If you’ve been reading my posts for awhile, you know that I talk a lot about awareness and acceptance. They are crucial for healing from trauma, and they are crucial to properly advocate for your child. My husband was able to get the help he needed to get sober when he closed the door on denial and chose awareness and acceptance. Awareness and acceptance are also necessary components of a healthy marriage. Without a doubt, the hardest thing I had to to accept was that my relationship with my mom was toxic. As a result, I made the decision to go no contact with her.
My mother is many things to me. As a child, she was the center of my world. I wanted more than anything to get her approval. I believed that somehow she would become the mother I needed if I kept believing and trying.
She did terrible things to me, and as an adult I realized those things were abusive. I understand that my mother is toxic. Yet, I have fond memories of her too. In some ways, the good memories made it harder to accept the truth. I have memories of her singing songs to me, rubbing my stomach when it hurt, and playing games with her.
When Brielle was born, I was determined to be the mother to her that I never had. Still, I hoped my mother could be a part of my life and part of my child’s life. After all, she was my mother, and she was Brielle’s grandmother. Although I hated what she had done to me, I loved her.
My toxic relationship with my mother
Several times over the course of Brielle’s life my mother got mad at me, and she would stop talking to me. As a result, she would also stop talking to Brielle. I warned her that this couldn’t happen. Brielle deserved consistency, and it wasn’t healthy to have her in and out of Brielle’s life. It was confusing and painful to try to wrap my mind around her behavior, and I didn’t want Brielle to experience this.
Three years ago my mother and I got into an argument. On that fateful day she told me she didn’t like me and wanted nothing to do with me. I felt like a knife was plunged into my heart.
I reminded her that Brielle was a child. There was no way she could see Brielle without making some sort of arrangements with me. She refused to communicate with me and sent me an email threatening to sue me for visitation rights. As angry as this made me, it also made me incredibly sad. She would rather take me to court than be cordial with me for the sake of her granddaughter? I knew on a rational level that her behavior was erratic at best, but knowing that my mom would go to such lengths to avoid me made me feel like the problem was me. What was wrong with me that my mother could just throw me away? Why did I have such a toxic relationship with my mom?
my decision to go no contact
After decades of wishing upon a star for my mother to love me, I looked at my innocent child and had to face reality. My mother would never be someone I could count on for emotional support. My mother is incapable of unconditional love. If I allowed her in Brielle’s life, it was inevitable that she would hurt my daughter in unforgivable ways. I had to accept going no contact with my mom.
Although my mom would eventually reach out to me (this wasn’t my first rodeo with her), I knew this wouldn’t change my need to go no contact. I defriended her on Facebook and removed her from my email and phone contact list. Brielle knew that her grandmother was constantly in and out of her life. I had to explain to her that that kind of behavior is unacceptable, and I wasn’t going to allow that. One day I might tell her about my horrific childhood, but for now, I want her to know as little as possible. I had my innocence ripped away from me as a child, and I am determined to not have that repeated with my child.
estrangement was my only choice
My mother texted me two years ago. She said she missed us. It took every ounce of strength to not respond. I’d like to say that I decided to go no contact with my mom because it is what was best for me. Although that is true, the reason I had the courage to do it was because of Brielle. My toxic relationship with my mom would translate into my daughter having a toxic relationship with my mom too. I went no contact with my mom to spare my daughter the pain of loving someone who cannot love her back in a real and healthy way.
There are moments of weakness where I think about the fact that my mother is getting older. I feel waves of sadness that my mother is now a stranger to me. Guilt absolutely creeps in from time to time, along with grief. I am mourning the loss of the mother I had, and I am mourning the loss of never having the mother I needed.
Surviving No Contact
It is a personal decision to go no contact, and everyone is entitled to decide what is best for them. For those of you that have gone no contact with someone who has brought you tremendous pain and suffering, I hope it brings you some comfort to know that I understand how hard it is to make that choice. I also recognize the bravery and strength it takes to do this.
I am proof that surviving no contact is possible.
The biggest piece of advice I can give you when making (and continuing) this choice is to ask yourself if this person is capable of change. The definition of insanity is making the same choice over and over again, expecting a different result. I realized that I was acting insane for being on this endless roller coaster with her; hoping each time that things could change, that she could change.
Going no contact was a hard pill to swallow. I will never have the mother I needed. It took decades of denial for me to get to a place where I was aware and accepted that she cannot be a mother to me in the real sense of the word. My mother is toxic, and having her in my life would only bring pain to me and to my daughter. I will never allow anyone to do that to my child, even if the perpetrator is my own mother. To give my daughter the childhood that she deserves, I had to close the door on the person who destroyed mine.
I have had to accept a lot of hard truths in my life. Sometimes it took some time for me to get there, and other times I looked awareness and acceptance straight in the eyes. What I’ve learned is that you can’t reach the light at the end of the tunnel unless you are willing to walk through darkness. I never claimed that acceptance and going no contact is easy. However, like Robert Frost said, “I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
Regardless of the quality of your marriage or its duration, going through a divorce can be one of the most trying and difficult transitions of your life. Being able to heal and move on does not happen overnight. Acknowledging and processing your feelings in a healthy and productive way is crucial in order to heal from divorce and move forward.
I have wanted to discuss the topic of divorce for some time; however, I felt it was best to be written about by someone that experienced it firsthand. My husband was married once before, and he knows all too well about the pain of divorce. He is sharing in his own words about his divorce, as well as strategies to aid in healing.
Guest Post: MY DIVORCE STORY
I went to college at Ohio State. I had a very good time there, partying and enjoying my late teens and early 20s. In 2002, after Ohio State beat Michigan to go to the national championship game, my fraternity had a huge party. That night I started talking to this girl that I thought was cute. Perhaps it wasn’t the best way to start a relationship, as I don’t remember a lot of that night due to taking a lot of different substances. I started to date her right before winter break, and it continued once we got back to school after the holidays.
We dated for our last two years of school, and we continued our relationship after I moved back home to start working. I asked her to marry me when she came to visit me a month after I graduated from college. She said yes. We were engaged for almost two years because she wanted to get her masters and I wanted to get my career started.
I was always nervous about being in a long-distance relationship, and my fears came true.
Those two years were awful. The time apart started off fine, but as the months passed things got more difficult. We saw each other once a month, but when we weren’t together she would rarely call or return any of my calls. We would go longer and longer periods of time without speaking to each other. When I asked what was going on, I was told that she was busy and that everything was okay.
About two months before our wedding, she called me and told me that she wanted our engagement to be over. She said that she had kissed another guy and she didn’t feel comfortable moving forward with the marriage. My heart sank into my stomach. I talked with her and asked her to stay with me. I told her that I loved her and wanted to be with her in the worst way. At the end of the day, we both decided that we would get married and that our long-distance had taken a toll on the relationship.
This is one of my few regrets in life. I was a very young 23 year old who was terrified to be alone. Being single and starting over was not appealing to me. I should have known that if someone didn’t love me for who I was and wanted to be with me, then I should have let her go. At that time I didn’t know my own self worth. I identified who I was through her and by being with her, which was not a healthy way to live. The relationship should have ended and I could have started working on finding who I was as a person, which would have been a much healthier life choice.
I told myself that once we got married and started living together, things would get better.
After our honeymoon we moved into our apartment in New Jersey. She got a job and started working. However, things never did get better. She would make calls with the door shut in our second bedroom or go outside. We would get into arguments or simply not speak to each other because we had the same personality type and didn’t know how to effectively communicate with each other.
We flew back to Ohio in December to spend time with her family. One Sunday I went with her brother to a bar to watch football. She didn’t want to go; she said she was tired. Her brother and I went and had a good time, but when I got back, I knew something was wrong. She was in her bedroom, under the covers, trying to sleep. I didn’t push the issue until we got back to New Jersey. A few days before New Year’s Eve I demanded to know what was going on. Eventually she told me that she cheated on me with a guy that lived in Ohio, and that it had been going on for several months. She told me she wanted a divorce. My marriage at that point was over, after only 6 months.
MY WAY OF EMOTIONAL HEALING WAS BY NOT FACING MY FEELINGS
We didn’t have any children together, so our divorce was straightforward and uncontested. Even though the process was very fast, it didn’t make how I felt any easier. I still loved her, even though what she did hurt me. I was alone and in a lot of pain.
