If you were to walk by me on the street, more than likely you would see a smile on my face. From an outside perspective, it might appear that I am on some sort of happy drug. While my happiness does genuinely stem from an internal joie de vivre today, my history has not been immune from down times. Those who know me well would say that communication is one of my greatest assets. And yet, when it comes to speaking out about some of my personal experiences, I haven’t had the courage to speak up… until now.
I feel the need to start out by saying I love both of my parents dearly and they are two of my best friends and the most important people in my life. I am grateful for both of them and would not be the same woman I am today without their positive presence in my life.
With that being said, it has taken years to get to the place I am at with each of them.
Let’s head back to my childhood. Being raised in a small town, I was fortunate to be surrounded by a close knit and supportive community and to grow up with relatives nearby. I would say I grew up in a pretty normal environment– as I was a high achiever academically, active outside of school with dance and other lessons, and quite social– but that would be a lie. I grew up with a mother who is bipolar, depressed and in later years became an alcoholic.
Looking back, I remember so many days not knowing what I might be coming home to: a happy, peaceful mom or a woman balling her eyes out who looked out of control with despair. The highs were high and the lows were low. I just couldn’t understand why my beautiful mother felt so sad and angry. Even at a young age I felt empathy towards her, and many times felt frustrated that there was nothing I could do to ease her pain. Hearing about anti-depressants, doctors and my mom’s recall of attempting suicide, suffering from eating disorders and childhood afflictions was pretty normal, at least to me. Up until my early teens, these emotionally surged episodes continued and then alcohol was added to the mix. That’s when things really took a downward turn and fast.
Now added to the sadness, was this ugly monster that my mom just didn’t seem to have the strength to fight. Coming home to a depressing environment is one thing, but when a substance is involved that’s a whole other ball game. Seeing your parent struggling is heart wrenching… and scary. Not fearful of your own well being but afraid of what they might do to themselves is terrifying. It’s like watching them drown from the shore and not being able to do anything to save them.
I will never forget the day I walked in on my mom sitting on our kitchen counter so angry and upset with the world and seeing her fall and pass out on the floor. That’s when things really hit rock bottom.
Many upsetting, startling, angry and embarrassing situations followed, and after multiple trying and emotional episodes I decided to move to my dads. At the time he was dealing with his own journey as a functional alcoholic, but in comparison to my mom it was a better alternative.
Soon after I moved in he quit, and then set out to help others on their path to recovery. He is now a certified psychotherapist at a top rehabilitation center working directly with addicts. My mother on the other hand, continued with her battle and still does. They both happen to be highly intelligent, talented and University educated individuals who come from well to do good families, and yet both chose to go down that path. Addiction effects individuals from all walks of life.
Having witnessed both of their struggles with addiction and my mother’s mental illnesses has without a doubt shaped me. While I do not believe I had an ideal upbringing, I do not choose to see what I experienced with a victim mentality. I have chosen to use it to my advantage at learning what kind of lifestyle I was not going to be living.
At one point in recent years things escalated to a time when I had to cut my mother out of my life because I could no longer be a bystander to bear the pain of her self destruction and I refused to be a passive enabler. It wasn’t until I was about to enter my yoga teacher training that I realized I was about to immerse myself into learning a healing art based on the principals of love and compassion and that I must learn to apply these principals to this very situation in front of me; I needed to show my mother the love that she wasn’t able to give herself. It was not easy, but slowly through time (and healthy boundaries) we have been able to achieve a loving, respectful and supportive relationship again.
My parents have been my biggest teachers; through my experiences with them I have learned what unconditional love looks and feels like, patience, resiliency, compassion and forgiveness. It took me a long time to get to this state of being. After years of self work and diving deep inside and into my past to make peace with it, I can honestly say that I have forgiven them. I realize now as an adult that they did the best that they could at that time and that they’re only human.
What’s done is done, and while I could have a “poor me” attitude because of what happened, I do not. Those events may have shaped me but they are not me. I may be the child of alcoholics, but that does not define who I am.
There have been a few ways that have allowed me to get to my current state of peace and to have forgiven my parents. One of them has been communication. Opening the conversation with each of them at times when they were sober has been really beneficial at feeling heard. When I spoke out loud in a non-accusatory way to them, I was finally able to release everything I had been building up inside.
