No, Not Everyone is Toxic

I don’t know about you, but I’m seeing lots of content that wants the world’s toxicity shared equally among its residents.

Example: “You can’t really begin to grow until you accept that you were toxic, too.”

Bullshit. I do not accept this victim-blaming.

Do survivors of domestic abuse have to commit to self-reflection as we undergo the hurting and healing journey? Yes.

Do we have to learn that we contributed to certain patterns which, in some ways, enabled our abuser? Yes.

Were we co-dependent? Yes. (Because we were taught to be.)

Is it our responsibility to understand all of this, evolve our operations, grow into ourselves, and protect our future from similar abuses? Absolutely.

This does NOT mean we were toxic.

We weren’t the ones who lied at every pass, pretending to be someone we’re not.

We aren’t the ones who plow through life by manipulating everyone around us.

We would never choose to abuse another human, or be unphased if somehow we inadvertently did.

We didn’t actively tear down someone’s sense of self and destroy their soul, all for a misguided, deluded, ego-centered sense of power and control.

“Toxic” means poisonous. It means “very harmful or unpleasant in a pervasive or insidious way.”

I have never been nor will I ever be toxic.

And given all the other parallels between you and me, survivor, I’d bet money the same is true for you.

What You Sacrifice to Find Yourself

You’ll lose people along your journey.

Sometimes it’s because they enable the one who abused you, therefore you cannot maintain connection with them.

Sometimes it’s because they believe the lies and rumors, the smear campaign about you, and forsake their connection to you.

Sometimes it’s because the you you’re becoming after abuse, through healing, doesn’t match up with who they want you to be for their comfort.

Sometimes it’s because you’re putting a lot into waking up and they don’t want to be “woke” with you. It’s easier not to be awake.

Sometimes it’s because, while they wish you no harm, you’ve grown apart.

Sometimes it’s because they’ve pissed you off and you’re finally to a point past people-pleasing, or keeping them around just because it’s “the right thing to do” and you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, so you place proper boundaries, discard, block, etc.

Yes, you’ll lose people along your journey, but it’s no negative reflection on you.

We grow beyond the people who aren’t capable of growth alongside us.

As we wake to patterns, we learn we have to break those patterns, which sometimes means we can’t keep certain people within reach.

Others, especially as we find our true selves, aren’t worth our orbit. Others yet never were, and it takes our waking to see this.

Keep waking. Keep growing. Keep seeing the patterns, and keep fixing them.

It’s okay to lose people along the way.

If that’s the sacrifice for finally, ultimately, finding yourself, it’s worth it.

Triggers in the Wild

It happened again last night.

I saw someone from Our Story out of context.

We were at a community event, both my kids and me.

A man passed by and he looked familiar. Something about the dark hair and glasses. My eyes kept wandering back to him because I couldn’t figure out how I knew him but wanted to.

He was handsome enough, though not my type. Dressed casually and getting a treat with his daughter. It was a gorgeous evening—our intense Midwest heat had finally let up a little—and, like everyone else around us, he carried a light mood.

He was smiling. Comfortable. Confident. Enjoying an easy evening, not a care in the world.

I finally placed him, split-second type thing,

and in the same moment it hit me how incredibly wild and unsettling it is to witness, out in real and everyday life, the family court judge who — just a couple short years ago — arrogantly and aggressively failed to do what’s right for your own custody case.

Sure enough, it was him. Strolling around, chatting with folks, no idea that within feet existed one mom and two teenagers whose lives he’d had the power to affect in the most positive and protected ways… and yet absolutely had not.

If I’d had my druthers — and more extroverted tendencies — I’d have approached him. I’d have brought attention to the fact that he walks around so sure of what he does dressed in that black robe, with that wooden gavel, even though he’s got it all wrong. I am proof. Let me be the evidence.

But I didn’t. Inappropriate time, unfortunate place. I’d already had a bad week and a worse day, so was in no shape to engage with someone so relevant to the life my kids and I have been living—both despite and because of his effect on it.

