Trigger warning: suicide, self-harm, PTSD, and trauma
As a kid growing up in an abusive and emotionally dismissive household, the toxicity levels ran very high and my self-esteem ran very low. I couldn’t predict, despite my best efforts, when I’d be physically violated for random mistakes or when shame-inducing words would be screamed at me. I didn’t have a single healthy adult in my life to turn to, so I often felt like the pain that accrued inside of me during my youth lived there on emergency lock down. I existed in a constant state of panic as a child, doing my best to appear as perfect and happy and “good” as possible. It was custom in my house to keep my body thin, my hair long, and my grades all the way up. This led to an eating disorder, body-dysmorphia, self-harm, and a complex PTSD diagnosis that I’m still grappling with.
But this year, I decided to make a tough yet necessary decision. I’ve actively chosen to become the cycle breaker in my family.
You might be wondering what this term means and how it can apply to a life lived in trauma. For me, being a cycle breaker is telling myself every single day, “This ends with me.” It’s allowing myself the space to acknowledge the painful victimhood that I lived in for many years as an abused and shamed kid. It also means that I harness the dual power of healing my victimhood with growing into a courageous survivor of this childhood and take responsibility now to make peace with and release every dysfunctional aspect of my past. I do this a number of ways, and they include ongoing therapy, psychiatric medication, honesty and clarity about my struggles in my relationship with my husband, and creating firm and loving boundaries between me and those from my past who caused the most harm. I’ve also learned the powerful art of reparenting myself, which only grows more necessary in my life as I step into each new chapter of motherhood.
These practices have honestly saved my life, mostly because they’ve taught me to cultivate comfort in relating to and letting go of what does not feel comfortable inside of me.
Since I live with Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from ongoing childhood trauma, I’m used to my fair share of deep muscle tremors, temporary body paralysis, panic attacks, and the urge to self-harm. I’ve also had two close calls with my life, when I recklessly decided during the lowest points in my journey that the world may be better off without me. Mental and emotional anguish, coupled with deep shame, can convince anyone that disappearing is the easiest way to go. Thankfully, after watching a young person in my life take the brave step of going to their local emergency room for self-harm and suicidal thinking, I was inspired to take the same proactive steps. With the help of compassionate medical professionals and on-site counselors, I was able to walk out ready to discover all of the reasons why being here matters.
Not only is my existence a vital part of this world, but I now realize that my life matters even more to the millions of young people who need to have their stories validated and heard by other healed adults in their world. Which is why I have chosen to not only be a cycle-breaker in my own family, but to publicly share this way of life with anyone of any age who may be stuck in the vicious patterns of trauma and abuse.
Because this ends with me.
Accountability is very important, so I make sure to check in with myself regularly. Am I acting in ways that perpetuate the violence and endangerment I experienced as a child? Are the toxic coping mechanisms that protected me well enough to keep me alive helping me or hurting me today? These questions, while deeply uncomfortable to investigate, have helped free me of the dysfunctional narrative that comes with maintaining an abusive status quo that keeps others comfortable enough not to stand up and speak out.
Because here’s the thing about families. All of them are systems that constantly work to maintain the way things are. Families are meant to grow, shift, and evolve, but not every individual within one is ready for or open to change. No matter how destructive the behaviors are or how mentally unwell the family members may be, there is always an underlying need to protect the status quo and stay comfy within it. Unless others in this interpersonal dynamic want to actively shift it, a cycle breaker will always be seen as the “outsider” who causes disruption and drama.
So, in essence, becoming someone who calls out abusive behavior for what it is, who makes firm boundaries around what they will and won’t tolerate, and who heals their own past traumas in order to stop the cycles of dysfunction in their own world also means becoming a human being who others might not like or want to have around. And that is totally okay. Because the most important distinction to make here is that if someone doesn’t want to respect your right to live without abuse, then it is because they cannot get past their own traumatic background enough to grow and evolve alongside you.
Healing cannot occur in the same environment where trauma exists. Everyone involved needs to shift for the greater good. And if they don’t, you still can. It can end with you.
Now, you may be thinking that this only applies to the abuse occurring within a family unit. But it’s about so much more than that. You can fight for social justice or any other cause that matters to you with the strength and focus of a cycle breaker. As you may have noticed, there is an uprising happening across our country that begs for our long overdue attention. Black people are being abused, killed, unjustly incarcerated, oppressed, and discriminated against, and they deserve to have cycle breakers like us working with them to help amplify their voices. Dismantling over four hundred years of white supremacy isn’t easy. But if you can choose to take your “cycle breaker” badge out into the world, you just might find that it works to get you into nearly any room to talk about anything you want to change. So, have those tough conversations. Educate yourself in the most honest way you can. Be willing to investigate the inherited and conditioned racism that lives inside of you. Sign petitions, attend protests, call lawmakers and officials, and do anything possible to get out of your comfort zone. Even if it means losing a few friends who weren’t open to changing in the first place.
The magical thing that happens when you choose to become a cycle breaker as a parent is that tiny, young eyes are watching you do it. You have the potential to not only break abusive generational patterns of behavior for yourself, but you also have the opportunity to show your children a different way to exist. Kids cannot feel loved in a toxic environment, just as plants cannot grow without water and sunlight. By breaking the cycle inside of you, you become a loving role model in front of your children. So if you think about it, in addition to ending years of abuse and trauma, you are also preventing it from happening to the generations after you. Cycle breaking can be the legacy you leave your children. And they will have a safer, more whole, and empowered life for it.
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