People need to process their feelings in order to heal from divorce. However, I decided that I did not want to feel the sadness coursing through my body. I spent as much time as I could drinking and partying. I’d go out most nights during the week after work, drink, and meet as many girls as I could. I dealt with my pain by not dealing with my pain at all. That course of action set off a chain of events that I would not realize for many years down the road.
I was planting the seeds to my alcohol and pill addiction by not processing my pain
It doesn’t matter if you are going through a simple divorce, or one where there are children involved. Going through that process is incredibly difficult and sad. Each person has an outlook on change. Some people handle change very well, accepting the changes and moving forward as best they can. Other people are resistant to change. If you are resistant to change, acceptance can be extremely difficult. Like any loss, admitting to yourself that your marriage is over can be incredibly painful. However, it is a necessary step to move forward with your life.
Emotional wellness and healing are of the utmost importance when you are going through a divorce, as well as after. There are many things that I wished I had done differently when I was going through my divorce.
TIPS AND STRATEGIES TO HELP HEAL FROM DIVORCE
Going through a separation or divorce can be very difficult, no matter the reason for it. It can turn your world upside down and make it hard to get through the work day and stay productive. Here are some things I wish I had done to get through this difficult adjustment:
(1) When you’re at your limit, stop
Everyone has a threshold of what they are able to accomplish in a day. You have to learn that when you hit that emotional threshold, you need to stop doing whatever you were doing. Continuing to work when you are physically, mentally, or emotionally exhausted will make things worse. It will wear you down and make you less productive. Stopping, taking a break, and coming back to your task will increase productivity. (com, 2021)
During a divorce or separation it’s normal to feel sad, angry, depressed, frustrated and confused. Divorce is a form of loss, and that means it is necessary to grieve. These feelings can be very intense. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you are feeling. Processing your feelings while you are going through them is a lot healthier to heal from divorce than suppressing them and having them resurface later in an unhealthy way. I learned the hard way that using alcohol or drugs as a way to cope will only lead to more problems.
(3) Get sleep
It’s completely normal to have trouble sleeping when you are going through a separation or divorce. However, sleep deprivation alters your ability to think, concentrate and remember things. If you are going through long periods of time not being able to sleep, it might be time to think about seeing your doctor or a psychologist to help process your emotions and feelings (org, 2021)
(4) Learn to say “no”
Going through a divorce will take a physical and emotional toll on your mind and body. Outside of work and spending time with your kids, there might be other commitments that you are unable to do. It’s okay to say no to them and take the time for yourself.
Self-care goes a long way to helping yourself heal your mind and body. Regular exercise will boost your energy, help improve your mood and will also help you sleep better. It is a phenomenal way to relieve stress and help work your emotions out of your body.
(6) Set and Respect your Boundaries
Once you start the process of separation or divorce, it is extremely important to set new boundaries that you would like to have in your life. Your ex may have to stay a part of your life if there are kids. It is crucial to implement and set boundaries to find a way to co-exist. It is also important to set boundaries with family and friends about what you need during this time. Doing so might feel awkward at first, but the more you state your needs, the more you will be able to free yourself mentally and emotionally . This will help in your healing from the divorce. (com, 2021)
(7) Take time to explore your interests
When you were married, you had to compromise with your spouse and didn’t always get to do what you wanted. Now that you are single, use this time to explore new things that might be of interest to you. It will not only give yourself enjoyment, but also let you find your new self and help to make you grow through this difficult time.
(8) Don’t involve your children in the conflict
If you have children in your marriage than this one is for you. Avoid arguing with your ex in front of your children or talking negatively about your ex in front of or to your children. Don’t use them as spies or messengers or make them take sides. Try to keep them out of it as much as you can.
(9) Don’t go through this alone
Being able to share your feelings with family and friends is invaluable. They can be there to help support you during this difficult time. Also consider joining a support group where you can talk with others going through similar situations. Isolating yourself can cause you more stress and amplify your negative feelings and emotions. (org, 2021)
(10) Learn to let go
Divorce is full of things that you will not be able to control. Instead of being angry about how the process goes, or how your former spouse acts, consciously decide to not focus your energy on things you can’t control.
Everybody has gone through something that changed them in a way where they could never go back to the person they once were. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The transformation that you go through during your healing journey from divorce is one of self-discovery and personal transformation. Anyone who gets divorced goes through pain, but you come out of it. When I was going through my divorce, I was crushed. I spent a lot of the time either crying or numbing myself to keep myself from crying. I buried my feelings so far inside of me under lock and key so it would never come to the surface.
In retrospect, I wish I had used the strategies that I wrote in this post. They would have helped me to grow into a better person than what I became out of that dark period in my life. It took me a very long time to become a better person, a person who can at least try to face my feelings and heal the scars and wounds that I have from that time. Grieving is such an important thing to do, because it helps you to move on from despair into hope. Hope that things will get better and that good can come from the pain and trying times that you had to endure.
Divorce is not easy for anyone to go through. There is no right or only way to heal from divorce. What I do know is that things will get better. Live your life to the fullest. Life will get back to normal, it will just be a new normal. I don’t regret my past marriage, because it led me to my wife and the life that I have with her today. I will always be grateful for the path that I had to travel because it led me to her. It was necessary to go through the darkest time of my life in order to receive the love from a woman who truly loves every part of me. Divorce is terrible, but you will get through it.
I have wanted to discuss the connection between perfectionism and procrastination for some time. However, I find research-based topics to be quite daunting. It is an arduous task to gather numerous sources, compile the information, write an outline, draft, edit, etc. As a recovering perfectionist, I want the content I put out to be comprehensive, detailed, and accurate. I push myself to be the very best in everything that I do, often going past the point of exhaustion. As a result, I find myself now writing about this topic months after I initially planned to do so. I am an example of how perfectionism and procrastination go hand-in-hand. This article will explain perfectionism and procrastination, as well as how to overcome the perfectionism and procrastination connection.
What is Perfectionism?
Perfectionists set extremely high standards. Self-worth is contingent on those unrealistic achievements. Perfectionism stems from a fear of failure and judgement. False belief systems make us feel that we aren’t good enough. We also often feel that others will judge us as not good enough.
Perfectionists are often sensitive to any forms of criticism, seeing any type of negative feedback as an indication of a lack of ability. There is often a black and white way of thinking, meaning that we believe that if we do not achieve perfection, we are failures. The inability to achieve these lofty standards causes stress and overwhelm. There is often performance anxiety and anticipatory anxiety. We feel incredible anxiety about not achieving the standards we set for ourselves, and this anxiety causes fear starting and completing tasks. The consequence of not achieving perfection is also seen in the mind of a perfectionist as catastrophic.
Even when perfectionists meet their goals, the feelings of success and accomplishment are temporary. In the mind of a perfectionist, there is always more that needs to be accomplished. The self-worth of a perfectionist is unstable, as it is contingent on results. Ultimately, perfectionists are setting themselves up to fail, as perfection is unattainable.
What is procrastination?
Procrastination is an example of the Flight response, as it is done to avoid a threat (i.e., a task seen as challenging or unattainable). Procrastinators will put off making decisions, will give up prematurely, or will delay beginning a task (The Skill Collective, 2021). Due to discomfort about the task, procrastinators choose to put things off.
Procrastination stems from a variety of factors, including indecisiveness, lack of focus, lack of self-confidence, and task anxiety (webstandardssharpa.com, 2014). Procrastinators often feel shame about their behavior, which only perpetuates the procrastination. They don’t want to face their discomfort, so they continue to procrastinate, only furthering their shame and their discomfort.
What is the perfectionism-procrastination connection?
Perfectionists feel great anxiety about not achieving their goals. Procrastination allows perfectionists to not have to face their own anxiety regarding failure. As a result, something less threatening is done instead. However, procrastination causes its own feelings of shame, only perpetuating the perfectionistic way of thinking. We avoid because we are not perfect, and avoiding only reflects our imperfections. Anxiety and shame are the constant companions of perfectionists and procrastinators.
Procrastination is often a symptom of perfection. That said, not all perfectionists are procrastinators, and not all procrastinators are perfectionists. However, for many people, perfectionism and procrastination are connected, known as the perfectionism-procrastination infinite loop (The Skill Collective, 2021).
