Living in Joy After Abuse

Recently, I’ve realized I’ve been living my life according to some ideas I have stuck in my brain. These ideas have formed over the forty-eight years of my life for different reasons such as how I was brought up, my peers, constant media blasts, social norms, religion, so on and so forth. Truly, it’s hard to sort out what I really want in life through the many layers of ‘Shoulds”.

You need to go to college and pick a career that earns a lot of money.

Money is most important.

You need to not be outspoken or different. Follow the rules (social norms).

You’re a woman, you can’t do that.

Keep your mouth shut. Keep out of sight.

That’s a nice dream, but it won’t make enough money. You won’t be able to support yourself.

Are you crazy?

Why are you so shy? Why don’t you speak up in class? Are you stupid?

Go to church every. Sunday. Live a pious life (as the speaker does not)

Women are weaker, inferior to men.

Don’t associate with black people or people of color.

You’re a failure. Don’t do better than me. Don’t do anything that makes me uncomfortable. Don’t color outside the lines…

You get the idea. I have had so many expectations and rules (that aren’t truly rules) throw at me throughout my life, that I am just now unwinding all those messages to find my true self. All that I listed above has been said to me in some manner or another, usually out of love and misguided direction though some of what has been said to me is so that I don’t “do better” than the person giving me that message. People are threatened by you, especially when you don’t fit into a neat little box.

I’ve always been kind of the odd duck. I’m quiet and introverted; therefore, I’m either assumed to be socially awkward or shy or stuck up. I’m none of those things. I have never seen race as an indication of people’s worth or unworth. People are just people. I don’t believe one religion is ‘right’ and the rest are wrong. “God” to me, takes many forms and going to church every Sunday doesn’t make you a good person. I find “God” in nature, in people and in many places.

I don’t believe you have to be rich to be happy. I think having enough money to pay your bills and a bit extra is the sweet spot. I don’t believe you have to be what the general public deems as ‘successful’ such as being a doctor, lawyer, etc. Sometimes the people we look up to are the ones hiding the most. I don’t believe that “God” is wrathful, I believe “God” is love and therefore doesn’t give 2 shits about your sexual orientation, gender, color, if you tithe 10%, if your butt is in a church pew on Sunday, so on and so forth. I do believe “God” wants us to show each other love and kindness. I also believe that “God” wants us to find joy in our lives, not be cowering in the corner because we sinned. God wants us to feel his love not feel guilty all the time.

Over the years, I’ve tried different volunteering activities and each time, I found myself not sticking to them. I felt bad about myself, guilty. These people need my help, am I a selfish person? Then recently, I signed up to be a Lunch Buddy through Big Brothers Big Sisters for a 5th grade girl in my school district. Every other week (or more – she likes me to come weekly), I have lunch with her at her school, just listening and talking. to her while she eats her lunch. To be honest, I think I get more out of i t than she does, it brings me such joy. This made me realize that no, I wasn’t a bad or selfish person, I just hadn’t found my right opportunity. I was telling myself, everyone works with kids, I should work with the elderly or abused women, so on and so forth. For whatever reason, I was too stubborn to allow myself to do what I really wanted because I had some ideal in my head that I shouldn’t work with kids.

Where did this come from? Who knows. But that’s how I’ve treated myself throughout my life. Ignoring what brings me joy because maybe I don’t feel I deserve it or happiness. Growing up in a dysfunctional family situation, you rarely feel that you are important. The narcissistic nature of someone who is an addict or alcoholic takes over everyone’s lives and as a kid and adolescent I was lost in the shuffle. My needs were not important, I was overshadowed by my father’s issues. I’ve been essentially punishing myself all these years because of essentially what I was taught indirectly. And frankly that’s bullshit and I’m angry about it.

I’ve done a lot of self-reflection and therapy to get over my past and the fallout into my adult life. The last thing that I am struggling with is anger. I am calling bullshit on every single person who ever excused my father’s behavior because he was “sick”. Sure he tried rehab a few times but he just bullshitted his way through it and came home to do the same things usually worse. My childhood, my adolescence even though my parents divorced when I was 13 was a flat out abusive mess because of his f’ing sickness. Bullshit to each time someone excused his behavior – you were enabling him to not be responsible for himself. I understand it’s a sickness and people can’t help it but it doesn’t excuse the shitty treatment of your children. We didn’t deserve it.

