In this post, I am piggybacking off of my last entry where someone left a comment that has left me thinking.
I was writing from a place of pain, sharing my deepest heartache of having to let go and walk away from my family. I went back into the fire recently and was burned badly again. It truly feels to me to be an act of self preservation and love to cut ties and let go. I have been suffering for a few years now, becoming too wrapped up in a situation that was truly outside of my control. It has left me exhausted, depressed, and sick.
In response to what I wrote, GROG (grogalot.wordpress.com) left the comment: “But we must learn to live in the present and realize that change is possible. It has a lot to do with taking responsibility”. The sentiment shared here stayed with me today and continued to resurface. Something in the words demanded my attention. I rolled the word “responsibility” around in my mouth, tasting its rich, yet raw flavor. This bite that I willingly chewed and lingered over all day had sustenance.
Earlier today, I let go of the reigns at various points again, engaging in a conversation that I knew would create emotional instability for me. Why have I continued in the same habitual way when I can clearly see that nothing changes when I do so? Realizing the pattern is one accomplishment, believing that one can change or be completely free of the pattern is another. So many times in the past I felt it was an impossible feat to change. I desperately longed to be “free”, I just didn’t see that the door of my “cage’ was open. I wrote nearly a month ago that I had noticed with excitement and anticipation that the door was ajar and freedom was on the horizon. I had hoped to be flying soon! What happened? Did I become afraid and forget that my wings would indeed carry me?
We must “realize that change is possible” and that it “has a lot to do with taking responsibility” (GROG). And therein lies the “meat” of the meal. The belief that you can indeed, fly, and then actually be doing so. Responsibility implies taking ownership.
Responsibility is also about taking control of one’s responses. I feel this is where I have continued to get stuck. There are brutal and ugly realities outside of my control that I have let dominate my thoughts and energies. Yes, there are heavy and serious situations that any normal person would worry about, still yet, my response has been all too consuming and my life, as a result, has spun out of control. The worry and concern in my heart was, and still is, very justified. I feel someone in my family eventually is going to die from the disease of addiction. And yet, I refused to build parameters around what I could realistically contribute. I had abandoned myself in the process and when the ship continued to sink, I blamed others for not being there for me. Sadly, they are all sick. I need to be there for myself. I need to take “responsibility” for myself, in all ways.
I’m thankful for these words. They are so needed and they are “on point”. In the center of it all is my lack of self care and concern. I do feel I am healing and I long to taste complete freedom where I am immersed in the present, enjoying life. When tragedy comes, as it will from time to time, I must take care with my responses to things. In the end, that is where change truly occurs: in one’s ability to take responsibility over their life in all ways.
All of this struck a chord inside me today. If I am honest with myself, I have not been taking ownership of my life. I have been caught up in my cage that was created by the trauma I endured. I’ve been swinging alone, being drenched in the rain, and singing a soliloquy. I’ve been truly sad. The holiday season triggered me and I went right back into the cage and locked the door, nearly throwing away the key. However, GROG is right, I must believe I can change… “The door is ajar, remember”! And then I must take flight and do what is necessary to keep flying, even soaring, at times, eyes open, and embracing the moment.
The year is now 2019. There IS no other time like the present to fly! And even to soar! I am going to take myself there because I can. And, it is only I that can do so. This year is THE year. And, I am so very grateful to be here in this space and ready. In the past, I would have gotten defensive and perhaps would have taken things in the wrong way. I have grown and I want to go further. I’m going to carry this advice with me along the way so that I can remind myself when I get lost or afraid.
Be present. Believe that change is possible. Take ownership of every area of your life. AND TAKE FLIGHT!
Happy New Year Everyone! 2019
I have never struggled with substance abuse. I have struggled with an addiction of another type, gambling. I once had to ban myself from all nearby casinos. I still struggle sometimes, but it is not much of a problem anymore.
On the other hand, many in my family have struggled for years with chronic and severe addiction. I love them and I know it is a disease, yet, my heart has been broken more times than I can count from this family affliction. It has taken time and years from our family and caused a lot of friction, distance, and worry.
Somehow, every now and again, they resurface and contact is again granted to me. This time it is a loss of custody of their 2 children. It is really important for them to recover and remain sober if they want to regain custody. We are in the space of not knowing if the disease will win or not. There is someone I love very much wrestling with the decision of going to rehab this very night.
And so, I just wanted to put this out there.
To anyone struggling with addiction:
Please know that you are loved deeply. There will always be someone who longs for you to resurface and recover. Even in the darkest of storms where you feel the high tide will overcome you, there is still hope. I say this because I have seen it happen. Not with my family, yet. But, I always hold out a small flicker of hope, always being fanned by the breathe of life and love that dwells deep within all of us. Love is stronger than the devastation caused by this disease. This I do know.
I have been guilty of lashing out when losing so many of my loved ones to this disease. Many holidays spent alone, in tears, in anguish. Many harsh words spit from my tongue. And still yet, I will always soften to the possibility and the hope that someday they will resurface. That I can laugh with them again and reunite. That we can spend time with ease, not tension, where I have to hold my breathe.
This is not to guilt anyone. The disease is real and it affects the entire family. Remember that. Those who are hurting and lashing out in fear and helplessness when addiction has taken hold, are also afflicted with the same disease. Practice self compassion. Soften to the truth that it is a true disease. Take the time to heal, to forgive yourself, and others. And remember, you are loved.
It is just one step… at a time… asking for help. You don’t need to know all the answers. No one holds them. We are all just searching in the end.
I hope someone struggling reads this and decides to make that difficult choice to get help, now. I promise someone is longing for you to resurface. And rediscovering yourself will be the greatest gift.
YOU deserve that.
Love and light to you. Let’s keep the hope and faith alive.
The last few weeks have been the most devastating of my entire life. I’m holding on by a very thin thread, dangling over the edge, grasping on tighter, while praying for reprieve and respite. I’ve never felt more disillusioned and alone. They always say “what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”; And yet, so much has been lost that I question to what or whom will I need to be “strong” for? I feel discarded and devalued not only by those in society to whom I am invisible, but to those who know me, but do not truly, “see” me.
On top of watching my country being ripped apart by deep political division and deaths from COVID-19, my family unit is all but dissolved. I guess I knew deep down this day was coming, and yet, it has been painfully punctuated by the backdrop of a relentless and deadly global pandemic, the worst fire season the West Coast has endured, and as of last night, another earthquake. Life is not only riddled with uncertainty and angst, it is fraught with deep loss and irreconcilable differences. The lines are being drawn for battle and the bridges have been all, but burned down to the ground. I’m lost and am just trying to stake out a small piece of serenity to savor so I can have the space to grieve and “let go”.
I’m completely cognizant of the fact that my last post of only a few days ago was written from a place of serenity and peace, after having spent several days not engaging with my “family”. I had a few days of instability where I wasn’t feeling physically well, and I made the mistake of “checking in” one them, only to find an EPIC mess unraveling. The dysfunction that exists within my family system is so palpable and virulent that I found myself consumed again, swept up in the insanity, and literally “choking” on the bitter pill I am continually “made to swallow” when I choose to engage. I immediately regretted my decision to interact, but my emotional state of rage, disappointment, and grief held me hostage there, in an irrational state, unleashing what was left of my ammunition.
Ultimately, I am a pawn in my family and am easily brushed aside and discarded. I simply am not of value or worth to them. This has been revealed to me over several years, but became further underscored over the past month when I was denied the joyous occasion of my niece’s birth and then later told I am no longer “part of the family”. The splinter has been growing over the last few years as a result of confronting the addiction occurring in my family in effort to facilitate change and encourage people to receive help.
Admittedly, I acknowledge over time I grew angry at the devaluation and abandonment I felt from them and I allowed myself to grow bitter and enraged. The loss would have been easier to absorb had I not already been struggling with employment loss, disability, and my own inability to have children and a family of my own. I felt the loss of my only sibling and her children greater, in a sense, because I have no children of my own and am currently single. I wanted so much to be a part of their lives and experience the joy of being a part of my niece’s life during her pregnancy and birth. This all became impossible as the last year my niece lost custody of her first child due to drug use and any attempts to contact her during her pregnancy were usually met with stone cold silence.
I’ve often been the scapegoat for the troubles in my sister’s family, even recently being blamed for the EPIC mess that occurred after I reported a sexual allegation regarding my great nephew. I live all the way across the entire country and yet, I still became the one somehow responsible for the temporary removal of my nephew because according to the case worker there were “several issues” occurring in the home. The sexual allegations have not been substantiated, but the their home was in desperate need of repair to be considered safe for a child. Without going into too much detail, because it is complicated and convoluted, I was ostracized for being concerned enough about the welfare of a child to report to Child Protective Services.
The most difficult part of loving someone who has an addiction and who also is more than likely living with ASPD (Antisocial Personality Disorder) is that their actions often impact other family members who live with them who are often vulnerable. For this reason alone, it has been extremely difficult to completely disengage. I realize now for my own health and well-being I have to, but it has been very difficult when there are disabled adults and children living amid the chaos. The last few years have been repeated incidents of my nieces and nephews who have significant mental health and addiction issues go in and out of jail, often due to domestic violence charges against my sister. It’s heartbreaking to watch young adults that you love become visibly more sick with hallucinations and delusions and be denied treatment because there are no options for long term programs that are compulsory. They bounce between the unhealthy living environment where people are using or are back in jail. And thus, not only do they not get well, but the charges “stack up” and it takes years before a sentence is given. For instance, my niece is still dealing with charges from 2018. This prevents her from actually truly moving forward with her life in any meaningful way. It would be rare for a person with pending charges in the system to land a job, etc.
Our court systems are trapping young individuals who have been raised in poverty, who often become “addicted” to substances as children while using with their “addicted” parents. And there isn’t any entity out there that protects children from parents that use in the home. Often, it is a monumental feat to truly remove a child from a home environment of substance use. This “way of life” for some becomes a “life sentence” of cyclical poverty, incarceration, and mental illness. I’ve seen this firsthand in my own family. I’ve made reports to CPS that have not even been investigated and I’ve watched as adults, including my Mom, turn their head, ignoring the problems that are so damaging to young adults. We have a growing epidemic of not just a culture of drug use, but one that glorifies it, along with perpetuating violence, poverty, and lack of education. And in many rural areas, this “way of life” is quickly becoming normalized.
A larger, more disturbing issue is that these kids often become the “profit” for prisons that are run privately in our country. One only has to take a long, hard look at our judicial system to understand how truly corrupt the system has become. Most of us who have never been incarcerated are truly unfamiliar with the inhumane treatment and injustices that are occurring daily in a system that traps people, often providing no real opportunity for treatment, rehabilitation, or remediation. The system traps people by allowing charges to accrue and by also using certain criminals as informants to law enforcement. Informants often lead law enforcement to other criminals by offering information or leads which are rewarded by reduced sentences, etc. This allows the more “capable” to prey on the more vulnerable and ultimately keeps people caught up in a system of crime. “Snitching” also has severe consequences when and if those who do so end up incarcerated. Guards are known to “turn their heads” while people get “beat up” while in custody. What we are unaware of won’t “hurt us” in the end. But, in actuality, our communities are becoming less safe as a result and our population less educated, which is eroding our quality of life and personal safety.