And it doesn’t matter anyway.

We can’t force justice, during or after the fact. Especially at a small-town community event years later.

We can’t force closure from someone else in our post-abuse journey.

What we can do — despite that people (sometimes powerful people) get it wrong — is keep going. We can handle the cards we’re dealt. We can figure out how to grow around the unfair bullshit that’s beyond our control, and learn to focus on what IS in our control. That is our power, reliant on no one else.

We can rally yet again, over and over, and know we’ve continued to do right by our kids, and by our own selves through everything.

We can tend to and heal ourselves so well that the triggers are fewer and further between, even so much so that seeing someone unexpected out in public becomes but a blip in our awareness.

And the next day we can carry on in our strength, in everything we’ve done so well despite what tried to take and keep us down.

I am proof. Let me (and my kids) be the evidence.

How to Get Help and Leave Abuse

I know it’s hard to ask for help, especially once you’ve internalized you need to leave and it’s time to make a plan.

Here’s how I help women (in America) find resources that are local to them. Save this in case you ever need to reference it. (It could be the same process in other countries. You might try.)

> On a safe computer that your abuser can’t access (your sibling’s, the library), or your phone when you’re alone (or a friend’s phone, if your abuser might be monitoring yours), open your search engine.

> Enter a phrase like “DV help” or “domestic violence resources” and your county or territory. Hit “search” for your results.

> Note the list of area shelters, coalitions, Legal Aid (which is staffed by attorneys who specifically help in low-income, DV cases), and others will come up for you. Most of these sites have emergency numbers, additional resources, and blog information you can dig into as you familiarize yourself with how to take your first steps. Most also have Safe Exit buttons, so that if your abuser would happen to get home or come into the room, you can click the easily accessible X and close the window with a second’s notice.

> Consider local YMCAs, too, and churches (especially your regional ministerial alliance) or community centers. Even if they don’t have a program to help survivors, they may well know who to direct you to.

> This next step may be one of the hardest, and it’s actually calling these places to tell them — in however much detail you’re comfortable with, to start — what your situation is. They will lead the conversation. They will help and guide you from there.

> Breathe. You’re doing it.

Please note: As a one woman show with structural and operational limits, I’m not able to offer emergency assistance or legal advice. (I also can’t send survivors money. Yes, I’ve been approached about it. It’s rare, but it happens.)

If you feel like your wheels are spinning and you can’t find traction, and you don’t know what direction you’re supposed to turn, email me: janna@womandetermined.com. I’ll do the searching for you.

You can do this.

It’s not easy to leave abuse. Often it can be dangerous to leave abuse.

But it’s also dangerous to stay. It’s just as hard on you, your body, your soul, your kids, to stay.

And there are people in place, ready to spring into action, one way or another. You just have to ask.

How Do I Set and Keep Boundaries?

A reader asks, “How do I follow through with boundaries and keep them up when someone tries to knock them down?”

Boundaries are so hard, man.

Because, for one, we’re not used to having them, so it’s unnatural and uncomfortable to figure out what they are and then try to manifest them.

And also because, for two, when we actually start to get a handle on them and find our baseline, the very people our boundaries are needed for will not be happy — and they will not hesitate to let us know — which is another challenge to our existence.

That challenge feels like we’re getting something wrong or being too harsh and aggressive. It makes us want to concede. Just give in. Let everything go back to the way it was before, because in some ways it’s easier not to be strong and forthright.

And yet it’s not healthy to concede, or toss away our new boundaries before they’ve even had a chance to take root. That’s not how we start over and build peace or stability, with trust and confidence in ourselves. Conceding and letting everything fall back into the way it was before is not how we break the cycle of toxicity.

So, we decide on the rule, which is our line in the sand. It’s what says, “I will NOT allow you to do this anymore,” and, “I myself will NOT contribute to this again.”

And then we take whatever action supports the rule. Not answering a text. Saying “no.” Opting out of an event we don’t really want to go to. Refusing to let someone (our abuser) bait us.

