About two and a half years ago I would have not known what the word mindfulness meant. It was like all the other buzzwords crunchy Santa Cruz mommas throw around here in California; words that I would aspire to if only I could get my shit together. But I had every excuse in the book to stay the hot mess I was, and if nothing else I was dedicated to that hot mess. Ripping me away from the chaotic life I had created was like trying to tear an ice cream cone away from a toddler- it was going to take time, convincing, negotiating, and someone was ultimately getting hurt in the process. But I ended up on this crazy journey to mindfulness against all odds I ended up becoming a huge advocate for mindfulness. And, trust me, no one saw that coming less than me. I continually struggle with how much information I would like out in the world about myself so this blog was not an easy one to write. But more and more I was meetingparents who are in the same struggle I found myself in. We do everything we can to make sure we take care of our families, friends, work, co-workers, sometimes even our ex’s that we have forgotten to put the oxygen mask on first before we go to help anyone else. We have a false sense of control when we think that if we only take care of everyone they will all be happy and our lives will be smooth. Wrong. What happens is we get in a cycle of people pleasing all the time and it’s impossible to make everyone happy all the time. I mean, it’s not like your chocolate or something. So here’s my struggle with the ugly underbelly of parenthood that I lost my foothold on for sometime and how I got my shit together (more or less) and started to respect MYSELF for the first time in my life.
Let me set the stage for you about what my life was like almost 3 years ago. I had divorced an abusive husband and was aI was a single momma living paycheck to paycheck, I had a very “busy”(then) 7 year old with T1 Diabetes who wanted to constantly talk with me. No, not just talk to talk. She wanted engagement in all topics she chose and was not tolerant of being told no. I was a Special Education teacher who taught kinder-8th grade at two schools (set on the same mountain, separated by a parking lot) so I was constantly running back and forth and putting out fires, talking to my many aides, being called to handle students who weren’t on my caseload, navigating parents concerns, making sure the Special Education students were being included in mainstreaming, teaching my own class, making sure all IEP’s were in compliance and dealing with the towers of endless paperwork. Oh, and I was handling my daughters health care at school on top of that. Since I was the Severe Special Ed teacher I was the last resort for a lot of students so there was immense pressure from administrators to figure out how to make, for example, a child with Emotional Disturbance, stop screaming at his elementary general education teacher that she’s an asshole. Maybe she was, I don’t know, but what I do know is that I was tapped out. There was little to no support (beyond my amazing paraprofessionals I was working with!) so I would come in early and stay late. I would come home and many nights I would have to stay up pretty much all night if my daughter was having troubling blood sugars. I was tired-that word doesn’t even scratch the surface of what I was. I was broken. Literally. And on top of all this I used an age old crutch that many people do with they don’t have the ability to cope anymore; I drank. I had started drinking when I was married because he didn’t like to drink alone and if I did drink with him he was much easier to deal with. If I didn’t? Well that’s an entirely different blog. So I drank with him and I loved the feeling I got from it of letting go and not worrying about what would happen next. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t new to drinking. I had drank growing up but I could take it or leave it and would go years between having a drink. This was a new coping mechanism that worked for me...until it didn’t. Eventually I did leave him and, being they type of person he is, he was not happy with that. Drinking continued to be my crutch to deal with his various forms of abuse and harassment because I felt I deserved it. Common misconception; when your used to being abused you start to believe you deserve to be punished because your abuser is angry at you. So, even in divorce, you do whatever you can to make sure they won’t be upset but it’s an empty battle because they will always be angry at you because you left. It’s been six years since we divorced and he is still mad at me. For someone like me, a consummate people pleaser to the point where I would loose sleep if I knew anyone was mad at me, this was a nightmare. The abuse continued (I’m consciously leaving out what the abuse entailed because I don’t want it to be the focus of this blog and I’ve worked really hard to deal with it)and so did my downward spiral.
