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!

“My Desolate Sea” and The Gifts it Gave To Me

grayscale photo of person standing on seashore
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I am massaging the stillness that is ever present within my struggle. I am increasingly aware of its existence budding within me, no matter how much I distance myself from it when in pain or I dismiss its potential to heal me. The human mind, which is hard-wired for survival, is conditioned to attend to the habitual sound bites that often keep us contained in rituals of distraction and preoccupation. We continually get pulled into these weathered and worn spaces because familiarity feels safe. However, sometimes the hyper-vigilance and patterns that helped us survive in the past are the very patterns now responsible for denying us our freedom. Turning towards myself and sitting in the stillness, I am able to carefully untangle the knotted up yarn of my life that had once been seen as unmanageable.

Creating the space for the stillness to expand and evolve will more than likely be one of the greatest challenges of my life. And yet, I know that the gifts of doing so are beyond my current comprehension. Humility, self-love, forgiveness, compassion, peace, and joy are a few of the gifts that not only come from the release of attachment, but also offer emancipation from the self-imposed shackles that have limited my sense of freedom and my capacity to love. The realization that much of our suffering is “self-imposed” is what ultimately puts us in the driver’s seat and behind the steering wheel. The world will always offer displays of depravity and suffering, and yet, acceptance of that reality frees us from struggling against it. When you feel as if you are drowning, the best course of action is to acknowledge it, and surrender to the reality of “what is” by floating on top of the water saving your energy to tackle the next storm. Some waters are choppy and fierce. Your ability to submit to that reality by floating will be what empowers you in the end.

And, oh, how I have been struggling as of late, embracing the sorrows of the world! I’ve been fighting the waves, expending all my energy , swimming against the undertow. I cannot count the amount of times I’ve been washed up along the shore completely disoriented, humiliated, and in despair. And many times, I have been alone in the madness, often fighting with myself. I was doing anything and everything but floating!

The past few years of my life I fought tirelessly against several waves of loss that left me feeling broken and in despair. I had a life-long, good friend take her life, an entire family lost to addiction, and a loss of independence and employment due to struggling with a mental illness. Because I am stuck currently on Medicaid, I have struggled to get adequate medical care under a system that is incompetent and is ill-equipped to deal with the demands placed on it. On a larger scale, I am watching my divided country “duke it out” on social media while homeless people sleep on the cold, concrete streets of Los Angeles. It seems that the world is crumbling before me as people turn away from each other with professions of progressivism and purity. Humanity has its depravity, despite its immense capacity to heal itself. The reality that many turn away from one another instead of bending towards each other in times of crisis, intensifies the despair I feel on a daily basis.

Some people would suggest gratitude, distraction, or any other endeavor to cope with  feelings of hopelessness. I am trying acceptance and acknowledgement. I do, however, feel grateful for what this struggle is teaching me. Here, in the midst of chaos, I will share how my struggle has blessed me, in certain ways. I wish life had dealt me a different hand, but I know things could have been much worse. Life is difficult by nature. I will put my faith in floating. I am 47 and despite everything lost, it is time to “settle in” to this lifetime. It is passing and time waits for no one.

What my struggle has gifted to me:

  1. My mental illness of: Bipolar 1, PTSD, ADHD, Hyperawareness OCD has gifted me insight, sensitivity, persistence, and tenacity. Living with this struggle, and with the stigma of it, I have often been misunderstood. I have had to work harder to refine my ability to communicate to others my reality and struggle. I also have had to deal and cope with a fair amount of invalidation and discrimination, as well as dismissiveness from others, including places of employment. The pain from this was immeasurable, but it has left me with a desire to inform and educate.
  2. My experience of receiving SSDI and relying on social programs, like Medicaid, has been an eye opening and gut wrenching experience that has renewed my commitment and passion to serve those in need. I have felt powerless and vulnerable trying to get my healthcare needs met in a system that is utterly broken and incompetent. My heart breaks for those who are unable to advocate for themselves or who lack the stamina or health to get their needs met. The system is BRUTAL. I know in time I will be able to speak from a place of truth and experience when addressing these issues. No matter how hard this struggle has been for me, I have been granted the gift of lived experience. I don’t want this gift to go to waste and I hope to help others in time.
  3. The loss of family due to addiction, has made me more aware of the illness and the variables that often perpetuate it. I’ve learned a lot about self-forgiveness, compassion, and patience. I have gained more knowledge about the limitations of our current healthcare system in addressing the epidemic of addiction and what approaches might be more successful if implemented. I have also learned to surrender to what I am unable to personally control or change. It has been a long and difficult road, but I am slowly letting go of the notion that I might be able to make a difference. It has been my experience year after year with my family, that little has changed. Surrendering to “what is” and recognizing the limitation of my influence is a gift that hopefully will free me and one day help others.
  4. The loss of employment, due to my illness. has taught me the valuable lesson that I am not defined by my vocation. Learning to find value and identity in other endeavors outside of employment has allowed me to recreate my life in ways where all parts of myself are honored. It has made me realize how much our society ties our worth to our careers and how most of our time is absorbed by our experiences in employment. This space in my life where I have been disabled has again afforded me with the lived experience of directly interacting with governmental programs. Often, the experience has been devaluing and difficult. Still yet, I am grateful to have experienced what many of our citizens face, a harsh and inefficient system that is anything but personal and caring. This experience has made me motivated to be vocal in hopes that change will one day be on the horizon.
  5. Collectively, all of my experiences of loss have made me a stronger individual. I would like to think they have been preparing me for something larger in the end. We will see. In any case, the last decade it rained relentlessly without much of a break. My life seemed to fold in on me and I feared it would nearly collapse. I was suicidal for nearly three years. I hung on even when I believed there was no point to do so. And although, the rain still comes, I have realized that I am still here. Blood is still pumping through my veins and I am still able to do so many of the things I value. Despite, the many stories of heartbreak that I could share, I am still here, standing. I have a lot to write because many of my stories are actually very similar to the heartbreak of others. Many of us have lived with the beast of addiction either personally or in our families, many have suffered with a mental illness or a disability, many have been devastated by a job loss, many have experienced abuse in their relationship with a partner, many have lived through poverty….. And, many of us have felt utterly alone in our experiences. We are not alone. My experiences of loss have gifted me with the strength and passion to share with others. Let us be the light for one another.

There was a time in my life when depression had swallowed me whole. I remember a time not too long ago when I was in an abusive relationship where my partner continually communicated to me that I wasn’t “good enough” to commit to “yet”. He wasn’t sure if I was “worth it”, he stated. I stayed on trying to prove my worth to him because I did not believe yet in my own worth. I was seeking his approval. Leaving him  was one of the first steps I took towards myself. I wrote the poem below titled “The Desolate Sea” during the days when I was fighting to be “seen” by him .

Oddly enough, the losses I experienced forced me to turn inward and evaluate myself. In doing so, I began cultivating self-compassion for my flaws and celebrating the essence of myself: the things that made me “beam” with joy. Over the last year or so, I sought solace in nature, often marveling at the beautiful mess of the forest, its lush ferns and mossy limbs covering every inch before me in a frenzied and chaotic fashion. There were broken and decaying limbs on the forest floor where large evergreen trees towered over, hosting a few birds in their lovely branches. It was all of this new life coexisting with the old and decaying that helped me embrace my own beautiful mess. There was no organization to the forest and it was still absolutely inspiring. It made me feel okay to have all of those parts, the old and new, coexisting inside of me and yet still feel purposeful and whole.

