It has been on my heart for some time to write on the topic of emotional bondage. What, exactly, is emotional bondage? Ask a hundred people and you’ll get a hundred answers. It’s my experience, both personally and professionally, that toxic relationships course through the veins of all those experiencing emotional bondage. The toxicity may stem from childhood to adulthood, through the negligence of a parent, or any other form of cruelty at the hands of those who override the boundaries- physical, sexual, psychological, emotional or mental- of any person, resulting in abuse. I am fully aware of the sticky topic I’ve chosen to broach. For every definition of emotional bondage, we will have a degree of abuse. For many, the abuse is all encompassing, debilitating, unimaginable and has shaken the very foundation of any sense of safety or normalcy in the life of that individual. It is more than the care and love from another, or years of therapy can undo. I have sat in silence with the abused and heard the previously untold stories of horrific violence, often spanning decades. In some cases, the abused had no recollection of life without pain. There was no “before” or “after”…there was only, “during.” For some, the scars are not visible, but carry a pain just as intense…because the worst pain you’ve ever known is the worst pain you’ve ever known. I am careful not to qualify pain from the type of abuse. My experience is the perspective from which I’ll speak. And, perhaps, by sharing what I did to get from survival to living an expansive, mostly fearless life will aid another soul still in the fire. It is an ongoing process, and by no means static. When dealing with a current issue, I can revert to mental processes that mirror early recovery from my abuse. When this happens, I am no longer solely speaking to the person with whom I am in conflict, but I am seeing aspects of my abuser present in the conversation, in the individual. It isn’t chosen, anymore than I chose to be abused. It isn’t fair. It isn’t fair to me, and it isn’t fair to the person dealing with me. Recognizing the proneness to regress in the dynamics of healing when triggered is vital for both the abused and those who interact with them. Because our healing all takes place at its own pace, it is both harmful and unhealthy to compare ourselves to another we see that appears to have moved on more quickly than we are able. As much as the abuse was hidden, so too, is much of the journey to healing, riddled with setbacks and triumphs. This acceptance was one of the most significant barriers I shattered in breaking the emotional bondage of abuse. I thought I should not be feeling emotions that were hanging on…I felt I should be long over the pain…I was angry that there was still agony. I was bitter that nothing looked as it should. Not my healing, not my progress, not my self esteem, nothing. Was I broken? No. I had been shattered, but not broken. Crushing pain forces us to a place of both numbing survival and fiery suffering. Accepting that these are both temporary emotional states and not a permanent address was also a significant stride in getting back the girl who was me. It didn’t matter how many times I was told I’d done nothing wrong, there is an unbridgeable gap between the intellectual aspect and the emotional knowledge that our abuse was not our fault, regardless of the piece of our psyche it destroyed. The abused discover a set of emotions they never knew they possessed, never wanted to own, but are forced to digest with very few tools to do so. Seek the tools. Identify the most bitter fact of your abuse that throws you into denial and gain a chokehold. I couldn’t envision harming my abuser. I tried. It didn’t feel real. So, I envisioned attacking the emotions that kept me behind closed doors, even when I was out in the world. This worked wonders, though slowly. I could create a detachment, separating my feelings from my abuse. In doing so, I slowly achieved an identity devoid of the events being a part of my make up. I was not what happened to me. If you attempt this same paradigm shift, I strongly encourage you to immediately replace that removal of negative mental energy with something positive. It will look different for you than for me, but, as I started to have more time (yes, emotional healing actually frees up more than head space, it frees up space on your calendar) I took up new sports. That transition is intensely gratifying. From powerless to empowered, by conquering demons, one at a time. Gaining the first few feet of headway was, and remains, the leverage required to keep moving in the direction of breaking the bonds of abuse. As I mentioned, healing is not static. We don’t fail for hurting, again. The aim to recover the slivers of our SELVES, and emerge a force both fierce and graceful. (At least, this was