It started when I was five or six. My mom had a household to run. My dad had to work. I needed something to do and someone to play with, so I started going next door to “play” at the neighbor’s house. It didn’t seem odd that he was sixty something and had a hopscotch in his driveway, a swing in his garage and that I would often be in there with the garage door shut.
As you can imagine (or you prefer not to like everyone else) he went on to sexually abuse me for the next five or six years. I didn’t see it as abuse or anything weird because he was my “friend”. We played games and built bird-houses and it wasn’t all sexual, so I thought it was normal. Once he even said, “I would never do anything you didn’t want me to do.”
I won’t go into details about what he did, suffice it to say it’s burned into my mind like it happened yesterday. To this day certain smells make me automatically ill (like old spice and Hooper’s Chocolates) and there were years where I would cry uncontrollably after sex if I felt at all vulnerable.
These actions shaped my childhood and shaped how I would structure my beliefs in myself unbeknownst to me.
But it didn’t stop there. Around the age of eight my mom decided to return to work part time. My sister and I were left alone during the summer until she got home in the early afternoon. At least, this is how I remember it. A friend of my father’s who I’d known since birth started coming by the house when no adults were around.
At the time I felt my job was to protect my sister and my parents (certainly they couldn’t handle knowing such a thing occurred) so I did what I was supposed to, and he sexually abused me for the next three or four years. They even let him babysit for us one weekend despite my pleading for them not to leave us with him. Only one person has ever heard the story of what happened that weekend and I care not to repeat it again.
To the best of my knowledge he never did touch my sister and at the age of twelve my hormones started kicking in and suddenly I realized there was something not right about what was going on, so I would go make a phone call every time he came over and I wouldn’t get off the phone until he left. He finally got the hint and never came back.
It went all downhill from there. I was thirteen when I started high school. I had repressed all the memories of what occurred during those years, but they were still living in me and I was pissed. My attitude seemed to change overnight. I went from sweet and lovable to angry and resentful. I was mad at everyone and most of all I was mad at myself, yet I had no idea why.
I started having nightmares that woke me every night. I dreamed constantly about fires coming to envelop me or men trying to kill me and often they did. I went from an A and B student to D’s and F’s. I started skipping school and telling teachers to F*** off. I went from happy and carefree to angry and resentful.
For the next two to three years I pretty much did whatever I wanted. I was horribly mean to my parents spouting out that I hated them on a regular basis. I ran away. I drank. Overall, I was a mess, so my parents thought it would be a good idea for me to move down to Southern California and live with my Aunt and so did I.
So, I up and moved my senior year and soon after got my own apartment, a car and a full-time job while I was still in high school. For the first time I had physical freedom, but the worst was yet to come.
I met my first real boyfriend and at age eighteen I had sex for the first time and that was the beginning of it all. Suddenly the repressed memories started to show up again. The appeared in snippets and pieces and they were too real to pretend they were just a figment of my imagination.
With the memories came the self-hatred, self-blame and disgust. With the memories came the despair, feelings of helplessness and an awareness that I was irrevocably changed and with that depression and suicidal ideation set in.
Slowly the pain began to consume me, yet I told no one. I lived in a constant battle in my mind. I could function every day, work, go to school and appear normal, but underneath it all I wanted to die. Every day. Every day I contemplated what it would be like to slip into nothingness and make my escape from it all and from the pathetic existence I was calling a life.
At twenty-four I made a veiled suicide attempt by taking some pills. My boyfriend called the police and when they showed up at my door, I denied taking anything and there was nothing they could do since I seemed fine (they hadn’t kicked in yet). My boyfriend came over and watched over me while I sweated all the pills out over the night.
I can’t even recall the day anymore. I only know that I came to a crossroads. We all come to them at some point in our lives. On that day I decided I would either kill myself for good and be done with it all or I would do whatever it took to stop feeling the way I was feeling because I could no longer handle living in a perpetual state of abject misery. I chose life.
From that day forward, I have been on a mission of recovery. I have been on a path to find myself again, uncover my truth, overcome my depression, re-discover the joy and happiness that was stolen from me and create the life I want and deserve.
It took me a REALLY long time to get here because I had to figure it all out on my own and I’m here to help you so that you don’t have to do the same.
Here are the steps I took and some of the resources I used to get where I am today.
Each stage of my progress was predicated on a change in my decision making. Like an addict who hits rock bottom I would get to a point where I got sick and tired of being sick and tired and I made the decision from that moment that things would change, and I put a plan in place to change it.
Once I made the decision, I would research my options like a crazy woman until I found what I thought would work best for me and then I did it. At each stage I knew I needed something different and what had worked in the past was no longer working so it was time to change.
