emotional abuse

This post is incredibly hard to write because I am sharing something private and very painful. This story of emotional abuse is not one from which fairy tales are born.

a cautionary tale about surviving emotional abuse

I wish I could say that I had a happy childhood, but that would be the furthest thing from the truth. I grew up with a mentally unstable mom who was narcissistic and had Borderline Personality Disorder.

At a very young age my role was to listen to my mother’s marital problems, as she and my dad were always arguing (sometimes physically, but most of the time it was screaming at one another). I developed a very codependent relationship with her. It was my job to listen to her problems, support her emotionally, and take care of her. I did not set any boundaries with her, as I felt my well-being and safety were completely contingent on my mother’s well-being. When she was upset or wanted nothing to do with me, I felt worthless.

I wanted nothing more than my mother’s approval, and as a result I would parrot a lot of what my mother said to me and try to emulate her. My father was very resentful of this, and growing up he was angry at me most of the time. As a result, I grew up feeling that my father didn’t like me or care about me.

my punishments were psychologically damaging

psychologically damaging

At the age of 8, my mother started throwing me out of the house when she felt I misbehaved. The first time this happened it was dark outside, and I walked a block to a nearby park and sat on a bench. I felt helpless, unloved, and discarded. My father came out at some point and told me I could go back inside. The memory of sitting on that bench for the first time will forever be etched in my mind.

This became my mother’s go to way of punishing me. The amount of time I wasn’t allowed inside varied from minutes to many hours. I felt unsafe and incredibly degraded each time I had to leave and then beg to come back inside. It made me view the world as a very scary place. I had nobody to protect me, and I felt very lost and alone. I could not understand why the person who was supposed to look out for me was the one who was hurting me.

My father was complicit and would follow my mom’s instructions. I always voiced that what was being done to me was wrong, but my mom would tell me that I brought it on myself by not listening to her.

codependency and the cycle of abuse

stop the cycle of abuse

My mother was abused as a child, and in turn, my mother abused me. I vowed that the abuse would stop with me. In order to end the cycle of abuse, I had to face all of the horrors I endured so I would know what to never do to my child. I vowed to give my child the love and support I never got, and make sure she knew she was loved unconditionally. I go into more details about this in my post about parenting.

My parents divorced when I was 24, but as an adult, I still had the belief system that it was my job to make my mother happy. I tried to do everything possible to get her love and approval. As a result, I completely enabled her behavior and set no boundaries. This pattern of codependent behavior was so dysfunctional that I spent two hours of my honeymoon trying to calm my mother down due to her recent breakup. Her feelings were always prioritized over mine, and I felt it was my job to make sure she was okay. We were the definition of codependency.

Shortly after my parents divorced, I met my husband, Matt, on Jdate. He was the first person who I felt loved me unconditionally. With him I finally felt home. We got engaged a year after we met and married the year after that.

my husband’s addiction

A few years into our marriage we decided to start a family. I got pregnant, and my husband became terrified that I would miscarry. He started drinking heavily, and once I found out about it, he moved onto pills. Due to my husband’s battles with substance abuse, I spent the first 4 years of my daughter’s life raising her by myself.

We moved to Atlanta to get a fresh start, but soon after I realized he was abusing drugs again. I reached out to a therapist that specialized in addiction. I didn’t want my child growing up in that kind of environment.

My husband and I went to the therapist together, and for the first time someone besides me told him that he was an addict and needed to get help. It was the wake up call he needed, and he bravely made the decision to seek treatment. My husband checked himself into an outpatient rehab center. He received individual and family counseling and learned heathy coping strategies. He has been clean and sober for the last four years. You can read more about my story of loving an addict here.

going no contact with my mother and ending the cycle of emotional abuse

I have a wonderful daughter who I love more than life itself. I have been a Stay-at-Home-Mom since my daughter was born. In school I advocated for my daughter to get a full assessment (and subsequently, an IEP) due to numerous symptoms including inattentive behavior, difficulty processing instructions, and poor short term memory. Brielle was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). I decided to homeschool her to give her the support that she needs. My daughter has made huge strides, and I’m so proud to be her mother.

