The Novel Coronavirus and YOU: Let’s Spread LOVE

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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.

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As I am Leaving, I Want You to Know…

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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 the significant neglect and trauma of 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. 

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Freedom From Trauma: Letting Go to Take Care of You!

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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!