I’m a woman, but I still call myself a girl. In the evenings before bed, I would do headstands after getting stoned. I used to paint acrylics on tall stretched canvases, and one day stopped. My succulents beside my bedroom windowsill are still thriving and alive. I drink straight-up black, iced coffee in the mornings before eating anything. Smoking cigarettes is now a habit that remains way in the past. I love green juice only if it has lemon in it. I became vegetarian when I was seven years old. Today, I don’t label myself as a raw vegan yet the foods I eat are simply just raw fruits, vegetables, and nut butter because I don’t like to cook. When I moved back to PA from California, I didn’t have any furniture and slept on my yoga mat alone for weeks on end, and swear to this day that it healed my back. I don’t like spending the night at men’s homes. I don’t like being held after sex. My parents raised my two brothers and I in an Irish Catholic/Bohemian household and it’s even more confusing than it sounds. I admire Buddhism, yet learning about Hinduism compels me to think beyond learned limits. As a kid, I liked boys, girls, the gym teacher, my brother’s friends, my father’s friends. I quit drinking once because for some reason I thought it was a good idea to combine vodka with Xanax. After a while, I started again, and have been contemplating this past week once again on stopping. I have immense love for Hot Yoga. I was born in the Bay Area and lived in a Youth Hostel that my Dad managed. Sometimes, when I pray, I don’t have a concrete understanding of who I am praying to, yet I feel consoled. Currently, I believe we are all God yet haven’t woken up to realize it yet. I used to take three showers a day after I was sexually abused at six years old. I’ve written a collection of non-fiction pieces about overcoming trauma & I hope one day to heal others with this writing. However, I am still terrified to put the pieces out for people to read. I’ve been reading about quantum physics over the past month. I am terrified to take acid or shrooms because I know someone that never came back. I write songs at 10 pm every night on the guitar so softly, hoping I won’t wake up the neighbors.
I used to think that all of these actions, beliefs, rules, and perceptions were concrete. I believed they made up who I was: Fiona. Yet there is a higher part that is aware I am living the life of Fiona McHugh. Think about it with yourself. Isn’t there a part of you that knows you are living the life of ___? When you realize you are more than your name, beliefs, and the things you have done/experienced, your mind becomes a blank slate of who you can be. What is that part? God? The Universe? Your Higher Self? All that stuff above could have been completely different. I could’ve written that I loved Math and play soccer. The Fiona described above would have been completely different, however, I would still have that same higher part of me that is aware that I am living the life of Fiona McHugh. You see, I think that one of the most important things to learn in this life is how to “break agreements.” These agreements are beliefs, experiences, and rules that you have agreed to “be.” Looking above, those are all “agreements.” When you can separate yourself from yourself, you start to realize that you don’t have to be controlled by “external events.” I would constantly say to myself I do ___ because of ___. Or, I am ____ kind of person because this thing happened to me.
It’s not about discovering who you are. It’s not even about working on becoming that change you want. If you are always focused on “becoming,” you’ll always be in that state of trying to change. That’s why some habits are so hard to break, we’re not living in the end. Instead of being the person that is trying to quit smoking cigarettes, be the person that just doesn’t smoke them. Live in that version of yourself. Your higher part of you that is watching you live the life of __, doesn’t have any rules or limitations on who you are based on the past and what people have told you. You already are the change you desire. It’s about breaking the agreements and shedding all of the things you believed you were so you can just allow yourself to “be” that version of yourself.
Has anyone else been struggling with panic, paranoia, or just anxious, unwanted thoughts? That your thoughts have been playing on a loop? Maybe it’s because I decided to take a break from drinking again (for how long? a week.. or forever.. I haven’t decided yet,) only to realize that it’s a lot HARDER than I remember from the last time I did it. Yet, that’s another post for another day.
Or maybe it’s because it’s that time of the month, I burned myself from this innocent looking, sloth heating pad I got from Urban Outfitters, or that the 800mg of Advil still doesn’t take away the needle stabbing pain from my IUD. (But completely worth the pain because hormones and pills…. or hormones in the form of a pill are things I try to stay clear from.) The mind and body are more connected than we may realize. Which is why I’ve learned that if your body isn’t at it’s best, your mind will suffer. Anyway, back to the point of this post: this morning I remembered I wrote this on my old blog back in January 2019. I hope it helps you if this is something you’ve been battling. (The trick is, to not battle with it. You’ll see what I mean as you keep reading.)
You are not your thoughts. Your thoughts are, well, just thoughts. For so many years, I let negative thoughts hold such power over my mood and actions. Whether it was a negative thought about how I perceived myself or an unsettling memory from when I was a kid, I would let one thought push me into a downward spiral and taint the rest of my day. I believed that I had no control over this. There was this strong belief that those thoughts were a reflection of me.