The perfectionism-procrastination loop is:
you have perfectionistic standards
there is a fear of failure
there is great discomfort regarding an unsuccessful outcome
this discomfort causes fear
imperfection and discomfort are avoided by procrastinating
WE FEEL STUCK.
Ultimately, we stay in this loop because we never have to test our faulty belief system of not being good enough. If we procrastinate and perform well, it reinforces our procrastination because we can imagine that our potential wasn’t fully reached. If we perform badly, we can attribute it to time constraints and not our actual potential (which protects our fear of failure). This will also result in a continuance of this loop.
How do we overcome the perfectionism and procrastination connection?
Ultimately, the only way to end this loop is by changing our way of thinking regarding perfection and procrastination. Whether you consider yourself a perfectionist, a procrastinator, or both, these strategies are helpful:
(1) Lower expectations
It is necessary to re-examine the standards that we set for ourselves. This starts by understanding that there is a difference between excellence and perfection. Excellence is attainable through practice and experience, as well as developing confidence over time. Perfection is unattainable and fosters negative feelings from mistakes, regardless of excellence.
Remind your inner critic that some things are more difficult and harder to achieve than others, and THAT IS OKAY. Having a growth mindset instead of a fixed one allows us to see flaws as opportunities to learn and grow, as opposed to catastrophic thinking. It is great to have an end-goal in mind, but make sure that it is healthy (a realistic outcome) and remember that it will take time to get there.
(2) Challenge your black-and-white way of thinking
The next time you feel anxious about a task, make a list of the best-case scenario, worst-case scenario, and a realistic-scenario. By breaking it down, it helps us to realize unrealistic expectations and visualize a more attainable outcome.
(3) Schedule your goals
Certain tasks and goals can feel quite overwhelming. Break them into smaller, more attainable goals. Instead of doing everything at once, break the task into realistic steps and schedule time in advance to do so. This will allow you to accomplish things in a more manageable way, and it gives you the opportunity to applaud your accomplishments along the way. This will help you to feel more motivated while also combatting procrastination. There are various ways to assigning time to complete a task (www.webstandardssherpa.com, 2014):
Set aside 5-10 minutes – set an alarm for 5-10 minutes and tell yourself that you will stop when the alarm goes off. This small amount of time is non-threatening and will help you to face your fears about starting something.
The Pomodoro Technique or Merlin Mann’s productivity technique– Both techniques involve setting an amount of time to focus your attention on a task and then taking a break. The Pomodoro Technique is setting a timer for 25 minutes, working until the timer goes off, taking a five- minute break, and then repeating the whole process another four times. After the 4th cycle, you take a 15-30-minute break. Merlin Mann’s technique is working for 10 minutes with a two-minute break for five cycles (altogether an hour).
Choose your own amount of time– determine in advance how much time you will devote to a task, as well as the amount of time for breaks. Whatever you choose, make sure to follow through.
Schedule a task for a specific day– Put it on your calendar, and you can incorporate one of the set times above.
We often feel the need to please everyone. When we say “yes” to too much, this only increases our feelings of overwhelm. This will fuel the self-destructive cycle of perfectionism and procrastination. When we start to say no to things that we don’t have time for, we can make time for the things we want to do. Adding activities that bring us joy is important for our well-being and for having a healthy balance of demands and enjoyment.
(5) Reward yourself
Make a daily list of the tasks you want to accomplish, no matter how small. Make sure to take the time to applaud your achievements when you are done. Whether it is taking out the trash or finishing a household project, treat yourself afterwards. That can mean reading a book, listening to music for a few minutes, or sitting down on the couch and relaxing. It also breaks up the day and reminds you that you deserve positive reinforcement for your effort (www.healthline.com, 2019).
(6) Practice mindfulness
Recognize how your body is feeling as you are taking on tasks. Remind yourself that you are safe and that it is okay to not be perfect. Check-in with yourself throughout and take time to do breathing exercises or other grounding activities to manage your anxiety (www.healthline.com, 2019).
(7) Eliminate distractions
Put away anything that can interfere with your focus. That includes your phone, iPad, etc. Gather the necessary materials to complete your task and go somewhere free of interruptions.
(8) Mind tricks
Prepare to do something instead of actually doing it. That can mean jotting down ideas for a research project or doing an online search for topics. Once you start on the task, it is usually easier to continue it. By combatting your anticipatory anxiety, you are already on your way to accomplishing your task. You can also make a list of all the tasks you want to accomplish, in order of importance. Even if you don’t pick the most important one, you are still being proactive and not procrastinating (www.webstandardssherpa.com, 2014) .
(9) Start a task without having everything
If you wait for everything to be in order to begin a task, you can always come up with reasons to procrastinate. Instead, begin something knowing that there are missing pieces. You will gather the necessary information along the way, but starting on it helps reinforce the belief that it doesn’t have to be perfect.
(10) Give yourself compassion
The standards we set for ourselves make us our own worst enemies. The next time you finish a project, look it over as if someone else had done it. Tell yourself the same words of support as you would another. Compassion also means that we should focus on our own achievements and not compare ourselves to others. We should applaud our efforts instead of focusing on the results. Remember that mistakes do not make us failures, they make us human.
Perfectionism and procrastination are a way of thinking and behaving that stems from our belief system. It is not something that happened overnight, and it is not something that will go away overnight. Understanding why we do things the way we do goes a long way towards change. Remember that there will often be two steps back for every one-step forward along this journey. Like everything else in life, setbacks are inevitable. Be proud of yourself for your self-awareness and commitment to overcome perfectionism and procrastination.
I remember the moment I found out that I was pregnant. I showed my husband the positive sign on the pregnancy test, and we both started to cry. We sunk down to the floor, hugging one another, and knowing that this was the start of something wonderful. It was the start of my pregnancy story, but I had no idea what was to come.
Events were about to unfold at the same time as my pregnancy. Little did I know that, like parenting, nothing would ever be the same again….
MY PREGNANCY STORY
I mentioned HERE that I found out that my husband started abusing alcohol during my first trimester. He was terrified that I would have a miscarriage. An occasional drink turned into two which quickly turned into him pouring alcohol into iced tea bottles during the weekend. When I finally discovered what was happening, I asked him to leave.
I remember sinking down to the floor, but this time, it was not a moment of overwhelming joy. It was a feeling of complete and utter helplessness. I had no idea what I was going to do, but I knew I now had a responsibility to protect this baby.
My husband stopped drinking alcohol, and I thought the worst was over. Unfortunately, his addiction turned to sleeping pills. I discovered that my prescription sleep medicine was missing pills, to which he always had excuses. He told me that he tripped while bringing them home and they fell down the drain. I was told the pharmacist must have given me less pills, and I was told that the TSA workers must have taken them when we went on a plane. No, I did not believe any of his stories. However, I knew little about addiction and did not understand what was happening.
All I knew was that I wanted him to stop taking them. I felt angry and betrayed that he kept lying to me and wouldn’t admit that he was using them. He would stop for a little while (during which time he was getting prescriptions from doctors or asking his parents to give him pills), and then start with mine again.
My husband also lost his job while I was in the end of my first trimester of pregnancy.
He never used anything while at work, but it still didn’t help our circumstances. I was struggling to figure out what was going on with my husband on top of him no longer having employment. We were currently living in a place that had no space for a crib, and we needed a bigger apartment. It was terrifying. I knew all the stress wasn’t good for the baby. I didn’t know how I was supposed to feel calm under all of these incredibly stressful circumstances.
Fast forward a few months and we found a three-bedroom rental in a two-family house. The rent was similar because it was an older home, but we were still struggling financially. I unpacked boxes as quickly as I could, wanting to feel some sense of stability and normalcy in my life.
A few weeks later, I started breaking out in hives. They were all over my back. Big, red hives. I had no idea what was causing them, and I would wake up covered in them. I went to a dermatologist, who informed me that the likely cause was an allergic reaction to (wait for it…) bedbugs.
HOW COULD THIS BE HAPPENING?
BEDBUGS?! I couldn’t believe my ears. How did I get bedbugs? I was a clean freak. He explained that bed bugs aren’t an indication of how clean your house is, and I could have gotten them from anyone or anything. They could have come from the moving truck, from a person’s item of clothing, or even from the fabric on a seat (movie theaters are a breeding ground for them, especially in New York). I inspected my house, particularly my bed, as they often are on mattress tags or near the bed.
