Reframing & Rebuilding: 5 Lessons Learned While Healing

 

close up of apple on top of books
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Healing from childhood trauma has been the most significant endeavor of my life.  The last two years I have been raw and rapid cycling, while dealing with a lot of anger and pain from the past and present.  Below, I share some of the lessons and insights I’ve learned in this arduous process.  I’m hopeful as my life enfolds, I will have even more to celebrate and share.  I hope you are able to find something relatable here that will help you on your journey.

A few years back, I set my intention on the process of healing.  In the beginning, I was unknowingly halfway in, still dancing with the things and people that were leading to my eventual demise: gambling, an abusive ex, stressful jobs, and the addiction that had touched my sister and her family.  All of these preoccupations were causing relapses of my Bipolar I illness.  My moods and perceptions were hijacked every few weeks and I spent more time rapid cycling than I did in “clarity”.  I can remember times when I felt calm and clear headed, feeling that I had leveled out, only to be taken hostage again.  During these days, my mania took me to extreme rage and suicidal ideation.  There were very valid reasons for my anger and yet, I wasn’t able to be constructive with it.  I ended up being hospitalized, losing a great job, and unemployed.  After years of my manic motor running, and my eventual collapse, I was forced to take a harder look at myself.  It was in this state of desperation, I began to truly heal.  At this point ALL of me wanted it.  It has been a breaking of my will, so to speak, and a readiness on my behalf to not only seek help, but receive it.  I’m not perfect at this, but I keep trying and I keep reaching out.

  1. Lesson 1: Acceptance of what is & letting go.  This was and still is a difficult lesson for me.  I’m not only stubborn, I also consider myself somewhat of a justice warrior and often have a difficult time tolerating situations that do not feel “right” or “fair”.  The reason this lesson is so important is it allows you to leg go of what you cannot control.   My sister’s addiction, a broken healthcare system, and an abusive relationship were all examples of preoccupations I had little control over, but engaged in anyhow.   Doing so did not change the person or the situation, it instead alienated me and caused conflict leading to loss of relationships and jobs.  I still feel there are times to stand up and fight, but I see the value in accepting life, as is, and letting go of what is not in my control to change.
  2. Lesson 2: Be Still. Sitting still in the silence or practicing mindfulness gives yourself the space needed to process.  It helps me sort out what is mine and what is not mine.  I often discover emotions and the root cause of them in this space.  Sometimes, these discoveries are real gems.  They are what I have been avoiding and running from my whole life, a missing puzzle piece.  Sitting in the stillness and letting the emotions be with you has helped me find answers to my vulnerabilities and the reasons for much of my fear and sadness.  I used to run away from the uncomfortable emotions that arose in stillness, now I embrace it, giving it the time and attention it needs to heal.
  3. Lesson 3: Forgive Yourself and Others, Cultivate Compassion. Let go of the notion of perfection.  My life has been messy.  I have had good days where I ran non-stop serving seniors and the disabled.  I’ve had other days were I’ve been horribly cruel to my mother when in conflict over the addiction that hit our family.  I spent years being angry and then a couple more years being engulfed in rage, often hurting people I loved.  I gave a decade of my life to a tumultuous relationship fraught with desperation which led to shame.  I was disappointed in myself and lost, often suicidal. In relapse, my mania would cause many problems for myself and others.  At the end of the day, the self-loathing I did for years increased the likelihood for relapse.  I decided to cultivate compassion for myself and others.  Forgiving myself and others allows me to focus on understanding myself better so that I can cope and decrease the intensity in my life that has caused so many issues for me. It’s a work in progress and I feel it has the potential to open doors and soften who I am in times of stress and conflict.
  4. Lesson 4: Boundaries, Boundaries, Boundaries! I used to not have any boundaries.  I would let anyone into my life and onto my plate.  I became completely wrapped up in their life.  If someone had a tragedy, it was MY tragedy and I would put more energy and effort into resolving it than the person suffering.  I gave money, time, and tons of energy.  I realized that these people often left me once I tried to set a limit.  Now, I’m excited to finally have an empty plate.  I am working on rebuilding my life exactly how I like it, and will only let people in who are able to give as well as receive.  This is a SUPER exciting time for me.  I don’t have many people in my life yet, but I am excited to find people with similar interest and set healthy boundaries for myself.
  5. Lessons 5: Be Persistent: This alone has saved my life!  I’m persistent.  I might fail over and over again, but eventually I get up and try again.  I am persistent when I need help & I will seek until I find it, using any and all resources available to me.  If I get depressed and I “give up” from time to time, that’s ok, I just try and make the “giving up” temporary!  I also research and educate myself on issues that affect me.   Be persistent and know the resources out there to help you in your recovery process.  Never judge yourself by the times you quit, always look at the times you were persistent and pushed through.  Many things should be a lot easier to access, so don’t be too harsh on yourself!

