A Heavy Burden to Bear: When Lack of Access to Affordable and Quality Healthcare Compounds Complex Trauma

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With the current focus on mental health issues relating to the Coronavirus Pandemic, I feel this is an opportune time to have an honest and frank discussion regarding access to affordable and quality mental healthcare services in America. Those of us who have been struggling for years living with a mental illness, are all too familiar with the challenges of finding the help that we need to not only reach stability, but maintain it. Often the services and programs to support recovery are difficult to access and some are virtually non-existent or not affordable. Most of us with lived experience have managed to piecemeal our recovery efforts over time to sustain our recovery, but we are also aware that services and programs fall short to meet the needs of many and, as a result, some unfortunately do not ever recover.

One of the main triggers for my depression is the lack of concern for those living among us who are struggling with a mental illness and/or addiction issues that often leads to incarceration, disability, or homelessness. I am particularly sensitive to these issues because of my own life long struggle with mental illness. It is also distressing for me to see those living with addiction issues who experience homelessness or incarceration because I have loved ones who struggle with addiction and I am empathetic towards the issues surrounding the disease.

For the past two years, I have been living in Los Angeles and the level of homelessness here in the city is at epidemic proportions. It is disturbing, to me, to see so many living on the streets in such dismal and dire circumstances. While not all who are homeless struggle with issues of mental illness or addiction, many of them do. As a consumer of mental health services for nearly three decades, I know first hand how difficult treatment can be to access and how, often times, the quality of treatment is poor. Services rarely include the continuity of care that leads to and enables long term recovery. Too many people are slipping through the cracks and it becomes nearly impossible for these individuals to remain in recovery when society lacks the infrastructure needed to support those rebuilding their lives. Most who have never experienced accessing mental health services firsthand are unaware of how deeply fractured the system is and make judgments without having the lived experiences of attempting to do so. As an educated individual who is able to advocate for myself, I have often been appalled by the way I have been mistreated, and even defeated, at times, by the lack of services available that would support and facilitate my recovery.

Many services and programs are often laden with structural and attitudinal barriers that even the most skilled, experienced, and educated individual would have difficulty navigating. My hope in sharing my story is to demonstrate the complex interplay between the individual struggling and the programs and services that are sometimes unavailable or of poor quality. Many times people seeking help are dealing with not only the symptoms of their illness, but also the consequences of struggling for too long in a system that lacks the wrap around services to truly help them. They also may be experiencing shame and frustration from having people in their lives who lack the awareness of how difficult it is to access help, make the false assumption that they are “just not trying hard enough”. Many who do not suffer have the wrong impression that help is easily accessible and they unknowingly invalidate the individual struggling. Using my own struggle, I hope to bring awareness of how one individual over the course of many years might experience several damaging experiences and this can lead, over time, to mistrust and a hesitancy to reach out. I am fortunate to have a good therapist at the moment who validates my complex history which is unfortunately littered with many incidents where I “hit a wall” when attempting to access help. I hope the following resonates with some of those struggling and sheds light on how challenging it can be, at times, to access quality care. The difficulty of accessing quality medical care, the services and programs needed to enable recovery, and the protections meant to prevent disability discrimination can create a challenging and difficult road for an individual who is struggling to recover from a mental illness or addiction. Below, I discuss examples from my own life to help contextualize each of these struggles in hopes to spread awareness and cultivate empathy for those doing their best to access the needed treatment and services to heal.

Lack of access to quality medical care and treatment. This can present itself in a variety of ways. Here are some actual incidents that have occurred to me personally that not only were damaging, but caused a relapse in my symptoms of anxiety and depression. Beginning with the most severe and damaging incident causing a distrust in the system, to the least offensive causing a delay in access to care, the following are my own personal experiences as a an educated individual attempting to access quality care for the disorders I live with: Bipolar 1, PTSD, Somatic OCD, and ADHD.