And then we stay focused and work really hard, mentally, to sustain that action, which means we don’t give in and text back. We don’t soften our “no” and suddenly say “yes” to make someone else happy or meet their expectation. We don’t argue with our abuser.

No, we stick to the boundary, the rule, despite the discomfort, despite the challenge.

And we trust — sometimes it’s completely blind faith — that we’re creating a new, stronger, healthier pattern of behavior for ourselves… which is the whole point, my friend.

Those who are abusive will turn to their strongest tactics to guilt and blame us, tear us down again, try to exert that power and control just one more time. It takes trial and error, patience and grace toward self, but we can best them.

Those who aren’t abusive but cannot hack it with our new boundaries will fuss and kick for a while, and get over it and let go and accept. Or get over it and move on. Or we get over them and move on ourselves. SEE YA. They weren’t worth our orbit anyway.

Maybe, with some — family friends or coworkers we cannot break away from — we have to maintain the boundaries while also adjusting (by which I mean lowering) our expectations. Power.

And those who are beside us thick through thin will ebb and flow with us as we test our new patterns, respecting us as always, and reciprocating in kind.

You can probably think of someone who fits each example, and how that boundary feels with each someone.

And the truth is you’re probably doing boundaries right, that’s why it hurts and confuses you.

You’re figuring them out. You are rising to the challenge. You are creating new patterns for your better future.

Keep going. You go this.

Abuse is Abuse is Abuse

“What if this isn’t really abuse?”

“It could be worse, right? It’s not like he hits me.”

“Maybe she’s right. Maybe I’m overreacting.”

Let me help you here.

It IS abuse. Truly. You’re just not comfortable with that word yet because it’s a lot to process… and because you’ve been conditioned to justify and minimize your abuser’s behavior just like they do, as well as absorb all fault and responsibility.

Breaks and bruises heal. The effects of emotional, spiritual, financial (et al) abuses root much deeper and take much longer to understand and heal. Someone might never lay a finger on you, but they can and will do unbelievable damage through quiet, subtle control and manipulation—all kinds of tactics!—that will take months and years to get a handle on. We can’t assume everything must be okay just because there’s no physical violence.

And they aren’t right. They just want you to second guess yourself and hang onto doubt and anxiety, because that keeps you feeling unstable and vulnerable, which is just how they like you. That’s how they get their kicks. It’s how they maintain a sense of power and control. Not to mention, you’re not overreacting. You’re reacting quite reasonably to an overwhelming amount of bullshit, games, and a hellish environment.

It’s just that that word, abuse, makes so many people uncomfortable.

We don’t want to think it. We don’t want to say it out loud. Other people don’t want to hear it.

But it shouldn’t be taboo. I’m tired of using “safer” and “softer” words to talk around ABUSE. Screw everyone else’s comfort.

Abuse is abuse is abuse.

*Optional empowerment assignment for today: Grab a journal and start a new entry. Place that word, abuse, across the top. Write about how you’ve always interpreted the word, but also what it means to you today.

*This post topic was requested by a follower. If there’s something specific (or general) you want me to write about, comment here or email janna@womandetermined.com. I will try to accommodate all requests.

Janna

Resources Do Not a Survivor Make

I’m remembering the time someone suggested that I’ve gotten where I am — healing, sharing, teaching — because I must have had more and better resources than other survivors.

If she’d had any idea how long I’ve struggled financially and fought emotionally, how many times I’ve pulled myself up by the proverbial boot straps, how often I’ve pushed my sorrow, anxiety, anger, trauma into raw hope, the weeks and months and years I’ve spent incredibly alone with only myself to rely on, she’d have never said a thing.

But perhaps that wouldn’t have mattered to her.

Perhaps all she needed to understand was that fighting for survival isn’t about resources, anyway. Not really.

Do resources help? Hell, yeah. And we all deserve them.

But what truly matters in our fight for survival is how willing we are to hunt down those resources—because they don’t just show up at the doorstep—and also, how willing we are to become resourceful.

