Category Archives: Washington

The Doney Clinic: A Free Vet Clinic for Homeless People & Their Pets

homeless street dog

This is Angel. She lives on the streets of Seattle with her dad. When I met Angel, I told her dad he named her perfectly because she was a real sweetheart. He looked at me without a beat and said, “She is my best friend.”

Last Saturday was my first day volunteering with the Doney Clinic, a free vet clinic for homeless and low-income people to bring their pets. Every other Saturday, two dozen volunteers set up mobile veterinary services and a pet supply donation center in the basement of the Union Gospel Mission Men’s Shelter. Angel and her dad were the first pet-parent couple I met. They were near the front of the line that stretched all the way down and around the block. They had been waiting in the cold for six hours so that Angel could get free winter clothes, food, toys, a harness, and a check-up.

Angel was one of a hundred dogs and cats that came through the doors that Saturday. Amidst the chaos, we clipped nails, cleaned ears, drew blood, gave vaccines, and more. I helped a homeless woman bundle her long-haired Dachshund back up in his winter coats. She instructed me that the clothes were put on in a specific order. The pink jacket was the first of the six coats to go on her furry companion. It would drop below freezing that night.

Every single person that came through the clinic was extremely grateful for our services—I mean extremely grateful. But I found myself thanking them for coming in, for being such caring and doting pet parents, and for helping to restore some of my own faith in humanity.

Admittedly, volunteering here for me isn’t a selfless endeavor. I’m trying to fill a void in my heart that’s calling for me to give back more to this wonderful planet and amazing community that has done so much for me. I’m trying to understand the individuals behind the homeless epidemic, trying to find a channel for my compassion that doesn’t compromise my safety.

I will be journaling about my experiences with the Doney Clinic every month in an effort to help the clinic continue its services and to share my own transformative journey looking in the eye  people and animals that too often are passed by.

Under the streets of Pioneer Square in the heart of downtown Seattle in a bustling basement on a cold winter day, I saw hope and a reciprocated love that, between man and his best friend, remains unconditional.

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Of Love Languages & the Power of Physical Touch

If you’ve not read psychologist Dr. Gary Chapman’s The 5 Love Languages yet, make that the first thing you do after reading this post. Yes, it’s kind of a “girly” book, but I’ve gotten a few of my male friends to read it and they’ve admitted that they learned a lot from it.

Within the chapters, the author speaks of how teaching people to find their own and their partner’s love language can save a relationship. At the core of any association between two people, communication can make or break their union. We show people we care about them by way of a love language and we also know that people care about us when they speak our love language.

Chapman believes five universal love languages exist, and that we should learn to speak each of them. However, we tend to want and give some more than others. You can take a quick quiz to find out which language you speak. The five languages are:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Quality Time
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Acts of Service
  • Physical Touch

friends

I didn’t need to take the test to know that my dominant love language is words of affirmation. The saying “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me” has never been true for me.

But words of affirmation isn’t my only love language. I’ve spent a lot of time (maybe too much time) analyzing my past relationships, and in many of them, my love language wasn’t spoken (literally). However, more recently, I’ve realized another love language missing in my daily life: physical touch.

Most people automatically assume physical touch equates to sex, and therefore many couples assume that this must be their love language. That is often not the case. However, it’s important to note that physical touch means so much more than sex.

From hand-holding to hugs, from a passionate kiss to a peck on the cheek, physical touch is something we all crave to some degree in life.  In a famous experiment by psychologist Dr. Harry Harlow, baby monkeys were placed with one of two fake mothers that both offered milk, a “mother” made of wire and another covered in soft terry cloth. The babies with terry cloth mothers clung to them after nursing and were well-behaved little monkeys, unlike the others. Harlow’s experiment showed that tactile comfort offers emotional reassurance.

hugs

Few can come up with an argument to debate this study’s findings. Physical touch can be both positive and negative–a terry cloth or a cold wire. Most of us have seen or experienced how both a slap and a kiss can be exclamation points that make words superfluous. Physical touch exudes strength and power.

In the past few months, I realized how little physical touch I have in my day-to-day routine. Seattle is the first city I’ve lived in. Everywhere else has been little towns where everyone knows everyone’s business, but where everyone hugs one another after four hours apart like it’s been four years.

