Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Survivor Superheroes

Survivors of trauma often develop pretty amazing abilities and traits as a result of what they have endured. We tend to be more compassionate, less judgmental, extremely self-aware and mindful, and incredibly strong. If we were superheroes our capes would likely be made of steel and be embossed with a brilliant shining heart. I am proud to be among these superheroes, though I am quick to denounce that I am one myself, and proud to know that an entire army of victors over trauma exists in a world that continues to dish out more.

We tend to be more compassionate than those that have never stared into the dark abyss that is recovering from trauma. We know firsthand how harsh life can be and we are the first ones to extend a helping hand to those struggling to stand. We are quick to be caretakers of the sick and ailing, which at times can become too overwhelming and exhausting. Our desire to save the world from suffering is a powerful driving force in our lives. 

We want justice for ourselves, for those that walk beside us in survival hood, and for those that will eventually join us as fellow survivors.

It is important to remember that compassion fatigue can happen to caregivers of any type and survivors are among the most at risk. Remember to pause and take time for yourself. Practice good self-care and recognize when you are doing too much. Learn to say no. Learn to set boundaries. Listen to your own mind and body when they tell you that you are over fatigued. Take care of you first and your ability to care for others will triple as a result.

Because we know that life isn’t simply black and white, we are not as quick to judge others that have struggled in life. We all make mistakes, fall victim to circumstance, and have life events happen that are out of our control. A survivor knows this and recognizes the pain in another person’s eyes long before they notice what others would judge about their current life situation. We know that life changes in an instant and that it can take years, decades even, to bounce back and heal from what we experience.

Survivors are extremely self-aware and mindful of other people and their surroundings. Part of this is from PTSD which can create hyper alertness. But mainly it is a side-effect of recovering from trauma. As we heal, we are forced to look inward and reflect on so much in our lives at ages when other people are carefree.

Self-awareness hopefully leads to learning to love and accept ourselves while being mindful of our role in society and society in general. We pick up on the vibes of others and are usually the first ones to notice when someone else is giving subtle clues that they are hurting or experiencing trauma. This makes us great caretakers, first responders, therapists, friends, significant others, teachers, parents… anything that involves caring for and being sensitive to the feelings of others.

Last but far from least, survivors are incredibly strong. We have survived what others didn’t, what others couldn’t. We have bounced back from depths only we understand- some of us time and time again. We are filled with compassion, empathy, self-awareness, and a strength that could rival the toughest of metals. You see, surviving trauma isn’t all about the bad- the scars, the side effects, the lost years. Surviving trauma is also about the good, the amazing, the loving person it has helped you become.

So wear that cape with your big shining heart and go out there and show the world what kind of superhero you truly are.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Why Do We Go Back? - A Guest Post From A Male Perspective (Anonymous)

A year ago, I was pretty damn depressed to be honest. Which is kind of the point of this blog post. I was working about 70 hours a week, not because I had some asshole boss pushing me, but because I was self employed, and doing it to myself. I was a self-confessed workaholic.

Last spring and this summer, I hit a reset button. I am now a recovering workaholic still retaining and battling issues from that lifestyle. (I’d go to meetings, but who has time for twelve steps? I’m working over here!) After an emotionally messy divorce, I now have my son full time, am headed back to finish my college degree. While it is tough balancing a kid, a career, and school with a new relationship (which includes wedding planning) it’s worth it. Because the funk is gone.

A little over six years ago, I left my last marriage. Then I went back to try again, before leaving for good. I’d classify the return as a huge mistake that may have done more harm than good, but it did force me to work on myself, and along the way I learned some things.

Our relationship was not an abusive one in the traditional sense of the word, although there was psychological and mental trauma on both sides. I classify myself as a survivor, but not of abuse, simply of life. 

But maybe if I share why I went back, and why I left again. it will help others in much worse situations understand one simple thing: although there is danger in returning, there are reasons we keep doing so, and moving forward is most often a much better choice.

I did it for the kids.

This was the most noble and horrible excuse I used to boomerang into disaster. Because the kids did not understand how toxic their mother and my marriage was, and what a healthy relationship might look like, they encouraged me to return home.

