my pregnancy story

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 pregnancy story

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.

Emotional Abuse

I started this blog to discuss the journey of motherhood. Additionally, I wanted a platform to address taboo topics to facilitate awareness and change.

I have discussed in other posts that I am a survivor of childhood psychological and emotional abuse. Even if you haven’t been abused, we all have experienced some sort of trauma, collectively and individually.

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. Emotional Abuse

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.

(3) Tell them it wasn’t their fault, and that they didn’t deserve what happened to them.

This one is huge.

(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.

the 4 fs of fear and stress

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:

Fight

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.

Flight

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)

the 4 Fs of Fear and Stress

Freeze

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.

Fawn

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.

(2) Breathing exercises

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.

(3) Exercise

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).  

Fawnboundaries 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.

 

struggling with an eating disorder

“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.

counting calories

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.

everyone deserves love

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…”
living a sober life

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.

 

 

personal experiences and 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).

My biggest symptom is my ongoing struggle with anxiety. My autonomic nervous system is overactive due to my prolonged and intense trauma. In other words, I am hyperalert and in “flight or fight” mode, feeling continuous anxiety (ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, 2020). I have written numerous blog posts about the physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety, the types of anxiety disorders, and two different articles filled with various strategies and tips to manage anxiety in adults and children .

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.

toxic positivity is harmful

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?

  1. Burying your actual feelings
  2. Believing that those who act positive all the time are stronger
  3. Dismissing emotions or things that are bothersome
  4. Feelings of guilt for your emotions
  5. Minimizing feelings/emotions
  6. Urging others/yourself to be happy no matter what
  7. Giving unsolicited advice and trying to change a person’s perspective about their feelings/emotions
  8. Criticizing others/yourself for feeling emotions that aren’t positive (www.thepsychologygroup.com, 2020)

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

toxic positivity 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.

(2) Validate and reinforce other’s feelings

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.

(3) Give yourself compassion

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.

(7) Set boundaries

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).

 

 

final thought

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.

 

I am Randi, and I am an imposter. Yes, it’s true. I graduated with a nearly perfect GPA in undergraduate and graduate school. However, when I worked in the schools as a Speech-Language Pathologist, I didn’t feel competent. Everyone else seemed so confident in their abilities, but I felt like a phony.  When I started writing, I felt like a fraud in that area as well. I compare myself to other people who have more followers and feel like I am not as capable as them. I feel anxiety because no matter how hard I try, I’m not good enough at anything I do…. This exemplifies the thinking of someone with imposter syndrome, and this post will help you to overcome it.

what is imposter syndrome?

Imposter Syndrome is the idea that your accomplishments are merely a façade. You feel like you are inadequate and incompetent despite your talent and abilities. Success and achievement are not a reflection of your qualifications and skills; instead, it is proof of being a phony and/or merely having good luck. These types of thoughts can be very obtrusive and sometimes debilitating. As someone who has struggled with this way of thinking (see above paragraph), I know imposter syndrome quite well.

This concept was first described by psychologists Suzanna Imes and Pauline Rose Clance in the 1970s. They believed that this way of thinking only applied to high-achieving women. Imposter Syndrome Expert, Dr. Valerie Young, has since discovered that imposter syndrome is experienced by both men and women. Furthermore, nearly 70% of people experience this at some point in their lives (verywellmind.com, 2018). If you have difficulty feeling deserving of your achievements, then you are one of the many people that struggle with imposter syndrome. 

People with imposter syndrome usually have a cyclical way of thinking. They don’t think they are qualified to do tasks  properly. This will cause the person to experience anxiety and to overly prepare and/or procrastinate. When the task is successful, they will believe their perfectionistic tendencies (overly preparing) or sheer luck (procrastination) was the cause.  This reinforces their way of thinking to minimize their success and feel unqualified. As a result, the person will continue to feel fearful of being exposed as not good enough. 

THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF IMPOSTERS

different types of imposters

In Dr. Young’s book, The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women: Why Capable People Suffer From the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It, she classifies imposter syndrome into 5 different types. These types have overlapping characteristics, so a person may fall into more than one type (themuse.com, 2020):

The Perfectionist

People who are perfectionists feel like they don’t measure up unless they do everything perfectly. The feeling of inadequacy due to impossible standards goes hand-in-hand with feeling like you are an imposter. Perfectionists feel that it is a lack of competency that is responsible for any mistakes. No matter the accomplishments and talent, it is never enough to make a perfectionist feel like they are successful.

As someone who is a recovering perfectionist (and one who often falls off the wagon), I know these feelings all too well. It is a vicious cycle of perfectionism causing one to feel like an imposter, and imposter syndrome causing one to try to be perfect.

The Superwoman/Superman

These individuals push themselves in all aspects of life. They often experience burnout due to feelings of inadequacy. They feel they don’t measure up as much as others, so they work harder to try to prove they aren’t imposters.

The Natural Genius

Those who fall under this category believe that anything that doesn’t come naturally to them means they are imposters. They associate intelligence and capability with speed and ease. They have high standards that are similar to perfectionists. However, instead of solely placing value on results, they also focus on whether they get the desired results the first time around.

The Soloist

These individuals work alone and are very independent. They believe that asking for help or needing assistance is an indication of being a fraud.

The Expert

Those who fall under this type measure their competence based on how much they know and how many certifications or trainings they have in a certain area. They believe they need to know everything about whatever they do. As a result, they will always seek to know more and get more credentials out of fear of being exposed as a fake. They feel they never know enough, and they are never satisfied with their level of knowledge.

imposter thoughts and feelings

Strategies to Overcome Imposter Syndrome

 

(1) Do not ignore your thoughts

It might be tempting to push those pesky feelings to the back of your mind, but that actually can do more harm than good. It is okay to experience doubt, but you get to decide what you do with those feelings. Allow yourself to acknowledge your thoughts.

(2) Challenge your way of thinking

Now that you have taken the time to gather your thoughts, you can now put them in perspective. What are you telling yourself that makes you feel like an imposter? Is that belief actually true? If not, how can you reframe your thoughts?

For example, if you feel asking questions is an indication of inadequacy, remind yourself that asking questions help us to grow and learn. Furthermore, if you have a question, it is possible (and likely) that someone else does as well. Other ways to reframe your thoughts are that some things require practice to gain further understanding, and mistakes are a part of learning (verywellmind.com, 2018).

I had a core belief that I was not good enough if I didn’t do everything perfectly. When I took the time to challenge my thoughts, I realized that I was setting myself up for failure. None of us are perfect, and doing my best is all I can do. That doesn’t make me an imposter; that makes me human.

(3) Assess yourself

Make a list of your talents and your skills.  Based on your list, do you still feel your success is based on luck? Whenever you feel self-doubt, pull out your list of skills.

(4) Share your feelings with others

Tell family and loved ones how you are feeling. Keeping your feelings to yourself will only perpetuate this way of thinking. Allow others to help you to put things into perspective and give you reassurance.

(5) Give yourself validation

It is a great feeling to hear praise from others, but those with imposter syndrome need to learn to acknowledge our own success. Validation needs to come from within first and foremost.

Instead of focusing on what you don’t know or didn’t do correctly, make sure to applaud yourself for all your hard work and for what you have learned. Give yourself credit for your achievements and take pride in them.

(6) Be open to constructive criticism

Remember that feedback isn’t an indication that you are a fraud. Rather, it is a way to learn more and improve (time.com, 2018). 

(7) Don’t wait until it is the “perfect” or “right” time to do something

Many with imposter syndrome procrastinate out of fear of their work not being good enough. Remember that no matter how long you wait, your work will never be perfect and there is never a right time.

(8) Embrace a growth mindset

Remember we are all works-in-progress. Accepting that we all have the ability to grow and become better versions of ourselves is a way of fighting back against imposter syndrome. None of us know everything and can do everything with ease. We all require lifelong learning.

