All too often we, individually and as a society, find it easier to place blame on others rather than recognizing our own mistakes…our own errors…our own responsibility for how things have turned out. That is not to mean that most have not made choices according to what we thought was best at the time, instead this is about taking advantage of the opportunity to recognize where we can do better in the future while forgiving the past. For me, it is time to let go of my past in order to recognize that I did my best to survive…and I did…I survived. With that being said, the following are what I have found to be my top ten ways that I failed myself, but that I now prefer to view as my top ten opportunities to build a better future:
10. I placed others’ needs before my own.
This became abundantly clear to me when looking to my past romantic relationships, most evidently during my last marriage. When living with my childhood abusers I came to a point when I gave them exactly what they wanted because it was easier than fighting. By doing so, I felt a piece of me fading into oblivion with each passing day. I was repeatedly placed in situations that only allowed for me to react purely on survival instincts, which continued into my adult life and the development of an uncanny ability to recognize the needs of others. I would then adjust my actions accordingly by going out of my way to give them exactly that.
When looking at how my marriage failed, I was quick to come up with a list of his mistakes and failures. For some time, I held onto the belief that my now-ex-husband did nothing but change me during our tumultuous eight-year relationship. I repeatedly placed the blame on him for who I had transformed myself into. I have since come to realize that was not the case, it was me that changed myself to fit his needs. He asked me to change for him, but I said yes. I not only allowed this to happen, but I single-handedly played the part of the crew who set the entire stage for how things transpired. He wanted a proper wife, so I quit smoking, I quit drinking and I quit swearing. He wanted someone he could show off, so I changed how I dressed, I hid my scars and I hid my tattoos and piercings. He wanted someone he could be proud to have on his arm, so I pursued a career in the legal field, I converted to Catholicism and I never discussed my past. In fact, I had placed so much energy into this act that I came to believe it myself, I think in part because I had always wished for “normal.” Unfortunately, or fortunately, there was always a piece of me that could never let go of the truth.
Lesson: Recognize my needs. Recognize the needs of others. Accept when our needs do not benefit the other, but always choose mine.
9. I placed others’ happiness before my own.
Wow. Just the realization of this one had such an impact on me. Mainly because my desire to make others happy was so extreme it ran into every relationship I had, not just the romantic ones. I was so aware of the effect unhappiness and disappointment had on me that I never wanted to be the cause of someone else’s. So I again went out of my way to do everything in my power to make everyone around me happy and to never give them a reason to be disappointed…which is obviously an impossible task that I had not yet realized. In fact, it was not until recently that I was able to realize how truly harmful it is to place the happiness of others before my own. I believe it took so long because I had no concept of what it even was that made me happy, so how could I have chosen it? Therefore, it was only natural for me to focus on making others happy, which led to my own false happiness…it was not reality. A huge problem with mistakenly believing in a happiness that is based solely on making others happy is that you are cultivating the inevitability of resentments.
Which is exactly what ultimately occurred with my ex-husband. I made changes by trying to make him happy. In the end, I resented him for the changes I had made. I resented him for my choice to give up “me.”
Lesson: Find what makes me happy. Recognize and accept that the happiness of others may not be what makes us happy. Pursue what truly makes me happy and the rest will fall into place.
8. I devalued myself and my importance in this world.
So much so, that by the time I fell into a seemingly healthy relationship I was already too broken to recognize it; and, I was already too well-trained in giving them exactly what they wanted rather than what I needed. This was clear to me with the very first healthy relationship that I had ever come to experience. Right around the age of nine I had been matched with a big sister through the “Big Brother, Big Sister” program. She became someone that forever changed my life…she became my lifeline. She was always there for me through thick and thin. I knew she loved me, but I lacked the ability to feel it. She always stood up for me when no one else would, but I failed to recognize it.
