I grew up in a home rife with dysfunction. Denial was evident in the Sunday services my father would conduct from the pulpit. Being a preacher meant perfection, an image of the put-together, happy family. For me and my sister, it meant disguising the mental illness that tore our family apart from the inside. Violence became my bedfellow. It became a commonplace, abusive friend that reminded me constantly that I was “less than,” “mediocre,” and “always failing.”
Violence was normalized, both verbally and physically. It was consistently inconsistent and part of our normal routine, like mealtimes, brushing our teeth, homework.
A slap in the face, berating comments for accidents, a poke with a fork . . . one time, I even got chased down the hallway by a crab-wielding mother; she cornered me with a large crab dangling from her hand, laughing because she knew how terrified I was. Violence was humorous and belittled as a joke when it wasn’t serious and truly traumatizing, like the terrifying morning of a parent sharing her thoughts of murder-suicide with her daughters or an evening when my sister was dragged out of the bathtub by her hair and thrown outside on the front porch in mid-winter. There were threats of stabbing and shooting and constant reminders of our failures.
And the denial was hard-won by my father. He taught us to swallow it all. He covered it up and made excuses. So, what did my sister and I do? We fell into relationships where we made excuses, too.
Violence begets violence. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had it right. Feed the fire of destruction with more destruction and only hate wins. The struggle to fight against what we loathe within ourselves mirrors this same principle. The more we fight what we don’t want to become, the more we become like that thing.
AND . . . the miracle comes with self-awareness. Only when we accept who we are can we begin to do the work to change, not by fighting but by acknowledging. Accepting IS NOT giving up. In fact, acceptance and awareness take a lot of work. It means moving forward alongside our fear into unknown territory. It means letting go of control and working with the beauty within ourselves in order to grow something new.
When we grow in self-love, self-acceptance, self-compassion . . . these principles begin to crowd out and transform the negatives within ourselves. It is hard work, but it is not meant to be striving against ourselves. I have learned many of these principles through studying 12 Step Programs like AA. These programs encourage releasing control, accepting our deficiencies, searching ourselves, and transforming our mindset to act and think differently than we have been programmed to. Negativity and self-hate can be an addiction just like alcohol. Whether we are children who come from dysfunctional homes or not, we all fall into the comparison trap. We all find ways to pick at our own inadequacies and the disappointments of our pasts instead of moving forward.
– Lisa Sue Woititz
“A continued focus on the past and things that we cannot change can reinforce our feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness.”
This powerful statement applies to us all. Focus on the negatives and reinforce the negatives. I was there. I focused on the shortcomings of me and my past, and this attitude welcomed all sorts of scavengers who just took more. I didn’t realize at the time that I was allowing it by inviting dysfunction into my space. I had no sense of self. I couldn’t move forward until I faced who I really was with brutal honesty and decided to put in the work to change.
Through therapy and research, I have found several steps to help retrain my brain.
I began a gratitude journal where I listed at least three NEW things I was thankful for each day. I have been doing this almost every day for the past month and a half.
Here is one of my entries:
“Today, I am grateful for a morning where I get to sleep in because I feel refreshed and rested. I am grateful for a friendship at work that has helped me see other people’s struggles because it is teaching me compassion and gratefulness. I am grateful for Ms. ________ because I couldn’t have accomplished getting our team ready for competition without her support.”
I began to thank people in my life who have made an impact. I did this at least THREE times PER WEEK through a note, text, or email.
Here is a note I wrote to my youngest child:
“Thank you for always thinking about mommy and helping around the house. You are so kind and thoughtful. I am so happy to have you in my life. You make me smile!”
I began to respond to my brain when it gave me negative thoughts. I would accept the thought and then reply with something positive.
Here is an example:
Brain: You are fat.
Me: Yes, brain, I may need to lose some weight, AND I am more than just my body. I am kind, compassionate, and always willing to help others
Rewiring your brain to choose the positive is not easy, but there are tangible ways to change your thinking. As you regularly implement strategies to rewire your thinking, it will become more like second nature. It’s like starting your bike ride with training wheels, and then, one day, you realize, “I got this. I don’t need those damn training wheels after all.” So . . . go find your happy, one thought at a time.
Woititz, L. S. (2015, April 21). Three Biggest Myths about ACoAs. Retrieved December 13, 2018, from https://www.hazelden.org/web/blog-people-in-recovery.three-biggest-myths-about-acoas.4880635.view