Updated: Aug 27, 2022
Growing up in an alcoholic home, and learning from a codependent parent was a blueprint for my life. I grew up watching what is known as "The Dance" between the love/hate relationship. You know, where you love the sober side of the person, but you hate the addicted side. At the same time, you grow hearing every excuse given by the fear-driven codependent. Things like, "He wouldn't have done or said that if he hadn't been drunk." Little did this 16 year old, pregnant teenage mom know where she was going in this life, but she was sure knew where she'd been.
As part of my own grief recovery work, I knew I had to allow myself to take a deeper look at her, now that she is approaching 60 years, I knew it was time to heal her heart. As you read through the steps she's taken, you may relate with some of what she's been through. If you cannot relate, you are very blessed. No, this isn't some sort of biography of a troubled teen, but the concepts of what recovery did for her might just raise an eyebrow. Her testimony may allow you to look inside of your own heart to see, relate and discover how grief comes in to play. How, if not healed, grief can lead you down a very dark pathway.
You see, I sat down one day after coming across this old photograph of my younger self, and I thought, like most of us do, 'If only she knew then, what she knows knows now' would life be different for her? Who knows, because none of us are capable of changing the past.
If you look closely, you may see a hint of happiness in her eyes as she is anticipating the birth of her first daughter. She had so many things she wanted to give her, do for and with her, but mostly she wanted her to have a home where both parents got along, loved one another, and there would be no addictions or violence to make her feel afraid. As with most young couples, money was tight and the bills were always due with little left over to lavish the young daughter with all the things she had hoped to give her.
Now look a little closer and you'll see the sadness in her eyes as well. This photograph was taken at her baby shower. Most of her friends from high school had deemed her a tramp, and labled her with all sorts of horrible names. They encouraged her to just get rid of it, and told her she was ruining her life. Yet she finished high school but wasn't able to walk across the stage like the rest of her class. Senior prom night was not as she had hoped for as the car load of friends drove by her tiny apartment and yelled, "LOSER!"
No, I am not having a pity party, I am expressing how words can hurt. You see I carried those words for many years. Sadly, I believed them for far too long. You see, what she didn't realize was the weight she carried called, Abandonement. Her biological father went off the deep end before she was born, and was a raging alcoholic. She didn't even know him, but was born into a house filled with a grieving mother, and three grieving sisters. All feeling the depth of grief of having their family ripped apart over his affair, leaving their home, school, friends and family. Her mother packed everyone up and left New York and headed to Texas. There was no going back and they all felt the impact of abandonement. We all felt like orphans in some way ...
Deep grief can lead to anger, and I for one, certainly learned quickly how anger can be used as a shield. I was molested at age 4 and shortly afterwards, I was diagonosed with grief. You see, it was the perfect storm for a four year old who couldn't verbalize her inner feelings. A lot was happening then as I'll explain. Now that my mom was working a full time job, it was up to others to care for me while she worked. I had been passed around to a few of my aunts, a few neighbors, and my older sisters. Part of what I look back and piece together is that I was grieving my mother. There was no consistant care giver as every few months, the caregivers changed and the new roles, and routines I had to learn was a vicious cycle. I was placed in a child care center and yet, I didn't know how to play with children my age. I fought with them a lot and the inner tough, and angry girl emerged.
I believe the anger stemmed from seeing all the other kids with both a mother and a father. Hearing the other kids talk about their dads taking them to the park, to go swimming, to the movies and so many other activities. I wanted a dad too, but little did I realize, the one that would soon arrive would be nothing like the stories I'd heard from the other children.
The time came when a new man came into our lives. Two of the four girls were married, and left home by now. This man was also a raging alcoholic. The beatings and verbal abuse created a living hell that no child should endure. Fear was a part of our daily lives as we learned to tiptoe around on egg shells to avoid the bombs from exploding. So, my starting point was that I had to begin to heal a lot of trauma in that four year old girl. She was carrying around guilt, shame, fear, anger, and was also trying to please everyone around her as she yearned for some inner peace, happiness, and normality in her life. Instead, she and her older sister listened to the screams as he beat their mother behind closed doors.
He left with his rage, and we both would tend to our mom's wounds and reassure her that everything would be okay. Little did we know, we were tranferring that same codependent spirit into our lives. We thought this was normal. Yet we each had formed different ways to escape the madness. She threw herself into her art work, and became an extremely talented artist. I threw myself in to horses. We had horses behind us in a field, and I would often stand at the fence and just talk to them, They seemed to have an uncanny way of listening, and offering comfort.
