I would like to say that learning to love myself was an easy feat for me. It hasn’t been.
The idea of loving oneself sounds easy, but it’s so much more than a thought or feeling. To love oneself, is to embody love and to act accordingly.
The last decade or so has been an onslaught of heartache, disillusionment, and loss. Those I expected love from often fell short of reciprocating it in the way I needed. I gave an immense amount of time, energy, and attention to these individuals and consequently they occupied much of the “space” in my life.
I guess I thought if they loved me and showed their love through action and words, it would be proof that I was lovable and worthy of receiving love. Perhaps, there was a time when I even felt that in order for me to love myself, I must be loved by others. This belief has been shattered, along with many of the dreams that I had for my life. But, that’s ok because this needed to occur for growth and maturity, despite how painful it was at the time.
The absence of love was actually an opportunity, an unexpected open door. In the first few years of this time of growth, grief, and pain; I grew despondent, depressed, and even angry. I expected more from my family, my lover, and even some of my friends. I expected my workplace to be fair and for the world to be softer, gentler, and kind. I was naive and young and my innocence was beginning to fade. I was learning that life was hard and I often felt very alone.
I’ve written pages processing certain losses in my life. Many times, I became stuck on these losses and refused to go near the open door that seemed so warm and inviting, bursting with life. Instead, I stayed, staring at the wreckage. Time stood still. I grew sad, embittered, and fretful. I remained paralyzed in this place of constant fear, worry, and doubt for years. I was anxious, exhausted, and even bewildered, at times. People disappointed me. Most in my life that I knew intimately, had even been dishonest to me in one way or another, perhaps to protect themselves, or even, they felt, to protect me.
The last 4-5 years I set my intention of healing. I had been so sick from the lack of connection in my life, that I was in chronic pain and my anxiety level was through the roof. I had continual stomach issues and my neck and jaw often hurt due to the tension. I was holding a lot of pain inside. Perhaps, I felt I was protecting myself from “breaking”. There were times I felt that if I allowed myself to “feel” the pain, it would certainly overcome me, perhaps I wouldn’t survive it. I was terrified of sitting still and so I was moving constantly, becoming increasingly exhausted and alienated.
I eventually lost employment. Time marched on and out of a desire to feel physically better, I began to do certain things to connect to myself: meditation, singing, being in nature, etc. It was becoming increasingly evident that the greatest loss I had endured was the loss of myself. The years of struggle when I wasn’t loving myself, had left me feeling desperate and often in physical distress. I knew I had to change, but was clueless as to how.
I do feel now that I am resurfacing. Yet, I know that in order for healing to continue to occur, I have to continue to love myself by taking the actions that reinforce and strengthen the growing relationship with myself.
I feel that the things I have craved from others are actually reflections, often times exaggerated even, of what is missing within myself. I get angry and upset at others who are also “sick” and unable to connect and experience intimacy. Some of these people are family members, now permanently disabled from chronic and severe substance abuse. Stepping back, I realize that placing my energy and time in the emotional investment of people where a return is impossible (especially at the moment) is my own way of denying myself the intimacy I deserve. Oh snap! I thought to myself. Could I be engaging in the same actions they are, just in a different way? It is hard to let go of the “dream” of having a family that I can connect to, and yet, at the same time this world is full of people. Aren’t I worthy of finding my “tribe”?
It’s time to salvage what I can with those who at least try with me and invest in those who are in my life. I’ve decided to focus on the goals listed below moving forward. It’s funny that I’ve said some of these before, but I guess it takes time for things to sink in and be truly motivated to change. I am reminded again that I have asked others to change their behavior, but haven’t been consistent in changing mine. I know I’ve been impatient at times and in my grief regarding losing my family, even raged, becoming ugly. This isn’t who I truly am. Perhaps, I can extend compassion and forgiveness to others as I am learning to do so for myself. Old habits are easy and comfortable, and change takes time. I do feel it is coming and am encouraged despite relapsing into old “ways”. I believe in the old adage: “If at first you don’t succeed, try again”. I need to keep trying.