I’m still learning so much in the healing process that has not settled yet.  I hope in the future to write more about humility and turning towards others.  I know I can be closed off, difficult, and stubborn.  I am doing my best to change a lifetime of poor coping due to trauma and living with a mental illness.  The 5 lessons above have been significant agents of change in the process of healing for me and I’m now 100% in this thing for the long haul!!  Happy healing!

Be Still, A Voice Longs to Speak

Scan 100730009

Excuse this bloody mess of learning to set boundaries and love myself.  The pendulum was sweeping too widely & quickly, at times.  I was often tormented, demanding your respect while pleading for your love and attention.  I was enraged, desperate, and ashamed all at the same time.  I did not know that one day you would just stop loving me….. Just like that.

I spend decades running from the stillness that would eventually set me free.

And then one day, after letting go of those that were hurting me, I sat there alone, in the stillness, letting it wash over me.

“Why do I not feel good enough?”

“I want to feel special, loved, wanted.”

“Why am I jealous, at times, of what other people seem to so easily have?”

And then the answers came, slowly, but with clarity.  When I was small, I did not have a father to pick me up lovingly, and embrace me with his strong arms, making me feel safe and loved.  I remember watching other girls with their fathers and wishing I had a father to love me in this natural and free way.  There was never a safe outlet to express my grief growing up, because I didn’t want to hurt my own mother and step-father and so it wasn’t something I ever talked about.  And I do not blame either of them, as they were doing the best that they could at the time.

I realized in the moment of stillness that I had spent so much of my adult life searching for what I missed.  And, I spent even more time beating myself up for grieving it, often jealous of others without even knowing why.  Often feeling like I wasn’t “good enough” to be protected or loved.  And so for years, I set out on a quest to demand love from others to help fill this void, so that I would somehow feel that I was worthy.  I had an insatiable desire to be validated by others and often was easily angered if I perceived that someone had slighted me.  Looking back, this pattern of lashing out only served to further alienate me and it became a self fulfilling prophesy.  I often was alone, unhappy, and angry.

The stillness is providing me with the space to accept the dialogue that formed the chip on my shoulder.  I thought about myself as a little girl, longing to be engulfed in someone’s arms and loved mightily.  And, I thought about the events in my life that filled me with fear and self-doubt, causing my world view to be limited.

I spent a lifetime running towards chaos and stimulation to avoid this supposed “truth” that has caused me despair and shame.  I never stopped long enough to listen to what my spirit truly needed and desired.

Knowing this gift, I think I can forgive the little one within me.  And, I think it’s time to spend more time in the stillness to see what else I can learn.  Often, we are looking outward, when it was inside us all along.  Turning toward myself in compassion and kindness has made all the difference.