The following poem, “The Desolate Sea”, stems from one of the “parts” of me where I felt unloved and even, broken. I am including it in this post because I do feel we all have parts of ourselves that, at times, can be self-loathing or even full of insecurity. I’ve grown a lot from that time in my life. The losses in my life have helped me to see the essence of myself from being stripped of so much. Life can be lonely and there may be periods where we isolate from others and feel that no one can relate to our struggle. Life is difficult for everyone by its very nature. My poem, written in the days when I was desperately seeking the validation from my ex, demonstrates that life eventually moves forward. Tough times often result in growth! It also reveals that what I accepted in the past, is not what I would ever accept today, or in the future. The struggle of life is real, while the embracing of the self can be a continual gift. I hope you enjoy the poem. Wishing you light along your path!

My Desolate Sea

It’s difficult to say

No one loves me enough to stay

All wish to run away

 

Trouble finds me

Surrounds me

Binds me

 

I want nothing more

than to be set free

 

People misunderstand me

Loathe me,

Hide from me

 

Chances taken away

With each passing storm

 

Now the one I love

The one who I say

Was sent from above

 

My angel, My Lover

 

May turn and leave

 

I’m too heavy

Life is too short

And when their passing through

It’s me they’ll abort

 

For many years

This brought anger, hurt, tears

Now understanding and sadness,

Relinquishes my fears

 

I understand His Woes

His love caught in the undertoe

The massive destruction

Coming, blow by blow

 

As the relentless ocean

Raises it floor

With Sand and grit

It snarls and spits

Foaming once more

 

Soaking and drowning

Day by Day

How could I ask anyone to stay?

 

Too much, Too much

I understand

My heavy heart

Can see the untold plan

 

Grief that is intolerable

Difficult to bear

I stand there

I stand there

 

Each day, Each dark night

The waves are crashing with delight

And when the storm settles down

I can hear another, begin to crown

 

I try to stop them

With all my might

With words, with love

I stay, firm and fight

 

In the aftermath

It’s usually me

Left alone

In this desolate Sea

 

Pleading to be set free

Hoping this is not my eternity

 

Swimming & Separateness

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I remember long ago, when I was only a small girl, swimming effortlessly in my Grandma’s backyard pool. I don’t recall ever learning to swim as I’m fairly certain it followed closely after I learned to walk. I vividly recall gliding along the bottom of the pool, watching the reflection of the sun bounce around, shimmering on the bottom of the pool surface. All the noise and chatter of the above-water world would disappear for the moment as I lost myself, surrounded by the silence and serenity, submerged in water. I was weightless and free. I felt a sense of mastery gliding along, with my eyes wide open. It was during these times I felt confident and joyful despite being separate and alone.

Surveying my life and my history, I am able to acknowledge that I often have difficulty truly separating from others. Not in the sense of having to always be around others as I am actually often alone. The difficulty arises in my ability and desire to trust my own decisions and to build my own self-worth. I’m too often searching for validation in others  instead of relying on my own intuition and instincts. I also have allowed certain people in my life to completely derail me by accepting their definition of me. My self-concept is too easily swayed by others. I feel I have a lot of work to do in this area.

I can go back further into my history and acknowledge that as a child I often did not feel safe to assert myself. As an adult, this has translated into a mess of sorts which often ranges from rage to defeat. And there are times, when interacting with unhealthy individuals, that I am demanding and insistent, throwing a temper tantrum like a three year old. For some reason, I am drawn to people who are also hurting and I often have too high of expectations for the relationship. I become too easily enmeshed and have difficulty separating myself from not only their story, but how I am valued within it. I am learning to disengage from those individuals in my life who are unable to connect, even if I love them. I have often lost my dignity while demanding love and respect and something larger inside of me desires the freedom of being separate and self-reliant. This is a very messy time for me and I’ve actually been quite depressed.

Despite the messiness and shame, I feel a bit hopeful. I feel that perhaps I am getting closer to finding myself. I have spent the first part of my life in silence, often too afraid to express anger. There were years where my emotional state often was dependent on others and I would check all my decisions by those in my life that I trusted. The last decade of my life my voice emerged, often as thunder. I was ineffectively coping with my sister who was battling an addiction and I was also dating a Narcissist at the time. I became increasingly angry as both my sister and the narcissist tested my self esteem by devaluing me often and abandoning me. With both, I hung on far too long and anger often spilled over into rage resulting in a loss of dignity and self-loathing. And now, I am finally at a point of self-forgiveness. If I am successful in letting go of my sister, as I have done so with my Narcissist, then I will find the space and time to forgive her. Still yet, I will not attempt reconciliation at this point unless it is initiated by her because I must maintain my dignity. I have gone “No Contact” with my ex-Narc and I feel pretty good about it.

I felt I needed to write this post today because doing so is a level of accountability to address my lack in self-sufficiency. I actually enjoy being alone and do everything from camping to taking trips. I am more so talking about the dependence on others for my self esteem, my self concept, and my confidence in decision making. I see this pattern and I feel addressing it openly will compel me to address it in my day to day existence. I am letting go of these patterns and it needs to be in concrete ways from this point forward. I believe the greatest endeavor I can do is to begin participating in the things I used to enjoy doing. And although I have trust issues, it’s time to join some groups and make friends again. The last year and a half I have been pretty depressed and have “let go” of a lot of things I used to enjoy. The more I “do” to rebuild my life, the more I will benefit emotionally and in my self esteem.

I’m often nearly shocked at how depressed I have been over the last few years. I had to stop working because I was getting sick too often and missing work. I even recently was approved for disability benefits, but it will take time to receive them and it hasn’t hit me yet that I have been approved. The last several years has been a blur where both my Bipolar 1 and PTSD have been unstable. I do feel I am slowly improving, but I would say I am only halfway to where I want to be! Writing is helping me to heal and it’s so important that I begin to physically do concrete things to challenge myself in the healing process. I’m hoping to write about my upcoming adventures as I heal. I’m grateful for the opportunity to blog about my experiences and appreciate the support I have received from my readers! It means a lot!

And finally, using the metaphor of swimming, I would like to jump back in to my life, totally submerged in water, eyes wide open, gliding effortlessly along the surface of the pool. It might just be time to go for a swim!

photo of woman diving into the water
Photo by Pete Johnson on Pexels.com

 

 

 

Out of the Fog: Finding Yourself & Forgiveness

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I’m walking away. I’m learning to let go while opening my eyes wider, scanning the horizon for everything that has escaped me while I’ve been away. I’m learning.

It’s been messy. I’m drawing the conclusion that some situations and scenarios are so convoluted and crazy that they are nearly impossible to navigate. I lose my cool, become frustrated and lost in the fog. I lash out in fear from been rejected. I’m raw and vulnerable in these spaces. I know I shouldn’t be here anymore. I stayed too long, I wince in pain. I wish I would have left earlier. I could have sworn I saw something in this desolate and deserted landscape for me. I return again and again and I walk away empty-handed. I’m devastated. Where did everyone go? Why is there none for me? Am I not worthy? Do I not count? Am I not visible? I run from hilltop to hilltop in the stark, cold night screaming expletives into the vast, frigid air. It falls flat. No one comes for me. Never for me.