  • Denied access to an inpatient care facility for crisis stabilization: I was once forced to leave inpatient care prematurely after only one day of receiving treatment. I had waited roughly 36 hours in the emergency room department to be assessed by a social worker and was later admitted to the inpatient psychiatric unit. Once admitted, I was able to sleep a few hours. I made the error of requesting to leave after feeling mistreated by one of the staff there. I immediately changed my mind and communicated my wishes to the staff as I knew deep down I needed the help and more than likely needed my medications adjusted. I also was waiting to receive a test that was ordered due to having breathing difficulties from a recent respiratory infection. The doctor there decided to discharge me, even though I was openly requesting help for the suicidal ideation that I was still experiencing. They forced me to leave treatment stating that if I did not leave, I would be ushered out of the inpatient unit by the hospital security. I was discharged with no medication change and the test that was ordered for my breathing difficulty was also not completed. This incident was probably the most damaging experience I have endured during all of my years of treatment for my mental health disorder. It not only placed me at increased vulnerability for a suicide attempt, but the hospital placed my physical health in jeopardy by not completing a test to determine why I was visibly having breathing issues.The incident was traumatizing and has made me not want to ever seek inpatient services again. I also felt powerless to do anything about the incident because I did not feel I would be believed. Other than to write a poor review of my experience on their Facebook page, I have taken no other actions and have moved my life forward.
  • Medical providers who have been unwilling to support workplace accommodations. I have had therapists or psychiatric providers who were unwilling to provide documentation to support my request of setting up accommodations in the workplace. This was particularly damaging because the delay caused by having to find a provider that would assist me in this way, lead to employers doubting that I had a disability that required accommodations. This also caused significant stress for me which only exacerbated my symptoms. Some providers are unwilling to assist in letters regarding unemployment claims or accommodations requests. This leaves the individual struggling with no real pathway to gain accommodations in the workplace unless one decides to change providers and this can take a lot of time.
  • Inability to afford or being waitlisted for needed healthcare services. I cannot count the amount of treatment opportunities (particularly recommended DBT classes) that were thwarted by lack of insurance or long waitlists. Many times I was willing and waiting for treatment to become available and the waitlist was either too long or it was too costly without my insurance providing payment.
  • Certain services that would be helpful are not covered by insurance companies. I was told over and over that residential care would be the most beneficial for me. And yet, my insurance through my workplace did not pay for this type of treatment. Plus, it would have been nearly impossible to get the time off of work required to complete the program. The cost was “out of reach” for me.
  • Denied access to needed treatment due to having to rely on Medicaid which often does not cover speciality care. While waiting on Medicare to “kick in” after being approved for disability insurance (SSDI), I was denied multiple needed treatments by Medicaid which caused my condition to worsen and my symptoms were exacerbated as a result. The process of waiting to receive access to quality care for both my physical and mental health for 2 years was a dehumanizing experience where I truly felt invisible and devalued. I was even suffering with a new medical condition that affected my swallowing whereby I had lost nearly 80 pounds in 6 months and I was denied multiple referrals to a gastroenterology specialty clinic. It was a terrifying experience to lose so much weight and not get the help I needed and it actually thwarted my initial plans to attempt working part-time. I was too sick and unable to get the care I needed through Medicaid. With Medicare in place now, I get the care I need and am grateful.

Lack of access to services/programs that facilitate recovery. Many of the program from housing, disability insurance, vocational rehabilitation, etc. are often inaccessible due to long waitlists or other factors. Below are some of my personal experiences trying to access these services and programs.

  • Being waitlisted for vocational rehabilitation services. When I lost employment due to being denied accommodations in the workplace, I immediately signed up for vocational rehabilitation services in the state of WA. I was approved for services, but waitlisted for nearly 3 years. By the time my name came up to be served, I had already moved out of the state with a friend in order to prevent homelessness. I consider myself lucky that I have people who have supported me when needed. Being in a state of vulnerability where I could not access the services to help me return to work, has made me more empathetic to those who do not have a “lifeline” and end up homeless.
  • The long wait time to be approved for social security disability benefits leaves the disabled more vulnerable to homelessness and loss of needed medical treatment. Waiting for disability insurance (SSDI) to be approved, was yet another dehumanizing experience that included many roadblocks that appear to be “set up” to deter people from gaining benefits. With determination and grit, I was able to get my benefits awarded in a little over a year. However, I know many more who wait 2 and 3 years and lose everything in the process while waiting.
  • Programs, like section 8 that helps low income adults afford housing, have long waitlists and are often difficult to access. I have attempted to learn about housing opportunities here in Los Angeles so that I can be independent again and begin working a part-time job. I was told by the Department of Mental Health and another social agency that in order to receive section 8 here in Los Angeles, I would need to be experiencing homelessness. I have placed a few more calls to request about other programs for low income individuals who are dependent on their disability insurance as their only means of income, but they have been very slow to get back to me. I realize I have to be persistent, but again not everyone struggling has my education level or access to the stability I have in housing to make contact in a consistent manner. They might not have access to reliable internet or a phone. Not everyone who is struggling is well enough to voice their needs and remain consistent in pursuing services.

