, so I joined my little brother David and our friend Bradley in playing a game of catch with a football in Brian’s front yard.  We saw a new kid in the neighborhood approaching.  He was about my age and wanted to play, so of course we said, “yes.”  We were having a great time when, for reasons I can’t remember now, the new kid got mad at the younger Bradley and started pushing him around!

I immediately stepped in and said – “If you’ve got a problem with Bradley then you’ve got a problem with me!” He stared at me for a moment and then took off down the street as fast as he could. Thinking that was the end of it, we kept playing, but he came back – and this time with four other kids.  I could tell that they’d come over to even the score! I was scared and didn’t know what to do.  I yelled at David to run home and for once he listened to his big brother but Bradley and I didn’t have time to make it. I moved him behind me. No way was I going to leave him alone. I gulped.  We were completely outnumbered.

Then, without notice, Brian came out of his house and yelled, “Hey! That’s my little brother! Leave him alone!” Instantly I wasn’t afraid anymore. I didn’t even care if I got hurt.  Brain had just called me his “little brother.”

The kids all backed off and went on their way and Bradley and I jumped up and down with relief. Brian told me that he was proud of me, then added “We always stand by our friends.” We weren’t related of course, but the bond we forged that day made us family.

Brian spent a lot of that summer teaching us kids in the neighborhood, including the new kids, how to play football and baseball by the rules, but the most important lesson he taught us was really about fairness and kindness.

As a high school senior varsity football player, he was easily the biggest and the fastest so he made sure to always pick the smallest and youngest kids to be on his team.  You never saw little kids smile so big or walk as proud as when then they made their way to Brian’s side.  I always hated that rule because I was the third biggest kid so I hardly ever got to be on his team – but that became the neighborhood rule. Even when he and his real brother Craig weren’t playing with us, I made sure that we always picked even teams.

As the summer wore on, Brian would always join us in a game of football – as long as the Nebraska Cornhuskers weren’t playing.  His father, Roger, was a Big Red diehard – which meant that Brian and Craig were too. I would love it when Nebraska lost because it meant that they would come outside fighting mad, looking to let off some steam.  We would play football until it was too dark to see the ball. Oh, how I wish I could relive those days playing with Brian and the neighborhood kids.

Brian Brokaw

In addition to football, Brian loved to surf and would go surfing every single day if possible. My father would be leaving for work at 5:30 in the morning and invariably see Brian headed for the ocean, surfboard at the ready. They’d smile and wave at each other.  I was still asleep that early in the morning, but I’d be up by the time Brian got home and would run out to see him. He promised that he’d teach me to surf once I worked on my upper body strength. He wanted me to be safe in the water. There he was looking after me once again.

Fast-forward to October 5, 1985. I am now a freshman at San Pasqual High School playing freshman football just like Brian had. I enter Mrs. DeVroeg’s English class but she isn’t there. Something is wrong but all we are told is that there was an emergency and Mrs. DeVroeg was called to the office. Mrs. DeVroeg is Brian and Craig’s mother.  I am tense.  Jumping out of my seat I run to the office even though I knew this was breaking school rules. As I entered the office I saw Mrs. DeVroeg and Craig holding each other with tears running down their faces. Craig looked at me and said, “Brian died today, while surfing.” The worst day of my life…

Brain was my hero.  He made me feel safe.  He taught me about friendship and what it means to be family.  He taught me about fairness and the importance of being kind to everyone no matter what their age.  He was my everything, and most importantly “I” was his brother. As we got older, he also taught me what I consider to be the most valuable lesson he ever taught me, which was that it was okay to say to a male friend – “Hey bro, I love you.”  I only wish I had the opportunity to thank Brian in person and tell him just how much I loved him.

I played football with all the neighborhood kids up until the day I left for college and always made sure that I picked the smallest kid first.  Just as Brian did.  I owe so much to that 22-year old who lost his life that day.  I’m the man I am today in large measure because of him.

As I said, I never got a chance to thank him… so when I learned about Project HEAL SoCal’s surf workshop with Saltwater Sessions I had to smile.  Here was the perfect way to say “thank you” and honor Brian Brokaw’s memory at the same time.  theStitch came together and decided to sponsor two people for the workshop. I am not sure that I can attend because my emotions will get the best of me… when the day should be a day of enjoyment for all. If Brian knew about Saltwater Sessions he would lead the charge.

“Hey Brian, thank you. I love you!”

– Andre

Haiku by Tony

Sitting in a room
Unfamiliar to me
Sidetracked by daydreams

Her skin’s smooth terrain
Traveled by my fingertips
Again and again

Brown eyes shine brightest
In the absolute darkness
Of a tortured soul

I built a new soul
Using the remaining pieces
Of my broken dreams

I always wanted
You to fall in love with me
But did not know how

Spirits pass through me
On the same wind traveling
Over my body

The road I travel
Can’t know my destination
But it supports me

I get close to you
You lean forward with a smile
Our eyes close to kiss

Moonlight and midnight
Walking downtown boulevards
Under neon lights

Under troubled skies
People scurry for cover
Leaves dance on the wind

Sometime memories
Reappear in night’s quiet
And I can’t escape

San Francisco night
Two birds fly past my window
Your face in the fog

Lovers in search of
Barren, isolated places
To hide broken hearts

A lie silences love
As an empty heart echoes
Sobs of betrayal

I know what I’ve found
Every time you’re around
Sight, touch, taste and sound

You lost one lover
You thought it was all over
You ran for cover

The night air crackles
A footstep breaks the silence
We are on our way

Naked emotions
Am I only what I feel
When I look at you?

The small of your back
A sweet spot for massaging
S-shaped oasis

We walk through a dream
Two shadows from one moonbeam
We’re not what we seem

I awake at dawn
A lonely companion
To my surroundings

Wild nights by firelight
Smoke and sparks jumping upward
To a cool climax

We meet on the street
You put your arms around me
We walk hand in hand

Rain on the windshield
Rainbow in rearview mirror
Black cloud overhead

Without a shadow
Love can stand unrecognized
In the light of day

I’m on the outskirts
Is there a map to your heart?
A road paved to love?

Wake me up slowly
As the darkness disappears
Around you and me

I sit in silence
Listening says, “I love you.”
Louder than my words

An inner vision
Only when you close your eyes
And see past the dark

 

Thank you, Tony, for sharing your Haiku.

Find out more about Tony’s work here.

Submit your art to nikki@nikkidubose.com

 

Poison by Amanda M.

“The air I’m breathing is toxic. As soon as it enters through my nasal airways, as it goes down my esophagus entering into my lungs, it turns into poison. Filling up the emptiness, the hallow spaces in my stomach. My chest. My heart. My veins. It’s as pure as innocence of a child at first. Until it meets my thoughts. Until it meets my inner demons. As soon as it touches me. As soon as it enters me. The pure air never leaves pure again as I exhale. It has been poisoned. I have poisoned it. And I am filled with sorrow and panic when I feel the air fluctuating through my lungs. My body is working so hard to keep itself alive. While my mind is trying to kill itself. It’s quite the irony you see. Both ends fight just as hard as the other but I feel both ends exhausting more and more at each end of each day. It’s a race to see who’s going to get to the finish line first. One step in front of the other.”

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Beautifully Broken — In the Words of Taylor Stubbs


Our lives can be changed in a split second, this is something I have witnessed over and over. When I learned of Taylor Stubbs story, I was shocked and horrified, and unfortunatley, it is something that I am all too familiar with. A beautiful, carefree young girl goes to a bar with her friends. What she doesn’t anticipate, is to almost lose her life. Read on to learn more about Taylor’s tragic story and ultimate courage. To find out more about date rape drugs, visit here. 