I told them how their actions had made me feel. It felt so liberating to finally have a voice and to let go of all that I was holding on to.
I found communication to be beneficial in other ways. Writing out my feelings has been a highly effective and therapeutic way for me to work through anything I was feeling towards my parents and to forgiving their actions. There is something that I find so soothing about having an internal conversation and writing your heart and soul out on paper. Most recently, communicating to others about what I have gone through has been helpful at creating a supportive group that I can turn to when any feelings come up and to understanding that I am not alone in all of this.
Compassion of myself and others has been a fundamental element in forgiving my parents. I had to turn within and draw from my well of love in order to extend that kind of kindness to them. It wasn’t until I worked on me, that I could provide the necessary strength that was needed by each of them. I am a firm believer that how we treat ourselves is ultimately reflected in how we treat others and through this process I realized that I had to develop the highest level of compassion towards myself in order to shower others with it. I made it my goal to show up in others lives as a source of love and kindness whenever the opportunity appeared. I did not allow my parents choices to make me bitter towards all of society or others dealing with addiction or mental illness. Theirs is only one story of countless others and while many individuals in these situations or otherwise may seem tough, everyone has a heart and they need love the most.
Another factor in forgiving my parents was to change my attitude to one of gratitude. It was easy to fixate on all of their faults when I would get upset with them, but I learned to channel my energy into focusing on the good. While they were both struggling with addition and mental illness, that didn’t take away all of the wonderful things they have done for me over the years and the beautiful times we had shared together. I decided to not let these demons of substance take away what I cherished most; my quality time with my loving, amazing parents when they were sober. I became more aware and grateful for the time I spent with them when as I never knew when that might end.
Because of this shift in mindset, even to this day I have so much more appreciation for time spent with loved ones as I never know when it might be my last.
With this in mind, I am by no means saying the forgiveness process is an easy or fast one. These strategies took me many years to develop and implement into my life. What I have come to realize is that by harboring my negative feelings I was allowing my parents and their struggles to control me. Through self-development work, allowing myself the time and space to reflect and heal, and by releasing and letting go of suppressed emotions, I gained clarity, insight and ultimately freedom.
While addiction and mental illness are by all means two very different beasts, they seem to more often than not, go hand in hand. Wanting to take a proactive approach, I have made it my personal mission for years to research as much as I can about these topics. Hearing and seeing countless stories throughout my life of individuals being effected by one or both of these diseases has made me soberly aware of how prevalent they are. While research and knowledge is power, I realize that I can be doing more.
My journey has inspired me to want to take action. The time is now for bringing about awareness and breaking down the walls of stigma about these diseases that so many are suffering from in silence. I want to share my story in an attempt to help others and their loved ones. I do not want to see another beautiful soul gone too soon. I can’t take seeing another wonderful individual feeling alone and resorting to a tragic ending.
It is my mission to be a game changer and advocate for mental health and addiction. Watching my parents and countless others battle with these ailments is enough motivation for a lifetime. I am incredibly passionate about this and to inspiring positive change around it and helping as many people as I can. I would love to be speaking out on stages globally, working with those directly effected by one or both of these issues and creating content that aids in this process. This is one of the reasons why I choose to show up as a life cheerleader for others every day. I know I was put on this planet for a reason much bigger than myself and that this mission is one of my callings.
If you are someone personally suffering please know that you are not alone. There are many others who are also suffering in silence. There are a lot of people who would be happy to help you through what you are experiencing as well. I am personally making myself available if you want someone to talk to.
You can get through this, not just surviving but thriving.
And to anyone out there who is watching a loved one go through the battle of a mental illness and/or addiction; I know all too well how frustrating and heart breaking it can be and would be happy to connect with anyone who is experiencing this right now.
I did not choose to share my story for pity’s sake. I am a happy and healthy individual. I feel called to use my experiences in a positive way and to do whatever I can to help others who are going through the same. If I can help even one person by opening up about what I have gone through, then it is worth it. I don’t want to see another person’s life expire early, especially when there are solutions. There needs to be a major change not only in our attitudes and opinions surrounding these diseases but also in treatments and the resources that are available. This is a conversation that desperately needs to be opened up and continued. Starting now.