The Books That Helped Me Transition from Trauma to Triumph: A Book Review Series – “The Journey From Abandonment to Healing”

Moving on to book-review number four in my books-that-changed-my-life series is “The Journey From Abandonment to Healing: Turn the End of a Relationship into the Beginning of a New Life“.

I have said for years, as I felt my way along a sometimes rugged and dark healing path, that I had to return to the darkness in order to make it into the light. Those dark spaces held my trauma, the negative energy needing to be released from my body, mind, and spirit. I used to dish this advice to my then-best-friend in regards to her traumatic past. She would scoff me off.

Just when I thought I had processed the worst of my traumas (sexual abuse, bank robberies, murder, physically abusive parent), this said-friend ghosted me. Gone. Just like that. No closure. No good-bye. No “piss off” to send me on my way. Just silence. After seven years of texting every day, weekend hang outs, girls’ trips adventures, deep talks, and laugh-til-we-peed gatherings. Done.

Only two weeks prior had I sat across from her at one of our impromptu lunch dates, telling her that my therapist and I had discovered my biggest fear during my last EMDR session: the fear of abandonment. I told her how it linked back to my mom and her alcohol addiction, how she had left me feeling emotionally abandoned my entire childhood. She knew most of the history of life with my mother: partying with her co-workers after banking hours, stumbling into our apartment hammered a few nights a week; pouring herself a vodka over ice with a squirt of lemon juice on those nights she came straight home from her teller job, sinking into the worn recliner, held together in places with duct tape, losing herself in a book from the library, yelling for my dad to silence the children, which always came with the jingling of a belt-buckle prepping to beat us quiet; belittlement at our not using our God-given talents and, therefore, disappointing Jesus, God Himself, and all of the heavenly hosts; attempted stabbing of my dad when she raged at him with a butcher knife; attempted drowning of her children when she decided we’d be better off with Jesus in lieu of living in this “valley of tears” called life; showing my school photo to church friends, in my presence, and laughing as she declared, “Look how ugly she is!”, later to remind me, “I was just joking”; and so on.

I was struck with an inkling of curiosity when this friend’s head cocked a bit to the side as she replied, “Really?” to my announcement that my biggest discovered fear was that of abandonment. Not bridges or highways, even though I cannot drive on them. Not death, even though I had faced it too many times, from beneath bathtub water, when staring into a revolver placed to my head, when confronted with the firing end of a Luger during a second bank robbery. Not heights, even though my dad had found it funny to dangle me from the Natural Bridge in Kentucky on a rare family outing or had me look out the window of our beat up station wagon at the Ohio River below us as we crossed the humming bridge into Covington, Kentucky to visit my grandparents, as he proclaimed, “See those river sharks? Some day this bridge will crumble. It was built in the 1800’s you know. And when we fall in, those river sharks will eat you”, then he’d laugh and laugh at his humor, while I stared at the muddy water, positive I saw those river sharks. Not flying, though I could not even think of climbing onto a plane without Xanax in my blood. Not cockroaches. Nor being buried alive. Nor fear itself. Abandonment – linked to my fear of rejection, my insecurities, my unstable sense of self, and my deep craving for approval and affection.

Really? That word would haunt my next year as I sorted through the processing of her disappearance from my life.

Only by giving yourself over to your feelings can you find your way out of them.

Susan Anderson in “The Journey from Abandonment to Healing”

I am guessing God’s timing was, yet again, perfect. It was time for me to visit the darkness that was my relationship with my mother. Still swirling in the chaos of her addiction, I never knew who I would encounter upon my calls to check in or visits to her retirement community. Sober mom was kind and doting. “Teri, I don’t know what I’d do without you. Thank God I have you.” Drunk mom was cruel, “I hate you. I want to put a meat cleaver in your forehead.” When I brought that one up during a sober conversation, she insisted, “Oh for Pete’s sake. I was joking. Get a sense of humor. You know I’d never say something like that to you.”

Okay, mom.

And then the friend-ghosting occurred. And I cried into my journal for a year. I cried at restaurants. I cried at sappy commercials. I cried when I’d hear songs, listening purposefully to tear-jerker ballads. I cried at Facebook memories popping up. I cried all . . . the . . . time. I just cried. For a year.

And as I did so, I read this book. This amazing book filled with comfort and wisdom, reminding me I would survive this, too. Just as I had survived all of the horrors of my past. This ghosting was a reminder that I had not yet faced the pain I had stored away in regards to trust and love, a heart-hurt melded in the hands of my parents. God was opening that attic door and shining a light on that long-avoided box of sadness.

Being left by someone we love can open up old wounds, stirring up insecurities and doubts that had been part of our emotional baggage since childhood.

Susan Anderson in “The Journey from Abandonment to Healing”

My grieving journey had begun. What was triggered by a ghosting, turned into a beautiful journey of healing those old insecurities and heartaches, helping me find forgiveness for my parents, as well as helping me release the ghosts from that abandonment attic. All of them.

The author takes us into an understanding of the five states of abandonment: shattering, withdrawal, internalizing rejection, rage, and lifting. All of which I circled through. The beautiful gift I discovered during this grief journey was that of embracing my own vulnerability even more than I already had. I learned to console little Teri all the while learning to empower adult me.