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Friday, October 30, 2015 was the day my world turned upside down. I had only been in California for a day visiting my friend when we went out for Halloween Eve. That night, unbeknownst to me, I was drugged in a bar and was later rushed to the ER because I was throwing up blood. My esophagus was torn and I had to be intubated to maintain my airway. I was hospitalized for five days because my throat was so swollen I couldn’t eat or drink.

I was finally discharged and flew home to Charleston. I had only been home for four hours when I was back in the ER again because I couldn’t breathe and we found out my injuries were much more extensive tProcessed with VSCOcam with a6 presethan we thought. I was unable to breathe because my vocal cord cartilage had been fractured and had fallen, blocking my airway.

Processed with VSCOcam with a6 preset10 days and three surgeries later, I have a 3 inch scar across my throat and a trach in my neck that is my primary means of breathing. I am just getting to where I can speak again, but it is just a raspy whisper. I will have hurdles and obstacles that I will have to clear on my journey to a normal life, but I can’t help but feel that it’s beautiful. I have so much to be thankful for! I am ALIVE, I CAN breathe, and I’m healing. I’m moving forward and I’m still the same Taylor, just a little harder to hear. I have friends that have been so supportive. But most importantly I have theProcessed with VSCOcam with a6 preset most incredible family who dropped everything to be with me every moment I was in the hospital. They spent countless hours in my room so I was never alone. It is their love and support that gives me strength.

So today, I hope you all hold your friends tight, and your family tighter. Tell them you love them. Tell them you are thankful for them. Because
that is what is important. And remember that God is good.

 

 

 

Support the National Eating Disorders Association with Limited Edition B.E.A.U.T.Y Scarves!

NEDAwareness week is here! What better way to celebrate and show off your recovery spirit than with these limitied edition scarves!  Our one-of-a-kind handmade scarves benefit the National Eating Disorders Association, and help our team, the Artist Initiative, reach our goal for the NEDA walk on March 7!!

To purchase, please visit NutriFashFit. Just scroll down to the bottom and find out how you can get yours!

Thank you so much for your support!

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose  NEDA-Scarf-2a

Kelly’s Story: Beating HIV and Loving Her Life

Kelly Gluckman is a truly inspiring and beautiful woman inside and out. I had the honor of working with her at Mondays at the Mission at Union Rescue Mission. Together we helped to instill life skills and values in young people on skid row and now Kelly is telling her personal story across the United States. I was blown away by all of the struggles she has been through, and yet she continues to hold her head up high and encourage others. Thank you Kelly for contributing your story.

