Since the dawn of COVID my family has gone through a lot of growth. Never before have we spent so much time together as a family unit. And truthfully, I haven’t always enjoyed it. But, like everything in life, there are lessons to learn. If you look hard enough there are even opportunities for personal growth in there. And this last year has been nothing but lessons learned. Coupled with lots of personal growth happening.
As a person who parents with CPTSD, it isn’t always the easiest time for my family. There are loud eruptions, followed by an unsettled silence. It has always been a struggle for me to sort out my feelings. And the ones I love around me suffer in the wake. Changes were needed to be made for the health of my family. And I was ready to make them.
At The Start of COVID and the Effect on Family
My anxiety shifts into over-drive when things are unknown. This causes me to feel like I need to control everything. And the pandemic has been a catalyst to bring those strong emotions to the forefront. Because one of the worst things for someone who is anxious is an unforeseen future. But, never mind a fucking global pandemic with no end in sight. When COVID hit, shit got really real, and I got really anxious.
To deal with this, what didn’t seem real, shut down of life I did what I always do. I stocked up on alcohol. Lots and lots of alcohol. And after every day during the week I would drink. Lots and lots of alcohol. Sometimes on the weekend, because I could, I would start to drink early. This kind of behaviour can only carry on for so long before something gives, and hopefully not my liver.
But then the dust settled a bit. And I started to see that the universe had just put the biggest gift on my lap. Here was an opportunity to finally, after decades, heal from my past. And so, throughout this pandemic I have consciously, carefully, and deliberately changed parts of my life. Not only is this for my family, but for me to realize the best version of me. I say it frequently, you can’t be good for other people if you aren’t good for you. The changes are on going, but these small changes made a world difference.
Dear Family: I Quit Drinking.
The decision to quit drinking wasn’t really a choice. Well, it was – but one of those choices where the other options is just ugly. And that was definitely not something I wanted. Not for me, and not for my family. So, I had a choice to make.
The decision came as I was sitting in the hospital on day 4. I had what seemed to be a diverticulitis attack while I was vacationing with my mom. We had rented a little cottage owned by some family friends. She paid for the room, and I brought $180 worth of alcohol. On day 2 my body had decided that enough was enough, and I ended up in the hospital.
The Blessings of Hospital Stays and COVID Protacol
When we arrived at the hospital, my husband literally had to drop me off and leave me. I spent the next 18 hours in the emergency room puking everywhere until they found a bed for me. And when they did I felt like I was Elliot in ET. I was a high risk of contamination. Because I threw up like 70 times. Everyone had to wear full PPE gear around me. Face shield and all. And there was a sign on my door saying that this room was a high contamination zone.
Once settled into the room I was hooked up to all the machines, given some medicine, and then left alone. Completely alone for 5 days. That is minus nurses and doctors coming and going. I had a long time to think about life, and all of its components.
The Beginning of a New Life
I had been in the hospital for 4 days when the decision to quit drinking was made. I remember the exact moment in detail enough to think it happened yesterday. I hold on to this moment in times when I feel like caving in to craving.
I was sat up in my bed, and the doctor was talking to me about diverticulitis. She was telling me about how it was a chronic disease, and it will persistently come back. And I fell back into the pillow behind me, still upright, and cried. “I know I have to make life style changes.” I said, and what she said after will stick with me for life. “Yes, you absolutely do.”
The first, and biggest lifestyle change I decided to make – quit drinking.
Why This Changed My Family
I have been a pretty devoted drinker since the moment I first started to drink. It gave me an escape from dealing with the past or having strong emotions. Although, I never enjoyed the feeling from drinking. And, I had tried to quit drinking several times in my life. Each time I would start again after 3 months. I stayed sober for my pregnancy and that 10 months was the longest I hadn’t drank since I was 15. Everything felt different this time around. Catalyzed by the health issues, and now I had a daughter to worry about, I vowed to never drink again.
The decision to quit drinking was easy. What came after was hard. But as I fumbled my way through feeling 25 years worth of feelings, I knew it was for the best. Ultimately, I am the one who benefits the most, but my family also gained significantly.
No longer was I the mom who couldn’t wait to have a drink. I wasn’t the mom who woke up with hangovers, angry at the world. Now I am the mom who meditates, takes care of myself. And, every day I step closer to the woman I want to be. There are so many things that I hadn’t realized I gave up for alcohol that damaged my family.
The lure of addiction is very seductive. People will give up their whole world for an addiction. And I was standing at the mouth of a path to great loss on one side, and great gain on the other. Something in the back of my mind whispered to me “sobriety is a choice you can make”. And, in the silence of my hospital room, I finally heard it. And upon hearing it, I believe that the greatest gift I could give to myself was the path of sobriety.
The “Toxic People Free” Family
One thing that I was thankful for when COVID hit was the distance it created. I know that sounds like a very negative thing. My position was one that distance created room to grow. In the early days of COVID I didn’t realize what an opportunity this was. But over time, and space from people, I saw how it was good. Given the space from others, I could have an outside look on some relationships. And, I discovered there were some bad ones.
Toxic relationships leak out into so many areas of life, without you realizing it. Those “bad” relationships can be draining, and emotionally exhausting. They leave you feeling like a shell of a person, confused and questioning your own sanity. This can all cause a world of problems in spaces you think can’t be touched by the toxicity. Especially in the relationships with those closest around you.
One day I was “reading” (because I listen to books) a book about vulnerability. The topic of bad relationships came up in it. And something resonated deeply within me. It was a simple phrase that materialized as I read. And it simply spoke “do not make space for relationships that no longer serve you”.
