“I have come to believe that caring for myself is not self-indulgent. Caring for myself is an act of survival.” ~Audre Lorde
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment when I realized that I no longer needed to fight for my survival, but I do know that it came after several years of prayer, healing, and intensive work. It wasn’t an event, but rather the feeling of peace and calm that comes after a storm.
For me, the storm dissipated slowly. It was the kind of storm that kept swirling and re-emerging until I finally realized that it would take concentrated effort and work on my part to eliminate the threat.
By threat, I mean anything in my inner and outer world that was wreaking havoc on my nervous system. This included things on the inside (such as trauma, subconscious beliefs, childhood wounds, and energetic and nervous system damage) as well as things on the outside (people and things in my environment that were having a negative impact).
When your mind, body, and spirit are under attack for a prolonged period of time, there’s no one solution that will bring you out of the dark. Rather, you must practice a variety of healing methods and make the conscious choice to free yourself from the chains that bind you.
For me, the freedom did not just come from leaving my unhealthy, toxic, and codependent marriage of nineteen years. It didn’t come solely from the fact that my oldest son finally stabilized and was no longer in danger of losing his life. Nor did it come solely from separating myself from the people, places, and situations that held my nervous system in a constant state of turmoil.
It was a combination of many things.
The reprieve came gradually over time, as I learned to listen to my body, understand my nervous system and its relationship to my emotions, and what people and situations threatened my inner peace.
Each time I would notice that I did not feel safe in my body, that someone’s words or actions were causing harm, or that a relationship or situation was adding stress or creating an imbalance in my life, I would make adjustments as needed.
This meant setting firm boundaries around who and what I was allowing into my headspace and heart space. This meant releasing people, places, and situations that were no longer healthy for me or serving me in a positive way. This meant working in therapy to heal childhood traumas that were still living in my body.
For starters, I left a long-term relationship that, on the surface, seemed to provide stability but, in reality, kept me in a constant state of anxiety, resentment, and emotional chaos.
The relationship was a textbook example of two unhealed people recreating their childhood wounds with one another, with no awareness of what they were doing. The impact trickled down to our children, who unfortunately suffered the negative consequences of their parents’ wounding.
It wasn’t until months after our divorce, when my oldest son was diagnosed with PTSD, that I realized the environment I had been living in was not only toxic but also abusive. Sadly, the relationship with my former partner so closely resembled the patterns and behaviors I had witnessed as a child that I had somehow normalized them. I hadn’t put the puzzle pieces together soon enough.
In fact, the moment that I read my son’s psych evaluation results, I was hit with the reality that I had lived in that kind of environment (chaotic, unhealthy, toxic) for most of my life. In my childhood and then later in my adult life.
I was shocked.
Why hadn’t I connected the dots before? The reason I felt anxious, the reason I was crawling in my skin, feeling on edge and unable to relax or find stillness, was because my nervous system had been under attack by the very people who were supposed to make me feel safe.
I had been existing in survival mode for as long as I could remember.
From that point forward, I made a pact with myself to never go back to people, situations, or environments that created chaos inside. I promised myself I would do whatever it took to protect myself from further harm, regain my stability, and break the cycles of toxicity and abuse that had been passed down through my lineage.
These are the methods I used to free myself:
- Subconscious reprogramming
- EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
- EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) Tapping
- Somatic healing
- Energy healing
- Cutting Relationship Cords
To some, my methods seemed extreme, selfish even. And in some ways, they were. But not in the typical way one would think.
The fight to find my peace was only selfish in that I cared about myself and my well-being so much that I was not willing to stay stuck in cycles of suffering any longer. Nor was I willing to pass my wounding along to my children.
I had a choice, and I chose myself. I chose my peace.
And I would do it again if the time ever came.
To anyone who is struggling with the suffocating feeling of living in survival mode, please let this be your reminder: you must choose yourself. You must do something, because doing nothing will only keep you in the eye of the storm.
Even if it means letting go of close relationships, or removing yourself from certain environments, the hard decisions you make will eventually create the peace and freedom you seek in your life.
Of course, leaving people and places behind is going to hurt. It’s going to cause some discomfort. But remember, you cannot heal in the same environment that is harming you.
You have to be willing to get radically uncomfortable for a period of time until your nervous system stabilizes and you are able to invite healthier, more supportive relationships into your life. Once you are able to look in the rearview mirror at your distant past and see that you have left behind all the things that were harming you, you will realize it was all worth it.
You will be proud of yourself for having the courage to take these brave steps. You will be proud of yourself for taking your happiness into your own hands. You will be proud of yourself for choosing YOU.
Make peace your priority. Your nervous system will thank you. Your children will thank you.
Sending you love.