So I’m dating this guy, right? And it was so awesome because I had just come out of an abusive relationship that lasted two and a half years. This one however, Adam, I considered my best guy friend for a year and a half before we even started dating. He and I would go on hikes, do P90X in the living room, go on jogs around the block, and go to the Venice boardwalk to enjoy the beach and the crazies. He even helped me move…twice. Everyone knows thats the real marker of a good friend because moving furniture sucks. The point is that we had a strong foundation of mutual respect and I was SO happy with him. We talked about everything and had great communication. I felt like I was breaking my cycle…that I’d finally found my companion and it was HEALTHY.
One day, we were talking about intimacy, and about not using protection anymore. I had been tested just a couple weeks before we started dating, and I was given a clean bill of health. I was the girl who got tested every six months even though I used condoms every single time, and even dragged my friends in with me to planned parenthood to get tested with me, so I knew I was good. I was the responsible one. I asked him when the last time he’d been tested was, and he told me that it had been about two years, but that the last two girls he’d had sex with were both tested recently, and they both came out totally fine. I trusted him completely, and believed him. He made it seem like he didn’t have very much sex, so we stopped using condoms (against my better judgement).
Six months went by and I decided it was time for us to go get tested together, just for safety. We woke up at the buttcrack of dawn, and dragged (ourselves) into planned parenthood, because everyone knows you have to get there early to not waste an entire day in the waiting room. We got there, signed in, and sat down. After about an hour, he was brought into the office for ten minutes or so, then came back out. I was playing words with friends on my phone the whole time with my legs swung up over the chair next to me. They almost immediately asked him to come back into the office, and he came back out and told me he’d tested positive for HIV. I thought he was joking at first…that was the kind of relationship we had…we would constantly just be talking (crap) and telling jokes. It was something I loved about our relationship. Without looking up, I said “yeah, OK”. He didn’t respond, and he hadn’t sat down, so I looked up and saw that his face was white. He looked like he’d seen a ghost. He handed some sheets of paper to me, and I saw that there was information about HIV/AIDS on them. I was like, “OH, he’s not joking.” Scenes flashed in my mind from the last six months, and I knew. We had had way too much sex for me to even try and hope. I accepted my diagnosis right then and there.
Now, I grew up in the LAUSD school system, so I had gotten the puberty ed class in fifth grade, the birds and the bees sex ed class in seventh grade, and the big girl sex ed class in eleventh grade. I had even taken a health class in community college, so I was pretty well educated on what was out there. Up until that point, I knew what HIV was, how you get it, and that I was never going to. I thought HIV was for hyper sexually active gays, drug addicts, and sub Saharan Africa, and I didn’t fit any of those categories. I remembered being taught that once you get HIV, it takes five to seven years until it turns into AIDS, then you die. So I read the pages my boyfriend handed to me, but nothing I read was registering in my mind. I was searching the pages for when I was going to die.
It was taking them way too long to call my name, so I went up to the window, and asked very nicely for them to open up the door so I could ask them a question. They buzzed me in, and once the door to the waiting room closed, I looked over the counter at the receptionist and said very firmly, “my boyfriend just tested positive for HIV, you need to bring me in there as soon as possible.” It took them fifteen more minutes to call me in, arguably the most stressful fifteen minutes of my life. I finally got back there, and they started poking my fingers for the Western Blot test, which works similarly to a pregnancy test, but instead of pee, they use blood. All the blood rushed out of my extremities. They had to go through three tests and poked three or four fingers seven or eight times before they could get enough blood to administer the test. They also drew blood from my arm and collected a urine sample, then sent me back to the waiting room. Fifteen minutes later, they called my boyfriend and I back together and confirmed what I already knew. I was HIV positive.
They brought us into an office, and sat us at a desk, then tried to give us hope by telling us that it was only 99% accurate, and it could be a false positive. While that was nice of them and all, I looked at them like they were idiots. There’s no way both of us have a false positive. They handed us some pieces of paper with a list of clinics we can go to for care and medication, and then sent us on our way.
We walked back to the car from where we were in the Third street Promenade, and drove home in complete silence. I get asked a lot whether I was pissed at my boyfriend. I think I might have asked him who he had been sleeping with or something while we were walking, but it really didn’t matter. I immediately took personal responsibility. I knew that we should have been tested before we stopped using protection and I knew my sexual health is my responsibility. I figured it had to be hard enough for him to know that he had given this to the girl he loved, I didn’t want to make it worse. As far as I was concerned, it was he and I against the world. I didn’t care where he had gotten it from, it was just nice to have someone on my team. We got home, I parked, and we sat in complete silence. I looked over at him after five minutes or so, and he looked defeated and scared. Pathetic. All of a sudden I got really angry. I still don’t know where it came from, but I looked at him and I said “NO.” “We are not letting this take over our lives. We are going to go in there, do research, and find out how to beat this thing. (seriously, I gave him a coach pep talk and it was pretty awesome). We’re going to learn about medication and what it does, we’re gonna look at possible homeopathic ways of taking care of ourselves, diet, mindset. EVERYTHING. We will NOT let this beat us! Look at Magic Johnson! He’s cured. Watch. In one year, we’ll be HIV negative. One year!” (I seriously thought this was possible…I saw it on South Park, so it must be real, right?)
Anyways, so we go into the house and the very first thing I did was Google “Is Magic Johnson cured of HIV” and of course I didn’t even have to write the whole thing because everyone and their mom has heard the misconception that Magic is cured. The predictive text filled in the rest of my question, and the answer is no, website after website told me no, he’s not cured. Magic Johnson takes medication just like everyone else living with HIV. So then reality set in. I was really going to have to deal with this. My boyfriend and I had made plans to hang out with our friends later that day, and I didn’t want to go after just having my dreams crushed, but my boyfriend was like “Kelly, remember what you said? We’re not going to let this take over our lives. We’re gonna start fighting it” My partner in crime. So we hung out with our friends, and took the curtain off our window that night so we wouldn’t wake up in darkness.
I spent all of my free time after diagnosis doing research like I said I would. That was my coping mechanism. I researched everything I could find, and I actually kind of became a little bit of a nerd. HIV fascinates me. How it replicates, what the life cycle is, how the medications interrupt the replication cycle. I stumbled upon HIV denialism, which is insane. I joined an online forum and started talking to other people around the world who are also living with HIV. I got a book and read what I should do in the first year after diagnosis. My mom always taught me that knowledge is power, and I felt like I could gain back control of my situation through learning what was going on. I also talked to friends and coworkers about it. I was never the kind of person to keep a secret. It makes me feel better when I talk to people. I don’t feel so alone.
My boyfriend took a different route for coping. We lived in Venice at the time, and our neighbor was Buddhist and he chanted twice a day. We would always walk by his house to get to ours, and we constantly heard the chanting coming from his apartment. The energy coming out of there was so positive and resounding and my boyfriend was drawn to it. He started visiting and chanting with our neighbor. One day, my boyfriend came home after chanting and he was FREAKING OUT. He told me that our neighbor was HIV positive too, and that he’d been living with HIV since 1986. That was before we were even born! Gerald had been living with this for twenty some odd years (which is a lot longer than Magic Johnson, and he wasn’t rich like Magic Johnson). Gerald was robust. That’s the best way I know how to describe him. He was one of the happiest, healthiest people we knew, and we thought that about him well before he told us his status. Just knowing that someone like him existed made us feel so much better. All the sudden we weren’t the only ones we knew who had it, and we could live at LEAST twenty something years.
A little over a month after diagnosis, I was approached by our coworker, Mike, whom I had known since before he started working with me. I considered him a friend since we had hung out outside of work several times and we always had fun together. I noticed that Mike had been acting weird for a couple weeks, but didn’t think anything of it. He pulled me aside while I was on a shift one day, and says to me, “Kelly, I am so sorry. I am so sorry.” I was confused, what was he sorry for? I hadn’t talked to him in weeks. Mike says, “I slept with Adam.” I looked at him like he was crazy, I didn’t believe a word. I said, “No you didn’t, there’s no way.” He said, “Yes, I did. Why would I be telling you this, I have nothing to gain from it. That time we all hung out, and you went into the house because you were tired, Adam, my boyfriend, and I went to a hotel. When my boyfriend left to go to 7-11 for snacks and beer, Adam came on to me and asked me to have sex with him. He was actually pretty aggressive about it” He continued to tell me that a couple weeks ago, he had heard from Gina (another coworker of ours who I had confided in) we had tested positive for HIV, and he freaked out and went to get tested. He was afraid that he had been the one to give it to us. It turns out that his test had come back negative, and he showed me the results on paper for proof. He hadn’t given it to us.
It all started to make sense…this is why Mike couldn’t look me in the eye for two weeks. Until now, I had no idea my boyfriend was sleeping with men and this guy decides to tell me while I’m still on a shift, working with the public. I started freaking out, as you can imagine. I was wailing crying in the back of the restaurant. Screaming crying, throwing myself into things. Mike tells me to calm down, tells me he can be there for me as a friend. Tells me I deserve better. He mentioned that the Gay and Lesbian center in West Hollywood had a great clinic, and that he would go with me and that I was not alone. I was not thinking straight at this moment, so I just nodded, calmed myself down, and went back inside and finished my shift.
I biked home after work and confronted Adam about it. He seemed shocked at the accusation at first. He denied it for like forty-five minutes saying, “Are you really going to believe him over me?!” He was a pretty convincing liar. I was on and off the phone with Mike confused, not knowing what to think. Finally, I decided that there’s no way Mike is lying to me…why would anyone lie about having sex with someone’s boyfriend? I went back into the house and sat down with Adam. I said to him, “I’m already gone. If you want any glimmer of hope as far as keeping me in your life at least as a friend, you’ll tell me the truth right now.” We were such good friends before we started dating and we had several conversations about how we wanted to make sure we stay friends if things didn’t work out. He gave in and said, “Yes. I did it.” It was silent for a little and I finally said, “I have to go.” I had committed to Hanukkah at my parents house that night.
I stayed with him for another nine months, but hear me out. Seven days after diagnosis, our room mate had given us a thirty day notice to leave. I begged her for thirty extra days, but she refused, even though I told her about our diagnosis and that money was tight. She didn’t like living with Adam. I was a server and Adam was a part time cook, so I carried us financially to our next place. Just to go over the timeline real quick to make sure you’re following. We got diagnosed on October 25th, November 1st we got our thirty day notice, December 1st we move, and the very next day, December 2nd, Mike comes up to me and tells me he had sex with my boyfriend. I was financially and emotionally drained. My relationship with my mom had been extremely tumultuous since I was a teenager and at this point, it was in a particularly dark place. I was not about to break down and ask her for money and certainly not to move back in. I hadn’t even told her I had HIV yet. I didn’t plan on telling her until I felt like I had everything under control so this was definitely not the moment to do that. I was well liked at work, and had a lot of friendly acquaintances, but there was no one who I was close enough with to feel comfortable asking for help. It was just Adam and I, and I loved him. To me there’s no such thing as “unconditional love” because love IS unconditional. I honestly did not care that he had slept with men. I would have still loved him and been with him if he were honest with me from the beginning. What I cared about was that he lied and cheated, but I was really scared and needed my partner.
Over the next few months, I asked him questions and we talked about it, and the real story started to come out. He initially said he had slept with maybe four guys total, but eventually admitted to having slept with at least twelve guys and a few other women in the year before we dated (some protected, some not). He had no idea from whom he had contracted HIV. He made no attempt to contact anyone he had slept with, that was really big for me. I started to see who he truly was and how deep the lies went. I knew I had to get out, I just didn’t know how I was going to do it.
I was getting my medical treatment at the Gay and Lesbian Center that Mike had told me about, and they hKelly_Gluckman_Nikki_DuBose_Beauty_Projectad free mental health services, so I took advantage of it. I found a great psychologist and went to therapy every week for twenty-six weeks. I also found a woman who I now get to call my best friend. She recognized my call for help when I told her my story and convinced me to move out from my apartment with Adam and into hers for a month while I regrouped and found my own place with a roommate. She saved me, to be honest.
Since then, I’ve been presented with opportunities to tell my story, and I’ve taken every single one of them. I do this because what I’ve been through is completely preventable. No one should have to go through this, and if I had known someone like me before I made the decision to stop using condoms, there’s a very good chance that I would not have stopped using condoms. The number one means of transmission of HIV globally is heterosexual sexual contact. HIV is a human disease because sex is a human condition, and anyone can get this. HIV does not discriminate.
Today I’m on medication, and what’s called undetectable, which by the way is what Magic Johnson is too, living a healthy life. I look forward to living into my 80s, which is what my doctor tells me I can expect, given I don’t get hit by a car or cancer, and I honestly wouldn’t change this for the world. Through this process, I’ve found my strength and my purpose, and I’ve learned to forgive and love myself. I feel truly lucky to have access to effective medication and I’m truly excited for what the rest of my life has to offer.