I went no contact with my mother two years ago. I did not want to subject my daughter to the same pain, confusion, and heartbreak that I went through. Brielle needs to know that love isn’t something that ebbs and flows based on a person’s whim. It is something that is everlasting, and a mother’s love should be unconditional.

My entire childhood was spent feeling my identity was taking care of my mother. I managed to break free from that, but somewhere along the way I forgot who I was besides being a wife and mother. I wanted to have something that I did which was separate from those two roles and just for me.

the internal scars of emotional abuse

not all scars are physical

Very few people knew about my abuse, and it was typically glossed over because people felt uncomfortable about it. I decided that I wanted to reach out to foundations for abuse survivors and use my love of writing to try and help others. What started out as writing about abuse for monthly newsletters soon turned into my blog.

I always felt that what my mom did to me was wrong. It took adulthood to grasp that what she was doing was abusive. Emotional/psychological abuse is often taboo and harder to recognize by others because the scars are internal. There needs to be more light shined on emotional/psychological abuse so that there is never a doubt that abuse comes in many forms. The lack of openness and education about this made it easier to see my mother as a wacko rather than to see her as abusive. There isn’t enough widespread knowledge about the numerous ways abuse can rear its ugly head.

For most of my life, I felt intense shame about what happened to me. I felt scared and anxious all the time. I went to numerous therapists to figure out how to get “fixed.” I tried medication, hypnosis, brainspotting, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Somatic Experiencing.

Different therapists told me that I needed to accept myself to heal and grow. This made no sense to me, and I felt frustrated and confused. How could I accept myself and change at the same time?

acceptance and compassion were keys to healing

One day a lightbulb went off in my head. I realized that I needed to show compassion to all parts of myself and accept that the damage that was done to me was not my fault. I finally understood that anxiety and fear does not define me. Just as my daughter’s ADHD and SPD do not define her, my anxiety and fears do not define me. I am defined by the person that I am. I am proud of the person that I am. That is something that can never be taken away from me.

I am sharing my story because I want to take my horrific past and use it to support and help others. My hope is that something good can come out of something terrible. It doesn’t make what happened to me any better. I am taking control over my life by speaking about it.

Many cannot relate to what I endured, and I am glad for those who are unable to do so. That said, all of us have gone through some sort of trauma. I want you to know that you aren’t alone. We don’t get to rewrite our past, but we get to decide our present and future.

Emotional and psychological abuse leave scars that only their victims can see. They are there nonetheless. I hope reading my story will encourage you to reach out and tell someone yours. With advocacy and awareness, we can give a voice to those invisible scars.

how to overcome codependency

In case you missed my story of how I worked on my own codependent tendencies, you can read about it here. I also suggest reading the book Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie.

Codependency is not your fault. The good news is that the things we learned as children do not have to be repeated in adulthood. We can stop being codependent and practice a healthier way of having relationships.

The first step is to take a step back from anything that is out of your control. Whether it is your mom, your sibling, your friend, your spouse, or even your child, there are certain things that are simply not within our power (or are right) to fix. This is difficult, but crucial.

create healthy boundaries and become responsible for your own well-being

Establish clear boundaries so that you can be supportive, loving, and encouraging, but not at the expense of your well-being or happiness. Others are entitled to make their own choices, regardless of whether you agree with those choices are not. Likewise, you get to take control of your happiness and make your own choices.

Getting your power back and claiming responsibility for your well-being is not an easy task. It is something that is very much ingrained in our way of thinking and acting. I have to remind myself often that my husband’s sobriety is his responsibility. I am grateful that he has been sober for the last four years, but his sobriety is a choice that he has to make each day.

Healthy relationships require boundaries, which is foreign to many of us. Boundaries are essential so that you can stay in your lane, while clearly expressing what you need for your relationship. You are the only one that can determine which boundaries are needed for your well-being.