If you or someone you know struggles with obsessive compulsive disorder or any form of addiction, you may have noticed that they will get hooked on one thought or urge. It’s can feel like the individual is blind sighted by anything else but that thought. And the more you (or they) try to not think about it, the more you do. (Ever heard of the saying: Don’t think of the pink elephant?) It’s beyond frustrating and can leave one to think that there’s absolutely no hope in changing their present mood or actions. This can apply to those who suffer from depression as well. There may be a hopeless feeling or thought that they feel they cannot let go of. If you can resonate with any of these scenarios, I want to tell you this:
Your thoughts aren’t you. You are not a bad person for thinking those thoughts. Furthermore, your thoughts don’t have to dominate your emotions or actions. You are not a victim to your thoughts. And most importantly: your thoughts don’t have permission to make you give in to an urge or addictive behavior. That stupid little thought doesn’t have power over your arms or legs. You do. (Now I get it, easier said than done, but bear with me.)
Now, it is impossible to control the thoughts that may arise from time to time. But it is in your power to chose how you respond to them.
For example, someone who may suffer from depression may think a negative thought about themselves. Such as:
“I should be able to do more like everyone else.” “Why is it so hard for me to have hope and stay motivated?” “I feel so guilty for burdening everyone around me.” “I’m a jerk.” “I’m always sad. It’s easier for others to be happy.” “I am a bad person because I did x, y, and z back in 2010.”
Then, along with that thought probably comes with hundreds of reasons that support that belief to be true. The more we focus on that thought, whether negative or positive, our brain will try to find all the evidence it can to back that thought up. And man, anyone who is thrown into a sea of thoughts like that is bound to be depressed.
So, right now, I want you to imagine you are standing beside a stream in the woods. As you hear the rushing water cascade down from the forest’s peak, you look down and notice thousands of fish swimming down the stream. Some are grey, camouflaging with the stones that lie at the bottom of the stream. Swimming alongside the grey ones is a bunch of bright blue fish. Think of these fish as your thoughts. You cannot control how many grey ones are swimming in the creek just as much as how many blue ones are there. Now, as all of the fish are swimming down the stream, you reach down to pick one up. You get to decide on which fish you pick up. It not in your control over which fish passes you down the stream at that moment in time, but- it is your choice of which color fish you pick up and look at.
Also, it is completely in your power to decide how long you are going to hold and observe the fish, whether it is for five minutes, or the rest of the day. (Don’t ac
tually do this! ) You can also just notice that grey or blue fish as you let it swim by past you instead of picking it up at all.
That’s how it is with your thoughts. Sometimes there will be negative thoughts about yourself that arise through time to time. That doesn’t mean that thought is true. It’s just a thought. The reason why it may feel true is that for most of your life you’ve just focused on that thought and created the evidence to support it.
Now, I know that there are genetic and biochemical factors and components for depression, OCD, and addiction. I’m not saying this is a cure-all concept or idea, but it can definitely save you from going into a downward spiral for the rest of your day.
For example last night, I ran into someone I knew years ago. I used to have this belief that they thought I was a chaotic mess. This morning, as I was folding my laundry, a negative assumption of how they may have perceived me passed through my mind. Immediately, (as I unconsciously picked up the grey fish) I began to go back to that scenario of running into them last night and picked apart all the reasons and evidence of why they may have thought negatively about me when we ran into each other.
Suddenly, I stopped myself. I let myself get hooked onto the thought and the storyline of how this person might think that: I’m too whimsical, unorganized, and can’t keep up with life. After I became aware, I told myself “that’s just a thought.” Because really, there are tons of thoughts that were going through my mind at that moment, I just chose to delve into that specific one and the storyline of what they thought of me based on past interactions from years ago. Swimming alongside with that thought were other thoughts such as the moments of laughter I had with the friends I was with that night or that I ran out of coffee this morning and need to go pick some up.
***I think that a lot of us may have felt a certain way about ourselves based on one or two experiences in life, and then have continued to believe that story and perception of ourselves as well as projecting that belief onto people who we meet in the future.
Even as intuitive as you may be, we never truly know what the other person is thinking. Even if that person I ran into did think that way about me… It doesn’t mean I actually am a mess. I could have spent the rest of the day believing and living as if I am chaotic or disorganized. I could have stopped folding my laundry. But I didn’t. I chose to pick up the other fish and create my own story of how I see myself. And I had a fucking great day. Also, constantly focusing on the thoughts of how we perceive ourselves, how the people around us to is going to drive anyone crazy. Try observing something outside of yourself. It gets you out of your mind.
Next time a negative thought about yourself or an urge to *drink, smoke, blah blah ..etc..etc..* arises, just watch it like a fish down the stream. It may stand out to you more than the others, but this is because you are used to giving that specific thought more attention. Over time, the thought will not seem as true, threatening, or loud once you practice observing it and not believing it. Sometimes, the thoughts may seem intrusive or you may feel like the words are shouting out at you. But remember, the response is in your power. Instead of picking up the thought and finding evidence for it. Just respond like this:
“Hmm, interesting. Anything else you (the thought) would like to say before I move on?” “Yeah I know it would feel great to __ right now. But I’m not going to.” When the thoughts are strong: the trick is to respond curiously and almost neutrally. Because the more you argue about giving into an addictive behavior or stream of negative beliefs about yourself, you are still giving tons of energy and attention to that thought and it’s going to wear you down.