Vanity

This painting was created by my friend Travid Teate with Travis T Photography

206892_504056869295_5131_nMany years ago before I got into modeling I had periods where I was addicted to drugs and alcohol on top of dealing with bulimia. I was dancing at a dance club (not to be confused with a strip club) on some nights and Travis saw me from across the room with what he called, “crazy, wild energy.” The colors he portrayed in this painting were a manifestation, I believe, of some the pain and sadness I was dealing with. This was the first night he had ever saw me, and from there he went home and created this painting entitled, “Vanity.” Quite frankly, I was incredibly superficial and lost in my delusions for a long time.

Thank God for recovery so that I can live in reality now and do not have to give my life over to drugs, alcohol or eating disorders. I like to look at this painting from time to time as a reminder of what addictions can turn me into if I let them. A nightmare.

Never Let Them Stop You

Je Suis Charlie Emma_Beauty_Project_Nikki_DuBose

Emma believes that “you shouldn’t kill because of art. People should be allowed to make any art they want. (Creating art) doesn’t mean (individuals) should purposely make something for no (reason), offend… and hurt (people). But by
no means should people kill becuse of art even if it is disrespectful.”

Have a B.E.A.U.T.Y submission of your own?

Email me nikki@nikkidubose.com

 

It All Starts With Love

Print

Sapan Karecha is an artist, photographer and musician living in New York City. He has personally seen the harmful effects that eating disorders can have, as a couple of people in his family have been affected. Sapan is a proud supporter of our Artist Initiative Team for the Los Angeles NEDA Walk, and has even created a special art piece to be printed on T-shirts for the walk! We are honored to share his story and find out what his artwork represents.

The art piece I created for (The LA Artist Initiative Team) features four words written on the iris and pupil of an eye: hope, healing, happiness, and central to it all, love. Finding harmony in our personal lives and contributing to harmony as members of a greater community comes from non-judgmental love and compassion. We must always look at ourselves and others with loving, compassionate eyes, because this is how the seeds of hope, healing, and happiness are sown. It all begins with love.

I decided to become involved with (The National Eating Disorders Association) because the two women whom I love most are survivors of eating disorders. Having seen first-hand what eating disorders can do—the physical and emotional ravages they wreak—this is an issue close to my heart. NEDA provides valuable resources and education to those who seek help, and is a beacon of positivity, awareness, and prevention. I support NEDA, and I thank NEDA.”

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

 

 

Be*YOU*tiful by Susana Fernandez

Be*YOU*tiful by Susana Fernandez
Be*YOU*tiful by Susana Fernandez

I am honored to share this kid’s art diorama by fellow teammate and recovery warrior, Susana Fernandez. Susana uses her artistic talents every day in her personal life and in her profession as a teacher. She inspires countless young people to hone their energy into pieces that can change the world for the better, and Susana continues to motivate me, too! I had the pleasure of meeting her and her wonderful family last year at the NEDA walk, and I was touched by their passion for recovery and helping others heal as well. Susana believes that art is an incredible tool to bring about social change, and that is what she hopes to achieve with the LA Artist Initiative Team.

“Gifts Come With a Struggle” by Emma K.

What do you see? by Emma Klein
“Gifts Come With a Struggle” by Emma K.

This piece is by a regular contributor thirteen year old Emma K. from Los Angeles. Emma is a talented young artist who understands the beauty of the pain behind her creations. She has struggled with obsessive compulsive disorder but has overcome so much of it through channeling her energy into her incredible artwork.

Emma normally draws in anime style, but her teacher encouraged her to paint something figurative. Emma agreed to step outside of her comfort zone and through the depiction of the Mona Lisa she and her teacher not only formed a stronger bond, but she was able to open up about her OCD.

When I observe this painting, I sense a raw wisdom and emotions that reflect Emma’s remarkable inner beauty and strength. As Emma’s mother remarked, “It’s a true gift that comes with a struggle.”

Thank you Emma for sharing a part of your soul with us today.

B.E.A.U.T.Y hopes to redefine our understanding of beauty. Have a painting or artistic representation of inner beauty you would like to share? Please email me nikki@nikkidubose.com to submit your poem, drawing, painting, recovery story, photograph, song, or any creation that represents your inner self…which is simply beautiful!

Apple of my Eye

Mountain Rose Apple
Mountain Rose Apple

 Our authentic beauty comes from within. Sounds cliche, right? Oh, but how true it is.
Just like this rare Mountain Rose apple grown in the Mountain Hood River Valley of Oregon, we never know what we have to offer until we cut beneath the surface. If we take the time to meditate on the inner beauty in others too, we can form longstanding, rewarding friendships and relationships that otherwise might have been missed.

Raw Reflections of Self Esteem From a Thirteen Year Old

*Note: B.E.A.U.T.Y is meant to serve as a tool to release feelings and to build confidence in an otherwise damaged society. Our perception of beauty today has been lost and many times we feel ugly inside, instead of the perfectly created souls we are. The content submitted is raw and unedited, as every individual has the right to express their perceptions that have led them to where they are today.  The sole intended purpose of B.E.A.U.T.Y and all content therein is to bring healing and the message that full recovery from all eating disorders, mental health issues, abuse, and negative situations is possible.

When we hear the word “self-image,” what comes to mind? The mental pictures we form about our identities may be a reflection of  the positive and negative experiences we have encountered over a lifetime. Sometimes the manners by which we perceive ourselves is consistent, while other times we are capable of changing our mirror formations radically in the blink of an eye. Whatever the case may be, our self-image is critical in how we interact with ourselves and the world around us. Our image is a mere representation of what we show to outsiders; are we giving a correct portrayl of who we are to those around us? Are we honest in our spirits first, and letting that flow to our physical image?  So often in life we wear many masks to various associations and crowds of people; we desire our image to be one thing to one group, and another thing to another. The problem with this is that we can never be anyone but our true selves, and if we don’t know who we really are, we will never live fulfilled. We musn’t live life for others because truly no one is going to be approving of us all of the time. We must connect with a self-image that is peaceful and content at our core, and be satisfied with the image that is projected for all of the universe to see.

How and What I feel about Image

by Jacaila, age 13

 Image to me is a bunch of crap society makes up to make us feel bad. I mean I didn’t receive proper care when I was five years old! Don’t get me wrong, I care about image too. Whenever I think I look good, somebody always has to tell me I look horrible. It brings my self esteem to an all time low. I’ve always tried to figure out how girls can be “ana” or “mia.” I tried to be like that once but food is just too good! When I say, “I tried,” I meant it. I purged and starved myself, tried diet pills without eating anything after words. In fifth grade things were changing for me, just because of someone’s opinion of me. The boy called my “ugly.” It took me awhile but in my mind I thought he was right. Every time I looked in the mirror, all I saw was ugliness. My whole attitude changed, grades slipped and relationships slowly disappeared. In sixth grade, self-harm played its way into my life. I couldn’t stop, therapy wasn’t helping at all and life wasn’t getting better. So I feel that self esteem, image and what we think about it is restricting us from thinking better about ourselves. In conclusion, image is just society’s way of keeping us down.

*Jacaila is now fourteen years old, and has a more positive view of herself through working recovery.

