Leaning into the Calmness
I have been in therapy for years to help
heal the parts of me that were shattered by my father’s alcoholism and the trauma
that I have experienced by being human. One of the driving forces for going
back to therapy was my divorce and my constant desire to run away.
The issue was
not that I could not manage conflict, it was that I had a tough time managing
my feelings, especially when I felt unheard and disregarded. It was the child
inside that would become explosive and I would see red.
I spent years thinking
I had a short fuse or a bad temper when that was untrue. I had to learn how to
protect the child inside that felt neglected and unheard their entire
childhood. It was the dismissive nature of others to my feelings that felt too
familiar and upset me. When this presented itself in any conflict, I would be
triggered, and the hurt would bubble to the surface as anger.
This was a constant occurrence in my previous relationship. I would try to express my feelings and be brushed off. I was expected to acknowledge their feelings, but it was not reciprocated. The constant tugging and pulling and competition for power in the relationship broke down our foundation. We became enemies and no longer had patience for one another. It was the battle of the unheard, and we were both immature and lacked the tools to strengthen our relationship.
When all was
said and done, I wanted to understand what caused the eruption of emotions in
myself. I had to take a hard look at my past relationships with everyone in my
life and find the commonalities and what caused the breakdown in those
relationships. It was evident that my inability to communicate my emotions
effectively caused the ending of relationships. Anger was the only emotion I
felt safe expressing. You do not have to be vulnerable when showing anger, you
just have to pound the table and scare people into dropping the subject. There
is no real resolve, and it continues the cycle of abuse you have lived in
because it’s the only form of survival you know.
When you are in
survival mode, you are not truly living. You are constantly scanning the room
for problems and reacting to situations. You are not enjoying life or allowing
yourself to feel real joy. Therapy highlighted the fact that I lived in a
heightened state of fear. Could I enjoy a good laugh with friends? Of course,
but I was scared to let my guard down and experience life.
with the world and those closest to me was not perfect, but it was also rooted
in fear and anger. My father turned to alcohol to run away from his issues and
escape his reality. His rage would boil over, and we were all casualties of it.
I learned from an early age that I was on my own. No parent or sibling was
going to protect me, so I coped the best way I knew how, and have always kept
people at bay.
I kept my
distance from people at first because I could not share the truth about my home
environment with anyone. There was an understanding that we had to keep quiet
about my father’s problem or risk losing both of our parents and winding up in
foster care. None of us wanted to live without our parents, but we also knew
what was happening was wrong.
I continued to
learn that people can be cruel. Some people weaponize your truth or pain
against you when they are dissatisfied with you or your “value” decreases. Trusting
people has not been an easy thing for me to do, especially when a parent uses your
insecurities against you when they are upset with you.
The lack of understanding the difference between abuse and love has always been blurry for me. Sometimes abuse can seem like love if it is disguised as “concern” about your well-being. Other times, it is not so obvious. It was this constant confusion rooted in my childhood trauma and my desperation to be loved that also caused conflict in my adult relationships. I did not know how to function in healthy relationships. Healthy was threatening to my identity. It was something I knew very little about. I was uncomfortable being around healthy people.
Over the past
year or two I have felt a shift in the way I manage my emotions and conflict. I
listen better and want to resolve issues for the betterment of my mental state
and relationships. I do not see conflict as “I need to win.” I see it as a space
to discuss issues that affect that specific relationship. I also do not see
conflict as criticism, although sometimes it can seem as though it is.
Through the tool
of therapy, I have learned to regulate my emotions and how to respond to the
world, not react. It is the volatility from my childhood that would come to the
surface in times of conflict or situations I felt unsafe. I reacted to the
triggers, which led to the demise of many relationships.
I now understand
that when I am feeling overwhelmed in certain situations or unsafe, it is the
child who suffered in silence when chaos erupted. Rather than allowing her to
burst at the seams, I must evaluate why I am feeling unsafe and address the
root head on. It is not always easy or simple. Sometimes I do not know why I
feel the way I do, but I try to sooth that girl that was scared. The girl who
had to look the other way when people were fighting or saying nasty things to
each other. Instead of silencing her, I use my words to start healing that part
I have learned that what that girl needed was advocacy. She needed someone to protect her and stand up for her when she was being bullied and silenced. She needed, I needed, to be comforted when life was hard and not told to “get over it.” As an adult, I have had to unlearn coping methods that are detrimental to my mental health because they are rooted in untruths spoken to and about that little girl. As adults, we teach kids how to speak about themselves. The narratives that I have spent my life repeating to myself stemmed from my parents’ anger about themselves or lives that they projected onto their children. Abuse is a very ugly cycle, and when you do not know you’re in it or have the support to escape it, it will consume your life.
Embracing this newfound
calmness has been strange and liberating all at the same time. It has made me
feel stronger, confident, and happier. It was happiness I was seeking when I embarked
on my journey of healing.
Photo Credit: All pictures are Mari Rey Originals.