The Lemonade People Project

“You can’t erase painful experiences. But you can turn them into something beautiful.”    Zahabiyah Khorakiwal (Zabie)

Zabie said those words during an interview when I was in full-press listening-only mode. Otherwise, I might have said, “Pain is pain. Beauty is beauty. Don’t be a dope” because that’s what I was thinking.

I felt stiff and rigid and ready to argue. It was the same way I had felt my whole life whenever anyone said, “When life gives you lemons – make lemonade.”

I hated that saying, despised the sentiment because it struck me as a “turn that frown upside-down” philosophy said by someone with an easy-breezy life.

If I want lemonade I’ll go buy some, I’d think. Don’t up sell my shitty experiences to me.

It felt dismissive and minimizing, as though I was being told I possessed the ingredients to some magic drink I couldn’t make because I didn’t know how to cut or squeeze pain the right way.

But Zabie was intelligent and sincere. She knew pain. She was no bury-your-head-in-the sand and wish-it-all-away woman. She is angry that rape happens so often. She is a feminist and an activist fighting to make a safer world. She was hard to write off.

When she spoke of the time when she came to a choice point in her recovery – her words got inside of me. She described deep depression as one choice and resilience as the other. She had to fight for herself and create the path she craved because it didn’t yet exist.

Her message, at the core, was undeniable. Basically, she said – when life gives you lemons….

And that is how The Lemonade People Project was born.

So What Exactly is the Lemonade People Project?

Lemon Still Life

The Lemonade People Project is where writer-bee me sniffs out the sweet essence of people who choose hope after trauma.

“Trauma can have a multitude of consequences: It can produce abject misery, and make people abandon all hope; it can make the lust for revenge the center of people’s lives, at the expense of the ability to rebuild; or it can be sublimated into supreme acts of artistic transformation, and social action.”

Bessel van der Kolk, pg. 573 of Traumatic Stress.

The inspiring people I write about, like Zabie, refuse be forever broken by trauma. There’s no romanticizing though. They have been hurt, scarred and changed. They grieve and live with symptoms of post-traumatic stress and grief. Some have full blown PTSD (in simple or complex form) and physical or emotional disabilities.

None of them chose to Lemonade People. If they could trade in their “lemon” to get back a lost loved one, a limb, a sense of safety or innocence, freedom from nightmares and flashbacks – they might. But they don’t have that choice. And they know it.

What makes them lemonade people is not false cheer but their acceptance of all of the ways in which they have been shaped by trauma. They share what they have learned about life. They share tools and techniques which help them cope.

They do not deny the brutality of their experiences or emotions. They find or create the support they need and do so without apology. Some are still doing so. They don’t care how long it has or will take. They aren’t in a race.

What makes them unique is how they have found ways to create and inhabit beautiful lives, first, even after knowing the ugliness of humanity and tragedy. Second, their spectacular graces comes from opening up after having been shut down by pain. They have hearts shot through with machine gun precision but do not live in bullet proof skin.

They know life might plunge them into icy waters again, knee or neck deep, without consent. Still, they retain their warmth.

Writing about them, I hope, will help other trauma survivors. But they have lessons to teach everyone. Secretly, I aspire to be one of them. I sniff them out, hover around them and soak in their presence. They are how I choose to make lemonade.

If you know a lemonade person you want to nominate for the Lemonade People Project, please email me at


  1. Angi Scott says:

    We’re not alone every day is another step to walking our paths in a positive way calculated by our minds thoughts of safty first caution and trust in our taught ability to walk and feel part of the existance of being human with grace

    • Cissy White says:

      Yes, regaining that feeling of connection with humanity. Ours and with each other. Thanks for commenting.

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