Mondays at the Mission Four Year Anniversary–A Celebration to Remember

About six years ago I had the pleasure of meeting entrepreneur and author Christopher Kai, who became my friend and inspired me to continue writing and working with young people.  Christopher Kai founded the wonderful program Mondays at the Mission at Union Rescue Mission, and on September 8, 2014, I had the privilege of celebrating the four year anniversary with the mentors, staff, and inspirational young people. Christopher works incredibly hard to uplift and instill worth and value in others, and that is life-changing for countless young people that go in and out of those doors at the Mission every year.

My tumultuous past gave me a sense of a connection with Christopher, the team, and the children. In June, I told my life story, and taught a B.E.A.U.T.Y. art class, where I had the students paint a picture that reflected what inner beauty meant to them. After that day, I couldn’t stop coming! I felt privileged to be able to give of myself every Monday night to young people, to help them grow and to see in themselves what was already there. I have so much respect for everyone at Mondays at the Mission and at Union Rescue Mission, and will never be the same because of their dedication and support to helping others transform their lives. I thank you all for letting me be apart of such a phenomenal program with devoted volunteers. You guys are remarkable in every sense of the word!

Thank you to Andy Bales, Matthew Bennett, Christopher Kai, Kiersten Brown, Jason Kwon, Darin Leach, Ariel Yarrish, Kelly Gluckman, Vani Murthy, Antonio Spears, Justine Sophia-Rabia, Lisa Nola, Adam Marks, Marco Curreli, Cindy Ghali, Kevin Lee, Tim Mudd, Cheri Hodge, Rozzi Crane, all of the inspirational mentors, speakers, staff, and of course, the reason why I kept coming back and will live a life of passion–the leaders of NOW–the young people at Mondays at the Mission!! You all are more talented than you will ever know.

Here are some highlights and a video from the night, made by Darin Leach, one of the Mission’s motivating mentors! Also I would like to share some memories at MATM and with my mentor friends 🙂

 

Mondays at the Mission 4 Year Anniversary Photo :)
Mondays at the Mission 4 Year Anniversary Photo 🙂
MATM 4 Year Anniversary Banner I made, and everyone signed :)
MATM 4 Year Anniversary Banner I made, and everyone signed 🙂
A Poem I wrote for the students :)
A Poem I wrote for the students 🙂 Thank you to the team for all of your help in putting the composition books together 🙂
Most of the students at the 4 Year Anniversary Party with Christopher Kai :)
Most of the students at the 4 Year Anniversary Party with Christopher Kai 🙂
With Vani Murthy, fellow mentor and talented writer, see my resources page :)
With Vani Murthy, fellow mentor and talented writer, see my resources page 🙂
Receiving the biggest hug at my inner beauty art class :)
Receiving the biggest hug at my inner beauty art class 🙂
inspiring students creating inner beauty art :)
inspiring students creating inner beauty art 🙂
Students working on the Inner Beauty Art Project for B.E.A.U.T.Y :)
Students working on the Inner Beauty Art Project for B.E.A.U.T.Y 🙂
with Maggie and our precious students, on a class discussing how to develop their life's passions :)
with Maggie and our precious students, on a class discussing how to develop their life’s passions taught by Kiersten Brown 🙂
Kiersten Brown, the fabulous Associate Director of MATM :)
Kiersten Brown, the fabulous Associate Director of MATM 🙂
Lisa Nola teaching a fascinating class at MATM. Lisa and Adam not only mentor at the Mission, but they took a family into their own home and helped them get back on their feet, and helped the children through school. I just can't say enough about Lisa and Adam! :)
Lisa Nola teaching a fascinating class at MATM. Lisa and Adam not only mentor at the Mission, but they took a family into their own home and helped them get back on their feet, and helped the children through school. I just can’t say enough about Lisa and Adam! 🙂
Dance skills with Adam, one of the awesome mentors :)
Dance skills with Adam, one of the awesome mentors 🙂
Nikki DuBose and Antonio Spears for the Young Literati Social with the Library Foundation of Los Angeles
With Antonio Spears for the Young Literati Social with the Library Foundation of Los Angeles
Antonio Spears is one amazing person. He is a true friend, and dedicates his time to inspiring and helping others. I am proud to know you, Antonio! Christopher Kai is the founder of MATM, and has a heart full of compassion to see others succeed. Thank you Christopher for being my friend all of these years!
Antonio Spears is one amazing person. He is a true friend, and dedicates his time to inspiring and helping others. I am proud to know you, Antonio! Christopher Kai is the founder of MATM, and has a heart full of compassion to see others succeed. Thank you Christopher for being my friend all of these years!
With singer Rozzi Crane!
With singer Rozzi Crane!
Kelly Gluckman and Darin Leach, two of MATM's dedicated mentors :)
Kelly Gluckman and Darin Leach, two of MATM’s dedicated mentors 🙂
Inner beauty art by Sanivvia for the B.E.A.U.T.Y Project :)
Inner beauty art by Sanivvia for the B.E.A.U.T.Y Project 🙂
Max and Damien, two leaders in the making :)
Max and Damien, two leaders in the making 🙂
A funny bunch, with Pascal from France! :)
A funny bunch, with Pascal from France! 🙂
with Vani Murthy and leaders of today :)
with Vani Murthy and leaders of today 🙂
With Justine Rabia and Anastasia from Russia. Justine and I mentored at MATM, and Justine and Anastasia are both talented ballet dancers! :)
With Justine Rabia and Anastasia from Russia. Justine and I mentored at MATM, and Justine and Anastasia are both talented ballet dancers! 🙂

B.E.A.U.T.Y is in Your Heart by Emma

This precious drawing comes to us from my sweet and talented neighbor Emma. She explains that this cat sees life in a very different way than most of the other cats in her world, for although her body iB.E.A.U.T.Y_Project_beauty_is_in_your_heart_Emmas filled with scars and bruises, she has a kind and gentle soul. Many of the other cats cannot see past her outward appearance, and fail to be her friend. She doesn’t let life get her down though, for she knows that her in
ner beauty shines and defeats all of the negative attitudes that the other cats have. Her positive attitude builds a world where love is all she sees, and therefore, she can never be sad or lonely.

Thank you Emma, for your endless light and love for the world.

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

 

B.E.A.U.T.Y Project Story–Self Esteem: A Long and Winding Road

“Self Esteem: A Long and Winding Road”

by Sam, from New Jersey

When I was growing up, you might not have noticed there was something wrong with me. I was a healthy-looking, fit, active boy. You could have asked me about it, but I wasn’t aware anything was wrong. The problem was subtle and invisible: the face and body everyone saw was not the face and body I saw in the mirror with my own eyes. Where you might see a nose that was proportionate to the rest of my face, perhaps a handsome nose, I saw a weighty, unwieldy, shapeless thing. Some people would compliment my broad shoulders, and I would focus on my imperceptibly protruding belly.

If you’d asked me who I wanted to look like, I would’ve said Superman. As child of the 1980s, I specifically wanted to look like Christopher Reeve as Superman. The fact that I didn’t look like him didn’t make me feel sad or depressed. I believed that if I exercised and did enough push ups, I would build a strong physique. It didn’t bother me that I couldn’t have his face.

There were things about my face and my appearance that did cause me distress, however. Both of my parents had difficult childhoods, and less than loving parents. My mother and father were both regarded as good-looking people; though I inherited their features, my parents would make offhanded comments about my appearance which hurt. These comments were not intended to be hurtful, and I couldn’t have known at the time that some of the things they’d say stemmed from insecurities they had about themselves. My mother didn’t like her nose. She wished I had my father’s nose. In fact, my father didn’t like my nose either. He developed a routine where he’d clench my nose between his thumb and forefinger and hold it tightly until I managed to wriggle away. He thought it was funny. Having a swollen and red nose for the rest of the day wasn’t funny. “Like Rudolph,” my mother would joke. I began to wonder if I had inherited any of my parents’ preferred parts. Were any of my features the right ones? Still, my appearance wasn’t something I thought about every day. Not until I reached high school.