At the same time, there was always a large part of me that could never truly connect with her in spite of her relentless attempts to help in healing me. I wanted to…oh man, I wanted to so badly. Unfortunately, that was the completely broken part of me that I had no way of fixing, that I had no idea of how to fix. Heck…I sometimes had no idea that it even existed because I had kept it so well-hidden and had ignored it for so long, but it was there lurking in the shadows of my heart. She would visit me and I would put on a fake smile for her. She would hug me. She would say she loved me. She would be there for me. She stuck by me. The thing is, I never understood why.
I never saw what she saw. I never saw myself as beautiful. I never saw myself as worthy of love. I never saw myself as worthy of anything really. Instead, I believed I was useless. I believed I was worthless. I believed I could offer nothing more than the pain that I attempted to fight off but ultimately allowed to consume me on a daily basis…and I knew I did not want her to feel the same. I did not want her to be the recipient of my brokenness. So I did everything I could to cause her to walk away, because I failed to recognize any value in myself…because I failed to recognize any importance in my very existence. Anyone else would have walked away, but she did not. For that, I could never say thank you enough. She was and is truly amazing and we would all be extremely lucky to have more people like her in this world.
Lesson: I have value. I am important. Anytime I question that, I must look to those who have stood by me and accept their reasons for staying, because if they have stayed then they love me…if they love me then they would not lie about my worth.
7. I gave into the all too accepted belief that I was “…a product of my environment.”
I am not entirely certain if it was sheer stubbornness or the “survivor” that dwelt within me, but for so long I would fight my pain. Every single day for so many years I would fight to not give into it, to not allow my abusers to win, to not allow my past to win. Yet there came a point when my “survivor” became weak, when I became weak. So many people had questioned how I made it so far that I began to question it myself. I not only began to question how, but also why. Why had I continued for so long? Why had I not given in? Especially when things never seemed to be getting better and there was no end in sight?
And so I gave in. Instead of questioning “why,” I began to use “because.” Anytime I did horribly on an exam, it was because of my past. Anytime I broke the rules, it was because of my childhood. Everything turned from a reason into an excuse. I gave into the belief of entitlement due to my childhood, rather than using it as a reason to work that much harder to succeed. The funny thing is…everyone was so accepting of it…so accepting of the “because.” Society accepted my poor behavior because of my history. I was held to a lesser standard, which led me to holding myself to a lesser standard. What I failed to recognize…what we as a society fail to recognize…is that this holding people to a lesser standard and accepting the “because” attitude really is a death sentence. It can and will only lead to the death of our true potential because we become okay with being less than. Because we have become okay with ignoring our potential. We have become okay with giving up on ourselves and success, whatever success means to us.
Ultimately, I began to realize my mistake while homeless in Las Vegas. I suppose I had what some would call an epiphany, or an “ah ha” moment. I realized and accepted that yes, many failed me during my childhood. Like Vegas, I was forced into situation after situation that I had little to no control over. However, Vegas…unlike my childhood…left me with an opportunity because I had full and complete control over how I reacted to the situation. I realized that our society has it all wrong…I do not have to be a product of my environment. Instead, I have the power to change my environment and make it a product of me. I remember sitting on the steps right outside of Harrah’s Casino on the Strip promising myself that if I ever made it out of Vegas alive that I would never put myself in such a helpless situation again. Several weeks later I made it out…alive.
Lesson: If I do not like my environment, I can change it. If I am surrounded by unhealthy relationships, I can find healthy ones. Remember, when there is something in my life that is making me unhappy, I alone have the ability to change it. I am able to manifest change.
6. I ignored my instincts.
So…I have a feeling most out there that can relate to this one! I am embarrassed to admit to the countless times that I have been well aware of my instincts screaming at me to run, yet I chose to ignore them. Mainly because I did not trust myself. One thing my ex-husband was a master at was his ability to play on this extremely damaging weakness of mine. There were times that my instincts would be telling me something was horribly wrong with our relationship, but anytime I questioned it or him, he would twist any given situation around to place blame on me or to make me think I was crazy. Literally, he led me to a point where I lacked all confidence and often questioned reality because I no longer had any concept of what reality was. The biggest harm this did was that I lacked all faith in myself, so any valid instincts I had were viewed as completely invalid. I questioned myself on everything and started to believe I was crazy.
