Searching for ghosts.

There was a time when I’d blog deep into the night, only to air the filth I was living in. The scent of regret was thick and sour, spoiled milk in my open wounds. The further away I’ve gotten from my nightmare the easier it is for me to play the part of marketer and diva, but I’ve lost words, I think.

I told someone as I started to heal how very much I feared losing the sting and shock and burn.

How do you get back the anger, when it’s left you alone inside your happiness?

Funny, isn’t it, how we want what we used to have? We find comfort in whatever’s usual, whatever we carved into our skin to scar us.

Settling into marriage means my sickness is almost dead. My sins purged. A different fear settles, one only to be tested by time. Maybe I’ll forget who I was before the smiles and dates and success. Maybe I won’t.

Don’t forget me, friends. Remind me you like medium rare steaks and don’t accept hors d’oeuvres. If I tell you I can’t find the darkness anymore tell me to search for my ghosts. Please. Because if I ever lose sight of the reasons I’ve made the choices I have, I’ve failed myself.



Here comes the countdown.

Three weeks away. Amazon is now allowing pre-orders so when I figure out how to set up my CreateSpace account to allow it, the people who are on my mailing list will be the first to know. And, if you pre-order, I’ll be sending you something extra, along with your copy of the memoir.

How can you find out more? If you’ve followed my blog, using your email address, I’ll be able to get a hold of you. In the next two weeks you’ll be receiving:

1: The first viewing of my book trailer. We’re in the cleaning/editing stages and I’m beyond thrilled with the work my marketers have done. It’s the first chance you’ll ever have to hear MY voice (although you’ve read it in my writing), and a glimpse at the mood I’ve set in The House on Sunset.

2: An opportunity to download the first chapter of my book (probably next week) before anyone else. 

3: Insider information you’re not going to get here (in the upcoming weeks). 

What are you waiting for? Sign up to ‘follow my blog’ in the right-hand column. Once you’ve have, I’ll get confirmation and you’ll be set.

BIG, new things are coming soon.

You won’t want to miss them.

The Best Part of my Life.



I laid in bed Thursday night, asking my now-husband if I should add a section to #thehouseonsunset.  Am I brave enough to allow myself the public humiliation associated with this piece of my story I’ve never shared? More than that, is he fully prepared to be questioned about how it makes him feel to know _______________ happened when he, my ex, lived in the house on Sunset?

“I want you to tell your story, Fina. I want you to tell every bit of it that’s going to allow you to feel better about it.” he said.

“I’ll probably never feel all of this go away,” I said.

“But it’s separate from you now. It doesn’t hold you the way it used to. You’re ready.”

He loves me, flaws and all, and he’s right, too. And it got me thinking about what it means to love someone so fully their blemishes are still lovable. When we started dating he would borrow me from my daily life, pulling me out of my own head and showing me the safety the world can offer. It was so foreign then, so vastly different from the last few years of my life, that I didn’t realize I could live in that world (alone or with someone) until he showed me.

That’s why we ended up with this picture.
photo 1

He listened to what I said, the story I told him, and he didn’t flinch once. He’s proven he’s less-than-likely to squirm now.

On Friday, I went to a bachelorette party. The bride asked me to share with her our story, and I gushed all over the patio table, laughing and drinking and feeling as if I might be the most privileged human being on this planet. To have a man so eager to stand next to me through my healing journey was more than enough, but to have a man who now stands alongside me when I’m ready to share my darkest secrets with whoever wants to read them, well, I honestly don’t think I deserve him.

photo 2



Yet he looks just as happy as me in our wedding photos. He laughed and smiled as often as me. Still, I’m not sure what my husband believes I’m worth. I wonder what he sees in me that I don’t: I’m just a girl, telling the truth about a life she didn’t choose, trying to live every day with purpose. I just want to smile through it all.



photo 3


I’m so thankful to have found someone who understands my dreams and chases them with me, holding me steady when I try to back-peddle and lifting me up when I feel I’ve fallen short.

Release is less than one month away, and I have so many great things to celebrate.

Meet My Main Character (Blog tour)

Welcome to the Meet My Main Character Blog Tour, started by Debra Brown. I was invited into this event by Will Van Stone Jr, an awesome writer/artist/musician/friend-guy who I met on Twitter. You can meet his main character, Rylan, here.

I’m introducing you to myself. The girl I was when I lived in The House on Sunset. There’s still a part of me lingering behind curtains and hiding wounds. That world belongs to my main character. Without it, I wouldn’t have this story.

