Healing is a process, not a destination

When I was seven years old, I was raped by my male babysitter, the son of friends of my mother. Following that episode, I grew a very strong dependent attachment to my mother and became withdrawn and reserved, hesitant around strangers. Before this, as per a close childhood friend and confirmed by my mother, I was outgoing, social and enjoyed connecting with others.

My mother became my security blanket and she appeared to take that job very seriously taking me everywhere she went, never leaving me in the care of strangers, speaking for me when I was silent when meeting new people, shielding me. Today, as an adult, reflecting back on this behavior, I see how unhealthy that was for both her and I. If this continued, I would not develop independence and coping skills to face life’s challenges. Children learn from their caretakers how to be in the world and even though I needed physical protection, she could not be there every second of every day with me and I needed to develop emotional resilience to deal with things on my own.

Skip ahead a couple of years and I would be given exactly such an opportunity. Unfortunately, I was ill-prepared for what was to come. There wasn’t a slow build-up, in fact, it was like being thrown in an ice bath and I went into complete shock. I don’t remember the events leading up to or following this episode but I do remember being in the car, getting out with my mother, she taking me to the home of a friend and telling me she was going away and that I was to stay with her friend.

Remember that my mother was my life at the time. My identity was woven into hers. To set the stage a bit more and explain why this became the most poignant moment in my life and in my estimation was the most traumatic event of my life, is that this was taking place outside of a home on a small island in the Caribbean and my mother was moving to America and she was not taking me with her.

I clung to her, screaming and crying, pleading for her not to leave me. She tried pushing me away from her but I was holding onto her for dear life because she was my life. Her friend tried pulling at me from the other direction to no avail. My mother kept walking away towards the car, trying to disentangle herself from me and then she stopped, turned to face me and said “I’m not your mother”.

Perhaps you can imagine what that felt like. My arms fell to my side and frozen in place, I stared blankly at her get into the car and drive away. I wouldn’t see her again for 3 years. I once had a therapist challenge whether she actually said those words out loud but it doesn’t matter whether they were voiced or not because that’s what it felt like. Something happened to make me let go of her and meant or not meant, said or not said, the sting of the feeling is as true today as it was nearly 30 years ago.

Perhaps a year went by, I’m not very clear on the timeline, where my younger brother and I were in the care of a friend of my mother’s. She had moved into our home with her 3 children and periodically, my mom sent home care packages of clothes and books and toys, a lot of which this woman’s children had first dibs on.

During my time with this woman, my brother and I were treated less than her children, made to scrub the floors and got beaten if we disobeyed or asked for things which our mother sent for us. Since my brother was 4 years younger than me, only 4 or 5 years old at the time, I protected him. I remember one time that I couldn’t protect him. She had beat him and locked him in the bedroom in the dark. Sitting on the other side of the door, sobbing, forbidden from opening it, I listened to him scream and kick and cry to be let out.

I recall our uncle coming over a couple of times to check up on us and I would tell him what was going on. He asked me to write a letter to send to my mother explaining our circumstances and I did. Next thing I knew, I was on a plane to Canada to live with my Aunt and her husband.

Compared to my life in Dominica, Canada was a paradise. I had a 3 year old cousin and my aunt and uncle were kind and generous. That wasn’t to last though. My aunt was physically abusive towards me. If I said or did something she didn’t like, she hit me and I’m not talking about a slap on the hand or even the face but spankings on the kitchen floor that had me backing up into corners trying to escape the blows. The worst came one day after school. I arrived home to a barrage of questions about who I’d told about our personal business. You see, that day in school, I told my best friend about what was happening at home and she told the teacher and the teacher called my aunt and uncle. No authorities ever got involved but I knew after that that what was happening to me was wrong.

My uncle, when he was home, would intervene, getting in between her and I, calming her and soothing me. They were both nurses and would work alternating day and night shifts. When my uncle was home, he would make my favorites like lasagna and scrambled eggs with cheese and he would take me into his bedroom at night time and touch and fondle me.

I grew used to these episodes, even enjoying them for a time and anxiously await him once my aunt went to work. He was loving and kind and he protected me. From those moments I learned that sex equated love and that to receive love, I should give sex.

After two years with my aunt and uncle, we took a road trip to New York City to visit my mother. It was Easter weekend and I had no idea that would be the last I would see of my friends in Canada. I don’t remember what it was like seeing my mother again, I believe it was strange because when the trip was over, I was ready to go back to Canada but my mother asked if I wanted to stay with her. I felt torn but I said yes because that’s what was expected.