These systemic problems have touched me personally as I have watched as my niece has been “set up” and jailed and I have even been outright “lied to” by law enforcement to protect an informant. This is the ugly and dangerous part of the drug epidemic that causes people like myself to “stay away” and not intervene as I recognize that my own personal safety would be in jeopardy. I hesitate moving back to the same state where my family resides for these reasons. There have been times I have engaged with law enforcement and the judicial system there because I can see the injustices occurring. However, living in the same state I would not feel as emboldened to confront an officer or the system at large. I can see the corruption, I do not feel safe enough to address it myself. More than anything, I just wish my family had not lost themselves to the epidemic of addiction which has trapped them.
It seems as if the systems in our country are crumbling and we are on the brink of complete chaos and disruption if we continue down this path of complacency and denial. Our society is failing to recognize that reform is truly needed on a grand scale to ensure that our communities in the future are safe and that our living conditions do not become inhabitable. It’s time for the “American values” of fierce independence and self-reliance to be balanced with a focus on interdependence and a responsibility towards our community. We have taken our personal freedoms for granted to the extent that many do not see the value in altruism or compromise. We’ve become excessively independent, bordering on becoming narcissistic and stoic. Many of our larger cities have thousands living on the streets and under bridges and the number of people who are homeless grow exponentially each passing year. Our broken systems have become visible and can be seen in the “tent cities” sprawled out on our city sidewalks. And still yet, some remain in denial of the systemic failures, placing blame on those suffering while they safely sit behind their computer screens showing their disdain and disapproval.
I feel often powerless and small. Even in my own small family, I am devalued and dismissed. Reality is often denied and the problems grow larger each year. I watch helplessly on the sidelines as those I love lose themselves to the epidemic of addiction. I am “beaten back” by those unwilling to intervene and the stress takes both an emotional and physical toll on me. I am in chronic pain and my health has deteriorated. I feel trapped knowing that my family needs serious help and intervention, but am also acutely aware of the lack of programs and opportunities available to facilitate change and support them. And so, I’m resigned to “letting go”, grieving, and healing myself.
I do realize that I can only change myself in the end. But, I also feel that current day “pop psychology” glorifies “me” over “we” and is feeding into the “fiercely independent” value system that is ultimately leading to lack of community and thus, isolation. I feel it is our misplaced values that become justification for the lack of support that results in our societal ills such as homelessness, addiction, and incarceration. We devalue those who struggle, and any safety nets to help people have eroded over the past few decades. In our own egotistical ways, we have created a culture that devalues people. And, eventually, it will lead to our demise. When we fail to care for our communities by providing adequate educational and employment opportunities, housing, and affordable treatment; we are in essence destroying our own quality of life. If we want to live in a safe and thriving community, full of life and beauty, we have to cultivate it. It requires work, investment, and reformation.
It may have seemed to some that I digressed quite a bit in this post, but I feel everything is interrelated. We are all connected and are interdependent. The American culture has become, in many ways, fragmented. We have become more isolated in ways and less community oriented. My personal experience is directly effected by the opportunities or lack there of that reside within my community. These opportunities are created or destroyed by the infrastructure we create collectively through voting, volunteering, activism, etc. So much of my personal heartache and frustration stems from the decaying systems in our communities that have personally touched my life. Many of us are suffering in this way and we feel discouraged by our lack of power. I am still searching for ways in which I can make a difference. Because my influence is limited in my own family, I often seek refuge in writing as it helps me to process the pain of feeling helpless and discarded.
I’m still healing and working on myself. I’m hopeful that I will one day be able to return to the workforce in an advocacy role, working for those touched by the issues that have affected me personally: addiction, mental illness, domestic violence, and disability discrimination. Until then, I’ll continue writing to find my voice and amplify it. I’m hopeful in time I can work with others to facilitate change in real, measurable ways.
I HOPE YOU KNOW HOW LOVED U ARE.
The words above, which were “stamped” on a sidewalk in the Miracle Mile District of Los Angeles where I live, captured my attention and imagination enough for me to stop for a moment and take a photograph. Although I have no idea who placed them there, the words resonated with me, stirring a sense of comfort and peace. While at the same time, admittedly, I had to acknowledge that I wasn’t feeling all that “loved” lately. Fights with my family and the culture of hate on social media, had left me, at times, feeling “less than worthy”, and often disillusioned. I felt isolated and alone, a lot.
And then, suddenly, out of the depth of despair and years of suffering, I was granted a miracle of sorts. A true gift of light and hope that was as unexpected, as it was simple and serene. It was if all the years of hard work of separation, self-reflection, and creating boundaries, had finally “paid off”. I had proved, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I loved myself. And yet, in realizing this victory, I quickly gained insight and awareness into a much larger and all-encompassing love. I feel I have reached another summit, and although I feel free from what caged me, I feel a deeper sense of responsibility to embody the essence of what I had missed in my life.
A seed was planted within my daily practice of meditation that has shifted my perspective and purpose. Because my past trauma had left me feeling fearful and unsafe, I set out to cultivate a sense of “home” within myself. So much of my time in the past was spent in desperate efforts to fill the a painful void that only perpetuated the cycle of feeling devalued, unseen, and unsafe. I relentlessly pursued the elusive high that was always fleeting and unattainable. I found this temporary pulse of life in romantic interests and in gambling, but both of these often left me feeling more empty and disillusioned in the end. Over time, it became evident that the old and ineffective ways of coping had only served to make me a servant of suffering.
It took time to unravel the jumbled up and knotted yarn of my life. In the beginning, the prospect of sorting out what my mine to hold and what was mine to “let go” seemed overwhelming and daunting. I would start and stop this process many times over, sometimes wondering if I made any progress at all. The messy ball of yarn, heaped on the floor, sat untouched, for months at a time, especially when preoccupation took the place of processing pain. Inevitably, however, my suffering always lead me back to unraveling a few more knots. As time passed, I grew more compassionate and patient with myself. Healing became a “way of life” and my expectation to reach a destination became less of the focus. The knots became easier to untangle when I was less frustrated with myself and when I decided to no longer judge the process or the duration of it. I became more gentle with myself and mindful of the emotional weight lifted when I accepted that I was alone, but was “ok”.
It was during these times alone with myself, meditating, that I discovered my purest voice. There was a growing presence within me that was becoming louder and more confident. I felt on an instinctual level that if I sat long enough in the stillness, I would know how to heal myself. I was using a meditation app on my phone and would listen to music that I found not only soothing, but spiritual. It was in these times when I was most alone, that I felt most connected. I began to chant phrases that ultimately were transformative. I did so on an instinctual level as doing so just made sense to me at the time.
Some of the phrases I chanted were as follows:
I am peace.
I am light.
I am forgiveness.
I am joy.
I am love.
I am resiliency.
I am relaxation.
I am stillness.
In chanting these simple statements, a sense of serenity flooded me. Not only did I feel “connected”, I felt that I could more readily embody each “state”. Different words had their own effect and yet each one felt universal and brought me a sense of community and acceptance. By chanting these simple statements, my perspective shifted and I began to soften and trust myself and the universe a bit more. It was nearly like I was “bending towards the sunshine” and separating from that which had “caged” my little song bird, rendering her silent all these years. The wall of brick and mortar began to crumble and light was flooding in, bringing warmth. I don’t feel this would have occurred had I not set stronger boundaries to facilitate the safe space that I was cultivating for myself.
I had spent years defining parameters and doing the hard work of separating myself from people and situations that were unhealthy. In the beginning, like the knotted up yarn, this seemed nearly futile, I gave up a lot. I wanted immediate gratification and was often impatient and desperate, willing to accept the crumbs, instead of the cake. I didn’t believe I was worthy and I accepted too much and demanded very little. And so, I grew bitter at what life had handed me.
Then there were the years I spent angry and raging, demanding the love I felt I deserved from others in my life: those who had abandoned me or perhaps, looking back now, where never truly there to begin with. These were the hardest years of my life. I lost a person whom I called “the love of my life”. I separated from my family, all who were struggling in their own ways and not capable of compromise. I spent an inordinate amount of time trying to be visible to those I loved, but it was to no avail. It had become so unhealthy for me that I knew I had to “let go”, separate, and recreate myself in a new space. In many ways, I felt I had lost “home”. The process of separating was extremely difficult and exhausting. Partially, because I kept “going back”, dragging my feet, and putting off the inevitable.
And now, after years of persistence and the commitment to myself to “heal”, I nearly feel like I have went through a true metamorphosis. Much of the weight I was carrying has been released. The space I am cultivating around me is safe and peaceful, it feels like “home”. My daily meditations often come with the gifts of hearing more of the music and feeling more connected to others. There appears to be an endless amount of self love and connection to others when awake in the present moment. My mind is less preoccupied with the unattainable goal of “changing others” and “winning their acceptance” and more focused on cultivating a sense of “home” within myself and around me. And oddly enough, even with the isolation of the coronavirus, I am participating more in support groups and feeling more connected to my environment and to myself. Music and meditation brings me peace and “company” as I can often “pick up” separate instruments and voices within the songs and it makes me feel connected and grounded to others. I have begun to truly appreciate the human contribution of “art” and “comfort” that exists in my life and all around me as my mind is less preoccupied on the “hopeless” and more awakened to the “hopeful”.
And to this I am grateful.
Life isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination. And there are still times I slip, returning briefly to the suffering. I am, however, more quick to address the pain, sit with it and process it, instead of being paralyzed or consumed by it. I also am a lot more patient with myself when this occurs.
The most surprising revelation I’ve had during the process of healing is how we truly are not “alone”. Even if some of us choose spending more time with ourselves, pets, nature, etc. than others, one only has to look around or play some music to be filled with all the gifts and comforts that are created by humanity. I have found a lot of peace from living in the moment, with eyes and ears open, enjoying the beauty in life that surrounds me. It is a true gift. Love and light on your journey towards wholeness!
As you may have already surmised, or have heard people say: “We are living amid the perfect storm”.
We have reached the boiling point in history where science and technology has gifted humanity with a tool that has the ability to capture and expose injustice in concrete and compelling ways. And now more than ever before, we have the capacity to quickly share and disseminate this information around the globe. It took less than a week for the brutal murder of George Floyd to be shared and seen by much of the global community. And rightfully so, the graphic scenes of his death traumatized many of us. It has awakened our collective conscious and moved us into the streets, demanding reform and justice, chanting his last, desperate words: “I can’t breathe”.