Make a list of boundaries, and decide which ones are requests and which ones are non-negotiable. Have an open and honest conversation about your boundaries and allow others to do the same. After all, boundaries are a two-way street.

If a boundary is crossed, then it’s your decision whether to discuss and reinstate the boundary, or if you need to walk away. You cannot force others to respect and provide what you need in a relationship, but you can respect yourself. It is also crucial to understand that you cannot save others, but you can save yourself.

practice self-care and focus on your needs

self care for codependency

Next, focus on what you want and need to feel good about yourself, completely separate from anyone else. What brings YOU joy? What are YOUR hobbies? Who are YOU as a person? For me, starting this blog has been incredibly healing because it is something that I do that is separate from being a wife and a mom. It is something I am passionate about, and I feel good knowing that I am trying to help others and give support, without trying to change or fix anyone.

It’s a good idea to take time to write down your thoughts and feelings. Keeping a journal gives you an opportunity to focus on your feelings and brainstorm ideas. Speak to a therapist and read books about codependency to help you on your healing journey. Discover your own identity.

I cannot stress enough that Rome was not built in a day. It will take time to learn new patterns of behavior. It is important to show yourself love and compassion as you navigate foreign territory.

Just as codependency is not healthy, the polar opposite isn’t either. Being completely independent doesn’t translate into having genuine relationships. If you aren’t allowing yourself to be vulnerable, then your relationships will lack true intimacy. It is important to have your own identity separate from the ones you love; however, putting up walls and not letting anyone in is the same wolf in sheep’s clothing. Love is about sharing the deepest parts of yourself with another, but not expecting someone to save you.

create interdependence and stop being codependent in your relationships

growth is always good

Interdependence is the goal of any healthy relationship. It allows us to love and support each other, while not expecting the other one to make us feel whole or to change who they are.

My husband and I are each whole on our own, and we have the choice to grow individually and as a couple. That means that if I am feeling sad and hurt, I first try to comfort myself and give myself what I need before I share my feelings with him. I give him the space to try to understand my perspective without forcing him to say or do anything.

Remember that your happiness is up to you. Just as you can’t save or change anyone, it isn’t anyone’s responsibility to save or fix you. Work on yourself and allow others the opportunity to do the same. Remember to establish clear boundaries so that others get to choose their own path and make their own choices, but you have control over what you do with that choice. You also get to choose your own path and healing journey.

Show love and kindness to yourself and your feelings. Your feelings, thoughts, hopes, and dreams are important and have value because they are yours. Respect and honor them even if others do not.

Interdependence is a foreign concept for many, but a way of living that is possible for all of us. Change can be scary, and there will be many hiccups along the way. The good news? You can learn to stop being codependent and get to be the hero of your own story.

How I Broke the Cycle of Codependency

Codependency is a huge buzzword nowadays. Everywhere you turn there are people preaching about overcoming the cycle of codependency.

I agree that codependency isn’t healthy; I also understand why it is so easy to fall into that cycle, and why it is so difficult to overcome.

For many, codependency was normal for us growing up. If you had a parent or adult in your life that you took care of (as opposed to the other way around), you learned that your happiness and safety were dependent on the other person’s happiness. There were no boundaries and your feelings were ignored or not even verbalized. You learned that your well-being and safety was completely contingent on the well-being of someone else. When that person was happy, you felt loved and needed. By default, if the adult was upset, sick (mentally or physically), or unavailable to you, you felt worthless and unsafe.

caught in a cycle of codependency

I grew up having the belief system that it was my job to make my mother happy. I listened to her marital and life problems, tried to cheer her up, and felt good about myself when I felt she needed me. When she had nothing to do with me, I felt like a complete failure as a daughter and as a person. I tried to do everything possible to get her love and approval. As a result, I made myself completely available to her. I was so available that I spent two hours of my honeymoon trying to calm her down due to her recent breakup. Her feelings were always prioritized over mine, and I felt it was my job to make sure she was okay.

