I never used to be able to relate to “positive thinking” statements. They seemed trite and shallow, as if they were made up for other people–people with normal lives, normal families, normal incomes, good jobs, who didn’t suffer from mental illness, who hadn’t been abused by almost everyone they had known, and who had an actual future to look forward to.
When I was with my narcopath ex, I really didn’t have a future. Not if I’d stayed with him. I was slowly dying a long, excruciating death–a death by annihilation of my spirit. His abuse was effecting my body, my mind, my emotions, and my soul. Pictures of me taken when I was with him compared to pictures taken of me now show the toll the relationship was taking on me. I looked older 3 years ago than I do now–and my depression showed on my face in every picture, even the smiling ones. I was overweight and miserable. Even my hair looked depressed, dull and without shine. When I was told to “just think positive” I felt nothing but rage and frustration. How could I even hope to have a better life, how could I even hope to ever be happy? A smiley face meme, a “thought for the day,” or “inspirational” coffee mug just wasn’t going to do it for me. And those things can be shallow and trite, but that doesn’t mean that a positive outlook is forever barred from me. It doesn’t mean I can’t still find happiness.
Cynicism and bitterness.
Even if I hadn’t been abused, by nature, I’m a depressive sort of person. As an INFJ, I think deeply about things and feel them even more deeply. I’m a worrywart who tends to see the glass as half empty. I catastrophize and ruminate and obsess and worry about almost everything. I get upset when I hear about wars, murders, shootings, racism, sexism, injustice, unkindness in general, and most of all, the abuse of animals and kids. Or the abuse of anyone for that matter.
I see all the trappings of success–big houses, late model cars, vacations, the latest this or that–and feel depressed because those things will never be mine. I wasn’t invited to be in the Club. I feel victimized and alone in the world. I used to think God hated me. I almost became an atheist–but not quite. I always felt *some* kind of presence, but didn’t think that presence thought very highly of me. I even thought that my purpose for existing was to be an example to others of what not to be. I felt like I was held in contempt and condescending pity by everyone. But what I didn’t know was I was projecting my own sense of self-hatred and hopelessness onto whatever Higher Intelligence was out there and everyone else too. The internal voices instilled in me by my emotional abusive upbringing echoed down the years and contaminated any ability I had to find joy and meaning in life. I became bitter and cynical, and turned up my nose at “happy people,” assuming they had no depth at all–but was it really just because I envied their ability to feel joy?
Slouching toward heaven.
When I finally went No Contact with my ex, things began to change. Not a lot at first, but for the first time ever, I felt some hope and even fleeting glimpses of joy. I started to blog. Writing down my feelings about what happened to me helped me make sense of them. Through blogging, I found a community of others in a similar situation. I no longer felt so alone. Blogging was the best sort of self-therapy I could have hoped for. A talent for writing was the one tool I had that began to help me be able to lift myself out of the mire.
Eventually, this got me to the point of wanting something more–an actual relationship with God. A lifelong agnostic, I began going to church and decided to become Catholic. I started to pray a lot more (I call it “talking to God,” which sounds friendlier). My faith was shaky and fragile (and still is), but I kept plugging away, asking God to give me the ability to trust him and to give me faith. If I couldn’t trust other people, it was especially hard to trust an entity I couldn’t even see. Sometimes I felt like God wasn’t listening and had doubts that he existed at all. But God was always someone I could turn to when no one else seemed to care. I had no choice! Over time, I felt myself beginning to change from within. I began to appreciate the things I had more, instead of feeling resentful and envious of others for having more than I did. I’ve even had a few of those rare transformative moments of gratitude and happiness so profound it brought me to tears.
I am grateful.
I may not have a lot, but I have what I need, and that’s a lot more than many. I don’t live in the best house in the world, but it’s a nice place to live and I like its cuteness and coziness. I don’t drive a late model car, but I have one that’s reliable and gets me where I need to go. I don’t come from a big loving supportive family, but I have two wonderful children who I have a good relationship with. I can’t afford to take real vacations, but I have a car to go on short day trips. I live in a beautiful part of the country, even if I’m jaded and don’t appreciate it as much as I used to. I can sit on my porch and see mountains and trees and flowers and see the night sky. I can hear birds singing outside my window. I don’t have to look outside my window and see a back alley full of broken glass and hear sirens and people fighting all night. I don’t love my job, but it pays for what I need and there are a lot worse things I could be doing. I have two wonderful cats. I have writing ability. My blog is doing well and is not only helping me, but it’s helping others too. I have a wonderful, empathic therapist who almost seemed to drop out of the sky at just the right time. Lately, I’ve been finding myself thinking that my glass is half full instead of half empty. That’s God changing my attitude in a really big way.