He would tell me one thing only to later tell me another. Yet I would be left wondering whether he really told me the first thing or if I had just imagined it. And of course, he would be more than happy to play off my imagination. Ultimately, I began to ignore all instincts, I began to ignore myself.
Lesson: Recognize the difference between my instincts and natural fear. Recognize when my instincts are struggling to be heard…and listen. When having difficulty differentiating between instincts and fear…err on the side of instincts…always.
5. I allowed people to rent space in my mind for far too long.
It never ceases to amaze me at how much simpler life would be if we were all able to let go, to forgive and to not allow people to rent space in our minds. The problem is this, like many important and valuable things in life, it is much easier said than done. In fact, I believe this is one of the most difficult things one can do. For me, the people that have left the most significant impact on my life were also the ones that I needed to let go. I had allowed them to rent space for so long I feared they had become unwanted lifelong tenants rather than the transients they were meant to be. They had become a part of me. So much so that I had no idea of how to evict them. I had no idea that I even had the power to and once I realized I had this ability, I was almost scared to lose a part of me in spite of the pain that it caused.
For as long as I can recall, my nights had been consumed by night terrors while my days had been consumed by unwanted memories. Something as simple as a name, a voice or even a smell would trigger any number of memories..in fact, this still happens just not as often. My days were being overrun with these unwanted intrusions that were making it nearly impossible for me to be at all productive. My night terrors and flashbacks were making it nearly impossible for me to succeed…to live. I desperately searched for the off switch, but I quickly found mine was broken. I knew I needed to fix it if I wanted any hope of becoming successful and living my life in peace. What I found was that I had a long and painstaking road ahead of me in order to leave the pain behind! I had…have…a huge amount of work to be done in order for me to be able to move forward. Part of that is letting go and saying goodbye to the past while saying hello to a future. My future, whatever I chose that to be. Because ultimately I have the choice to allow my future to remain in the past, to remain consumed by the pain of the past…or I have the choice to evict my tenants and live in peace.
Lesson: Saying goodbye to the past is not saying goodbye to yourself, it is saying goodbye to allowing it to run your life. Removing negative, unhealthy people and relationships is necessary. In order to obtain peace I must experience, accept and say goodbye to the past.
4. I hurt myself.
There are so many ways that I hurt myself. I have been hurting myself for so long I often question whether I can find another way. Self-harm has been my sole coping mechanism. By staying in unhealthy relationships out of fear of hurting the other person, even when they had only hurt me. By staying in unhealthy environments, even when I knew it would result in nothing but more pain. By physically hurting myself (cutting, piercing, tattooing and shooting heroin, among other drugs) out of an insatiable need for relief of the pain, even when I knew the relief I felt was nothing more than a temporary solution. The problem…well, there are a number of problems with this one…but if I had to choose one I would refer you to Number 8. I placed little to no value on myself.
I was so shut off from emotions, from people and from life, that I had no idea how to move beyond my past. I could not open up to people because I had no faith or ability to trust. I could not open up about my feelings because I had no idea what they were. I could not speak of the pain because it consumed me in such a way that I was left terrified that I would not be able to return from even a momentary acknowledgment of its existence. So it was seemingly easier for me to ignore it and I did. In the long run, it repeatedly began boiling while the steam would rise to the top screaming to be released. Yet the only release I was able to provide myself was more self-harm in a delusional attempt at chasing that momentary relief because I thought it was better than having no relief at all.
Recently, I came to realize how backwards my actions were. I was harming myself because I had reached a point of being unable to handle the harm inflicted by others. I had some mistaken belief that pain would cure pain…I was so wrong and that is okay. It is okay because I now see that I have been walking a very fine line of being one of my abusers and I needed to put a stop to it, which is something I continue to struggle with to this day. Just last week was the first time that I had looked at a picture of the wounds that I had inflicted upon myself…I mean really looked at what I had done to myself and it made me want to cry. To cry for myself, for my pain and for my damaged broken soul, but then something happened. I became suddenly aware of a profound beauty and strength. I saw my beauty and strength and I am coming to believe that I no longer have to hurt myself. I no longer have to be an abuser. I am taking that painful road of recovery…in fact, I am skipping along it and seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I am choosing peace.