She relied on me to comfort her and be there for her, and I relied on her positive opinion of me to feel valued and loved. We were the definition of codependency.

Based on a belief system that was engrained into many of us, as adults we believe that our partner’s well-being and happiness is our responsibility. After all, that is all we know and were taught from a young age. It was only natural that my cycle of codependency with my mother translated into a codependent relationship with my spouse.

MY SPOUSE AND I WERE MUTUALLY DEPENDENT ON ONE ANOTHER

Spouse and I were mutually dependent on one another

When my husband started heavily drinking and then taking pills, I felt like it was my job to make him sober. I believed that it was up to me to figure out how to make him stop. When my efforts failed, I felt like a complete failure. Taking care of my husband and making him get clean was my responsibility. I believed I was a terrible wife unless he stopped.

My value as a person was completely defined by the well-being of those I loved. I thought it was my role as a wife and mother to completely devote myself and my happiness to them. This way of thinking made it so that other people were responsible for my own feelings of security and safety. This helped to perpetuate my cycle of codependency in my relationships. When the roller coaster of addiction took me for a ride, my feelings of self-worth plummeted or soared with it. It became my obsession to save my husband, which in turn, would save myself.

At a certain point I reached my own rock bottom. I saw how vicious the emotional cycle was of trying to make him better/save him. I realized that focusing all my efforts on him was a distraction so that I didn’t have to heal my own wounds and trauma. If I was focusing on someone/something that was out of my control, I didn’t have to fix what I had control over- myself.

breaking my cycle of codependency

I finally realized that my happiness was my responsibility, and I learned a lot about codependency. It was both terrifying and empowering to know that my happiness was my job, just as others are responsible for their own well-being and happiness. The book Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie was extremely helpful and enlightening.

It was up to my husband to get clean, and I couldn’t make him do that. I could support him and love him, but I could not fix him. It was important to start taking care of myself and my own well-being.

I also established clear boundaries with my daughter. I’ve instilled in her that her job is to learn from her mistakes and take responsibility for her actions. I do not want her to feel responsible for others. My daughter knows that the decisions my husband and I make are our responsibility. It is our job to take care of her, not the other way around.

Another thing that I reinforced is that it is imperative and healthy to feel and share your feelings with those you love and trust. I remind her that I can give suggestions on what she can do to feel better. Ultimately, she controls how she feels. I am open with her about my feelings and model tools that I use to feel better, but I don’t tell her about my adult problems.

When my daughter tries to get involved and tell me and my husband what to do, I remind her that she has control over her actions and not others. I explain that she should focus on being the best version of herself, as it is also each of our individual responsibility to do so.

being interdependent instead of codependent

Interdependent Instead of Codependent What I now strive for is interdependency. It is empowering to not allow others to make me feel whole and valued. I can be vulnerable and supportive with my husband, but ultimately, I control and am responsible for how I feel. My relationships are still valued, but I also value myself separately from my role as a wife and a mother.

The biggest hurdle for me was giving myself the space I needed to feel whatever I was feeling. I felt that I had to justify my feelings to my husband in order for my feelings to be valid. It is a work-in-progress to accept that my feelings are valid regardless of what he or anyone else thinks.

It took a lot of trial and error for me to apply my interdependence into all aspects of my marriage. I remind myself everyday to focus on myself and give myself the love and care that I craved so desperately from others.

self-growth and mutual support is the key to happiness

I have learned the importance of each of us being responsible for our own growth, while supporting and encouraging each other. Sure, there are things that I wish my husband would do differently. It is not my job to change him or to fix him. He is not a project or a little boy. He deserves to be treated as a man who can make his own choices. I have set clear boundaries of what I cannot except. My husband is aware of my boundaries. My choices are to accept and love him as he is or walk away if any issue is a deal breaker.