What matters is how soon we realize that no one can or should come to our rescue and make it easy, or take away the fight. Because we have to take on the journey ourselves.

And what matters is how readily we understand that we actually have to do the homework of building our safe space,

breaking the patterns that only we are responsible for and which cannot continue,

establishing the boundaries necessary for healthier choices and future relationships,

and transforming our mentality from that of victim to that of a warrior.

Of course resources help. Support helps. Financial aid helps. Having a good job helps. Surprise opportunity — like being in the right place at the right time — helps.

But not as much as choosing our path forward, laying claim to our very future, and then showing up every damn day to manifest the life we deserve.

And I wanted you to know.

You Could Call It a “Mystery” Book

It’s never happened to me with a book before.

(Movies, though, more times than I can count.)

I bought this one in May while on vacation but only recently started reading. It’s 482 pages. Published in 2016.

The plot was all brand new until about two-thirds in. That’s when something rang a bell. A sub-thread. One of the supporting characters. But I assumed it was just a familiarity with Sparks’ writing.

And yet the farther I get — my bookmark rests at page 233 now — the more I feel sure that I’ve read Two By Two before. The bell is ringing more often and more clearly with every turn of the page.

Which is wild. The biggest plot pieces aren’t something I remember. The drama, the conflict. Zilcho. And I have no idea where it leads from its halfway point, which is where I’ve paused, or how it ends.

But I do know how to explain this phenomenon.

It’s because the trauma we experience, not to mention the stress of post-separation abuse, affects our memory. It blocks us from recalling conversations we’ve had, shows we’ve watched, experiences we’ve lived while in the midst of chaos, worry, instability, upheaval, heartbreak.

I never expected to go through this with a book though. I’m a tried and true book girl. Who forgets what she reads?

Especially a fat, layered book which features a character whose behavior is quite uncomfortable and triggering—because it feels so much like behavior I’ve lived with myself. Gaslighting. Projection. Stonewalling, to name a few. Of all things, you’d think I’d remember that.

Unless that’s why I buried it…

“It’s a really good one,” the clerk said that day in May. She held it up as she completed the transaction, to make sure I saw.

I wonder if I agreed with her the first time I read it.

What Other People Think

It doesn’t matter what the person who abused you thinks. It doesn’t matter what their enablers think. Or what the people with whom you have a personality conflict. Your bully boss, the manipulative friend. That new person you’re dating—don’t start that connection by caring too much about meeting their preferences and expectations. You HAVE to learn to be true to yourself.

Because all that matters at the end of this life is how you loved and perceived yourself.

It’s All Okay

Need a reminder today? I’ve got it for you.

It’s okay if all you make for dinner is mac & cheese or Ramen. You’re busy trying to heal.

It’s okay if the laundry has piled up. You’re busy trying to heal.

It’s okay if you cry in the shower longer than you lather your hair. You’re busy trying to heal.

It’s okay if you go to bed early and sleep a lot. You’re busy trying to heal.

It’s okay if you can’t socialize with friends right now. You’re busy trying to heal.

It’s okay if you forgot x, y, or z for the kids. You’re busy trying to heal.

It’s okay if you feel angrier than ever. You’re busy trying to heal.

It’s okay if you can’t find the motivation to run errands. You’re busy trying to heal.

It’s okay if you don’t want to see anybody. You’re busy trying to heal.

It’s okay if you turn away from your favorite hobbies. You’re busy trying to heal.

It’s okay if you can’t find the steam to “hustle.” You’re busy trying to heal.

It’s okay if you have to let go of certain relationships. You’re busy trying to heal.

It’s okay if you prioritize which bills get paid first. You’re busy trying to heal.

It’s okay if you can’t remember everything everyone expects you to. You’re busy trying to heal.

It’s okay if you don’t want to “put yourself together” the way you always did before. You’re busy trying to heal.

It’s okay if you sit on your couch all day and watch the show you’ve already seen a dozen times. You’re busy trying to heal.

It’s okay if you explain yourself to no one. You’re busy trying to heal.

Because it’s okay to put your healing first.