For example, I no longer go to therapy because I have processed what I need to process and when I’m faced with dilemmas, I have enough experience and self-awareness to work through the issue myself.
You must be ready to change, and I don’t care what anyone says. Tony Robbins says, “change happens in an instant” and to an extent this is true. But, one cannot and will not change until they get to the point where change has become a MUST and not a SHOULD and that differs for everyone. First you must get to the point where you’re ready and then and only then can and will change happen.
It took me a year to get away from my toxic relationship. It took me a year and a half to leave the emotionally avoidant “boyfriend” who would never commit. It took me eight months to leave my self-serving husband who wouldn’t even tell me where he lived when we separated. Even though I knew what I needed to do I wasn’t ready, and it took me some time, introspection, space and work on myself to get the courage to leave. Once I did leave, I never looked back.
Don’t beat yourself up if you are working through the process and it isn’t going as fast as you’d like. As long as you are on your path you will get there eventually.
If you have any history of trauma (whether emotional or sexual) therapy is a must. However, I caution you to find a good therapist or you’re just wasting your time. The goal of therapy is to uncover, process and move forward. If you sit and complain for the next ten years you aren’t going to get anywhere.
I had to break down each negative self-effacing feeling stemming from the abuse. Think of your issues like a suitcase that you’re carrying around with you that must be unpacked a section at a time. First you take out the light stuff like the underwear and socks and then you move to the t-shirts and jeans and finally the heavier stuff like the shoes and jackets until each one is put away in its rightful place and you no longer need to carry it around with you.
A word of caution here. If you suffer from PTSD or any type of trauma that is trapped in the subconscious then traditional therapy won’t help you unpack that stuff because you must be able to access it first. I would highly recommend trying either EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy) or RTT (Rapid Transformation Therapy) with someone who is specially licensed.
I have undergone all three, starting with traditional therapy, then moving to EMDR and finally RTT and all with amazing results. Be prepared to dig deep, be fearless and do the work if you want to overcome your demons.
I will admit that I went on Zoloft soon after my suicide attempt and I found that it evened me out and kept a lot of the suicidal ideation at bay. I was not happy or even happier on them, but I was stable which helped me through the therapy and processing.
Only you and your doctor can decide if medication is the right choice, but I caution you to becoming reliant on medications because they will not make you happy and they will not cure your depression because only you can do that.
What you need to do is rewire the neural connections in your brain. This happens through neuroplasticity and what is amazing about this process is that it actually works. Just because you are depressed and anxious today doesn’t mean it will always be that way or it has to stay that way.
One of the most important aspects of what I did on a daily, monthly and yearly basis was to slowly change the negative patterns in my mind. Dealing with your critical inner voice will be the most important pieces of anything and everything you do because it weaves itself through all parts of your life and through all your issues.
How you think of yourself and what you say to yourself impacts your self-esteem, your relationships, your financial status, your career choices, your confidence, your well-being and your entire outlook on life.
When my suicidal ideation and depression calmed down, I started to notice anxiety creeping in. It was as if the depression had transformed itself into something more active and almost more noticeable.
In my opinion what happened is that I was starting to feel and with it came uncertainty and feelings of not being safe which triggered me deeply.
Being in this stage was frightening and overwhelming at times yet reassuring because I could finally begin to experience my emotions instead of pushing them down and boy did I start to feel!
I took up meditation and began to understand the fundamentals of meditation with an amazing teacher in an eight-part introductory course. From there I transitioned to breathing techniques at home and guided meditations on YouTube.
There were days where I had to meditate ten to twenty times per day for three to five minutes just to calm myself.
There were days where I sat alone and listened to a forty-five-minute guided meditation where I sobbed and cried and let it all go. There were days where the guided meditations allowed me to let things go, or helped me sleep or gave me the courage to face the day with a new and invigorated spirit.
For me, the key to getting rid of my anxiety was not pushing it down or trying to tell yourself you’re okay because you aren’t okay and that’s why you’re anxious.
Your adrenaline is telling you something isn’t safe, and you don’t feel safe so get in touch with the space in your heart and try to figure out why it is you’re feeling that way and process through it. Feel whatever feelings come up and be okay with yourself.
Over time my anxiety calmed itself and now when I have bouts, they last for at most an hour and then it goes away. Anxiety no longer controls my thoughts or my days or my nights.
During all my self-discovery work I read a massive amount of self-help books, but there are some that stand out as the most helpful depending on what issue I was dealing with at the time. Take what you find useful and discard the rest.