My mother worked long hours and she lived in an apartment with her boyfriend, the same man she immigrated to the United States with. I was lonely, spending hours by myself, watching tv. I waited for her to get home on my 12th birthday but after a couple hours went by without her saying anything, I sadly reminded her. It had been so long, she’d forgotten and it hurt.

I remember these commercials to call a 1–900# to join a kids party with a clown and I called. When the bill came, I denied making any calls because my mother was so angry. I didn’t have a concept of money but the consequences of making those calls were real and she beat me for the first time.

My brother also came that year. He arrived a shy and shattered 7 year old boy who hardly spoke. 3 years had gone by and even though during that time, I lived in an abusive household, I was relatively safe. He, on the other hand, lived with strangers in physical danger from the age of 4 to 7.

Now that we were all together again, the expectation was that things would improve but they only got worse. My mother’s boyfriend was an alcoholic and he was abusive towards her. While he was never abusive to us, we were witness to increasing violence. She had kicked him out once or twice but took him back. One night, he came home drunk and he and my mother began to argue in their bedroom then the fight shifted and escalated in the living room. Things started breaking, someone, my mother I’m sure fell onto our glass coffee table, shattering it. My brother who slept in his own room down the hall, came into my bedroom and got into bed with me and we both huddled there, frightened.

Words foreboding terrifying things were shouted between them, then I heard my mother screaming his name. I can’t remember at what point she called the police but even though things got quiet, my brother and I couldn’t bring ourselves to unlock the door and go to her. A knock on my door caused me to let go of my brother. When I opened it, she stood there bleeding from her chest where he had sliced her across her breast with a machete. She said she was going to the hospital and not to worry because he wasn’t coming back. I don’t think we slept that night and true to her word, he never came back.

As I reflect back as an adult, my mother was battling her own demons but as children, we only needed comfort, safety, and love. Easy things to provide in my mind but that can’t be provided when you’re broken. The violence perpetrated on her was now being perpetrated on us. She was angry all the time and I learned to be invisible and walk softly around her.

My bedroom was my sanctuary and my books became my escape. There were no words of love spoken in my home. I didn’t have very many friends, I couldn’t hang out. Boyfriends were out of the question but I rebelled on that one. I began having consensual sex at 14 with my first boyfriend and then sex with random strangers who paid me any attention.

My mother would send my brother and I out to play in the park but because I was so depressed, though, at the time, that word was not in my vocabulary, I would just find a place to sit by myself. Our neighborhood had this water fountain installation and I would go there sometimes. I was approached by a man once, who sat and talked with me and asked me if I wanted to come home with him. I don’t remember the conversation but off I went. When we arrived, there was another guy there who watched while I submitted to sex with this man.

I lived in a haze of emptiness and disconnection from life and myself until I went away to college at 17. The 4 hour drive up to the school was tense. We all sat in silence. I in the back of my mom’s friend’s car while he drove and she sat in the passenger seat. I navigated even though I’d only been to visit the school one time and that was via greyhound. It’s amazing what your brain can recall under stressful circumstances then again, I might have the whisperings of a photographic memory.

There had been no question I was going to college but my grades began slipping in high school. I went from top of my class to below average in those 4 years. If my mother was to get her way, I would go to college in the city and live at home. I was only accepted into one school and that was under a special program that required remedial classes and frequent check-ins with program administrators.

The day came and I was all packed and ready to go and then my friend called to say her car had broken down and would not be able to take me. I thought my life was over, that I was stuck in NYC under the watchful eye and heavy hand of my mother for the rest of my life. When she came home, I took a deep breath and approached her. Unable to make eye contact, I explained I had no ride to school, nor did I have any money to take a bus and asked if she could drive me. Her response was “Well, I guess you’re not going.” I went to my room, sat on the bed and sobbed.

The drive was 4 hours from the city to upstate New York. She had called a friend to drive us and I was evidently a pain in her you know what since she had to take time out of what little she had to rest from her workday to take her daughter to college.

When we pulled off the highway exit, internally, I was so afraid of messing up the directions and she had warned me that I better not get us lost. We finally pulled up in front of my freshman dorm and I just sat there, seemingly awaiting instructions that it was ok to get out of the car. She turned around to look at me and said “If I see one C, I will come and pull you back by your hair” and she turned around and just stared ahead. Her friend got out, telling me to come out and get my bags. I walked around back as he pulled my bags from the trunk. He gave me a hug and told me to take care. He got back in the car and I turned around to look at my mother. I guess I was expecting her to come out and say goodbye but they just drove off.