What is the name of your character? Is he real of fictional? 

Sarafina Bianco is real.  More than that, she’s every bit of me through my twenties: broken and lost, scared yet hopeful. Unapologetic in her choices and dangerous in her convictions.

When and where is the story set?

  • Where: Missouri.
  • When: 2007 – 2009, when I fell victim to, and then survived, domestic violence.

What should we know about him? 

My friends call me Fina.
A hopeless romantic and typical twenty-something, I had dreams to chase and lives to change. I believed putting good into the world meant I would be given the same in return. The universe repays you ten-fold for what you put out. So when I met Mike, a wealthy, well-established businessman, I thought the universe was sending me exactly who I deserved.
That’s why I stayed when he beat me. It’s why I believed it must be my fault.

What is the main conflict for him during the story?

A sociopath. He was success. He was a good dad, a helpful son and amazing boyfriend. He was everything I needed in my life, until I let him in.

What is the personal goal of the character?

To survive.

Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it? 

The House on Sunset  is in the archive of this blog and my old site, and I will post more about it here over the next few weeks.

When can we expect the book to be published?

September 8th, 2014.

Who’s next? 

I’m passing the baton on to my friends Ellen Harger (@ellenharger) and Clare Davidson (@claremdavidson). Ellen is another Missourian who lives in my college town. She’s recently released her second amazing, real-to-life novel about an anonymous blog (right?).  Clare and I are both former English teachers and we took Write Raw together last summer. Her dedication is admirable, and I’m thankful to have her around as motivation.  She’s written quite a lot, and I dare not try to limit her in who she chooses to respond with.

These fabulous folks will be sharing their “Meet My Main Character” posts next week! when/if they accept the challenge.


Between getting ready for the launch of #thehouseonsunset, settling into life as a wife, and writing a weekly column over at The Good Men Project, I feel like I’m teaching and coaching again. In some ways the new job is just like the old: it takes a lot of passion and even more time. Still, I can’t help but feel the rewards of these positions far more than I did in a classroom.

I’m reaching a bigger audience.

I will never, ever have to answer to a higher up who doesn’t understand my mission or goals.

I will never, ever be surrounded by people who are anything other than supportive of my dreams.

And I’m working from home, drinking coffee at 9:43 a.m., typing in my pajamas.

The school year picks  back  up in two weeks. Some of my former coworkers are posting about the drag of it all. Suddenly, in the midst of my own busy schedule, I’m realizing chaos is easier to handle when you’re doing what’s best for you. And that’s the best kind of freedom a girl could want.

Happiness looks good when you wear it. I see it a lot on others, friends and family who live with their ghosts, but hadn’t on myself.

Not until this summer.


It’s time. (#thehouseonsunset)

I’m weeks away from sharing more of my nightmare than ever before.

I ran a cover art contest on 99Designs, even asking my Facebook followers to join in and cast votes on which design they wanted to see on The House On Sunset. I LOVED the passion from people who have followed me from the start and my newest followers.  I started a marketing campaign with A Freaking Great Company last week. We’re working on a few things, including a book trailer. And we set a release date. Yep.

What does this mean for you?

Be on the lookout for a September 8th release. The official hold-it-in-your-hands-and-read-it date. But, before you set a phone alarm for then, know we’ll be doing pre-order perks sometime late next month.

Keep track of all the shenanigans in three easy steps:

1. Subscribe to the blog (in right sidebar you’ll see a link). Look ———–>

2. Like my Facebook fan page. It’s launch headquarters. Updates via picture and video will be there FIRST.

3. Search for – and use – the hash tag (#thehouseonsunset).

I’m putting myself out there even more, hoping I’ll reach further than I have, so we can  reach as  many survivors as possible. It’s time our voices come together and we take a stand. There is life after abuse. It’s time we start telling  the women who need to hear it most.

Enough is enough. Pictures of abuse? Keep them out of the media.

I was recently contacted by a magazine on my Facebook fan page, asking if they could do a write-up on my story. I, obviously, said they could because, if you’ve been following my story for any length of time, you know I feel very adamant about building an army against domestic violence. DV needs to stop. It’s an equalizer, able to reach into every demographic. But, most importantly, it’s survivable.

There is life after abuse.

