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Reimagine Forgiveness – TEDxDePaulUniversity

I still can’t believe I can call myself a “TEDx Speaker“. (Insert happy face emoji!) I still have moments of disbelief that I went before an audience of 200+ people and shared an idea that I felt was worth spreading by memory. And it will be on the Internet forever and ever, Amen! I am still struggling with imposter syndrome, but every day I feel more qualified and more deserving of my accolades and accomplishments as a survivor, advocate, social service provider, & inspirational speaker. This talk couldn’t have come at a better time for me. My journey of forgiveness has been long (12 years & counting) and complicated, but I’m here and I’m committed to the process. It’s not something that happened overnight. It started as a thought, then a feeling, and then I felt compelled to act on it. What people don’t realize is that it’s a process and forgiveness is very personal.  I was very intentional about focusing more on me than my attacker because my healing is for me. And in holding true to that, the universe was guiding me because I forgot an entire paragraph towards the end of my talk that I will share with you.

It’s been 3 action packed years and Nicole has not responded. And that’s okay. I went into this knowing that she might not write back. My actions don’t mean that I’ve forgotten what happened or that I’m okay with what she did. My extension of forgiveness means that with or without her apology or repentance I WILL be okay and I WILL move forward and I hope she will, too.

At first, I was a little disappointed that I forgot to share that piece, but the more I think about it, the more it aligns with my goal to keep my message focused more on my journey and less about her. Anyway, I hope you enjoy my message and take from it what you need. Be patient with yourself and do what you feel is right for you. Thank you!

Finding Your Confidence

We’ve all hit a low point or experienced a time when we’ve asked ourselves, “What’s wrong with me?” Not getting a call back for an interview, flubbing on a first date, or discovering your favorite pair of jeans are too tight. Eek! These are all the things that can challenge your self-esteem and cause you to lose your confidence. But, I’m here to tell you how to find it again. So get out your flashlight and take notes. Here are 10 tips on how to find your confidence again.

Photo Credit: Arionne Nettles www.arionnealyssa.com
Photo Credit: Arionne Nettles www.arionnealyssa.com

1 .Recognize your strengths and build on them. It’s great to know what you’re not so good at or where you’re lacking, but knowing your strengths is a game changer. Why? Because you can focus on them and build on them.

2. Know that you are unique and your life has a purpose. Oftentimes we lose our confidence when we compare our lives to others. But most of the time we’re comparing our reality to other someone  else’s highlights. Don’t do it! Comparison is the killer of joy. That’s why you’ve got to know that you are uniquely made and serve an awesome purpose here on this Earth. Only you can be you and no one else. Celebrate yourself!

3. Use positive self-talk and positive visualization. Talk yourself up. Speak positively and envision a positive outcome. Studies show you’re more likely to perform better when you visualize success. Write down a few positive affirmations and the moment you feel a negative thought coming on, repeat it to yourself out loud. It might feel strange, but it works. Say it until you believe it and after a while you WILL.

4. Set a goal and celebrate meeting it. Set small goals and reward yourself for completing them. Celebrate your accomplishment, as well as your commitment to yourself.

5. Practice gratitude. When you’re thankful for what you have there’s no room to complain about what you’re missing. Consider all of the things you’re grateful for and if you need a reminder jot down a list of 3 things on the spot.

6. Eliminate negative thoughts. It’s easy to let negative thoughts take over, and once that happens you risk spiraling out of control. Eliminate negative thoughts as soon as they arise. You can do that by replacing each negative thought with a positive one.

7. Improve your body image and body language. Most times when we look good we feel good, and vice versa. If you don’t like something about yourself do what you can to improve it. Want to feel more physically fit? Then plan to exercise. Want to feel more confident when meeting new people? Then work on your posture and eye contact. These are little things that we can do immediately feel better about ourselves.

8. Change how you view failure. Instead of viewing failure as a tragic loss, try viewing it as a valuable lesson. By simply changing your feelings about it, you can change the impact of the outcome. It’s okay to fail as long as you’re learning and trying. No harm in that.

9. Increase your competence and knowledge base. Challenge yourself by learning something new or trying something new. Expand your mind and your experiences. This will encourage growth and you might discover a new interest or new talent.

10. Practice one or more of these tips daily. Building confidence takes work and it has to be done consistently. It’s like maintaining good hygiene; you’ve got to practice it every day in order for it to be effective.

Finding Your Confidence Right Size 2

Karli Butler is an activist, optimist, and survivor showing the world there’s a beautiful life after drama, trauma, and scars one post at a time. Follow her journey at www.burnedbeauty.com. Some of her favorite sources of confidence inspiration are Simple Reminders, Beliefnet, @alex_elle on Instagram, and Brene Brown.

This post can also be found at Halfstack Magazine Online.