Bullshit to the lack of domestic abuse laws that allowed my father to hit and beat my mother because they were married. If they had not been married back then, he would have been arrested. Again, this was overlooked and my mother was told basically that you are stuck, until she finally had enough and left. She would have left years before, saving us all a bunch of heartache if it had not been for those preaching religious shit about sanctity of marriage. Really? God wants a husband to hit his wife and kids? I don’t care if he was sick or drunk, none of us deserved it. No one deserves it today. The damage from this treatment is long reaching. I’m mid-life and still struggling to just allow myself joy. This is ridiculous.

Being addicted or having a mental illness is tough. It’s a big struggle, but please don’t forget about the persons, the loved ones in the addict’s path. Don’t let the addiction overshadow the victims. In my father’s case, he was never going to get better. I wonder though, if people had stopped enabling him, feeling sorry for him, and hadn’t expected him to take responsibility for his actions. Would the result had been different? What if he went to jail for beating my mother the first time it happened? What if she left the first time she wanted to, gotten support instead of shamed and pressured because they were married? My parents would have divorced when I was very young if she walked away when it started to happen or at least separated until he straightened up his shit. If he couldn’t straighten himself up, then none of us had to live in that hell. She could have still helped him get to rehab and such, but kept herself and us out of the firing line.

I’m not saying stop caring about the person but they have to take responsibility for themselves. They won’t get better until they decide that is truly what they want. It doesn’t matter how much begging and pleading you do with them, it really has to be up to them. But this is their responsibility especially when they are an adult. It is further complicated though by mental illness as in my father’s case. There is little resources to dealing with an adult with a debilitating mental illness. When my father was in nursing care, he was this wonderful pleasant person but outside of constant care, he reverted back to how he was. Dealing with these issues are very complex and I know it isn’t simple. But as victims of the disease, we can remove ourselves and take care of ourselves even though it’s hell watching someone you love self-destruct.

So now, I’m learning what truly brings me joy. In order for me to finish healing over my past, this is a key element. Letting go of the “shoulds” and finding joy every single day. Allowing myself to be happy because I deserve that as does everyone else. We don’t have to sacrifice our joy in life. I need to stop trying to live up to old expectations that never made sense to start with. To stand up for myself when my boundaries are crossed. Granted we all have to do things in life that we don’t enjoy to survive but outside of that, we are free to find our joys. We deserve love and good things no matter our past.

Go find your joy!

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Unhappiness, I Create Most of My Own…

Out of the blue this week, I had an epiphany.  You know the ones, where you least expect it, they slap you upside the head and you’re standing (or sitting, lying – whatever) there and you say something like “Ahhhh, why did I not see that before?”  Then you have to look back over your life and start fitting those ragged puzzle pieces together.  You’ve been trying to make them fit for weeks, months or maybe years but they never quite snap together.  Pushing down on them to force them into place, doesn’t work, they just bend, pissing you off even more.   When you look at the puzzle, you can’t tell what the hell it is still.  Is it a New England fall landscape?  A photo of the beach?  A farm scene?  Argh!  Why doesn’t this work?  So utterly frustrating.  You’re right there, right at the break though and yet it is being stubborn.

Until finally that key piece does snap in and you exclaim, Aha!  It’s a house.  But not any house, it’s the one you always wanted, maybe scaled down a bit from your younger dreams of Italian marble floors and sweeping 1980’s over the top luxury (because you happened to grow up in the decadent 80’s where everyone seemed to aspire to be ghastly rich) but your today version of your dream house.  The more practical one since you won’t have your own staff like Fresh Prince of Bel Air to take care of it for you.  For years you’ve lived in a nice home, in town, the one you bought cheap and fixed up over the last fifteen years.  The mortgage is less than rent payment and you have enough in savings to pay it off if you so choose or need to.  It is the safe bet.  Financially safe.

Except you don’t realize you aren’t really happy there.  Oh you tell yourself you are, you’re all squeezed in a bunch, your husband has to park outside and scrape his car at 4 a.m., the neighbors all stare at you when you sit outside and the dogs in the neighborhood all bark in some sort of telegraph system that drives you mad.  You grew up in the country and you’ve wanted to go back for years, substituting camping and other vacations for the same feelings of quiet and peace by choosing the most remote places you can find.  But this house, it’s so reasonable, the payments so cheap and look we’ve done all the heavy and expensive work on it.  It doesn’t matter that memories of a bad second marriage haunt you there, or that you can’t work in the yard without crying because it reminds you of your mom since she either bought you, gave to your or was with you when you brought plants home to fill your gardens.