The person who contacted me asked for a picture, so I sent her this:



It’s my usual image for the site and any promotion I do. It’s me, nearly eight years ago, in a semi-serious photo shoot with my best friends (who, at the time, wanted to take up photography). I took these in January, a few weeks after my 24th birthday. And, if you know my story, you know just 11 months later I met my abuser and stayed with him for two years before leaving him on July 27th, 2009.

A year after leaving, I started my blog. It was a way to deal with the repercussions of leaving my abuser. I never realized how hard the aftermath would be.  Then, a year after that, I began intense trauma therapy for physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and financial abuses. This photo became my calling card. It was symbolic of where I was with him, and after him. I was lonely and insecure and unhappy.

It was dark, so was I.

As this journey moved forward and I got the help I needed, my voice reached further. But I’ve never given out a picture of my entire face or of any bruises. So when the person doing the write-up asked me for additional pictures, well, it non-violently struck me.

Why haven’t I given out pictures of my abuse?


I haven’t because abuse is more than bruises. It’s more than black eyes and fractured noses and swollen upper lips.

Every time I see a picture of a woman in the media who steps forward to display what her abuse ‘looked like’ I know it doesn’t display what it felt like.

Battered pictures don’t show you PTSD.

They don’t show trauma.

They don’t show emptiness, fear or alienation.

And they don’t show the strangling thoughts that murder logic.

Survivors are more than their injuries, and they don’t deserve to be treated as a media campaign in the midst of their nightmare. But they don’t necessarily see it that way. Yet.

And all the media shows is bruises.

It’s time they’re held accountable for the behavior. We are more than our injuries. We felt more then and we still do now. The media’s current, trending contribution to the cause is dangerous,  a terrible beginning to a new chapter in the lives of women who survive monsters.  As a dear friend of mine and another survivor said it,

Those pictures show something that can heal. The aftermath of abuse will never completely disappear in the way that bruises do.

These pictures make me feel unsafe, even after three years of therapy. They remind me of the darkest places in my heart, the places that never truly die after abuse. I’ve learned to live with them, to accept and understand why they are with me, and I’ve learned to appreciate the way my body and mind try to protect me from entering unsafe situations.

Still, I’m not mad at the women. They’re doing what they feel is best,  just as I am here. If I came across their blog or social media page and these images were on them (read: they posted them on their own page, not in an online magazine),  I would probably stand alongside them, reminding them they are not alone in their recovery. Sure, it’s not my thing, but who am I to judge an actual survivor experiencing a different stage in their recovery?

If you would have asked me two days after I left him if I knew how bad it was going to get for me, I would have said yes. But I was wrong. I would have given the pictures, too, believing the worst was over. Is it brave? Absolutely. Of the survivor. I think it’s the best they can do in the moment they choose to post them, even though it might be harmful later (when you’re traumatized you can’t see the future). The media, on the other hand, victimized these women, making money and earning readership with shocking images. And then they leave the woman to heal on her own, the images they used a constant reminder of the battle. Because, if the abused person later regretted putting up the images, he/she could erase them and never look back. But she can’t erase Huff Post or Jezebel or Yahoo.

What do these images show people who don’t know abuse like those who have witnessed it? Nothing. They know nothing more than they did before they saw the picture. They don’t realize emotional abuse can be the hardest part to get over. That brainwashing is a thing. And it can be done over months without realizing it, until it’s too late. Or that financial abuse can change the course of someone’s life. One minute a homeowner, the next homeless.

Who is more impacted by these images?

Is it the women, men and children who have survived abuse, or the society who refuses to acknowledge much more than the bruises?



I’ve shared these campaigns on my Facebook page. Some even in recent months.  So as I wrote this post, I went back through my timeline and erased as many as I could, apologizing to the sky for sharing the women I posted. I contributed before I had time to process my own feelings about the campaigns, but I won’t do it again and I’m sorry I did.

The magazine in question apologized for their question, stating they did not want pictures of abuse. They were hoping for other images of me, like the one above. After reading my explanation of why I don’t hand out more pictures (except those I’ve posted here or on social media) they totally understood and continued working on my write up. 

I Saw a Man Beat a Woman. And I Did Nothing.

Part 1:

It’s known as Bystander effect. My therapist told me at our first meeting after my honeymoon. I sat in her office, staring at and counting all of my newly acquired freckles.  Eye contact impossible.

“You shouldn’t have had to see that, especially on your honeymoon, Fina,” she said. “It’s so unfair.”

And she was right.

“It shouldn’t have happened,” I replied.