In high school, it seemed like everyone was dating or socially active except me. Other boys would get attention from girls and I wondered why they didn’t seem to notice me. I questioned my looks, I questioned my personality. Most families in town were upper-middle class, and there were periods where we didn’t have much money. Was it my lack of designer clothing?

I wondered about race, too. I’m an American-born East Indian. Around this time, the demographics of my hometown and neighboring towns were changing. East Indians were moving into the area in droves, yet my school’s population remained nearly all White. I got teased a lot for looking different. I was bullied over my religious differences, mocked because I developed a beard and chest hair before the other boys. Some White adults in town were quietly unhappy about Indians buying up homes, businesses, with little to no cultural integration. You could feel something was simmering underneath the surface of tolerance. Walking to school or walking home, the threat of violence from other kids always existed. Having a healthy sense of humor helped me diffuse a number of intense encounters, but jokes didn’t save me every time.

I remember getting caught in a sudden, heavy rainstorm with a friend. His house was a few blocks away, so we ran for it. It was futile, we were soaked in seconds. When we reached the front door, sloshing clothes hanging off our frames, his mother swiftly opened up. “Get inside!” she yelled. My friend ran in first. When I stepped forward, his mother shut the door in my face. How could she not see me? I rang the bell and knocked. Through the hard crackle of rain I heard the muffled sounds of an argument inside. They never let me in.

I was surprised, and yet, not surprised. In all the years we’d been friends, his parents had never allowed me inside their home. All of our mutual friends had been inside. I wasn’t a troublemaker, I got good grades in school. What made me unfit to enter?

It didn’t take much more before I developed a full-blown self-esteem crisis. I returned home from the barbershop one summer day with a crew cut. My mother told me I looked ugly. Looking back on it, she probably meant, “I don’t like that hairstyle on you.” English was not her native tongue. Nevertheless, her actual words were, “You look so ugly. Your face looks too long. And with that beard you look even worse.”

I wasn’t aware that I had a beard. I’d been so busy with activities that I’d forgotten to shave for a couple of days and had some stubble. I was a sensitive kid who wanted to please his mother, and those words injured me deeply. A subtle dig here or there might not have fazed me, yet a lifetime of them can wear down all but the most self-assured. The next time I looked in the mirror, the gap between reality and my own perception had become a chasm. I felt trapped inside an ugly thing, an ugly thing that was not a part of me, not who I wanted to be.

My mother had been injured this way too. Despite being a beautiful young girl, her brothers and sisters constantly teased her about her weight. They didn’t call her by her given name. At home, “Chubby” was her name. She wasn’t chubby. She was a standout athlete and as strong as the boys in school. Her physique reflected that. Sadly, the criticism didn’t end with her childhood. My father criticised her weight as well. She had never been overweight, but he expected a model-thin wife and expressed his desires plainly. I was 4 years old when I realized something was wrong with my mother: she wasn’t eating. What could a little kid do, except wonder why his mother was always sad, why his mother was always feeling sick, always coughing, always throwing up?

The catalyst for her recovery from eating disorder was not one she could have predicted. My father died of Leukemia. Her recovery began not so much with relief, merely the removal of her most outspoken critic. Years of starving herself left her with severe asthma, a significant loss of smell and taste, and lots of weight gain due to metabolic changes and medications. As time passed, I’d tell her that her weight didn’t matter. I’d tell her that her size didn’t matter. All that mattered was that she ate enough of the right things to make her feel strong. That’s all. Some 25 years after she’d married my father, I think she finally came to accept her appearance. I’m very happy for her.

My wounds would close, for a time. When I got to university, I was part of a diverse population. I wasn’t a weirdo or a social outcast. Many of us began university with a clean slate, and I felt liberated. Girls spoke to me, I went out on dates. I made better friends than I’d known in years prior. For a long time, all I wanted to feel was normalcy, a peace inside my own skin, and not some great desire to wriggle out of it and hide. It was a good time for me.

Then something hit me, hard. I came down with a bad case of the chicken pox. I never had it as a child, and for some adults it can be quite serious. My body looked ravaged, and I was covered in scars despite my dedication to proper skin care. The fit body I’d build up over the years shrunk down by 40lb. in a month, and my overall health in the following years would be poor. Infections, fevers, body aches, sharp muscle pain, tiredness, allergies, they became constant. I was diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Best to keep working, I thought. I’ll eat healthy food, I’ll exercise, I’ll do whatever I can to stay functional. Nothing helped. My muscle pains became worse and worse. Then migraines started. Weekly, then daily, then my life was a big migraine. A doctor prescribed a drug called Neurontin. He said, “Take this, you’ll feel better. Don’t worry about side effects, you should be able to tolerate it. It seems to work for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I believe this will help you.”

Neurontin significantly reduced my pain while introducing new problems. My hair fell out in handfuls, I was constantly tired, and my weight ballooned. Every month I’d need new, bigger clothes. The image I saw in the mirror—an image I’d sculpted through hard work and healthy habits, an image I’d finally made peace with—was getting away from me. I saw a face and body that felt like my own melt away into something else. What I saw in the mirror was far worse than what anyone else saw. Some of my friends noted the weight gain, but they never said anything unkind. My hard-won confidence turned out to be quite fragile, and it crumbled. Any compliments about my looks were disregarded as insincere, or I deflected them with self-deprecating humor. I stopped socializing and buried myself in work, all because I couldn’t stand how I looked. I mused, “How crazy am I being? Why can’t I accept how I look and move on? I look like a normal person.”

The self-affirming ideas I had on an intellectual level didn’t sink in emotionally. Therapy didn’t help. I just couldn’t believe that I looked like a normal man to everyone on the street when my eyes saw a distorted mess. I became deeply depressed. I fell into a hole so relentlessly bleak that I didn’t feel like I was supposed to be there. Is this really how I feel, or is it the drug? My doctor and I suspected the drug, so I tapered off the Neurontin.

Within a few weeks, the darkness faded but I hated how I looked and felt. Despair gave way to malcontent. I was overweight, and all of the physical pain I’d compartmentalized was back up front. The pain was more acute than I’d remembered it. We tried other medicines, but nothing helped. I gave up on pharmaceuticals and tried meditation and alternative medicine. Nothing helped.

The stress of dealing with my health problems, work, family responsibilities, and damaged social life became too much for me to handle. My doctor advised me to take a long vacation if I could. I could, and I did. On the second day of my vacation, I felt a searing pain on the right side of my face. When I looked in the mirror, I saw lines of red bumps. An allergic reaction to something, perhaps? I saw a doctor, and he didn’t need too long to give me a diagnosis. “Yep, it’s shingles.” He gave me anti-viral tablets and a topical cream before sending me on my way.

Shingles is caused by the chickenpox virus. Once you’ve had the chickenpox, the virus never leaves your body; it simply goes dormant. In people who have compromised immune systems, the elderly, or the seriously stressed out, the virus can wake up and cause all sorts of damage.

Doctors became worried about nerve damage when I lost hearing in my right ear. Soon after, my sense of taste disappeared and my eyes became extremely light sensitive. And then, things got worse. At some point during my shingles ordeal, I picked up a very serious bacterial infection.