Trust me. The more attention you give something, negative or positive, the more it will come to fruitation. So, if you are trying to stop the thought or argue with it—don’t. Just let it know you see it, and then try to observe all the other thoughts/fish that may be swimming in the background of your mind.
The present moment is all that matters. What you did 3 minutes ago or 10 years ago doesn’t have to be the determining factor of how you live right now. You are a good person. Don’t let one event or a few interactions with others affect the rest of your life. Even if someone did straight up say to you that you are a *insert negative noun* -it’s just one of those grey fish in someone else’s mind. That thought of theirs..it just doesn’t matter. Because it’s just an opinion.
And you know what? Maybe I do act disorganized, whimsical, and have a hard time keeping up with life. But that doesn’t mean I AM disorganized, whimsical, and have a hard time keeping up with life. I can be organized and grounded when I feel like it….. And the same goes for you! So fuck those grey fish. They are only as real as you believe them to be. Next time you catch yourself picking up a grey fish and are about to fall down a staircase of negativity. Just watch this video before you continue your day: (A video my dad made me watch in the midst of a panic attack at some point during high school haha.)
Ladies-actually, no, not just the women, this one is for men too. We all need to not only hear this, but listen to this.
I found myself downtown, sitting on the courthouse steps. The same courthouse I went to (turns out I was supposed to go the justice center instead, but ah, that’s another story for another time) when I had to file a PFA (protection from abuse) just a few months prior. My lungs were wide open from the hot yoga class I just took as the wintery cold wind swept in through my chest. I sat next to an ex of mine on the courthouse stairs as he smoked a cigarette. “I know you weren’t experienced in committed relationships…but”
He began to bring up the past-before our past. B.C.: Before Commitment. Before the first date. Before the relationship, before even dating. Why does this matter? I don’t know. Why did he then pursue and ask for commitment with me after knowing my sexual history (that was obviously a major problem to him)? I don’t know. Apparently, it’s wrong to be in relationships if you’ve had sex with other people, before that relationship. Maybe my emotions are charged right now because of all of the “you’ll go to hell for premarital sex,” lectures I heard as a kid.
I found myself, buried under a jacket, and cold, sweaty yoga clothes apologizing for having sex. With someone else. When I was single. I don’t know about you guys, but until we establish together, that we are TO-GE-THER, you are not in a relationship and therefore, can see other people. Ok, thank you for coming to my TED talk. Now, obviously, each situation has strings attached and different factors that make up the situation itself, just like this one. Or if you’re in a relationship that’s not open and are cheating, that’s an entirely different talk we can have another time. What I’m talking about here is single people having sex & the notion that some men get where they think just because they texted you for a week, you are theirs. Anyways, as I was walking back to my car, through the ghost town brick streets, I began to think about this.
Call this a feminist rant (as if that’s a bad thing), I don’t care. My roommate said to me once, “Be careful, because although you both have the freedom to have sex, it’s always the woman that gets the blame.” It’s true, I’ve lived it and have watched other women as well. For Christ’s sake, I was hit by a man because I told him that we (me and this other lady friend of mine the guy also once pursued) didn’t owe him sex and/or a report card, chart, list, or explanation on who and why we’ve slept with who we have.” End of story. He was not amused, obviously, and then I ended up having to get a protection order for that and many reasons. But those fucking empowering, “women don’t owe you their body just because they smiled at you once or laughed at your joke,” words that came from my mouth that night was worth all of it.
Stop apologizing for having sex. If you’re with a man who ever so slightly judges you for your sexual history or past-leave. I’m not kidding. Although we’ve worked so hard for sexual liberation, and it exists, we still collectively have perceived notions we need to let go of. Anddd we don’t need anyone reacting negatively to our sexual past on top of it.
So, here is a list of FACTS for the #stillsadlysexist world.
You don’t owe a resume of your sexual history to anybody. Unless you feel the need to tell someone, that’s not their business.
You don’t owe sex to your significant other because a.) they are in the mood and will pout if you don’t have sex with them, b.) because they fixed your headlights or flat tire, or taken out the trash c.) they are insecure about other men and think that by sleeping with. you or “being all PDA” will reassure their insecurities that THEY need to sort out, not you, girl. You have sex when you BOTH are into it.
You don’t need to feel embarrassed, ashamed, or apologetic for having been with more partners in the past than your current partner.
You don’t ever need to “give in” or “get it over with.”
If you want more of these facts, check out the list at the end of my blog post Sex and Shame. And, what I’ve learned is that there is a MAJOR difference between being a sexually empowered woman vs having casual sex you’re doing in order to feel sexually empowered. Maybe that will be Friday’s blog post.