Here are some of my goals:
Meditate at least once daily.
Connect to my higher power, asking for help to “let go” of what I cannot control.
Be mindful, practice mindfulness when taking my dog for walks and while eating a meal.
Reframe the past, including many of the good memories.
When upset, self soothe, use grounding techniques.
Be intentional with how I spend my time and energy.
Ask these questions when a difficult situations arise: Is it mine to handle? Can I realistically do anything to solve this problem? If not, disengage quickly and get involved in an endeavor that is either self soothing or one that redirects my mind.
When negative thoughts surface, challenge them. Don’t believe every thought that comes into my head!
Use my acupuncture mat daily.
So, these are the things I hope to focus on in the coming weeks. Love more, forgive more, and be “lighter”.
On an even more personal note, our family experienced the death of a dear loved one, my sister-n-law, Lisa. She was truly a kind, caring, empathetic, and generous soul. She was a main support to me and was always there to lend an ear during troubled times or give sound advice. I can hear her telling me to “let go”, life is short, and to love from a distance. She knew of my struggles and was always supportive. I will miss her greatly and it is my desire to honor her life by becoming a better person. She will be greatly missed.
Life is often about perspective. I’d like to change mine, one day at a time. Love and light to everyone. Thanks for reading!
This past year has been truly difficult for me. Election years in America seem nearly intolerable anymore, with hate and division sewn on both sides that have often left me feeling hopeless and “small”. Many times I feel as though people are talking over one another, belittling others, and even engaging in bullying behavior. Admittedly, I have, at times, engaged in these fruitless pursuits. But, many more times than not, I end up deleting my post or comments entirely, especially if it gains traction. It just doesn’t seem to be worth the energy to argue as I often wind up feeling defeated and even downright depressed.
This last year has been particularly hard for me. The rhetoric, tension, and dysfunction displayed on social media, parallels the narcissistic abuse I have been disengaging from in my own life. As many others, my leisure options have been somewhat limited due to the restrictions placed on our city to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Boredom sets in and I become restless, seeking stimulation on-line. The division and animosity felt on both sides leads me to retreating again and again, with a greater commitment each time to not “engage” anymore. But, I would be amiss to not share some of the observations I’ve made and what I’ve learned by disengaging.
Ultimately, and even oddly, this year has mirrored so much of what is occurring in my own personal life. I was diagnosed a few years ago with PTSD and this year has triggered my trauma while at the same time, providing the space and time to address it. The year 2020 has seemingly pushed me to my breaking point and forced me to deal with some of the harder emotions I had tried in the past to “stuff” and ignore. It’s been more challenging to distract myself when I’ve spent more time alone than ever before. As challenging as it has been for me to maintain stability in my mental health, I feel I’ve grown immensely during this time and have actually relied even more so on different and new ways to cope.
Here are some of the ways the political division and the coronavirus pandemic have impacted my mental health and the ways in which I am coping.
Becoming more aware of how stress is impacting my physical and emotional health. This year has allowed me to practice the skill of being more mindful and present. As a result of many businesses being shuttered, and having “less on my plate”, I have been able to slow down a bit and take notice of how stress is impacting my body. Being on social media with others during a time of less distraction, has allowed me to understand how unresolved conflict and the outward expression of it, causes an exacerbation of my symptoms of depression and anxiety. I began making the connection between the unhealthy relationships in my life and the impact they were having on my health. This has taught me to disengage more, not just on-line, but also with those in my life who are unhealthy for me.