Susan Anderson, author of this powerful book, offers an action plan for readers to help us along our continued healing journey, as well. An action plan I fully implemented.

The key to change is opening your life to new experiences. Even small changes in your daily routine can lead to new discoveries about who you are becoming.

The key to reconnecting is to cherish the gift that abandonment has given you, to remain open to your vulnerabilities and to the vulnerabilities of others.

Susan Anderson in “The Journey from Abandonment to Healing”

Since reading this beautiful book, I have done exactly that. I opened myself up to new experiences: starting a successful podcast with a growing global audience (The Healing Place Podcast); meeting amazing souls from all over the world who are working to help others along their healing journeys; starting this blog; creating a website aimed at helping others heal from ACEs (adverse childhood experiences) and trauma; becoming a YouTuber (that is still in its infancy stages); standing on stages to share my story of hope; creating our Sammie’s Bundles of Hope project to help children struggling with anxiety and trauma history; volunteering with our sweet therapy dog, Sammie Doodle; and opening myself up to new friendships.

But, most importantly . . . I set my ghosts free.

Codependency & Coo-Coo for Cocoa Puffs

My priest suggested I read “Codependent No More” by Melody Beattie as part of my continued healing journey with my severely alcoholic mother. That was in 2016. I read the first thirty pages then set it aside . . . with good intentions of picking it back up “when I have the time”. Never mind the other twenty books I’ve read in between then and now. Insert eye roll.

Today I picked it back up. As I read through the checklist of characteristics many codependents possess (check, check, checking them off), I laughed aloud. I had made grandiose promises to myself to no longer “save the day” when it came to my mom. Yet I slowly found myself back in my roles of peace-keeper, savior and good daughter, helping her clean up the splattered messes left behind. Literally and figuratively.

Yesterday threw a big ol’ muthafugga of a wrench at my head.

I had taken Mom to see her primary care physician on Monday. I nodded in agreement as the PCP alluded to alcohol-induced dementia, possible stroke, or brain injury from her multiple falls (into her fridge resulting in a broken ice-maker, onto the toilet, backwards onto the kitchen floor, out of her bed, and others she cannot remember but evidenced by bruises).

On Tuesday, I escorted her to the imaging center for an MRI. Then tucked her safely into her bed in her independent-living-retirement-community apartment afterward. Leaving instructions for the angels and saints to keep her from falling out of bed again.

Wednesday, I joined her for an assessment by a Council on Aging representative. Mom was a hot mess. She answered a phone that wasn’t ringing. Insisted my deceased father come out from the other room. Told me my nephew cut his right hand off and asked me if I was going to cut my own throat. Then later asked my sister if “Teri’s post office would accept my beans”. But, between those moments, she was lucid and funny and engaging. Her normal goofy, yet lovable, self. I was advised she qualifies for quite a few assistance benefits. Yay for that! However, she (meaning I) would need to complete another application, wait two months, and pray for the best in the meantime. Ah, the red tape of bureaucracy. Not that I’m not grateful for the help!

Later that day, I received the wrench-to-the-head call. Her PCP phoned me herself to discuss Mom’s lab and MRI results. The MRI results showed “moderate atrophy and shrinkage of the brain, indicating dementia” and lab work indicated “dehydrated and not eating” a.k.a. vodka-for-breakfast. No brain bleed, no stroke. Exactly as anticipated. And my internal reaction was: “Well, shit.” My good-daughter backpack just got heavier.

I am truly sorry my mom is struggling. Watching her spiral downward . . . quickly . . . is breaking my heart. But, there’s this other part of me that wants to have a little kid temper tantrum, stomping my feet and yelling, “You did this to yourself, Mom! Why am I supposed to make it better? I didn’t ask for this! I have my own freakin’ life to live. I was supposed to finish my book this week while Maddie was at Grammy’s in North Carolina. I have MY life to live.”

Just being real.

As her doctor stated on Monday, “The damage is done.” This is no longer about her making a conscious choice to poison herself with booze. Her liver is screaming, NOPE. Her brain is shriveling up. And her coo-coo for cocoa puffs is showing. I mean, Dad, my sister and I used to see that side of her, but now it’s a little more evident to the rest of the world.

So, how does one reconcile this conundrum?

My heart and soul is urging me to help her. This will leave me cocooned in my codependent relationship with my alcoholic mother. My hope is, when all is said and done, she will know she was loved and cared for, regardless of the pain she inflicted through her selfishly choosing alcohol over her kids (she literally said this to a counselor when we were teenagers . . . “If you are asking me to choose between alcohol and my family, I choose vodka”). And one day, I will wriggle my way free of the confinement, spread my beautiful butterfly wings and soar.

I might occasionally have a little whine-fest (different from wine-fest!) about it as I wrestle with her demons. But, then I’ll step outside, thank God for the gifts of nature as I mindfully enjoy the moment, take a few cleansing breaths, consciously release the tension, smile at the bright red cardinal singing to me from the treetop, promising him, “I know, Dad. I’ll take care of her.”