Snuggling and head scratching and spazzing on each other happens a lot with my Florida Keys friends and my college and gradeschool friends. My best friend and I have a relationship built upon physical touch. Ten seconds can’t go by without one of us jumping on the other’s back.

friends hugging

But when I’m not around these people, I’m lacking this emotional reassurance, and it’s not just because I’m single. Physical touch isn’t always guaranteed when you’re dating someone, and in fact, I recently wrote about how one of my relationships actually caused me to flinch in response to certain corporeal gestures.

Some people just aren’t huggers, and in city life, it takes longer to build the level of friendships you made in college or small town living. It’s harder to find those people that feel comfortable doling out the kind of bear hugs that knock you off your feet.

After going through some recent hardships, I realized how much I just needed a good hug. When I got that hug–a wave of hugs–my struggles seemed to momentarily melt away. In so many of my trying times, I have felt utterly alone. I have always had wonderful, dear, true friends who will make a routine out of talking to me for hours, on the good days and bad, to get me through. But too often, they’re still on the other end of a phone line. Their words of affirmation can only help me so much.

friendship

I wonder if any of my past pain would have been easier to bear if I was also able to lie next to someone I cared about (and who cared about me) while watching a movie on the couch. I’ve realized how many times I have simply needed a friend to hold me while I cried. I’ve realized how electric a handhold can be, how soothing it is to feel a reassuring thumb rub on my forearm.

I’m working on recognizing my needs. As I do, I’ve begun verbalizing them to the people who surround me. I tell them my love language and ask them to tell me theirs, and then we begin to practice speaking each other’s.

I Feared For My Life & This Is What I Learned

October 2017 will be two years since I lived through Hurricane Joaquin, the historic perfect storm that I remember as the two longest days of my life. I have never known time to stand so still, during which I prayed constantly that my family and friends knew how much I loved them.

Effectively isolated after the storm on a remote island in the Caribbean, it would be eight days before I could hunt down a satellite phone to let the people who mean the most to me know I loved them, I was breathing but far from okay, and please send donations because the island was devastated. I didn’t know when I’d be able to reach my family again.

In the months following Joaquin in which an overseas, across-the-country move took place, I was a mess. Trauma from the storm unlocked trauma from my past until, nearly a year later when I thought I was healed, another window opened that my mind had bolted shut. I started seeing a therapist in the immediate aftermath of the storm who diagnosed me with PTSD on top of PTSD on top of PTSD.

But this post isn’t about fearing for my life. This post isn’t about my PTSD. It isn’t about my past (though that story begs to be told at a later time, when I’m ready).

This post is about my recovery. This post is about me, now.

So, you ask, how am I now?

The short answer: Freaking fantastic.

The long answer: I’m working on it.

My wounds will always be scabs turned scars that make me who I am. I would never in a million years wish any of these hardships upon someone. But I cannot change my past, so instead, I decided to see how my past could shape my future.

Breaking apart the most harrowing experiences of my life, I made a list of what I gained from them.

Here is that list:

  • Empathy & compassion. Sometimes life has to beat you up to give you empathy and compassion you didn’t know you were lacking.
  • Perspective. My eyes were further opened to the existence of poverty and racism in the world today.
  • Strength in vulnerability. Turning to others for help did not make me weak; it takes a great deal of courage to bare one’s heart and mind so openly.
  • Cultural enlightenment. I mean, I did get to live on a remote island in the Bahamas living the real island life and making lifelong friends turned family. So there’s that.
  • Dreams. I needed to start following my dreams NOW, and never ever stop.
  • Relationship knowledge. I learned what I want, need, and deserve in a relationship.
  • Self-awareness. In order to heal, I had to fully know myself. It was an isolating road to travel down, but necessary.
  • Peace within myself. Knowing who I am meant accepting all of me, including my flaws, quirks, and neuroses. Better yet, it meant embracing them.

Despite having just emerged from the darkest period of my life–and, admittedly, still having moments in which I feel like I take a step back–I am the happiest I have ever been.

My path of healing from PTSD threw me under the self-reflection bus, and I am eternally grateful to it for that. But I don’t think you need to claw your way out of the lion’s den in order to begin this journey.

The three experiences that led to my struggle had a common thread: I felt small, helpless, and insignificant. I have spent the last twenty-four months fighting to be strong, confident, and significant. I have worked hard at believing in myself, taking risks and viewing subsequent failures as successes.