The Moment I Gave Up

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When I need a reminder . . .
Some of the worst days, but the most growth. God was thrusting greatness upon me and I was so busy judging the package I couldn’t see the gift. In this very moment, I was scared as hell because someone just tried to kill me. The police were snapping photos and asking me a million questions. I couldn’t sleep because the nightmares were too disturbing. And the pain, I couldn’t describe it with words if I wanted to. No amount of medication was helping me, so I just laid there lifeless, sick and full of anxiety. At this point (right here in this photo), I literally gave up. My appetite disappeared and I stopped eating, so they forced a feeding tube up my nose and down my throat. The doctors told my family to encourage me to eat. I remember them saying, “Come on, Kar. You gotta eat.” And I would turn my head and drift off. My left eye wouldn’t close, so I literally slept with one eye open. When the depression would get the best of me I would break down and cry. I would wail from my soul, “Why God!?! Whyyyyy? Why me?” I would try to convince myself that had Nicole shot me I would’ve been better off. I actually cursed myself out in my head. “Why didn’t you let her shoot you? It was only a 22. You could’ve survived that bullet.” And while crying my nurses would surround me and tell me that everything would be alright. They tried to say it with confidence, but I could see the sadness in their eyes. In these moments I felt useless, helpless, weak, and ugly. Funny because just days before I felt strong, independent, loved, beautiful, and successful. You see how all of that changed like (💫) that? Look at God, though. He was telling me that I didn’t know what strength, beauty, love, and success were. So, I threw all of those notions and ideas into the fire. And I BURNED them! And while praying, reflecting, and rebuilding, I was able to create new, healthier ideas of those things. And like the Phoenix, I emerged from that fire, that darkness, that torment, that pain a better version of myself. I am so, so thankful and I STILL wouldn’t change a thing. #WhenYouHaveAnAnointingOnYourLife #NeverGiveUp #StayFaithful #ItGetsGreaterLater
#burnedbeauty #ButGod #blessed  #TestimonyTuesday #burnsurvivor #acidburnsurvivor #highlyfavored

October, Domestic Violence, and Me

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, a period of reflection, teaching, and mourning for me. Just when I think I know all that I can about domestic violence and how it grossly impacts our communities and society, I learn something new.

Did you know that my case was not categorized as domestic violence? Nope. I did not know or have a relationship with the people who attacked me and my ex-boyfriend was never charged with a crime.

So, he was never physically, verbally, or financially abusive toward me, but he knowingly put my life in danger. Isn’t that just as bad?

It’s not always black and white. Grey areas.

Your thoughts?

From now until forever I will share my story and raise awareness about the many forms of domestic violence. I will also support the efforts of the YWCA’s Purple Purse Project by making a donation.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline toll free at 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224. It’s safe and confidential. Trained advocates are available to take your call 24/7.

If you’d like to learn more about domestic violence and its different forms please visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline. http://www.thehotline.org

What’s wrong with her face, Mama?

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My son is 3 years-old and he “gets” it. He understands that burns, scars, or physical differences don’t make a person “bad” or “weird”. It just makes them different. He started noticing my scars when he was about 1 1/2. He would gently run his finger along the dark brown scar on my left cheek and say, “ouchie.” And I’d say, “Yes, it was an ouchie, but it’s all better now,” and he’d move on to something else.

I knew there’d come a time when he would notice someone else notice my physical differences. I hadn’t really prepared myself for what I’d say or do, so when the time came I just handled it in the moment. A curious little girl (about 6 years old) kept smiling at me the park. I’d smile back and say, “Hello!” Finally, after a few exchanges, she walked over and bluntly asked, “What happened to you? What are those scars on you?” I smiled and explained that I’d been burned, but my scars were all healed up and I was all better now. She then proceeded to ask me, “But what happened?” So, I told her I’d had an accident. She insisted on getting a more detailed answer, following up with a confused, “A car accident?” By this time a group of kids had gathered around, some shyly listening, while others were touching my arms as I held them out. My son was within earshot when I said, “Yes, a car accident.” The little girl said, “Ohhhh, there must’ve been fire.” And I responded with a simple “Yes.” Satisfied with my answer they continued to laugh and chat with me while we played a game of tag.

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Anytime I encounter children who have questions about my scars, I am happy to answer them. I’d much rather have a child ask me openly than point and stare and never get the opportunity to interact with me. In my experience, parents have scolded their children or hurried them along when they’ve commented on my skin or started asking me a question. And I always tell parents it’s okay. I often have to convince them that I’m open to share, and I encourage them to let their children talk to me so that I can show them that I’m not “scary” or “strange.” Rather I’m a person with feelings and a story.

My experience has allowed me to teach my son something very special, and that’s compassion. I realized that he “got it” when we were at (yet another) park playing. In this instance, a group of kids joined our usual game of “monster” and they began to ask questions. But this time before I could get a word out my son said, “It’s just burns guys! From a car accident.” A part of me giggled as he said it so matter-of-factly. I was proud of him. I, in no way, expected him to assume the responsibility of answering for me or sticking up for me, but he did. It was a complete shock, but I am proud, nonetheless. He didn’t see it as a big deal or as something that should stop their fun, so he addressed it, made eye contact to confirm they were okay with it, and then they happily moved on.  Who knew?

