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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I Don’t Fit in a Box…

There are so many times when I want to scream the title of this post out loud.  People want you to fit into a nice neat package that makes sense to them.  Except I don’t.  Oh, there are all sorts of words for it.  Highly Sensitive Personality or HSP is one term I’ve come across.  Another one is that I have a high EQ or emotional intelligence or something like that, I would have to look it up.  More labels and more terms to describe the fact that I am a bit of a complex person emotionally.  I don’t do it on purpose, I just was made that way.

Trying to explain to someone why I feel the way I do, I usually have to simplify it for them.  For them A = B.  For me A = B but then it also equals I, P, Q and Y.  Even my husband who is highly intelligent cocks his head sideways at me like a puzzled dog at times when I try explain why I am feeling this way or that.  Trust me, I wish A = B and sometimes it is that simple and other times it’s not.  

A person who is HSP usually doesn’t like crowds and interactions with a lot of people can drain them.  This is true of me to an extent.  Depends on what the crowd is for and who the person or people I am dealing with.  It is not that there is something wrong with me, it is just I am sensitive to things other people are not.  A study published showed that after you reach a certain point of IQ, up in the ther higher intellect levels people rate themselves as less happy than their counterparts with lower IQ’s.  I believe it is because their minds never shut off and there are too many outcomes, too many outliers and too many things to consider to ever feel completely content and settled.  Of course that is strictly my own theory.  Maybe there is a thing as being too smart.  

Some of the most creative and genius people struggled with just day to day functioning.  Look at Van Gogh, ultimately creative and cut off his own ear.  I won’t bore you with other somewhat depressing examples but there seems to be a theme among the gifted. For me it is that I sometimes don’t feel like I fit in even in my own life.  My mind won’t shut off, I’m always over analyzing and over thinking things.  Sometimes I must be reminded to relax and have some fun.  Enjoy what I have.  I always feel I must be achieving something, doing something and being productive.  It’s hard for me to shut down and have “down” time.  I find my down time best spent riding my bike or hiking.  It combines peacefulness and doing “something” which seems to work for my personality.

Sometimes in my work, I have a hard time letting go of the fact I have to wait for someone else to do their job especially when it interrupts my day or puts me behind.  I am sure it is because I do not have control of the situatuion and I just make myself miserable by being angry and anxious.  Laid back people wouldn’t even bat an eye but my Type A ways just works against my inner peace.  I need to learn to take a deep breath and remind myself, the world is not truly ending.  

As I venture into a new chapter of my life where my kids are grown and I’m thinking now what, I struggle with the fact I don’t have a set plan.  Before my life was on this particular track, whether it be surviving and keeping a roof over my head, raising my girls or taking care of my mother so I didn’t have time to think of “what’s next?”  You can revisit your old dreams and then you realize well they don’t matter anymore because you’ve changed and those things don’t seem important.   You’ve even put yourself in a box thinking this is who I am.  Then one day you wake up and you realize the box is too small. You’ve outgrown the parameters of the life you had once lived.

I will admit, it is a bit scary thinking of what’s next in my new chapter.  Right now I’m finishing a degree program I have been working on for 10 years though not consistently.  Most of my adjustments have been that my life has changed dramatically and I am not a caretaker anymore.  Being a caretaker took up a lot of my time.  I now may have a whole day where I don’t have anything I “need” to do and that feels very unsettling at times.  Though I used to dream of that day when I wouldn’t be so scheduled and taxed.  I look around and think, Okay, what do I want to do today?  What should I do? My Type A-like personality starts listing all these things I could do to be productive.  But what am I being productive for?  Usually nothing significant.  Busy work or chores that I can do any time.

As I crawl out of my self-made box, I have started to think of new possiblities.  Publish that book.  Travel more.  Start my own small-business on the side.  Mostly I want to learn how to really take care of myself.  I have a tendency to put everyone and everything else first.  I grew up in a very dysfunctional family and I tend at times to fall back on those types of relationships when things become difficult in my life rather than putting energy into the relationships that are good in my life.  I just recreate that which does not work only to be miserable.  Pretty stupid if you ask me.

I need to not worry about what others think and focus on what I know about myself.  Stop letting my own fears, other’s doubts and my own doubts keep me from creating a life that fully makes me happy and fulfilled.  Not a perfect life of course, that will never happen but there are a few areas in my life I need to work on.  I don’t want others to put me in a box so I shouldn’t do it to myself either.  One of my biggest impediments is my own self-doubt and fear.  And some of it is still following old defense and coping mechanisms of my younger years.  These aren’t needed anymore, so I need to leave those behind too.  Drop the chains in that box I’ve kept myself locked away in because it felt “safe”.

When you grow up in an unpredictable and volatile environment, your need to feel safe is paramount.  You will avoid risks and challenges just to keep things on an even keel.  You are afraid to give more of yourself, to open up your heart fully.  Just as a rape victim might keep themselves unconsciously overweight as a protection against people or men taking notice of her, you come up with defense mechanisms.  Then you have to shed the layers and become who you were meant to be rather than living in fear.  Bad things happen and it wasn’t your fault.  It is only until you let go of your coping mechanisms and behaviors that you can really be free.  And it’s a hard lesson to learn.  And even harder to fulfill but not impossible.  

I’ve been on a long journey to overcome much in my past that I never talk about because frankly it doesn’t need rehashing.  Every day is one baby step into a better life for myself.  Every time I set a boundary, say no, or decide maybe that wasn’t good for me is a triumph.  But now I need to start living my life a bit more in the direction I need to go.  To focus my energy on my talents, my hopes and my dreams or at least figure out what some of my new dreams will be.  I am hugely blessed in this life with a supportive husband, three amazing daughters, wonderful friends and family. I

In conclusion, I’ve come a long way baby but I’m not even close to being done yet.  IT’s time to shrug off my self-imposed chains and step out of the box… It’s time to stop being afraid and just do it.  It’s time to really start living.