Acknowledging when to disengage and practice self care. This last year has been difficult to witness. I can remember watching the first presidential debate and cringing. I couldn’t bring myself to actually “look” at the TV. The constant interruptions and “talking over one another” put me on edge and I found myself staring at the floor, almost feeling like I was the one being berated and criticized. I had to turn off the TV after a few minutes, because it was actually unsettling, and even triggering, to me in the end. Watching the debates kinda reminded me of the calm before the storm in my own life. The times I allowed too much from others, then later found myself swept up in emotion, raging. The constant on-line bickering also felt like a personal assault to me. I realized how toxic the on-line environment was and became more aware of certain negative patterns in my own life. This lead me to the process of disengaging and spending more time practicing self-care. This has allowed me to more quickly recognize my triggers and disengage earlier.
Acknowledging when relationships are truly hopeless, letting go, and redirecting my time and energy to worthwhile pursuits. The political divide, I feel, has mirrored, in ways, my own personal struggled with those in my life who often are not interested in compromise, yet still hold some level of power or influence in the lives of those I love. As a person who lives on disability insurance, I do not hold a lot of power in society, and voices like mine can often easily be muted or “drowned out”. The limited scope of power, both in my personal life and politically, has taught me to set stronger boundaries in order to protect and preserve my energy so that I can make a difference where I realistically can. Setting boundaries with myself and others and engaging in self-care, and not feeling guilty for doing so, has been a lesson I have learned during this time. Certain relationships are hopeless. Much like the futile attempts on-line to change someone’s political opinion, I have learned to just “let go” instead.
Election years are tough anymore. And this past one, coupled with a global pandemic, provided the space, time, and conflict to usher in a few “life lessons”. Even though it has been tough, I am grateful for what I have learned. I spent more time getting to know myself and was able to grow emotionally and spiritually during a time of turmoil. Life can be difficult and even painful, at times. With 2020 behind me, I feel like I have a few more tools in my toolbox as far as knowing how to disengage, set better boundaries for myself, and invest in endeavors that provide personal growth and contentment.
What lessons did 2020 teach you? Did you find yourself able to make some changes in your life that helped you, big or small? I definitely feel the the past year was a turning point. I’ve turned more towards myself and this has helped me to manage and cope with the symptoms of my PTSD. Here’s to hoping this year brings even more light and and self-love to everyone’s journey of healing!
Sometimes saying, “I am sorry” isn’t “good enough”. Especially, when those words have beed dropped so effortlessly from your tongue, with no context, nor an explanation as to why, and with no observable change in behavior that follows.
I grow weary of hearing, “I’m sorry”. I grow nauseated of being reminded how many times it’s been uttered from you.
There comes a time in life when you realize the one holding the key to the heavy shackles weighing you down is yourself. It then becomes, a conscious decision to unlock the shackles binding you and fling them to the ground, thus freeing yourself from the chains that have kept you in bondage for so long. For years, we may have not even known we possessed the key. And even after the discovery, it can be years after that until we are willing to let go of the comfort of the old patterns and beliefs that have captivated us for so long.
Once the shackles fall, with a loud thud on the ground below, there is more work to do. If we are not careful, we will get swept up in the layers of sadness, even despair, that is stagnating in the dense air surrounding us. We’ll find ourselves choking on it, biting back the tears, wishing we could of somehow managed to save and savor what we sacrificed years trying to obtain. No amount of effort would have saved what we lost. Often times, we discover it was never truly “ours” in the first place. Perhaps, what we so desperately desired was to commune with ourselves and to preserve the dignity that we lost when we weren’t yet ready “to let go”. The depth of what we sensed was missing in our lives is nearly equal to the space we need to fill completely with ourselves. This is where and how we turn the page.
And, at times, it feels like the heaviest and hardest page to turn. We agonize over the next chapter, with trepidation and uncertainty, fearing that what we accepted in the past must surely be so much larger and better than what could ever discover for ourselves in the future. Even when the times in our past were lonely or painful, it can be still difficult to “let go”. Looking back, there were surely times that were spent stuck, in limbo, grieving what was lost in the past and worrying about what may or may not transpire in the future.