I fell into a depressive state and got all C’s my first semester. If I wasn’t in class or eating meals, I was in my dorm room. I didn’t have a roommate so I didn’t have to hide my emotions from anyone and I cried all the time. I tried seeing a counselor but the pain was just so raw, I couldn’t talk about it. I went home only once for Christmas and the next 3 years, I took summer classes and worked so I didn’t have to go home.

I had my first lesbian experience in college and dated my girlfriend for 2 years. She was studying psychology and I told her about my life. I learned about depression and she asked me to seek counseling which I tried and again quit.

After 4 years, I moved back home and began living under this black cloud of oppression again. I was online by then and had a french pen pal I met in my last year of school. I was studying intensive french and found someone to practice French with and he could practice English with me. Our pen pal friendship grew to attraction and I visited him in Paris several times over our 4 years of long distance dating. We talked about me moving there permanently but I never did. He was my first heartbreak and it was devastating because I had become very attached to him.

I began sleeping around after that and soon met another guy, this time in Sweden. Desperately wanting him to save me as well but I couldn’t take the leap and move. I decided to join the Peace Corps and broke things off. While I waited for my country assignment, I went on a sexcapade, looking up sex partners online, meeting strangers in their homes, up for anything just to feel numb.

I attached to anyone who showed any interest in more than just sex, latching on to their affectionate words, taking off work to spend more time with them, fantasizing about a relationship and moving in together.

My Peace Corps application was completed and I was assigned a country and in 2003, I moved to Cameroon. The volunteer contract is for 2 years but I fell in love with another volunteer as my first year was coming to a close and decided to terminate early and move back with him. We were going to get married and have babies.

Well he proposed and I got pregnant but not in that order and we did not get married and I had an abortion. One morning, as I sat in his bedroom in his Baptist mother’s house during a visit to tell her the good news, a movie started playing over and over in mind that I was either going to harm this child or myself. I had experienced heightened anxiety like this before.

In Cameroon, I went to visit my boyfriend and we hung out in town before catching a bus to his village. He had rented a hotel room and things were fine until we were lying in bed, he was kissing me and I stopped responding. I was there, I knew what was happening but I felt outside myself. My body had gone numb and I lay there staring up at the ceiling unblinking. He was obviously frightened, calling my name, slapping me, lifting my arms that fell heavily back on the bed, even splashed water in my face. When my eyes finally moved and I came back to myself, I told him I felt like I was going crazy and that was my biggest fear.

There have been times when I didn’t want to be touched by anything, not the carpet I was standing on and not even the clothes I was wearing and would rip them off and curl up in a ball, lie on the ground and wait for it to pass.

When we left Cameroon, we drove around the US a few months, visiting his friends and our parents. We decided to get pregnant and I really thought that was what I wanted but my mind was fighting an internal battle and was losing and I felt my biggest fear was coming true. He drove me to New York and I made an appointment at a clinic.

My mother offered to take care of the child if I delivered and he said the same thing but they both honored my wishes. He took me to the clinic and waited, met me after and consoled me while I cried from this emptiness I felt.

I broke it off with him and he moved across the country and I stayed in New York with my mother. That lasted for about 3 days. I called him and told him I wanted to get back together. Deep down, I knew the relationship was untenable but he was the only person who deeply cared for me and I needed that and took advantage of that. He gladly took me back, found us an apartment, worked to support us and I stayed home and cried.

I eventually got a job and he came home one day and told me that the local university had free counseling with the student psychologists and suggested I go. I certainly was a case study for my student therapist. I went for a few sessions but she was graduating and moving on and we’d gotten to a point I was unwilling to take further action. She highly recommended I get professional help.

After nearly a year, I applied to graduate school in New York, got accepted, broke up with my boyfriend and moved back. I lived with a cousin, completed my Master’s degree in Library and Information Science and got my first real job at 28. I enjoyed my job until I didn’t and after the first year I resigned, almost. My boss told me to take some time to think about it. My ex and I had remained in contact and it was almost like we were still together so when I got frustrated at work, he was my first phone call. I told him I wanted to come back and he accepted. He met me at the airport with a ring which I put in my bag and then a desk drawer.

A couple months later, I took on a project for work and 9 months later, I moved back East to take on a new position, breaking up with him for good and cutting of all communication. I know I hurt him terribly and I have since apologized. I told him I was gay and that I could no longer deny that part of myself. He’d always known of my attraction to women but at the time, I just figured I was bisexual.

