Growing older does not mean we’ve actually grown “up.” Aging chronologically and mentally are two very different things, as my young adult life so brilliantly demonstrated.
I was completely out of control: alcohol abuse, depression, and if I didn’t get my way, throwing temper tantrums that would make a three year old blush. Well into my twenties, I had the mentality of a rebellious child.
And while I was well aware that my dysfunctional childhood was at the root of my behavior, I had no idea how to rectify this part of me that had been around for almost as long as I had been.
Growing up with abuse, neglect, and abandonment left me in a perpetual state of defense and instability. I countered those insecurities with mass quantities of alcohol, overcompensation, and overachieving.
Until I began reading self-help books (at the desperate suggestion of my soon-to-be husband) I had no idea that I could heal the past traumas of my life. To be honest, I was always so busy avoiding my past and any pain associated with it, to ever reflect on it’s damaging effects on my life or how I might heal it.
As I devoured a mountain of books and audios, tools began to jump out at me. As I utilized them, I watched my life transform before my eyes. My body, behavior, and relationships all bloomed to the point where I was off all medications for my depression, anxiety and attention deficit disorder.
The joy of transforming my life pales in comparison to the fulfillment I have experienced sharing my tools with others, through my book and through blogs just like this one. So it brings me great pleasure to share the three exercises that set my soul free from childhood dysfunction:
This is not the sexy answer I’m sure you were seeking, but trust me; if you can overcome the initial resistance to forgiving those who hurt you, you will set yourself free for life. Understand this: every person on the planet is doing their best with the wisdom, experience and abilities that they have, or they would do better.
Truly believing that is step one to forgiving. Step two is agreeing that forgiveness is not letting the other person off the hook, it’s letting YOU off the hook for the burden of carrying around that resentment. As Wayne Dyer so eloquently explained, people do not die of a snake bite, they die from the venom. Resentment is that venom that you are refusing to release. Forgiveness can happen in an instant, the moment you decide you’re ready.
Who do you need to forgive? (And don’t forget to include yourself on that list, if need be)
Rewriting My Story
This was by far the most powerful exercise I’ve done to heal my childhood trauma. We all have the ability to rewrite our past. Life isn’t what happens to us, it’s the interpretation that we create for each situation. We keep stories in our minds of what has happened to us (from our point of view) and what that means to us. By consciously going back and rewriting those stories in our minds we can create new pathways for our minds to reflect on that event.
For example: when I was in fourth grade, my family of five had to live in someone’s camper (parked in their driveway) for a month. This used to bring me so much shame, but after rewriting it and accepting it, I am now able to talk about it as a point of pride, and an example of how strong and courageous my family was to stay positive during hard times like that. What used to bring me fear of uncertainty, now brings certainty that I can survive whatever life brings me.
What traumatic events can you rewrite? Write down an event, and try to twist it into a positive by highlighting the lessons you learned and how it made you stronger. It may take a while for that new version to really be wired into your memories, but continue to repeat it when you remember and eventually it will feel as natural as the first story you told yourself.
Meditation and Mindfulness
Connecting to myself daily through prayer or meditation has been incredibly healing for me. It gives me a chance to check in, to reflect and to give thanks for all of the experiences in my life. I may not have known it then, but all circumstances, good and bad, serve us on a massive scale.
Life is about growth and evolution, and without obstacles to overcome we would never improve and would never know what we are truly made of.
I no longer struggle with the fear of the future, because I’ve revamped the old list of “childhood traumas” with a new list of examples that prove I am unstoppable. This list includes the exact same situations, but entirely new perceptions of them. And through forgiveness and meditation I have given myself a new lease on life.
Our past does not define us. Nor is our past our future. But something needs to change if we want our lives to change, and most often the thing that needs to change is us.