I knew what I was doing wasn’t working for me but I couldn’t see a way out of my cycle. Every time I thought I had hit my rock bottom it seemed like a trap door opened and I fell to a new low. Something had to give and eventually it did. I put myself in recovery and some hard core therapy to deal with, well, everything. This is where I started to learn self-care. I had always thought self-care was buying yourself something or treating yourself to some big indulgence which I had done many times. This was actually me trying to fill a void (much like many people do with alcohol, drugs, gambling, over spending, over eating....the excess of anything I suppose). I was trying to fill that internal void with external things and that never works I found out. Working on me seemed selfish and quite frankly boring because I already knew I didn’t like me. Plus I had known me my whole life so what more was there to learn? Man, was I an idiot.
Meditation had always been something, like yoga, that I wanted to say I did on a consistent basis but I never did. And I didn’t even participate in it when I was there doing it. My mind was always off somewhere else thinking about other things I “needed” to do. During my therapy I learned I was suffering from some aggressive PTSD and Anxiety. Being the unaware individual I was I was actually surprised by this!
One of my therapists had told me, “You’ve been abused so much for most of your life that I feel like when we talk about it it is sort of like wallpaper to you.”
“What do you mean?” I innocently asked, knowing full well he wanted to talk about the things I decided were off limits (cause if you don’t talk about them then you don’t have to thinkabout them. And if you don’t think about them then you don’t have to deal with them. Every co-dependent knows that!). When you feel like you can’t control anything in your life it’s nice to be able to control at least what you talk about and I had a stranglehold on my secrets (as most abused people do, after all isn’t that what we are conditioned to do? Keep ours and others secrets?) so tight my palms were blistering.
“What I mean is that we can bring up your abuse and you deal with it in a very manner of fact way. Like your observing someone else’s life. You’ve lived with it for so long and not dealt with the effects that it’s just like wallpaper, like a background to you. It’s always there but you won’t focus on it.” He sat back and stared at me, obviously waiting for my reaction to this epiphany.
I stared back for what seemed like forever and try as I might my tear ducts went rogue on me and burst. This was the first time I had cried in over 5 years. He was right and it was time to rip that damn wallpaper down and give that wall a fresh coat of paint!
Opportunity has a unique way of presenting itself and I decided to take this one and throw myself into tearing down the broken person I was and rebuilding her stronger, more confident, and secure in her place here on earth. I engrossed myself in all things self-care. I slowly but surely started to understand why your told to put the oxygen mask on before you help anyone else on an airplane. If my cup isn’t filled and I’m not in a good mind frame then I’m of no help to others. During this time I realized just how much I loved the community I chose to teach and how much I wanted to help build on that for them. Helping others gave me a sense of pride because I was using what I had learned and passed it on to someone else that it helped. This is what I was meant to do so I needed to be confident in my faith in myself. The more I learned and implemented mindfulness techniques (like meditation, yoga, deep breathing), journaling, and reading books on top of books (lucky for me there is not shortage of them!) on self-care, meditation, and finding your purpose. The more I filled my cup the better of a mom I was as well, my patience grew leaps and bounds, we were able to talk openly about big and little problems, and I was able to be present for the first time in my life and enjoy the little human I had created.
I don’t want to paint a picture of some romantic self discovery journey and everything turns out wonderful in the end and we cut to the credits like a movie. Big changes had to be made in order for the happy ending and this is always a work in progress. I’ve lost friends and family members who didn’t like who I became because I was confident and didn’t let people steam roll me into making choices that benefited them. And, though I did it with love and respect, they didn’t like that I was standing up for myself and being more vocal about the kind of treatment I would tolerate. I continuously have to throat punch the old people- pleaser in me who whispers that we should just do what others want so we don’t rock the boat. My circle of people I truly trust and confide in is small, but my faith and respect for myself and others has grown immensely.
If you’ve stuck with my ramblings this far thank you! This is for you; the overworked, over stressed, under appreciated, flat out exhausted parent who just looks forward to going to bed at night in hopes of getting just a few hours of peace. Who is taking care of you? My prayer for you is that you start your own journey into self-care and realize how much more inspired you will be when you learn just how amazing you are and how we all need you here just as you are!