Trust me, I’ve done all of the above and all it leads to is the worst PTSD episodes and resentment in your life. Listen, being sexually liberated doesn’t mean you need to force yourself to be someone you’re sexually not. Meaning, if you are a committed relationship gal-then only accept that! And if you are more free spirited-then be that! What it comes down to is this: The only times apologies need to follow sex is when you are apologizing to yourself after abandoning yourself for someone else’s desires.
I had a wake-up call. Now, listen, I’ve had a lot of wake up calls. Many of sorts. Like waking up on a couch without a clue whose home I was in. Waking up to the fact how sick I was when my best friend since the first grade held my hands in a local Starbucks, with tears in her eyes, begging me to get better. Or the wake-up call I had when I was being rushed to the Mission Viejo Hospital for my heart rhythms after starving, being underweight, overdosing on laxatives, and throwing up anything I ate for months on end. Not even the Advanced Pedialyte or Coconut Water with Himaylan Salt save me at that point. Waking up to how my life was constantly being put on pause when quitting college to attend an eating disorder treatment center (twice). Waking up with Pacifico bottles, a burning throat, and cigarette butts by my bedside. Waking up during the middle of sex at 4 am with some man at his house in Delaware. Delaware. (I live in PA for context.) Waking up after my flight landed and groggily walking through the San Diego airport, still intoxicated, and was lost. There are more extreme wake-up calls that I’ve had, but this would be a long post if I listed them all.
After each one of these wake-up calls, I swore to myself that I was going to change. I meant it, and I really believed it. “This is it, this time is really it, I can’t live like this anymore,” I’d say to myself, usually after the times that my body took a hard hit from my actions.
I quit it all for a while. I got into yoga, continued school, focused on healing my body, and started this blog. Drinking happened occasionally, but nothing like before. Until I woke up the morning after this Halloween, not remembering much of the night before. Except for the part when my ex walked me down the street that night saying, “You’ve got to stop, you need to take care of yourself, Fiona.”
That morning, I sat up, climbed out of bed, and brushed off that vague memory. I sat down at my laptop, read my horoscopes off of three different websites, and swallowed a handful of vitamin tablets with black coffee. #Health .
I stared blankly at the screen, ruminating on the thought, “How do you know if you have a problem? I think I relapsed. Yet, did I even have a problem before? I mean, what’s the difference between having fun, being young, versus being addicted?” I grabbed my phone and texted one of my brothers. (Who would be a therapist because he’s the most honest, empathetic, insightful person you’ll ever meet.)
He then called me. We talked on the phone for almost an hour. I told him everything I had been avoiding acknowledging myself. Sure, I was taking herbal remedies to heal the weekly fevers I was having, but I wasn’t eating basic nutrients. Sure, I wouldn’t drink much around my friends, but I’d pour wine in a reusable water bottle and secretly drink it before or after. Sure, I wasn’t smoking weed as much, but I was taking Xanax from my friend’s medicine cabinet and drinking with it. Those substances weren’t used for social reasons, they were used for “medicine” to cope with stress.
I didn’t want to admit that I needed help. I especially didn’t want to admit it on here because this blog is supposed to be helping others climb out of this kind of cycle. I was ashamed, embarrassed, and afraid of what my friends, family, and readers of this blog would think. I strongly believe in practicing what you preach. For heaven’s sake, I wrote an entire workbook on anxiety and didn’t take any of the advice. My friend Nick and I were recently laughing about how the book should’ve been titled, “All The Advice I Had, But Didn’t Take.” ….Well, I sure am taking it now.
After talking to my brother, I knew I had relapsed, needed to relearn coping patterns, and that I had a problem. Obviously, I cannot give you my credibility for using healthy coping tools over the past few months that I’ve mentioned on here. I’ve used them in the past to get back on track, and I’m back to using them again to do the same. But what I can give you is honesty, what I’ve learned from this, and what is currently helping me now.
Here’s some thoughts:
Never abandon yourself. Most of us would rather feel resentment while giving in to others than the shame that comes with saying no to them. I was saying yes to things I wanted to say no to in all areas of life. And after I would give into them, I’d feel this anger at myself and them, which is also usually when I’d numb out. I was muting my intuition with eating disordered behaviors, Xanax, and alcohol instead of listening to what I needed at the time.
If you have to question whether it’s a problem. It is. Furthermore, it’s not necessarily about figuring out if you have an addiction problem, but rather asking yourself, “Is this substance interfering with my everyday life? Is it helping or halting me from pursuing my dreams?” Or ask what my brother mentioned, “If I found out my friend or family member was doing this, would I be concerned?”
