As part of our continued outreach for our films about healing from abuse, we invite voices of survivors to our blog to shed light on healing, thriving and reclaiming their lives. Welcome Ash Stevens as she shares how she shares encouragement and tools for thriving!
Everyone knows that life isn’t easy, but there are those of us with a completely different definition of “hard times.”
The experiences of abuse take us to a dark and heavy place that no one should ever know. It’s ugly, it’s painful, and it can swallow up everything good we ever knew. Moving on from these times isn’t a step-by-step process you can get from a therapist. It’s a journey. A lifetime of learning from today’s challenges by turning to the wisdom we gained from experiences of the past. It’s no simple process, but it’s a powerful one.
I’m years into my own journey now, with some of my hardest years actually coming as an adult. I went through a terribly painful relationship that took my childhood pains to a new extreme and was nearly the end of me. Hard as it was though, the pain eventually had me more determined than ever to change my life. I wanted to break the cycle I carried and show my children that we can rise above the darkest of times.
Breaking free of those traumatic years hasn’t been easy. I put a lot of work into breaking free from my past. And I mean a lot. But while I’m still very much a work in progress, I have found some simple ways to make life better than ever…
At one time I was a messy mix of conflicted thoughts and feelings, always putting others before myself. This led to me tolerating, accepting, and even justifying some pretty terrible things. Even when I was so hurt I felt as if I’d lost my soul, I would ignore myself in place of others. I put others needs and feelings above my own, and this only added to the cycle of being used and abused. After years of experiencing this as an adult, partner, and a mother, I finally took a stand for myself.
My greatest lessons came from my tumultuous years with my ex. Since leaving this relationship, I’ve come to see that the emotions I was so afraid to cater to were actually my greatest ally. Feelings like anger, sadness, anxiety, and restlessness arise for a reason. We seem to see them as reactionary responses, but really, emotions serve as messages. Instead of discounting them or pushing them down, we need to give ourselves a moment to reflect on what these feelings are telling us. Again and again, I’ve come to see uneasiness as a memo saying something isn’t quite right, while sadness speaks to something missing, and anger serves as an order for immediate and productive positive action.
I’ve learned to pay attention to my emotions so that I can listen to what they’re telling me. Sometimes I need to first walk away from a situation to gather my thoughts, but the time spent “feeling things out” never fails me. Yet I’m happy to say my feelings now serve as a guide that gets me through the simplest and most challenging of times.
Since developing my new take on emotions, I’ve been able to understand my needs and wants and just how important they are. I once avoided confrontation like the plague, but I no longer see it this way. What was once “confrontation” and “conflict” is now simply me addressing my feelings and advocating for my needs. I’m no longer afraid of hurting others feelings or of saying something they won’t like hearing. My concern first and foremost is to address MY feelings. If something doesn’t feel right, then that’s a clear indicator that I need to speak up or take some action. Yes, I still want to be conscious and considerate of others, but I let my intuition be my guide.
As I’ve become more assertive, I’ve also had a change of standards — to be treated as I treat others. I know I strive to be a good person by acting with good intention and action. Even on bad days I do my best to be my best, and so I expect common decency and respect. Now I’m not about to burst into tears if my boss yells at me, but if that day ever came, I would be the first to let him know he just crossed a line; boss or not.
I treat others with respect and I look for this in turn. When others lack the basics I require, I’ll initiate a conversation or walk away from the situation all together. Gone are the days of tolerating anything and everything. I now have high expectations of my relationships. As “demanding” as I may seem, qualities like respect, kindness, and honesty are musts in any successful relationship. They’re the basics of happiness, so I refuse to compromise.
Separating Past From Present
I’ve become one hell of a woman over the years. The challenges I’ve pushed through have taught me some invaluable lessons, and I’m all the better for it. The insights my past has provided serve me well in navigating through life. I get a feel for people and situations pretty quickly, and this saves me a whole lot of drama. There are times where I let hurt and fears from the past creep into the present though. And that creates a drama that’s all thanks to me.
The terrible experiences I had with my ex had me hell bent on determining ‘red flag’ behaviors in other relationships. This had its advantages, and it kept me away from potentially problematic relationships. My awareness of these foretelling signs eventually led to me find a wonderful relationship with a wonderful man. A husband who treats me just the way I always wanted.