Lack of protection when there is a denial of rights or services. Often when an individual living with a mental illness experiences discrimination in the workplace, a denial of treatment, or another abuse, it is too easy to discredit the individual as often the above can be difficult to “prove”. Many times people who struggle experience poor treatment or other damaging incidents, but they are unaware of their rights or even if they are aware, it is common due to the stigma that surrounds mental illness for a lawyer to decline representation to provide a remedy.

  • Workplace disability discrimination is more common than one might think and victims often are unaware of their rights or have difficulty gaining representation. I have experienced multiple incidents of workplace discrimination in the form of denied accommodations and even the refusal to engage in interactive discourse to facilitate the process of getting accommodations set up. This has lead to job loss, loss of housing, loss of health insurance, and ultimately a disruption in continuity of care. The entity where one can file a complaint of discrimination, the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), is often very slow to act. It took a year for them to investigate a claim of discrimination that I reported and I was already in another place of employment when the investigation began. The American with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the civil rights law that protects those living with a disability from discrimination in the workplace, however, it’s language is often not specific enough to provide true consequences for those engaging in discriminatory practices. More often than not, places of employment are able to escape the consequences of discrimination and this leaves the employee extremely vulnerable, having to pick up the pieces and move forward. Many people who experience discrimination in the workplace are fearful to defend themselves as they may need a descent reference or might wish to avoid other negative consequences of doing so.
  • There is little protection for those who experience mistreatment from a mental healthcare provider. One can file a grievance and I have, but I have never had anyone follow up with me. Lawyers are very hesitant to get involved because the stigma lends many to believe that those living with a mental illness may not be credible, particularly when in an inpatient setting. Obviously, reaching out to report can be re-traumatizing for the victim in and of itself, especially when the victim is not “believed”.

Many of my examples are more than likely relatable to so many living with a mental illness. And believe it or not, I have many more stories that I could share. These experiences compound upon one another, and, over time, truly “break” a person. It becomes harder to trust the system and more difficult to trust medical providers enough to open up again and risk being vulnerable in order to receive help.

Living through so many tough experiences, I feel compelled to speak out regarding these issues. Many times, people lack the compassion towards those struggling because they only are viewing the one incident that is being shown to them at a particular time. Life is complex and too often I see people minimizing an individual’s struggle because they are simplifying their experience by looking at only one incident. Living with a mental illness often comes with many layers of struggle from living with the stressors of income instability, job and relationship losses, and dealing with the shame that stigma causes for those struggling. All of this is in addition to managing the symptoms of their illness. More often than not, when someone is requesting help, they have been “kicked around” a bit in the system, told “No” a lot, and are truly trying. It is truly hard out there.

This begs the question: “Why do so many not care? Where is our humanity?” I view our world as the interplay between us, the environment, and the systems we create to support a healthy relationship between the two. When we have many homeless living on our streets, we have to ask ourselves, how healthy is our society? Perhaps, those struggling with mental illness are more aware of these issues because some are faced with these risks and this makes them more attuned to the struggle. It is just a thought. My experiences over time have truly cultivated empathy. It hurts to see so many living on the streets. I personally know how hard it is to access the few services that exist to help people and I’m aware that the care is not always of stellar quality. I am acutely aware that had I not had a support system in place, I, too, may be at risk for homelessness.

I also am aware that many who struggle with issues of addiction were raised in families where their parents struggled in similar ways. The system failed to serve them as children and now they are adults mirroring what they have learned. Our society often devalues those who are currently incapable of contributing. And yet, the infrastructure simply isn’t there to help people to contribute. I am educated, persistent, and able to advocate for my needs and it was still impossible, at times, for me to receive the help I needed. As a result, I ended up relapsing and now I even have other physical illnesses, such as fibromyalgia, IBS, and migraines, that I feel are a culmination of living with an illness for so long and never “catching a break”.

I know in my heart that we have enough resources, talent, and creativity to address the problems of mental health issues and addiction that are now both at epidemic proportions. I feel if I want to see change in my community that I have a personal responsibility to act and to voice my concerns. Perhaps, in doing so people will become more aware of the challenges in addressing these issues, as they are complex and multi-layered. Isn’t it time to truly tackle mental healthcare in a creative way that not only changes lives, but changes our community and world? I would wager a guess that most people who do not see the value in serious mental healthcare reform would feel that it is too costly. In reality, the cost of the programs and services created to help families and individuals in need would be more than paid for by the decrease in rates of incarceration, disability insurance, and other medical costs incurred by individuals requiring repeated care due to relapse, etc. Investing in those who are struggling and early intervention/prevention will provide for less dependence overall.

