(so this past week was so phenomenally inspiring, that I realized I never share myself. I tell you stories, I make you laugh but 90% of the people in my life don’t actually know me. And it’s my fault. I don’t share, for fear of judgement, mainly because I’ve been judged. So every Friday for the month of March, I’ll be posting a nitty gritty reveal of Jenna. I hope it’s not only cathartic for me but also inspires those around me. I know I’m not alone in my feelings but if I can help one person move past their emotions of rejection, loneliness or sadness, I have succeeded. I encourage you to do the same for yourself, to be honest and peer into your core and pull out what is good and pure. Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I adore you and hope to hear from you soon!)

I struggled with starting this blog, because all good stories should have a good entrance line, something to capture attention. Initially, I began with a clever quote or with a story, yet quickly deleted it. It wasn’t what I wanted, it didn’t have the punch I was looking for. I want you to pay attention, because I want you listen. I really think you’ll like what I have to say. So I’ll start by telling you that I have been to jail.

I’m betting that worked, because the initial thoughts are usually, “really??? For what??? Do you have a tattoo? Did anyone shank you?!?! Did you drop the soap?!” and honestly, I have to admit no one messes with you when you’ve killed a man with your bare hands, so it was relatively easy I suppose.

Juuuuust kidding. Long story short, Texas will send a teenager to jail if they can’t pay the fines they apply when you won’t go to school, so I spent four days pacing and singing the blues in a freezing cell with a single wool blanket. Unfortunately, that’s really only the middle of my story but frankly, I just wanted to grab your attention. A heavy but hopefully inspiring story should always start and end with a mild joke. Helps get air through your nose. My real story begins on the day my mom discovered my father had been abusing me for most of my childhood and confronted me about it.

I remember bursting into tears, wailing about how she wasn’t supposed to know and demanded to know how she had found out. I’ve lived my whole life in a shell, never really sharing myself and creating a superficial persona for people to deal with. Even when I was a mere seven years old, I vowed to keep my father’s shame to myself, to protect my family, because I knew my mother wouldn’t be able to handle a family on her own. It was a wildly mature yet foolish decision to make, but I really believe it’s set the tone for my personality. I don’t share with people, for fear of judgement or criticism. Even now, I’m sure there are some that are thinking, “damn girl, why you gotta share? Keep that ish to yourself!” and frankly, I’ve wondered the same thing.

After my mom found out about my dad, she moved me and my siblings out and really , I don’t remember being fifteen or sixteen very well. I slept most of it away or popped enough pills/drugs to make it make forgetting simple. I stopped going to school, started causing trouble all over the city and if you know me now, you can imagine what an actual out of control Jenna can be like. I was a hurricane of hate, anger, loneliness and devastation. I wanted my outsides to mirror my insides, being so filled with an all-consuming hate for life.

But out of the ashes came my first introduction to art. My mother was blessed enough to have found a source of art therapy, where an art therapist named Michael changed my life, starting with a painting. The first day I met Michael, I’m pretty sure I looked and acted like shit. I was in another abusive relationship with an older guy that singlehandedly gave me an eating disorder that I will probably struggle with for the rest of my life. I told Michael I had zero interest to be there and that I was doing just fine by myself. He told me he would talk to my mom and while I waited, I was welcome to paint on a blank canvas. I sneered and asked him what he thought I would paint for him, but he just shrugged and asked me to paint.

I painted it black. Just like the song, except it didn’t have a catchy tune, something to jive to. It reflected my true self at the time, the hate and complete loss I had inside, finally out in front of me. I couldn’t even bring myself to consider another color, something even brighter, like blue. I didn’t even feel blue, because I was truly black on the inside. Yet after I gazed at my black painting, I felt the desire and need to do more, create more. Thus began an intense few months of therapy, where Michael helped me change my life and begin the healing process from everything I had endured for almost 10 years. You’re probably wondering if my paintings stopped being black.

My last painting was orange and pink.

I’d love to tell you that art therapy completely healed me, but I’d be lying a big fat lie smothered in more lies. The truth is, I don’t think you ever truly heal from a devastating parent betrayal that lasts for years. Yet you can move on, deal with it and pray the nightmares will stop in the next thirty years.

After the therapy with Michael, I successfully got my GED and decided to join the military. I knew that if I didn’t make some adult decisions, I wouldn’t be alive for much longer. Even during the therapy, I struggled with a pill addiction that just wouldn’t quit. So the military was a genius solution to clean up and do something for myself. I cleaned up my act and shipped out, embarking on a six-year journey that I wouldn’t take back but wouldn’t care to repeat.

Few people know this, but I’ve visited my father in prison twice since he was sent there almost eleven years ago, most recently being September 2012. I don’t tell people this very often for the fact that it isn’t a common thing and I even received heavy judgment from my family. They didn’t know why I would drive four hours to see the man who almost destroyed me. You’re probably wondering the same thing, so let me explain it for you.

I believe that when you’re afraid of something, you should face it. Constantly and head on (which is why I’m writing this, although I’m terrified that it won’t help anyone and I’ll stop having friends). Whether it be taking the leap off a proverbial cliff, starting a new venture, going in for the first kiss with your crush or having the guts to try on that size small dress, just fucking do it already. Any survivor of abuse will tell you that the one thing they seek is closure and I’ve been chasing closure for years now. It is heart pounding, terror inducing and knee buckling to sit down with the person who had given you so much hate. But I knew if I never sat down and told him what I really thought of him, without fear of pain, I would forever be stuck in my nightmares.

But this doesn’t just apply to the millions of people who have survived abuse. This applies to everything in life. If you’re struggling with the need to adventure, go full time with your photography business or just ask your boss for a raise, remember that no one makes your destiny but yourself. I remember I was at a concert once and the musician moved me so much, I asked to photograph the duo. Which is how I photographed a Grammy Award winning drum player. I once asked for a first class upgrade and got it for free. Best champagne of my life. Sometimes I’ll get an extra ice cream scoop if I ask nicely. If you don’t ask, who will?

The reason I’ve shared my past that so few know about is because I’m not alone. Other people, both men and women alike, have suffered and risen past it. We are making something of ourselves. We wake up and strive to be more every day, because we don’t want our past to define us.

Eleven years after my mom found out about my dad, I’m now nestled in Hawaii living with my dog and running a full time business. I’m working on finishing a degree, I’ve traveled to eight different countries, jumped off half a dozen cliffs, taught myself how to cook and taught myself how to photograph life how I see it now: beautiful and bright. I’ve scuba dived with sharks, jumped out of planes and accidentally slept in an old mental institution in Greece. I happily travel abroad alone, I adore meeting couples in love and few things make me happier than a well crafted beer.

The point is that you don’t need to burden yourself with regrets, pain and bad decisions. My “lovely” exboyfriend told me I was littered with red flags but I beg to differ. I’m covered in character with the ability to weather any storm life throws at me. You are too, so I demand that right now you decide that today is the first day of the rest of your life. You’re good enough, you’re wonderful enough, so just fucking make it happen already.

And since I said every good story should begin and end with a mild joke….a horse walked into the bar and the bartender said, “why the long face?