Dismantling the Cage

silhouette of woman sitting on window watching birds flying
Photo by Artem Mizyuk on Pexels.com

 

The excerpt below is taken from a book I am writing called: The Cage, The Flamingo, and The Peacock.  My hope is to help others heal by sharing my experiences of learning how to set boundaries, protect myself, and to eventually embrace all of me in love and acceptance.  It is a work in progress.  The following is the introduction to the first section of the book called, “The Sacrifice”, where I candidly discuss various events in my childhood that instilled fear and distrust, distorting the perception of my world in my formative years.  I’m hopeful that sharing will help other victims feel less alone in their struggle and will encourage others to speak out, spreading awareness of these issues.

“Child molestation and abuse were the acts that formulated the inception of my cage.  I would say most of us have some type of cage that we acquire in the formative years of our life.  With each invalidating act, steel bars of  fear, shame, and sadness captured my spirit.  This separated me from the world, and often times, from myself.  Doubt and despair began to settle in my small frame, my vision limited from the large, steel bars, surrounding me.  Yet, the bold, little bird of beauty still longed to be set free, to commune with the earthly delights that were close enough to instill desire, yet far enough away to weigh my wings with hesitation and fear.  I longed to taste the honeysuckle and let its juice trickle down my chin, lost in its sweetness.  It was not accessible to me.  

Will knowing the origins of this constricting cage help me to be free?  After all these years of protecting, will I be courageous enough to cut through the layers and abandon the “safe world” I had created so that I can finally taste the sweetness this world offers?  Instinctively, I knew it was time to revisit the beginning so that I could grieve what was lost and reclaim all that was mine, empowered to design the ending. This is the path I will take inward, to dismantle the cage that had entrapped me and kept me crouched in darkness and fear.  It’s time to claw, crawl, and carve a way out of the darkness and into the light, leaving no open wounds uncared for and no scars forgotten.  It is time to visit the places inside of me that need light and compassion. 

If you find light along my journey for yourself, take the light and use it as a way out of the darkness.  Together we will heal.  Light is meant to be shared, for it drives out the darkness that deceives us and dampens our joy.  And so, we begin the descend, into the basement where it may be a little uncomfortable and dingy, at times.  It’s necessary, the destiny is clarity and stillness.  This is healing, this is love, this is light”.  

 

 

Strolling About the Port

city streets street walking
Photo by musicFactory lehmannsound on Pexels.com

 

I am accepting the reality that my family bonds have forever been compromised by my sister’s addiction and the aftermath that followed it.  My mother’s enabling and the lack of remorse and accountability my sister expresses, has left me painfully aware of the vast distance between us.  I accept the distance may not be able to be made up in this lifetime.

Because I am single with no family of my own, this loss has been more significant for me.  I have no children and very few friends.  I acknowledge that I should have spent more time in my life building a stronger social network of friends.  I spent a decade involved with a Narc and was isolated and consumed with the chaos emanating from an abusive relationship.  I finally got the courage to leave my Narc and moved home to have the support from my family, but was devastated when the environment turned hostile. My niece at the time was very sick with addiction, had committed several crimes, and recently used a needle.  I was desperate to get her into a rehab, but was dismayed when I was not joined by my mother and sister in aggressively intervening to attempt getting her into rehab.  I ended up moving back to the NW because my holiday was ruined as it has been so many times before, and I did not want to live so close to a family that devalued me.  At least living so far away, I could tell myself that the reason I did not see family was due to distance, not lack of love.

Since I have been back to the Northwest, I became aware that arguing was a way of holding on to them.  It was all I had left.  It is has been extremely hard to not connect to my nieces and nephews.  Yet, they do not value me, nor do they ever seek a connection with me.  This is even after 2 of them have visited and one we helped through a crisis, the other rode back with me across the country when I moved home.  Even so, with attempts to communicate, one of them hasn’t contacted me in nearly 2 years. How does one deal with that level of disregard from a family member?  It has hurt me, and yet I am beginning to reach peace with this loss through accepting the reality that they are unaware and struggling.