You can’t do it alone. Now, personally, I don’t believe AA or other 12 Step groups are the only way. Maybe it’s my own personal bias from being raised in an Irish Catholic family, but anytime I hear someone say, “this is the only way to be healed, and you are lost until you follow it,” I become suspicious. I’ve known a lot of people who didn’t do the 12 steps and have been clean for years. I’ve also known people who have been going to the 12 Steps and have been clean for years. What seems to be the common denominator on both sides is this: Community and being part of a group with the same vision, the same meaning of life, and what they want to make out of their lives. It could be a group of people at a yoga studio, a trauma group, a book club that addresses recovery, the 12 step program, or Refuge Recovery (A Buddhist recovery group.) There are so many options out there, but by being in a support group, you are inspired, held accountable, and learn from others. Personally, I just started going to an outpatient support group that runs during the week. There’s no shame in getting help, even if it’s for the 17th time, and you are never “not sick enough” to get help.
Ditch the phone. Use airplane mode. The constant communication, notifications, and distractions had been a major source of stress for me. I’d have so much guilt about not responding to texts and emails right away, it kept me too much inside my head. For an hour, a day, a week, try taking a break. They can wait.
Simplify your life & take care of your body. List three priorities you have right now, including your health. Writing this down clears your head. Focus on what your body needs, not what you think it wants. It’s easier said than done, trust me. Because, if you suffering physically, it’s going to be difficult to function mentally.
These are the five things that I’ve learned recently. They are things I am incorporating in my life right now. I used to have shame about relapsing, admitting it, especially after after having those wake-up calls and making those promises. But what I learned is that it’s better to be honest, and get help, rather than giving up.
Anxiety, Anxiety, Anxiety. We hear about it all the time. There are different types of anxiety and different causes. The word in itself alone can bring up fear for us. Weirdly, if you think about it, anxiety is just …anxiety. It’s there for a reason: survival instincts. It’s there to keep us alive. However, it can bleed into other areas of life other than just survival and that’s when it gets messy.
I still get anxious. Like, REALLY anxious. I’m not going to stand up here and say “I used to have anxiety, but I no longer do, and here’s how to…” Nah, nah. In fact, I’m going to admit, over the past few months, I resorted back to old ways I used to cope with anxiety.
I go into it more in next week’s post, but to give you a summary: I relapsed. A lot of life’s challenges knocked me down this past fall and instead of getting back up- I would resort to things to knock myself out. The areas in my life that were once stable, began crashing down. I was constantly getting sick and instead of using the sources and knowledge I had to cope with these things, I had a “fuck-it” kind of attitude and went back to old ways. I hid my habits, became distant, flat, and lost interest in everything.
This workbook includes the tools, awareness, and knowledge that I wish I had taken. Honestly, I have been avoiding putting this book out for a while because I would’ve felt like a hypocrite if I did. How could I lead others towards the light, if I wasn’t doing the work myself? So, today, I am using these self-awareness techniques when it comes to breaking away from anxiety and destructive coping behaviors. I hope that these tips will help you, too, climb out of the darkness. Yesterday doesn’t matter, today does.
Let me first start by saying Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is a brilliant, brilliant man. He’s an author who has dedicated tons of his research towards PTSD. You may have heard of his book, The Body Keeps The Score. After reading this book a while back and listening to many interviews with him, I was not surprised when I found out his approach to treating trauma is done through bodywork, such as yoga. In fact, yoga addressed many trauma wounds that talk therapy was not able to reach or heal.
Dr. Bessel van der Kolk talked about the two most common therapies that are used in a New York Times Magazine post: cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy. He stated that the purpose of this therapy is to “desensitize” the patient to the fear, which isn’t effective therapy for trauma because desensitization is not the same thing as healing. The other therapy commonly used, CBT, is where the patient will look at their thoughts and see the illusions with a rational perspective. However, again, he pointed out that this is another ineffective therapy for trauma because “Trauma has nothing to do with cognition, it has to do with your body being reset to not interpret the world as a dangerous place.” Trauma needs to be reset in the primitive parts of the brain, which talk therapy, or CBT, cannot reach.
Most therapy uses the “top-down” approach, which addresses the “evolved” part of the brain, otherwise known as the neocortex. This is where you’ll talk and learn to observe your emotions and thoughts. Now, of course, this is helpful, but trauma is stored in the body through sensory. You cannot rationalize with that part of you that goes into “fight or flight”. This is why therapies such as EDMR, brain spotting, somatic therapy, yoga, and hypnosis really help propel one’s recovery from sexual abuse.
This is also why addiction is hard to break when it is just approached by addressing emotions. We must understand that aside from emotions and genetic factors, the limbic system in the body is highly activated. You cannot rationalize with surfacing addiction urges, just like you cannot rationalize with PTSD triggers. This is why this “bottom-up” therapy approach can help with addiction, especially if trauma related. I talked in my podcast (Episode 2) this past week about how to deal with this part of the brain, which is the limbic system.
I thought that by avoiding certain people, places, sounds, or experiences would prevent me from being triggered. Yet, after trauma your entire nervous system is still on high alert, meaning your body is still acting as if you are still in the trauma. If you are someone, or know someone that experiences frequent flashbacks, nightmares, or can’t seem to be brought down to earth, then here are some suggestions that have helped me, and still to this day continue to. The “bottom-up” approach to healing trauma is essential. It really gave me a glimmer of hope when I felt like I was failing talk therapy that I had been going to for years.