Even so, in this space of “limbo”, we are learning. And we are, at times, becoming swept up again by the inaction of others, allowing their “story” to take precedent in our lives while we take a “back seat”. Maybe the larger fear is the responsibility gained when success is achieved. For some, maybe that prevents them from going forward. Have we become so used to “falling short” that the mere idea of success becomes paralyzing? Even so, there is something pushing us forward. Change happens. It is the one constant we can acknowledge. Nothing remains the same in the end. I’d like to embrace change fully as it’s overtly apparent to me at the moment that everything has drastically shifted. Not just in my personal life, but also on a global scale. And I would even say, on a spiritual level.
As of late, I have been “showing up” in my life, sometimes even fighting mad. I’m no longer willing to accept an apology that is not followed by action. I definitely will not entertain one when I have to continue to “ask for it”. My boundaries are becoming stronger and my tolerance for abuse in any form: gaslighting, shift-blaming, dishonestly, manipulation, discarding, etc. has reached its limit. ENOUGH. Even with members of my family, I have now “cut ties” and have “walked away”. This has been difficult. But, again, I had for years sacrificed so much of my time, energy, and space for people who gave little to nothing to me. To people who were complacent and remained silent, or even, at times, defended or protected those who were harming me and others who I love.
And so, I will “let go”. And I intend to keep walking. I remind myself, in leaving, that I have already proven in a past romantic relationship, when I felt I wasn’t strong enough to leave, that I am capable of doing so. That relationship has been over for 4 years. In fact, once the coronavirus is defeated, I feel ready to date again. I took the time to heal and am excited about the future.
It has taken me a few years “to turn the page” and believe my story as well as reclaim my dignity. I’ve stopped engaging in the fabricated world they create to justify their mistreatment of me. I actually sincerely feel pity and sorrow for those so lost and separated from themselves that they continually hurt others by denying intimacy and truth in their lives. The time I spent trying with them was fruitless in that the relationship was never repaired, but I did grow immensely from the experience.
Loving thyself is actually is being honest and real with oneself. There is no denial of one’s imperfections or mistakes. Self-loathing during difficult times when rejected or mistreated, is now being replaced with practicing self compassion and forgiveness. It is trying harder to set firm boundaries and acknowledging that this is “hard stuff” to learn so “late in life”. It is being kind and gentle with myself.
And so, the page turns. Not always with ease. Sometimes, with hot and salty tears, grieving what I feel should have been “mine”.
We all deserve love, protection, honesty, intimacy, human touch, compassion, laughter, joy, light-heartedness, to feel safe, etc. Sometimes, it becomes necessary to cultivate these things for yourself. Once that is accomplished, there is a deep sense of mastery in life whereby relapses, triggered by rejection or other incidents outside of our control, become easier to manage and the duration shorter. Life will still have its difficult days, but you’ll be less likely to be moved from “the center” that you cultivated over time that is “yours”.
I’m still active in this journey towards wholeness and healing. I still have both good and bad days. I feel I bounce back more quickly and am more “separate”, allowing for distance and space between myself and those who have harmed me. That space provides peace, and even, joy, at times.
I hope this New Year finds you focused on your well-being, safety, and healing. Much joy and light along your path. We are all just trying to find our way. We all hold a deep reservoir of love, peace, joy, and light within us. May all of these things grow within you this year. That is my hope for myself and you! Thanks for reading!
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.
As you may have already surmised, or have heard people say: “We are living amid the perfect storm”.
We have reached the boiling point in history where science and technology has gifted humanity with a tool that has the ability to capture and expose injustice in concrete and compelling ways. And now more than ever before, we have the capacity to quickly share and disseminate this information around the globe. It took less than a week for the brutal murder of George Floyd to be shared and seen by much of the global community. And rightfully so, the graphic scenes of his death traumatized many of us. It has awakened our collective conscious and moved us into the streets, demanding reform and justice, chanting his last, desperate words: “I can’t breathe”.
Ironically, we took to the streets in the midst of a global pandemic, where a deadly respiratory virus has already stolen the breathe from thousands, killing black and brown people in disproportionate numbers.