And so, I am gradually spending less time arguing and being angry and more time investing in my own endeavors and health.  It has been hard to “let go”, but I do see the light at the end of the tunnel.  So much of what we really need and long for can be found within ourselves.  I honestly feel there is a wealth of love and joy within us collectively and when I am unable to get what I need from someone, I need to be open to the possibilities of either meeting those needs myself or accepting it from someone willing and able to give.  The source of love is abundant, we often are just insistent on getting it from the person in which we desire it.  This keeps us caught in a web while the world continues rotating.

I’m stepping off the boat that was sinking and am strolling about the port in some foreign  seaside city.  There is a lot to discover here and what I see and do will be depend on my willingness to explore.  I’m hopeful and excited I have made this choice, because I could have remained in that turbulent sea, in a leaking boat, with hardly any supplies.  I’m going to stay here for a time, sit on the dock of the bay, and build anticipation towards the time, I again, set sail.  This is healing.

 

 

The Story of Us

affection board broken broken hearted
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The Story of Us

I feel you around me,

Beside me, inside me.

Your Breath, my lips,

Your hands, my hips.

 

The fear dissipating,

The storm, abating.

The calm of the sea,

An understood liberty.

 

Together, Apart,

The Ending, the start.

Your skin and mine,

My leaves, your vine.

 

Your mouth brushes.

The chill on my skin.

Your lips are parted,

And warm within.

 

You Pull, I push,

I leave, you come.

The story of us,

Forever undone.

The time I spent with you I refer to as the “Decade of Darkness”.  There is a saying that states “the devil will come to you disguised as everything you ever wanted”.  I now know this to be true.

I was young and naive when I met you, coming out of a divorce with my husband who had come out to me a few years before.  I had not dated for years and was relatively innocent when it came to understanding men.  You were eleven years my senior, coming out of a marriage of 26 years.  You were a retired veteran and had been a deacon in your church for the past 3 decades.  I remember the first few months, I was captivated by your display of chivalry and maturity and even recall calling you “my angel”.  And yet, looking back at my diaries during that time, I was expressing doubt and concern about you.  I even stated that “something was not right” and I “must listen to my intuition”.  Even so, I denied the voice of concern that was always present when I was with you.

I spent years swept up in the preoccupation and pursuit of you.  You spent years taking advantage of my preoccupation.  I must have seemed like an easy target for you at the time.  You and I both were both separated, but not yet divorced.  Your behavior was one of rushing in, loving so beautifully and fiercely, and then withdrawing from me.  Having spent the majority of my life married to a gay man, the passion with you was all too consuming and represented something I never knew existed, but knew I did not want to lose.

I remember reluctantly giving you your space when you shared that you just needed more time.  I would interpret your cold and callous ways as you being “far away”, tied up in grief and regret, when in actuality these expressions were tactics to discourage questions or concerns.  If I did question, I was made to feel guilty and was called pushy.   I was convinced that you loved me deeply, but that you needed more time to divorce your wife and commit to me completely.  You kept me baited with emotional manipulation by withdrawing your presence from me, and threatening to break things off with me if I pushed to hard.  When I wanted to approach this topic with you, I often received the silent treatment or was told by you that I was “getting sick again”.  You would use my Bipolar illness as leverage to discredit my concerns and instill self doubt in me.

You continually reassured me during times that I questioned your faithfulness, that you had never lied or cheated on me, but looking back, there is too much evidence to ignore.  At the end of our relationship, you boasted of your sexual prowess, sharing how your current “victim” was completely enamored with you. I understood this, after all, “making love” was one of your favorite weapons in your arsenal among the others: stonewalling, gaslighting, and discarding.  I sat in silence with my jaw on the floor as you gloated about your new partner’s deep admiration for you, while in the same breath asking me to come down and sleep with you.  It was my first real awareness that I had given myself to someone I did not truly know.  All the little games you would play to keep me dizzy, doubting, and derailed.  All the little games you played to protect your fragile ego.   It makes me literally sick to my stomach because I am someone who would never cheat, knowingly.  You had me committing crimes, blindfolded.  The last two years that mark our end, you were still pursing me, inviting me to your home while you were immersed in a relationship that was nearly two years old.  I’m fairly certain you were cheating on both of us when I was disentangling from you.  It is this display of behavior that has allowed me to see you without the mask you wear, and it is horrifying and nauseating at the same time.  I gave a decade of my life to someone I did not even know.  We were engaged at one point, I almost married you.