(9) Stop comparing

Looking at other people’s success can be used as a learning opportunity, but it should never be used to measure our own success. There will always be someone who knows more or does better than you at something. The only person to compare yourself with is yourself. Be the best version of yourself (verywellmind.com, 2018).

(10) Seek professional help 

If you are not able to overcome imposter syndrome on your own, then there is no shame in seeking professional help. Imposter syndrome is real, and you should get the support you need to live a better quality of life.

strategies to overcome imposter syndrome

 

 

For many of us, that voice that tells us we are imposters may never go away. That is okay. We can accept that that voice is a part of us, but that it doesn’t define us. Imposter syndrome is real, and more people suffer from it than we think.

The actual process of overcoming imposter syndrome can be slow at first. However, we can use these strategies and gain perspective to give ourselves the credit we deserve. Most people experience moments of doubt, and that is completely normal. The important part is to not let that doubt control your actions.

Success doesn’t require perfection. True perfection is impossible, so failing to achieve it doesn’t make you a fraud. Offering yourself kindness and compassion instead of judgment and self-doubt can help you maintain a realistic perspective and motivate you to pursue healthy self-growth. It is possible to overcome imposter syndrome.  Like Young says, “They can still have an imposter moment, but not an imposter life” (time.com, 2018).  

grieving the loss of my mother

I wrote a post about grief to explain that there are many stages to the grieving process. However, this post is about the grief that I experience daily. I experience what is known as ambiguous loss. I am grieving the loss of my living mother.

AMBIGUOUS GRIEF AND LOSS

The theory of ambiguous loss was pioneered by Dr. Pauline Boss. It is used to describe a loss that is unclear and lacks closure. This takes place because the loved one is physically present but psychologically absent (for example, someone with dementia, chronic mental illness, or someone who is in active addiction) or it can be a loved one who is psychologically present but physically absent (for example, a missing person, military deployment, children leaving the home, divorce) Both types of losses are not losses in the traditional sense (Adaptedtrom Boss,P., The Contextand Process of Theory Development: The Story of Ambiguous Loss. Journal of Family Theory & Review, B, pp.269-286, 2016) .

loss types and examples

Although people who experience ambiguous grief may go through the Kubler-Ross grief stages, there may also be an added element of “hope” to it because the person is not dead. Hope can be a good thing when you are able to see the lessons you learned from your pain.

However, it can also add to your grief when you cling to false hope.

Examples of this can be hoping that a person who is an addict will become clean or that a person with dementia is going to recognize you.

I believe parents experience ambiguous loss as we adjust to the changes that come with our children getting older. We are in a sense losing the child that once was as we continue to love the person they are and will become. This unclear loss is a loss, nonetheless.

I experienced ambiguous loss/grief when my husband was drinking and taking pills. At the time, I did not realize the grief that accompanies loving someone who is an addict. In retrospect, however, I know that there is a huge sense of loss when the person that stands before you acts like a completely different person. My husband was the same physically, but he was not the man I knew. I was now married to a stranger as I gave birth to his baby and raised our child. Having to cope with that is grief in every sense of its meaning.

GRIEVING THE LOSS OF MY LIVING MOTHER

The most recent ambiguous loss that took place in my life was when I went no contact with my mother almost three years ago. My mother is alive, but she is no longer in my life. I made a decision to terminate contact with her. As a result, I am now grieving the loss of my living mother.

I explained in my prior post that I made this choice because of the childhood abuse I endured at her hands, as well as the psychological and emotional abuse that continued to take place when she would have nothing to do with me or my child as she saw fit.  

Although I made this choice, I still grieve for this loss. I grieve the loss of my mother in my life. I may hate what she did to me, but I still love my mother. I simultaneously grieve the loss of my living mother while grieving the absence of the mother I never had and so desperately wanted and needed.

ambiguous grief

The biggest struggle I face with this type of loss is that it is harder to recognize as grief. When someone dies, there is a sense of closure, no matter how painful. It is clear that person is gone. As result, the pain and various emotions that come from this loss are recognizable and more understandable. With ambiguous loss, it is indeed ambiguous. It is harder to recognize the feelings as one of grief.