Many times I can hear in people’s tired voices, who indicate that they are depressed, that they don’t know how to put their struggle into words. That is is “too much”. I hope by articulating my struggle I have shaved off a bit of the “iceberg’ so to speak that keeps so many of us immobile. It is too much and we shouldn’t have to work so hard to receive the treatment and services we need to help us truly recover. Society has a responsibility to meet us half way. No one is an island and the more we work collectively to address these systemic issues, the healthier our entire society will be. Our wealth, power, and sense of community is only as strong as our most vulnerable members living within it. How we treat those struggling is the difference between a decaying society and one that is flourishing, truly “rich”, and healthy.

I have hope in humanity. We are resilient and innovative. I hope by sharing my own complicated struggles that some become aware of the different issues impacting many of us who are still paddling at the surface, treading water. Give us a hand, pull us to shore. Be willing to listen. Many of us are willing to share, work, and engage with you. The struggle of so many has been weighing heavy on my heart this year and this is hopefully just the beginning of my own role as an advocate.

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A Sibling’s Open Letter to the Deadly Disease of Addiction

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The last few years have been particularly difficult for me. I’ve had to disengage from my family due to their struggle with severe and persistent addiction. My sister and all of her adult children have struggled for more than a decade with substance abuse issues, causing severely strained relationships, disability, and even the recent loss of custody of my two great nephews. 

I wrote the letter below to help me process the pain of essentially losing my family to the very serious and deadly disease of addiction. Two of my family members are now disabled with severe and persistent mental illness due to their use of methamphetamines. None of my nieces and nephews are employed, nor did any of them receive their high school diplomas. My mother and I are no longer in communication because her denial and enabling over the years has fractured our relationship. I’ve had to disengage and take a break so that I can heal and begin to recover from the loss. 

Addiction truly is a family disease and it affects everyone in the family. I have found Nar-Anon to be a valuable resource for support and information for family members struggling to cope and heal with the presence of addiction in the family. Nar-Anon, adapted from Narcotics Anonymous, is a worldwide group whose members are family and friends who are concerned about a loved one’s struggle with substance abuse. Here is their website: https://www.nar-anon.org.   

Here is my letter to this deadly disease.

Dear Addiction

I hate you. 

I hate what you have done to those I love. You’ve taken their lives and ruthlessly thrown them into the fire, watching them burn, with indifference. You truly are the living embodiment of hell on earth.

Addiction, I hate you.

I loathe the day you waltzed in promising my sister that you would make things so much better for her. Rolling out the red carpet, giving her the royal treatment, and romancing her so she would get hooked. All the lies you fed her, knowing that when it was all said and done, another soul would be stolen and another victim, left, scrambling, sweating, sick on the floor, begging for more. All the times you gave her and others the false impression that they could easily let go of you, when and if they desired, knowing that your physical dependence would imprison & enslave them.

Addiction, I hate you.  

I hate the power you hold over those I love, and what they gave up when you finally secured a place in their soul. They gave up their identity and called themselves “addicts”, enslaving themselves to a lifetime of using and shame. You don’t deserve those victimized by you. You’re not only taking lives, you’re robbing millions of their potential and peace. Their waking hours are spent fixated on you, and how to remain in your “good graces”.  Some will steal, lie, and destroy relationships to maintain your presence in their lives.

Addiction, I hate you.  

I hate what you do to families, ripping them apart. I hate that your destruction causes bewilderment and confusion, leaving people uncertain whether to confront or enable. Often, children, affected by your disease, will defend you and may even grow up somewhat complacent and numb to the chaos you have created. You sit back waiting, chomping at the bits to claim another victim. Children, raised in an environment where you reign, are particularly vulnerable. 

Addiction, I hate you.

You tell your victim lies, entrapping them in shame and self-loathing, many times causing them to discard their loved ones who confront their drug use. You mock those who are to trying to keep your victims safe. Those screaming in the distance are muted by the noise you cause, that continually deafens and disorients your victim. 

Addiction, I hate you.  