I began dating only women but codependency continued to play a huge part in my relationships. I fell head over heels, making my partner into my world, falling apart when they left me and then sleeping around, usually with unavailable people. If I did happen to be in a relationship that was good, if it got too good, I would create drama to end it.

Nearly 3 years ago, I began seeing through the haze and realized I had a problem. I was a workaholic who hated my job. I attracted assholes, was unable to say No and protect my heart, slept around, had low self-esteem and was a hermit.

I decided it was time to come out of hiding and joined a lesbian meetup group. I started hanging out more, making new friends and next thing I knew, I became coordinator of the group when the old coordinator stepped down. I was having fun and engaging in life. Then I was gifted an opportunity to work with a career coach and with her help decided to go back to school for something completely different from the corporate arena I had been in for the past 8 years. I moved to Arizona and began studying life coaching, hypnotherapy and aromatherapy. That’s when I learned about addiction and its affect on my life and acknowledged that I was a love addict. Through my hypnotherapy and life coaching coursework, I did a lot of healing and decided I wanted to pay it forward.

After a year of alternative healing therapies training, I moved back home, to what is now home, Las Vegas, bought a house and started my coaching business.

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Self-Love, demystified

Self-love demystified

Consider this and imagine yourself as a container, any size will do. What makes this container so special is that it contains love. What does love feel like to you? To me, love is warm and safe, it’s laughter and joy, it’s bright and calm and it’s ever flowing.

When we’re born, our containers are full, overflowing with love but the walls of our container are thin which makes the walls of our container susceptible to tears and holes if our container isn’t well taken care of. Our caretakers are meant to be the protectors of our container, their job is to make the walls of our container strong and impenetrable and they do that by reinforcing what’s already in our container, love.

Our container walls need to be strong and impenetrable because the world can be harsh and rightly so. We can only grow and learn when we’re challenged. When our container walls are fortified, we can get through any challenge in time but when our container walls are thin and have tears and holes, it makes it very difficult for us to get through challenges. We lose our way, we fall into depression, we look for any and everything to plug up our holes and repair our tears and sometimes those quick fixes work but eventually they fail and leave even bigger holes and larger tears.

Every time we get picked on and called names, every time we’re made to feel small and less than beautiful or smart, every time we don’t feel protected, seen or listened to creates a small tear or hole in our container and love spills out. The holes and tears created in childhood are the most impactful because our container walls are thinnest in childhood. Our caretakers are our shields and we look to them for protection and comfort. If our caretakers do a great job, the challenges we face in childhood are filtered through the containers of our caretakers so the impact is not as great and even if we do sustain a tear, it’s quickly repaired and that impact area is fortified by the care we receive.

Because we’re so dependent on our caretakers to protect us, when the damage comes directly from them, we have no shield and the damage can be catastrophic, losing our essence in gallons.

Because love is what we’re made up of, when we lose too much of it we forget who we are and in the forgetting become vulnerable to emotional vampires. Emotional vampires are people who have also forgotten who they are because they’ve lost their essence and in trying to get it back, pull whatever you have left out of you but one’s essence cannot be replaced by someone else’s.

The beautiful thing about your container is that it can be repaired even if it’s riddled with holes and tears, it may take some time but it can be done and the way to do that is with self-love. I think of self-love as the act of nourishing your emotional body, feeding it the nutrients it needs to get strong and be able to face challenges head-on without forgetting who you are.

While there are practical things we can do to practice self-love like taking care of our bodies by eating right, exercising and practicing good hygiene, surrounding ourselves with positive, supportive people, staying away from emotional vampires, using affirmations and more; for these solutions to be successful long-term, you must truly believe you are worthy.

If you have a core belief that you do not deserve to be loved, these surface solutions will not hold up very long because they depend on willpower to remain focused and on track. Willpower requires the effort of your conscious mind, the part of you that thinks logically and practically. Think about the last time you tried to not do something because you knew it was bad for you but you did it anyway. Your conscious mind makes up only 15-20% of who you are you. It helps you make logical decisions and solve problems, it helps you remember your way home, buy groceries and pick up the dry cleaning. What it doesn’t do is help you change habits, behaviors, and beliefs that are tied to your emotional state and your subconscious mind.

The coaching work I do uses hypnotherapy to access the subconscious mind, the seat of your emotions and beliefs which drive the motives behind your habits and behaviors. Repairing and fortifying the damaged walls of your container means revisiting what caused the holes and tears in your container, which are the experiences stored in the subconscious mind, then reprogramming your subconscious to adopt more positive, supportive, loving beliefs thereby creating new motives which lead to new habits and behaviors.