The storm has been rolling in for some time now, with each layer of loss and oppression, adding to the heaviness of the air.
“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe”.
As people crowd the streets in protest to police brutality, people are crowding emergency rooms across the globe, gasping in fear and desperation uttering the words: “I can’t breathe”. “I can’t breathe”. Medics and nurses are risking their lives to provide care for those struggling by using aggressive means to open up the airways, even resorting to intubation as a desperate measure to preserve life. It is in these dark times where we have suddenly realized our vulnerability and mortality. The murder of George Floyd amidst the backdrop of a global pandemic seems exceptionally cruel and brutal, piercing the heart that beats within us, causing us to wince in pain and catch our breathe. And he is only one of many in the black community that have been victims of police brutality.
As Covid-19 spreads through black and brown communities causing death and despair, the systemic oppression of minority communities in America has been further exposed. Not to mention that many minorities hold jobs labeled as “essential”, placing them at greater risks of contracting the virus. The economic burden felt from the “safer at home” orders has impacted all of us, but those already struggling with poverty and limited opportunities were hit the hardest.
America was just picking itself off the ground after having had the wind knocked out of us by the Coronavirus, when the death of George Floyd made its way into our collective conscious. Our nation was traumatized by the images of a cop kneeling on the neck of a black man in broad daylight, watching helplessly, as the life drained out of him, as he pleaded for his life. The recent deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery have compounded the pain of a nation already grieving the loss of many to the deadly virus, Covid-19.
And it is an election year. The stakes have never been so high. Rhetoric on both sides is frenzied and forceful, each side taking the position that losing the election will lead to the loss of our freedom, core values, and perhaps even, the very identity of our country. The swords have been drawn and there is immense tension and angst among each other as we prepare for “battle”. There is a real and present danger that the election may be compromised whereby the results are contested. The debate over mail-in ballots and their legitimacy is setting the stage for civil unrest. And certain states, like Georgia, have already experienced problematic voting procedures that are creating long lines and suppressing the vote. There is an unsettling uncertainty building where people feel they may have to risk their life and health in order to cast their vote during a time when both coronavirus and the flu are escalating.
The atmospheric pressure is heavy. The emotion seen and felt in the eyes of those wearing make shift masks and bandanas who are protesting in the streets, is palpable. We are weary, and yet many are resolved to “fight”. This moment, albeit fraught with tension and instability, is pregnant with hope and possibility. Perhaps, we are truly witnessing the dawn of a new age. History will remind us that freedom has always come not only with a cost, but with a deep sense of responsibility and commitment. America is faced with the opportunity to reawaken with the resolve to commit itself again to the lofty ideals of equality, justice, freedom, and opportunity for ALL.
I’ve heard from many who feel abandoned and “left out” during this pivotal time. Some insisting the “All Lives Matter” . Many who are unwilling to yield a space in their heart for the reconciliation and restoration for a community of people who have been oppressed by a system that enslaved them years ago. Some have become defensive, doubling down, and declaring that they were never part of the system that harmed black people. That they are “too young” and that “happened so very long ago”. Many more take their logic a few steps further, citing their own disadvantages and struggles. Some are completely unaware of the privilege that their white skin affords. They are so sheltered from the daily reality of those suffering that they invalidate their struggle through gaslighting them, adding yet another insidious layer to the abuses they’ve already endured.
