The toxic past returns to haunt us all. I started crying the other day while I was hiking. It just happened, and before I knew it, tears were rolling down my face. I finally stopped and took off my glasses to wipe my face just as this nice-looking guy passed me. Both of us with our dogs, dressed all sporty, in shape, and on top of a mountain on a brilliant morning in Southern California. But there I stood, with the pain in my heart written all over me. He looked at me with concern but also curiosity; and I felt caught, exposed, and embarrassed, so I knelt down next to my dog and pretended to do something. He passed, and I stood up and pulled myself together. Sort of.
“What happened to her?” he must have thought. “Did someone die? Is she sick? What could have caused her to crumble like that in such a beautiful setting on such a beautiful day?”
How could I have possibly explained that it wasn’t anything, in particular, that day that made my soul ache? It was just my toxic past.
It was the decades of stuff that occasionally surfaces, particularly at this time of year. I never talk about the specifics of my story anymore because it doesn’t matter and continuing to retell those stories only gives them power when they don’t have a hold over me anymore. But, I did have a therapist at one particularly dark time in my life who told me, “There will be some days you will cry for the rest of your life. That’s just how it’s going to be, and you’ll have to learn how to take care of yourself when those moments come up.”
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Because I’m a survivor of trauma, addiction, deaths of beloved friends and boyfriends, and sometimes it still hurts.
Some days there are people I miss and relationships I mourn. Rage and sadness spills out, but I don’t need to use over it anymore. That’s the good news. It passes pretty quickly. That’s the other good news, but I do need an action plan.
In moments of despair I do these five things to stay centered:
- Talk about my feelings with someone. Anyone I feel safe with will do, but I don’t keep the feeling locked up inside.
- I keep active. There’s a reason I’m on top of that mountain, or in boot camp, as many times a week as my schedule and body permit.
- Eat well. My brain needs nutrition to function well. This is not a joke. I used to get so annoyed when people would bitch at me to eat regularly and well. Now I know I feel awful when I don’t. Anxious, hangry, stressed are not good for me.
- Take a break. If I feel overwhelmed I turn everything off for an hour, a day, a week, as long I can/need.
- Care for others, animals, be of service, whatever I can do to get out of myself and my head for an hour a day.
For me, the recovery plan has to account for the fact that there will be bad days.
It’s not enough to have smart feet that take me to the right places. I need to know how to mend my heart and nourish my soul at a moment’s notice. These are just some of the tools I use. Find the ones that work for you—nature, animals, cooking, meditation—all of these things make me happy. Start by using the ones above and making a list of the things you like to do. With practice, it becomes second nature 🙂