Ironically, we took to the streets in the midst of a global pandemic, where a deadly respiratory virus has already stolen the breathe from thousands, killing black and brown people in disproportionate numbers.
The storm has been rolling in for some time now, with each layer of loss and oppression, adding to the heaviness of the air.
“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe”.
As people crowd the streets in protest to police brutality, people are crowding emergency rooms across the globe, gasping in fear and desperation uttering the words: “I can’t breathe”. “I can’t breathe”. Medics and nurses are risking their lives to provide care for those struggling by using aggressive means to open up the airways, even resorting to intubation as a desperate measure to preserve life. It is in these dark times where we have suddenly realized our vulnerability and mortality. The murder of George Floyd amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic seems exceptionally cruel and brutal, piercing the heart that beats within us, causing us to wince in pain and catch our breathe. And he is only one of many in the black community that have been victims of police brutality.
As Covid-19 spreads through black and brown communities causing death and despair, the systemic oppression of minority communities in America has been further exposed. Not to mention that many minorities hold jobs labeled as “essential”, placing them at greater risks of contracting the virus. The economic burden felt from the “safer at home” orders has impacted all of us, but those already struggling with poverty and limited opportunities were hit the hardest.
America was just picking itself off the ground after having had the wind knocked out of us by the Coronavirus, when the death of George Floyd made its way into our collective conscious. Our nation was traumatized by the images of a cop kneeling on the neck of a black man in broad daylight, watching helplessly, as the life drained out of him, as he pleaded for his life. The recent deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have compounded the pain of a nation already grieving the loss of many to the deadly virus, Covid-19.
And it is an election year. The stakes have never been so high. Rhetoric on both sides is frenzied and forceful, each side taking the position that losing the election will lead to the loss of our freedom, core values, and perhaps even, the very identity of our country. The swords have been drawn and there is immense tension and angst among each other as we prepare for “battle”. There is a real and present danger that the election may be compromised whereby the results are contested. The debate over mail-in ballots and their legitimacy is setting the stage for civil unrest. And certain states, like Georgia, have already experienced problematic voting procedures that are creating long lines and suppressing the vote. There is an unsettling uncertainty building where people feel they may have to risk their life and health in order to cast their vote during a time when both coronavirus and the flu are escalating.
The atmospheric pressure is heavy. The emotion seen and felt in the eyes of those wearing make shift masks and bandanas who are protesting in the streets, is palpable. We are weary, and yet many are resolved to “fight”. This moment, albeit fraught with tension and instability, is pregnant with hope and possibility. Perhaps, we are truly witnessing the dawn of a new age. History will remind us that freedom has always come not only with a cost, but with a deep sense of responsibility and commitment. America is faced with the opportunity to reawaken with the resolve to commit itself again to the lofty ideals of equality, justice, freedom, and opportunity for ALL.
I’ve heard from many who feel abandoned and “left out” during this pivotal time. Some insisting the “All Lives Matter” . Many who are unwilling to yield a space in their heart for the reconciliation and restoration for a community of people who have been oppressed by a system that enslaved them years ago. Some have become defensive, doubling down, and declaring that they were never part of the system that harmed black people. That they are “too young” and that “happened so very long ago”. Many more take their logic a few steps further, citing their own disadvantages and struggles. Some are completely unaware of the privilege that their white skin affords. They are so sheltered from the daily reality of those suffering that they invalidate their struggle through gaslighting them, adding yet another insidious layer to the abuses they’ve already endured.
There are people who are incapable of looking past their own experiences in an objective way, examining how their own upbringing and place in society shaped their perceptions and daily reality. Perhaps they examine their life in as so far as acknowledging how their own life was molded by the choices and investment or “lack there of” that their parents executed in their life growing up. Taking it a step further, some may recognize the many other variables that have shaped their identity and values. These often include the interplay between family and society through organized endeavors such as church, school, and recreation. As a white kid, growing up in rural America, I initially saw the cops as the “good guys” and “heroes”. As children, our views are often relatively simplistic. If we are lucky, we are born into a family that invests in our development and is even excited about our potential in the world. One of the questions adults always ask children is: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. We begin instilling an individuals confidence early on, not only through supporting and fostering their dreams, but also through our own actions and by example. Kids listen, but they learn by absorbing what we do and how we carry ourselves. These seeds planted or sewn early on make up for so much of how we perceive and “judge” the world. The layers upon layers of our perceived reality is reinforced by our own actions and often justify the lens we see the world through. But, it truly is only one lens and one world. One that was constructed by the daily reception of “noise” and clamor that was filtered through our senses and interpreted through a filter of established values and beliefs. Our reality is not collective, it is specific and it is actually extremely limited. We know very little in the end.
I am quick to acknowledge my white privilege and my inadequate knowledge of the various issues that black people face in our country and in the world. In my own struggle with a mental illness and relative poverty, I “tapped out” for over a decade, self-isolating and stagnating. Suffering early on in childhood as a result of being molested by my neighbor at age 4, my sense of safety was diminished. The fact that the world was a dangerous place was further reinforced by later living with a step-father who was abusive and intimidating. Much of my childhood was spent trying to navigate a world where I felt threatened and unsafe. I was often preoccupied with thoughts of impending doom and death and some of my development was arrested as a result.
Not that I am comparing my reality to what black people have endured living in this country. But, I do know how it feels to spend time and energy trying to keep myself “safe”. It takes a lot of energy and time and it can consume and cloud your thought processes. For these reasons, I initially fell behind in school. I was often restless and had difficulty concentrating. Reading, for me, was a real chore. I had boundless and anxious energy and was often “poked fun” of by teachers and even set apart and punished in the classroom openly for having these issues. I always felt different from the others in my class.
I recall a time when I was six where a child got injured on the playground and was bleeding. It terrified me. While all the other kids followed the teacher who had scooped up the child, curious of the injury, I instead ran to the nearby bushes, knelt, and prayed to the dear Lord above to “save him”. I was even so shaken by this, that the next day I stayed home from school, saying I was “sick” with a tummy ache. I would pray every time I heard an ambulance as it paralyzed me with fear and dread. I never felt “safe” or “secure” and I know how this impacted my reality growing up. I have spent time and energy doing my best to heal from a reality that has overshadowed my entire existence. Had I felt safe earlier on, what would have been my true potential? I’ll never know. We only get one life, one reality, and one shot. So many factors, like not feeling safe, can hijack your true potential.
This is why I feel it is so very important to have the conversation our nation and world is having today regarding policing. Based on clear and compelling evidence in both research and anecdotal claims, now supported by a multitude of on line videos, it is fairly safe to conclude that many people, particularly in black and brown communities do not feel safe. And safety is a basic need, at the bottom of “Maslow’s Hierarchy” pyramid right above the physiological needs of: “air, water, food, shelter, clothing, reproduction”. Maslow defined safety needs in his pyramid as: “personal security, employment, resources, health, and property”. Given the reality that blacks were enslaved and treated in inhumane ways for centuries, one can easily surmise the amount of time needed to address the lack of certain “basic needs”. And even when freedom was granted, there were years of systemic racism prevalent in laws and our culture that made access to their “basic needs” difficult, if not, even impossible for some. I am, embarrassed, to admit that I lack a lot of foundational knowledge of their struggles and am still learning as the history that I was taught in the 80’s as a kid, “glossed” over their struggle… another way to “gaslight” and distort the truth.
This brings me to the point where many white people or members of other minority groups who have struggled in America, ask the question: “Well, What about Me?”. Don’t “ALL lives matter?” I have seen examples of this many times over the past month. Many have suffered in America due to the system falling short to address issues of: income inequality, poverty, lack of access to healthcare, an addiction epidemic, mental health disparities, etc. The list virtually goes on and on. Your struggle is not invalidated or diminished by the movement that, at first glance (for some), seems to have just erupted recently, spilling into the streets, gaining world-wide attention and momentum. The fight against systemic racism has been a long, tumultuous road where many have committed their life and legacy to ending the hate embedded in the structures of American Society. The Black Lives Matter movement represents seven long years of work and protests to bring the issues of racism and police brutality to America’s collective conscious. This took time, dedication, and perseverance.
“In the summer of 2013, after George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the movement began with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. The movement was co-founded by three black community organizers: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi”.
The Black Lives Matter Movement should not be seen as a “threat” or a lack of “inclusivity”. The injustices and oppression that systemic racism has caused has traumatized a community of individuals for centuries who have suffered long enough. Those of us struggling due to certain failings of the system should be humbled and inspired by the persistence, tenacity, and grit of those still fighting for equality. This movement has been not only humbling for me, but incredibly empowering and awe-inspiring. Let it sink in that despite centuries of slavery and decades of discrimination that has impacted their ability to feel “safe” and valued in society, that these people never gave up. And not only that, what is even more humbling is that the vast majority are reaching out in love and peace, asking for what they have been denied of for so long. I keep hear them saying: “We are tired. We have had ENOUGH, When will it change?”. I hear their pleas for reform and the desperation in their voices and my eyes begin to well up. It touches a place deep inside of me and my pain too, is also released. I could say, “What about me? What about my struggles?”. But, the larger question is what about “WE?”. It will take more of that mentality to honor their struggle and to reconcile the deep injustices that has, for years, harmed these people. In order to end racism WE have to join in the fight and stand with them in solidarity for a brighter future. Doing so, only empowers and inspires us to continue working to eliminate injustice of all forms. This community has struggled ENOUGH. Their cries have resonated within me and have humbled me, inspiring me to re-examine my approach and perception towards my own struggle. I’ve taken a “back seat”. I’m listening and I am learning. And I am eternally grateful for the immense hope and power that is present in this unprecedented time.
It is time to drop the “ME” and adopt the “WE” mentality. Because together WE struggle, together WE heal, and together WE change the world.
As I was sharing my recent heartache and experiences with my therapist the other day, he stopped me to explain his role as a mandatory reporter. Therapists, as well as other medical providers, teachers, etc. are trained to recognize the abuse and or neglect of children or vulnerable individuals and report the occurrence to the authorities so that it can be investigated. Individuals trained in this manner are called “mandatory” reporters because, by law, they are required to report any alleged incidents of abuse or neglect of a vulnerable individual. Both my mother and I are “mandatory reporters” because we both have worked in the healthcare system and have received the training that now requires us to report. This isn’t the first time a therapist has stopped a session to explain that he or she may need to report the abuse or neglect that has occurred in my sister’s home. In fact, it has happened with nearly every therapist I have seen. I haven’t had any therapist tell me that they have followed through with a call, but it is likely they have.