I get up, brush off the dust. Surely, I exist. Surely, I am here. Surely, someone will see me. It would be so nice to to have someone looking for me and upon finding me, grinning widely, hugging me wildly, catch their breath in excitement as the say: “Where have you been? God, I have missed you. Oh, how I love you so and am sorry we lost one another”. But, these are only dreams, manifested to keep me caught in the web of deception that those I miss actually are capable of connecting to me. I know from years now of searching for them, they are gone. It is hard to say it out loud, but doing so is the only path to true healing. I cannot stay here in this dismal place forever searching for love.

I grieve and I am remorseful for my own hurtful behavior. I acknowledge that I need to get up and go. I used to sink down and stay, nearly drowning in the continual chaos. I do see a path out. I’m hesitant to take it because it’s so hard to walk away empty handed knowing that this is your last time. All the arguments were my last desperate attempts to wake those that I love. With eyes wide awake, a knife to my gut, and tears streaming down my face, I know it’s time to leave. Letting go is so very hard. I’m reminded now of The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis at this moment and feel called to read the book once again. I read it several years back and was touched by the message and I now feel it will provide the comfort I need so desperately in my life during this time.

I have no crystal ball. I only know that it’s time. I have been saying it for awhile and have been dragging my feet. I know that I am strong enough because I walked away from an abusive relationship a few years ago and have not went back. It is hard to leave those you love. But, if I remain I will continue to leave myself. This self injury of leaving myself is more damaging and by staying I only create a larger wound. Time and space will provide me a great opportunity of learning to love myself.

I believe I am ready. People who know me and see me in the same patterns and same routines are not aware that my eyes have been open for awhile now. It’s been messy and inconsistent as I challenge my beliefs and behavior daily. There have been times I have asserted myself too much, crossing the lines becoming abusive. I’ve made many mistakes going back into the flames trying to assert myself while demanding respect. I acknowledge now that some structures, although old and decaying, have not fallen and demanding they do so is not effective. I needed to disengage and place my energies into endeavors that would provide some stability for me. The development of my self esteem and of stronger boundaries has been messy and imperfect work. I admit, I am not good at this. Often, I feel lost and I know I need a lot more practice.

I think the biggest difference from the past to the present, is my eyes are open. Each time things crumble, I become stronger. Instead of self-loathing, I bend a bit and forgive myself. I still long for perfection, but realize that it is not realistic and I loosen the reigns a little more, providing more give and flexibility. I also can see that the situation I am in is extremely difficult to navigate. Having someone in your family who is struggling with addiction is hard. I am beginning to see that letting go when people are refusing to get help is an act of love, for myself and for my family. By walking away and truly healing, I become of resource to them when they are ready. I also am rejuvenated and healthy enough to help should someone ask for my assistance. There is the chance that certain people may never want to reconnect. I am prepared for this and am ready to embark on a new journey where I live less encumbered by fear and despair.

And so, I am hopeful. I am still grieving. I am ready to spend more time on things that I love. I am ready to sing and travel more. I am longing to see more lighthouses along the Oregon Coast. In time, I will connect with others as well and I hope to perform again in musicals. I am longing to reunite with myself again. Somewhere out there, around every corner, is a happy and free-spirited girl that will hug me time and time again saying: “Where have you been? God, I have missed you. Oh, how I love you so and am sorry we lost one another.”

 

 

Flying Solo with You: Collectivity Versus Competition

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Could our way of competition and capitalism be leading us to isolation and depression? I search our city streets and I see a myriad of frenzied people often using tense and terse words, elbowing others for their tiny turf they’ve claimed. Horns are honking and the homeless are shouting expletives. Under the bridges of the bustling city, a plethora of tents form the silhouette of a starlit campground, “if only”! Humanity is in a hurry and  borders on depravity, definitely distracted. It is loud, busy, and not at all welcoming.

I don’t know if I’m that different than others, but the homeless always capture me, nearly grabbing me by the collar, choking my spirit. It cuts me to the core that we have fellow humans living alone, outside, in the harsh elements. This discomfort has been growing inside of me, spurred on by the numbers of homeless that spill onto the streets, which seem to be increasing daily. I can’t get past the growing numbers of disheveled people, holding signs in desperation, begging for a slice of the pie. No one wants to face the elements, often alone, for even one day, let alone in the dead of Winter. No matter if it is drugs, disability, mental illness, job loss, or any other unfortunate situation, having to be homeless seems inhumane.

This leads me to the space that inspired me to write this entry. Therapy was difficult today. I was given the task of thinking about the prospect of “flying solo”, without my family’s weight on my wings. I acknowledge in many respects that I have allowed the family stuff to stunt my own personal growth. I got wrapped up in a situation that I had little control over. Although my family dynamics will most likely remain unchanged, I can work to take control over my life and take better care of myself spiritually and physically. I accept the task of doing so. Still yet, there was something growing larger inside of me all day. Something that left me angry and inconsolable and, at one point, crumpled up on my bed, crying.

The world we are living in is hard and harsh. And honestly, more specifically, I feel it is our American culture that is causing a lot of the alienation that is leading to the pain that results in drug use and certain mental illness in the first place. And, so, I will have “fly solo” because in our culture it makes sense to do so. However, there is a larger part of me that is literally screaming in frustration that we are doing it ALL WRONG! I do believe self- care is important and that each individual is ultimately responsible for their own happiness, still yet, we are missing that our community needs its own form of “self care” and healing. Turning inward and healing oneself only can bring us so far. We have lost our sense of community and responsibility to one another. Connection to others is what brings us the greatest satisfaction.

My mind begins to spin thinking of all the aspects of community that has been eroding over the last several decades as greed related to unbridled capitalism has reigned. Less people are engaged in art, dance, writing, music, theatrical performances, etc. There are communities that lack employment opportunities while at the same time their school systems are lagging behind. Places where drug problems are more prevalent are paralleled with poverty and poor educational systems. Often these places have less parks, theaters, community centers, etc. Sadly, these places often have less treatment facilities available and transportation to and from treatment is non-existent. In certain rural areas, churches can be a source of refuge and connection, but often times are divisive and judgmental. People who long for connection feel uncomfortable seeking help from entities whose standards feel unattainable or foreign to them. Community often seems elusive and unattainable.

People outside of these situations feel that individuals in those areas need to just “seek help” if they are using. I can tell you from personal experiences with my family, they do not have access to transportation, most do not have a phone, and the hospitals and other treatment facilities are often too far for them to access. If you couple the logistics along with the fact that they have always lived chaotically with drugs in the picture (except when they were much younger), it becomes more apparent how difficult it is for many of these people to actually ask for help. Most people who are addicted deny having a problem and if they finally do decide to seek help, it is nearly impossible to attend treatment without a car (outpatient). The only rehabs nearby are waitlisted for several months. Access to treatment is very limited due to so many needing help. It is the same story for mental health treatment in certain areas. And sadly, I feel this is a common theme in many areas across the country.