I can’t even begin to articulate how itchy I felt in the car ride home. The last place I wanted to go was back to my house, which was supposed to be my haven amidst all the chaos in my life. I silently said a prayer as my husband inspected our bedroom.
To my horror of horrors, he found one bed bug on the mattress tag.
We immediately contacted our landlord, Ted, who informed us that we must have brought them into our home. When we asked if it could have been there beforehand, he scoffed at the mere suggestion and basically hung up on us.
We proceeded to find an exterminator who said he would not spray the house himself, but he would purchase the necessary chemicals for us. Every inch of the house had to be sprayed because we did not know the extent of the infestation. In terrible cases, they could be everywhere. We were also told that every item of fabric that we owned needed to be washed and dried at extremely high temperatures. Bedding, stuffed animals, and clothing (basically anything) were bagged and methodically cleaned.
I could not stay where the chemicals were sprayed due to my pregnancy. As a result, I lived elsewhere for a week to allow the spray to do its job. My husband basically saturated the house in those chemicals, and then did it again for good measure.
He inspected everywhere. When he opened up the old cable box (which was used by the prior tenants, as we had a different cable company install their own equipment when we moved in), he found a few bed bugs. There was nothing found in my cable box, which means they had to have been there before we moved there. After further inquiry, we discovered that the prior tenants had thrown out their mattress a few months before they moved.
We realized that the prior tenants must have had the bed bugs.
The house wasn’t occupied for a few months, but bed bugs can survive for awhile without eating (a not-so-fun-fact that I learned through this process). My guess is that most of them were on their old mattress, and some of them were in the cable box.
We told our landlord what we had discovered. He went from being outraged to volunteering to waive a month’s rent. This didn’t help much, as the cost of all of the pesticides, dry cleaning, plus the horror we endured far outnumbered a month’s rent. I went to bed each night terrified to sleep, as bed bugs will bite in the middle of the night. My stuffed animals from childhood were destroyed, as they were not meant to be put in a high temperature dryer. I had my clothing in a portable clothing rack in the kitchen because I was fearful of putting my clothing back in the bedroom.
I was in my third trimester, and I was a mess.
My husband still didn’t have a job, I was constantly examining myself for any bug bites, and I had no idea if my husband was sober. My life was a tornado, and I had a child on the way. I was terrified, and I felt completely alone.
Luckily, there weren’t many bed bugs after the prior tenants left, and my husband successfully got rid of them. The knowledge I learned about this topic is one I would never forget, however much I wanted to erase it from my brain. I still cringe whenever I hear someone say, “Don’t let the bed bugs bite.”
My husband found a job right before I had my daughter, so that concern was rectified. Unfortunately, his struggle with addiction is one that outlasted my pregnancy. I am so proud of his sobriety for the last five years, but it is still a big part of my pregnancy story, and one in which look back on with sadness. I wish things could have been different, but there are some things in life in which we simply don’t have a say. What I can control is how I handled myself during my pregnancy, and I am proud of that.
I gave birth to a beautiful baby girl on August 3rd, 2012.
My pregnancy, with all of its horrors and pain, still allowed me to bring a beautiful soul into this world. Although my story is filled with hardships, it is one that I tell with my head held high. I went through a series of traumatic events during a time where I wish I could have been on cloud nine. Although it wasn’t one in which fairy tales are born, it showed me that I am far stronger than I realized. I was going to need that inner strength to raise my daughter and to get through my husband’s struggles. I learned that I had no idea where life was going to take me, but that I would be okay no matter what life (or cable boxes) threw my way.
Helping childhood emotional abuse survivors share their story
Why? It isn’t something about my life that I openly broadcast (until now), but when I have shared it with a select few, the response I typically get is… nothing. People feel uncomfortable, so they say nothing at all and change the topic.
This is NOT the way to go. It takes a lot of courage for abuse survivors to tell their story. Before they tell it to you, they first have to accept it themselves. That is terrifying. For many people, what happened to them brings great guilt and shame. This truth applies to any type of trauma. Somehow we feel it is our fault because facing the painful reality that we were helpless and someone did something terrible to us is incredibly difficult to accept.
Even when we accept what happened, we are terrified that others will see us differently. We feel ashamed of our experience and fearful that others will shame us.
I know that there are no ill intentions when all I hear is the sound of silence. I know many of you are stunned and simply don’t know what to say. You don’t mean to make the person that opened up to you feel alone. However, silence will do just that.
If someone tells you their story, they are choosing to let you in to the most painful parts of their soul. They are sharing their vulnerability, their horror, and their pain.
Telling them it could have been worse or comparing a person’s pain to another is not the way to go. Every person’s pain deserves to be acknowledged and validated. What survivors of any type of trauma need more than anything is support and love.
HOW TO RESPOND WHEN A TRAUMA IS REVEALED
If an abuse survivor trusts you enough to tell you their story, it is important to respond with words and not silence. Therefore, here are some things you can say when a trauma is shared with you:
(1) What happened was not okay
Tell them that it was awful, terrible, horrible and that you can’t imagine their pain.
(2) If they are receptive, offer a hug
Sometimes hugs can express the sentiments you aren’t able to articulate.
(4) Acknowledge abuse survivors’ bravery in telling their story
Let them know you feel honored that they chose to share it with you. As uncomfortable as you may feel hearing their story, the person telling it is feeling that way tenfold.
(5) Ask them what you can do to support them on their healing journey
DO NOT tell them what you think they should do. The needs of each survivor will vary, so please don’t ask them this question unless you are prepared to follow through with their response. For some, that may mean knowing that they can bring it up again, as they see fit. For others, they may not want to discuss it again. No matter what they decide, tell them you will be there for them.
(6) If you know someone who has experienced some form of trauma, please don’t be afraid to bring the topic up to them
Let that person know that you care, and you are sorry for what they endured. Don’t push them to talk about it if they don’t want to, but acting like you don’t know about their trauma is just as painful as saying nothing.
the importance of awareness
With events going on in the world today, I have learned more than ever about the importance of awareness. Awareness comes in many forms; those who need awareness that what they endured was indeed traumatic, and awareness of others to acknowledge and support an abuse survivor or someone else’s trauma.
Complacency will not allow for change, and there is so much change that needs to take place. I hope that this post brings some form of awareness to each of you, and that it allows us to take one step closer to a world of change.
What is your story? If you are willing to give a voice to your pain, I promise to listen.
Fear and stress are emotions that shape our perception of the world. Whether we grew up often feeling afraid or felt only the occasional nervousness, we can all vividly recount a time in our childhood where we were truly frightened. Throughout our childhood, the circumstances that caused us to feel fear or stress resulted in responses to that exposure. Even if you didn’t grow up abused, each of us encountered situations that impacted our way of reacting. We learned to protect ourselves through our responses to those traumas (big or small). There are 4 fear and stress-based responses, known as the 4 Fs of Fear and Stress. These responses shape your reactions in adulthood.
What are the 4 Fs of Fear and Stress?
These responses are evolutionary and primitive, allowing both animals and humans to survive danger and keep us safe. Any of the 4 Fs of Fear and Stress can be used depending on the situation/threat. A person may also use more than one in a given situation:
This type of response can be physical fighting as well as using your voice to protect yourself. Examples include attacking, yelling, or attempting to frighten the source of danger. This response can also be seen when trying to control another person or arguing and/or defending yourself.
This can mean physically leaving a situation that causes fear, or it can be done by mentally checking out. Tuning out stressful situations, changing the subject, or avoiding things that cause fear or stress are other examples. It may also be shown by not getting emotionally close to others or constantly move from place to place. Any attempt to run away in an attempt to protect oneself is an example of flight. (pete-walker.com, 2018)
Freezing may be literal in that we physically stop moving when we feel threatened. It can also be shown by an inability to speak or continue doing an activity. This can include disconnecting from your pain, prolonged sleep or daydreaming, and/or zoning out in front of the TV. This response can also cause isolation from others.
This type of response is seeking safety from the person who is making them feel threatened. This can be seen by someone who has little or no boundaries, goes out of their way to please others, and is overly accommodating. Attempts are made to avoid conflict with the perceived threat. This type of response is often a learned response due to a caregiver who is toxic or abusive. The child learns that some form of safety is achieved by accommodating and pleasing that person (betterhelp.com, 2021).
what happens to your body during an involuntary stress response?