This has got me to thinking about a few things. For one, I have made a few calls to both Child Protective Services (CPS) and to Adult Protective Services (APS) over the past few years. To my knowledge, my mother has never called CPS or APS to file a concern regarding the well being of her great-grandchild or her disabled, adult grandchildren. Although, we both have been trained to report incidents of abuse and neglect, I find it odd that my mother has never done so. Often, my mother and I disagree over the extent of the abuse and I feel she not only downplays it, but doesn’t want to acknowledge it or even discuss it. This has left the responsibility up to me to report and has often left me feeling like “I’m the bad guy” for “telling on the family”. The lack of adults who have knowledge of the abuse, but who have not reported it, have left the grand baby and disabled adults vulnerable to potential danger. Because of my willingness to confront the abuse head on and even report it a time or two, I’ve endured shame, scapegoating, gaslighting, and abandonment.
Meanwhile, continued episodes of abuse and neglect occur with no real consequences that could possibly change things for the better while providing protection to those who are vulnerable there. Instead, over time, I have had to grieve and let go, walking away with pangs of guilt for “abandoning” those I know to be struggling there. The system (CPS) simply doesn’t have “enough” information or resources to investigate and move forward on the claims I’ve made. And, my Mom and sister downplay the chaos and drama that continually enfolds there, calling me “overly dramatic” and/or “controlling”. I have left because after years of confronting and fighting for respect and visibility in my family, I have been dismissed as difficult, abusive, and disrespectful. Granted, I have become very ugly with my Mom for not “taking my side” when I’ve confronted the addiction that I feel has substantially ruined 5 lives already. I have brought up the SAME concerns to my mother that I have to therapists only to be ignored, discarded, or dismissed by her. This struggle has lead to feelings of despair and alienation, and ultimately has lead to me feeling I have to “walk away” for my own health and sanity. I do not feel my mom dismisses me knowingly and intentionally. Instead, I believe her responses to be a result of her own ineffective ways of dealing with trauma that were formed early in her life.
It was in this LAST therapy session that it truly dawned on me how ALONE I have been in this fight against the addiction that has caused so much hurt and annihilation in my family. I “took note” this time when my therapist noted the severity of the situation as I casually discussed the violence and drug abuse that continually erupts in and around my sister’s house. It wasn’t until a day or two later that the therapist’s response began to weigh heavily on my mind. The information that I had relayed to the therapist was the same information that my mother has received on multiple occasions, but had neglected to question it and report it so that it could be investigated. Often, my mother would decline following up or reporting, using the mantra that “no one really knows what’s going on” anyway. As long as she could claim some level of ignorance on things, she would do so.
And yet, as time moved forward there has been more episodes of violence, incidents of drug use, and crime. Not to mention no adults (there are 6 of them) who reside in my sister’s home work. Two are disabled as a result of their drug use and I question their ability to work. The other two, I assume actively use, as they both were supposed to be in rehab recently, but one left treatment, the other might still be on a waiting list. Both of them only decided to consider rehab after getting in trouble to avoid certain consequences. Again, evidence that consequences actually can cause an individual to receive help. I acknowledge that is just the first step. But, often our family has “failed” at getting people to the first step because they have enabled them and thus they do not experience the consequences that might provide them with an opportunity to seek treatment.
Over time, I’ve learned that it is not only addiction, but Narcissistic Personality Disorder, that has caused so much pain and devastation to me and my family. My sister, simply put, continues to cause damage while my mother enables her behavior. And thus, everyone outside of that codependent relationship is actually quite sick. Either they are using substances and are in the throes of “active addiction”, or they are permanently disabled due to severe and persistent mental illness. They have not been well enough to manage their lives and heal from the significant trauma of being raised by two people who struggled with chronic addiction issues. And the parents never really invested in their future by providing them with a basic education and the tools needed to be independent. Instead, my nieces and nephews essentially “raised themselves” in their adolescent years with little to no oversight. The neglect was extreme and they were not protected from chaos that was continually brought in by the constant traffic of individuals struggling with significant addiction issues. In fact, the family endured the death of a three year old that my sister often baby-sat that resulted from a caretaker beating her to death because she knocked that individual’s “fix” off the table. After the traumatic death of this child, I tried again to get my sister help for her addiction and urged my sister to surround herself AND her kids with healthier adults. My pleas fell on deaf ears, the drug use continued, and not more than two years later my sister’s kids experienced the traumatic near death of their mother due to needle use.
Even so, no one would stand with me and confront my sister’s drug use and she went back to using after healing enough to do so. I’m not sure if she used needles after the incident, but she definitely was using again on and off. Although I urged my mother many times to join me in confronting the addiction, my mom dug in deep and continued to dismiss my concerns. There were times she “agreed that there was a problem”, but it never seemed to her, severe enough to join my efforts in confronting it. I stood alone in the storm and over time this has completely eroded the relationship between my mother and me. To me, it has felt like a refusal to acknowledge the depth of the addiction and the neglect it caused. I predicted long ago when my sister began using very heavily that my bonds between my family and me would nearly be destroyed. More than a decade later, after years of screaming into dead space, I am walking away from the trauma that caged me. It has been traumatic for me to watch my nieces and nephews all struggle with addiction issues, many times leading to arrests, incarceration, abusive relationships, and near overdoses. The struggle with my sister was hard enough, but it has been multiplied times 5 over the past decade as I watched one by one my nieces and nephews surrender to the throes of addiction. I watched as no one walked across their high school stage to receive a diploma and each of them became more engaged in drugs and criminal activity. At one point, I even watched as my niece went back to her abusive husband who was reported to have assaulted my niece’s father and had even held her hostage at gunpoint. I continued to confront and fight for my niece for a whole year while hearing that her husband was “drugging” her and controlling communication. As an individual with a diagnosis of C-PTSD and a history of childhood trauma it took a lot of time for me to “let go”. It was made even harder because no one else in my family wanted to join me in the endeavor of confronting my sister’s kids and getting them help. I often felt I was the only one seeing and acknowledging the devastation. Things continued to be normalized and I became the “problem” of my family.
Over this past year, I acknowledged I was powerless in this fight. I was not only being stonewalled and character smeared by my sister, but my mother also continually dismissed my concerns and often either rationalized away things or defended my sister. Stuck in this spiral of never feeling heard, I surrendered to the reality that I was completely ineffective in “reaching” those in my family struggling with addiction. As a result, I have slowly and painfully given up “the fight”. It was destroying my health and I decided to “cut ties”, heal, and wait to reconnect in distant ways after I grieve the loss. So, in the midst of a global pandemic when many are reconnecting and becoming closer, I have “let go” and have become more isolated. It’s difficult, but it is what it is.
So, when my current therapist stopped me during our session to share his role in mandatory reporting, it struck me AGAIN that it wasn’t only me who found the behavior of my sister and her adult kids concerning for the child who is being raised in the home. In ways, my therapist’s response was validating to a certain extent.
I believe one of the most difficult things in dealing with a dysfunctional family, besides feeling alienated and often invisible, is the shame that society places on “airing dirty laundry”. We are told to hold the secrets inside because there is great shame and stigma associated with revealing the dysfunction in our families. This further compounds the issues of isolation and can lead an individual to go “over the edge”. And often, this leads to an individual feeling as if they cannot “relate” to others. I want to “break the silence” and the “mold” that is telling those who suffer, to do so silently. The silent epidemic of sheltering and hiding dysfunction is deadly, for some.
Ultimately, I would love to one day work with and write about the trauma and pain associated with the forced shroud of silence surrounding family abuse and neglect. We heal when bring things into the light, which can lead us from confusion to clarity. We heal when we can separate our story from the historical cycles of shame and guilt. Although it can be a brutally messy process, light and truth is required to separate ourselves from the ancient chatter that binds us to the darkness of our past. The darkness that people want to ignore, to burry, and to even deny, is what must be bravely examined in the light so that separation can occur. We must go on a journey of self discovery, and “shed” the skin we were sealed in as a result of cyclic shame and loss. It is in this space, where we are increasingly becoming aware of our loss of attachment to our past, that we begin to sense freedom from it. This is the space where separation results in accountability and ownership, and ultimately the empowerment to “take flight”. It is in this same space, where we are able to cultivate compassion for our past mistakes and willingly forgive ourselves and others. We begin to open our conscious to the collective suffering of humanity and, despite it all, we become curious about our infinite potential to create and sustain our own peace and stillness. Standing in the light, recognizing the shadows that have been laid to rest on the ground beside us, allows us to fix our vision and gaze on the vast horizon ahead. I’d like to think this space is where the “magic” happens and the “mystery” of life is renewed. We once again view the world with childlike excitement, but with the strength and resolve of an adult. It’s a rebirth where separation occurs, boundaries are drawn, and mastery is refined.
The curtain where the “wizard” was pulling the strings has been drawn. Light is flooding in and, in the beginning, this causes disappointment, disbelief, anger, and even pain. But, what comes to pass is that we realize, much like Dorothy did in The Wizard of Oz, that “home” was within our grasp all along. We can take ourselves where we like. The light that floods in reveals we’ve always had a “heart, a brain, and courage”.
With the curtain pulled back on my life, I can easily see what is mine and what is theirs. There is now full transparency and although, initially painful, I realize that it is up to me to go forward, separating myself from the shame and suffering that caged me.
I feel a sense of stability in this newly formed space that I have begun to cultivate all on my own. And I’m proud that I am no longer part of the “status quo”. I’m moving forward, even if a bit isolated and alone. I trust that I will bring people, love, and light into my life while protecting myself from needless noise and chaos. Land, undefined, is finally gaining definition and taking form. Finding myself in this space is freeing, while, at the same time I feel more anchored and resolved. This is my life. It is messy and imperfect, but it is also full of forgiveness and love. And this is just the beginning. I’m shedding the cocoon to flutter, fully in the light, with less cares and worry. Life is lighter. And the space around me is finally mine. ❤️ 🦋❤️
I feel as if I am here on borrowed time, having slipped in to someone else’s skin, never quite feeling as if things are familiar. I have but one foot on the ground.
I’m not sure if I have ever felt truly safe. The kind of safe that just feels good all over where the body can just let go and melt into the surroundings, feeling no separation from it. I feel restless and uncomfortable here. I seem to get so close to what I want, only to realize I’m too far away to reach it, that I’ll never truly know what it’s like to feel satiated or secure. I blame no one for this strained and rushed reality, where my dreams are constantly interrupted by fitful nights of waking, disoriented and fearful.
And yet, I do feel an unraveling of sorts. And, I feel a renewed sense of accountability which can be very empowering. When I find that I am again clinging to old habits, desires, and distorted thinking; I am able to quickly identify that I am doing so. There is a lot of shame that is bound to engaging in the old and ineffective coping mechanisms that I have employed for years. I’ve learned that my thoughts and behaviors are not so easy to change. Thoughts will come and go, if allowed to do so, but some are so heavy and sticky for me, that I get stuck there for awhile, becoming stubborn and unwilling to move. There have been so many times I have had the intention in my heart to “let go” and just live more freely, in the moment. And yet, my system seems to be hardwired to recognize the existential threat of being “abandoned” or left alone and I clamp down harder, unable to release. I become easily swept away in the turmoil of what was left after someone I loved repeatedly left me or abandoned me on an emotional level. I’m now somewhere in the midst of releasing the tight grip I have had on my expectations of others and moving more towards accepting the responsibility of independently constructing my own security and stillness. This is challenging for me. I have to remind myself to cultivate self compassion, not only in thought, but in action. It is ridiculously easy for me to backslide into the oblivion of rage, depression, and fear. When I do so, however, I am more likely now to forgive myself and acknowledge that the pain and trauma of the past is blocking my progress.