Now, most days, I wear that cheesy ear-to-ear grin on my face that everyone who knew me before I moved to Seattle remembers. But I’ve changed. I have so many layers to me now. Good layers. Deep layers. Real layers.

One of my friends from the Florida Keys, who has always praised me for my positive and uninhibited energy, recently told me, “Stacey, you’re not the same person you were when you left here, and I mean that as the highest compliment.”

As I’ve begun reconnecting with college friends, they say the same thing. I still dance my crazy dance moves in the middle of the grocery store, but there’s more than a zest for life behind those crazy legs. There’s understanding. There’s a profound appreciation for it.

 

My Favorite Part About the Solar Eclipse Wasn’t the Eclipse

Here in Seattle, we skirted the line of totality capturing a 92 percent partial eclipse. It’s nothing like the two-and-a-half minutes of daylight darkness that consumed Madras, Oregon just south of us, but it was enough to warrant stepping outside of the office to look at the sky.

I didn’t have any eclipse glasses of my own, but I stumbled upon a crowd outside the hilltop library just down the street from me. The community had gathered to pass around homemade cereal box viewers and pin hole paper plate designs, as well as the coveted certified eclipse glasses that sold out from stores weeks ago.

I watched shadows get crisper. I marveled at the little crescent moons on the sidewalk from the leafy trees. I saw the orange sun nearly obscured.

Watching this phenomenon was a memorable experience, but it wasn’t this magnificence in nature that astounded me so. It was the people taking it all in.

The crowd was filled with young and old, future budding scientists and grandparents who told of the eclipses they’d seen in their lifetime. It was filled with sharing and small talk and a genuine appreciation for Mother Nature.

Science–my career, my passion–is under so much attack in this country. People are filled with so much rage and hate in this world. But here was a moment where everyone for miles stopped what they were doing and looked toward the sun.

As I rode my bike to work, the sidewalks were still flowing with faces turned upward, brief moments taking in the sun and the moon as time seemed to stand still. As people passed their eclipse glasses from stranger to stranger and explained–educated–to the curious just exactly how this celestial marvel was possible, a sense of unity overwhelmed me.

You’ll notice I didn’t take any photos of the eclipse. Some experiences are meant to only be captured in our hearts and our minds. For me, the calming feeling that surrounded me couldn’t be captured through a lens, yet that is the part I’ll remember most.

Humans + Minds + Mother Nature

mountain hike

My friend Sarah snapped this candid shot last weekend on my birthday hike as four of us caught the last magic of winter before it fades softly into summer. When she got my attention, she asked me what I was thinking about.

For the first time in a long time, I wasn’t really thinking about anything. I was just listening, to the chirping birds and the rushing waterfalls. I was just existing, a mote of bones and flesh in a breathing cosmic arena.

So much has happened in 29 years. So much has happened since I moved to Seattle. I have met incredible, diverse, and creative friends. I starred in my first film. I wrote a frigging book. I pulled 80-hour weeks. I went to Ikea and Costco for the first time (!). I learned how to wear a sari. And I’ve done it all while being shaken by a past that I knew and a past that my mind had blocked out.

The mind is a powerful tool, a wonderful and equally fascinating and disturbing gift. The human mind is unique.
We will never be as big and vast in our existence as Mother Nature. But we can lead meaningful, significant lives. We can use the power of our minds to create, to engage, to learn, to protect, and to really, truly live.

Sometimes I turn to the beauty of this planet when I am feeling broken. And sometimes I turn to it for no reason at all other than to stop and smell the flowers. But I always appreciate this planet, this life, and my role in it.

Goat Yoga: I Did It & I Loved It

goat yoga

A goat yoga craze is sweeping the country, and I snatched up an opportunity to try it in action.

I participated in Washington state’s only known goat yoga phenomenon on its inaugural weekend debut. Naturally, I wrote an article about it, which included interviews with the 10 curious and rambunctious four-legged animals, all of which were rescued.

goat yoga

The article turned out to be nothing short of adorable, inspiring and entertaining… because, goats.

Read about my goat yoga experience at The Wobbly Ranch here.

Happy Spring!

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.” -Anne Bradstreet

Although I do like me my snow.

The sun is shining, cherry blossoms, irises and daffodils are blooming, and tulips are on their way! I don’t know what I would do without my seasons.

Enjoy today, for with spring comes new growth!