From Personal Struggle to Accountability and Advocacy

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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.

Cultivating Home

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!