Often one isn’t sure how to process or experience a loss that isn’t concrete.

There is understanding, support, and knowledge about traditional grief. There is usually some sort of spiritual or religious belief that guides us through the death of a loved one. Jobs offer bereavement leave to give people the time they need to mourn. Mourning the death of a person is also something that is considered normal and there are support groups and/or other means of professional help.

With ambiguous loss, there is a lack of knowledge and support because there isn’t a person who died. There is not a religious or spiritual process and there is no bereavement leave due to grieving the loss of your living mother. There is a lack of support and services out there to help process this loss. 

When a person’s parent dies, there is usually an outpour of sympathy and condolences. I have never received such words. There has never been any acknowledgment of the pain and loss that I feel. I have grieved alone.

People do not see my loss as a true loss because my mother is still alive.

As much as I understand the pain that comes from losing a parent, I know my grief is of a living parent. When I find out about a person’s parent dying, I want to offer my support.  I want to let them know that I feel that pain too and that they are not alone. However, I usually don’t say such things out of concern that the person might find it offensive to compare my loss to theirs.

What I feel it is crucial for others to understand is that just because a person is alive, does not mean that we do not grieve deeply. I did not sever ties with my mom over something trivial. I had to walk away from the only mom I will ever have out of necessity. That does not mean that it is not painful.  The conflict between my head and my heart is something I wrestle with constantly. Grieving the loss of my living mother means simultaneously knowing I did the right thing while still experiencing profound grief due to that choice.  This is merely one type of inner conflict that takes place with someone who experiences ambiguous loss and grief.

MY AMBIGUOUS GRIEF WITH MY MOTHER

My mother has sent me emails since going no contact. One was to tell me she was suing me for grandparents’ visits, one was to retract that threat since she cannot do so based on the legal requirements where I live, and the rest were various forms of telling me I was responsible for keeping her granddaughter away from her. None of these emails contained any acknowledgment or responsibility for what led to my decision.

With each letter, I feel various forms of grief.

grief process model

I initially feel hope that perhaps this email will be different than the others. Perhaps she will finally love me enough to want to make things right. This is the type of hope that is common and often detrimental to a person experiencing ambiguous loss. Coming to the realization that she is who she is and will never change was the hardest thing for me to accept in my life. Each letter only makes that wound of loss deeper.

After I read her letters, I feel waves of sadness and anger. I often cry and feel rage simultaneously. All of the pain comes rushing back to me. I then use every ounce of strength I possess to not respond to her email. My impulse is to explain how much it hurts me that she won’t admit that she abused me. It rips me apart that she won’t acknowledge that it isn’t okay to say that she doesn’t like me and wants nothing to do with me. I want to scream at her that I don’t understand why she doesn’t miss me enough to make things right, and why she is willing to miss out on watching her granddaughter grow up.

There are so many things I want to say, so many things I have said before, but things I know will never be understood by the woman I call my mom.

My mother is getting older, and the time will eventually come when she will leave this earth. It is then that others will say their condolences- or will they? Will I ever be seen as someone who is grieving their mother when I chose to not have her in my life while she was living?

The truth is, we all grieve. We grieve in our own ways and for our own reasons. Some types of grief are more understood than others. What I hope I have conveyed to each of you is that whatever the reason may be, grief is grief, and loss is loss. Just as we should respect and validate others’ feelings, it is important to respect and validate someone’s grief.

Loss is a void that never gets replaced. With time it becomes our new norm, but that absence is always there, and it is never forgotten. I live with that void just as much as any other person who has experienced loss. There is no competition for who grieves more or experiences loss more, but people with ambiguous loss deserve to have their grief recognized too.

