Last week I was staring at a stack of paper cards, with a value written on each of them. We were instructed to separate these cards into the three categories: Important, Kind of Important, Not Important. There were A LOT of cards. After we put them into categories, we had to pick the top ten values from the “Important” category. Never thought how much you’d learn about yourself after doing this. After sorting through the cards, worrying that I’d miss an important one, I chose the top ten. (Here is a list of Brene Browns Values if you want to try this!)
Excitement, Passion, Honesty, Independence, Humor, Creativity, Self Knowledge, Sexuality, Purpose, and Stability. Fast-forward to today, the morning after a bad relapse, I sat holding my mug of black coffee looking at my top ten values I wrote down from last week. Silently, my tears streamed down my face and dripped into the blue ceramic mug. I poured out the coffee and went back to the torn out pieces of notebook paper from therapy. Staring blankly at the words excitement and stability, I felt like there was a contradiction. It’s impossible to have passion, excitement, with stability, I thought, You can’t balance that.
Ah there lies the problem.
It’s not the value itself that needs to change, but rather it was my definition of the value and how I’d seek it..
My mother would quote one of my grandmother to me, “Boring is beautiful.” I’d often cringe at it. Whenever she’d say that, I’d think to myself “No, boring is when I can’t sit still. Boring is when I end up getting super high alone at night and go skateboarding (yes, I know, I am 23) or opening up that orange pill bottle, or waking up at this man’s house in Delaware (I live in PA.) I can’t be bored! It’s not fucking beautiful.” Obviously, I didn’t say those things out loud, and yeah that reaction is a bit extreme. Most of the time, I’d reply to her saying, “I don’t really see that Mom.” I didn’t. Is stability and boredom the same thing? Can you live a life where excitement and stability both equally exist? Here are a few things I realized on this “not my greatest” morning.
Here’s the part where I talk about the correlation between chaos, our definition of pleasure, and the fear of living an ordinary life.. It all ties together.
If you are a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, lived in an environment where abuse was occurring, or survived emotional abuse chances are you became familiar with chaos. In fact, you’re probably more familiar with chaos than calm. Even though calmness is what we ultimately crave (and may have used addictive behaviors to self soothe and emotionally regulate) it’s unfamiliar. And for the human brain- unfamiliarity is scary. “I never lived in peace, I don’t deserve it, and even though other’s do, it’s not possible for me” This may not be a thought that is highlighted in your mind, but it could be subconsciously lurking in the background.
You see, abuse and being raised in certain environments overtime imprint the belief system. We might believe “we don’t deserve to feel good.” OR that “we don’t deserve boundaries.” Something the world see’s as so pleasurable was used against us to create pain and punishment. In consequence of this, it’s common to believe that pleasure = punishment. In cases of emotional abuse, you may have a belief that love equates to pain, or that you need to tolerate _ when in a relationship, to receive love you have to neglect yourself and value other’s more. Another common belief survivors may have is if they feel pleasure, they will have to be punished for it. Some punish themselves after it. Maybe you feel that you are not allowed to feel pleasure. Maybe you feel afraid to feel pleasure. Maybe you feel that if you experience pleasure, someone else will feel hurt, and vice versa. The major concepts that we need to look at and change are: What does pleasure mean to you? How do you seek it? Often, pleasure for us can be connected with methods of escapism and behaviors that lead to addiction. Those old behaviors that once may have saved us, took us out of the scary reality, and brought us pleasure often later on turn into what is causing pain later.
This is how the cycle occurs. The abuse happens imprinting deep wounds and core beliefs about ourselves and the world. With that perspective and definition of what love and pleasure is, we subconsciously end up gravitating towards experiences that mirror those views (the way our brain works is to constantly seek out evidence for our beliefs and thoughts, it’s not that we wanted more bad things to happen, it’s our brains trying to make sense of things.) When we then experience the pain again, it confirms the belief that “Life is always unstable and painful.”
Let me clarify very CLEARLY: You are never at fault for being abused. Never. It’s never EVER, someone’s fault that they were abused, OR ending up in another abusive situation later on in life. What I am talking about here is the importance of understanding the wounds in some of our beliefs and what we believe we deserve. If you were raised in an environment where abuse was called, “house rules,” or it was the norm, when you are in a relationship later on and something similar happens, it may take a while for the survivor to notice the red flags. There’s that quote from Perks of Being A Wallflower that says, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” But in this case not only is it “what we think we deserve,” it also is “what we saw and learned as love.” Maybe you didn’t experience abuse but you witnessed it as a child, that is still a chaotic environment where you learned to tolerate it because in that moment you needed to as survival. Calmness can feel strange and unfamiliar for those who experience sexual or emotional abuse.
I’ve done it myself, believing that I wasn’t deserving of a calm, normal life. I still struggle with this. Sure, in many aspects I’ve worked through them, but there are still many more. I’ve had multiple therapists, friends, and especially my mom say to me many times that “You should write a book about of all the weird stuff that has happened to you.” Sure, on the outside they were funny, but a lot of the situations I’ve found myself in were a result of feeling unworthy, battles with addiction, and core beliefs I had about sex and relationships. Sure, I causally write or tell my weird ass experiences with hits of humor. Yet, I often don’t talk about the aftermath like crying in the gynecologists office, the distance addiction has caused in my friendships and relationships, going off the grid from the world during depression or relapses, and so much more.
It’s not that we don’t want an ordinary life. It’s not that we don’t want a supportive loving relationship. It’s that we might believe deep down we don’t deserve it. It also might be the thought, “If my life didn’t consist of chaos, constant healing from the chaos, addiction…who would I be? And what would I do with my life?” becuase you were in the throws of it for so long.
Once we become aware of our past and how if affected us, we can now take our power back and create the life our seven year old self would be proud of, and smiling at. We may feel like without constant chaos or substances life would be dull, but I’m learning that chaos and relapses gets old as well. I am learning to value my current relationships over the substances I once used to escape from the old ones (or memories.)
This is where we return to the values I talked about above. Except this time, rewrite under each value how we want that to look in our everyday lives. So instead of pleasure and excitement being: abusing substances, chaotic relationships, and walking into situations most would run from, we can seek those things in other ways such as through listening or playing music, making playlists, preforming, getting coffee with your girlfriends, rock climbing, fresh bed sheets, early mornings, create art, write a book, laughter with friends, soreness in your muscles after working out, hot yoga, ah the list can go on.
** I want to also not dismiss the difficulty in leaving an abusive situation. My love goes out to you and I know how scary it can be to speak up and leave. The National Domestic Violence Hotline Is: 1 (800) 799 – 7233. There are also many centers that help women such as https://womenagainstabuse.org/ (Philadelphia Area)
After you write down your values, redefine what they mean to you, and how that would look in your life, you’ll be able to see that it is possible to live a life of excitement and stability.