Our “Decade of Darkness” is marked by a very “dark” event in our earlier years. As we grew closer, sharing holidays and taking trips, the pressure for me to be visible in your life boiled over into a breaking point.  My trust in you was dwindling as I grew more and more impatient that you had not divorced, as promised.  I had broken up with you several times, only to regrettably accept you back when you showed up at my door, apologetic.  In a heated exchange, I threatened to expose our relationship to your wife and adult child, in response, you choked me and  threatened to put a bullet in my head.  I should have walked away, reporting the incident to the police.  Perhaps, you would be in prison now instead of romancing another while attempting to contact me and flirt.  But, I was in shock at the time, and being a victim of child molestation, I shelved the occurrence and pressed forward.  You slept over that night and we went for breakfast in the morning.  Life went forward, and eventually you divorced your wife, but the event was shelved carefully for processing much later.  It was just too difficult for me to acknowledge that the love of my life choked me and threatened my existence.  Years later, you would deny that you choked me, stating through chuckles that you were only trying to scare me.  In our last year, in a response to an e-mail where I confronted you again about being choked, you continued to deny it and sent me pictures of what “a real choking looked like”.  You sent this knowing that I had to see a doctor to ensure there was no damage to my throat.  It was sore and I was hoarse for nearly two weeks.

As a victim and a survivor, I realize to those who have not experienced this type of relationship, it is unfathomable that I went back. The decade I spent living with narcissistic abuse was all too consuming and confusing.  I moved across the country twice to leave him and then moved back to be with him.  I’m a smart woman and never was a “doormat” in his life, we were apart more than we were together.  Still yet, I kept coming back because he made me feel, at times, loved and the chaos was familiar to me.  It sounds ridiculous, but this person gave me something I did not even know that existed prior to him, a feeling of complete acceptance.  Looking back now, I see it was not real.

Another major issue at play is that I do not have a close father figure in my life.  I do not know my real father and my step-father has always been distant. When my Narc came into my life with such ferocity and intent, I experienced what I had missed my entire life, love and intimacy with a man.  Because of this, I was unwilling to let go.  But, in time, I did.  The relationship with him personified the grief of never having a father, it brought that loss to life.  I could see the child within refusing to let go, determined to get what she needed.  When I finally left, it was because I knew that I was enough.  My Narc never gave me the love I wanted, but he helped me find the love I needed to be fulfilled and complete.  It’s a love story that ends with self love.  I’m taking the space to grow and am no longer desperate and searching for someone to complete me.  I’m excited to do that on my own.

 

 

That Fear

28378226_10215489409089925_6380954324651401642_n

That Fear

It’s still there,

That fear.

It’s still there.

 

I can’t recall,

A time when I was free.

Please, Let me be.

Don’t waste it on me.

I’m not doing anything about it.

 

It’s still there,

That fear.

It’s still there.

 

Haunting me,

Choking me,

Hugging me,

It really loves me.

 

It’s still there,

That fear.

It’s still there,

With me.

 

This is another older poem of mine written about an emotion I am all too familiar with, fear.  All my life, I have been running from some invisible danger.  I’ve been restless and on the move, seeking stimulation to avoid the stillness. To be still, is to be unprepared.  One should never let their guard down.  There is, however, a valid reason for why I have been trapped for so many years in this state of extreme watchfulness.