I am the happiest I have been in a long time because I am now the source of my well-being. I am not a princess waiting to be rescued, nor am I a martyr trying to save everyone to the detriment of myself. Instead, I am focused on working on myself, and looking inward for love and compassion. That, in turn, allows me to be the best wife, mother, and person I can be.

my story of living with an addict

Surviving a Loved One’s Addiction

The serenity prayer is a crucial part of recovery meetings. It is of equal importance to those of us that love someone who is an addict. To watch a loved one destroy themselves and their life is one of the most heartbreaking things I have ever experienced. My husband, Matt, bravely shared his story about addiction on my blog. It is important to understand that addiction doesn’t just affect the life of an addict; it affects the ones who love the addict just as much.

My husband always liked to drink. I was never a big drinker, and I’m a lightweight. One drink for me, and I get tipsy. It was amazing to see how much my husband was capable of drinking at one time. I love to dance, and when we were dating, we would go to clubs (ah, the memories of once being young). I knew Matt was part of a fraternity in college, so when my friends noticed how much he drank and inquired about it, I just chalked it up to him having a high tolerance for it. He got drunk on our wedding day, but so did most of the guests there. It was a celebration, after all.

Coping with a Loved One’s Addiction

Fast forward to us finding out I was pregnant. We were on cloud nine. I knew Matt was afraid of me having a miscarriage (we knew many couples who sadly went through that), but I reassured him that I was okay, and the baby was okay. I thought everything was fine until one day I saw him pouring alcohol into an iced tea bottle. Warning bells started going off in my head. I was three months pregnant and knew that behavior like that wasn’t okay. I told him that he needed to stop. He said he would stop, and then a few weeks later he got drunk again. He wandered to my father’s house, and my dad had to take him home. This time I put my foot down. I said if I ever caught him drinking again, he would have to leave. There was a child being brought into the world, and it wasn’t safe for a baby to be around that. I thought that was the end of the story. Little did I know, it was just the beginning.
 
I have severe insomnia, and I take medication to help me sleep. There was only one prescription I could take that wouldn’t hurt the baby. All of a sudden, I noticed those pills were missing. I asked my husband about it. The first time I asked he said he accidentally dropped the pills in a sewer on the way home. Once he said the pharmacy must have not given me enough pills. My favorite lie was when we flew to New York; he told me that airport security must have taken them, and it is quite common for them to do so. I knew nothing about addiction besides what I had seen on TV, and we had a baby on the way. I wanted more than anything to believe that he was telling the truth.

lies and deception are the hallmarks of addiction

lies and deception are the hallmarks of addiction

On August 3, 2012 we gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. It should have been a magical time in our lives. It was anything but. Matt was always sleeping through Brielle’s cries, he was not hands-on with her, and I was taking care of our baby all on my own. By this point I had actually caught him with pills, and I knew that he had a problem. Here I was, a new mom with a little baby, and my husband was getting high. Each time he would say he would stop, but it always started up again.
 
This went on for more years than I care to admit. When he stopped taking my pills, he started using others that he obtained on his own. I tried to reach out to loved ones for help, but nobody wanted to see him as an addict. Their denial made me feel helpless and completely alone. He was so convincing that sometimes I questioned if I was losing my mind, and the problem was me. I had no support and I prayed there was something I could do to make him see the light. I tried talking, I tired yelling, I tried crying, I tried pleading. Nothing I said or did made a difference, and I was the only one fighting for him to get well.
 
My husband had seen several therapists during this time, at my request, and he convinced each therapist that there was nothing wrong. I remember one time that some pills went missing, and Matt swore up, down, and sideways that he had nothing to do with it. I requested Matt’s permission to accompany him to his next session, and I was shocked that his therapist said that he believed him. My husband was a great manipulator (as most addicts are), and he was incredibly convincing. Years later, he admitted that of course he had taken those pills, and he lied to me and the therapist. He was able to fool almost everyone, but he couldn’t fool me.

acceptance and ending codependency

acceptance and ending codependency

My daughter was getting older, and I didn’t want her exposed to this. I had two choices: (1)- I could accept that this was what he was going to do, and I had to find a way to live with that (2)- I couldn’t accept that and I had to walk away. As much as I loved my husband, I knew this wasn’t the kind of life I could accept for my child. I made an appointment with a marriage counselor who specialized in addiction. Since he wasn’t listening to me, and nobody else had backed me up, I hoped that a stranger could make him see that he needed help. I made it clear to her that I was prepared to leave him if speaking to her didn’t work.
 