There are people who are incapable of looking past their own experiences in an objective way, examining how their own upbringing and place in society shaped their perceptions and daily reality. Perhaps they examine their life in as so far as acknowledging how their own life was molded by the choices and investment or “lack there of” that their parents executed in their life growing up. Taking it a step further, some may recognize the many other variables that have shaped their identity and values. These often include the interplay between family and society through organized endeavors such as church, school, and recreation. As a white kid, growing up in rural America, I initially saw the cops as the “good guys” and “heroes”. As children, our views are often relatively simplistic. If we are lucky, we are born into a family that invests in our development and is even excited about our potential in the world. One of the questions adults always ask children is: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. We begin instilling an individual’s confidence early on, not only through supporting and fostering their dreams, but also through our own actions and by example. Kids listen, but they learn by absorbing what we do and how we carry ourselves. These seeds planted or sewn early on make up for so much of how we perceive and “judge” the world. The layers upon layers of our perceived reality are reinforced by our own actions and often justify the lens we see the world through. But, it truly is only one lens and one world. One that was constructed by the daily reception of “noise” and clamor that was filtered through our senses and interpreted through a filter of established values and beliefs. Our reality is not collective, it is specific and it is actually extremely limited. We know very little in the end.
I am quick to acknowledge my white privilege and my inadequate knowledge of the various issues that black people face in our country and in the world. In my own struggle with a mental illness and relative poverty, I “tapped out” for over a decade, self-isolating and stagnating. Suffering early on in childhood as a result of being molested by my neighbor at age 4, my sense of safety was diminished. The fact that the world was a dangerous place was further reinforced by later living with a step-father who was abusive and intimidating. Much of my childhood was spent trying to navigate a world where I felt threatened and unsafe. I was often preoccupied with thoughts of impending doom and death and some of my development was arrested as a result.
Not that I am comparing my reality to what black people have endured living in this country. But, I do know how it feels to spend time and energy trying to keep myself “safe”. It takes a lot of energy and time and it can consume and cloud your thought processes. For these reasons, I initially fell behind in school. I was often restless and had difficulty concentrating. Reading, for me, was a real chore. I had boundless and anxious energy and was often “poked fun” of by teachers and even set apart and punished in the classroom openly for having these issues. I always felt different from the others in my class.
I recall a time when I was six where a child got injured on the playground and was bleeding. It terrified me. While all the other kids followed the teacher who had scooped up the child, curious of the injury, I instead ran to the nearby bushes, knelt, and prayed to the dear Lord above to “save him”. I was even so shaken by this, that the next day I stayed home from school, saying I was “sick” with a tummy ache. I would pray every time I heard an ambulance as it paralyzed me with fear and dread. I never felt “safe” or “secure” and I know how this impacted my reality growing up. I have spent time and energy doing my best to heal from a reality that has overshadowed my entire existence. Had I felt safe earlier on, what would have been my true potential? I’ll never know. We only get one life, one reality, and one shot. So many factors, like not feeling safe, can hijack your true potential.
This is why I feel it is so very important to have the conversation our nation and world is having today regarding policing. Based on clear and compelling evidence in both research and anecdotal claims, now supported by a multitude of on-line videos, it is fairly safe to conclude that many people, particularly in black and brown communities do not feel safe. And safety is a basic need, at the bottom of “Maslow’s Hierarchy” pyramid right above the physiological needs of: “air, water, food, shelter, clothing, reproduction”. Maslow defined safety needs in his pyramid as: “personal security, employment, resources, health, and property”. Given the reality that blacks were enslaved and treated in inhumane ways for centuries, one can easily surmise the amount of time needed to address the lack of certain “basic needs”. And even when freedom was granted, there were years of systemic racism prevalent in laws and our culture that made access to their “basic needs” difficult, if not, even impossible for some. I am, embarrassed, to admit that I lack a lot of foundational knowledge of their struggles and am still learning as the history that I was taught in the 80’s as a kid, “glossed” over their struggle… another way to “gaslight” and distort the truth.
This brings me to the point where many white people or members of other minority groups who have struggled in America, ask the question: “Well, What about Me?”. Don’t “ALL lives matter?” I have seen examples of this many times over the past month. Many have suffered in America due to the system falling short to address issues of: income inequality, poverty, lack of access to healthcare, an addiction epidemic, mental health disparities, etc. The list virtually goes on and on. Your struggle is not invalidated or diminished by the movement that, at first glance (for some), seems to have just erupted recently, spilling into the streets, gaining world-wide attention and momentum. The fight against systemic racism has been a long, tumultuous road where many have committed their life and legacy to ending the hate embedded in the structures of American Society. The Black Lives Matter movement represents seven long years of work and protests to bring the issues of racism and police brutality to America’s collective conscious. This took time, dedication, and perseverance.