Lesson: Hurt does not cure hurt. Temporary relief does not result in peace. I will not allow the actions of others to cause me to continue hurting myself. I deserve peace.
3. I never took the time to allow myself to fall in love with myself.
For so long I heard nothing but people telling me what a failure I was. Telling me that I came from nothing and would never amount to anything. Telling me how worthless I was and that I would never have anything to offer. For so long I experienced nothing but abuse. Nothing but torture. Nothing but anger and hatred. For so long I believed all of these things. They latched onto me like little leeches sucking the life from my soul…or what was left of it anyway. Even my own husband would make scathing remarks that only caused further damage. He would tell me that I was his pound puppy that he had to save, that I owed any success to him, that “the apple does not fall far from the tree,” or that he should have known you cannot turn someone like me into a housewife. Even better is one day when we were hanging out with some of his friends and he remarked that people who get tattoos or piercings were idiots…I could literally feel the eyes of each of his friends falling on me and yet I said nothing.
When I was with him I stopped drawing, I stopped writing, I stopped everything and anything that I loved because he saw no value in it…which ultimately led me to seeing no value in myself. Like all relationships in my life (romantic or not), I was so focused on the other person that I failed to notice myself. I failed to recognize the good in me. I failed to love me.
Lately, I have been making a point to find what makes me happy, what I am good at and what I love in order to find a love for me. My passion for writing has been reignited along with my passions for drawing, reading and anything relating to the outdoors. Most importantly though, my desire and passion for helping others has consumed me in the healthiest of ways. Through all of this I have started on a journey of discovering a love for myself that I never thought possible. In doing so, I am realizing it can only work towards creating healthy relationships because by recognizing my value and loving myself I am able to create boundaries and hold people accountable to them.
Someone that I love more than anything once told me that I should think of my life as “Lisa, Inc.” and fire anyone who is not fulfilling the requirements of the position they were hired for, which is exactly what I am doing.
Lesson: Unhealthy relationships are the direct result of the lack of love for oneself. It is impossible to hold anyone to a standard of loving me if I have no idea what that standard is. I am lovable and loved, by others and by myself. I have the ability to remove anyone that does not add to love.
2. I never forgave myself, even for the things that were never mine to be forgiven.
Ummmmmm, yeah. So here is the thing. Forgiveness is such a tricky, all-consuming thing that has the ability to catapult you to success or leave you in a writhing ball of destruction. I have forgiven so many. Even those that were entirely undeserving of forgiveness. I was so quick to create reasons why they were deserving of my forgiveness, but I was just as quick to create reasons why I was undeserving of that same forgiveness for things that that I bore no responsibility…but I was blind to that fact.
I blamed myself for my mother’s passing. I blamed myself for being in foster care. I blamed myself for the years of abuse I endured. I last lived with my mother shortly before her passing, when she was becoming consumed by her sickness and I was in the midst of yet another severely abusive situation. I recall one day we were getting ready to make gingerbread houses in our fourth grade class for the upcoming holidays and each student was asked to bring a couple bags of candy to decorate the houses with. I went home that day asking my mother for a few dollars to buy some candy and she told me she did not have any. I was embarrassed that I would be the only one who was not able to offer something that I later went into her purse, found some cash and took a few dollars. I bought two bags of candy that I brought to school and, upon returning home, was faced with my mother’s tears as she asked if I had taken any money from her purse. When I said yes, she told me that was meant for her medicine and now she could not pay for it. I was not only heartbroken and ashamed that I had done that to her, but I was equally terrified of what would happen to her without her medicine.
