In my previous blog, I wrote a quick review of 13 Reasons Why and I chronicled my experiences with bullying that were as small as a remark and laughter to something as large and damaging as spousal abuse. Not all acts of bullying were equal, but they all definitely paved the way to the abuse I endured that caused my CPTSD.
I want to dedicate this blog to the steps I have taken to becoming never broken and what I am doing currently to heal.
The first step is to forgive yourself.
Yes, this is a big step. Stop blaming yourself for the things that have happened to you or how you handled a situation. You did your best in the situations that have caused and may still be causing pain. If you could have done more or done better, you would have. So truly, know that what you did and how you reacted was the to the best of your ability in that moment. Knowing that, is key to being able to move forward. Let go of the self criticism and judgement. That moment is gone, and you cannot go back. Letting it control anything now is just harmful to the present moment.
Next you have to move forward knowing that in the situations that you can look back and say, “I wish I would have done better,” there is a better way. So, what are you going to do? When there’s an obvious step to take, you take it. You can analyze those past moments, but separate your emotions from the event. You are no longer in it and you have to look at it objectively. Take your memory and pretend it’s a friend in your place and think about what you would advise your friend to do in that situation. If you still don’t know, ask for help. In the moment, you can’t have access to future you, and you can’t know what you don’t know and there’s no way to find out unless you seek advice from a friend or from a therapist.
Ask for help.
If you see a therapist, there is an objective point of view you can have access to. Don’t let the stigma of seeing a therapist bother you. They are there to help and there’s nothing wrong with having someone to talk to who is dedicated to giving you their undivided attention. How many friends do you have who are going to be honest and tell you things you don’t want to hear? Those are few and far between. How have successful people made it to where they are today? Very few will tell you that they’ve had this innate ability to see teach themselves. They got help. They went to college, they had mentors, or they had some very intense life lessons that allowed them to see themselves objectively.
Talking and listening is going to allow you to separate your emotions and see things from another angle. If you are thinking, why does this person do this? Why did they say that? Why can’t they see that’s hurtful? Stop and realize that not everyone sees the world from your view. Every single person on this planet is living life through a unique perspective that was created through their life events and experiences. Not one person is going to see everything exactly the same. Knowing that people are all living in their own reality helps my own understanding and thought processes. Whether they know if their reality is truth doesn’t matter. If they believe their reality, you cannot argue it just like you cannot dictate how someone experienced an event. How they experienced that is their truth, how they felt, what they saw; that is theirs alone.
I never thought I could advise someone to forgive. I was holding onto so much anger and resentment that I knew forgiveness was something that I could never accomplish. I’m quoting many when I say, “Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.” It’s not for the other person or the people who have harmed you. I always thought, “That’s sweet, but I cannot forgive anyone for what they intentionally did to me.” Forgiveness is not saying, “Oh, that’s okay.” It’s not pretending like it didn’t hurt. To me, I had to redefine forgiveness from the way we learn it as children. It’s definitely not a ‘hug and make up’ deal in this definition as an adult.
Forgiveness became a something new that had nothing to do with condoning the actions of another, I could still allow myself to see the faults in their actions and it was okay to say, “I cannot have you in my life.” For me, forgiveness came in steps and pieces of understanding. Hurt people, hurt people. It’s as simple as that. The kids who are bullies ARE hurting inside, but they are choosing to channel their pain and anger into a weapon so no one else can hurt them. We don’t know what happened to them, we just know they are dealing with it poorly. Those kids in school were ill equipped. There was something missing inside them because of their upbringing and whatever feelings they had caused them to act poorly towards others. The same goes for spousal abuse to an extent.
I believe, though, that in certain circumstances, the person has been buried so deeply underneath layers of abuse, pain, neglect, and being unable to understand it, that they have become ghost of a person and have become more of an illness or a behavioral disorder than a person. These cases are extreme and meant to apply to people who are abusers, psychopaths, and sociopaths. This applies to my abuser. The shell of a person I thought I knew was just that, a shell. There were fragments visible at times, and people can see that there’s a person in there, but the illness always floats to the top. What I found most of the time was an illness. Knowing this helped me to remove blame from him and from myself for getting stuck in the situation.
To me, forgiveness is realizing that we all live through our own filters and world views and not all of us have the education or self awareness to know how to navigate the world we live in. We aren’t born with these tools and we certainly aren’t given them in school. We won’t always know that we have hurt another person, but it’s our responsibility to be accountable, apologize, learn from our actions, and correct them in the future.