When you perceive a situation as stressful or fearful, the physiological stress response begins in the part of the brain that is responsible for perceiving fear, known as the amygdala. The amygdala interprets images and sounds around you, and when it gets triggered, it sends a signal to the hypothalamus, which then stimulates the autonomic nervous system (ANS).
The ANS is comprised of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system controls the fight or flight response, and the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for the freeze and fawn response. The parasympathetic nervous system also triggers the response that enables your body to go back to its normal state after the danger has passed ( health.harvard.edu, 2019).
When your ANS is stimulated, your adrenal glands release adrenaline and cortisol. These two hormones are immediately released, and they may affect your heart rate, breathing, vision, hearing, blood thickening, skin temperature, and/or lowering your feeling of pain. This is done to protect you from the oncoming threat. The specific physiological reaction depends on how you respond to stress, which varies. It is also possible to shift between F responses during the same situation. These reactions are something that happen instantaneously and often without our awareness.
These physiological reactions are triggered by a psychological fear.
These psychological fears or stresses are conditioned from your childhood, and they were triggered when you were first exposed to something that you perceived as stressful and/or fearful. These triggers will vary from person to person. Your response may be due to a similar situation or something that is associated with a negative experience from your past. When faced with these perceived threats, your brain thinks you are danger (health.harvard.edu, 2019).
The 4 Fs of Fear and Stress are responses meant to protect you. Many people will use each of them at some point based on which is most appropriate to the situation. However, some depend on only one or two of the 4 Fs of fear due to chronic anxiety and/or repeated trauma (pete-walker.com, 2018). As a result, the autonomic nervous system gets dysregulated. Even when the danger is gone, the person often gets stuck in survival mode and is quick to use their go-to fear and stress response(s). These responses become overused, and the brain gets conditioned to respond to situations that are not threatening.
Are The 4 Fs of Fear and Stress Something We Can Control and Get Rid Of?
The 4 Fs of Fear and Stress happen faster than our conscious thoughts. It is an automatic and physiological reaction. However, it is a learned reaction, meaning that we can gain insight into the types of responses we have, how they affect our body, and whether or not those reactions are truly needed depending on the circumstances.
We can recognize that although these responses helped us in our past, they are not serving us now. We can learn ways to cope with an overactive fear and stress response. As a result, the 4 Fs of Fear and Stress can be used when they are necessary, as opposed to constantly.
How can we overcome the 4 Fs of Fear and Stress Response if it is being overused?
(1) Seek professional help
A mental health professional can help you to deal with your past trauma(s) and anxiety. They can work with you to manage your overuse of the 4 Fs of Fear and Stress.
Learning how to regulate your breathing can be helpful because your breathing gets altered when you are experiencing the 4 Fs of Fear and Stress. Some breathing exercises to regulate your breathing are:
Take a deep breath, hold it for a few seconds, and then exhale slowly.
Belly breathing- instead of breathing from your chest, let your belly rise when you inhale and lower when you exhale
progressive relaxation exercises- this is one of my favorites and I’ve discussed it in several of my posts. Working your way from one end of your body to the to the other, inhale while contracting/tensing the body part, hold the contraction and your breath, then exhale and let the body part relax.
This is a simple and effective way to calm the nervous system. It lowers the energy created in the body and it is a simple and quick thing to do when your heart rate goes up. Even a few minutes of jumping or running in place will get your heart rate up and help you! It also releases endorphins, which make you feel happier. An added bonus is that incorporating exercise into your routine is good for your physical well-being.
(4) Get curious about what you are experiencing
Once you have learned to calm your body down using the skills above, you can start practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness is a technique where we observe (as opposed to judging) how we feel and where we feel it in our body. It allows us to focus on the present. Mindfulness is helpful because you learn how your body experiences the 4Fs of Fear and Stress, as well as the accompanying emotions and thoughts. Your body automatically reacts, but when you recognize the physiological reactions that take place, it is easier to take a step back. With practice, you can notice the thoughts and emotions that occur with it and decide what to do (such as recognizing how you are feeling, but letting it go), as opposed to acting on auto-pilot.
We do not have to believe and act on every thought we have.
Learning to notice your automatic physiological response and not act on it is not an easy thing to do. It takes a lot of practice as well as understanding that change will not happen overnight (drsoph.com, 2020).
A great mindfulness exercise is known as RAIN. It comes from Judson Brewer, a psychologist who specializes in anxiety (westmichiganwoman.com, 2020):
Recognize/Relax- recognize what you are experiencing in your body and any thoughts or feelings
Accept/Allow- Hold space for what you are experiencing instead of running away from it or judging yourself for it
Investigate: Go deeper and explore those experiences- where am I feeling this in my body, what other thoughts am I having
Note/Not Attach- Understand that you are having these feelings and experiences, but they do not define you. Thoughts and feelings will come and go.
(5) Remind yourself that you are safe
When you are better equipped at recognizing how your body feels in response to the 4Fs of Fear and Stress, you can remind yourself that even though you don’t feel safe, you actually are not in any real danger.
(6) Practice these techniques when you are not feeling triggered
Incorporate these strategies into your daily routine so that you are comfortable with them. This, in turn, will allow you to better recognize your physiological reactions when you feel triggered.
(7) Grounding techniques
There are many that I discussed here, but a common one is the 5,4,3,2,1, which uses all of your senses to help you focus on the present moment. For example, you can notice 5 things you see, then 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can smell, 2 things you can hear, and 1 thing you can taste. Focus on your surroundings intensely so you can pick up on sensations you may not normally realize.
(8) Social Support
It is important to have healthy social relationships. This will help you to feel more supported and secure, which makes you feel less triggered.
(9) Strategies for the overuse of each specific F of Fear Response (pete-walker.com, 2018)
Note– For any of the F responses, the above strategies, therapy, and a growth mindset are integral in managing their overuse. Below is what you can do additionally based on the overuse of one of the F responses:
Fight– educate yourself on how this type of F response can be harmful rather than helpful (through self-help and/or professional help). If your body is constantly in fight mode, it can result in controlling behavior and frequently being defensive and angry. Try finding a healthier outlet for those tendencies such as supporting causes and defending people who you care about. Pay attention to your physiological responses and start working on taking a break when you feel the fight response.
Flight– if this is your specific F response, you are often a workaholic and/or always on the go. Perfectionism is common, as well as anxiety and over-planning. Meditation is helpful to learn how to stay in the moment. Working on how to gradually shorten the amount of time you flee is also helpful.
Freeze– this is the most difficult F response to treat because this type is typically reluctant to seek professional help. Additionally, they are often in denial about their tendency to disassociate. It may be helpful to use timers and calendars as reminders to get things done (oomm.live, 2019).
Fawn– boundaries are especially helpful for this type of response. It’s also necessary to start recognizing and prioritizing your own emotions and thoughts (mindbodygreen.com, 2020). Therapy is also beneficial in helping such an individual develop a sense of self and practice assertiveness.
Takeaway about the 4 Fs of Fear and Stress
These responses are our brain’s way of protecting us from fear, danger, and stress, which are controlled by our autonomic nervous system. They are automatic, often appearing before any conscious choice becomes involved. They are meant to keep us safe, and each one has its place and purpose. Even if you are stuck in a dominant or hybrid type, the most important thing is to give yourself compassion and love as you gain a deeper awareness of the 4 Fs of Fear and Stress.
“Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words shall never harm me…” but they do. They sting and linger. The harshest ones repeating over and over in our minds until they make us, define us.This guest post was written by my sister, Kari, about her struggle with an eating disorder:
I was the girl teased for what I had always tried to cover – a birthmark on my nose and forehead. I was different, I was ugly, I was flawed. If someone loved me, then maybe I could learn to love myself. Any time a guy showed interest in me, I was blind to everything other than his acceptance. Everything he did was okay, nothing was a deal breaker, nothing was worth not having his love.
I married young. I had just turned 22, more than a year since my parents divorced. My sister and I watched them fight our entire lives. The dissolution of their marriage hit me harder than I expected. When it happened, I felt broken. Alone. I wanted a family, stability, happiness.
my struggle with an eating disorder
For my 21st birthday, I let my boyfriend of almost 2 years know my desire to wed. He was almost 7 years older than me, and when we met, I was in awe of him and the various things he had experienced in his life. It didn’t matter to me that he would go out every night after work to bars when I was underage and couldn’t go. It didn’t matter to me that he chose video games instead of me. He liked me, loved me, found me adorable – his 6’ frame towering over my 5’ one. I used my size to my advantage, just as I had watched my 4’11” 90lb mother do to my father.
