Recovery: Redefining Normal
Stepping onto a path of recovery and beginning the removal of toxicity from one’s life is an arduous, often painful, but beautiful process. But I like to believe that some of our greatest lessons come from our difficulties. Those are the times that provide us with the most insight into what is actually going on with us. Take for instance your relationships with others. Is there a pattern? Have you continued to add links to an unhealthy chain be it consciously or subconsciously? Are you happy?
When there is a history of toxicity in one’s life, particularly when it’s introduced at an early age, what is considered “normal” tends to become skewed. For example, someone raised in a home with an abusive parent may inadvertently seek out relationships with similar personality types. This isn’t a conscious act but rather a direct result of being taught how to be in this world through violence (emotional, physical, visual, etc.). It feels familiar and therefore “normal” to be around toxicity. The question is, how do you break the chain? How do you make new, better choices that are healthy and nurturing? How do you place yourself in environments that celebrate you for who you are instead of those that persistently denigrate you?
The 12 steps are a brilliant start. They allow us to begin the process of unpeeling the layers of the onion by asking us to turn our eyes inward and check out what’s going on in our minds and in our hearts. That oft-dreaded fourth step tends to help identify a pattern, particularly if we are honest with ourselves when we write it. Personally, I’ve always liked that process because it feels like I’m stripping the layers of emotional dirt off of me. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s worth it. Frankly, it hurts like hell to look at ourselves and at our lives with a magnifying glass, but dang it, it’s liberating. You just don’t need to carry that stuff around anymore. Twelve-step work is just the start. If it were only that easy, right?
Taking a clinical approach is incredibly beneficial, especially when dealing with trauma, addiction, and mental-health issues. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), to name a few, are invaluable tools to help identify the psychological triggers and hooks we have embedded within us.
But you know what really seals the deal for me? Creating space for Spirituality. I can’t emphasize enough how invaluable it is to develop a spiritual practice. It is the very thing that will feed your soul. No, I’m not selling you religion or a canon of idealized thought. I am, however, urging you to find the calm in your breath, the grounding notion of having your feet planted to the earth, and the healing weight of your hand on your heart. You can break the chain of abuse. You can shut out the tapes that play in your mind, telling you you’re a piece of crap, a failure, not enough, stupid, fat, ugly, useless. You can take your power back. It takes work, but it’s worth all the sweat and tears. Trust me. Be patient. Understand that this process of recovery takes time. Nothing and no one is perfect.
I’ll leave you with this. I was involved in a series of abusive relationships growing up. I was doing the same thing, expecting different results. I eventually discovered I was continuing the pattern of emotional denigration established in my childhood and nurtured in my adolescence. When I finally smashed through that chain several years into my recovery and only after working tirelessly with a therapist, meditation, yoga, 12 steps, I was free. This doesn’t mean the trauma or triggers went away. It means I finally learned to identify them, and have garnered tools to help me respond to them differently. When I met my husband, I quickly discovered he was different. For one thing, he showed me unconditional support, which I hesitated to believe was true. It took me almost two years to accept the fact that I had, in fact, broken that chain and was capable of having relationships that were built on trust and respect. I realized I could believe someone; something this traumatized gal was never able to do. This was proof that I had redefined my “normal” and surrounded myself with a healthy, loving new family. In fact, I redefined my response to the world and its triggers, not just within my family, but also in my life. Ultimately, I took my power back. You can too. You just have to do the work!