We are not taught how to think this way in school or growing up. We think that our homes are normal and everyone grows up in the same environment up to a certain age until we become more self aware. We aren’t taught how to analyze a situation in the moment. Something in our lives has to happen to show us that we need to change.
This brings me to mindfulness. We need to learn how to step back, outside of our emotional reactions, and observe. How does this make me feel? Why is this making me feel this way? How can I react to bring about the outcome that best suits this moment?
This is the hardest part about mindfulness, and it takes real work. The first step, in my opinion, is to realize that you are reacting. Once you pinpoint the situations where you do have a strong emotional reaction, the hardest part is going to create that space in between the moment when you have the emotion and the moment when you react. If you can create that space, you can then ask yourself if the reaction is appropriate and if you can react in a way that will be more beneficial to yourself and others.
Helping identify what emotions need pause is crucial.
If you are angry, or offended, or sad or hurt, you need to ask yourself why. These emotions are not beneficial in most situations. Anger can stay with you forever if you let it. If you’re offended, sad, or hurt, you should ask yourself why. Why should what someone else thinks, offend you? If you are living in a way that is true to yourself, no one else’s opinion matters. Another quote I like is, “What other people think of me is none of my business.” That also circles back to every being on the planet living in their own reality.
I’ve nearly written you all a book, but here is what has helped me the most.
I still have trouble making this a practice, but meditation is not this unattainable thing where you need to sit in a quiet space and cross your legs. Meditation can be as simple as taking a moment to count your breaths. For me, right now, meditation is being mindful of my own breathing and counting the breaths. I have used techniques to keep panic attacks at bay, especially in airports because for some reason I have terrible anxiety when I have connecting flights. I will touch on this more in the next blog, but it has become a daily practice and something I need to revisit regularly. This can create the space for you to pay attention to your emotions and reactions.
Start a gratitude practice.
I cannot emphasize enough how much a gratitude practice has changed my life. I thought, “Yeah, ok. How is this going to help me in any way?” I was a full skeptic on the idea of a gratitude practice, because I have not only anxiety, depression, CPTSD, but I also have some pretty severe Fibromyalgia. But since it was part of a program I had become involved in, I started it. I figured, “What could it harm?” Slowly, day by day, I felt better. Some days were not always a step forward, but more often than not, I felt better about my world. I realized that there are things I can do to feel better and change within my reach. I started making lists of the things I wanted to accomplish in my day because those are things I can control. I started to feel like I am responsible for shaping my reality and I felt like I had a little bit of influence. If I am being truthful, my gratitude practice helped me to see the good in my life. When I combined this with mindfulness, I realized that I am in charge and I can shape my own reality.
I know my gratitude practice is responsible for my attitude. For me, writing it down is the key to doing this every day. I had recently been sick for two weeks and have felt pretty crummy emotionally and physically. I realized that my notebook for my gratitude practice had not been used at all. That realization that I had been forgetting to write it was a lightbulb moment for me. Time to get back at that…
What does a gratitude practice look like? I’ll show you. Every day, I fill something in these blanks no matter how small or little it may seem. These are examples.
I am grateful for:
- having the time off work that I needed to heal emotionally and finish my degree.
- the opportunity gifted to me to use my design skills in a professional setting.
- to have such a wonderful partner who takes care of me so diligently, and friends who authentically care for me.
Daily affirmations. I Am:
- I am capable, I have the skills to do this work today.
- I am learning from mistakes, and growing and improving from that.
- I will be assertive in situations where I need boundaries.
My daily affirmations are usually truths I will tell myself to combat the harmful doubts I am having that day. I can be grateful for the time I give myself to enjoy a cup of tea, or I can be grateful for the incredible gift I have been given to join a charity and give my graphic design skills to. This mindfulness practice and the gratitude practice is what has helped me to find some peace with myself and find a way to view the world from another angle. It’s not always easy work. Some days I just have to know that tomorrow is another day and I start over when I wake up. Part of this is allowing yourself room to make mistakes and learn from them.
I know I wrote a lot, and it’s a lot to take in. This is a long process, and it’s taken years in some aspects, but when I’ve really focused on it, it’s been a matter of months to change my perspective. I hope this can help at least one person.
Next Up: Letting go of what you cannot control.