“In the summer of 2013, after George Zimmerman’s acquittal for the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, the movement began with the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter. The movement was co-founded by three black community organizers: Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi”.
The Black Lives Matter Movement should not be seen as a “threat” or a lack of “inclusivity”. The injustices and oppression that systemic racism has caused has traumatized a community of individuals for centuries who have suffered long enough. Those of us struggling due to certain failings of the system should be humbled and inspired by the persistence, tenacity, and grit of those still fighting for equality. This movement has been not only humbling for me, but incredibly empowering and awe-inspiring. Let it sink in that despite centuries of slavery and decades of discrimination that has impacted their ability to feel “safe” and valued in society, that these people never gave up. And not only that, what is even more humbling is that the vast majority are reaching out in love and peace, asking for what they have been denied of for so long. I keep hear them saying: “We are tired. We have had ENOUGH, When will it change?”. I hear their pleas for reform and the desperation in their voices and my eyes begin to well up. It touches a place deep inside of me and my pain too, is also released. I could say, “What about me? What about my struggles?”. But, the larger question is what about “WE?”. It will take more of that mentality to honor their struggle and to reconcile the deep injustices that has, for years, harmed these people. In order to end racism WE have to join in the fight and stand with them in solidarity for a brighter future. Doing so, only empowers and inspires us to continue working to eliminate injustice of all forms. This community has struggled ENOUGH. Their cries have resonated within me and have humbled me, inspiring me to re-examine my approach and perception towards my own struggle. I’ve taken a “back seat”. I’m listening and I am learning. And I am eternally grateful for the immense hope and power that is present in this unprecedented time.
It is time to drop the “ME” and adopt the “WE” mentality. Because together WE struggle, together WE heal, and together WE change the world.
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. ❤️ 🦋❤️
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!
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!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
It’s my birthday. I haven’t been writing a lot lately because I have been going through a difficult time. Soon after making the move to California, I developed an interesting phobia, phagophobia, which is the fear of swallowing. I am still in the process of going through certain tests to “rule out” any physical reasons for my difficulty swallowing and I’ve been waiting weeks for my last test to be approved by my insurance company and then scheduled.
Meanwhile, I have lost a lot of weight as I struggle each day to meet my basic caloric needs in order to maintain. I’ve lost 47 pounds in roughly two and a half months to be exact. This sucks. It sucks because if someone had told me prior to this that I would develop a fear around eating, I would have laughed in their face, more than likely saying “I wish”. I have always struggled with being overweight and I love food. But, here I sit today on my birthday doing my best to force pancakes down as well as another ensure supplement as to not lose any more weight.
The reason I wanted to write about this today, on my birthday, is to honor not only my struggle with my mental health, but also to honor anyone else out there who is struggling as well. The reality is many of us suffer alone as others either are uncertain how to support us or they lack the understanding and sometimes the sensitivity to be helpful. In fact, many people, by being impatient and demanding, cause more damage and end up impeding the healing process.
I am 47 today. I look back at the years I’ve been on this earth and I acknowledge that I have always struggled. I was diagnosed ADHD in 1978 during a time when the diagnosis was uncommon. Following that diagnosis in my teen years were the diagnoses: OCD, Bipolar 1, GAD, Panic Disorder, Schizoaffective (at one point), BPD (at another point), PMDD, and replacing BPD later was the diagnosis C-PTSD (this occurred in the past 5 years or so). I would say out of the above, my greatest struggle is with fear and anxiety as it is pervasive. My OCD is primarily somatic and I go through periods where I ruminate about one thing for awhile, for instance my breathing or heartbeat, etc. and will eventually “wear it out” until some other fear takes it place. Most of my fears have some grounding in reality and that is why they seem so powerful, but the amount of attention and focus given to the fear is what makes it irrational. I will often have ways of managing those fears by compulsions that I feel make me safer on some level. Those close to me are often confused by my thoughts and behavior, and admittedly, I am as well. I personally cannot “think” my way out of the web I have trapped myself so tightly within and it is beyond frustrating. Oh my GOD! How I have tried! From praying to meditation… to exercise to therapy… I am 47 years old today and still suffering. Ugh! I often wonder if I will ever be completely free. I will not give up trying.