I hate you for destroying my family bonds. As the flames grew higher, and the devastation reached epic proportions, some of us screamed louder, while others have enabled more and shrunk back in denial. I’ve screamed so much that my voice has become hoarse, hitting a brick wall, reverberating around this dark chamber that has become all too familiar. I’ve been sent to the dungeon, cold and alone, by the loved ones who you have claimed as your victims. Nothing penetrates the walls you’ve built, keeping the victim in a vicious cycle, enslaving them, encouraging them to justify their actions that serve you, and you alone. You’ll have your victim admit that they are powerless, but your allure will entice them to forever stand close to the fire. The fire is never entirely extinguished.  I have become disillusioned and have danced around the flames, sometimes raging, and other times desperately trying to reach you. And you discard me once again.  

Addiction, I hate you. 

Through the years of my experience knowing you, I have doubted my own reality. I have looked through the eyes of the victim and no longer know if it is you or my sister that I am staring at and this devastates me. Her adult kids have now all been touched by your fire and are struggling as we speak.

Addiction, I hate you.  

If one ever tries to cut ties with you, you hold on like a bitch with nails, clinging, taking the life out of them. You torture them with beatings and lashings, as they hurl you from their body, clinging to the toilet, and sinking on the floor, sweating. “I’ll teach you never to leave me!” You snarl and spit in their face, sometimes hijacking their minds with hallucinations and delusional thinking.  

No, it’s hell to leave you.  

You do not want to relinquish your control.

Addiction, I hate you.  

And when the dust settles, there is stillness. And then, there is the dealing with the aftermath while the cravings for you are forever present, occupying a permanent space in the victim’s mind.    

Addiction, I hate you.  

And, if all of this is not enough, your victims wear the label of “addict”, having to rebuild, often ashamed and remorseful. There are some who have been sitting at your table for so long they have lost themselves. Your presence can cause changes to the brain that may lower empathy and create cognitive issues. I am perpetually oscillating between the extremes of trying to help and becoming angry and aggressively confronting . I am seen as harsh and cruel, when really I am sad and scared. I have become an indirect victim, my moods and perceptions often altered by this deadly, intoxicating dance. 

Addiction, I hate you.  

Because of you, I am letting go of my family. Not just my sister, and her family, but my mother as well. It’s getting too hard to keep trying, only to be devalued and discarded. The pain has become too intolerable for my mother. She compensates with enabling and denial which only serves to further isolate me, while those I love become increasingly more sick. I sometimes lose my dignity in anger and rage, saying things I know will only cause me more shame and sadness. I begin to wonder and fear if some victims ever reach full recovery from you. 

And, then, I hate on you some more. 

Addiction, I hate you. 

Your reign in my life is over. I have truly tried to save my sister and her kids from your very ugly, abusive ways, but it is up to them to ride this dangerous storm out and do what is necessary to seek help and change. I will remain hopeful that they one day they have the strength and perseverance to eradicate you from every inch of their lives. You have absolutely no place in mine. I will be more healthier in the end, letting go, healing, and remaining available, when and if any are ready to heal.

Goodbye, addiction.  

I’ve learned that those who leave you, must be the one to cut ties. No one can do it for them. I hope to one day stand on the other side of you, with my family, free from the pain and suffering you’ve created.

Addiction, I hate you.
Our story is complete.

Surviving Being The Scapegoat

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Looking back at the last few years, I wonder, how I even survived it all. Watching helplessly as my family was annihilated by addiction and sociopathy while at the same time, being devalued, discarded, and invalidated by my own mother. Constantly signaling alarm, seeing the writing on the wall, and forecasting the devastation with surprising accuracy… but doing so alone and alienated. And doing so while being gaslighted, shift-blamed, stone-walled, and discredited. It has been really hard. And it has hurt me, both physically and emotionally.

The times I’ve dropped to the floor wincing in pain, sobbing loudly. Or the times, I’ve had to take a muscle relaxer or two and an Ativan to be able to breathe, because I am holding the tension and my breathe so tightly that I become fearful that I might soon find myself in the ER. Submerging my body into the hot bath water I poured with Epsom salts, trying my best to regain balance and bring myself back to baseline. This is Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). And this is what it causes for me.