There were several warning signs prior to the wedding, and I ignored them all. “You found someone who loves you, no marriage is perfect,” I would tell myself. As I walked down the aisle, I felt beautiful, an unfamiliar and foreign feeling. “This is my happily ever after,” I thought, secure with the decision to marry him.
That night we returned to our apartment to pack for our honeymoon the next day. I expected him to sweep me off my feet, carry me to our bed, to want and desire me. After he placed the luggage by the door, he walked to his computer and turned it on, settling into his gaming chair.
I no longer felt beautiful. I was insignificant, discarded, lonely.
Loneliness was part of this new chapter of my life. I couldn’t go back and undo my marriage. Our lives and families were now intertwined. I felt trapped, desolate, miserable. I didn’t understand why he didn’t want to be home with me. The same man who had captivated me was slowly destroying me, yet I had no idea how to tell him.
During this time, my sister was planning her wedding. We had gone to look at dresses for her and the bridesmaids. When we were measured, I learned I was a size bigger than her. I’ll never know what caused it, but suddenly, I needed to be smaller. Maybe it was because I saw how much my soon-to-be brother in law loved my sister. Maybe it was because I equated being small and cute with being loved.
Perhaps I was looking for anything to overshadow my loneliness.
That night I weighed myself. I was 109 pounds. More than 10 pounds heavier than my sister. So I researched how to lose weight and decided to restrict my calories. I began to write down everything I ate, cutting out 100 calories at first, then 200, 500. I began to look forward to the time alone, not having to worry about eating with my husband. Each night I’d go to bed hungry but satisfied, finding happiness in making my caloric goal.
I’d get lost in plans for the day’s meals. All day I’d revise the planned meals, finding substitutions and saving calories. It consumed me. I didn’t have time to feel sorry for myself and my marriage. Every morning I’d get on the scale and weigh myself, shocked by how quickly the pounds were dropping. The more I’d lose, the more I wanted to lose.
My friends and coworkers started noticing the sudden weight loss.
I welcomed the attention, but isolated myself more, making excuses for not wanting to see anyone. I waited for my husband to notice. He didn’t. I restricted more and more until I was eating no more than 500 calories a day. Never a fan of exercise, I’d walk to work and home again- an hour walk each way, making detours to lengthen the trip and burn additional calories.
I had dropped almost 20 pounds before my husband finally said something. My clothes no longer fit, my hair fell out and thinned. I was weak and tired all the time; however, I finally had his attention. He commented on how little I was. He said I needed to put meat on my bones again, but it wasn’t enough for me. I couldn’t gain weight now. Since I lost weight so quickly from barely eating, I thought I’d gain it all back just as quickly.
I was irrational, I was obsessed, I was taking control of my life by controlling every morsel I ate. I was struggling with an eating disorder.
Anorexia consumed my life. I never hated myself more. I refused to look in mirrors because I knew my clothes hung from my gaunt limbs. My male coworkers began to tease me, perhaps thinking it was all in jest about my appearance. All the things said to me in my youth were repeating themselves. Flawed, ugly, different.
I needed to eat. I couldn’t. It was a vicious cycle. My mother intervened, furious at my husband for standing by while I withered away. I felt like I was a burden to him and my mother. I stopped seeing my family. All day I wouldn’t eat so when he was home I’d eat, pretending I was getting better by snacking on a sugar free popsicle, knowing he would never check that it was only 15 calories.
Somehow I found the strength to look at myself, disgusted by the absence of my once slender, but curvy frame. Something inside of me surrendered, and I wanted to be me again. I got dressed and went to get pizza, something I had avoided for months. I ate 3 slices. and I felt good. The worst was behind me. Or so I thought.
Addiction isn’t something we control.
I controlled what I ate until the addiction took over and I was anorexic. There was nothing else to me, no traits, no personality.
Like any addiction, this will always be a part of me. I may be able to eat now, but I still know the nutrition facts to every food I eat. There is not one moment where I don’t reconsider eating or try to find a way out of eating at a restaurant. It took a few more years and struggling with another eating disorder, but I have finally found my true happily ever after.
My name is Kari. I am different. I am flawed. No, I am not ugly. I deserve love. I am loved….and if someone ever tries to make me feel different, well, as they say, “sticks and stones will break some bones…”
My husband, Matt, is an addict. His addiction and his recovery are both an important part of his journey, and they are a part of our journey as a couple. Matt has been sober for five years. I am grateful that he is clean and has stayed clean, but there is so much more to sobriety than not using. I assumed that once he was sober it would be smooth sailing.
THAT IS SIMPLY NOT THE TRUTH.
I asked my husband to share his struggle and perspective on living a sober life to provide insight for loved ones of addicts and to support others on their own sober journey.
Read his story below:
Recovering from an addiction is anything but easy. You feel alone, lost, afraid, and have no identity other than what you used to be in active addiction. A lot of your feelings are negative, and your coping strategy of using is gone. As a result, your normal way of dealing with negative emotions is no longer available. Every 24-hour period an addict is drug and/or alcohol-free is a gift. No matter what else happened that day, you can be proud of yourself that you didn’t use. It is a beginning of a long road, but it is a road worth traveling. Being in recovery and living a sober life will help reshape your life into one of confidence, health, and healing. However, staying sober is only half the battle.
LIVING A SOBER LIFE IS NOT JUST ABOUT ABSTAINING FROM SUBSTANCES
It is a misnomer that recovery is just about abstaining from the substances you used in active addiction. That is just not true. It is also recovering from behaviors and facing feeling that you used addiction to mask. In addition, there are new and emerging feelings of shame, regret, sadness, and anger that will surface, all of which were previously dealt with by burying them under the cover of drugs, pills, alcohol, etc. You need to evaluate which people will help you to live a sober life and which will not. You also need to learn how to communicate to others that you are in recovery to avoid uncomfortable situations that might put you in a position to relapse.
The first part of living a sober life in recovery is to find a 12-step program and meetings that you enjoy. There are so many different types of meetings out there that it can be extremely overwhelming. In the beginning you need to attend as many meetings as you can. Therefore, it is a good idea to bounce around until you find one that helps you gain insight into yourself through what others share. When I was first starting out, I was told to just listen to different people share at meetings and see what resonated with me.
When you find a meeting you like, the next thing you must do is find a sponsor. At the beginning, finding a sponsor is the most important tool in living a sober life. It is impossible to stay sober on your own during the first few years of recovery. You need that guidance and support during those tough times. A sponsor will help you work the program in a meaningful and insightful way. They have been through the 12 steps before and are a tool in helping you stay sober.
With that said, recovery is an introspective exercise.
You must be able to work on yourself and work on behaviors and habits that drove you to use in the first place. It is something that you have to do for yourself each and every day. There is no one-size-fits-all method that will work for everybody. Each person needs to do what is right for them. You can have different people give suggestions and guide you, but the end result is in the work that you put into it and what you are able to change within yourself. If you put the work in every day to work on yourself and stay sober, you will be able to look at yourself in the mirror at the end of each day and say, “I stayed sober today; I am proud of myself.”
for the 12 steps to work you must leave your ego at the door
To be honest, I had tried 12-step programs several times prior to becoming sober. Each time I would attend several meetings and then stop going. It was primarily my self-centeredness, my ego. By that, I mean selfishness, resentments, fear, the things that engulf people with drinking and addiction problems. The steps are designed to look at the world from a different point of view. There has got to be that internal surrender for sobriety to happen. That scared me, and I wanted no part of it. I didn’t have any intention of looking internally to see the root of where my addiction came from, which are my insecurities and faults.
The shame I felt was more powerful than my will to stay sober, so each time I would leave the meetings and continue my destructive behavior.
As you might have read in my initial post about how I became sober, I finally hit rock bottom and knew I had to change or else I would lose what was most important to me. I want to an outpatient rehab center 3 evenings a week for 4 months. It was a solid foundation for me to begin my journey in sobriety, and I learned a lot about myself during this program. I found a meeting that I enjoyed attending, and found a sponsor that I was able to connect with. I started working through the twelve steps with him.
