Most of what was supposed to have been my childhood was actually just me, walking around pissed, in disbelief that my life was actually my life.
The rest I was just hyper-focused and centered on pre-planning my actions & reactions, and surviving day-to-day on an emotional and psychological level.
I had no idea that I was actually just one of many. There were dozens of people stuck in this cataclysmic wind-tunnel that we so graciously called our ‘family’. But it was what we knew.
My life post-acknowledging-trauma has been frustrating and blissful, but mostly dedicated to putting fragmented pieces of my past back together, (only to trash most of everything), and desperately trying to conjure up and salvage old memories in my quest to prove to myself that they actually exist and that I did have some positive experiences. And unlearning. Significant amounts of unlearning, but even more learning than unlearning.
I took a course a few years ago called ‘Family Systems’.
We were asked to dig deeper into our family histories, with a goal of gaining a clearer perspective that biological influences and environmental factors have on entire family systems and how cycles impact succeeding generations.
(I felt that I had already got my money’s worth after I learned that families are in fact, systems. News to me.)
I created my first-ever family genogram.
And ladies and gents, it got weird.
To be able to sit at my kitchen table and see generations of dysfunction, mental-illness, drug-addiction, substance use disorders, codependency, and enabling, spelled out on paper and carefully color-coded was telling and it felt eerie.
But there it was in all of its dysfunctional, unhealthy, generational glory. My very own hand-drawn, neatly color-coded family tree staring me in the face, begging to be analyzed.
This particular project changed my perspective on generational toxicity.
It forced me to look at the people in my family more objectively.
It was like creating art and having to take a step back to take in the entire picture. Somehow that helps the artist to create balance or cohesion or to gauge what direction they need to go in next. Sometimes when you are deeply connected to something and focused on certain areas or spots that are more important to you, it becomes difficult to see what it is in its entirety. Seeing it as a whole, as opposed to honing in on specific areas can change everything that you feel about the whole thing. This is what happened for me. I took a step back, and all of the details that I didn’t understand or know where to put, finally made sense.
It affirmed one of my deepest fears.
Shit. It was up to me. I am the one who can change things for my kids. Me. I am almost sure I probably cycled through the stages of grief realizing that it was my job to allow God to work through me and impact my life, and my children would be the recipients of the gifts of these changes.
So there I stood, in my kitchen, holding the ball in my court armed with information and experiences that allowed me to make new, fresh, smarter choices. I knew things people planted above me on this tree didn’t have the privilege of knowing and there was no going back. I felt an immense amount of pressure and relief at the same time. What a blessing it is to have the choice to make these changes, despite being one of the scariest privileges I have ever been gifted.
I realized that breaking cycles isn’t as complex or as scary as it sounds.
It was pretty clear to see on paper just how seamless the transition could be when passing the torch of dysfunction & unhealthy habits down to the next, innocent, unsuspecting generation. But it wasn’t as scary and complicated to begin as I had thought. I have learned that we can single-handedly break generational cycles. And by single-handedly I mean one decision and one reaction and one adult parental choice at a time. I mean with the help of faith, friends, mentors, resources, and healthy relationships. One choice at a time with the hope of looking back one day, and hindsight showing me that the little things were actually the huge things, and that carefully tending to their foundation and working tirelessly to show them unconditional love, authenticity over perfection, moderate consistency, fun, and providing a safe, reliable, solid, landing-place was what I knew how to do, with what I had at the time.
So maybe for today, believe that you can do this. If you are like me, you will fall and get back up, you will be more consistent some days and less on others, you will doubt your abilities from time to time, but you will keep working because you are going to be the one to change the trajectory of this thing.