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Is there one thing you do to express yourself where you feel completely free?

This weekend, I had my first official open-to-the-public reading of my full-length drama, Imprints.

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Imprints – see photos from the reading here.

I was more nervous than giving my TEDx Talk, performing my one-woman musical or sky-diving combined!

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My TEDx Talk: A Detour is Not a Dead End

(Well, maybe not sky-diving.)

Replaying My Life

It was surreal seeing events that actually happened in my life being played out on stage.

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Imprints: A poignant story of a family, ripped apart, reassembling with the imprints of a heartbreaking past.

Last week, I shared entries from the journal that my brother kept for the first 72 days I was in the Surgical Intensive Care Unit – the ICU.  

In “Imprints,” the part of me that woke up from a coma is Patty.

My more innocent, healthy, pre-coma high school self is Patricia.  

Here is a song that inspired Patty’s character:  “Hospital Song”

What was it like waking up from a coma?

When I was finally discharged from the hospital, writing about my memories helped me to process them.

“The ICU is a whole world in itself.  It exists in its own winding and bizarre current, so breeched off from the normal flowing river that is life.  No one in the real world could ever perceive the upside down hell that being chained to beeping machines is with 48 other “sickest kids in America”, all wondering when or if life will start for us again.  Or if we’ll even keep the life we’re given now, because for a while that wasn’t for sure either.  It’s like a whole cyclonic vortex all on its own, but once you are sucked in, you are exposed to this whole scary alternate universe.  I didn’t know if I would ever be able to go on my own again.  Back in diapers, back to being a baby, wide-eyed, innocent, unable to manage in the real world.”

Healing Through Writing and Expression

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Speaking of writing, check out my upcoming book 🙂

Coming out of a coma, words gave me strength.   As I wrote, I discovered ways to handle difficult situations successfully and to learn from my situation and grow.  Strength is the ability to keep a positive attitude towards a situation that proves to be hard and painful and manage it in a healthy way.   Strength is the ability to overcome fear.  The more definitions I was able to write, the more empowered I felt.

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Nicole Javier, a wonderful actress, played Patty, my coma-self

“I love how I am becoming not only a real person, but a totally new and surprising person, a phoenix rising from the ashes – I love that image.  Writing is really who I am now.  I love having a passion when I wake up in the morning that feels bigger than my medical situation.”

Being able to express myself helped form my identity:

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Me, as the playwright (!) giving notes to Lara Gold, the wonderful director

“Now my writing is my life’s work – this part of my life anyway, because I think I have nine lives like a cat, God has just given me so many chances, but just enough for even the stubbornest of us to learn.  My writing has poured down on my like the waterfall that has convinced me to give all of this over, because this controlling and skewed whirlpool part of me isn’t really who I am – and only my writing has helped me to discover who I actually am. 

Now I wake up in the middle of the night spinning together more and more thoughts that I have to remember to write down the next day – when I go out in the world I am just taking notes on the pad in my mind’s eye for more material, because I’m getting healthy enough to complete my mission as a healer.”

Patricia: My Pre-Coma 15 Year Old Self

It was the craziest experience seeing my old 15-year old happy go lucky self played by the brilliant Angela Sharp, as she and Aaron Kaplan reenacted a scene that I was all too familiar with: Jamming out with my brother Matt (“Phil” in Imprints) in his studio.

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Actors Angela Sharp and Aaron Kaplan as Patricia and Phil…or me and my big bro Matt 🙂

As a 15 year old theatre ham, I was fierce, feisty and pretty annoying to my brothers…but oh so endearing.

My 15 year old self singing the song I’d use for ever audition (including in my play!) Mira:

And if you’d like to see me and the “real” Phil jamming out, check out me and Matt here!

Writing Imprints Help me Process My Sexual Abuse

Writing scenes between “Blaine,” my abuser and Patricia, my younger self helped alleviate the undeserved shame that plagued me for years and allowed me to process, move forward and claim my voice.

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Patricia (me at 15) and Blaine (my voice teacher/abuser)

 Integrating my life before and after my coma

I had “Rita” (a hospital art therapist) help Patty and Patricia accept one another.

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Rita (therapist) Patricia (pre-coma) and Patty (pre-coma)

Portraying My Family in Imprints

I imagined what it must have been like for my brother Jeff to stay in the ICU, comforting my mother as they anxiously waited for me to wake up

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“James” and “Susan” – my brother Jeff and my mom

Almost Telling My Brother I Was Abused

I remembered what it was like to be haunted by the secret of being sexual abused, and finally trying to tell my brother:

Patricia:  tries again:  “Blaine…and I…are getting really close.”

James: oblivious: Oh? You guys seem to have a really close relationship.  You must be learning a lot from him.

Patricia: Yeah…

How Should You Help a Survivor of Sexual Assault?

Finding the courage to speak up after being sexually abused can be overwhelming.  In my article for Huffington Post, Healing Through Our Voices: What to Say (and Not Say) to a Survivor of Sexual Assault, I list helpful phrases, tips and tools to help become a support system for those who have been assaulted.

Because speaking the words, “I was sexually abused” can be terrifying.

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The back of the program for Imprints

Repairing our Family

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An old family photo

My abuser not only traumatized me, he broke the trust of our entire family. When I almost lost my life and woke up in the ICU months later, in a way, it gave my time the space, the time and the close quarters to finally start to heal together, as they prayed for my life.

And when I finally woke up, and made a miraculous recovery, I could finally join my family and we could all heal together, stronger than ever before.

Having New Beginnings

And to think this all started on Passover.  Passover is a very special holiday for me, filled with juicy metaphors and a roadmap for our own spiritual journey.  It is a time of new beginnings, finding redemption, freeing ourselves, and joy with our loved ones, and telling our stories.

Imprints, set on Passover, which is also the night I was first rushed to the Emergency Room, revolves around finding that “loophole” in the universe – that magic day when we can finally free ourselves from what binds us.

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My original artwork is an amazing way to express myself too!

I realized that just as on Passover, we hope to free ourselves, each year, I hoped to be a bit freer in mind and body than the year before:

“Now this all makes so much sense – the Passover connection.  Every year we say next year in Jerusalem – will this be the year for me?  I am breaking free one trying moment at a time.  One day we’ll get our seder back.  We’ll all be around the kitchen table, like old times, eating, laughing, simple, happy…”

This year, I invite you to pretend like you yourself are breaking free from whatever binds you, fleeing you own spiritual Egypt and finding refuge in the beautiful new beginnings –  the season of our freedom, it is also a festival that speaks of spiritual redemption.   Just as we were freed from mental as well as physical slavery, let’s all find some way to set ourselves free.

Expression set me free, and this weekend, Imprints brought it all to fruition.

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Comment here to share with me one way that expression sets you free…

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