The twelve steps are about spirituality. They’re not about sobriety. They’re about growing along spiritual lines, and sobriety is a by-product of that. Living by spiritual principles does not mean you have to be religious or have any religious affiliation. It means that you believe in something greater than yourself. The steps will help you look inside at yourself and the things you have done wrong that led you on that dark path of addiction. It helps flesh those things out so you can see what needs to change to be able to live a sober life.
THE PROGRAM WILL GIVE YOU TOOLS TO HELP LIVE A SOBER LIFE
After a while, I learned some helpful tools. For example, I learned how to breathe. I also learned how to check in with my body to see how I was reacting to different situations: Is my heart racing? Are my palms sweaty? I learned that I could remove myself from any situation that could affect my sobriety. My wife has been my rock throughout my sobriety journey. I know that it would have been an incredibly difficult journey for me to stay sober without her in my corner.
As time wore on, my frequency at meetings as well as my meetings with my sponsor became less and less frequent. My sponsor enabled me to blame others for my actions rather than help me hold myself accountable. I had to sever ties with him, and over the next several years I tried working with two other sponsors that I did not have success with. My meeting frequency also went from 3 times a week to once a week, then to once every two weeks. Now, I’m lucky if I go to a meeting once every 2-3 months. I stay sober by doing the inner work. I try to understand my habits and behaviors in different situations that cause me to react inappropriately.
What I have today is a better awareness of the things I’m thinking and feeling. I’m aware of when my mind sends me a signal like, “The situation I’m in is not good for me, and it would be much easier to check out by having a quick drink or taking something I shouldn’t. Or even better ten drinks in a row.” I have a better sense of how unbearable I found most situations. Any time I was going through something that would make me the slightest bit uncomfortable, I wanted to use. These behaviors were well worn grooves in my psyche, developed over years of repetition.
What I know today is I don’t have to act on any of these self-destructive impulses.
I don’t have to drink or take drugs. In making the choice to live a sober lifestyle, I have choices. One important choice I always have in my pocket is to do absolutely nothing. If I must decide between going somewhere that might make me uncomfortable or stay home, I can decide to stay home and keep myself safe.
Breathing and meditation taught me how to sit with a feeling for a period of time, dipping my toe into uncomfortable emotional territory. I know that if a feeling becomes unbearable, it won’t stay that way. No matter how angry or sad, anxious, or happy I become, time will pass. Either I won’t feel that way or the feeling will become different, something more thoughtful and less desperate. Being open to the fact that things change helps me make it through those tough moments. Then, before I know it, it’s nighttime and I can get into bed knowing I’ve made it through another day sober. For me, that is the best part. In the morning I will wake up to possibility instead of a massive hangover.
you will need to work on yourself every day
Here’s the thing though; I make mistakes all the time. Tons of them. Sometimes tons in the same day. I will react to different situations poorly. There are days where I react out of spite and anger, doing things I will regret over time. Other days I will become distant and not want to talk to anyone. I will take things and people that I have in my life for granted, and not act in a way that I should in a given situation. There are many days where I still lie about things because I am afraid of sitting with those negative feelings and emotions. I am afraid to have conversations that deal with feelings because I still have the want and need to bury them so that it will not affect me.
These are all things that I struggle with and continue to work on to this day.
The one thing that has never wavered is that I am determined to remain sober. When I wake up every day, I make that choice. I take life in 24 hour periods. I never try to look too far ahead because that can be very scary.
During my years of living a sober life, I have been able to live life in a healthy and more manageable way. I have found a career that I love and am proud of the accomplishments I have made every day. I have been able to have a closer relationship with my wife, which helps me to stay balanced and even keel in this topsy turvy world that we live in.
It is very rare when I feel the need to use. There are times when I get that itch in the back of my brain. I now have the tools to handle those temptations in a healthier way. Life is never easy, and there are times when it is a struggle to get through some days. During those times, I dive deep into doing what I love: spending time with my family, watching sports, listening to music, running, and working out. I have learned how to cope with my disease rather than succumbing to it. I was not able to do so during those dark periods in my life.
Long-term sobriety means working on yourself every day.
A lot can and will happen to you that has the potential to derail you. Addiction is a chronic disease, not a personal failure. There is a human face behind every example, and there is real hope that addiction recovery can change your life. No matter how many times you need to try, please know there is always someone out there that will listen. There is someone out there that can help you get through those difficult times and help you get on the path to living a sober life.
I never expected to start a blog. My personal experiences were something few knew about. What made me go from tightly lipped to my life being an open book? There is a reason why I started blogging, and it is directly linked to why I blog about my personal life and experiences.
I STARTED TO BLOG IN ORDER TO HELP PEOPLE THAT WERE STRUGGLING
Rewind to when the pandemic first began. Isolation became our way of life, and confusion and helplessness were our norm. I remember thinking about how hard it must especially be for those who live alone.
I am a child abuse survivor. Anyone who reads my blog now knows that painful fact about me. What you may not know is that this personal and traumatic life experience caused a snowball effect. I thought about others who are child abuse survivors, and how they were no longer able to seek outside support due to quarantining. My heart broke for people who were struggling alone. I decided to look up child abuse foundations and ask if there was a way I could help.
I came across foundations looking for writers to share their personal life and experiences. I have always loved writing, and I have written poetry from the time I was a child as an outlet for the pain I have felt. I decided to submit my story about the importance of awareness to two of these foundations (NAASCA.org and CPTSDfoundation.org).
SHARING MY PERSONAL LIFE AND EXPERIENCES allowed me to spread comfort and awareness
The feedback I received warmed my heart and made me feel like I was helping others to not feel alone. At the same time, I felt that by sharing my story I was taking control of my life. I cannot change what happened to me. However, if I can bring comfort to others, then something good can come from the unimaginable.
I continue to contribute regularly to these amazing organizations. I wanted to do my part to break the stigma regarding those topics, and the only way I could do so was by example. As a result, I decided to start blogging so I could spread awareness about trauma and mental wellness. This branched into also sharing about what I’ve learned from my relationships and from parenting my daughter.
MY FIGHT AGAINST COMPLEX POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER
I mentioned in prior posts that I have Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD), and that I would discuss it more fully in another post. I now feel it is the time to do so. For most of my life I didn’t even know what C-PTSD was, or that I had it. Although it is not officially diagnosed by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), it is related to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is recognized by the DSM-5, and it is caused by extreme fear due to a traumatic event. Symptoms include flashbacks, hypervigilance, and avoidance of things associated with the trauma. C-PTSD is also caused by trauma; however, it is caused by repeated or prolonged trauma.
My C-PTSD was caused by my prolonged abuse due to my mother throwing me out of the house from the time I was eight years old.
My mother also vacillated between loving me and wanting nothing to do with me. Other forms of trauma were her making me believe that it was my job to take care of her emotional needs in order to feel safe and loved. Growing up with no sense of safety, support, or love caused me to view the world as a very scary place and for me to feel frightened all the time. If you want to read more about my story of abuse, you can read about it here.
My symptoms of C-PTSD include having nightmares about what happened to me, watching something on TV or reading something that causes me to emotionally flashback to my trauma (I don’t visualize it, but I feel the sadness caused from it), and negative self-perception. Additionally, I used to have a distorted perception of my abuser, as I felt completely dependent on her. I still struggle with emotional regulation because certain things trigger me. When I get triggered, I feel completely panic stricken and helpless, just as I did when I was a child. Although I remember most of what happened to me as a child, there are some things I don’t fully remember. Having gaps in your memory or blocking things out entirely is another symptom of C-PTSD (healthline.com, 2018).
WRITING ABOUT MY PERSONAL LIFE AND EXPERIENCES HELPS BRING HOPE
These personal experiences are not easy to write about. It is not easy to write about having C-PTSD. In fact, I have broken down after writing many of my blog posts, specifically the ones about going no contact with my mom, my relationship with my inner child, and my story of abuse. I am taking wounds that will never fully close and reopening them by pouring my emotional pain onto the computer screen. Despite what many have thought, it does not give me closure or help with my healing because I write from the heart. To do so, I must fully connect with the words I am typing. In some ways, that means I experience it again.
So why do I write about things that cause me pain?
Three words: Awareness and hope.