So, again, this leads me to overwhelming frustration and sadness regarding the sad state of affairs our country is currently in related to treatment for both substance use and mental illness. We have a public health crisis on our hands and many of us have loved ones (or possible ourselves) that have been negatively impacted by the lack of care for so many struggling. This leads me back again to the homeless. Some of these beautiful people are lost in the system due not receiving care. They are recipients of trying too hard for too long and living in an area with higher unemployment rates. Some people get trapped into homelessness. Once you no longer have an address, a phone, access to showers, etc. employers “look over you” and you can no longer land a job. The saddest story related to unemployment that I can recall was one when I was filling out an application for a job at a fast food establishment long ago when I was in college. I knew they were still hiring at the time and I watched as a middle-aged man came in and asked if he could fill out an application. He was disheveled and looked “homeless”. They immediately turned him away. I remember watching him make a few statements in desperation, trying to convince him he was worthy to at least apply, but they turned him away based on his looks. Well, he might have been on the streets and was trying to get a job. I’m 46 and that exchange, with him walking out with his head down, defeated, was heartbreaking to watch. It crushes my spirit today telling it, as it did on the day I experienced it.

I just feel that we need to do better to invest in our community, not just ourselves. There is too much competition and not enough connection and collectivity. It may seem like a “pipe dream” to some, but I believe if we took care of each other, we would all benefit in the end.  The current model where everyone is exhausted from working harder, not smarter, to “get ahead”, has actually caused alienation and a host of other problems. I realize I am barely scratching the surface of what would actually have to change for this to be achieved. I only know that we are living in times where we are pulling away from each other, instead of bending towards each other and this, in time, will break us. I think we are seeing that already.

So, yes, I am flying solo away from the devastation that addiction caused for my family. I acknowledge I am powerless to help them. I have a heavy heart because I know too much has to change to have real impact in the lives of those I love. The area they live in is economically depressed, lacking services, transportation, etc. I hold this knowledge in my heart and it is heavy. I pass by the homeless and I see the faces of those I love in them. I see people who have tried and perhaps they did not get the right tools growing up, or they are disabled or mentally ill, or have an addiction that has never been adequately treated. I see people who have trouble competing in a system that is difficult for even healthy people, who often end up with physical diseases, a heart attack or stroke, from refusing to never taking a break. We are all tired and disconnected. I do not have the answers, I only know I hope one day to find some way to contribute. I only wish we could create a “softer place” to land when struggling occurs.

I am searching for community and connection. I will heal by flying solo, but I will soar when I finally connect to others in that freedom! I’ll continue to search for ways to connect. The potential and power to heal lies within us collectively, not in competition.

 

 

Let Me Be Light!: From Trauma to Snowflakes & Lighthouses

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I’ve been stewing all day. Heck, actually, I’ve been stewing all week. It was at some point in the day when the snow outside began softly falling that I grinned, ear to ear, amused that I had been granted my little wish. Something as simple as a snowflake would provide the shift needed to escape my cage and cause me to contemplate taking a new path. Admittedly, I’ve been too tired and exhausted to push forward. I’ve been halfway hoping that someone would just carry me to the place I long to be.

The cold, dark days of dreary drizzle had blended together, blurry and boring. Restless, I sought stimulation and solace in the darkest of places where the sun doesn’t shine. I ran back to an unhealthy preoccupation where I clung tightly to the familiar misery of desperately trying to win a rush. Ah, how the simple act of gambling serves as the perfect parallel of my life, always waiting and wishing for the crumbs of love to fall, like waiting for the buzzer sound that means I’ve won a few free spins. I’m so starved that I was nearly picking crumbs off of the dirty floor, devouring them, and scouring the surface for more. If only I could get a bonus or two, I reassured myself, I’d be sure to be back on top! It comes and goes and I am never satiated. But, every now and again, I win just enough to distract me from the love that’s leaving me, always leaving me, as time slips away and I make no move to seize it. Looking back, perhaps the one who is leaving me the least of the crumbs, is myself.

As the snow continues to fall today and the ground became completely covered, I’m struck by its stark beauty. This blanket of white is accompanied by a bitterly cold wind and still, it seems so peaceful and serene. It is soft and new, changing the entire landscape with millions of snowflakes stacking up and sticking together, altering the reality of those experiencing it. We rarely get much lowland snow here in the Puget Sound region. A snow can lift you into anther realm, one of childlike joy, intrigue, and playfulness. My spirit easily becomes light, like the snowflakes drifting sweetly and slowly to the ground.

Those who have struggled with a trauma disorder know that life can be anything but light or carefree. Often, trauma binds you to maladaptive ways of coping that continue to keep you trapped. It’s difficult to let go of these coping mechanisms because in times of trauma, they have made you feel safe, so much so that releasing them feels an impossible and incomprehensible feat. At one time, these maladaptive ways meant our survival and therefore it makes sense that we struggle to let them go. Often, they are ingrained in us so deeply that we forget they are only a mechanisms, not a personality characteristics. These old patterns have little power over us except for the power we gave to them long ago.

On a personal level, I have been unwilling to “give up” my obsessive thoughts and compulsions relating to my trauma because it feels unsafe to do so, as if I were “letting down my guard”. What if I stopped fighting? I often have felt no one would care & in some cases this has been proven true, and yet, I’m slowly realizing that when I never leave the battle, the battle never leaves me. I have been sincerely trying to escape, but I often chain myself more tightly in the process, perpetuating a false sense of security that inevitably leads to my demise again and again. This downward spiral is going to take quite a bit of strength and perseverance to totally break free. I’m still not sure it will ever entirely happen, we’ll see.

Unfortunately, the maladaptive ways of coping will further trap you and re-traumatize you. It’s a cyclic beast that can render you depressed, anxious, exhausted, and even in physical chronic pain. And it does this so cunningly, without your awareness or permission. The cycle continues while you operate in very limited ways that “promise” you protection and safety. Some stay stuck and stagnate, others become increasingly more sick and will even be re-traumatized by engaging in patterns that unknowingly welcomes the trauma back into their lives.

Over the past couple of years, my trauma was recently triggered and intertwined with the trauma that my niece endured. I felt guilty during the times I remained silent when I could see her suffering so. Her trauma lead me to compulsively engage in desperate behaviors of continually checking up on her with the insistence that she receive the opportunity to get the help she needs. She now is nearly disabled from drug use, suffering from a mental illness, and is potentially facing time in jail. I spent the last two years trying to “save her” and it only resulted in me becoming more isolated from her and my family. Her nuclear family is very dysfunctional, and to be realistic, she probably does not have the best chance for recovery.

In the last two years, I sat with my hands tied behind my back, shouting from the sidelines, as others neglected to help her. I watched while the system failed her. The last few years have been particularly tough on me, watching a young individual whom I love struggle in so many ways knowing I could do little to help her. The invalidation and neglect she was receiving, painfully reminded me of the times I have felt invisible and abandoned. The fight to “save her” metaphorically became the fight to “save myself”. I launched war in my family and it was brutal and messy. At the end of the day, the dysfunction continued and little has truly changed in the family.

