After sharing an article where I talked about my “daddy issues,” I realized I failed to mention my mother.
She has been a significant influence in my life.
I was lucky to grow up with a loving mom with a beautiful heart. My mom is the kind of person people instantly like.
From a tiny town, my mom grew up living a simple, sheltered, Catholic life, where sex was saved for marriage, and women were taught their role was to get married, take care of their man, and have babies.
Marrying my dad after knowing him less than six months, my mom dove right into the role of dependent homemaker before really taking the time to explore herself as an individual—or really getting to know what she wanted in a long-term partner. This was the reality for so many in her generation.
Although times have changed, this is unfortunately still the reality for many of us today.
We jump straight into dating and relationships before truly taking the time to get know and love ourselves. We choose partners based on physical attraction or the pressure to be in a relationship. We rush into things without really questioning whether our core values align. We look for someone to “complete us,” fill a void, or stroke our fragile ego. We jump from relationship to relationship without truly taking the time to reflect or heal from the last.
So often, we fall into relationships for all the wrong reasons. I’m seeing this more and more as I begin to explore the dating world again—but I’ll save this tangent for another post.
Growing up, I saw my mom living a life I was sure I didn’t want. I saw a woman holding back, dependent on a man, putting up with too much.
Yet somehow, she put on a happy face and smiled through it. All the time. This drove me crazy, because I knew better, knew the pain she was living, knew she was holding back.
If I didn’t know better, I would have thought she was self-medicating, but she wasn’t. She wasn’t drinking, drugging, gambling, or overeating. She wasn’t a workaholic or using sex, shopping, or any of the other many things we do to numb ourselves when we’re running from pain.
But what she was doing was repressing.
And with this repression, she was experiencing physical pain and chronic health problems.
You see, one way or another, failing to process emotions impacts our health. The effects of consistent emotional suppression include increased physical stress on the body, including high blood pressure, increased incidence of diabetes, and heart disease. In addition, people who engage in emotional suppression regularly are more likely to experience stiff joints, bone weakness, and more illnesses due to lowered immunity.
Research has also shown a connection between avoiding emotions and poor memory, as well as increased misunderstandings in conversations with others. This is because people who regularly suppress emotions are often less aware of the signals they are sending to others and less aware of the social cues present in daily conversation.
Finally, those who avoid emotions are more likely to experience anxiety and depression in their lifetime.
Yup, those damn emotions catch up to us one way or another. Unless we choose to face them head-on, they persist, eventually impacting our mental and physical health.
In my mother’s case, Fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder often linked to psychological stress, trauma, and PTSD, was causing her to experience pain. It’s pain that Western medicine treats with addictive pharmaceuticals, which mask the symptoms, but never really address the underlying cause.
Known as an “invisible disorder” due to its elusive nature, with no tests able to measure the severity or validity of its symptoms, Fibromyalgia is one of the most common chronic pain conditions. The disorder affects an estimated 10 million people in the United States and an estimated three to six percent of the world population.
In my experience, repressing emotions eventually led to anxiety (which I was unaware of for some time), and a difficulty focusing, because I was always so in my head.
According to the ADAA, 40 million adults in the United States suffer from anxiety disorders. Although highly treatable, only 36.9 percent of those suffering receive treatment. While these are the official numbers I pulled up, I suspect the numbers are significantly higher, with many more unaware, undiagnosed, and untreated.
Similar to the treatment for Fibromyalgia, Western medicine treats anxiety with highly addictive pharmaceuticals that again, simply mask the symptoms. While I believe this type of treatment has its time and place, I’m thankful to say that for me, talk therapy, diet modifications, time spent in nature, slow-paced yoga, and meditation have been key in treating the root of my anxiety, while helping me avoid having to take any pharmaceuticals. Plant medicine has also played a significant role in my journey, but I‘ll cover that in more detail in a future post.
Growing up, I’d often say I never wanted to be like my mom. Never wanted to be the kind of woman who got trapped in a relationship, the kind of woman who was dependent on a man, the kind of woman who put up with too much.
Yet somehow, I found myself following a similar path. Somehow, after falling hard and fast, I became the woman who married quick, the woman who was dependent. Following my husband to another country for his career, suddenly, I found myself exactly where I said I’d never be.
You see, often, we grow up witnessing behaviors in our parents we dislike. Behaviors we vow not to repeat, yet somehow, as we move through life, these behaviors manage to persist and creep on into our lives.
Whether we like it or not, so often, we repeat many of our parents’ behaviors—it’s just the way it is.
For many years, I was in denial of this. Once moving out of the house of denial, and into awareness, I began to dwell in it.
Overwhelmed by just how impacted I was, I began falling into the role of the persecutor. Blaming my parents for messing me up. Blaming my partner for my unhappiness. Blaming myself for not knowing better.
Toward the last couple years of my married life, I was in full-on victim mode, feeling so disconnected and fearful of those around me. Scared of being judged for all those damn emotions I was so desperately trying to run from. Feeling like no one understood my struggle—a struggle I didn’t fully understand because I kept so much inside, allowing this deep-rooted emotion and pain out in bursts. Letting it out in traffic, letting it out on myself in my mind, letting it out in my relationship.