That fateful day we met with this therapist, and for the first time, someone backed me up. I felt a combination of relief and fear. Relief that I wasn’t crazy to believe that he had a problem, and terrified that it was actually the truth. The therapist did something only I had done. She listened to him tell his story, told him that he was full of baloney, and that I was prepared to leave him if he didn’t get help. I’ll never forget the look on Matt’s face. It was the first time that someone besides me had told him that he needed help. He had everyone else convinced that he was fine, including himself. Now he had two people holding up mirrors in front of his face, and there was nowhere for him to hide.

The Journey to recovery

the journey to recovery

My husband agreed to go to an outpatient center. He went three evenings a week for three hours each time for four months. Matt hadn’t been active at all in my daughter’s life because of his addiction, and now he was not physically there as well. My then three-year-old daughter kept asking me where her Daddy was. I told her that he was sick, and he was going somewhere to get better.
 
There were nights that the outpatient program allowed family members to attend. I went to those meetings and took notes. There was so much about addiction that I didn’t know. I learned that the brain of an addict sends signals that their addiction is necessary for survival. Just as he needed food and water, his brain made him think he needed those pills. I had never understood why he wasn’t able to just stop. I now understood that addiction was a disease, and one that couldn’t just be turned on and off.
 
My daughter and I were there the day he graduated from his outpatient program. She didn’t know any specifics, but I told her that her Daddy was trying really hard to get well. She and I both applauded for him as he got his completion certificate. My dad accompanied us there so he could take Brielle out of the room when Matt gave his speech. I couldn’t be prouder of his hard work and determination to stay sober.
 
I don’t know what it feels like to have an addiction, but I have tried to educate myself about it as much as possible so that I could support Matt on his journey to stay sober. The biggest lesson I learned was that you can’t force someone to get clean. You also can’t force someone to stay clean. This is a choice that my husband makes every single day, and it’s a choice that I never take for granted.

Sobriety is a choice 

I am so proud of my husband for accepting that he is an addict, but I am not responsible for his sobriety. It is incredibly difficult to not try to “help” someone stay clean. There have been times where time has lapsed between him attending meetings, and as much as I want to tell him to go to one, I know that it needs to come from him. An addict can’t stay sober because you want them to. They have to do that for themselves.
 
Loving an addict means that sobriety is never a certainty. Matt knows that I am always here to listen and support him, but I can’t make him stay clean. Only he can do that. It is a scary road for a loved one of an addict. The harsh reality is that at any point the rug can be pulled out from under me. It is very terrifying and heartbreaking to not have control over that.
 
The biggest piece of advice I can give to someone who loves an addict is that as much as the addict loves you, he or she will always choose their addiction over you until they reach rock bottom. Addiction is a disease that messes with an addict’s mind. You can’t make choices for an addict, but you do have the power to make your own choice; you can choose to stay with that person as they are or you can choose to walk away. As much as you love that person, you can’t make them stop their addiction. Sometimes walking away will be the rock bottom necessary to get help. Sometimes it isn’t.
 
I can’t control the choices Matt makes, but I can control what I expose to my child and to myself. Take care of yourself and your children. Give love and encouragement to the person who is trying to stay sober, but don’t try to force sobriety. You will never win that battle.
 
Loving an addict is not easy, and we often don’t get recognition or support. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Just as there are support groups for addiction, there are support groups for loved ones of addicts (Al-Anon). Speak to a therapist, educate yourself, and work on yourself. Use the serenity prayer to help you on your journey through loving an addict.