my aim…I wanted to never again feel intimidated by another human being. I can’t say that is 100% the case, everyday of my life, but most who know me would tell you, I’m not gonna blink first.) Saving my energy for the battles that matter is just as important as not blinking, however. In breaking the bonds, I thought I must allow no one to even cut in front of me at the coffee shop. By the time the person realized their crime, I was preparing to stand up for myself by telling them they could wait their turn, as I had. Today, I know that was an important part of my healing, early on…recognizing that I had a voice. And, even if it was first used in line at the coffee shop, that was a win. I had just enforced a boundary with you that said, “Not only is this not ok, you’re not gonna do it!”…as I emphatically pointed at the back of the line. Today, it depends much more on my mood, time crunch or lack thereof, and how badly I want my coffee, if I tell you to take a hike for bucking the line. But, it no longer has anything to do with breaking emotional bonds. As I grew patient with myself in where I fell on the healing scale, I found it much easier to heal. Go figure. I demanded less of myself in terms of timelines and grew appreciative of my ability to face my fears…all of them. And, I had to learn to do it (get this) without the aid of alcohol…the toxic elixir I discovered early on, that could temporarily ease my woes once I was in oblivion. So, when I say, replace your discarded, unwanted emotional baggage with a healthy additive, please heed. We can fill voids with any number of poisons…not just substances. You probably already know what yours is, if your honest with yourself. One thing at a time. But, address it. You deserve to be WHOLE. And, healed. And, free. We are none of those things if we are imprisoned by a substance, a person or another sick activity that dulls the pain. We are seeking a path without that pain…not a path with anesthetized pain. I’m not overly worried if this article flows nicely, as I try to do with my other writings. This one is for those who need it, and if you need it, it flows just fucking fine. We may never have met, but we know each other. In addition to the methods I’ve mentioned that have been invaluable to me, I would be remiss not to include the details we neglect when we are depressed or overwhelmed with suffering that also make an indescribable difference, as simple as they are. Hydrate. Yes…drink lots of water. When we cry, we lose fluid. When we’re depressed, we are not aware of how little attention we pay to basics like food and water. Sleep. Enough, and not too much. If you cannot bear either waking hours or sleep, research some natural remedies to help reset your circadian rhythm. Because healing from even injuries like a broken bone come with so many restrictions, considerations and recommendations, create for yourself, the same standards. In your quest for healing from something much more serious than a broken bone, devise your own code of limitations and indulgences. I was taught by a beautiful and strong mentor that, “No,” is a complete sentence. I used to feel the need to overexplain myself if I ducked out of invitations or didn’t have the energy to do a favor for a friend. No longer. I’m kind. But, “I’m sorry, I can’t,” is really the only explanation I offer. Practice your “no’s.” And, on the flip side, what DO you want to do? There’s a good chance you weren’t asked that very often when you were experiencing abuse. Now is the time to figure out everything from what YOU want for dinner to where YOU want to go for a weekend away, alone. It doesn’t have to be expensive, exotic or require a lot of planning. It just has to be YOUR choice. It’s the little things we do for ourselves, repeatedly, that become a balm to our inner wounds. We slowly learn we are worth it, then that we deserve it, and finally, that it is our birthright…to create our best possible life. And, writer or not, never underestimate the power of writing our your thoughts. Even if your intention is to burn them or tear them in a hundred shreds and let them blow from the top of a 14’er. (that’s a tall mountain, for you sea level peeps) Get it out of you. Sweat it out. Cry it out. Run it out. Talk it out. Love it out. Coax, massage, scream it out. But, it isn’t allowed to live there, not permanently. It isn’t who you are, and it is not your identity. Beauty from ashes, sweet humans. Beauty from ashes…wrap your arms around yourself, close your eyes and thank your heart for beating, your lungs for breathing, the sun for shining, and the next chink you just made in breaking the bonds that have overstayed their welcome. I’ll see you on the path. You may know me by my scars, but not my pain. It doesn’t live here, anymore. Sweet Peace to each of you, you fierce and graceful Warriors.