I often felt I was living one big lie when I was posted up in my big ol’ museum of a house, trying to playing the role of the perfect doctor’s wife who I felt pressure to be. I was never really a great actress, and even though I damn well tried, I never quite met my perfectionist husband’s expectations.
You see, as much as I knew my partner loved me, he also had his own patterns from childhood, patterns that clashed with mine. And despite troubles from early on, I stayed because deep down I knew that man loved me the very best he knew how, just as I loved him the very best I knew how. He tried. He really did. I tried. I really did—but our relationship was built on shallow grounds that didn’t stand a chance in the storms of life.
We both grew up without examples of what a healthy relationship looked like. Both grew up coping in our own ways, avoiding all those pesky emotions we didn’t want to feel. We bonded over this shared pain—we were energetically drawn together by it. But ultimately, this shared pain and difficulty connecting with and expressing our true emotions was what eventually led to the breakdown of our relationship.
I began avoiding being at home and filling up my time with distraction after distraction. I only felt truly happy and myself was when I was in the mountains, connecting with nature, and raging out my emotions; or on my yoga mat, flowing through the pain, and temporarily forgetting it all; or in the kitchen, getting creative and lost in passion.
Until one day, I reached a point where I had enough. Reached a point where I just needed to get away.
So I booked a solo trip to Bali to study yoga—something I had been contemplating for some time.
Looking back, I think I just needed to get away. Needed to escape the rut I was so stuck in and learn how to breathe on my own again. Little did I know, this escape would be a pivotal point in my life.
This experience was a game changer for many reasons. But something that really hit me on this trip was meeting badass women who were doing things different. Women owning their stories, standing in their power, and living their truth. And while these women scared the sh*t out of me, they inspired me to want more for myself, to start looking deeper within.
This trip was the first time I was really away from my partner since we were married, and I could focus on myself and only myself. This was also the first time, through writing, I was really able to start admitting just how unhappy and repressed I was. I could begin to see just how much pain, anger, and fear I had been holding in.
Free flow writing was such a powerful tool in gaining this awareness, in opening the lines of communication between my conscious, cognitive mind and my unconscious, intuitive mind.
Seeing those words on the page was a true emotional awakening. It was as though someone else had taken over my pen and was writing everything I was too scared to say out loud.
While overwhelming, this newfound awareness eventually led me to make the vow to take control of my story and my life. As I found myself exactly where my mother was, feeling trapped and unhappy, I started to understand. Started to feel the pain and all the emotions of all the women before me who were scared to leave—scared to face their own demons.
With this, I felt an even greater responsibility to tap into my power and break the cycle. Not only for myself, but for my mom and all the other women who couldn’t. For all the women who were not fortunate enough to have embarked on their own healing journey.
So after this trip, I made the commitment to do something different. To demand more from and for myself. To return home and re-commit to regular talk therapy with both my partner and individually, and to finally commit to a regular meditation practice and a slower paced, more therapeutic kind of yoga.
Although the work put in post-Bali didn’t save my relationship, it was key in helping me begin to forgive and let go of all the built-up resentment I had been storing, and in allowing me to see life and everything that surrounded me in a completely different way.
Eventually, I began to understand the actions of my partner, realizing his actions had nothing to do with me. Eventually I began to understand the actions of my mother, and her fear of walking away from all that she knew. Eventually, I even began to understand the actions of my father, and how they were simply a repetition of the patterns from his own childhood. None of it had to do with me.
And through this, I was able to feel more compassion and a greater connection to the world around me. And this compassion, cultivated through pain, has been one of the greatest gifts I could have ever asked for.
You see, nothing anyone ever does to hurt us is truly ever personal. We are all simply living in our own realities, doing our best with the tools we have.
Although our realities and experiences are different, the emotions we feel are the same. We all go through sh*t, all suffer, all hurt, all fear, all struggle. We all do our best. We are all so much more alike than we like to think. This truly is the reality of the human experience. We are all here viewing the world through our own lens of awareness.
Now, as I reflect on all the experiences that brought me to this point, I can’t help but smile. Can’t help but be so damn grateful for all my experiences and growth. It’s been one hell of a journey so far, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
As I continue to share my story, I want to reaffirm that my goal in sharing my struggle is to remind you just how much power we all have within. All these “tough experiences” we go through in life simply unlock newfound levels of compassion and connection to the world around us—and the more we learn to accept and really feel the hard stuff, the greater our capacity to accept and really feel the good stuff grows.
No matter what you have been through, you are not alone. No matter what you have been through, you can work through it, heal, and turn your experiences into something positive. There is always help available, and you are never alone in your struggle.
Ultimately, we are the only ones who can make the decision to save ourselves, ask for help, and make the commitment to do something different in order to live a more connected and authentic life.
As mentioned above, free flow writing was and continues to be a powerful tool on my journey. To free flow, all you need to do is get out a pen or your computer and write. Write without over-thinking or worrying about grammar or punctuation. Simply write whatever comes to mind, continuously without stopping for 5-10 minutes—or as long as feels good. Give it a try and see what comes up.