Letting It Break

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When I was growing up, I suffered all types of abuse, but I find the most difficult to overcome was the abandonment and neglect. While my abusers stayed in my life (to my dismay), they emotionally left me before I was born. They neglected me in my early life by not meeting my basic needs. So while they were still around, they were not, unless of course, they needed something from me. This feeling of abandonment was exacerbated by the bystanders who walked out of my life while I hoped they would help me.

In my adult life, I struggle to find gratitude and appreciate what I have. It seems as though the people, animals and things that matter to me the most are appreciated the least. It seems that way, but it isn’t the case. As a child, I “learned” that what mattered to me most would be taken away. In some cases, this was a result of manipulative parents who would use my favorite things against me so they could break me. They would also remove my favorite people from my life because they were dangerously close to exposing the family secrets. And their methods certainly worked. So, I developed a defense mechanism.

The interesting thing about defense mechanisms is they work very well at keeping us alive, but are horribly dysfunctional once the traumatic situation is over. I learned to pretend someone or something didn’t matter to me. Sometimes, I would pretend only to my parents. Other times, I would pretend to everyone. But there’s a problem with that approach. People aren’t likely to hang around someone who is indifferent to them. And most people won’t feel any desire to put effort in to something I don’t seem to care about. So many times, I still lost what I loved.

My heart was so broken and cut-off from feeling, I had no access to my grief. So every time, I lost an opportunity or a person left, I just shrugged my shoulders and said I didn’t care. It became so ingrained in me that I was convinced it was true. I wasn’t consciously acting. I believed that nothing mattered much. And I was numb, so it appeared that way to everyone else too.

As an adult, I find it difficult to experience joy and gratitude despite the presence of things I know I would never want to live without. Deep inside, I know I desperately want this in my life, but I am still trying to fool someone, maybe the universe, maybe the make-believe parents that haunt my psyche. And I am always bracing myself for the loss. And when it feels inevitable, I find myself distancing from it so that I would not have to feel the pain of the loss, instead of fighting for what I love. I hear the inner talk about how it isn’t that important. “I didn’t really like it that much anyway. I wanted something better to begin with. There’s a million other people, things, activities that are just as good.”

And so my life looks like a series of losses. And what appears to be my own resilience is a well-honed defense mechanism to expect and brace for more traumatic loss.

During my early adult life, there wasn’t much worth changing for. I was fine with staying closed to the pain and the vulnerability of loving someone or something with all my heart. It seemed worth it. It seemed safe. But then I had children. My recovery began when they were born, and while there have been many aspects of my recovery that have been critical to my growth as a parent, this is the big one. I cannot and will not allow myself to treat my children as though I can take them or leave them. I will not allow myself to brace for their eventual abandonment. In reality, it is inevitable. They will leave me one day. That is a part of the process. But my love for them won’t change when they leave.

And I know I spend too much time contemplating the possibly of outliving my children. I guess that comes with a life full of abandonment. And I am coming to terms with the fact that I cannot control that. It is not within my circle of influence (notwithstanding the normal parental responsibilities to keep my children safe).

So, I have to prepare my heart to feel and to be inevitably broken, not just because there will be loss, but because there will be love.

And with true love comes the pain of letting go, of never knowing what happens next.

But true love is living, so if I don’t take the steps to love fully, I don’t live.

If I don’t live, my abusive past wins.

And that’s not an option.

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31 thoughts on “Letting It Break

  1. So beautifully put! I recognise every part of it, though could not verbalise it myself so accurately yet. My child tore my heart wide open, wide open for love to enter, wide open for the (seemingly) unbearable and endless hurt. And my recovery really took off. Thank you for sharing your talent for putting these key and very difficult aspects of trauma recovery into words!
    Love,

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  2. Elizabeth ~ I am in awe of your resiliency. Your story is incredibly inspiring and you my friend are a true hero. This post in particular spoke to me. Even though I had moments or days of success in recovery from my own childhood trauma, like you, it wasn’t until I became a parent that I became determined to work harder, be stronger and thrive despite all that was working against me. I will be sharing this post on the Trigger Points page. I know, without a doubt, it will touch many. On a personal note, you are someone I look up to because of all that you have accomplished. I tried and failed to obtain my MSW years ago. I just wasn’t ready and it discouraged me from every trying again. You and your story are the kinds of encouragements that will help get me back in the program some day. Thank you. So much. ~Dawn

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  3. Your story and your courage always fascinate me. I enjoy reading all your posts. And as I read I am praying for you. I have not experienced trauma like yours, nor have I known abandonment to the extent you describe in your posts. But I do know the agony and heartache abandonment can cause. I have felt that. Are there degrees of abandonment? I don’t know. But I do know full well, as a child growing up in an alcoholic home the pain and suffering that environment causes. In this season of my life,my life revolves around my granddaughters and children. I never want them to feel the heartache of abandonment. I’m committed to helping them always feel accepted and loved, even in difficult times. God is still showing me more of Himself each day. I’m learning that as I learn and grow in Him, there is always something else He wants me to learn. It’s a continuous learning process. About Him and about me. Take care and God bless.

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  4. Thnk you Elizabeth. This post moved me. All your posts do so because I too, lived abuse for all my life, and I find myself in every situation you describe.
    There is however in this post, something I struggle with so much. I feel shame, guilt and confusion. It’s something I never really talked about and when I try, no one seems to understand.
    When you talk about your children and wanting to make sure you treat them and love them the way they deserve. I feel the same and I treat them the best way a mother can treat her kids, but something is missing. I know I love them, I must do, but I feel nothing. I have no emotions. I long to feel what other mothers describe. I long to the feeling of missing them when they’re in school. I want to feel interested to hear their stories. I do listen because I know a mother should do, but I’m never capable of enjoying it. I feel i’m such a bad mother.