Issues still arise in our relationship, and sometimes, those issues are actually of my creation. You see, I’m determined to advocate for myself and to stand against any possible abuses before they evolve. As good as this is, sometimes I imagine a situation that isn’t actually happening. I’ll interpret my husband’s actions from a victim’s perspective, even though I know he’s not abusive. Sometimes I seem to be looking to be abused, and I’m analyzing and addressing every little thing with the worst in mind. My fears of the past can make a HUGE mess of things sometimes.
While it’s important to always stand for critical needs, I also need to be able to distinguish the past from the present. I know how things can go wrong, but I can also recognize where things are going right. I have to shake off old fears so that I can live in today, not yesterday. Yes, I was once in a dysfunctional relationship. But now I’m now in a healthy one. Distinguishing between the two is important in allowing me to move forward so I can leave my experiences as a victim where they belong; in the past, not the present.
Better, Not Bitter
It’s been too easy to make my past a part of my identity. While I thought I was over it, I had actually brought my bitterness over my childhood years into the present. Once I became a mother of two, it became obvious that I still had some healing to do. I needed to be able to accept what happened. Even better, I needed to learn from it and become smarter, wiser, and stronger. Then I could break free of the past and be the mother my children deserved.
Moving from being bitter to being better is a process. I’ve found it really isn’t something that can happen overnight because a certain course of action has to unfold. This leads us from one step, to the next, and to the next. As we grow, learn, and heal, we’re able to take the next step and to bring a new perspective. Some things aren’t as easy as others, but now I have the power to turn anything “bad” into something good.
When I look back in my life, I can see how events led from one thing to another to another, getting me to where I am today. The hardest of times have given me wisdom, insights, and lessons that I can now use to help others. And, at the end of the day, being out of all that muck makes me so happy and grateful for where I am today. Getting to this perspective wasn’t quick or easy, but it’s a take on life that makes everything so much easier and happier. Life is short, and I’ve had my fair share of misery and suffering. Looking for the good in the bad may seem delusional to some, but I’ll take my happy illusions over my old miserable “realities” any day. I’ve been sad and broken. I’m ready to be strong and unstoppable. I want to radiate happiness and grace with a ferocity this world has never seen.
Moving on from the anger and sadness of events beyond our control can be unbearably painful, so reaching out for help is an important part of moving on. I started my teens with plenty of therapy for the dark times of my childhood. As I went into my twenties I began reaching out to books, documentaries, and websites. Now I turn to community groups, exercise, and close friends. Whatever the best method may be, we need to be able to reach out when we’re in need of help. Whether it’s seeing a counselor, reading books, attending self-help courses, or even seeing a therapy animal, we need some sort of outlet that allows us to release our thoughts and feelings so we can begin the process of working through them. The best results don’t come from the trendiest or most expensive methods. They come from what clicks for us. Our focus should simply be on finding the outlet that best helps us in moving forward. My aim is always in feeling the lightness of a happy heart and cracking a laugh or smile. That’s always a sure sign that I’m on the right track.
Be Good To You
Whatever you’ve been through, whatever you need, whatever you do, just be good to you. We know how it feels to be judged, looked down on, and hurt by others, so why should we be so hard on ourselves? We can be happy, and we deserve it. No one else is going to take charge of our happiness, so it’s entirely up to us. It’s our job to look out for ourselves and to make sure that we’re living the life we want. Hard times can break us, but they can also make us stronger, wiser, and more beautiful than ever. Don’t deny yourself the happiness by holding onto limiting beliefs. Believe that you deserve goodness, because you do. Tell yourself that a hundred times every day until you finally feel it’s believable. I promise you that amazing things will happen and life will never be the same. And it will all be because of you. Our hardships give us strengths and insights that others may never experience. Let your life better your life, and show the world how fiercely the light burns within you.
All my love,
Ash Stevens is a mother, writer, and a wannabe shaman. She loves health, gardening, simplicity, culture, chocolate, and sarcasm. If she isn’t writing or pondering up multicultural cheats to happiness, then she’s surely playing badminton with the kids. Find her on Twitter or Facebook and make a new friend!
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