I am trying very hard to be honest with myself. There are times I wonder if I am allowing my pain to go on “too long”. If I so desperately want out of this, then why then do I keep going back to massage the broken glass that continues to cut me so deeply? Isn’t it time to stop revisiting the past? Aren’t I ready to do so? In some ways, doing so terrifies me. Sometimes I feel the pain and rage is all I have left of the connection that has been so devastatingly lost. I realize going back again and again only keeps me trapped and tied to it, but it is so hard to walk away from the pulse of life and love that has now dissipated like the vapors of fog on a sunny day. I could go bask in the warmth of the sun, but instead I continue to look back, a bit lost, struggling to accept that the people I love are no longer with me. I remind myself that I have no other choice, but to go forward. Staying in this space is actually stagnating me, it is suffocating. And I recognize, that only I can pull myself away from the wreckage and move forward. I guess it truly is time to do so.
I have allowed my world to become very small. I have based a lot of my decisions to “shut down” and “turn off” on past relationships and the trust that was destroyed. Multiple incidents of betrayed trust in my personal life, along with enduring toxic work environments where I was discriminated against, lead to my complete resignation and unwillingness to try anymore. I gave up. This was reinforced by examples both large and small of hate and depravity that I could see playing out through stories enfolding on the news and in the ways people treated one another on social media. I didn’t want to be part of a world that I felt I could never trust again. I am still very much on the fence when it comes to trusting others. Still yet, I sometimes feel I am unable to trust myself and my own reactions, especially when swept away in fear and sadness. Often, this is masked in rage. I recognize it would be in my best interest to “soften”. I step back a few feet and I can see much evidence that so many of us are struggling in these ways. It is why we continually “miss one another”. The experiences of my past are often clouding my judgment and I form opinions of people and situations without having even actually experienced them in an open and accepting way. It is so easy to let the past dictate present reality, not truly ever being present. This is why I believe trauma robs us of so much, not only in our past, but in our daily lives. Especially if we don’t recognize what is occurring and neglect to work to open up again, experiencing the present moment non-judgmentally, as it enfolds.
I realize that I have a choice to make. My health, both physically and mentally, is unable to withstand staying “on the fence”. I either have to become resolute in my decision to heal completely, or settle with staying locked in the space where I continue sifting through the wreckage. There is nothing left there and I realize it is time to move on, even if doing so seems difficult. I have to find a way not only to forgive myself for “going back” again and again, but for the time it has taken from me in doing so. And I must aggressively forge ahead . I must leave the ship wreck on the shore and blaze a new trail of adventures for myself. And, I must do so with intention and purpose. My greatest challenge going forward will be to remain engaged in the present moment, not allowing the past to color every interaction and relationship I pursue. If I can do this, I will feel liberated. I cannot remain chained to what the past held when I am creating a new life for myself. It is time to truly leave the nest. I am ready. I must leave with the intention of flying with my eyes wide open, non-judgmentally, seeing the world AS IT IS, clinging to nothing. That is how you fly! And in time, without fully realizing what you have accomplished, you will be spreading your wings, soaring, and landing in a spot where you are alone in your stillness, but deeply at peace.
This place of serenity and stillness is one of feeling connected, but not clingy. It is one of openness, not fear. It is a place where you feel grounded by the efforts and actions of the self-care that you routinely took to get you here. I believe it is a space, once truly found and appreciated, that you protect and guard, not out of fear, but out of the desire to maintain and enjoy. Once perched on a tall branch, resting from flight, there is little desire to return to a space where you were once caged, stagnating. I believe this to be true, and I am so ready. I am trusting that everything I have went through and learned has prepared me for flight. I often want to “hurry up” the process, but I trust what I am learning from my struggles to do so is purposeful. Perhaps, I will one day be able to help others feel less so alone, because they too struggled “leaving their nest”.
I am setting boundaries that will enable me to refocus and fly. I am not entirely happy with how I have raged and have lost dignity, at times, with those that I have struggled to leave. There are certain relationships in my life that have to be completely put to rest as they continue to be damaging and entrapping. Admittedly, I am the one that keeps going back seeking connection and then realizing I am unable to stay when things are so dysfunctional and unhealthy. I also am potentially harmful to their healing process as we are on separate trajectories. I actually do hope those in my life struggling with addiction or the enabling of it can heal and move their lives forward. If I could “stay on” and somehow graciously accept their struggle and their current inability to engage in healthier ways, I would. The problem is I fail miserably at this and I become consumed again, losing focus becoming not only ineffective, but angry and hostile. No one wins and the wreckage decays further.
And so, another piece about leaving and “letting go”. Another post where I am readying myself for flight. I sometimes feel I should already by flying, but judging myself for not leaving earlier will only serve to keep me trapped in feelings of shame and low self worth. Instead, I will focus on today and what I can do to enjoy this moment. Because, this moment is all that we truly really have. This moment is all that matters in the end. And if I can wholly embrace the potential in this moment, and live fully embracing the gift within it, then I believe in time that I will feel more “at home” here. After, all we are only here “on borrowed time”. These moments count and no one knows when we will be “slipping out”, into the unknown. We only know that we all made it here, thrust into the light and breathed into, and one day we will leave this space. In the interim, we are on “borrowed time”, and every moment counts.
Enjoy each and every moment of your day. Love and light!
I am in a lot of personal pain that is stemming from the dissolution of my family. I guess I thought, by some stretch of a fantastical imagination and misguided hope, that the threat of a deadly global pandemic might somehow bring my broken family closer. I am reminded daily by “warm and fuzzy” commercials on TV and the professionals on the news, to connect and reach out to family and friends during these difficult times. This only serves to crush me further, because in doing so over the past two weeks, I have only felt more devalued and disillusioned by the continued chaos that continually erupts from my family. The chaos that quickly entraps me in old, ineffective coping mechanism from years of being gaslighted, devalued, and discarded. The chaos that has taken the lives and potential of my young adult nieces and nephews and has left two of them disabled and the other two in the throes of active addiction. The chaos that has lead to the erosion of the relationship with my aging mother whose denial has lead to me feeling muted and silenced.
And yet, I know, that I am the only one that can walk away from the devastation, the confusion, and the unbearable weight which has left my health in a state of deterioration and decay. I have been wasting away, unable to “swallow” the grief and pain of not only losing my family to addiction, but also to the personality disorder I now believe my sister has: Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD). I have hesitated in the past to “label” her negligence and ineffective coping as NPD, but time has provided too many experiences where the “mask” has been stripped, revealing a crystal clear picture of the tactics that narcs commonly employ to erode the confidence and credibility of their victims. This reality has made my decision to leave and “let go” a difficult one as her adult children are suffering greatly. They live in a remote and rural area, are uneducated and live in poverty, and they do not have the skills or resources to leave the situation. They do not have phone service and their access to internet is limited. Because they are also in the throes of addiction, they are even more vulnerable to my sister as they are dependent currently on her for transportation, food, and housing. Her kids grew up in chaos and never acquired an education or the skills to work. I have remained engaged lot longer than I normally would, in attempts to gain support from my mother so that we could together try and help her struggling kids work toward independence. These attempts were often met with deep resistance and denial from my Mom who wants to continue to believe the lies and confusion of the web that my sister spins that make it nearly impossible to break through and have any amount of sustained change. I have tried for years now, only to the detriment of my own health and sanity, while relationships continued to erode and disintegrate.
Weeks ago, before the Coronavirus Outbreak became a daily reality, I was at peace in my decision to “let go” of my family and focus on my time and attention of rebuilding my life in a more balanced and peaceful way. I even set up a volunteer opportunity with NAMI and I chose a local church that I would start attending. Within a week of doing so, the world was turned upside down by the daily reality we now are living: social distancing, staying at home to save lives, and helplessly watching as many are impacted by the deadly virus that is circling the globe.
With uncertainty and fear looming, I made the decision to “reach out” to my family again and to try and remain “connected” during this difficult time and encourage my family to “remain inside”. My initial goal was just to make sure they knew how serious the threat was as my family lives in Tennessee and their state was not taking things that seriously at the time. My good intentions were again thwarted by chaos and confusion when my disabled niece, who became sick with pneumonia, went to the hospital twice, unaccompanied by anyone to advocate for her. Because of her level of incompetence, she ended up leaving the hospital against the medical advice of being admitted (the first visit), and the second time she just “walked out”, leaving our family in a panic to find her. The police were called to locate her and eventually she was brought home. Tension rose as I had strongly encouraged my sister to go with my niece if she had to go to the hospital a second time, because my niece has significant mental health issues and lacks good judgment. When she went missing from the hospital, I became angry, as well as concerned. The situation was made a lot worse over the next couple of days when my niece’s separated husband (who has abused her in the past & has had a recent arrest and drug issues) was allowed to just come up “unannounced” to my sister’s home and take my niece with him. This caused a great deal of friction between my family, as I had hoped while she was still sick she would stay resting at home. Not to mention that my niece’s mental state was compromised as she had not been taking her medication and was still sick showing symptoms of pneumonia. I acknowledged that my sister and mom may have not been able to prevent her from going, but I did not feel they tried hard enough to prevent her from going. I also pointed out that my sister’s “lack of boundaries”, where my niece’s abusive husband feels comfortable dropping by anytime, unannounced, is problematic for my niece who was sick at the time and exercises poor judgment. Avoiding going into anymore details, things deteriorated from there and as a result, I have again felt the need to protect myself by disengaging and “letting go”.
As depressed as this is making me, I felt a responsibility to write publicly about my struggle, because I know there are others in similar situations. I went in with the good intentions of connecting to my family during a time when everyone is encouraging others to connect, to appreciate life and each other, and ,ultimately, I regret doing so. Some of us do not have the supportive structures in our families to gain comfort from them and it can “backfire” and lead to additional stress, anxiety, and depression. For a few days, my mental status was derailed and I was triggered, showing signs of mania and increased rumination. I even felt suicidal, at times, although I knew deep down I did not actually want to die. For me, and maybe for others, reaching out to our families may not be a wise idea. For some of us, our families are chaotic and can cause additional strain and anxiety.
