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


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.


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.


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.


Give the Gift of a Personalized Book on Turtles This Holiday Season!

It’s that time of year again when we scour the Internet for the perfect gift idea. I’m gearing up for the holiday season with a big shipment of my book: 254 pages of fun and informative turtle facts in Q&A format–with pictures, of course!

turtle book

I’ve received terrific feedback from kids through adults who love the short and easy-to-read “chapters” as well as learning so much about such an incredible species. Animals really are amazing!

If you’d like to purchase a personalized copy, shoot me an email to smvenzel@gmail.com. Order soon to get yours in time for Christmas!

(If you already have a copy, please consider leaving a review on Amazon! Yippee!)

Acting: To Be Me or Not to Be Me? That Is the Question

Yesterday, I came across a quote by Indie Wire writer David Ehrlich in his review of this year’s leading Oscar nominees. He said:

“Great acting isn’t about becoming someone else so much as it’s about becoming who you really are.” 

The sentiment hit me hard, because I’ve been analyzing my character work in film and theatre, trying to find what most challenges me as well as put into words why I feel so entranced by becoming another character.

I’ve written about theatre’s role in my anxiety management, how taking on a role forces me to set aside my fears and worries and more or less literally be in someone else’s shoes for a moment.

But what if instead of closing a door on my present self, acting opens up that door? What if acting lets me see who I am beneath my anxiety, lets me tap into my deep emotions, helps me gain further perspective?

The most challenging theatrical role I’ve had to date was playing Lt. Cdr. JoAnne Galloway in “A Few Good Men.” My friend John played the enemy, Colonel Jessup, for which he delivered a stand-up performance. About a year ago, John and I were reminiscing about the show and what makes a good actor. We both agreed that strong actors don’t just act, they react.

John and I also talked about how both of us are incredibly empathetic people–to the point that my empathy can be debilitating–and that this innate trait allows us to take to the stage and transform for a few hours into real or fictional characters. We can act out their life experiences because we are actually feeling them.

Fusing this idea of empathy with Ehrlich’s quote, maybe I love acting so much because, like writing, it’s a way for me to create and express, no holds barred. It’s a way for me to feel and learn about others…and about myself. It’s a way for me to be me.

What do you think makes a good actor? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

I Was Sexually Assaulted & This Is My Story

For quite awhile, I didn’t know if I would ever publicly share this story. I didn’t even know how much I’d personally share it. Part of that is because I felt so very, very ashamed.

Another reason is because I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to feel any better after telling it, largely because people don’t know how to appropriately respond.

The more I noticed how much I feared other people’s reactions to my story, the more I saw that I needed to share it—when I was ready.

In the networking, research, and self-help I’ve encountered since long before I realized the assault, one thing I’ve learned is that too many people don’t understand.

I want people to understand what is going on inside a person’s mind days, months, or years after he or she has been sexually assaulted so that the humans hearing these stories can be empathetic, not judgmental or dismissive.

I want other survivors to know that they are not alone, and it is important that we talk about it.

Too many people think that the assault was an isolated incident. It happened, it was horrible, and that was the end of it.

Too many people don’t realize that the incident, the memory, the trauma, lasts for years. Relocation doesn’t solve the problem. Addiction doesn’t sweep the issue under the rug. Staying busy doesn’t block it all out.

Too many people question the strength and integrity of a woman who let herself get into a situation in which she could be once, twice, repeatedly sexually assaulted.

Too many people don’t realize that it is often strong, loving, giving people with good hearts who find themselves in these situations, who hear that it’s their fault, always their fault, and so they try to do better because that’s the humans they are. But nothing was ever their fault in the first place.

Too often these people are the victims themselves.

I didn’t do anything wrong. But I was told I did. I collected stones in an invisible backpack with each transgression. I collected stones each time I did something I didn’t want to do because I was coerced, manipulated, humiliated, and dominated into doing it. I collected stones until the weight held me down and the only way to pick myself up was to start unloading those stones until my bag was empty.