The regime of anti-virals and anti-biotics that saved my senses didn’t come without a price. First, all the undesired weight I’d gained on Neurontin dropped. I was happy about that. Soon, a couple dozen extra pounds dropped too. We realized I was having problems digesting food. The good bacteria which live in healthy intestines, helping us extract nutrients from what we eat and lending balance to our immune systems, were wiped out and replaced by bad bacteria.

Two years after the shingles, the waves of bacterial infections and immune issues left my face scarred and discolored. The skin that grew back on my forehead was fragile and unhealthy. The look was familiar, I suffered some small but deep burns on my body a few years prior. Only this time, I couldn’t cover up. I looked at myself in the mirror, and saw a face like pizza. Skin dark brown and yellow, mottled and rough, striations of bloody red and moistureless white: this was not the face I’d known. It wasn’t the face I’d come to accept during the good times. It wasn’t the chubby face I’d come to hate, unjustly, in the difficult times. This face cracked and bled when touched, it split when I moved my eyebrows. It burned when I cleaned it. It burned with every gentle breeze that kissed it. It was so sensitive and vulnerable that it easily became reinfected, and it often did. Months passed, and the scarring seemed to set itself in stone.

I could have fallen into despair, but I didn’t. There was a specific turning point: one day I looked into the mirror, sulking, and my cheerlessness, my indulgent self-seriousness became comical. A small laugh ascended into a laughing fit. Had there been a witness, they’d probably describe the scene as a psychotic break. It wasn’t. This was a break of clarity. I experienced one calamity after another. It was amazing that I hadn’t lost my eyesight, I could still look at myself in the mirror. It was amazing my hearing was returning, I could hear myself laugh. Yes, I was unlucky to have fallen so ill, but I was so lucky to have survived largely intact.

Suddenly, the smoke of self-hatred was clearing. For so long, things I didn’t like about my appearance overshadowed things people liked. The distorted view of myself was one I believed everyone else could plainly see. The distortions were phantoms of my mind. Now, everyone could see my scars. There was no hiding them.

I made a decision. I control how I feel about myself, no one else does. Why do I have to look like anyone else but me? And who decides what the best version of me is? I don’t have to look like my friends, I don’t have to look like people on TV. And most importantly, it is not how I look that matters, it is who I am. Taking care of myself physically and emotionally is my goal. If looking good to others is a side-effect of this, so be it. If it isn’t, why should I care? Those who are good, those with values I respect, those who truly care about me will accept me scars and all.

With healthy eating, plenty of water, exercise, and gentle natural skin care, I have begun to reverse the damage my body endured. Every day I feel a little bit stronger, a little bit healthier. The chronic pain and migraines are fading, even my skin is recovering against the odds.

When I go out, people rarely notice my scars. When they do, I don’t take offense, and understand it is usually benign curiosity. If it isn’t, it’s not my problem. It’s strange that my appearance had to become worse before I could learn to accept it. Pain can be a swift and merciless teacher, but I respect its power. I don’t know how long I will carry my scars, but they remind me that I have a life to live, and I can’t allow a negative mindset or hang ups about appearance prevent me from living the kind of life I want to live. Our time in this world is limited, and time is an arrow pointing in one direction. Forward.

B.E.A.U.T.Y Art Project by Justine Sophia

Beauty Project by Justine SophiaJustine Sohpia, one of the dedicated mentors at Mondays at the Mission, created this drawing for the Beauty Project. She said that the “fingers in the picture are the engergy points where we reach out to all the things in the world, and in that way there is a lot of power in the hand. The hand of action, which allows us to search out beauty, earn beauty and create beauty. The pictures are just examples of things inside the universe that are unbelievable. Yet here we are. And we exist.”

Thank you, Justine, for your powerful perception on inner beauty!

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

B.E.A.U.T.Y Project Art by Orlando

Beauty Project by OrlandoOrlando drew a peace sign, an angel heart with wings, and a happy/sad mask for the Beauty Project!

Orlando’s artwork is a fine example of the emotions in life we all go through.  Emotions should be welcomed and felt, as they help us experience life in a greater way! 🙂

Thank you, Orlando, for your positive drawing on inner beauty!

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

B.E.A.U.T.Y Project Art by Jordan

Jordan sees beauty as being outside and playing in the fresh air, surrounded by nature and a dog, too! I think that that’s not a bad way to see life, what about you?

Beauty Project Art By Jordan
Beauty Project Art By Jordan

How about getting back to nature and reconnecting with the simplicity of what God has created?  Life is naturally beautiful; sometimes we just need to stop and pay attention.

Thank you Jordan, for your art and zest for creation!

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

B.E.A.U.T.Y Project Art by Saunvvia

Saunvvia drew a big, happy heart surrounded by a rainbow and colorful dots!

Inside of the heart were positive words such as “love” and “harmony.” I suppose Saunvvia was trying to tell us that inner beauty is a reflection of all of the wonderful emotions we should focus on, right? 🙂 BeautyProject_Saunvvia

It’s not that we don’t experience the negative feelings, it’s just that the more we magnify the positive, the more the positive emotions will grow, and that makes us stronger!

Thank you Saunvvia for your deep insight and excellent addition to our Beauty Project!

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

B.E.A.U.T.Y Project Art by Brandon

Brandon interpreted “beauty” as something Brandon_BeautyProjectthat can only be felt by the heart. Isn’t it funny how sometimes we
can put so much importance on outward appearances, and yet forget to take care of our inner selves first? We must seek balance in all that we do ♥

Thank you Brandon, for your special artwork 🙂

God Bless,
♥ Nikki DuBose

B.E.A.U.T.Y Art by Damien

Damien believes that “Beauty” is Without Words! I have to agree! What do you think? Perhaps the most meaningful things in life are only felt, and not seen?

Thank you, Damien, for your insight and creativity!

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

B.E.A.U.T.Y Project Art by Demetrius

Demetrius drew a beautiful heart  filled with

Inner Beauty by Demetrius
Inner Beauty by Demetrius

emotions that we all experience such as happiness and anger.  However “beauty” was central in the middle of the heart, why do you think that is?

No matter what we go through in life, or what feelings we might have, our inner beauty can shine the brightest, and is the most important.  Thank you Demetrius for your excellent artwork and message!

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

B.E.A.U.T.Y Project Art by Elijah

Elijah lent his creative eye to the Beauty Project and drew Sonic the Hedgehog!BEAUTYPROJECT_ART_Elijah

Beauty can be expressed through art and however we choose to see it. Thank you Elijah for this incredible drawing of Sonic the Hedgehog, it’s fantastic!

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

B.E.A.U.T.Y Art by James

Today’s Beauty Project is brought to us by the veryBeauty_Project_James_Nikki_DuBose bright James!

James believes that beauty represents love above all! Love seems to be an ongoing theme here so far on the B.E.A.U.T.Y project, what do you think about that? The love allows the flowers to grow, sun to shine, the clouds to float and the love ties everything together 😀

Thank you, James for your creative artwork, and your super smile 😀

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

B.E.A.U.T.Y Art by William

Here is William’s interpretation of B.E.A.U.T.Y!

Pretty amazing, huh? When you have love inside your heart, it

Beauty Project Art by the very talented William :D
Beauty Project Art by the very talented William 😀

spreads, and that is the most powerful tool that you can ever have, right?

Thank you William for your inspiring art, it is special, just like you 😀

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

Mondays at the Mission B.E.A.U.T.Y Art

I was Blessed to be asked to speak to a very talented and special group of students at a Mondays at the Mission class which is held at Union Rescue Mission here i10557387_696745177065814_9206829365795818469_nn Los Angeles. Each and every student greeted me with open arms and warm smiles, and they taught me just as much as I had to tell them!