For those of you feeling alone and struggling through this uncertain time without the support from your family or even friends, please know you are valued. I feel this is the perfect opportunity for me to value myself by engaging in healing endeavors, like yoga, meditation, art, music, etc. I acknowledge the past few days, I became swept up again in the disillusionment and depression that interacting with my family causes. I am still raw and “bleeding” and it wasn’t the right time for me to engage, and yet, the media outlets with their “warm and fuzzy” commercials, had me feeling all nostalgic. I lost my compass for a few days on a fantasy of family connection that deep down I knew would be “too good to be true”. Healing takes time and I went back with hope in my heart that was eventually dashed. However, more importantly, I was reminded that I alone am ENOUGH and I intend to spend the next few days cultivating forgiveness and love.
There may be a time in the future where I have acquired the skills to interact with my family without being “pulled in” and becoming ungrounded. Until, that time comes, I will do my best to remain disengaged with my family, while engaging in self-care and compassion, daily. I recognize when I do so, an enormous amount of space is freed up within me, that brings clarity and peace. I just went back “too soon, too early”.
For those of you in similar situation, please know how valuable and worthy you are and that YOU, ALONE, ARE ENOUGH. This troubled and scary time will pass and there will be more concrete ways that we can move forward in our healing processes. It can feel like we are suspended, and it can cause some to lose hope. Please take comfort that I am here, like you, in this same space, feeling somewhat alone and fearful, at times. But, as all things do, it will pass. If we know anything about life, we know that change is the one constant we have. I hope you take comfort in my words and take care of yourself today. Even if you feel you can connect to certain loved ones right now for support and solace, Know you are not alone, and will make it through. Hopefully we will even learn something about ourselves in the process: That we are that strong, resilient, and ENOUGH.
Love and light!
It’s been only a few short weeks since I noticed a slight, then certain and sharp, “shift” in our mindset and optic. Two months ago, China’s outbreak seemed so distant to us. Somehow, we felt safe enough in our daily lives and routines to casually pass by or “tune out” the tragedy unfolding in what seemed, “worlds away”. For some of us, it captured our attention, but admittedly, it wasn’t necessarily on our daily phones or computer screens as it has become now, bookmarked, screen-shot, and often shared. In less than a month, we have become suspended in an unsafe and unstable space, collectively, turning to technology to connect us, to seek comfort, and to maintain some semblance of normalcy.
For me personally, I had just taken my first cruise on the Royal Princess to the Mexican Riviera just two short months ago in January. My ex-spouse and I, who both currently reside together in Los Angeles, joined his mom and sister, for a 7 day cruise, visiting three port cities. I certainly wasn’t thinking of a global pandemic then, as I milled about the ship, frequenting endless buffets, and betting into the wee hours in their casino. We crowded into elevators carrying over 20 people, easy: the old and young, with passengers representing all corners of the globe.
On the day of our return, mid-afternoon, Scott began to complain of not feeling well, we all assumed it might be the flu or a cold. I didn’t “shake or hug” his Mom or sister goodbye because they had spent time, earlier, closed up in a car, taking a scenic drive through Beverly Hills with him. I did not want to get sick. I had stayed home earlier, instead of joining them, because I was having “tummy troubles” and wanted to give Scott a few final hours to spend with his family before he dropped them off at the airport. Scott was fine earlier in the day when we disembarked from the ship, but when he came home from dropping them off at the airport, he headed straight to bed due to a fever so high that he later told me that he had hallucinated. His fever continued on and off for roughly three days and he developed a “barking” cough that he mentioned was not productive. I remember throwing him a pulse oximeter, keeping my distance, but wanting to make sure his oxygen levels weren’t dropping as he was coughing continually through the night. Although, he never complained of being “short of breath”, he did have high fevers, coughing, exhaustion, and towards the end, nausea and stomach issues. I had stomach stuff on the day that we returned, but never came down with a fever or a cough. I remember feeling tired and “under the weather”, but nothing more. I had immediately implemented really strong “infection control” measures in the house, wiping everything down for about a week. Scott was never tested for the flu, and the virus had “not reached us yet”, but the symptoms he had resemble those of the new novel virus that we are facing today: Covid-19. Both his Mom and sister returned to TN and were sick with the same symptoms and, after it hanging on for awhile, it finally passed and they both recovered. His mother hung onto her cough for a long time. We all now wonder if we have in some way already experienced Covid-19, personally, in our lives. I guess, in time, they will be able to test people for exposure to see if the antibody is present in their blood. I have seen a lot of other posts from others on social media posing similar questions from an illness they had back in December or January. Could it be, this has been spreading for awhile now? So many unanswered questions.
In any case, so here we are, with many of us suspended in a state of uncertainty that is unsettling to most. There are always those who are young or who are not that concerned, but for most of us who have been watching the devastating scene play out in Italy, let’s face it, we are scared. I know that I am. I already live with C-PTSD, OCD, Bipolar 1, and anxiety/depression. The first few days of this were so surreal to me, I nearly thought that a recent medication change had brought on a delusional state. I had to ground myself by talking to others and reassure myself by again looking at social media and trusted news sources. Although, I can recall being briefed on a global pandemic back in the early 2000’s while working in healthcare, I had conveniently stuffed that scary possibility way back into the dark recesses of my mind. And now, as predicted long ago, here we are.
As most, I am feeling anxious and exhausted, concerned about the coming tough days ahead of us. My anxiety and body tension, as well as OCD, has escalated to the point that there have been moments I’ve had a tightened chest, body aches, and compulsions of checking my temperature. I try to take breaks from the news because my body tenses with the visual and auditory component as I easily absorb other people’s fear, sadness, and anxiety. Reading the news is easier than watching it or hearing it, for me. The sense of urgency and concern in people’s voices activates my PTSD and I want to “sound the alarms” and warn others of the inevitable reality that I feel will more than likely enfold over the coming days. Scott and I have just moved to the Los Angeles area and the news often makes me feel like “fleeing” the area as I feel the high density of people will mean an overburdened healthcare system and a deterioration of our “frontline” of responders and resources, all of which may lead to upended chaos in the city, even outbreaks of violence, I fear. Admittedly, I tend to catastrophize events and thus I am no stranger to the unsettling feeling of being upended by fear and panic. There have been many times that I have even tried to convince Scott that we should leave the area. I am hoping it doesn’t get “that bad”, but I am new to the area and we have no support here. It’s very hard, and at times, it terrifies me. We shall see what the coming days bring.
A crisis of this magnitude, surely brings us face to face with our own inevitable mortality, reminding us that our time here is brief and fleeting. We often hear that we should “live for today” and “cherish the moment” and yet it’s human nature to get easily distracted, wrapped up in our humanity of, sometimes, selfish behaviors that distance us from one another and even ourselves. Something as jarring and paralyzing as a global pandemic, has the potential to ground and connect us to the essence of life: connection to ourselves and to one another. In a very basic sense, we need one another. Right now, we need one another to practice “social distancing” so that we can “flatten the curve” sooner than later, slow the rate of infection, and allow the medical community to “catch up” and work to solve this global crisis. We’d like to think we are “alone”, but we are truly interdependent and the more of us that recognize that fact, the more successful we will be at lowering deaths and returning to a new normal. Hopefully a normal that is better in that we will be more “in tune” with the fact that we do all occupy the same space, planet earth, and we can collectively: “make a difference”.
People are dying and more will die from this epidemic, but we can slow the rate of death if we work together. Humanity, at its best, can be nearly miraculous! The capacity for humans to create and sustain order in the midst of what seems “chaotic”, demonstrates our collective power and potential. We honestly can change the course by adopting a “we” mentality, over a “me” one. The innovation that stems from humanity’s desire to survive and thrive knows no bounds. We are miraculous, beautiful, and amazing in our collective pursuit to persevere and protect LIFE. Take a moment right now to acknowledge the vast amount of newly acquired knowledge and routine that is being called on to preserve human life, the greatest gift we have. SIT, in the stillness that exists within yourself and draw upon the centuries of humanity that has given us so many gifts of art, music, architecture, science, etc. that which inspires us to celebrate the energy that resides within us. This love and need for love knows no bounds. We were born to care and to connect.
And so, when the fear and uncertainty of today leads you to paralysis, draw upon the life that exists within us, between us, outside of us, around us. Take a deep breath and acknowledge that humanity has always been challenged. It has always been a struggle and hard. Life has always included death and birth. Life is continual energy. If you don’t believe this, open your window for a day and listen to the energy “buzzing” that is created by humanity and the diverse biosphere that surrounds us, always. We are life. We are love. We are peace. We are the stillness that we seek. We are the comfort that shelters us. OUR potential is limitless and OUR energy boundless. And it exists in the present moment. None of us have ever known when our last breath might be. A global pandemic pulls us up and forces us to take notice, but the final destiny was predetermined as each life only takes so many breaths. We breathe in the same air, often unaware of it’s weightlessness and freedom. We take for granted ourselves and each other. That is part of the human experience and our imperfection. But, we have an opportunity to be renewed and awakened by this experience. We have a chance to act responsibly and save lives while doing so. These thoughts and longings to wake up and connect have always been there, perhaps this is mother earth’s way of nudging us.
I will tarry forward through the next few weeks and coming months in an uncertain haze. I will be fearful, and, at times, I will be brave. I’m praying for all of us to get through this and to come out on the other side of it changed for the better. It’s my hope anyway.
Stay safe, my friends. Stay healthy. And if the darkness comes, do not forget the light. This too shall pass. Love, comfort, and light to all.
I am love.
I am light.
I am peace.
I believe what we tell ourselves has the potential to expand in our lives, exponentially. Let’s spread LOVE.
This is written for anyone who has left someone they love out of self-preservation. It is a letter from my bleeding heart to those I have left, expressing the emotional turmoil and grief of “letting go”. I recognize everyone involved has their own story to tell, this is mine.
This has been extremely hard on me. My decision to “walk away” has been years in the making; A culmination of events, both big and small, where the words emanating from these events left me feeling alienated, devalued, and lost. It has been years of using my voice to reach my family and always getting close, but never truly making contact. Many of my days, especially in the last few years, have been spent sounding the alarms while watching my nieces and nephews drown with no real willingness from others to come together and help them. Instead, I watched helplessly as my own sister blocked communication, often manipulating others which thwarted efforts of intervention. The addiction raged on, ravaging all five of her adult kids, rendering two permanently disabled and two others are both presently in positions where rehab was essentially forced due to a pregnancy with one and the threat of incarceration with another. The seeds of me separating and letting go were planted over two decades ago when addiction ravaged my sister’s life, causing significant neglect and trauma for all of her children. I knew instinctually years ago that I would one day not know my family. It has altered my family’s reality, and the damage, especially for some, is irreparable and irreversible. Two of my family members have suffered with years of hallucinations, delusions, and erratic behavior that has not been responsive to medication, even after years of multiple hospitalizations. Even with this amount of damage and destruction, I feel my voice is often muted in the storm. I recognize that my sister and others are sick and in the times of sobriety, I have acknowledged the deep pain this has caused her and her now adult kids. When addiction takes hold, I no longer recognize the people I love.