Through the chaos and drama, I came to identify myself as the scapegoat and certain historical patterns finally made more sense to me. I stepped back, not really wanting to see the unhealthy patterns of others, but determined to accept the brutal truth, even if it was painful. This process left me alone and abandoned in the storm, clinging to any semblance of sanity as I watched the devastation before me ensue and the denial others practiced in order to avoid the truth. In reality, certain members of my family had already abandoned themselves years ago by surrendering to an aggressive and ugly addiction that robbed them of so much. They’ve been tightly bound to their negative coping mechanisms of addiction and chaos to numb the pain away. Their lives are going in fast forward, often in a blur, without truly smelling, tasting, or seeing much of anything. I’ve been angry and ugly in my relentless quest to help them, but in my heart I know it’s time to truly ‘let go” and forgive. I’m searching for softness to return to me. I long to feel light, like the snowflakes floating freely to the ground.

Healing from trauma appears to come in waves. It seems that I get swept out to sea over and over again. Perhaps this desolate see is just too alluring, pulling me in over and over again, crashing upon the shore, leaving me weary. I know I am nearly ready to shed the lifeguard vest and let go. Perhaps, I’ll find a cliff high above the ocean where I can sit far away from the shore and listen to the waves crash in the distance. Feeling this vast and foreign space around me, I will be able to scan the horizon for incoming storms and will shelter myself, avoiding another shipwreck. And in time, I’d love to morph into a lighthouse, solid and full of hope. One that stands in strength, peacefully warning sailors of perilous waters, with its penetrating light, piercing the darkest of night.

 

 

 

Waiting No More: It’s Time to Drive!

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I’ve spent a lot of time waiting.

I’ve been restless, at times, desperately desiring to be completely satiated, longing for validation and visibility.

I waited a whole decade consumed by the desire to be passionately loved. I gave every ounce of my being to this fruitless pursuit, determined that one day it would yield the commitment desired from this individual. The commitment never came. In fact, the more I pursued and pushed, the more I lost myself. Losing him was letting go of the long held belief that I wasn’t good enough.

I waited for several years for a sincere apology and a gesture from a family member that communicated reconciliation was desired. I waited for certain family members to heal and recover from their addiction enough so that they could not only care about themselves, but they also could care about and connect with me. I waited years while we argued, knowing that the arguing was all that I had left. There was no true desire from them to know me or connect with me. I waited for years, grieving, often raging and demanding change. I only ended up alone and alienated. Little has changed in their behavior which has landed some of them permanently disabled, while others, potentially facing jail. I still am grieving, but I have given up on “waiting”.

I waited many years for my career to “take off”. I waited for someone out there to reward my hard work, experiences, education, etc. In the last decade, my work potential has been overshadowed by my disability of Bipolar 1, ADHD, and C-PTSD. Working with a disability complicated things and has temporarily placed my career goals “on hold”. I am currently not employed. I waited to land that “awesome job” and when I did finally achieve that goal, it was quickly thwarted by my disability. I got sick with several respiratory illnesses and was prescribed prednisone, a steroid, that inevitably caused a mania. I requested accommodations and then took a medical leave. When I returned from the medical leave, which was actually encouraged by my supervisor, I was terminated from my job without the opportunity to work with accommodations in place. I was devastated and have still not bounced back from the discrimination I endured. I waited for years to find the job that would provide security and pay well and as soon as I found it, I lost it.

I waited many years to be free from anxiety and depression. I thought perhaps a combination of therapy and medications would one day set me free from my struggle. I am still waiting on my complete freedom from the symptoms I have endured related to my disability. I am still not completely free from certain habits and symptoms stemming from trauma that I have experienced in this lifetime.

I have had an unraveling of sorts in this lifetime: failed marriage, failed career, failed engagement, a loss of family, a loss of employment, and the inability to have children. I have lived with a mental illness that often has stripped me of my dignity and distanced me from others. I isolate a lot because interacting with others can be difficult especially if I am working. When I did work, it took all my energy, leaving me feeling depleted. It was during these times I really needed the safety net and support of family and a solid relationship. Instead, as I struggled to maintain work I was often drained further by having to fight for love from my family and my partner. I was fortunate to have the support of my ex-spouse in the process and my mother. Still yet, I often felt overwhelmed and alone. I had waited a very long time for something to “work out” and I felt “let down” by the world. I was deeply depressed and this went on for a very long time.

In losing so much, I discovered that I was left with me. Over time I have let go of what was making me “hard” and I am now peeling off the layers that have hardened me. I’m exposing my fleshy fruit, my essence raw and vulnerable.

I don’t currently have a job. I’m single and living with my ex-spouse for support. I don’t have a home. My bank account is empty. My family relations are strained and I primarily am only connected to my mother, my step-father has never been too involved and my sister and her adult kids are all estranged from me due to the conflicts and chaos that  addiction has caused. My ex-spouse is a great friend and support. And, I have my dog, Gracie, who is very loving.

Losing so much is teaching me to be more humble and to appreciate what I do have, not just in possessions, but in talents, skills, and experiences. I’ve been stripped from what I felt was needed to feel valued and visible. I’m learning to define my self worth, not by the expectations placed from society, but more on the intangibles that define me.

I waited for years for someone or something to “show up” for me. I watched while others got married, had careers, and shared photos of their cute kids on Facebook. In ways, everything I had longed for was perpetually being displayed by others. I wasn’t jealous of their good fortune, but I often wondered why things had not worked out for me. In the end, it wasn’t in the cards. This is what I am learning to accept and in doing so I am slowly opening up the world that is mine. I am no longer grieving what I never had or lost. Instead, I am accepting the hand I was dealt, with curiosity, and am ready to discover this world embracing my reality wholeheartedly. I have always acknowledged some of the blessings that being single with no children has afforded, like ample time to travel and engage in leisure pursuits that I enjoy.

I have decided I am tired of “waiting”. I am letting go of all the people and things that were keeping me stuck. I am showing up for myself. I’m determined to awaken to the present and accept with grace and gratitude each moment. I sincerely want to fill the space that is mine.

It’s odd to think that in losing so much, that I am actually finding myself. This fills me with excitement and joy because I know it is what I have been searching for my entire life. I know intuitively that this is the greatest gift with the most returns. Investing in myself will only yield positive results.

I have so much more work to do, but now I have the right person in the driver seat, ME!! I’m not waiting around for others to call the shots or to determine my emotional state for the day. I genuinely want to be happy and want to be responsible for my happiness. I realize I will struggle from time to time, but healing is happening and I am grateful!!

 

 

 

 

Fractured Family Tree: The Scapegoat Lets Go

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I went down “that path” again. I knew in my gut what was waiting for me. Still, I went anyway, carrying that last bit of hope, protected deep inside me. I was still holding on to a lovely memory that has since become more clear over time that it wasn’t even real anyway. It was always this way. My family has been fractured, disconnected, and unhealthy.

I was the one in the end that became visibly sick, and in time raged, demanding more. And I am the one now, becoming well, sometimes still raging, and ready to “let go”. It’s very hard. Everything inside me wants to throw another all-out tantrum, demanding an answer for why my family is unable to heal together. It’s lonely. I’m sad and hurting. Still yet, I must face the truth, cry it out, grieve, let go of the “dream”, and accept what is.