I am grieving the loss of my living mom, and I kept that pain to myself for too long.

grieving the loss of my living mother closure

I hope my story provides support and understanding to those who are also experiencing ambiguous loss. I want you to know that your pain is real, and it deserves acknowledgment. First and foremost, you need to acknowledge it yourself. The person you love may not be dead, but you still need to grieve. 

Ambiguous loss is a confusing concept, but that doesn’t mean you have to grieve alone. Reach out to friends or loved ones and explain to them how you are feeling. Do not keep your feelings to yourself, and do not allow anyone to minimize your feelings. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you are feeling without permission or approval. I hope you show yourself compassion and understanding as you ride the waves of these emotions just as you would any traditional loss.

 

life through my eyes

I was asked by a reader named Sarah to write a post about life through my eyes. Although I welcome suggestions, this topic is one of the hardest ones I’ve ever had to tackle. I have written many posts about my struggles, but describing what life feels like for me is incredibly difficult to articulate.

I am very much an enigma. Although I have self-awareness up the wazoo, implementing that self-awareness is challenging. I have a strong sense of who I am, but I still struggle with codependent tendencies and seeking validation from others. My personality is one of an advocate (INJF),  and I will vehemently stand up for what I believe in. However, I am incredibly sensitive, and my feelings are easily hurt.  I know I am strong because I have survived a lifetime of abuse and trauma, but I still feel weak.

The truth is, we are all comprised of a series of contradictions. Our lives and experiences have formed and shaped our way of perceiving the world. For many of us, we are our own worst enemies. We go into the ring with the sense of self that knows better versus the self that is consumed with pain. Life through my eyes has been that constant internal battle.

LIFE THROUGH MY EYES

I spent my childhood in survival mode. As a victim of emotional and psychological child abuse and severe neglect, I grew up having no sense of safety or stability. I did not know what if felt like to be loved unconditionally. I was extremely codependent on my mother, who was my abuser. It was engrained into me that I was worthless, helpless, and incapable. Nothing I did was good enough to make my mother love me, so I concluded that I was broken and unlovable.  

This way of thinking was the voice of my inner child, and that way of thinking never went away. Our inner child is the child within all of us. It is based on the thoughts and experiences that took place during your childhood, pre-puberty. Every single one of us has an inner child. Your childhood will determine the perspectives, needs, and thoughts of your inner child. Due to my trauma and abandonment issues, my inner child views the world through a lens of fear, loneliness, and terror.  

For a very long time, my inner child was my primary sense of self.

It was hard for me to detangle who my inner child was versus who I was as an adult because my way of thinking never changed.  As an adult, I still saw the world through her eyes. As someone with C-PTSD and anxiety that is often debilitating, I still felt like a helpless, scared and fearful girl.

inner child

LIFE THROUGH MY EYES: MY ADULT SELF VERSUS MY INNER CHILD

Since I couldn’t save myself as child, I believed I could not save myself as an adult. I jumped from relationship to relationship, wanting the person to “save me”. I felt that I was not whole and could never be whole due to the damage done to me. However, I thought that if someone finally loved me, it could fill that void. The truth is that that void can never be filled by another person, and I kept experiencing that painful truth time after time and relationship after relationship. I was like a parasite by creating a sense of self and wholeness from another person. When the relationship would end, I crumbled along with it.

When my husband started abusing alcohol during my pregnancy, my inner child was up front and center. The man I had chosen to start a family with, the man who was supposed to love me, was not someone I could count on. I was alone again, but this time, I was about to bring a living being into the world.

How could I be a mother on my own when I still felt so very much like a helpless child?

My husband turned to pills soon after he stopped using alcohol. He spent the first four years of my daughter’s life MIA emotionally. Even after he became sober, he struggled to use healthy coping mechanisms to deal with his pain and to communicate his feelings.  Meanwhile, I had a daughter who depended on me. I promised myself as a child that the cycle of abuse would stop with me.  Therefore, I knew I had to stop viewing myself as that lost little girl. After years of being abandoned by my mother, I came to the realization that I was guilty of abandoning my inner child as well in adulthood. I had to give myself the support and love that I hadn’t received as a child.