“In my dream, wearing torn flannel sleeves, I lit a cigarette between my teeth as I walked down the street underneath fall’s golden canopy. And no matter how hushed I tried to be, I’d walk over crunching leaves and twigs that would snap beneath my feet. It reminded me of the part I played around you: tip toeing around to avoid that break.
I’d continue to hold back.
You’d tell me this is a game, like I’m some object to claim. Yet, no one else was playing or saw it that way. How much proof did I need to get it through, that my decisions aren’t up to you? Dreams, six strings, and burning leaves, you’re now marked in my memory. There were moments you were so sweet, driving me around the brick streets, singing to me. Yet, after I said what I had to say, you crossed over into the wrong lane, and you took it too far that day.
That hit took me back to the past. How sick is it, you even knew about that? I no longer will be that sweet, pretty, quiet thing you wanted me to be. Your opponent in this “game” that you claimed isn’t the other men, it’s the fact that I will speak the truth until the very end. I know you must hate me for speaking about that, so just think of it as my way of hitting you back.“
-Again, September by Fiona McHugh
I remember a therapist I went to years ago told me that it is common for survivors to find themselves in abusive situations later on in life. Her words illuminated that dark corner in my mind that I had refused to look at. Many people, including myself, may be confused as to why this happens. In fact, wouldn’t you think it would be the opposite?
If you feel like you are repeatedly finding yourself in relationships or incidents that are hurting you, there’s a reason why. Before I continue, I want you to know that pain isn’t love. If someone doesn’t respect boundaries and hurts you emotionally or physically, yet tells you they love you- I want you to know that isn’t love. Maybe you haven’t experienced a safe and trusting connection before and it might seem foreign to you. You deserve to feel heard, safe, protected, valued, and respected. A major part of love is unconditional respect.
On an emotional scale, the abuse lies at the veryyy bottom. Whether it happened once or repeatedly, it greatly impacts one’s perception of how they believe people should behave towards them and what they deserve. Logically, we know that we don’t deserve any type of abuse, yet amid everything, it’s can be difficult to become aware of when abuse is happening. Meaning this: If you learned from an early age or a past relationship that love goes with pain or always being on alert, it may be difficult to notice red flags immediately because that pain and lack of boundaries is a familiar experience.
Repetitive experiences and emotions create beliefs. Overtime these experiences become normalized (even when they are not normal.)
To this day I’ll notice old beliefs. The other weekend I was sitting across from my roommate in our living room and found myself saying, “I know he hit me, but I don’t have a bruise on my face or anything, so it’s not that bad.”
Stunned, she said, “Fiona, he HIT you!” At that moment, I realized I had set the bar so LOW on what I deemed as tolerable. Now this just occurred this month, and at that point, I thought I had worked on these beliefs and boundaries (OK, not all of them.. yet haha). Apparently not. This is also the reason I am writing this because it reminded me that there isn’t a finish line when it comes to recovery. Of course, there are markers on the path, but healing is a continual process.
After my roommate’s comment, I began to look back at all the other things I would tell myself after being in weird situations with men such as, “Well, he didn’t rape me, it could’ve been way worse.” It’s embarrassing to admit that was even a thought!!! In my mind, anything that wasn’t rape wasn’t “as bad,” because none of the other actions were as traumatic as what I had experienced. However, that doesn’t mean that those actions are acceptable, tolerable, or ever ok for a human to experience.
If the bar is set at sexual abuse, anything above that experience may not seem as severe. Except it is. Listen, if you are in a situation right now, where you are questioning yourself whether someone isn’t safe to be around, chances are, you have that feeling for a reason. If other people are saying there is something off with that person, they may be seeing something you’re not. Like gravity, their actions will continue to fall down to where that bar is set. People who engage in abusive actions oftentimes continue to push the boundaries as much as they can.
Now, does this mean you are destined to forever be in abusive relationships? Hell nooo. That is why I started this blog, to help survivors break away from the responsive cycles that stem from trauma. Let me quote Alan Watts for a second:
“You’re under no obligation to be the same person you were 5 minutes ago.”
It’s time to rewrite and cultivate new beliefs. Now is the time to raise the bar. Someone laying a hand on you, threatening you, or constantly disrespecting boundaries shouldn’t even be in the picture of what you should tolerate. I don’t care if it’s a longterm friendship, partner, relative, or coworker. It’s just not acceptable.
Here are some categories to give you an idea of where to start:
Have you ever really admired a friend’s partner because of how well they treated your best friend? You deserve those same qualities, and you can be those qualities to someone else. Relationships aren’t meant to cause chaos in one’s life. Life is too short. You will find your tribe and partner. It will all work out, but just write down those boundaries and accept nothing less. If you’re doing this and then meet someone, that’s when you know it’s the right person for you.