It’s not a smooth road. I still get triggered and go back to my old thinking patterns. I stil have days where I feel hopeless and unloved. These attitudes are so ingrained in me that removing them sometimes feels like performing a skeleton transplant. But all I have to do is lean on God and tell him I can’t handle it myself–and things do begin to look better. God is working on me, changing my attitudes, and people have said they’ve noticed a difference in me.
Big changes, bright future.
I have a very strong feeling that God is planning a major change for me in the near future–a change that would give me a whole fresh start and more choices than I’ve had. It looks very likely that in the very near future, probably before winter (my least favorite season–I hate it!) sets in, I will be moving to Florida to join my son. I won’t be living with my son; I will have my own place. He thinks he can get me a job where he works too. I will be living near the beach. I can watch the sunsets over the Gulf of Mexico every night if I want. While I love the North Carolina mountains, they don’t speak to my soul the way the ocean does, not even after 23 years of living here. I grew up in coastal New Jersey and New York and used to hit the beach every weekend in the summer since it was no more than an hour away from where I lived. The ocean is in my blood. Here where I live now, getting to the beach requires planning a vacation or at least a weekend getaway since the closest beach is a five hour drive away. I never have enough funds to do that though. I haven’t seen the ocean since 2008. That’s far too long.
I have no ties to North Carolina. There’s nothing left for me here–no friends, no family, no pressing commitments–so I won’t have any misgivings about packing up and leaving when the time is imminent. I’m trying to get my daughter to come with me, because I think she needs a change too. There’s nothing left for her here either except her dad, but he is a toxic person and her relationship with him is a codependent one. She may not want to leave him though. She feels responsible for him. But when and if she decides enough is enough (and I’m praying she does), the invitation to join me and her brother is always open.
I think that this move will change my life in so many positive ways. No, of course it won’t be perfect, but I will be living near my son again, I will near my beloved ocean again, and I can make a fresh start in a new place, free of all the ghosts of my abusive past I still associate with where I live now, and which continue to haunt me at times. I imagine myself in my little house or apartment, or sitting in front of the ocean, listening to the waves and the gulls, finally writing the book I keep saying I’m going to write. And I’ll thank my Heavenly Father every day for presenting me with such a positive life changing choice. I never felt like I had choices before. Now I think I do.
Why God has waited until now, I don’t really know, but it’s probably because I wasn’t ready. I wouldn’t have appreciated it. Maybe he wanted me to appreciate the things I already have first, before blessing me with new opportunities. Now, when I see positive thinking memes or inspirational quotes, I actually pay attention. Yes, they are trite and can be shallow and annoying when nothing else of substance is being given, but they do seem to have more meaning now. Is that because I feel like God is finally smiling down on me so I can relate to them better, or is it because I’ve changed enough to pay attention?
God shows up at the strangest times. Earlier today I was at the Laundromat, and as I waited for my wash, I found a small devotional book called “Fear Not Tomorrow, God is Already There,” by Ruth Graham. It was sitting right there on the table, on top of a bunch of advertising circulars. A few years ago I would have left the book there. Today I took it home with me and said a small prayer of thanks. I know God left it there for me on purpose. I’ve realized he is always trying to show you in small ways how much he loves you, but if you’re not paying attention you won’t notice. If you open your heart to God and just talk to him, like you’d talk to your best friend or a loving parent, your heart will begin to change and your faith will grow stronger in tandem with that–and then it’s possible your whole life might take a turn for the better too. It’s so simple–how did it take me so long to see this beautiful truth? I feel in my bones that the last half of my life is going to be when the harvest comes in–a harvest rooted in the pain of my past.
Is there a reason why we suffered so much?
One last thought. There’s an old Buddhist proverb: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Everyone who ever touched my life has been a teacher to me. Yes, even the narcissists. Maybe especially them. If it weren’t for them, I would not be who I am today. I don’t think I would be as deep or as spiritual or value empathy and kindness as much as I do. I don’t think I would have the same sort of relationship with God. Many of the most spiritual (not necessarily religious–that’s a different animal!) people I know came from abusive backgrounds. They suffered terribly and carried that heavy spiritual load all their lives, then finally turned to God because there was no one else. In pain there comes much wisdom. Maybe God allows some of us to experience more adversity so we learn to lean on him instead of other people–and then when we learn to trust him, he finally blesses us with people who can help us and love us unconditionally. No, we should never have been abused by our narcissists. It definitely wasn’t fair. But out of that kind of adversity we can learn so much about ourselves, about human nature, and even learn to help others who suffer like we did. And that is my greatest wish now–to help others heal.