Trigger Warning: This story contains mention of eating disorders and alcohol abuse that may be triggering to some.
“I was 11 when my father started heavily drinking. My grandmother had just passed away and all the unresolved issues from his childhood suddenly boiled to the surface. The stress of parenting, of providing, and of managing his grief, suddenly became too much for him to manage. He drank to make himself feel better, to numb the pain, and to make everything disappear. But the thing with addiction is you slowly begin to disappear along with the things you’re trying so hard to forget.
I was young when it started so I didn’t really understand what was going on. I knew he was different and things were different, but I didn’t understand the magnitude of the situation. Things only got worse from there. He chose his addiction over being a supportive parent to my younger brother and I. Alcohol fueled rage became our norm. Not knowing where he was turned into a weekly occurrence and emotional abuse started to become something I was used to, something that didn’t even really affect me anymore.
His disease consumed my life. Instead of becoming a teenager, I became an adult. Instead of being taken care of, I was responsible for taking care of my brother. Instead of being shown how I should be loved and cared for by my father, he engraved in me if a man told me he loved me, whatever came before or after those three words didn’t matter. He made me think, ‘Nothing else matters beyond the words ‘I love you.’
He taught me as long as he apologized for his words and his actions, nothing else mattered, and he made me believe my worth was dictated by whether or not people chose to stay. He taught me everyone leaves.
My teenage life was chaos. There was absolutely no structure. There was no solid ground. It was like I was in the middle of a tornado, catching glimpses of the outside, but never able to actually calm my surroundings. I never knew what version of my dad I would get when he got home. Regardless of how badly I wanted to be afraid and hurt by what was happening, I had to hold it together for my brother, so I buried everything.
I was the girl who was always ‘fine’ because it was easier than being the girl with abandonment and trust issues. But being ‘fine’ for that long caused me to stuff my emotions so deep inside of me, I honestly forgot I had them. I thought if I didn’t have emotions and I was easy to please, people would want to be around me. After feeling alone for so long, that’s what I thought I needed.
I abused my body through restriction, disordered eating, and over-exercising for over 4 years because, after years of chaos, I wanted control over something. I wanted to be happy and like myself and I truly believed that was the way. It felt good to be able to manipulate my body through food and exercise, but it just allowed me to push my pain and trauma even further down inside of me. I told myself, ‘If I can control my body through food and exercise, I will have control over my life.’
I truly believed pretending my PTSD wasn’t real was the answer, but it wasn’t. It just allowed the resentment to eat at me. It made the pain worse, and it made the healing so much more intense. I waited a long time to admit to myself I wasn’t okay with what I’ve been through and it took me even longer to allow myself to actually feel what I had tried to block out because of it.
I used food and exercise as a way to forget, as a way to numb myself. For years, I ignored every sign my mind, body, and ultimately, my soul tried to give me to finally acknowledge what I had been through to allow myself to heal.
The first time I had an anxiety attack I was 17. I thought, ‘I am going to die.’ I didn’t know it then, but this was my trauma manifesting in another way and demanding to be heard and felt, but I ignored it. My anxiety attacks went on regularly for years and went hand in hand with refusing to talk about my trauma and feel my emotions.
For a while, they would come out of nowhere. I remember, once I was at the gym and I felt this overwhelming sensation come over me. All of a sudden, I couldn’t breathe. It was like someone had knocked the wind out of me and everything around me started to close in. I quickly ran to the changeroom, grabbed my things, and then sprinted for the door. When I got outside, I sat on the ground by my car trying to catch my breath, gasping for air for a solid 10 minutes, until I had calmed myself enough to get in and drive home. The thing with anxiety is it makes you feel helpless. You want to run and hide, but there’s nothing to hide from except for your thoughts.
I was 22 when I realized I should probably talk to someone about what was going on, so I started therapy. It was the most painful, eye-opening, soul-shattering thing, I had ever experienced, and it cracked me wide open.
I remember during my first session, she told me, ‘When you grow up around chaos, that’s what you gravitate towards, in your life and in your mind.’ I realized in that moment, I had been doing just that: running towards the chaos instead of away from it. And now, it was finally time to turn around and walk away.
For the last 3 years, my anxiety has been MOSTLY under control and until about 7 months ago, I didn’t have an anxiety attack for almost 2 years. There was a period earlier this year where my mental health was the worst it has ever been. I had three panic attacks in the span of a week, for the first time in 2 years. I laid on my bedroom floor, tears streaming down my face, unable to breathe.
I’ve never cried more than I have this year. Amitting that in itself is a huge thing for me because letting myself feel and experience my emotions and being honest and vulnerable about them is something that is still very new to me. When you grow up in an environment like I did, you learn things start to explode if you get too vulnerable, if you let people in too much, if you feel too deeply or take things too personally. You learn not to get attached because as I said before, everyone and everything always leaves.
Right now, the anxiety is under control. I know my triggers. For me, it’s usually related to my PTSD and being too hyper-focused on my future. I was shown terrible examples in regard to relationships with money, so when I start to stress about money, my career, and my future and don’t talk about how I’m feeling or express my emotions, it triggers my anxiety.
I truly believe everything I have been through was necessary. I appreciate my journey and my story. I’m even more grateful for the life I live today because I know what it’s like to feel unsafe in your home, and ‘in your life and in your mind.’ Everything in my life has led me to where I am now. All the trauma, the abuse, the anxiety, the disordered eating, and exercise were all moving me in the direction of holistic health, healing, and teaching women how to stand in their worth, my true passion.
I’ve never been on medication (nothing against it, it just isn’t for me), instead I manage my mental health through lifestyle practices like meditation, yoga, breathing, and being present. I talk about how I’m feeling with my partner and my loved ones, I go to therapy, I exercise to boost endorphins and I eat in a way that promotes vibrant physical and mental health.
I’ve come to terms with the fact I’ve been through some heavy things, and I’m really happy with my life right now, but that doesn’t mean I don’t struggle sometimes and that’s okay. I’ve realized I can be both happy and sad, loved and lonely, hurting, and healing, all at the same time.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lulu Godin from British Columbia, Canada. You can follow her journey on Instagram and her podcast. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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