And I was right, too.


It was the third day of our week in Oahu. JF isn’t a certified diver but I am, and I wanted to spend some time underwater on our trip. When I found an introductory dive, for people without certification, I immediately bought two seats on the boat. Our training would begin at 2:30 and our dive would follow. We’d be done in time to find a nice place for dinner.

We spent the morning at Pearl Harbor, touring the memorials while gripping pride and humility. Those people sacrificed so much. So many still do. It’s hard to wrap words around what standing on their war ship will do to your heart, but it changed me for the better, I think.

I bought a beach bag before the trip, big enough to carry two beach towels and anything else we wanted to stuff inside. It is navy blue and white chevron and my new last name is proudly embroidered in mint across the front of the bag. So we filled it with our swimsuits and flip-flops, threw in sunscreen for the day and extra clothes for the ride back, and tossed it into the trunk of the car.

We arrived to the dock about thirty minutes early. The truck for the dive company parked across from the dock, wet suits laying over the bed, drying out from an earlier dive. Two men sat on park benches, facing one another. They were talking about dives and wildlife, and J sat laughing at me while I, in anticipation of what was to come, eavesdropped on their conversation. We sat on the ledge of the pier, looking away from the water toward the park and beach. It was full of people, some homeless and sleeping under the shade of the trees. Others tourists, Japanese and American, all taking pictures of themselves as the ocean waves crashed into their ankles.

“Are you J and Sarafina?” someone asked. It was one of the blondes who was sitting on the benches. He obviously worked on a boat, his rough, thick skin red and taut against his temples.

We confirmed.

“Why don’t you guys steal our spots on those benches. Stay out of the sun while you can, you know?”

I grabbed our bag and headed to the benches. We sat there, waiting for the rest of the divers to show up. J had to fill out some preliminary paperwork and read through several documents. I watched people from the benches. The pier to my left. The park and beach on my right.

And then I heard her scream.

It startled me at first, but nobody else around me seemed to notice. I tried to calm myself down, to remind myself why I might respond so differently than most. Maybe it was just a kid at the beach. It sure didn’t sound like a kid’s scream. J wasn’t startled. Neither were the two local diver instructors. So I sat back down.

Until I heard the next one. And I knew that scream. I knew it like it was coming from my own stomach. Suddenly, without any warning, my throat started to close.

“J. Something’s wrong.” I said, barely loud enough for him to hear me.

“You alright?” he asked.

“I heard a woman scream.”

I was turning in circles, surveying as much of the area as possible. Cars pulled past us and speed down the main roads along the park, the sound of brakes and horns, crashing waves and tourists, all muffling what I could hear. My vision blurred I was turning so fast.

J put down his papers and began to stand, and just as he did I turned my back on what was happening, tears streaming down my face.

She was on her back in the park, and he was standing over her, punching her in the chest and gut. She was kicking to get him off, but he was relentlessly pummeling her body.

The divers saw it too, but they stood there watching, shaking their heads in disappointment without moving to help. Other people saw it too.

“What do you want me to do, Fina?” J asked, “Can we stop him?”

“I need you right now,” I said. “Please don’t leave me.”

I knew exactly what I asked J, before he even had time to respond. I asked him to strip himself of power, to feel what I was. Asking him to do nothing was unfair and uncomfortable. But had he left me, I have no idea how I would have handled the rest of our day or trip or year.

What felt like an hour only lasted thirty seconds. The monster walked away from that beautiful woman when he noticed people were watching. Through the blur, I saw each of them look back at one another, eyes dropping from one person to the next, then back down at the concrete.

“It’s over,” he said, his arm grabbing at my waist, gently guiding my body toward his. “He left and she’s already walking around. Sit down, babe. It’s over.” Scott crept in through it all, hovering over me in the same way I just saw. He had been so contained, so powerless for the last year. But this. This gave him life again.

The diver instructors went back to their preparations, laying out boots and snorkels.

And I sang  a song to myself silently, hoping not to ruin Joey’s experience or my entire trip, embarrassingly wishing I hadn’t seen what I just did. My reaction was selfish and shocking. I really thought I was getting somewhere in my recovery. I’d played ‘what if’ so many times. This wasn’t supposed to be how I reacted. I was supposed to be a hero.

Leaning into my new husband, praying any real deity existed, I asked for her safety and my inner peace. And I turned up the volume in my head so I didn’t have to hear myself having an anxiety attack.