Dark thoughts have hit all of us. Some moments of despair are easier to walk through than others. There’s a spectrum of these thoughts, being that some feel more intense than others. It can feel as if a murky cloud has blinded your vision, making it seem impossible that you’ll ever see a sliver of light again. What causes this cloud? The thoughts? The blindness from the light? There’s probably a multitude of answers to these questions, and obviously, I don’t have all of them. At this moment I’m writing this, I believe that this cloud is made up of ideas: Ideas we’ve soaked up like a sponge from the earliest age, as well as voices we’ve heard over our heads since we were kids. All the rules, limits, fears, and restrictions we have been told or overheard make up the molecules of this “cloud”.
This fog you may be lost in isn’t the end or any reflection of who you are. The biggest lie we can ever believe is that the thoughts surfacing in our mind are who we are. Instead, it is how we respond to the thoughts that make up our character. Attaching our identity to these dark thoughts is what will trip us up. (Trust me, I’ve been there.) What has gotten me through the darkness, and is still my guiding beacon whenever the fog rolls in again, is releasing the attachment. Here is what I learned five years ago when I knew something had to change.
Firstly, this dark cloud isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it is a gift. Sounds strangely annoying, but bear with me. This murkiness lurking around you isn’t the problem, it’s a signal that something in your life is off. It is a sign that some aspect in your life, whether tangible or intangible, has run the course and needs to be released in order for you to continue on. There is something that is weighing you down, which is why any glimpse of hope or the idea of happiness may seem exhausting to you. That’s the thing about depression, sometimes it can feel tiring to even think about being happier. So before you continue reading, I want you to thank this cloud for telling you something must be set free.
Secondly, knowing that you are programmed to survive can help you learn to let go of your attachment to these thoughts. As humans, we are built for survival. Think back to the prehistoric times. Our entire lives were built around surviving, and to this day, still are. Businesses, schools, hospitals, basically everything is built around the desire and concept of surviving. Even religions as well. If you think about it, we desire and are searching for the certainty of a form of permanence. With this knowledge, it helps you understand logically, that those thoughts about giving up are not you.
Strangely, when those dark thoughts do arise, they may seem more authentic and real compared to your memories of when you felt joy. Being in this state can make you feel like, “this is the real me” and that you see life clearly now. Personally, in previous times I’ve felt like those dark thoughts were more raw, real, and authentic compared to the moments I’ve felt inspired by life. Maybe you’ve experienced that too. The reason for this is because there are authentic emotions that tag along with these thoughts. It’s not the thoughts you experience are real, but rather the feelings that arise whenever these thoughts do. Your body and mind need to feel these feelings, emotionally and physically. Those thoughts are carrying them up to you. They are trying to bring to the surface those feelings you need to feel in order to realize what you must release. Feel every feeling that each thought brings up, find where in your body you feel it, and breathe into it. Once we give authentic attention to these feelings, they will dissipate, along with the cloud.
Lastly, we must understand our identity. The most important fact to know is that you are not your thoughts. Therefore, you are not a depressed person. Sure, you may be a person experiencing depression and/or melancholy thoughts, but that’s not who you are. You are grieving, not a griever. Being a griever is permanent (and nothing is permanent), grieving is a natural process we all go through on various levels. It took years of practice but when a negative thought(s) arise, I’ve learned to listen to it, and then reply “thank you, but that’s not me, that’s not who I am.”
We must accept these thoughts that are surfacing along with unwanted emotions. The more resistance we have to them, the stronger they will get. When we have resistance to these thoughts, the battle is tiring, leaving us exhausted at the end and wanting to give up. When we let those thoughts feel heard as well as the feelings, they will pass through. It’s quite easy to get caught up in the thought process of: “I should be happy.” “When will I get out of this period of sorrow?” Yet, the more we focus on what we think we are supposed to feel, the longer they will linger until we acknowledge them. Accept the feelings and thoughts, but it doesn’t mean it’s who we are or that we must act upon them.
The solution to this identity struggle and the murky cloud is: To accept and release. Because-It’s not about finding yourself or searching for a way out of the darkness, but rather to just, release. Release the rules you have carried with you since you were a child. Release the voices that have told you that you must do x, y, and z in order to be worthy and loved. Release the opinions and perspectives that others have placed on you.It’s time to let them go. That’s when you will find yourself.
For years, you have been buried under the “shoulds” of life, lines, fears, and phrases of others. Those dark thoughts and feelings are just warning signs that it’s time to unearth yourself from the burden of other’s you’ve accumulated unconsciously. You have been there all along, and that’s why you may be experiencing depression. It’s a voice, a feeling, a cloud that sweeps in when it’s time to let go of expectations you and others have of yourself. Give those feelings and thoughts attention. Accept them until they get tired, and then let them leave.
Slowly you’ll uncover what brings you joy, and what inspires you. You’ll find the message you are meant to bring to the world, once you let go of everyone’s limits. I can promise you, from experience, that there are going to be exhilarating events in your life that are not comprehensible right now. You’re going to look back at this present moment and thank yourself for staying and being gentle with yourself in the midst of this pivotal point in your life.