Self Esteem Workbook-Glenn R. Shiraldi
Self-Esteem, 4th Edition-Mckay & Fanning
I want to Change but I don’t know how- Rusk & Read
Lost Connections – Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression & Anxiety – Johan Hari
Insecure In Love- Leslie Becker-Phelps
5 Love Languages – Gary Chapman
Men are From Mars-Women Are from Venus
What Color is Your Parachute -Richard Bolles
The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
How to Win Friends & Influence People -Dale Carnegie
Awaken the Giant Within -Tony Robbins
Relationships can teach you a lot about yourself and your negative behavior patterns. Start to watch how you react when your partner does or says certain things. However, never make it their responsibility for your happiness or base it on their actions, reactions or affirmations or attention.
When things don’t work out with your partner do not blame them. They were a gift put in your path to help you find your way to better things. It is your choice whether you recreate the negative pattern with the next person or you learn from them and move on.
In each of my relationships I worked on different issues, trying to find a way to integrate my life with theirs without letting them become the focus of my life, which usually failed.
In my current relationship I was finally able to tackle the last few pieces that were missing so I could create a sustainable, happy, fulfilling relationship.
Finally, I chose someone (or more accurately the universe put him in my path because I was ready) who is secure. I chose someone who is more alpha than I am and who will stand beside me and say, “I’m not afraid of your dark” but wouldn’t fix it for me.
At first, he triggered my insecurity and anxious attachment disorder. He triggered my incessantly nagging belief that I was never important to anyone. I kept trying to look to him and the relationship to make me happy and yet again it failed.
At different stages of this relationship I came to one of those decision points. First, I realized I had to get over my overwhelming insecurity or I was going to lose him, so I did. It also helped that he’s secure otherwise it probably wouldn’t have gone so well.
Next, I realized I was again basing my feelings and state of mind on whether he contacted me enough or not or whether he paid attention to me enough or not.
Suddenly it all flashed in front of me. I had been feeling this way my entire life. I had spent every damn day of every damn relationship gauging my self-worth on what a man did or didn’t do, and I was done with it. From that day forward, I vowed that I would never let someone else dictate how I was going to feel that day or that moment or any other time.
At that moment I was able to Master My Emotions and become the boss of my life instead of letting my life become the boss of me.
This is part of Neuroplasticy, because once you work through your issues with therapy, increase your self-confidence, accept yourself and your history and let it be your story and your power instead of your secret and your burden you can being to control your thoughts instead of letting them control you.
At the beginning when you start to pay attention to your internal critic you won’t have the power to stop the thoughts all the time because they were part of your daily life for so long. But, in time you will not only start notice the negative thoughts when they creep in and then you will be able to stop them and replace them with
Yes, you will still have bad moments or bad days. Yes, life will happen and yes you will be in a bad mood or be irritated or frustrated. The question is how LONG you let that state overtake your disposition. Once you get to a point where you believe that you have the power to control your life you will realize you have the power to control your emotions.
Feel what you feel, but let it go. Do not let anything get in your way or get you down for more time than is necessary. Understand that failure is normal, and disappointment happens because life is not fair, and things don’t always go as planned.
Understand that mastering your emotions doesn’t mean pushing them down, ignoring them or not having them it means having the ability to feel and process and move on quickly, so you dictate the terms of your life and not external forces or people.
Once you get to this point you are the Master of your emotions you have become the Yoda whether you know it or not.
Today I focus on the simple things. I watch the butterflies’ flit around the trees. I sit on my balcony and watch the sun set over the horizon. I cherish every time I can talk to my boyfriend during his deployment. I’m thankful for the sun and the starts and the fact that I can create a new day every day for as long as I have the opportunity.
For the first time in my life I’m in a relationship where I’m not anxious or unhappy. I feel secure and accepted. It isn’t perfect, and he isn’t perfect, but it’s what I’ve always wanted, and I’ve come to realize he’s perfect for me (even if it took a while to figure that out). More importantly, I found all this because I finally found myself and not only did I find myself but I learned to love, accept and believe in who I am and what I’m about. I learned to embrace my history and turn my weaknesses into strengths and if I can do it so can you.
I wish I could say getting here was easy and I wish I could get you a magic path to follow or say there’s one certain way or specific steps you should follow, but I can’t because I don’t know you, your history, your situation or what you need, and I can only tell you what helped me and brought me to a place of peace.
What I can tell you is that you can and will get there if you don’t give up. Getting over trauma is a process and unfortunately, you can’t skip steps. I will leave you with one simple way to change the way you look at things.
I knew one day my story would be the path to my freedom.
I knew one day I would use it to help others and here today, I hope it has become so.