I sometimes face guilt when I reflect on some decisions I have made in order to create a life that will protect my sobriety. What comes to mind is the boundaries that I have had to set with people that I love. Setting strong and long lasting boundaries is probably one of the hardest things someone can do in order to grow–but sometimes, boundaries are crucial and necessary for emotional survival.
When I write, I have to practice respect of people’s privacy. It is one thing to write openly and honestly about my internal feelings, experiences and struggles. It is another to speak about those who have hurt me and contributed to trauma and pain. I do my best to protect people’s identities however, as Amy Lamott so brilliantly said “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better” So that is exactly what I will do
If you have ever taken a psychology class, or even read any sort of psychology related literature, I am certain that you have learned that everything we do, every part of who we are–the way we behave, react, and live is a result of what happened to us as children. Some aspects of that may be very obvious to us but often times these behaviors are subconscious. This is why most people grow up and either should or do revamp their lives. Most people grow up and are left with bits and pieces of pain from whatever their inner child endured and as adults and we are responsible to clean up the mess. We read self-help books, we go to therapy, we do yoga, we seek spiritual answers, and for some, like myself, we get sober.
I lived so much of my life as a victim and honestly speaking, I was a victim. I was a victim of child abuse and I marinated in mental illness and alcoholism in one of my parent’s households. I also endured earth shattering sexual abuse at a very tender young age. These awful things that have happened to me indeed made me a victim by definition. However, the most valuable lesson I’ve learned is that you cannot and will not thrive if you stay and live in victimhood. Nothing we do as children are we responsible for– we are powerless creatures during that period of life and without a doubt should be protected. But when we become adults, we have to start taking responsibility for our actions and our lives.
This is no easy task. For myself, enduring abuse as a child left me fucked up— I mean really really fucked up. It’s hard for me to look back at how damaged of a person I was entering adulthood but I find it important to remember and to share how I went from being a victim to being a survivor who now successfully thrives.
Something I have noticed about myself is this deeply ingrained feeling of responsibility and loyalty to my family. I don’t find this abnormal, I actually believe it is biologically very normal. A word that comes to mind when thinking about my family is “unconditional love”. There are absolutely no conditions to the love that I have for them. A mistake that I made though is how I practiced that unconditional love. I thought that unconditional love meant putting up with abuse, not only as a child but as a fully grown adult. I thought that forgiveness meant allowing people back in your life when they have continuously destroyed parts of you. I thought that unconditional love meant continuing a relationship with a parent that forced me to sacrifice so much of my peace and serenity.
I was wrong. I was so painfully wrong about what it means to have unconditional love for someone. I cannot begin to the describe to the full extent of what my tumultuous relationship has been like with my mother. But in short, I love my mom–deeply, genuinely, and truly. That is the reason there is so much pain there. Out of respect, I will not go into someone else’s hardships and behaviors but what I will say is that I did not deserve the way I was treated as a child and as an adult. The difference is I had no choice as a child but as an adult, I do. It feels harder when you hold the power to make decisions for yourself that others won’t like. But when I strip everything down, I always come back to what is most important to me and that is my sobriety. Nothing can be worth more than my recovery or I will end up without the beautiful life that I deserve. This is the fact that dictates what actions I have to take in life that are often times extremely uncomfortable and painful. I know in my bones, through and through, that I must continue with my spirtitual growth no matter how hard it may be.
I am used to facing hardships with my mom. To be frank, there is some kind of issue or challenge our relationship faces every couple of months. It always starts and ends the same–me getting emotionally abused, her saying sorry, me forgiving her and then restarting the cycle. I accepted this as a part of my life because I felt that forgiveness was the best thing for the relationship and for my own sobriety. Don’t get me wrong, I have not been perfect either. I have lashed out, raised my voice and have even resorted to violence in one instance. I am not proud of that behavior and although there are reasons for that behavior (being extremely triggered by abuse), there is no excuse for it as an adult. When I am wrong, I always and will always take responsibility for my wrong doings, make amends and attempt to correct the behavior. Something I didn’t realize though was that this relationship was the definition of the cycle of abuse. The pattern had not ended just because I grew up and gained power over my own life. I was still being held hostage by this relationship because it is INGRAINED in to me to endure it. I got used to it but like most abusive relationships, there is a breaking point and that breaking point has arrived.
After a recent blow out, words were said that feel unforgivable. No person should speak to someone the way I was spoken to but especially not a parent to their child. What was said was so unacceptable and hurtful that I was able to finally see what real unconditional love was. Unconditional love does not always mean keeping someone in your life. Unconditional love does not require that you accept hatred and pain. Unconditional love does not mean to brush things aside because you want things to be easier for everyone else. Unconditional love does not mean you have to accept the misery a person causes you.
Unconditional love sometimes means letting the person you love, go. It means that no matter what you will love them but that it is not the same thing as continuing a relationship with them. That is the decision I had to make. I had to let my relationship with my own mother, go. It is probably the hardest thing I have ever had to do. I almost lost my mom many times to her illness–meaning she wouldn’t be on this earth any longer. There is so much that feels unnatural about letting a living parent go. Grieving the loss of someone who is only 6 hours away sometimes feels unbearable. But it finally hit me that I am no longer a child. There is so much in our lives that we have no control of but this was something that, as an adult, I now have a say in.
My heart cannot take the vile words anymore. My emotional sobriety can no longer be challenged every couple of months. I cannot keep sacrificing who I am and the person I want to be in order to foster a relationship that serves no positive purpose for me. I will not continue to make excuses for inexcusable behavior in the name of unconditional love. I have fought so hard in my 5 years of sobriety to become the best version of myself but it is impossible to be at your best when you engage in unhealthy relationships. I refuse to stay a victim because when I remain in a state of victimhood, I hate the person I become.
I want to make it clear that I am not writing this to bash my parent– I am writing this because I know I am not alone. I know that we all have made excuses for poor behavior of the people we love. I know that we all want our parents approval and love. That is what I wanted more than anything in the world–my mothers love. But this isn’t the kind of love I can tolerate anymore. I unconditionally love my mom. I really do. There will never be a day where I don’t love her–she is the woman who put me on this earth. I just can’t love her up close anymore. I will love her from a far and continue to root her on and I will never stop loving my mom unconditionally. I just can’t endure the relationship anymore.
It haunts me to think of the words my mother last said to me–to play it in my head over and over that she thinks so poorly of me. It’s a hard battle. I know when I am wrong and I am not wrong in this situation. It’s hard to know you’re right while the other person thinks you are so wrong. This is probably the hardest part because I really care about what other people think of me and how they view me as a person, especially my family. But what I have learned is that when you are truly taking care of yourself, getting rid of the toxic relationships in your life, telling people “no more. I will not tolerate it any longer” you are bound to make people mad. You will never be happy if you make yourself responsible for everyone else’s happiness.
Abuse can feel really complicated when you are experiencing from someone you love. There is a sense of guilt we face because we feel a responsibility to that person and so much of us doesn’t want to lose them. The feelings surrounding the abuse and person abusing you are complicated but abuse is not. Abuse is never okay–not from anyone. And you are not obligated to endure it. No matter what anyone says or thinks or tries to convince you of–you do NOT have to take the abuse. Point, blank, period.
“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better”