Being diagnosed with grief at the age of four years, due to vomiting spells that would make her pass out after the dry heaves set in. Yet, after the diagnosis, there was no counseling, play therapy, or medication given other than Peptobismal for the vomiting. The roots grew deeper as time passsed for her. She was living in home and enduring alcoholic rages, and the verbal abuse was ripping out her inner soul. She was called 'Worthless - Idiot - Fat - Lazy - Stupid' - and some of the most vulgar profanity no child should ever hear. She rarely heard that she was pretty, beautiful, or smart.
By the time she was seven years old, she found this photograph of herself as a baby. It was the day the family left New York and headed to Texas. Words can never express the pain that was seared into my soul as I read the words, "UNWANTED" My mom was quick to say that I was wanted, but she had taken these photos to try and hurt my father who chose the other woman. That was the day I was told about my half sister who was three months younger than me. I now knew the rest of the story but it didn't ease my brokenness. I felt unwanted for so long - I cannot even begin to express what this one photo did to my soul. By the time I was eight years old, my older sister had moved out of the home due to the abuse, and I was the only one left to endure the abuse. I did. By the time I was ten years old, the alcoholic had placed a gun inside of my mouth and backed me up in the corner of the door.
He threatened to kill my mother if I called the police, and he drug her out the door with the gun to her head at one o'clock in the morning. Terror gripped me that night more than any other had in my life. It was the next day when I gave the God of Heaven my final warning. I told him I didn't need him anymore, I was done with him because now I can see clearly that he just threw us all down on this earth and basically said the hell with us. (Just like my father did) I questioned how a loving God/Father could allow so much abuse, and do nothing to stop it. The spiritual aspects of my inner grief was being abandoned and abused. It was all boiling down to that "UNWANTED" image I had buried deep within my heart.
I now viewed men as hurtful, abusive, addicted and abandoning. So, I did what I knew and married the blueprint that had been laid before me growing up. We spent thirty-three years together, and the family pattern had taken its toll. The truth was emerging that I had married an addict, who cheated numerous times, and I'd had all the hurt, pain and disappointment a person could take. He was a good father, and he was always there at sporting events, and school functions - but they were grown now and on their own. It was time. I was at the end of myself and again, that feeling of being "UNWANTED" had taken its toll. I was in the midst of the deepest anger I had ever experienced. Some might call that rage to be honest.
My life was being stripped to nothing. I was unemployed, my health was failing, my nest was empty, my mom had died, and I was looking across at a stranger that I had nothing in common with. I guess you might say I'd lost that loving feeling and it was time to own it. So I did. I was tired of being ignored, closed off, and that brick wall I was hitting finally got this thick, hard head of mine to take action. I filed for divorce and the family pattern lived on ... another broken family was added to the statistics.
I was in desparate need of running away from the pain to the point where I was having suicidal thoughts. I even turned to alcohol to help ease the pain inside of my soul. It only made things worse. I was approaching my fifties by now, and all I could see was the destruction the storms of my life had left behind. I began to look around the house that I once called home, and I began to say my goodbye's to all the painful memories All I took were the memories of giggling little girls turning cartwheels, the driveway basketball games, the backyard camping trips and the slumber parties. There were so many precious moments, and I held onto each one to this very day.
I went back to the profession I knew best. The death care industry. I had already put in 18 years of my life serving hurting families. Putting others needs before my own was a fundamental model that I was taught from childhood. It was based in trauma, something I was all too familiar with by now. My "comfort zone" of putting others before myself. I soon discovered there was danger in that as well. As I was continually putting others before myself, I was losing more of my own sense of self.
I was beginning to feel trapped. I was realizing that I was losing my sense of self, a socially honorable form of codependency. You see, codependency was a learned behavior for me growing up. We, (codependents) don't find our identity in others, we find our identity in helping others. As selfless as this sounds, my sense of self becomes entirely based on the exestence of other people's problems are now the joys and tears of my own.
I am now approaching my twenty-third year in the industry. I realized in the grief, the funerals, the car wrecks, and the babies taken from this earth, was all tragedy. It was because of other people's pain, I discovered was an easy place to lose my way, yet again. I was in desperate need to reclaim myself. Yet I found it difficult to do so as I began to listen to my own self talk.
I was in the midst of yet another tape playing inside of head. It's known as gaslighting. I found myself thinking thoughts like, "You're being selfish to want to leave the industy." "You've been in the death industry for 23 years, it's all you're good at." "What are you going to do if you leave this industry? You have no other skills." It's hard to reclaim yourself when you have tapes and voices like that playing over and over inside your head. Needless to say, I left the industry I loved so much in October of 2021.