 

Blessings & Babble

Our daughter has been on a tweenage metamorphosis of late. Some days she’s clad in nothing but boys’ Nike attire and others she is lounging poolside in her cute little bikini sporting her Ray-Ban-esque Dollar Store knock-off shades. As she wriggles her way toward thirteen, a re-decorating of her cocoon was obviously in order. Out with the puppy calendar, pastel-colored name letters, and all things fru-fru-ish. In with a basketball comforter, tree lights strung about her walls, fresh white paint on the once-pink mirror, and a huge Nike swoosh hung proudly (next to the giant teddy bear . . . some things are a must keep no matter how grown up you think you are).

I was fortunate enough to inherit some inspirational decor in the process: “Live the life you’ve always dreamed of. Be fearless in the face of adversity. Never stop learning. Use your imagination whenever possible. Recognize the BEauty that surrounds YOU. Remember where you came from, but never lose sight of where you are going.”

Yes. So much yes.

I spoke to my mom this morning. About twenty-three times. Okay, only about seven, but still. She was drunk and depressed. I have avoided that combo since my childhood. She babbled on about my dad visiting her (scary thought considering he’s been deceased for nine years), wearing a winter coat all night because she couldn’t sleep, how my sister Katie was coming over to take Katie to lunch for Katie’s birthday (I’m still trying to figure that one out), hugging her new picture book and crying, asking me to call the Bureau of Motor Vehicles about my nephew’s car, needing me to call back and wake her up because she was still sleeping (um, no, Mom, you are awake and talking to me right now), and arguing with her dead friends.

You are right to tell me I should put her in a nursing home, have her declared incompetent of self-care. After all, I found out she had attempted to walk to the liquor store at eighty-two years old because she ran out of vodka. In eighty-something degree heat. But, she hitched a ride halfway there (insert eye-roll here).

However, in a day or two, my phone will ring and my bright and cheery mom will start in with her sober chatter, “Hi, TT! How’s my beautiful daughter today? If you have time, will you stop by and show me how to use this new vacuum you bought me? And pick me up some cranberry juice on your way. Did I tell you about the meal I’m planning for my party tonight?” And I’ll hear all about her social events for the next week . . . dinner parties with gourmet foods all cooked by her, movie nights with her old lady friends, rosary group, and noon mass at St. Rose. Sober and coherent and oh-so-self-sufficient.

Leaving me and my sister in that limbo land. Damned if we do and damned if we don’t. A pendulum existence between she-is-going-to-kill-herself-with-booze-and-pills and why-the-hell-did-you-stick-your-obviously-fun-and-perky-mom-in-a-nursing-home?

So, here I sit. Contemplating my new office decor.

“Live the life you’ve always dreamed of.”

Is it my duty to spend my days scurrying about making sure sober Mom is nurtured and drunk Mom lives? The life I’ve dreamed of certainly does not include either.

“Be fearless in the face of adversity.”

Why is it easier to face my own demons and confront my fears than it is to make a decision about where my mom should live? Perhaps because it’s HER life and not mine. This should be my mom’s decision, yet the only choice she is making is the one that’s haunted me since my teen years, when she told the family therapist, “If you are asking me to choose between alcohol and my family, I choose vodka.”

“Never stop learning.”

Joining Al-Anon was not so much eye-opening as it was a spotlight into my soul. Listening to others speak my thoughts, cry my tears, and confess to my lifelong fantasy of walking away from the chaos wreaked by my addict mother. Learning to end my co-dependent relationship with my mother has left me feeling more battered than the days she’d scream for my dad to hit me. How do I let go of my deeply ingrained Catholic guilt? Is there a way to let an old drunk hit rock bottom without shouldering the fallout? Who else will be there to clean it all up? (asks the over-achieving peace-keeper in me)

“Use your imagination whenever possible.”

I have imagined chunks of my life away. Sometime I wonder how much time I squandered day-dreaming my escapes. As a kid, my sister and I would lie awake in her rainbow-comforter-clad waterbed, dreaming up our lottery-winning adventures. We would buy our parents the white house with the blue roof near Grandma and Grandpa’s place in Covington. Then we would buy a camper and never look back. Today I dream of living my island life with no desire to look back at the chaos of addiction. Is that an acceptable use of imagination?

“Recognize the BEauty that surrounds YOU.”

Be. You. In gold letters.

Be.

You.

I spend every day noticing something beautiful in my life. From sunsets to ladybugs (I noticed both of those today!) to peaceful moments after the babbling phone calls.

Is there beauty to be found in her nonsense? Perhaps by being me, in all of my glitter-shitter glory, I can recognize the beauty that is my mom’s lesson. She has taught me to appreciate the moments between the mayhem. In all honesty, she’s taught me to appreciate the blessings within the torment, as well.

“Remember where you came from, but never lose sight of where you are going.”

I look like her. Especially as I age. I act like her, too. That’s mostly a good thing. She’s kind-hearted, likes to throw parties, loves to laugh, has deep faith, appreciates the value of friendship, and cries over sappy birthday cards and the Budweiser dog commercials. Yep. I’m my mom. In so many ways.

However . . . I really hate vodka.