This is the only way, because staying in the fight means certain death, for me. I’m not strong enough to stand among all the devastation, watching people I love lose everything, while devaluing me. I have meant nothing to certain people in my life. I can’t stay in a space where people defend and enable the deep neglect and abuse. I am unable to remain where I am character smeared, gaslighted, and lied to on a daily basis. I need to remain very distant from those who enable and allow the abuse. Some are too sick to see what is really occurring. I see it and it has made me very sick to try with everything inside me to awaken people when they would rather sleep. And so, I have watched the people I love lose everything to addiction and narcissistic abuse. The neglect has been so great that five kids, now adults, are not working: 3 are disabled (two due to drug use), 1 is facing jail, and the other refuses to work or get her GED even though she has a baby. No one in the home, six adults, work and they have a toddler in the home. I’m not even scratching the surface of all the chaos and drama that has occurred over the past decade due to the drug use, but it has been extreme. Trust me.

I’m left feeling empty. Another Christmas passed with the chaos related to addiction. Another Christmas where I did not receive a “Merry Christmas” text or a “thank you” for the presents I bought. Another Christmas where my Mom enabled the behavior and I am left unsupported.

It is time to “let go”. I went down that road with the last shred of hope slipping, like sand, through my fingers, racing to find my family. And the sand quickly disappeared, blown away by the storm that has raged on for years. I can’t chase it anymore. It was the last bit of hope I had and I couldn’t hold onto any longer. I had to let go.

I’m alone. And yet, I know this is exactly where I am supposed to be.

Our family tree has been splintered and diseased for a long time. I grew very sick and I knew in order to save myself, I had to cut limbs and shed certain branches, otherwise I would perish. Sometimes, I still feel I may perish. This hurt both physically and emotionally. I’m not breathing, my face is numb, and I’m holding my breath from how it hurts. I’ve been called “dramatic” in my effort to wake people up. And yet, two of my sister’s adult children are now disabled due to addiction. They will more than likely never work, never have children, never live on their own. I am avoiding details, because I ultimately am trying to stay closer to the center. Still, I’m bewildered as to how I lost my whole family and no one there can “hear me”. It’s a nightmare, but one I have been living for so long that I need to “wake up”. I cannot remain in the space any longer. I did not create it and truth be told, I am not welcome by anyone in it. I’m relatively invisible, drowned out by the larger players. I’m forever “little Amy” and “the little sister” and have not yet been seen, nor respected as a separate entity from the family unit.

Our family tree is fractured. The historical cycle is splintering and breaking, falling to the cold, hard ground with a thud.

I remember a few years ago, I was shell-shocked. I was constantly running from distraction to distraction. I was in a tumultuous relationship with a Narc who was abusive psychologically, emotionally, and physically. I was gambling a lot. My anxiety was “off the charts” and I felt trapped. I began to plead and beg to heal. I set the intention in my mind that I would “wake up” and heal from whatever had me running. I did not realize the work ahead of me, nor the lonely and sometimes dark road. I did not know that carving out my self esteem would mean getting in touch with the anger inside where I was left and abandoned by certain people in my life. Why was I not enough for them? I had to realize that I was enough for myself. The angry rages were in part defining my worth. Because, some of those I loved were continually in words and actions telling me I was insignificant. I realize it is a sickness. I am very sad for that. Still yet, I do not deserve to stay in a space where I am unwanted, unloved, and unappreciated. Nor, do I deserve to stay where people I love are not getting well because others who are older and have power are blocking their growth. The one person I feel that can help is also sick and chooses to enable instead. And, I am devastated, angry, and sad.

The family tree is fractured. And I have tried to not be overly revealing, but it is important for this process to be shared. People are sometimes too loyal to their families and hesitant to divulge too much information. Is this keeping our world from truly healing? When the family unit becomes toxic and a danger to others in the family, should  we not seek help? The loyalty might be keeping us stunted. My sole purpose is to promote growth. Yes, I have some guilt for “over”sharing. But, I feel compelled to write my truth and the trauma surrounding my life. I want a complete way out of it. And, I would be thrilled if any of my family members found a way out as well. I have lost hope. It’s been too long of a road. I got on the road again and was quickly back in the quicksand, sinking, with no one holding my hand.

The family tree is fractured. I will remain distant so that I can process my anger and the trauma leading up to the fracture of the tree. I invested a lot of time and energy and now I must let go and invest in myself. It was another mistake and I regret going down the road, yet again. I thought I was ready and able to “handle it”. I saw the destruction and burned in anger from the lost connection. I burned in anger from the loss of potential in the lives of those I dearly love. They are no longer recognizable. They have lost themselves and my Mom is lost in enabling them to foster a fabricated connection. She is lost and I am sad she is not able to help me. I would have been ecstatic for one of my nieces or nephews to make it out.

The family tree is fractured. I’m going to do everything this time to stay away. Their addiction became my addiction as I tried to salvage anything from the fire that swept through the forest, burning everything down in it’s path. Hope is dangerous. I really need to pick up the pieces of what is left of my life and rebuild. My life is the only thing I can control, anyhow.

This is and has been hard. I am grieving. Everything I thought about healing has been turned upside down. I do well for awhile and then have another storm. I’m realizing through the storms how to build better shelter around me for the next. My skin is hardening. My spirit softening, but I’m still not fully there, ready to completely accept the loss and “what is”. I have always been living in somewhat of a fabricated fantasy and healing is exposing me to the harsh elements, but somehow demonstrating to me that I am strong.

I hate the mistakes and messes I make when raging, but I see there is value in them as I am standing up for myself and learning boundaries. I still am super stubborn in setting a boundary and in not doing so I get burned very badly. Boundary setting is new for me as I always let everyone and everything in and have been used a lot. I don’t feel I ever learned to protect the space around me. I do feel guilty and sad for how things have ended, as it was ugly. But, I am beginning to feel that when you are in a toxic situation it does not matter how it ends, just that it does indeed end. I have stayed too long, always coming back with apologies, because I left in a brutal way. The cycle begins again and I am caught up in it. The abuse has been brutal and I deserve safety. Also, they deserve my absence so that in time maybe they will focus on getting well. My presence did not matter to some of them anyway.

The tree is fractured. It now stands alone in the stark winter air. There are stars filling the sky and it feels less alone and more peaceful. There is so much space around me. I needed this space. I’ll sit with this for awhile. Healing is hard & messy, but we are all worth it.

 

A Letter to Those Enabling Addiction

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Dear Enabler,

You’ve often given in and helped your loved one struggling with addiction. This temporarily relieves the addict from experiencing the natural consequences related to their drug use. It may temporarily relieve you of your guilt associated with their use.

Enabling communicates, indirectly, to the addict that you feel they are unable to execute independently to manage the ups and downs of their life. It absolves the addict of their responsibility to take care of themselves. If children are involved, and watching, they are learning that you and others will step-in and take care of them when and if they choose to engage in dangerous and destructive endeavors. There may even be those children watching in anger, wishing you would step in, creating consequences for the using parent. Drug use in the home on any level pulls the parent away from the child leaving the child isolated and alone. One cannot be fully present when using. Enabling only continues to further isolate children in the home, cultivating an environment of alienation. And it communicates to the child that there is truly no hope. If you or another adult or family member is enabling a parent’s addiction, please know in doing so that the child becomes invisible and unimportant. The addiction continues and the child is absorbing the toxic environment which is skewing their perceptions. Reality become distorted and you may be serving to silence the concerns of those surrounding the addict without truly realizing you are doing so. Enabling is another form of accepting the addiction. It allows it to continue.