Still another part of me worried about how his accepted version of a car accident might confuse him when he gets older and learns the truth. For now, I’m okay with it. He’d overheard me tell another child that my burns were a result of a car accident, so that’s how he made sense of it all. It’s totally appropriate. When he gets older we’ll have a more detailed conversation about the facts and we’ll process it together. Until then, if he wants to tell other children that my scars are from a car accident and there’s no need to be afraid of me, I’m okay with it. I’m thankful that he and I get to be both the teacher and the student on this journey, and I couldn’t be more proud to be his mom.

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If you have questions about how to talk to your child about physical differences please contact me. I’d love to help.

Privilege & Perspective

Privilege & Perspective

Although my journey as an acid burn survivor hasn’t been easy, I recognize how privileged I am.

• I had great health insurance at the time of my assault and received the best medical care in one of the best burn units in the United States.
• At least one of my attackers was held accountable and convicted of heinous battery.
• The Crime Victims Compensation Bureau helped me with my $250K hospital bill.
• I was not disfigured and I did not lose my sight.
• I had supportive family & friends to care for me during & after my recovery.
• I was able to go back to work in an environment that was supportive & compassionate.
• I received mental health services to help me deal with the grief and trauma I experienced.
• I was able to go back to school to obtain a Master’s degree.
• I do not suffer from social isolation or have issues getting a date.
• I can share my story freely and on my own terms without fear of retaliation.
• I have been able to redefine beauty and share my scars with confidence.

Meanwhile, there are thousands of acid burn survivors around the globe, mostly women, whose faces and bodies are scarred beyond recognition.
• Whose attackers will never be held accountable.
• Whose attacks will likely be falsely registered as “stove blast” and they will have to go back home to the perpetrator who attacked them.
• Women who will never be able to tell their story.
• Who will not receive adequate medical care.
• Who will be ridiculed and forced into a life of solitude because of social stigma.
• Who will suffer a lifetime of societal trauma.
• Who will not find a job or be able to earn a living.
• Who will likely suffer serious disabilities like blindness.
• Who will have to fend for themselves and become dependent on others.

I am not doing enough.

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Social Stigma & Acid Burns

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If I tell a curious stranger that I obtained my burns in a house fire they usually nod with concern and say, “Oh, I’m so sorry.”

If I tell a curious stranger that my burns were the result of a fiery car accident they usually gasp and express their concern with a kind, “My goodness, that’s terrible.”

But if I tell a curious stranger that I was assaulted with acid they usually respond with, “But why?”

There is stigma attached to my assault. I’m sure it’s unconscious and unintentional, but when a person asks, “But why?” They’re really asking me what I did to cause something like that to happen. And in doing so it places the blame on me.

No, I did not do anything to cause another person to do something so horrific and violent.

Instead, one should ask, “What happened to the person who assaulted you? What went wrong in the their life to cause them to do such a horrible thing to another person?”

Food for thought. The stigma stings almost as badly as the burn.

Body Confidence

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I am 30 + years old.
My weight has fluctuated over the years.
My stomach has endured 3rd degree full-thickness burns, skin grafts and a 7 + pound baby.
My abs are stronger than ever, but the skin on my stomach will never be the same.

And I’m okay with that. I still wear a bikini because I feel like it. Who gon’ check me, boo?

Repeat after me . . .

“I can learn from someone else’s mistakes.”

When I was young I had a cavalier disregard for danger. Most young people do. You know, that sense of invincibility that we’ve all had one point in time that makes us feel like we’ll live forever. Maybe it was what I considered “dangerous” that was problematic. Because I was sure that bad things only happened to bad people who did bad things. Right? Well, I’m here to tell you that’s not true. Bad things happen to good people all the time  . . . and I just happened to be one of them.

I made poor choices and  I got hurt. But fortunately I lived to tell about it. And that’s the blessing in disguise.

While I wouldn’t have chosen to be brutally attacked, held at gunpoint, and assaulted with acid, it happened and I’m here. I have chosen to use my scars as a tool to teach and inspire. Nothing brings me greater joy than to hear a young woman tell me, “I listened to your story and I learned from your mistakes.”

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(Some of my favorite girls . . . Family Focus, July 2015)

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Body Love

I was honored to be photographed by my friend and former classmate, Laura Lopez, recently. She is extraordinarily talented and is producing a series called Body Love, consisting of photos featuring individuals with scars or a physical feature that they’ve learned to love and embrace over time. The photos will run in Halfstack Magazine’s summer issue.

Needless to say, I was both humbled and excited to be chosen as a participant. Below is one of the moments she captured. She never disappoints.