I want to show the world that scars do not have to be present to be felt. In fact, the scars left by emotional and mental abuse may be invisible, but that does not mean they are not potent. They cause immeasurable damage to the minds and souls of those who experience it. It is much harder to prove emotional and mental abuse, let alone have someone intervene. This type of abuse will continue unless there is more awareness. With every story I tell, my hope is that one person gains awareness. If one person now understands, perhaps one child won’t have to experience that trauma.
HOPE IS ONE OF THE MOST POWERFUL WEAPONS YOU HAVE
That is where hope comes into play. Hope. It is a word that I have clung to my entire life. Hope allowed me to keep going during my childhood. I would tell myself that maybe if I was hurting, that meant somewhere out there one child wasn’t being abused. Albeit unrealistic, it was my hope that my pain was sparing someone else. That hope brought comfort to something that no child should ever endure.
I started blogging about my personal life and experiences, and I will continue to do so, because I want to spread hope. I want people to know that no matter what you have endured, no matter how broken and alone you feel, there is always hope. There is so much that can be taken away from each of us, so much pain can be inflicted upon us, but hope is the one thing that is ours. Even in our darkest moments, even when we feel the world has turned its back on us, hold onto hope. Hope is what brings us out of the darkness and into the light.
I hope my words bring each of you some hope. Hope that things can get better. Hope that you are not alone.
Hope that you matter and your story matters. Hope that you can rise no matter how many times life has thrown you down. Hope that you can heal. Hope that you have survived and will continue to survive no matter how hard life may be. Hope that you will remember to feel hope even on the days you feel like giving up.
I never thought I would start a blog. Yet here I am blogging my life story. I appreciate every person who has reached out to me with their personal stories or to let me know that my words brought them comfort and hope. To each of you, thank you. You inspire me to keep blogging and to keep sharing.
Gratitude jars. Gratitude journals. Stay positive. Stay strong. It could be worse. Focus on the good in your life. Positive vibes only. Choose happiness …. These are all things that we do and say to be mindful of the importance of positivity. We remind ourselves and others to see the glass as half full rather than half empty. Positivity is a good thing, but is there such a thing as too much positivity? That is where toxic positivity comes in, and it is harmful to your mental and emotional health.
What is Toxic Positivity?
Toxic positivity is the belief that the way to cope with any situation is by putting a positive spin on it. Everyone has their own feelings, and one person’s circumstances may seem minimal to another. However, positivity should not be forced upon someone due to different perspectives. Toxic positivity is harmful because it prevents a person from focusing on their painful or negative feelings and/or experiences. If thoughts and/or comments minimize, deny, or invalidate one’s feelings of emotional pain and duress, it is toxic positivity (www.medicalnewstoday.com, 2019 ).
What are signs that you are suffering from toxic positivity?
Burying your actual feelings
Believing that those who act positive all the time are stronger
Dismissing emotions or things that are bothersome
Feelings of guilt for your emotions
Urging others/yourself to be happy no matter what
Giving unsolicited advice and trying to change a person’s perspective about their feelings/emotions
Why is Toxic Positivity Harmful to Your Mental and Emotional Health?
(1) Causes Feelings of shame
If we are told that we should always have a positive outlook, that sets us up to believe that our feelings are bad unless we feel positive. This promotes feelings of shame and guilt. We will feel shame for how we are feeling because of being judged by others.
(2) Makes unpleasant and difficult emotions bigger and more difficult to handle
When we deny, suppress emotions, and/or keep feelings to ourselves, this only puts a temporary band aid on our pain. Although we may put on a façade of being fine, that doesn’t mean that we are okay on the inside. We all need a healthy outlet to express ourselves and address our feelings. If feelings are suppressed, they will eventually come out in one form or another. Those feelings may become intensified because of the time that was spent avoiding it. One also may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms.
(3) Lack of connection
If we feel judged or feel shame for our feelings due to toxic positivity, we may choose to hide those parts of ourselves. This results in superficial relationships where we only show certain sides of ourselves. As a result, relationships are disingenuous and lack honesty and intimacy.
(4) Lack of communication
Communication may be limited due to a lack of support and validation for feelings other than pleasant ones. Discussion would be selective instead of a true connection where you can be yourself with others. Additionally, problems and concerns cannot be solved if they are not acknowledged and addressed.
(5) Underestimate abuse
If we don’t allow ourselves to acknowledge our hardships, we are more likely to stay in abusive relationships and toxic situations.
(6) Low self-esteem
Toxic positivity causes us to feel badly about our feelings and emotional responses, which in turn makes us feel insecure and lack confidence.
(7) Less likely to seek professional help
If we are burying our feelings, we will not get the help we need to work through them.
(8) Psychological difficulties
A lack of processing our feelings can cause prolonged grief, increased stress, increased substance abuse, and PTSD (healthline.com, 2020). A study found that people who avoid acknowledging emotions damage their psychological health (washingtonpost.com, 2019)
tips and strategies
(1) Accept difficult emotions
As I discussed in my it’s okay to not be okay post, it is necessary to recognize that negative and/or unpleasant emotions are normal. We are not going to be okay all the time, and that is part of life. Show acceptance for how you are feeling by acknowledging your emotions. Instead of trying to force them away, allow yourself to feel however you feel. Writing down your feelings is a good way to process them and helps us to better manage them.
Encourage others to speak about their feelings, and do not avoid conversations that make you feel uncomfortable. Do not try to fix someone else’s problems or feelings or offer unsolicited advice. Instead, show support and empathy. Reinforce that you understand how they are feeling and ask how you can help them. Sometimes having someone validate your feelings is all a person needs. Remember, you don’t need to feel the same way that they do in order to show support and empathy. Validation is about acknowledging how they feel without judgment.
When you are experiencing difficult emotions, give yourself the support and compassion that you should show others. Judging yourself will only cause you to run away from your feelings.
(4) Take the time to care for your well-being
Having a self-care routine allows you to take time for yourself and prioritizes your mental health. This ensures that you are in tune with your feelings instead of ignoring or minimizing them. Self-care is not a cure for negative feelings, but it helps you to be aware of your emotional and mental needs.
(5) You can feel opposing feelings
As someone who has chronic anxiety, I know firsthand that I feel anxious while also feeling grateful. One does not supersede or replace the other. We all have a range of emotions and feelings, and we can feel more than one at the same time. Recognizing that it is okay to feel opposing feelings allows us to better manage our emotions. It is important to accept how we are feeling while seeking healthy coping mechanisms to process those feelings/circumstances. Some emotions will linger more than others, and that is okay. Healthy positivity means feeling authentic emotions, whatever they may be.
(6) Set realistic goals
Instead of suppressing emotions, set reasonable goals that focus on behavior rather than emotion. For example, if you like Pilates, set a goal to do Pilates a certain number of times that week. We cannot and should not try to control how we feel, but we can choose activities that promote mental wellness and feelings of accomplishment.
What makes positivity toxic is when it is forced upon you so that authentic emotions are being discouraged. If you speak to someone who is promoting toxic positivity, either disengage or let the person know that you don’t agree with that message. We cannot control what others do, but we do get to choose our company.
(8) Be selective with social media
Social media is great for many reasons, but it often showcases only the happy and positive aspects of our lives. Comparing ourselves to others can make us feel shame, and it also promotes an outlook of only positivity. Recognize what is harmful for you and stay away from pages or websites that encourage toxic positivity.
(9) Seek support
Instead of keeping your feelings to yourself, find family, friends and/or a professional that is supportive. Talk to them about how you are feeling and when you are struggling. Surrounding yourself by people that encourage your feelings, good or bad, will help combat toxic positivity.
(10) Avoid labels
Instead of labeling emotions as good or bad, try to see them as messages. They are there to show you what you need and how to make sense of experiences. I remind myself often that my feelings of anxiety are not good or bad. Remember that however you are feeling, those feelings do not define you (healthline.com, 2020).
The pandemic has brought about a world of uncertainty and fear. We have all had our lives disrupted, and many of us have lost loved ones or are facing economic hardships. It is okay to try to see the positive side of things, but those feelings cannot be forced. Toxic positivity is harmful for your mental and emotional health, and we need to put an end to it. Allow yourself to grieve and feel your emotions, whatever they are. Be a safe person for your friends, family, and loved ones. We cannot make difficult situations better, but we can support one another. That makes all the difference.