I cannot even begin to explain the guilt that remained with me after her passing several months later. It ate away at me for years to come…along with the undeserving guilt I held from everything else in my life. I truly believed I was solely responsible for her sickness taking her away. I now know how truly ridiculous this is and that her sickness was going to take her with or without any outside assistance. It did not matter. You could tell me until you were blue in the face that it was not my fault, but I had no way of believing it. To this day there is still a part of me that believes I am partially to blame for her death..
While I readily created reasons why I should forgive others, I just as readily created reasons to bear their responsibility as mine and mine alone.
Lesson: Forgiveness is one of the keys to the path of peace. Forgiveness is necessary. I must recognize when I did nothing wrong and learn to forgive myself when I have.
1. I gave up on myself and on life.
This has been one of my biggest struggles in life to date. The fact that I gave up. I was so consumed with pain and my lack of hope for our world that I chose to leave it. I told myself to let go because there really was nothing left for me to hold onto. I took a deadly amount of pills and never thought twice. I never regretted it. So often I have been asked “well I am sure now you are glad that it did not work, right?” Wrong. For so long I was so angry that I failed. After all of the abuse and pain that I had been through, the most traumatizing thing that I have EVER been through was the day that I woke up in the hospital and realized that I was still stuck here. I realized I was not going anywhere. I believed it was some sick and twisted joke the universe was playing on me. I lacked any understanding and I lacked the strength to even attempt to understand. And yet…here I am. Still standing. Alive.
Since then, serendipity (or fate) has struck my life. In this past year, I somehow managed to end up in a place that was exactly where I needed to be, surrounded by the exact people I needed around me, with the exact opportunity I had ever hoped to be graced with. I have had glimpses of hope, of love and of peace. Glimpses that have held my hand through this painstaking journey of healing. That have shown me my own value and worth. That have been leading me towards my potential, towards my passions, towards my purpose.
At the same time, I have had an equal amount of glimpses of hope. As I had mentioned before, I recently had the opportunity to look at the damage my self-harm has caused. This was accomplished through a very recent chance meeting of someone who has truly changed my life…even in such a short amount of time. She has changed my overall view of myself by allowing me to see my own beauty and inner strength. She has shed a new light on the harm I was causing myself, but most importantly, she has ignited a hope in me that I feared would never return.
Lesson: I am worth fighting for…even if I am the only one fighting. There is hope in the world…even if it is difficult to find.
We are so damaging to ourselves and each other. We are on this merry-go-round ride of looking for any and every opportunity to point out the mistakes and/or failures of others while living in fear of the same being done to us. We are living in a world where we are so consumed by an innate fear of not being good enough for everyone else, that we have forgotten to consider whether we are good enough for ourselves…which is what should truly matter. It has somehow become socially acceptable to hurt others. We have become so quick to judge, to point the finger, to demand that others act and live by our standards…which is ultimately whatever standards we, as a society, have created.
We have forgotten to love each other. We have forgotten to support one another. We have forgotten that we are all human and make mistakes. We have forgotten to forgive. To forgive ourselves and to forgive each other.
So someone cuts you off, what damage has really occurred for you to be so consumed with rage? So someone wears something you do not like, what reason is there to go out of your way to ruin their happiness? So someone loves someone else you do not think is right, why would you find it necessary to fight love when there is so much hate in the world that needs our attention? We have allowed our priorities to become askew.
I have had my hope die and return…and my hope is this. I hope we can stop this useless fighting. I hope we can stop this never-ending judgment of others. I hope we can begin to be supportive rather than tearing each other down. I hope we can yearn to make someone smile rather than killing their spirit to temporarily benefit ourselves. I hope we can begin to accept ourselves so we can begin to accept others. I hope we can begin to forgive ourselves so we can begin to forgive others. I hope we can begin to take responsibility for our actions so we can begin to use them as an opportunity for change.
But most importantly, I hope we can begin to love ourselves so we can begin to love others. Because love really is the ultimate healer. I know I am such a work in progress, but I am trying and I only hope others will too.