The devastation of enabling doesn’t only impact the individual being enabled or their children. It spreads to other family members who see the problem and decide to intervene in honesty and concern. These people often are met with great resistance from those enabling who will justify the actions of their enabling. This inevitably causes serious conflict and can over time erode what used to be relatively healthy relationships. Enablers are often in denial, not only of the depth of destruction caused by the addiction, but also of the devastating impact their denial and enabling has caused. The addict continues to use, the enabler continues to enable, becoming increasingly defensive. Sadly, relationships are lost to protect the bond between enabler and addict. The addict needs the enabler so that they can continue to use, while the enabler needs to enable to feel needed, to relieve guilt, and to protect the semblance of connection with the addict. The bond between addict and enabler is protected, while the addict’s children (adults or minors) as well as any involved family members are left grappling with the loss of family bonds.

If you are enabling, this is the devastation it can cause for those around you. Protecting someone you love from the natural consequences that addiction creates for them, often increases the duration and severity of the illness. You may be buffering the addict from the unpleasant consequences of their illness which may have otherwise lead them to seek help. If nothing else, your actions communicate to others in the family, especially the children that may be involved, that their safety and emotional well-being is second to the enabling of the addict. This will further alienate the children and more than likely they will feel no other choice than to assimilate and use along with the addict in time. They may not be able to verbalize it, but a part of the child may wonder why they were not valued enough to be protected from the chaotic lifestyle that addiction creates. This may haunt them into adulthood, causing mental health issues of anxiety and depression. There truly are serious and long lasting consequences from the addiction and the enabling. The illness is complex and so very difficult to navigate, so please, seek the help you need.

Most of us do not know how to effectively cope and deal with loving someone who is in the throes of addiction. It’s so very hard. It is a serious and persistent illness. If you or someone you love lives with a serious physical illness, you would stay on them to get the treatment they needed in order to heal. An addiction is a complex illness, involving both the physical and mental. Addicts needs aggressive and intense treatment early on to give them the best chance to recover! You may not be able to convince them to get help, but enabling them often buys them additional time to continue using. These individuals are often so sick they need others to confront the addiction that they hide and lie about that is literally killing them. They have lost connection to themselves and are unaware how badly things have become. Deep down the person knows that the damages are piling up and this causes increased using to numb themselves from the pain & guilt they feel has become unmanageable. The end of your enabling could help them stop so they can heal and recover. You will be helping them return to the self they lost in the cycle of addiction.

The children of addicts often become alienated, depressed, and will sometimes choose the path of addiction. It is a way to bond with the mother/father who has made it known all along that their addiction takes precedence over the relationships in their life. Children will decide to use to gain closer proximity to their addicted parent, longing for some type of bond. Using is a way to assuage the pain and assimilate with the culture of drug use in the home. If you are awake and listening, you will hear the concerns from the children in the home. Sadly, there is usually an enabler that communicates in actions and words that the addict is the most valued of the family unit and the concerns of the children will be silenced. Those enabling will swear up and down they do not display preferential treatment, but their actions and defenses to those who confront in any way the addiction, confirms to others that the addict is most protected and valued. The enabler, often a parent, needs to feel needed and must relieve himself/herself from the guilt associated with the reality that their child’s life is completely out of control. Too many enablers become enmeshed and are unable to separate themselves from the illness and what it has caused. Enabling actually takes an adult who could be effective in helping an addict and instead places them in a position where they are another obstacle to the addict’s sobriety and recovery. This is why it is so important if you are enabling an addiction to get the help you need to deal with the addiction in a healthier way. It’s okay to not know how to deal with the pain and fear of addiction, just please seek help from a trained therapist to help you navigate things more effectively. Losing one child to addiction is a tragedy. Enabling may lead to losing an entire family, the addict and those who confront the addiction.

Enabling can take many forms. It is not only giving money or financial assistance. Enabling can serve to protect the addict by not addressing their abusive and neglectful behaviors that are eroding the family unit. It can pave the way for the addict to neglect his/her children by being enabled to continue using in the home. When others confront the devastating behaviors of the addict, the enabler will often jump to the defense of the addict. If an addict lies or manipulates to financially exploit or even to isolate others who confront their addiction, the enabler will feel compelled to “jump in” and call you a liar and a manipulator. Enablers are skilled at shutting down the behaviors of those who confront the addict they are protecting, even in some cases the children of the addict. This leads to complete devastation in the family unit. Everyone is isolated, sick, and alone while the bond between addict and enabler is strengthened. Ironically, the person who should be isolated and confronted, the addict, becomes supported while all other members are devalued and isolated. The addict is happy knowing he/she has an ally in their enabler and the rest of the family is left completely eroded, annihilated. This is exactly what the addict has longed for: to continue using without being confronted.

When families are fractured by the addiction and the enabler remains defensive and in denial, the addict is in an even more dangerous place to use without interruption. The children of the addict feel hopeless as their voices have been drowned out and silenced. It’s acknowledged by the family unit that it is the addict who is valued, believed, and validated. Why bother, the child will say.

It seems like such a simple act, to help someone. But, enabling goes further by not only affirming the lifestyle choice in action, but defending the addict when others point out the damaging behaviors exhibited by the addict. The enabler will never admit to affirming addiction, but what they fail to acknowledge is that the addict is clouded by a chemical substance and the bond developed between the two is fabricated, not one of integrity. What an addict wants is to use and what an enabler allows is a way to continue using. I am not implying in any way that enabling causes the addiction. It’s a way to allow the addiction to continue with less consequences and it can create problems in familial relationships as the unhealthy bond between enabler and addict is strengthened, leaving others isolated and feeling hopeless.

Enablers are often in denial that the addict is voraciously lying and manipulating to cover up the devastation of their use in order to gain access to their drug. In active addiction, the true person is blunted and caught up in a cycle of using and withdrawing and will justify saying anything to gain access to the drug they seek. It is not personal and they will lie and manipulate to anyone able and willing to give them what is needed to access the drug. So, yes, the addict will lie and manipulate and an enabler will become defensive and point fingers back at those confronting the drug use. They will defend and shut down communication, using any type of tactic from shift-blaming to gaslighting to ensure the confronter knows it is pointless to even approach the subject with them again. Their goal is to protect their need to feel needed by the addict, to absolve themselves of guilt, and to strengthen the bond. The madness is that years will pass by and nothing will change and they will still sit, not only defending the addict, but silencing those who wish to confront. Addiction is a mean illness, no doubt. And it may seem by not enabling that you are denying a sick person help. Again, a trained counselor can give you ideas to help your loved one get the help they need.

Enabling is extremely damaging to the family unit and to the addict, as well. No one gets well and it becomes a hopeless situation, that often is left to it’s own demise.