When I was only four years old, I was molested by my next door neighbor.  Although most of the details of the molestation are not well-formed, I believe the memories laid dormant in every inch of my physical being until later in life when it became too hard, too exhausting, and too damaging to continue living at such a heightened state.  When the abuse occurred, I swallowed the shame and secrecy, and denied myself awareness of the event.  I carried in my small frame the promise to never make “the mistake again”, resulting in extreme hyper-vigiliance.  Revealing the secret at the time placed my Mom in danger as the perpetrator was threatening to harm her if the secret was told.  Out of this came my ability to read situations and people with surprising accuracy as it was a way of survival for me.  Years later, I communed with the part of me that had been silenced, devalued, and frozen in fear.  I continue to commune with her and reassure her that she is worthy, visible, and safe.  This event colored my perception of the world and as a result, I have always been fearful, having multiple phobias and general mistrust in others.

And so, “This Fear”, is an expression of what I have always known and remembered.  And I’m working very hard with intention to calm those places within me that still haven’t heard my adult voice that is saying: “I am safe, I am here, I am visible”.  This fear will then let go little by little, realizing that I am not longer under siege.

I felt moved to write this tonight because I was speaking with a friend who also had experienced quite a bit of trauma in her life.  She is truly struggling at the moment.  It reminded me of the last decade of my life of which I call the “Decade of Darkness” where I was engaging in an abusive relationship with a Narcissistic and was recklessly gambling.  I see now that I was filling my hours with chaos in order to avoid the stillness.  Often times stillness to a survivor of trauma feels threatening.  I’m still learning to “be still” and enjoy the peace that is provides.  It is a transformation and I haven’t made it to the other side yet.  I’m intrigued about a life lived with less chaos where I am able to relax and have less chronic pain from years of remaining on guard, often holding my breath.

I feel that this is my greatest work in life, to heal so completely that most of the fear within is released.  Perhaps, I can help those who also hold fear, shame, and despair and are fruitlessly avoiding the stillness, feeling it is less safe somehow.

And so now, I am ready to “do something about it”.  I’m infinitely blessed to have the insight and awareness as to why I held on for so long.  I just want to pick my four year old up and hold her tight, hugging her completely, reassuring that she is in safe hands now.  That fear “really did love me”, it was a source of protection and watchfulness for a time, and I thank you little one for keeping me safe.  Your job is done, you can rest now.

 

 

 

 

An Owl’s Insight

image1

An Owl’s Insight

 

Bent, Bloodied in a corner,

Eye lids, stitched and sealed.

Engulfed in darkness,

A stench stops those who venture near.

 

A great facade, a circus,

Of Bells, whistles and cheer.

Laughing gaily, tiptoeing through the forest,

Amongst the encroaching fear.

 

Whipping, whirling, almost free,

From the stony cell, I sit.

Peals of laughter reverberate,

In my sunken face, they snarl and spit.

 

The pendulum swings, slowly sweeping,

To the left, and to the right.

The beast inside, has weathered the ride,

And I, gained and owl’s insight.

 

I wrote this poem several years ago.  I feel it embodies the mood and perceptions I often cycle through when experiencing mania and depression.  Often, I feel hijacked and imprisoned by this illness and am swept up in conflicting emotions and thoughts until it releases its grip and I reach clarity once again.  It is very hard for others to understand that I do not “bring myself” to these extremes, but instead am captured and held captive until my release.  And then, just as the storm so violently came, it subsides, often leaving damage in the wake.  And this occurs to no fault of my own, over and over again.

It is a devastating illness.  And it took many years to separate myself from the person I become when in an episode.  I’ve had to not only grieve the loss of jobs and relationships, but also the loss of potential and the loss of self.  Often, after an episode, I am dropped from a place of dizzying chaos, to immediate clarity and the transition is disorienting.  And although, I agree there are things I can do to decrease intensity and duration of episodes, once I am held captive, I must ride it out, and weather the ride.  Often when I feel I have reached stability, to my surprise, I am taken again.  This is why it is an illness.  And it is why I continue to write to dispel the myths and mystery surrounding this disorder.