I have advocated, provided resources, and even moved home (across the entire country) to help and I have been pushed away and even abandoned during times of crisis. I was stonewalled by my sister after moving home to help and spent another Christmas alone, separated from my family, even though they were all within 20 miles of me. I made efforts to repair the relationship which were largely ignored, before I decided to move back across the country in order to heal and begin the process of grieving. And even though that should have been my exit, I hung in there for another 2 years fighting with and for my family to heal. Admittedly, my approach was not always peaceful and I often would lose my compass and become abusive and ugly. I regret those instances that I cannot “take back”.
I sacrificed my health trying to “save” my family, ending up disabled and in despair because I could not LET GO of them. And as time pressed on, I grew ugly, flying into rages, further damaging the ties completely in an effort to end the suffering that was killing me. I simply did not know how to let them go, while at the same time I did not know how to hang on while keeping my dignity intact. I began to loathe myself, the world, and I allowed the darkness to envelop me often spending hours trying to convince myself to just “end it already”. But, for whatever reason, even though I was shedding a huge part of myself… I hung on through the darkness, waiting for any light to “shine in”. I learned in this darkness, that my world which had become so small, was about to shatter. The shattering was in essence the formation of myself, the separation that had to happen for me to heal. The pain was immense and felt unsurvivable, at times. I’ve walked away to save myself and to prove to others in my family, that they too can walk away when ready, from the trauma and patterns that have caged them. I will continue to walk away from the destruction, with my head held high. I will no longer engage or get pulled in when I know from years of painful experience that it will only lead to a loss of self and dignity, while connection continues to be increasingly fractured. The time to let go is evident when holding on causes more pain then releasing those you love. To clarify, I do not blame my family for my loss of dignity. I fully blame myself. I had not learned yet how to safely disengage and develop boundaries with myself and others.
Here is my letter to loved ones (This is primarily written for myself as only one family member might read this, but maybe one day when we are all well, someone might find value in what I have written here).
As I am leaving, I want you to know…
I want you to know, that I am here. I will be waiting on the “other side”, should any of you abandon that of which is dimming the light within you. I recognize now, as painful as it is to “let go”, that I cannot save any of you and it was never my responsibility to do so. I could barely save myself. I will be here, even if years pass, to accept you with open arms if you sincerely desire my connection and are working towards healing. I realize this will take time for you and me as healing is not a quick or easy process. And I will respect your boundaries and level of desired connection even if it is no connection at all. I know my words might be perceived as condescending, and that is not my intention. I have been just as sick in my own way and have wrongfully forced connection when it was not desired. I do not know what is best for you, that can only come from you. I apologize for not respecting your boundaries and am leaving in part because I realize you are capable of recovering independently and feel that although my intentions were to help, my overbearing presence, at times, may have communicated otherwise. I acknowledge that I am no longer effective due to my own pain and that recovery is truly a solitary endeavor.
As I am leaving, I want you to know….
All of you will be in my thoughts constantly. I will routinely check certain social media sites and “mobile patrol” and I will fight the urge daily, even hourly, to reach out to you. You are my family. And I love you. But, I have learned that reaching out when people are not ready for change only leads to the excruciating pain of being devalued and often my words and actions are misinterpreted. Also, it places me at grave risk of becoming triggered and losing myself again to my own illness of Bipolar and PTSD. When I lose myself, I become ineffective, often pushing people away with raging and abusive behavior. I too have pushed friends away who have seen me in pain and have advised me to disengage and seek help. I hope one day some of you see that as the addiction has a “hold on you” causing you to lose yourself, it also had “a hold on me” causing me to react in often irrational and ineffective ways as I struggled not to lose you. I want you to know, that I have finally surrendered completely to the illness of addiction. I respect the illness fully and recognize what we have lost as a family as a result of its relentless grip on our family.
As I am leaving, I want you to know….
I see that we all are suffering in our own ways in response to the trauma we endured and to the addiction that has fractured our family tree. As I was raging in the storm, I see some were sheltering with denial while others were using weapons of defense to continue using because facing the pain perhaps seemed unsurvivable to you. Addiction has a way of lying to you, justifying any and all behaviors that enable continued use as using feels safer than risking being vulnerable enough to seek recovery. Shame and guilt has a way of lying to us, keeping us bound to the historical cycles that created the comfort we feel in chaos.
As I am leaving, I want you to know…
I see all of you, not just the addiction or the rattled caged bird who no longer sings out of shame, fear, and perceived safety. I see your strengths and how hard you have worked to overcome adversity. I know that healing is a process with continual failures and relapses, and we learn each time we get up and try again. I also feel a lot of the devaluing is unintentional and you are unaware that it is occurring. I have tried to help you see it. I also have been abusive and devaluing of others myself as I raged in the storm. I can understand that might be all others can see of me in their own pain, fear, and disillusionment. Our family is sick and I too have been sick. My hope is that distance will bring clarity and that my exit will refocus the energy on the real problem of addiction, instead of on my rage, which has become the “scapegoat”. I am however fully accountable and aware that my approach in the last few years has at times, been ugly and abusive. I apologize for that.
As I am leaving, I want you to know…
I love you. And I am sorry. I am sorry that I have not been well enough to connect in healthier ways and to remain distant enough to perhaps be more effective, in the end. I do not feel I have any control or influence in the lives of my family. I wish I had distanced myself earlier and perhaps remained engaged in limited ways, accepting that my family is not well or ready to heal. I also have been very sick. I am just now learning to set boundaries with myself and those I love. Setting boundaries has been a foreign concept to me. I have been reacting to the illness of addiction which robbed me of connection for nearly a decade now with those I love. Forgive me, for not knowing how to manage this amount of grief. I tried in every way imaginable to communicate that our relationship was dissolving, but nothing truly changed and I had to walk away to save myself.
As I am leaving, I want you to know…
Please do not contact me, comment, or e-mail. I am still in immense pain, both physically and emotionally. I am not “out of the woods” yet. I know there will be continual disruption and crisis in our family due to the pervasive addiction that has touched everyone involved, but unless it is a death, I really need this time to heal. I am in continual chronic pain and I am not entirely stable yet. You all are in my thoughts, even if I am not in *some* of yours. I will worry, I will feel guilt, I will feel remorse. I will have deep, primal urges to reach out and connect, but I know on another level not to do so until I have rebuilt my life and feel safe doing so. If I cannot be there for myself, how can I be there for you. I hope if I am well again one day soon, some one there will understand that setting a strong boundary to heal and become whole is necessary and it will become an inspiration for them to follow. We are stronger than we feel. And this illness of addiction will only “break us” if we allow it. I do realize each one of us is sick and we are all coping in the best way we know how. I can forgive the devaluation, the gaslighting, the character smearing, etc., but I cannot subject myself to it any longer. And, when I become healthy I may be able to engage, knowing how to navigate those who choose to remain stuck. This is hard work. But, if I cannot do it, then how can I expect anyone else to? I have to stay the course this time, put myself first, and remain in the light. As I said, originally, I will be here to connect with those who are truly healing and desire a connection with me, but I am realistic about the time it takes to heal and I want both of us to have the space and time to do so.
As I am leaving, I want you to know…
I love you. I lost myself in a mad pursuit to connect to you. But, all is not lost. They always say you must love yourself before you can truly love others. The raising of my voice and demanding more from you came across as abusive at times, but it was truly an act of self love. I felt deep remorse for the ugliness that resulted from my deep pain, and yet, it lead me to the isolation I needed to confront my own “holes” and be accountable to the mess I had created in my own life through self neglect. The louder I screamed and raged, the more I retreated into myself finding the love I needed to persevere. As I was losing you, I was finding myself. And as the old saying goes, it is necessary in an airplane crash to put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others. And so… that is my plan. I am “placing the oxygen mask on my face” and engaging in self care.
***As someone who has been silenced a lot in life and made to hide certain truths, my trauma had lead to me feeling guilty for writing openly about certain details in MY life. Some may think I am trying to “shame” my sister and my family, but that is NOT my intention. My mother will more than likely read this post, but I doubt my sister follows any of my blog as she has not show interest, even after I have sent her some of my posts in the past. I feel sharing my story is a release for me and it hopefully will help others who are discouraged from telling their story out of shame or fear, to feel less alone. I do feel those affected by addiction directly or indirectly, have engaged often in ineffective coping mechanisms and get trapped in a true cycle of “shame” that often serves to perpetuate the cycle. My mother is a strong and capable individual who I admire, and yet, when it comes to the addiction we struggle greatly to agree. I love my sister and I want her and her adult kids to heal and be completely well. Although, I doubt they will read this post (or any of my blog), I want to make it clear that the intention of my post is for healing purposes only. My sister has endured significant trauma in her life and she and her kids have their own story to share. This is only MY side and perspective. I see their strength and despite their sometimes ineffective ways of coping, I know they hold the capacity to heal and to care for others. My own securities and guilt has me again justifying my actions. If I come to the conclusion that this post is not helpful for me or others, I will take it down as my intention is truly to spread light by providing examples of my struggle and growth. This more than likely will be my last post that is focused on the loss of my family.
My goal is to have a true shift in my blog where I am highlighting the journey of rebuilding my life. I am ready to “stop spinning” on the past and am ready to release myself from it. However, I would be amiss to not demonstrate the transition in my life by including a post as significant as letting go of my family in order to “focus on myself”. I am fully accountable for myself and my journey going forward. I am learning to separate myself from my family and to truly accept responsibility for MY life. I am empowered by this decision. I realize in the past, I was giving up my power by blaming others for the pain I was unwilling to process. In the post above, I try to accurately reflect the relationship dynamic with my family and what has caused me to “let go” for now. But, I truly want to be clear that even with all of the chaos and crisis, I was 100% responsible for my own behavior and for taking care of myself. My behavior was ineffective, hurtful, and harmful. Period. I regret the many times I lost myself and became abusive with those in my family. I will always be honest about my behavior as I am not proud of how I sometimes reacted in my pain. My blog is taking a shift towards personal accountability and further posts will be more “present moment” focused. I hope to write about my continued journey towards wholeness through the loving expression of walking forward alone in self love and resilience. I’ve lived in the past for “too long”. I am ready for the gift of the present moment where my thoughts are no longer trapped in past patterns.
I am a strong advocate for breaking the silence and talking about our pain. We should share with others our struggles. We should not be ashamed of our humanity or our flaws. When you walk today down the streets of your city, and you pass by people, remember that so many have endured trauma or have lived through atrocities or survived a battle with addiction. Life is not easy, it is often hard, and can even be brutal, at times. What makes it bearable is love. And it starts within you. The simple act of slowing down enough in your life to conquer your pain and fear, cultivates compassion and love. Often times we don’t know how to help someone who is struggling. I say that we can help by loving ourselves. It truly starts with you. Once you fall in love with yourself, you have made a difference. The love that comes from within, is pure and infinite and resides within all of us and it is what truly connects us to others. Heal yourself, heal the world.