Please call 1-800-273-8255 for help in a mental health emergency. Or reach out immediately to someone if you are in a state of crisis.
“After, I drove home. Springtime flowers were once again in bloom. I pulled the car up to the same gray house, buried by violet hydrangeas and mossy green grass. I stepped across the stepping stones and damp soil that led into the home that used to keep secrets for me. I sat at the piano, as the peach sun sank into the weeping willow tree. Out loud, again, I began to sing, about it, about him. The echoing keys and distant melodies of my voice drowned out those floorboard creaks I used to shudder from, that rose from beneath.”
-excerpt from “Bloom” by Fiona McHugh
It was the summer I turned nineteen when I recognized what was happening. For the past year, I had been in a treatment facility for anorexia. My life was made up of group and individual therapy, EDMR (a trauma therapy), terrifying PTSD episodes, being dishonest on my daily check-in chart, escaping the treatment center, going back to the treatment center, putting ankle weights in my pocket during weigh-ins, and digging deeper into the trauma and the pain from other’s reactions. I saw myself nothing other than a victim of trauma and following mental issues that stemmed from it. That year I became VERY aware of how most of the depression and anxiety linked back to the abuse.(For some reason when I was younger I never put the two together entirely.)
Awareness is the first step, grief is usually its friend that follows. Although grief is one of the worst feelings, it’s a sign that you are aware and are in the process of accepting what has happened. (Just FYI- acceptance doesn’t mean it’s ok what happened.) Now, after the immense tidal wave of grief washes ashore (and it will sometimes come again and then go) we begin to see the roots and reasons of our present actions.
Although I became aware of trauma based actions and triggers, I began to solidify them as beliefs of who I was, creating an identity. These beliefs limited me in so many areas of life. For example, some things I believed were, “I can’t heal from anorexia because a lot of it stems from the trauma; I need to drink tonight because I can’t handle being with guys; I will never have sex without crying after; sex is always painful because my body tenses up; I can’t relate to anyone; the OCD impulses are too strong today and so I can’t eat; I can’t go to college because I’m sick; I no longer surf or do yoga because I’m to frail and weak; I can never trust men.”
Do you see how limiting these beliefs are? Now, I’m not saying they weren’t real symptoms I was suffering from. But I was labeling them as who I was as a person. I had accepted that life will always be a battle and I could never feel normal because of what happened. Relating to other nineteen-year-olds was incredibly difficult when your entire life and identity was built around trauma and anorexia. Seeing the problems and the symptoms is important, but believing that they are YOU can create a major pause in your life.
It was an evening during Mid-August when my therapist called me on this. Man, at first, I was offended, like REALLY offended. I was relapsing once again and she had the intake papers for me to sign on the glass table. (There were always glass tables so that no one could hide their food under it.) I refused to sign them, which is when she brought up her observations. She brought to attention that I was letting myself be a victim to my present circumstances instead of taking control. Sure, I was a victim during that moment of the abuse, and life at home wasn’t the most steady environment, but she said that it didn’t mean I couldn’t change that. She told me I had to step into my power, to recognize that I can make decisions and handle the outcome of them. There were solutions, but I wasn’t taking any of them. Instead I just told myself “I am this way because of the trauma.”
I remember leaving the facility and crying in my car for a long time. It felt like a personal attack (although it wasn’t) because I was so bound to these actions, they were who I was. Yet a week later, I began to understand what she was saying. The real recovery isn’t in the therapist’s office or center, it’s by what you do in the real world. That place was there just to keep me alive, it wasn’t meant to be the foundation of my life. That week, I signed up for my first college courses at a local community college. A lot of the grief was expressed through my paintings and writing, and so I decided my focus was in Studio Art. I began to practice affirmations every morning when I woke up. I’d go on long walks listening to affirmation mediations as well. On a piece of paper, I wrote down twelve intentions of what I desired to experience in life that wasn’t mental health-related. They all came true.
Now, have I had to go to individual therapy for trauma and anorexia since? Yes, I still do. Do I like eating? No. Are there moments where I catch myself identifying as a victim? Yep. BUT, Did I take an honest look at my thoughts and actions during those times and decided to not let it become who I am? Hell yeahh! There were many highs and lows since that summer, but never once did I question the decision I made to break the old agreements.
Ask Yourself: What beliefs do I have about myself that are limiting? Who do I want to be? Who are the people I feel comfortable around, and what qualities in myself arise when I’m with them? Chances are the qualities you like about yourself when you’re with these particular people are actually traits of who you already are. This also goes for qualities you admire in others. Go write a list of ten beautiful things you desire to experience in this lifetime or ten new agreements about yourself. If you continually remind yourself that you are not going to let yourself be that trauma identity, I promise, those ten things you wrote down will come true.
If you have any questions about breaking the trauma agreements or where to begin, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.