I lost twenty-two family members and friends since then. Needless to say I have spent the past several months trying to continue to help others in the abyss that grief can bring while doing my own recovery. During the process and the time I have spent with myself, I realized that it was all that grief since my conception, that was holding me back for most of my life. I have literally dissected every single arena that my memories have tortured me for half a century. It's been quite a journey, and I am proud to say that the work I've put in to my own recovery has led me to my purpose. It's almost sad that it took me nearly a lifetime to discover why I'm here.
No, I can't change the past nor would I to be honest. The fact that if she knew then what she knows now would take away a lot of pain, but it was that very pain that got her to where she finds herself today. The letters she's written to the molestation and although she cannot remove it from her life, she became friends with it, and thanked it after she learned the power of forgiveness. She was no longer a victim to it, and her heart was finally able to make the much needed space to open up for love. She even made friends with the abuse she endured, as she realized the family patterns would finally end with her. Again, forgiveness was the key as she looked at her abusers, and she learned so much from them. She saw for the first time the truth in the fact that hurting people, hurt people. She learned to discern that fact and stopped taking everything so personal. They were now a part of her tapestry, and although their colors are dark, those very dark threads allow the more vibrant parts of herself to literally POP!
The anger that she had always felt protected by was finally embraced and revealed that it was all a lie. So she learned to put the anger away, and began the discovery of finding inner peace. She embraced it. The trauma she grew up in allowed her to understand that it helped mold her into a person of compassion and understanding. The spirit of codependency was losing its grip as she realized all she could do is simply sit with others in their pain. It belonged to them, and she was not responsible to carry another's pain for them. It was her role to help them come to a place of understanding of their own, and to help them find their inner courage to change.
She learned to erase the array of tapes and gaslighting, that played over inside of her mind, and removed the "UN" in "UNWANTED" and embraced the truth that she is now "WANTED" She went on to raise a total of three very beautiful daughters who have truly blessed her with five amazing grandchildren. She is truly honored. She made her ammends for her season of anger, and because she forgave, she too was forgiven. She no longer puts others before herself because she has learned the hard way, they she has been healed and set free from the codependent spirit that had held her captive for far too long. She can now safely spread her beautiful wings, after years of being wrapped inside of the dark cocoon. She no longer crawls along the ground as a caterpillar and it feels good to take a stand and set healthy boundaries.
It's not easy to look back at the beginnings of our pain. To remove the masks we hide behind out of fear. I recall a time when I carried so much shame, and fears of being rejected that I couldn't tell my story, much less reveal to the world where I've been, and how many mistakes I made along the way. Not many know or understand the power of true recovery. To put the word, "Grief" in front of it can create some confusion to many as they instantly think recovery is for people who struggle with addictions. Grief is most likely the root cause of those very addictions as substance abuse lies to them and whispers, "Let me take you out of this pain." The hook goes in easy, but it's not easy to remove it past the barb. Yet it is possible, when one is ready to rip open their heart, and begin the healing journey.
As humans, we may be addicted to our pain. Read that again ...
The pain of our past can hold us back and keep us from a totally new and beautiful life. It's a personal decision to heal, and it's never too soon to heal the brokenness of our past. So, I want to challenge you to simply take out an old photograph of your younger self and ask those very same questions that I asked my younger self. If only you knew then, what you know now ...
Pay attention to your answers and see, no actually FEEL the emotions that arise. If you feel anger, resentment, strife, or unforgiveness - You, my friend, can discover the beauty of recovery. Your story is personal to you, and you get to decide if you're worthy enough to heal from what's behind you. Trust me when I tell you that I am not here to sell you anything you're not ready to put the work in to. It's a waste of both of our time.
I do want to share when I was in the midst of some of my darkest grief, I did cry out to God and I asked him, "Why are you taking everything from me?" I was blown away at what my inner spirit heard as he replied, "I need you to relate." I was dumbfounded and asked, "Relate? Relate to what?" I heard again, "A grieving world."
The words put a new spin on the phrase I have read before: "Pick up your cross and follow me."
I have come to see that it's true, God doesn't waste anything. Everything that was meant for harm, is actually for his glory if we just take the time to allow him to asist in the inner works of our healing. Some of you may be mad at God, others may have been like I was in that you know of him, but you may have had an earthly father who misrepresented him for whatever reason. I viewed God as abandoning and abusive. Maybe you don't even believe there is a God. It's a personal decision as to whether you believe or not. As with me ... I had my season of unbelief, and I wrestled with God for many years. I am certain we all have experienced that wrestle.
All I will say in closing is that out of all my pain, I got a new heart. I cannot take credit for it. God turned it into good just like he promised. He will do the same for you. All you have to do is say yes, and come to him with an open heart. Again, your call. So ask yourself this one question: Do you want to be healed?
From my heart, to yours ...