I have lost my ability to work for now and am doing my best to rebound after relapsing and becoming severely depressed. I even have experienced difficultly swallowing for nearly a year (still struggle somewhat) and lost 80 pounds in a short 6 months. And the last year, as the Coronavirus raged on, so did my rage with my family as it became more evident that my sister’s wrath towards me was intentional and my Mother’s complacency more visible than ever. I was told by my sister that I was hated, no longer part of the family, and denied the joyous occasion of the birth of my great nephew. I reacted to the abuse, at times, poorly, I admit. And yet, it dawned on me this year that I was in a losing battle. Nothing I could say or do would prevent my sister’s manifesto to character smear me and destroy any familial bonds I had left. My pleas for her to get help for her addiction fell on deaf ears, while she continued to deny and lie her way through losing custody of her grandchild and him testing positive for ingesting Meth. Even my own mother lied to cover up that my great nephew, a 3 year old, tested positive for ingesting meth. These lies, among other abusive tactics made to equate my reactions to the abuse to the ACTUAL abuse that was occurring, further alienated me from my family during a time the whole world was dealing with the alienation surrounding a “global pandemic”. When commercials on TV boasted of “staying home” and how family was so important, mine was becoming blown apart at the seems.

There were weeks that I was wrapped up, consumed, and lost in the grief of losing an entire family, knowing instinctively, and through years of observation, that it wasn’t just an addiction, but sociopathy that wreaked havoc on every member of my family. And while doing so, my Mom turned a blind eye to the pain and devastation that kept mounting for all of us. My step-Dad was never present, nor was he a part of any endeavor to protect us. And so, now what is left, is an epic mess of a broken and disordered family system that is too fractured to reconcile. It would take a miracle of sorts to fix what has been broken. Two family members are now severely mentally disabled due to the drug use and the deep neglect and enabling they endured when they took the same road as their mother. One is quickly speeding towards disability as we speak. Another has lost custody of her two children and is in rehab, but this situation remains tenuous and fragile, especially if she goes back to the same environment where she was using. And as for me, there does come a point where you have to walk away and say ENOUGH is ENOUGH. I do realize that so much of the devastation is being perpetuated by historical cycles of abuse and the negative coping mechanisms resulting from having endured it. My mother, sister, and step-father all have their own personal struggles and I do feel they often are completely unaware and divorced from their own negative ways of coping that are hurtful to me. Some of what they do that is hurtful is not intentional, but it does not dismiss the complacency that often follows and the lack of action that occurs after an apology. My attempts to have equal power and influence in the family, whereby my needs are met, are often ignored and not acted on and it just ends up a very negative and damaging cycle. When I attempt to get my needs met with my sister, it is often met with disdain and abuse and I am belittled and quickly discarded and ignored.

I deserve a safe, loving, kind family. One that cares to call and check in on me and ask about my life.

And so, I am writing this today as I wish to again ACCEPT the devastation and MOVE FORWARD. Writing about the pain might help others reading know that they are not alone. Some pain, especially involving “family hurts”, truly runs deep.

Some days, I go back and massage the hurts and again, feel the depth of what I lost. I still feel in many ways, perhaps, at least with my sister, that I haven’t had much of an amenable, reciprocal relationship for decades now. Putting the words down on paper, visibly, helps to provide the distance needed to heal.

It allows me to validate my own inner experience while simultaneously having hope that someone out there is reading this and relating and feels less lonely in their struggle.

It is hard sometimes. But, we survive the hard days when accepting the truth. I am surviving them by also expressing my truth. I do so, anymore, unapologetically. I do so now without self-loathing. In time, I will be past the pain and will be in a different spot altogether. Until then, this is how I am moving forward and surviving the loss.

My life has the potential to be peaceful and fulfilling. I am slowly releasing the grip history has had on me. I am writing my own script and practicing compassion and forgiveness.

And I am releasing and distancing from any and all expectations I have from my “family”.

I realize every individual in my family has their own struggle, their own pain, and their own ways of coping…. be it positive or negative. I will not return to the negative ways of coping. There is a new dawn and I will not fear flying solo when I’ve learned over time that I have already been doing so… just with so much weight on my wings.

I am OK and I am ENOUGH.

In ways this global pandemic has overshadowed and paralleled my own personal struggles and fears. It has forced me to look inward, while at the same time, providing a bird’s eye view of both the tragedy and miracle of life. It has given me pause to appreciate what I have taken for granted, while affording the time to accept “what is” and work to create the space and distance needed to provide peace.

I feel we are living in extraordinarily spiritual times. And my road has lead me down a path of solitude for now. I may get a little lost at times, but I am on the path towards forgiveness and compassion.

I wish you light along your journey.

Holding onto Hope for Your Recovery

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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.

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.

The Airing of Dirty Laundry & Breaking the “Status Quo”

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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. ❤️ 🦋❤️

On Borrowed Time: A Space to Become Softer and Soar

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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!

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Alone & Unable to Connect to Family in a Global Pandemic: We are Strong, Resilient, and Enough

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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!

 

Amy

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!