The only way to begin, is to take the first step.
Reprinted from my blog on PositivelyPositive.com
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”
Like many, I compare my parenting to how my parents raised me. I ask myself, did I keep them safe? Do they feel loved? Can I protect them?
Did I do the opposite of what my parents would have done?Most of these questions I ask go unanswered, as I blocked out much of my childhood. There are bits and pieces that I have uncovered as an adult in therapy sessions. Flashbacks of abuse, memories of helping my mother out of bed after another drunken car crash, my father falling down drunk, men paying my father to rape me when I was twelve, watching my father count the money.
I do remember from an early age thinking, “this is not how it’s supposed to be.” I wasn’t exactly sure how it was supposed to be; I just knew this wasn’t it.
My father left when I was five. Occasionally, he would call (drunk); my mother would get on the phone, and they would argue. When I was ten, I learned that I would be spending my summer with my father in Florida. Once we were on the plane, my sister explained to me that we were given one-way tickets; we weren’t going back. Our mother had given us away to a stranger whom I knew she hated. I didn’t speak to my mother for the next twenty-four years.
Things went from bad to worse living with him. The abuse started around the time I turned eleven. It was just he at first; then men started coming to the house, waking me up at night.
While all this was going on, I continued to go to school. I babysat to make money so I could buy food and clothes for myself. I learned how to mask my emotions to protect other people. I learned how to laugh in the face of very serious, scary issues. I learned how to protect myself.
Yet, somehow, through it all, I believed good things were in store for me. I would not be my parents. I would not end up like them.
My father eventually quit drinking. We moved back to New Jersey where I lived with my grandparents throughout high school. After my father stopped drinking, he abused me two more times. Somehow, this pissed me off more than anything else. I couldn’t justify that he only did it because he was drunk. He wasn’t drunk; he was sober; he knew exactly what he was doing.
That was when the anger and resentment were planted in my soul. That was when I crafted my story about not being lovable and being dirty.On the outside, all was well. On the inside, I was building walls that I didn’t even know I was building.
I went on to marry a wonderful, gentle man, and we have two amazing children. Although I held onto my resentment and anger, together we built a safe, loving family. It would come out at the most unlikely times—mostly when I felt threatened or when good things were about to happen.
Then, five years ago, I was diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer. I went through chemo, radiation, mastectomies, and reconstructive surgery. While going through treatment, I remember saying to my husband, “this can’t be for nothing; there has to be a reason for this.”
As I went through the cancer treatment, I learned how my childhood has affected my adult view of the world. All through my treatments and procedures, I kept finding myself alone. I wasn’t alone because I didn’t have loving caregivers. I did, and they were wonderful. Every time I had to go to the hospital, I would refuse offers from friends and family to come along with me; I would go alone. Then, I would sit in the parking lot and cry because I was alone. Eight chemotherapy treatments, twenty-eight radiation treatments, and multiple visits over three months to the plastic surgeon to expand my skin to reconstruct new breasts. All alone.
When I was done with treatment, I was happy to have survived, but I could no longer hold in the anger and resentment. I was angry because I had another thing to survive.This one was public, the other private. And having newly reconstructed breasts felt like I was exposed both inside and out. I had nowhere to hide. It was this feeling of raw vulnerability that was the catalyst for me to change. I was no longer willing to be a victim of my past or my present. I wanted to find out who I am underneath all the walls.
I knew I wouldn’t do this on my own. I had to put myself out there so I couldn’t hide. So, I expanded my personal training practice to include rehabilitative exercise for breast cancer survivors. It may sound cliché, but I found that being of service to others was my way of breaking down the walls I had built to isolate me from the world emotionally. I managed to put myself in a situation where I was surrounded by women who were grateful and loved me for what I provided for them.
Because of my dedication to finding new ways of supporting my clients, I found yoga, reiki, meditation, and journaling. Through learning about each of these practices, I found myself. I found I have a contribution to make, a purpose to be on this earth, and I am lovable.