The truth is, they missed me, but not the home life that me being with their mother fostered. I went back into the home with a “new attitude” but lost sight of that pretty quickly, falling back into old, unhealthy routines to cope with things I knew were not right.

Not only that, but I developed new routines for coping, finding new ways to hide from the situation. I spun into being a workaholic, something I had always struggled with, but took it to a new extreme. While this was great for my career (temporarily), it was horrible for my family, and the kids.

At the end of the day, it would have been better for them to have healthy parents who were not together than unhealthy parents in the same house. Going back for the kids may have hurt them more than it helped.

Staying together is the right thing to do.

Maybe this comes out of my religious background, the whole divorce is evil, until death do you part thing. Even though the reason I left was mutually reasonable, when she and the kids both asked me to come back, I felt oddly guilty, and compelled to make things right.

But history had shown there was no “making things right” in our relationship. We were clearly headed opposite directions, and neither of us supported the other. I dreamed of quitting my day job and pursuing my dreams, which involved paying off debt and working long hours for a while. In fact, we were often opposed to the other person’s dreams, a fact that became even more evident when my writing career began to take off.

My approach was wrong. I did neglect my family in favor of work, because I was using classic avoidance techniques rather than facing the issues at hand. But returning to a toxic relationship is seldom the “right thing to do.” There are a few things I didn’t think through, but that are important to consider.

  • Why didn’t it work the first time around, and have those issues been resolved?
  • Are you acting out of loneliness and desperation?
  • Can you ever really dismiss the breakup, and get past it? (Probably not)

Answering these questions before I went back, creating feelings of obligation to second chances, and growing my own baggage would have helped me determine if returning and trying to stay together was really the right thing to do.

Discomfort is familiar and comfortable.

Doesn’t that statement contradict itself? Yep, it sure does, and yet all too often it is true. It is kind of like eating at McDonald’s. It’s familiar, mediocre food with disastrous health consequences, yet thousands of American’s eat there, and often.

Going back to a familiar situation, even if it is painful, is comfortable. It has a lot to do with how our brains work, and how effectively we deal with change, which for most of us is not very well. A return keeps us from having to move on, which involves personal growth, an often painful process.

I finally left for almost the same reasons I went back, oddly enough.

I left for the kids.

It has been hard for some of them to see, especially those no longer living with me. But for the youngest, who has seen the transformation up close, and fallen in love with my fiance (and her with him, an incredible blessing), he has been able to see that a healthy and happy dad is a better dad who is kinder and more loving.

Even though divorce is hard on even adult kids, over time they are all coming to realize this change, while painful short term, is for the best in the long run.

Staying together no matter what is the wrong thing to do.

A toxic relationship not only poisons those in it, but those around them. Leaving that relationship and moving on is not only good for the couple, but good their friends, family, and almost anyone who interacts with them.

Kids learn by example, and showing them an unhealthy way to communicate and deal with problems makes them believe this is “normal” and “acceptable.” It bleeds over into the way they treat others, and will handle their relationships in the future.

Whether they respond by staying in a bad situation themselves or letting their past affect their expectations of others, unless they break the pattern, it can perpetuate their own unhealthy or toxic relationships.

Constantly feeling bad is not comfortable even if it’s familiar.

Does your partner constantly bring out your worst qualities, and you feel bad about that? Are you constantly in a power struggle? Is your partner frequently jealous, and tries to make you feel bad about spending time with others? Do you feel bad about yourself when you’re around your partner? 

These are all signs of a toxic relationship, yet people live with them every day.

There are myths about power in relationships, needing a “kitchen pass” from your partner, and whether feeling bad is normal or acceptable. But a you that is constantly sad or feels bad about yourself is not the best you that you can be. Anyone in your life not in support of that is toxic. If they are friends, limiting or cutting off your exposure to them may be the answer. However, in the instance of your partner, such limits may not be possible.

Even if these feelings are familiar, they are not healthy, and not really comfortable. Returning to that place, or even going there in the first place only results in pain.

If you’ve left a relationship, going back is rarely a good idea. Probably there’s a good reason or a set of reasons you left in the first place. Returning seldom creates a happy ending for you, the kids, or anyone around you. Moving forward, although difficult, is a healthier choice.