I planned to write the entire post today, but there’s too much story to share. This woman deserves more than one post from me. Come back next Monday for the second half.

Take care of yourselves until then. 

An Army of Voices.

It’s the four-year anniversary of my blogging journey. Which means we’re *almost* to the five-year mark for leaving Scott and beginning a life leading me here, to you, and everyone else along the way.

To those of you who have stood by my side:

Thank you for trusting my journey and my heart. For always knowing my worth and intentions, for never undervaluing or diminishing my true heart.

There is no reason to acknowledge the rest, except to say I won’t acknowledge you after this paragraph. This is my goodbye. If you abandoned me, gossiped, knew the truth but cowered in fear, then we are obviously not cut of the same cloth and I don’t like polyester. Go talk to your friends who chose another way, about me and “why I’m up to it now…again,” and sleep better at night because of your decisions. I sure have because of mine.

If you haven’t been here long, or don’t know the whole story, it’s Monday. Are you really working anyhow? As we’re nearing the five-year anniversary of my survivor-status, celebrate with me by reading from the beginning:

Share my story, spread the word. I want an army of voices. Not for me, but for the women who are still out there, looking for a reason to survive. They can find it, but it’s so much easier to do when someone else speaks for you.

Let’s do this. #wewillbeheard #unsilencetheviolence

On Colonel Sanders and the Waterboy.

Here’s your refresher:

I loved this movie. It was released in 1998 during my freshman year of high school, so when the Colonel kept popping into my head during group one day, I was certain something was off. Low and behold, a little introspection and I figured out the puzzle. There was a connection.

My six-week crash course in brain functioning and how to cope with trauma was called Tools for Survivors. To begin better understanding our recovery, our group leaders begin by explaining how our brains function, dividing it into three sections and explaining how each is changed by abuse. I’m going to provide a very simple explanation of a very complex process, in hopes this reaches someone else whose recovery will benefit.


This is where memories are processed. Over weeks and months, our brains attempt to recycle memories (most during sleep…in dreams). When we suffer trauma, our bodies release a high level of stress hormones. This can cause the hippocampus to shrink or under-develop, resulting in the inability to function properly. Traumatic events can remain in the hippocampus, unprocessed, making us feel as if the traumatic even is still happening.

Hello, PTSD. 

Childhood trauma can actually magnify this effect. And it can also be magnified if your hippocampus develops smaller than most.

This is all significant because the hippocampus will try to help, even if it’s unable. So if it can’t process a memory, it’s going to try to suppress it. Which is why survivors of domestic violence sometimes can’t remember all of the attacks or manipulations of their abusers.


The stress hormones I mentioned are activated here. So is the mechanism we all know as ‘fight or flight.’ The amygdala is the brain’s fear center. If the hippocampus can’t process a memory and the stress hormones induced begin to overwhelm the person, the  amygdala sends out messages allowing the body to feel the thoughts/fears/questions/anxiety. Basically, when a person is suffering PTSD symptoms, his or her amygdala is working on overdrive, releasing a constant (or frequent) stream of stress hormones.

When this happens, we begin reacting instead of using logic. And since our hippocampus is unable to process our memories, we’re in a state of constant fight or flight, making it impossible to think.

Pre-frontal cortex –

The most sophisticated and advanced part of our brains, it’s where logical thought comes from. The pre-frontal cortex assesses threats, manages emotions developed in other places and logically plans how to respond to stressors (responsible for language production). But, most importantly, it helps us control impulses.

While the pre-frontal cortex houses rational thinking, it can’t function if the hippocampus and amygdala are in overdrive, so logical thinking and language usage go out the window when PTSD attacks.

In a nutshell:

The hippocampus is triggered so the amygdala reacts, reactivating emotions and body responses. Because of this, the pre-frontal cortex cannot determine if the situation is current or if it happened in the past. Because of this, because of confusion, it spits out the memory and leave is unprocessed.

And there you have the process of PTSD and how it cyclically moves through our brains.


If for no other reason, this is significant because there are women and men suffering PTSD who have no idea how to shut it down. And they have no idea it’s claiming three large sections of our brains, making it impossible to think before we act.

But there is hope and there are therapies we can use to better stop PTSD from consuming us.

The next few weeks here will detail this.

Stick around.

P.s. If you know me in real life, you know I’m off honeymooning in Hawaii. I wrote my posts a week in advance and scheduled them to post at the normal time. Technology makes being consistent much easier.