Then your husband pushes you to move, he sees how miserable you are, feels that we all need a fresh start, a bigger house, more room and to be away from people.  Plus finding you had not put the snow scraper in your truck and it’s the middle of February, sent him over the edge. He was done fighting the snow when he works so hard to afford the nice things in life.  Finally you move, kicking and screaming a bit, a lot of tears leading up to the day you leave and then you spend your first night in the house, then the first few weeks.  Then you realize you’re elated at being out in the country or BFE (bumfuk egypt – where did that saying ever come from?).  It’s like being on vacation every day and you can’t wait to get home.  Sure our house payment is much more but not anything we can’t afford.  Yes, we have to eat out less and spend a lot less frivolously.  But it is so worth this peace.  We don’t want to be out running away                                                     to find peace and quiet because now we have it at home.

So the epiphany hit me as I stood at the dryer folding clothes and staring out the window into our back yard.  The window of my old house looked out over the alley and the neighbor’s house.  Now I saw nothing but a field and woods.  I could be standing there naked doing laundry and no one would care or see.  I felt strangely giddy and free.  Numerous times, I had found myself feeling like a kid again, the one who spent many days running free on her grandparents’ dairy farm in Missouri.  It really wasn’t a big farm but when you are a kid, it seemed to encompass your whole world.  I walked out to the end of my long driveway to get the mail and an old farmer driving by on a tractor going to his next field waved at me.  I smiled big and waved back.  But while I was doing laundry I thought why did I wait so long?  Why did I have to be drug out kicking and screaming?  Because I was playing it safe, afraid to go into the debt it would require to own my dream house.

That caused me to think about what else I have dug my heels in about that made me miserable.  My first thought was the first two marriages I had bear through much longer than I should have.  Actually the second one should have never happened.  That was a case of well “I should” marry him since we all live together and it’s not setting a proper example for the kids.  Well that’s what I kept being told but in hindsight, I should have kicked him out years before and believed in myself that I deserved better.  From age 19 to age 38, bad marriages made me extremely unhappy.  The thing with that was I chose them and chose to stay in them so hence I made myself unhappy though I was apt to whine to my Mom and my friends about how I was the victim of a horrible man.  Hello, I had the choice to leave.  And people rarely change much.  Actually, they rarely change I found.

Then there are the small things I do to make myself unhappy.  Putting unreasonable and unfounded expectations on myself, not saying “No” when I don’t want to (and have a choice) do something, pushing myself toward goals that aren’t truly mine but for some reason I thought I “should” do this or that.  The list is exhaustible.  Not taking care of myself or listening to my body, I just keep pushing or ignoring.  Until I am thoroughly and completely miserable and left wondering “Why am I so unhappy?”  Because I make myself unhappy.  There are always things in this life you have no control of like the death of a loved one, but we have a great many choices and directions in life we can go to improve our lives and happiness.  We just have to open our mind and look outside of the box or the safety net, etc.

As it often does with me, it takes me some time to open my mind and look at a different angle, or take a risk etc.  I like safety after years of dysfunctional family life before my second divorce.  It is so easy to get stuck into a rut and you don’t even realize you are stuck.  So I am keeping a journal which I deemed the “Equinox Experiment” only because it sounds a bit cool and I started it on the day of the fall equinox.  Each day I write down what I did to make myself happy, when I stood up for my boundaries and wants/needs, my mood, etc.  Whatever strikes me as important at the moment.  The purpose of the journal is to catch myself making me unhappy since I am the biggest culprit.  It is to keep me true to my goal of happiness, contentment and stop beating my own ass all the time which I am greatly fond of for whatever reason.

So you might find me out in my back yard, in nothing more than my nightgown howling at the full moon just because I can and I am a complete goofball.  But it will be a moment of sheer joy for me because it makes me feel like a kid again.  And what else do you do when there is a full moon?

What is your bliss and what is holding you back?  How are you making yourself unhappy?  What can you do to change that?  Even if it’s a hard and difficult decision?  Don’t be afraid, like me.  Buck up and see how happy you really can be.