I now had my own little girl, and her safety and well-being were my responsibility.  

Having my daughter helped me a long way towards realizing that I had a sense of self separate from my inner child. It was my job to take care of my daughter and step-up as an adult. In doing so, I learned that I could stand on my own two feet. I had an obligation to teach my child that she is in control of her life and that happiness is in her own hands. Therefore, I had to start practicing what I preach.

I still vacillate between seeing life through the eyes of my inner child and the eyes of a woman who is a survivor. There are instances when I am triggered, resulting in me lashing out and feeling out of control. I know in those situations that that scared little girl within me feels frightened and scared, and that my inner child is reacting out of fear and feeling unsafe. I know my inner child is in survival mode because she had no choice but to do that growing up.

However, I am learning that through recognizing the needs of my inner child, I am showing her that she is safe.

inner child safety

By listening to her and honoring her feelings, I am giving her the love she needs.  She isn’t being abused anymore. She isn’t in danger anymore. There is an adult who can care for her, love her, and make sure that she is protected. After years of looking for someone to rescue me and my inner child, I am learning that I am the person that needs to proudly take ownership of that role. I am my inner child’s source of safety and support.  It isn’t easy to stare your pain and your past in the face, but I now know that my inner child deserves to be loved. I now know I deserve to be loved too.

I am by no means “healed”, and truth be told, I don’t I don’t think anyone is ever fully healed. 

We all have wounds and bruises. Some are merely knacks, whereas others are deep. Some are physical in nature, and others are invisible, but oh, so potent.  We are all damaged, but being damaged does not mean that we are broken. 

Living life through my eyes means that I will always struggle with anxiety. After being thrown out of my house from the time I was 8, I am very much shaped by the message etched into the recesses of my being that the outside world is a scary place. Although I am aware of why I feel that way, it doesn’t change those feelings.

As a result, I feel fear doing things on my own.

I feel tremendous anxiety making phone calls, going on errands, and even going to a doctor’s appointment for a check-up. Additionally, I do not drive on the highway and will try to drive somewhere in advance to make sure I know where I am going. I also have social anxiety.

That said, I have driven without practicing in advance when it is last minute, I have taken my incredibly hyperactive daughter on errands, and I have had in-depth phone calls with my daughter’s pediatrician.  Although I don’t think my fears will ever go away, I still try to face them. I will fight to be the best version of myself until the day I die.

I used to feel a lot of shame about my anxiety, and most people don’t know the extent of it. Outside of my husband and my immediate family, nobody knows that I have debilitating anxiety. However, I spent too many years feeling shame about those feelings and judging myself for it. I now know that my anxiety is a by-product of my abuse, but anxiety doesn’t define me. 

I spent too many years staying in inner-child mode, instead of incorporating her into my life.

There will always be someone who will judge me for my struggles. They won’t understand why a grown woman has these difficulties.  However, I also know that I am a warrior for getting up every single day and fighting. It is a daily internal fight to not allow my fears to define me. I fight daily to be the best mom, wife, and person I can be. I also fight daily to not let my past control my present and future.

There will always be things that others do easily that are incredibly difficult for me. I now accept that. However, I am determined to show my daughter that bravery isn’t measured by success, but in having the courage to face your fears and keep trying. It is a lesson I have to remember and implement every single day.

MY BALANCING ACT

my adult self versus my inner child

I now try to view life with a balance between grown-up Randi and inner-child Randi. My inner child will always be a part of who I am, but she isn’t all of me. I learned that it is not okay to stay trapped in the past, but I need to honor the feelings of my inner child and hold space for her. I am proud of my inner child, and I remind her of that daily.

My inner child is here to stay, and I now embrace her.

I am able to see the world through her eyes, while also noting when it is time for me to remind her that it is my job to step-in and protect her. I didn’t get the love I needed as a child, and there is nothing I can do to change that. However, I can now give that love to myself and to my inner child.  I keep that knowledge in my mind and in my heart as I view the world and my life through both pair of eyes.