I wrote this as a result of being involved with an addict and an enabler of whom I still love very much. The situation erupted, eroded, and deteriorated. I’m dealing with the aftermath and repairing the relationship with the individual who enabled. I’m uncertain if the addiction is still an active one and am taking the space and time to heal from the strain and stress that it all caused in my life. I am learning to develop stronger boundaries while working on accepting “what is” to avoid the devastating consequences of having unrealistic demands for both the addict and enabler.

If you are affected by addiction in your family or are currently enabling an addict, stay strong, and get the help you need. It is a true illness.  The addiction usually cannot be beat without significant help. Take care of yourself first.

I hold hope in my heart. I know my family has struggled as much as I have. And I feel that the person who was using and her children could benefit from counseling. But, it’s no longer my job or place. I have disengaged and am sharing from a place of love. Addiction is a very harsh illness. I hope the future brings so much hope for those struggling with addiction and their families!

In strength & love,

Amy

I Don’t Really Want to Die, But…

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I don’t really want to die, But…

I’ve been fighting a war with my family for too long now. A war to feel believed, seen, valued, and considered. A war to stop the enabling of addiction and dangerous behaviors that are harming the ones I love. A war to get people the help they need so that they can recover and have lives that are peaceful. A war to bring forgiveness and closeness to our family. A war that always ends with me raging into the battlefield, losing my dignity, and feeling like a failure. I don’t want to die, but I don’t want to live fighting this war any longer that I never win, not even one, single battle. And my family isn’t winning either. Those struggling do not have access to quality care or to economic opportunities to empower them. This life, is becoming too heavy.

I don’t really want to die, But…

I’ve been battling a war of mental illness for far to long, with too many barriers to treatment. I continue to fall through the cracks, even though I am educated and an advocate for myself. Treatment has been interrupted over and over again by insurance being dropped when I’ve lost jobs. I’ve been told for nearly a decade now that DBT Therapy is the most effective treatment for my condition, and yet, I have not been able to access it due to costs, waitlists, or loss of insurance coverage. I am currently on a waitlist for DBT and have applied for a grant to afford the cost of the program. I have been advised by my therapist to not work until I go through the treatment which is 6 months to a year. I am likely to fail at work again if I attempt working and then treatment will be disrupted. So I wait anxiously for an answer on the funding and for my turn to come up on the waitlist so I can finally get help.

As a mental health patient, I have experienced poor treatment where I waited 36 hours to be admitted only to be forced to leave treatment the next day when I was not ready to go. I have been treated poorly in the ER and have had symptoms ignored while practitioners made inappropriate comments about my mental health status. Due to not having stability at work, I have lost insurance coverage that has inevitably disrupted care and continuity with providers and as a result I haven’t gotten the treatment needed to truly succeed at work. It is a vicious cycle that has nearly destroyed my confidence and health.

I don’t really want to die, But… 

I’ve been waging a war for years against employment discrimination that has left me unemployed and devastated. After experiencing discrimination at several workplaces when I requested accommodations for my mental illness, I have decided to throw the towel in for now. It’s not only physically and mentally draining to work with a mental illness, but it is traumatizing when individuals treat you unjustly after having disclosed significant private information about a highly stigmatized illness. I have repeatedly, in good faith, handed over my personal health information that was requested to put accommodations in place and each time it backfired. I left each job feeling more and more vulnerable and without a recommendation for employment from my supervisor. My faith was completely shaken when one of my last employers, a state agency that provides services for individuals with disabilities, actually denied me access to employment, firing me after a medical leave at my very first accommodations meeting. I was devastated. Again, it is hard enough to work through panic attacks, severe depression and anxiety, mania, etc. without the additional stress of discriminatory practices.

My quality of work was never in question at any job I held, it was the symptoms of my illness that caused concern and employers were unwilling to accommodate me. As a result, my right to work has been denied. Treatment for my illness has been interrupted over and over again due to loss of medical coverage and having to move to avoid homelessness. This has caused numerous relapses of depression and anxiety. I have even developed PTSD from losing jobs, experiencing nightmares and severe panic attacks when starting a new position. It’s been a long and difficult struggle that most dismiss because they lack awareness and understanding of what it is like to live with a mental illness.

I don’t really want to die, But… 

I am fighting a war to meet my basics needs while government programs like SSDI and SSI  reinforce to me that I am insignificant and unworthy. In the midst of severe stress and anxiety where I am having to rely on others to help me with housing and my car payment, SSDI and SSI are hanging up on me, lying to me, and blaming me for mistakes hey have made in processing my appeal for my disability benefits. They lost my paperwork of 95 pages, joked about shredding it, and once it was resubmitted at their request, did not use it in deciding my case. And even though it was not my error, they have refused to redo it.

I have been researching reviews of these programs and their behavior is common. Apparently, these agencies likes to torment those who are already on the edge. Listen up America, we pay into a system that isn’t there for us when we one day may become disabled and need the help. The process is beyond grueling and torturous,  especially since I would much rather work if only I could!! I am living with my ex-spouse out of need, am having my parents help with my car payment, am visiting the food bank, receiving food stamps and a cash benefit of $197 monthly from an Aging, Blind, and Disabled program. I’ve been deemed eligible for Vocational Rehabilitation, but I have been waitlisted for these programs as well.  Guess what America?  You can be doing everything right: trying to get treatment, trying to get training, etc. and it simply isn’t accessible in our country!!

I don’t really want to die, But…

I in a constant monthly war with my hormones that wreak havoc on my physical, mental, and emotional well-being. I have been struggling for years with Pre-menstrual Dysphoric Disorder. I have literally sobbed in doctor offices and have explained over and over that each month for 3-4 days I am suicidal and feel like hell.  I often want to go to the ER because my whole body hurts and the anxiety is un-paralled.  No one seems to understand my sense of urgency or how bad I feel. It has destroyed jobs and relationships. And, is literally a hell of sorts every single month. I found out recently 15% of people who suffer with PMDD attempt suicide. I feel somewhat validated that I am not alone, but still no one is helping me and I am often dismissed and invalidated.

 I don’t really want to die, But…

I grieving the loss from a war I waged for nearly a decade with a Narc where dreams were dashed and faith destroyed. I was abused physically and emotionally and wish I would have had the self esteem to leave earlier. The relationship helped to carve out my self esteem, setting the stage for self love. I grieve the loss of time, loss of family I could have formed, and potentially the opportunity to have children. While others post pictures of their beautiful children on FB and social media, I’m reminded continually of a few bad choices I made which not only robbed me of potentially a family, but also nearly destroyed my trust in men and in myself. I am fearful to start over again and I’m getting older. I am not completely hopeless, but it is a hurdle to overcome.

And so, I really don’t want to die. I was serious about that. I want to live. And, I actually want to GIVE even though I have little at the moment. I still have dreams to make this world a better place despite the struggles listed above. I want to help others realize their dreams. I’m writing to bring awareness of the system failures that we have in this country from incompetence to discriminatory practices that are “breaking people”. We simply must help and love one another. We must do this for each other, You and I. Post this message if you like and share it. I earnestly want to hear other people’s stories of struggle as I know many are struggling in a system that is preventing people from recovering. The systems need to change and people need to turn towards one another, not away. I don’t have all the answers, I do have ideas…. and I have love. Love is what is needed to turn things around.  Spread it… every single day. 

“We shall overcome”

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