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    • I know that feeling. When my twins were born, I was horrified that I didn’t fall head over heals in love the minute I looked at them. I thought that was mandatory. But I have realized that my heart is no more available to them as anyone else. I guarantee you are not a bad mother. You are far too self-aware to be a bad mother. Bad mothers are the mothers that think they are perfect. Just stay on the recovery path and you will be a “good enough” mother that breaks generational cycles of abuse. And your kids will take over where you left off. And that’s ok.

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      • Thank you so much for your comforting words. You’re absolutely right. I don’t feel I’m capable of loving. I’m scared of loving and the ones I feel I love so much are mainly the people that help me emotionally survive. My love becomes possessive and selfish because it represents the oxygen I need to stay alive.

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  5. Once again your post resonated very strongly with me. One part of me feels such comfort to know that I am not alone in what I went through and that other people share and voice these experiences; another part feels such sadness that I’m not the only one because it is wrong that such suffering is so widespread. Thank you for writing and sharing. x

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  6. Dearest Elisabeth, your life and story is like a living poem. My son has cracked open the shell of my barricaded heart, although I discovered the extent of this fact only now since reading Letting It Break. In response to Steven’s question, “…are there degrees of abandonment?”, which is brilliant in inquiry, I say a firm,”Yes!” Like Autism is on spectrum, so is the trauma linked to abuse and neglect.

    Abandonment in childhood can range from as acute as beloved leaving the home forever never too be seen again to remaining physically in the home and refusing to engage positively with the child, as if he or she does not exist, is punished and in the “doghouse”, not spoken to for weeks on end. Alcohol abuse can produce such behavior, just as some mental disorders such as borderline personality disorder.

    The gift of splitting your heart wide open to heal, and for the world to see, is breathtaking.

    Blessings always,
    El

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  7. Beautifully written and so insightful. Children can be powerful catalysts for healing and growth. Although they eventually leave home, there will always be a strong connection with them. They leave the home but never your heart. I wish you continued healing and happiness.

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  8. I really appreciated this post.

    I was emotionally neglected as a child. I was so afraid to have a child because I thought for sure that I would be the same kind of parent.

    When I had my son it was like an epiphany. It completely changed my life. So much love that I never even knew I had came forth.

    I was lucky that I got pregnant.

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  9. Thank you for posting about your life. My mother had very similar experiences in childhood and it was also not until after I was a toddler (her fourth child) that she was able to speak out and put my grandfather in prison. We did not cut her family out until much later. Your children are very lucky to have you as a mother. As the child of someone who experienced severe trauma, I believe they will appreciate every thing you have gone through to be healthy for them when they are older. Thank you!

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  10. Dear Elisabeth,

    Every time I read one of your posts, I want to reply but feel that I don’t know quite how to get all that I want to say out in a coherent way. This time I will at least try to say a few things. The post above offers the gist of what I feel is the truth of each of us. That the love that we feel from babies and for them is the nature of and who we really are. If we could stay centered in that, and extend and grow only from that, we would stay true to who we are. I am reminded of three books I have read or am reading that I feel are powerfully revelationary and/or insightful on this. The first is The Life and Teachings of the Masters of the Far East, which is so good at showing us who we really are, including being pure love. The second and third are books that I am currently reading: Letting Go – The Pathway of Surrender, by David Hawkins (I recommend reading the last of the book first, i.e., the “Autobiographic Note” in the “About the Author” section); and Magical Parent – Magical Child, by Joseph Chilton Pearce and Michael Mendizza. Each of these has the element of letting us know who we are, and what is and is not real about us. If we know that something is not real, we can let it go, and surrender to that which is real, be that which is real and act from that which is real, which I find profoundly comforting and offering real peace.

    With love,

    Debby

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    • Thank you Debby. I will look in to these books. I wholeheartedly agree with your statements about “what is real”. It was at the point were I was able to separate my emotions of my past from my experiences in the present that I was able to catapult my own recovery. It is a life-changing realization.

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  11. Wow, your words resonate in my heart and mind. Although part of my childhood defense mechanism was to lock up over 3/4 of my memories and then damage my ability to recall adult memoriesi also am numb. I know I shouldn’t but there a part of me that sits in the back of my head that beats it’s self up because I can not feel that overwhelming love for my children. For anyone. I can not remember the last time I felt happy to my core. Or even longer than a surface gladness. I’ve stopped using sugar as a way to bring…relief. Which has helped greatly in removing the darkness.
    I just don’t know how to be, happy. I’m sitting here writing this tears pouring out and I struggle to grasp the feelings within. Desperate, lost, forgotten, misunderstood, silenced.
    I know I need help, that’s a given. It’s not so easy in some lifestyles. It will happen, just have to learn to trust. Trust I can find the right person for me.
    Thank you for this! Thank you for your words and your heart!

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    • I am so sorry for the pain you are feeling. It is so normal to be hard on ourselves because we are used to that treatment. But what you are feeling is normal. I hope you are able to find some help so that you can walk through some of this darkness that is weighing you down. It is hard to ask for help as a survivor, but it is also so important to our recovery. I have a survivor forum here too if you ever want to join. Check the links on the site. And thank you for your comment.

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