Sexual assault commonly results in post-traumatic stress disorder. The realization, acceptance, and effects are not always immediate.

In my case, it took me more than a year to realize I was sexually assaulted. And it didn’t occur to me on my own.

The effects of a past relationship slowly started to trouble me. I became nauseous when I heard his name or saw something tangible that reminded me of him. I began to flinch when men gingerly put a hand on my shoulder, making a move. I became hypervigilant and hyperaware, lending toward a constant state of anxiety and subsequent depression. I had nightmares that were only memories. And yet, I still obsessively thought about him.

My mind concluded there was something wrong with me. It didn’t help that this is what most of the world was telling me.

But one day I couldn’t take it anymore. One day I picked up the phone and told my story to someone, with as many painful details as I could remember, from beginning to end. That conversation positively changed the course of my healing, because I felt for the first time in a very long time that I was not alone. I felt listened to and respected. I felt empathy instead of judgment.

I had been carrying this burden that I didn’t fully understand and I just couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t carry it alone.

But understanding the truth of my past relationship was only the beginning. From there, I had to go through heartache all over again. I had to break up with the memories—all while continuing to function in my daily life: go to work, cook food, make new friends, sleep. Most importantly, I had to forgive myself, because in the first months of the healing process, I blamed no one but me.

I thought I was weak for getting myself stuck in this situation in the first place, for being blind to the red flags. I felt guilty and shameful, dirty and disgraceful. In my mind, I had become infinitesimal.

The man who assaulted me took my virginity. I lost something I can never get back. For a very long time, I felt that this man took with him a piece of my spirit.

Since realizing the assault, I have been trying to redefine what intimacy means—without being intimate with anyone. That’s a very hard thing to do.

But by opening up to a select few people and sharing my deepest, darkest, most vulnerable secret, I am learning. I am understanding that romantic passion between two people is not supposed to be selfish. It is not supposed to cause you gut-wrenching, incapacitating pain that leaves you unable to walk for a week. It is not supposed to make you feel like you are merely a body—inadequate, disposable. It is not supposed to make you feel like you are just an ant crawling across this great big earth, trying to escape the magnifying glass that taunts you.

I have wanted so much to forget the man who assaulted me. I have wanted to never hear his name or see his face again. On the other hand, I have wanted to stare him hard in the eyes and show him what a strong and capable woman I’ve not only become but have always been.

Sometimes what we want doesn’t really matter. Sometimes it’s what we need that counts, and what I really need is peace in my heart. The only way I know how to do this is with forgiveness.

He doesn’t deserve my forgiveness, but I won’t be doing it for him. I’ll be doing it for me.

Now, when I look in the mirror, I don’t see a woman who feels helpless, unworthy, or ashamed. I see a woman who is confident and self-aware, who is not afraid of men or love but who is learning what it means to be respected and dignified in a relationship and most importantly, within herself.

Too many people put a timeline on someone else’s healing. We often even do it to ourselves. But the truth is, time is irrelevant to matters of the heart. And sometimes, we never fully heal.

Sometimes, fresh wounds become scabs that shrink in size but remain intact, picked at accidentally on rare occasions down the road. But those wounds, those scars, make us human. Those broken pieces of us somehow make us whole.

We cannot change the past. We can wish a thousand times over that the past never happened to us, or we can learn from our unique experiences. We can be open about them so that we invite healing scabs into our wounded hearts, so that we don’t live our lives in fear of love or other people’s reactions, and so that we realize no matter how much it feels like it, we are never truly alone.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’ve written and revised these words in an ongoing draft over the past year, knowing that I would only publish this story when I was ready. I am ready. This article isn’t about pointing fingers. It’s about sharing vulnerabilities in an effort to inform, unite, understand, and—ultimately—heal. Thank you for letting me tell my story, and for being there for me on the other side.

**This is a public post. If you feel this story speaks to you or can help someone, feel free to share it.

Vegan Pumpkin Spinach Artichoke Dip

Add a little fall festivity to your dip display with this recipe!