I opened up the class with my story about how when I was a little girl my dream was to be a supermodel because I thought that that was the greatest thing in the world! I imagined that a glamorous life filled with clothes, hair, makeup, and outer beauty would cover up all of the pain that I was experiencing in my home life.

I went on to explain to the10514750_696745340399131_4614670960225177032_nm that sometimes in life we are drawn to superficial standards of beauty and happiness because we are deeply unhappy with circumstances on the inside of us and around us. I told them that as a child I was sexually, physically, and emotionally abused by a couple of people close to me and that as a result I often felt afraid. I also isolated myse10478176_696745303732468_9223166261376901884_nlf as a child and young adult and never felt that I connected well with too many people. My mother died a couple of year’s ago from alcoholism so I felt detached from her growing up as well. On top of everything I was also hiding a big secret for more than seventeen years: I had an eating disorder that spiraled deeply out of control.

I grew away from God for many years of my life because I felt angry as a result of all of the things that were happening to me that were out of my control. I was often suicidal and I made many poor choices. I then explained to them that when I became a model, I had all of the material things that I thought that I wanted that would have made me happy, however all of the people who were around me only wanted to be with me because of my job and because of the way that I looked.

I learned throughout everything and all of my struggles that God always was there with me, even when I didn’t feel His presence, and that I could always rely on Him. 10524340_696745250399140_8240041549169040004_nI learned that true beauty came from the inside and that it was more important for me to share my hard times and be a role model for other people, than to place so much importance on my outer appearance alone. I now am determined to help others with their difficulties in life because I went through so many in mine.

The class went so well, and the students responded tremendously to the message that it is really what is inside that matters. They disc10517452_696745470399118_4765589994542415532_nussed all of the qualities that a role model should have such as believing in God, the abiltity to persevere, confidence, humility, helping others, and more! The students broke into several groups and each person drew a picture of what they thought inner beauty meant to them. I will be displaying their artwork right here on the B.E.A.U.T.Y section!

I think today we can get lost more than ever with all of the social media, television and hate in the world that we really need to just be still and…quiet. In the secret, private places of our hearts, we will find the answers to what really matters. Have we as a world complicated ourselves with too much? Does the answer to life really remain…love, inner beauty, and God, above all? I believe it does.

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

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B.E.A.U.T.Y Art Project “Whole”

Sometimes we become broken into a million pieces inside as a result of the things that happen to us along life’s way.

God has promised in His Word to give us, “beauty for ashes” (Isaiah 61:3). IMG_20140711_124757No matter what we have been through or will go through, we can be happy and confident because God will make us whole and complete.

Thank you to Susie Fernandez and her wonderful art students in Long Beach, California for this joyful creation!

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

B.E.A.U.T.Y Art Project “Insecurities”

BeautybySusieF2Here is another art piece by Susie Fernandez and her creative art students from Long Beach, California.

The theme of the picture is, “You are more than your insecurities.”
Do you ever feel as if all you can focus on is the things you don’t like about yourself? How about redirecting that energy and focus on the things you love about yourself?! Did you know you are made for greatness? You really and truly are!

We all have insecurities, but they do not define who we are. In fact, the things that make us different are also what make us extra special 🙂

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

B.E.A.U.T.Y Art Project by Susie

Beauty by SusieThis inspiring art work comes from Susie Fernandez and her talented art students in Long Beach, California.

We can change the negative voices in our heads from “I’m not smart enough” to “I’m smart,” and “I’m ugly” to “I’m pretty,” and “I’m amazing!”  We can program our minds to think beautiful thoughts about ourselves, and soon, we will begin to believe the positive thoughts. What we believe, we act upon, and we spread the love to others.

What negative thoughts are you having about yourself, and what phrases can you meditate on that will produce a positive change?

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

B.E.A.U.T.Y Art Project by Emma

This super cool art project was done by my specBeautyArt.Emmaial thirteen year old neighboor, Emma.  Emma’s beauty and talent shines inside and out, and she is a gifted artist, among endless things!

Emma said that this character may not look so beautiful on the outisde, but his heart is very beautiful.  Emma explained that sometimes people who are beautiful on the outside are not so pretty on the inside, so we must never judge on appearances.

Thank you Emma for this inspiring artwork!

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

B.E.A.U.T.Y Art Project “Steal Your Beauty”

“Nobody can steal your beauty.”BeautyProject.steal

People and situations may try to come against you in life to make you feel less than special.  I want you to know that nothing and nobody can take away your true identity, which is rooted in your Higher Power.

Your inner light is so bright, that it outshines the darkest demons.  You are an overcomer!

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

B.E.A.U.T.Y Art Project “Shine”

DuBose.Nikki.BeautyProject.Shine“All of the stars twinkle for you. This world needs your beauty! You shine so bright!”

I hope you never go another moment wondering if you are special.  Look up at the stars in the sky at night and know that God made them for you.  The stars shine for you to soak in and meditate on.

Did you know that you were born to do great things in this life, and burst with your inner beauty just like the stars?

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

B.E.A.U.T.Y Art Project “Enough”

“You don’t have to DO anything to be loved.”DuBose.Nikki.BeautyProject.Enough

Ever feel like you fulfill certain roles in order for others to love and accept you?  Perhaps you try to mold your looks according to what others might want to see…

I believe that the way God created us is perfect, but sometimes we can get off balance. You don’t have to do or look a certain way for another person to love and accept you. You being born is enough to be entitled to the best that life has to offer. ♥♥♥♥

God Bless,
 Nikki DuBose

B.E.A.U.T.Y Art Project “You Are Amazing”

 

“All of my love coming your way. Just want to say, you’re amazing!”♥♥♥♥

We can change the course of another’s life simply DuBose.Nikki.BeautyProject.Amazingby spreading love and kindness. What can you today to spread love to others?

God Bless,
Nikki DuBos

B.E.A.U.T.Y Project Art in Honor of My Mom

"Each tiny leaf upon this tree will tell my message: I love thee"
“Each tiny leaf upon this tree will tell my message: I love thee.”

My mom was a deep person who loved nature and art, among many other things. She always tried to spread her love to me and my brother in her artwork, and I am happy to share that with you. We all express our love in different ways, and I think it’s important to accept that love for what it is, instead of trying to change that love to fit our desires. We are all here on Earth trying to do the best we can.

We love and miss you mom.

How do you see love and beauty?

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

B.E.A.U.T.Y Project “Self-Awareness”

Taking time to be quiet and listenDuBose.Nikki.BeautyProject.SelfAware to what our bodies are telling us is vital not only for recovery but also for everyday life.  We all need moments to unwind from stress.

Carve out ten minutes in your day with no distractions, and breathe in deeply and calmly.  How do you feel?

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

B.E.A.U.T.Y Project Art “Every Step”

"Every Step"

The road of life is filled with ups and downs. Recovery, however, is a whole ‘nother kind of journey, huh? Your perseverance and will to keep going no matter what comes against you makes you incredibly beautiful. Be proud of every step you take, and take life one moment at a time. ♥

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

B.E.A.U.T.Y Project Art “You”

IMG_20140624_115003Maybe nobody has ever told you that you are valuable and special.  I want to tell you that you are important and that you have everything it takes to make a big impact in this world!

Make a list of all your wonderful qualities.  Meditate on your goodness, and how you can help the world become a better place with your inner light.

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose

B.E.A.U.T.Y Project Art “I am Free”

I am Free!

Focusing on our inner beauty allows our true nature to shine through. When we build our identity based on our spirituality, values, strengths, and gifts, we are free to be happy!

What are you made up of from the inside? Do you feel free? Why or why not?

God Bless,
Nikki DuBose