How to Recognize a Toxic Relationship
Sometimes it is very difficult to recognize a toxic relationship until the opportunity to separate yourself from it arises. And, this is very much applicable to my situation. But I was also naive to realization that any relationship can be a bad relationship.
To recognize the toxic relationships in my life I took a long look at how I felt after interacting with each person. Did I feel empowered, did I feel loved? Or, as was the case in some, did I feel drained. Was this relationship building me up, or tearing me down? If it was tearing me down, I stepped back from it.
I don’t mean to use toxicity as an excuse to cut people from my life. I genuinely took great measures in eliminating what no longer served. It wasn’t an easy process, and it was filled with heart ache. There were even moments when I felt that the pain would kill me. But I held on to time as a healing factor, and eventually the waves of grief became less. And then the clouds cleared and a tiny piece of me that was hidden so far below came bursting to the surface. Here was the girl who would never be afraid to disappoint anyone but her self again.
How to End a Toxic Relationship
I do not owe a single person on this planet an explanation if I create space for “better” in my life. I owe it to myself to be surrounded by nothing but respect, love and support. Knowing this, there doesn’t need to be a grandiose display of ending a relationship. Or even stepping back from a relationship. I simply made the decision to no longer fall for the baited switch.
I make this sound like it is easy, and in some cases it might be. In my case, it was a lot more convoluted and involved a lot of crying. And after all the crying, forgiveness, and the accepting the new life without that person in it.
It occurred to me through out this process how much we hold on to people because we are afraid to disappoint them. Or, even lose them. But on the other side of that fear is the liberation to never have to walk on eggshells again. For anyone, no matter what position they hold in your life.
Your job throughout your entire life, is to disappoint as many people as it takes to avoid disappointing yourself.Glennon Doyle – Untamed
How it Helped My Family
When you rid yourself of bad relationships you make room for good ones. Either the good ones that already exist, or good ones that are yet to come. And these include those relationships of the family you were born into. It takes a surprisingly large amount of energy to be in a toxic relationship. And it pulls you from places where your energy could be better spent. As well as from the people who need your undivided attention the most.
The ability to devote my energy towards the people in my family feels like a liberation. My energy isn’t spent pouring into a toxic relationship that hides behind the shroud of friendship. And because of that there is room to strengthen and build and grow the relationships of my family. I now can give myself the room to only invite love in, and send love to the people who need it the most from me.
I Stopped Trying to Control Everything
As a person who has an anxiety disorder, or two, I try to control every aspect of my environment. That means my family too. It is my way of coping with a whole world of uncontrollable things. So, unconsciously I slipped into a roll of trying to control everything within the family dynamics. From the placement of things in their rooms to making decisions for them. A stifling environment to exist in, which I unconsciously created.
It wasn’t until months into daily meditation that I tried to control everything surfaced. When you meditate this tends to happen, things that have been pushed down come up. I don’t think that I would have had this opportunity to make space for meditation if quarantine hadn’t existed. Because of that space I started to learn how to let go of control for my family.
I would be lying if I said that I have relinquished all feelings of the need to control my family. This is an ongoing process. But every day I take on one more thing I can let go of and work at learning how to release. And, it feels very liberating to let go of the constant stress of trying to control.
I Started to Show Up For My Family
I think throughout this entire pandemic, this is the biggest lesson I learned about my family dynamics. After the birth of my daughter I slipped into a 3 year long postpartum depression. And it was there that I built a little island for myself. And I stopped showing up for my family. All I ever felt was angry, most of the time.
But the pandemic shape-shifted enough to give me space to review my life. And in that review I realized how little I was showing up for my family. It made me feel really sad to have that realization. After all this was not the mother and partner I wanted to be. And the best apology you can give is changed behaviour. So, I worked towards changing that behaviour and started to show up more. And the dynamics of my family shifted. It felt like a weight lifted.
I won’t say that it is an overnight shift. It has been gradual and continues to be a work in progress. But every time I show up it gets a little easier. The most important piece of showing up for my family was to learn how to show up for myself.
I Started to Show Up For Me
This is the precursor to showing up for your family. But I wanted to put it last because it’s personal. I stepped up to life and said I’m ready to be unlocked. That was the first time I have ever showed up for me. At nearly 40 years old, I am finally present for myself. And I am finally unlocking myself.
This is an incredibly beautiful and extremely emotional time when locks get cut off of the amour. There is beauty in tearing your own tapestry apart and exposing the underneath. It’s scary AF. But I think in the end the growth is worth it.
I had to do this, to be the best version of me that I could. And, I felt and still feel ready to continue on this journey. Deciding to do this, and healing from wounds, created space for me to show up more and more for my family. And that space has allowed us to come together.
The Tidy Up
Although I fully acknowledge the suckiness of COVID, I do believe there is good in everything. I feel that COVID forced us to sit uncomfortably with ourselves while the world fell to chaos. We found ourselves alone, indefinitely, with the other members of our household. Think about this. There is seldom a day where you are not apart from your children, or spouse, other than holidays and weekends of course. The point is that typically we spend more time apart than we do together.
COVID changed that, and now we were forced to come together and stay together as a family. And amidst the complete and utter panic, denial, and chaos of the pandemic was an opportunity to reconnect. And for me, an opportunity to start on my own healing journey. Which, subsequently, brought the relationships of my family around me tighter in.
Take care of yourself, give yourself love and compassion. Understand nothing is forever, and everything is forever changing. There is good in every situation, trust the process.