Baking the dip inside the pumpkin allows for some of the pumpkin flavor to seep through. If you want to get really pumpkin crazy, you can use a fork to shred the pumpkin flesh into the dip.

pumpkin chip dip


1 pie pumpkin, 2 c chopped spinach (frozen or fresh), 12 oz artichoke hearts, 2/3 c unsweetened almond milk, 3 garlic cloves, 1 bag dairy-free mozzarella cheese, 1/2 yellow onion, 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper, olive oil


1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Lightly caramelize minced garlic and diced onion in olive oil.

3. In a bowl, mix the caramelization with the other ingredients, minus the pumpkin.

4. Gut the pumpkin. (Save the seeds for baking the best pumpkin seeds ever!) Place it in the oven, top off, for 45 minutes. The dip is going to bake alongside it and then in it, conveniently at the same temperature.

5. Pour the dip ingredients into a casserole dish. Cover with tin foil to prevent browning and bake for 25 minutes or until cheese is nearly melted.

6. Remove the dip ingredients from the baking dish and pour the contents into the pumpkin. Continue baking for the remaining 20 minutes. Make sure tin foil is over the hole of the pumpkin to prevent browning.

7. After baking, if desired, shred the pumpkin flesh with a fork and mix in with the dip.

8. Use dipping food of choice–from chips to crackers to bread or veggies!

9. Remove any leftovers from the pumpkin and store in fridge in airtight container.




Vegan Gluten-Free Blackberry Cobbler Tart Recipe

This delicious recipe is somewhere between a cobbler, tart, and crisp. It’s delicious. That’s all that matters.

It’s also relatively easy to make! The preparations take less than 20 minutes and then it bakes for 40 minutes.

These blackberries were handpicked (perks of living in the PNW!) and then frozen so that I can make blackberry goodies year-round!

blackberry cobbler tart crisp


For the filling: 2-1/2 c of blackberries,  1 Tbsp maple syrup, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, 2 tsp cornstarch (or corn flour for thickening)

For the crust: 1 c brown rice flour (or gluten-free flour of choice), 3/4 c oats, 1/4 c maple syrup, 1 tsp cinnamon, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp salt, 5 Tbsp solid coconut oil


1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. Mix the filling ingredients in one bowl.

3. Mix the crust ingredients in another, being sure to mash the solid coconut oil up until the mix is crumbly. Set aside a large handful of the crust mix to sprinkle on top.

4. Press a thin layer of the crust into a tart pan being sure to go up the sides of the pan about 1/4 inch.

5. Pour in the blackberry filling.

6. Crumble the rest of the crust ingredients on top.

7. Bake for 40 minutes. Tent tin foil over the top at 20 minutes so that that top doesn’t burn!

8. Serve, eat, enjoy! Store covered in fridge.

Check out my handpicked jam recipes for: blackberries, nagoonberries, and watermelon berries.

This recipe was adapted from Bakerita.com.

Recipe for The Best Pumpkin Seeds Ever

For 29 years, I’ve been eating pumpkin seeds the basic, old-fashioned way: baked and covered in salt.

This year, thanks to inspiration from my friend, I went wild with my pumpkin seed baking, and I’ve never had such delicious fall-flavored morsels in my mouth.

pumpkin seeds


pumpkin seeds, salt, garlic powder, cumin, paprika, fennel


1. Preheat oven to 300 F.

2. Gut the pumpkin, separating as much goo as you can from the seeds. Be sure to save every last one!

3. Spread on a small baking sheet and sprinkle with the above spices in whatever amount you deem delectable! I recommend going easy on the fennel. I went easy on the paprika, too, because I’ve got a limited tolerance for hot spices.

4. Bake for 40 minutes, rotating frequently.

5. Remove from oven and spread around baking sheet to keep from sticking. Allow to cool.

6. Serve, eat, enjoy! Store in cupboard in airtight container to prevent staleness.

never stop dreaming. never stop doing.