It is difficult, to sum up in words, what I have learned over the past few months. I feel these new discoveries have the potential to shape my healing process in dramatic and positive ways going forward.
The last decade of my life I became increasingly sick as I painstakingly etched out my self esteem through repeated battles of pointing out injustices, cutting ties, and cultivating compassion for myself. Little did I know that a seed had been planted and a garden had begun to grow among the neglected weeds of my life. I began to hear the desperation in my voice to be heard and validated. My voice became so loud with rage and insistence that it was rendered inaudible and often met with disdain and annoyance. And although I was not effective or influential on most occasions, resilience and strength began to grow inside of me. My garden was a mess of weeds, with buds peeking out among the brush. It wasn’t anything convincing to others, but it began to inspire me with its irrefutable evidence of life. Among the heavy layers of clothing I had donned to protect myself from life’s storm, was a steady beating heart that had survived it all. It dawned on me that this growing garden was uniquely mine, and although it had been watered and tended to very little, there was still enough love to make something beautiful of it.
As the storm raged on with my family, and we became more fractured, there was the budding reality that I had never learned the art of “focusing on myself”. I’ve been to many therapy sessions where I am lamenting the loss of my family and unknowingly clinging to their chaos simultaneously. It hit me like a ton of bricks last night that my lack of self care was tied to past trauma and that disengaging, figuratively, meant certain “death”.
Growing up, I lived for years with the fear that my step-father was going to hurt me or my sister. Every day I remained hyper vigilant, trying not to breathe wrong, or make any mistake to avoid accidentally awakening the “beast” that resided in my step-Dad. My days were spent “paying close attention” to the environment and reading the moods of those around me in order to ward off any potential situation that might provoke a violent reaction from him. I did reach out to adults in my life, but was told, in so many ways, that what I was seeing wasn’t really “true”. I wasn’t allowed to ever express anger, because in doing so, I felt it would place me in “grave danger”. Seeing my sister thrown to the floor once and feeling helpless and scared, scarred me. I learned to squelch my emotions and burry them deep within my body, bottling them up, often holding my breath through these times. Forty years later, I still have the habit of doing the same thing and it’s causes chronic pain and anxiety.
Fast forward to this week, I again faced another family drama where one of my nieces has ended up in jail and another in rehab due to meth use and a potential pregnancy. I quickly recognized the old patterns of devaluation and invalidation when I used my voice to confront the issues surrounding the crisis and felt silenced. I am an adult now and although I am away from the direct threat of physical assault (which was primarily hail pulling and shaking), the emotional damage of lies, gaslighting, devaluation, and abandonment actually has hit me harder than any past physical assault. I have spent many days this past week in significant pain, sobbing violently, feeling as if I were being repeatedly stabbed in the solar plexus. This lead to an instability with my mental illness of Bipolar 1 and I lost track of time for a few days and experienced suicidal ideation as well as rapid cycling. And yet, through the difficulty, my heart kept beating and my persistence to love and be loved remained.
I decided to walk away from the family that I love for now. I have tried walking away several times over the past couple of years, but I could sense that this time was different. I am not certain if it was the fact that I had reached my limit or if it was the budding acceptance that I had no real influence over those I desired connection with. In any case, I knew that this time, the hold that my family has had over me in the past few years, was beginning to loosen its grip.
I sat down with my therapist yesterday and due to my request, we limited the time spent on talking about what had occurred with my family as I knew it would re-open the fresh wound and I wanted to be able to drive home without being in a state of constant “panic”. Through broken tears, I shared that I knew my family had been sick and that because I was the one openly confronting it, I often was discouraged from doing so through gaslighting (acting as if I am “seeing or hearing it wrong”, or “overreacting”, or presenting inaccuracies in details), dismissal, and devaluation. The crisises that came up in our family were constantly being downplayed. This caused me immense pain because my nieces and nephews all have become extremely sick as a result. My sister, who I feel is the most sick in our family, will block communication, character smear, lie, stonewall, etc. This has been going on for years as their addiction issues have become worse and two of five of her children are now so sick they are disabled. I have known, in my heart, for some time now, that I had lost my family. I had begun the process of accepting that I had no influence or control to change the situation. I tried desperately to convince my mother of things, but ended up being gaslighted and devalued in the process. The only thing for me to do was to disengage so that I could stop drowning, due to thrashing about in the water, fighting it. I needed to “float” and begin “focusing on my life”.
I was talking with my ex-spouse, who is my main support, and in our brief exchange, another piece of the puzzle was handed to me. It hit me light a ton of bricks. As many people have told me over the years, he offhandedly says to me: “You need to focus on yourself”. Instantly, I felt a great deal of embarrassment and shame and I abruptly turned and went into my bedroom, shutting the door. I flopped myself on my bed, shielding myself with my blanket, and the tears quickly began to surface. I felt stupid and so ashamed. He was right, and yet it made me feel exposed and vulnerable in this instance. I’ve been on this earth for 47 years and I still have not learned yet how to “focus on myself”. Why is this? And then, it was as if the curtain in this dark room was ripped from the rod, allowing light to flood in, and the answer instantly came, along with the tears and frustration that I have been holding in for so many years. I have not been focusing on myself because I simply never learned how. In this instant, I felt exposed and timid, as if I were perhaps all of six years old. I felt small, insignificant, and not particularly safe. It dawned on me that I had learned to deny my own emotionally expressive self as well as continually remain “on high-alert” to keep myself and others “SAFE”.
The puzzle piece slid in perfectly, bringing the picture into more focus. I could see that when my niece fled to my house for safety three years ago, due to the drug use and her husband’s abuse, my C-PTSD was activated and I again became hyper-vigilant about their safety. It was nearly as if I, myself, were the one in crisis and in danger. I became am investigator and began focusing on the chaos erupting in the lives of my sister and her kids. As I regained contact with my sister’s now adult kids (as we had disengaged before because of the drug use), they would at times, although rarely, reach out during a crisis and it would re-traumatize me once again. Often, the trauma was exacerbated by my sister’s blocking of communication, stonewalling, lying, etc., and it was reinforced by my mother’s enabling of her behavior. This was both devaluing and dismissive for me, even if unintentionally so. It has been three years of this cycle and I would try very hard to disengage, but felt powerless to do so. However, in this last week, with the new awareness that the inability to “let go” was a “deeply rooted” coping mechanism that helped me “survive” in my youth, I may have stumbled across the single most important piece of the puzzle that will finally enable the healing process.
I can see now why I have not been able to “let go” and why I have not learned how to “focus on myself”. I had learned to always scan the horizon and look for potential dangers. My sister’s home situation, which has been in crisis for years, was the perfect scenario for the continuation of my ineffective coping mechanisms. I latched on so deeply to my older niece’s struggle because, she too, has spent so much of her life entrenched in the trauma of trying to keep her mother and others “safe” while often being invalidated and gaslighted in the process. It broke my heart when my niece shared with me that she constantly worried about her parents safety and well being and felt the need to “be there” to take care of both of them. Her focus on her parents lead her to abandon an opportunity of rehab that was presented to her, ultimately sacrificing her own health. She has since become disabled and very sick and is now sitting in jail as we speak. It is beyond heartbreaking and a lot of the problems in my family truly come down to surviving trauma, but not knowing how to cope with the aftermath of it.
I admit that my trauma has lead me right into the fire over and over again, and often times into a burning home that wasn’t even mine. I have no real influence anymore in my sister’s life, nor her kids. I do feel both my Mom and sister are struggling with their own level of sickness which often includes denial and devaluation of others because they wish to remain “status- quo”. I decided remaining engaged with my family and watching the ship sink, while pleading with someone, anyone, to take a raft, was not going to help me heal. In fact, it has made me so sick, I am not well enough to help myself. I am unable to work.
In any case, all of this is exhausting and my therapist has requested that I limit how much and how often I write because he wants me to heal and “focus on myself”. I left his office, half grinning in curiosity, saying “That sounds good. Focus on just me for awhile, Geez, I don’t feel I have ever done that”. Sure, I have had hobbies and have gotten involved with a job, etc. But, I have always been focused on tending to the emotions of others and trying to keep others “safe” or investing in them without considering myself, like I did with my husband and ex-fiancee. I placed their life before mine and often ended up hurting a great deal as a result. I take accountability for this life-long maladaptive coping mechanism, and am excited to begin a new endeavor of truly developing myself outside of the influence of anyone else. I will be grieving my family in their absence, but going back only serves to hurt them and me. It puts me in a position where I not only lose my dignity from fighting so much to be “seen and relevant”, but I also lose valuable healing time where I miss the opportunity to “water and tend” to my garden.
Sometimes, we need a storm, with a downpour of rain, to water the garden and to penetrate the stale and dense air that is keeping us trapped. I cannot change others, but I can change myself. I can protect myself and keep myself safe. I can heal and rebuild. All is not lost.
I did set my intentions on healing. I never knew I had this much to heal, nor did I realize that the path would lead me to walking away from my family. I do not know what the future holds, only that I have today and I want it to be peaceful. And so, I will start with myself. And, I will keep myself safe, emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
It is impossible to know who I am or my true potential when I am in constant crisis, reacting to the pain of others. I can only begin the process of developing myself outside of the historical patterns of my family. I don’t believe we are ever meant to remain in the trauma that caged us. I didn’t foresee, long ago, when I timidly said out loud: “I want to heal, I want to be free”, that the journey would lead me here. But it has. And, despite the relapses and the complete mess of this process, the weeds are being pulled and my garden is starting to take shape! There are indeed plants budding.
I will always be boldly honest about my mistakes and my own abuses towards others while entrenched in my pain. I am deeply accountable to that and I regret so much of my own communication that was not only hurtful, but was potentially harmful. Addressing my own “ugliness” has been one of my motivations for change. Often trauma cages us, causing us to have a “chip on our shoulders”, it is the way we protect ourselves. But, what protects us early in childhood, is crushing, isolating, and debilitating later in life. I think the greatest thing we can do for ourselves and others is to be accountable for the messes we have made and to those we have hurt, no matter if they have hurt us as well. And then, go forward protecting the peace in your life by distancing from those people and situations who continually “activate” the trauma whether it is with intention or not. You can love people from a distance and not get too close to the flames to “catch fire”. I still love my family very much, but if I am going to have a garden that one day is mine, I have to remain engaged in it, not get swept away in something that isn’t even mine to begin with!
Peace everyone. I hope my journey and what I am learning helps others who are struggling. We are not our trauma or our negative ways of coping. And we all have amazing gardens to grow. I hope yours smells ever so sweet and you discover newfound joy and love in the process!