When I think of my current suffering, where I have lost nearly fifty pounds, I remind myself again to respect my illness. Often, people dismiss mental illness by saying, “it’s all in your head”.The medical field downplays mental health by nearly expressing relief when it is nothing “physical”. But, I know better. Sometimes, I actually long for a physical diagnosis. Not anything serious, of course not, but something I can manage with a pill or have corrected by a surgery. I know how dangerous my own mind can be and am often more afraid of it than some structural entity that can be fixed with a surgery or an illness that is relatively easy to manage. I expect my last test for the swallowing to be within normal range and although that brings a certain amount of relief, it also brings a certain amount of dread, as I know that it will be me fighting alone to feel comfortable eating again. I hope this one “wears out’ more quickly than the others. I really do not have too much more weight that I can lose.
And so for my birthday, I wanted to honor your struggle. If it is physical in nature, I honor it as well. For some of us, we are fighting a silent war. We might not be able to fully grasp why we are stuck right now. We might be paralyzed in fear or anger, unable to move forward and those around us are becoming impatient. It appears easy to those on the outside to just “get over it already”, but for whatever reason we simply can’t. Sometimes we are able to give ourselves the same rational reasons that others provide, and yet, we are still unable to move. It’s okay. Cry it out. Yet, accept the struggle. Make peace with it.
I have been struggling for nearly three months with the ability to comfortably swallow. I haven’t had my favorite foods and there have been times I have been really hungry. So much so, I hurt. I have literally sat alone in my room crying while I stare at a plate full of uneaten food. Still, I was unable to push through and make myself it. I would use all the reasons loved ones had given me and many more that they did not come up with and still, my fear was greater. And so I am choosing, on my birthday, to honor the struggle. To make friends with it. To talk to it. To see what it has to say.
Mostly, it tells me that I am sad. That I wish I were closer to my family. That I wish I were more successful and able to work. That I wish my past relationship had worked out as I had dreamed and that we were happily married. Or that I had children and a family of my own. It tells me that my fear and inability to swallow is just a metaphor of my grief that is screaming: “No More! I cannot ‘swallow’ anymore!”
And, perhaps it is telling me to change. Often, we become paralyzed, I believe, so that we can change course. I’ve not been laughing enough, nor have I been connecting with the people that I love or participating in the leisure I most enjoy enough. Fear and paralysis has taken hold during the grieving process and perhaps this final “wake-up call” is telling me that it is time to not only perceive differently, but to act differently. I admit, I was “stuck” and have been “stuck” trying to swallow the “bitter pill” that life had offered me. In ways, my grief more than likely caused a psychogenic dysphagia: a fear of swallowing.
I will continue to go forward, swallowing as much as I can, and pacing myself as I continually learn to better cope. For my birthday weekend, I will be camping at a nice beach here on the California Coast. I plan to try a little harder to listen to the rhythm of the ocean, reminding me that as each wave rises, crests, and falls it breaks and collapses back into the ocean, surrendering and releasing….. letting go. In this way, I won’t get so hung up on a single wave or “thought” and give it so much power. I look forward to the sun and sand as well as playing in the waves for awhile. Although, I probably won’t partake in any BBQs, I will do my best to relax and honor where I am at right now at this point in my lifetime. I am 47. For all the fear that I have lived in, I have made it this far and it is something to celebrate. I want to relax and just be happy that I am here, in the moment for now, taking in the sights, smells, and sounds of the ocean.