June and half of July has been a roller coaster for me. So many amazing things happened! I also learned a lot. I guess that’s why I wasn’t able to be as consistent with my blog writing this past month and a half. I was in the thick of life. I finally feel like I have processed enough of what happened so that I can sit down and write this next piece. I’m calling this blog post heroes because I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be a “hero.” I remember that I used to say “Oh God, please save me,” a lot. Up until very recently this would be a common reaction from me when I was stuck in a very awkward or uncomfortable situation. A situation where I felt that I had absolutely no control over. I’ve realized over this past year that the only thing that I actually have control over is myself, and my life. I have control over my choices, my thoughts, and my feelings. With the help of a higher power, God, the universe, whatever you want to call it, you can achieve and do absolutely anything. For a lot of us that is very hard to believe. Especially when you feel trapped in a very dire situation. A situation that seems like there’s just no way out. It is very easy for us to be convinced of our limitations, rather than our powers.
This year, I set the intention that I wanted to rediscover my power. Everyday I’ve done my best to “save myself” from my own despair. Everyday I’ve done something good for myself. I’ve become my own hero. I’ve looked both within myself and to those around me for their wisdom and positivity. I realized that if I want to change my life for the better, I cannot assume that I have no power in the situation. I cannot continue to assume the role of the victim. There is nothing wrong with asking God for strength, but ultimately it is up to you to make a change. Throughout this year, I’ve been writing a lot about my past. Your past helps to inform you of the person you presently are. It does not however, inform you of your future. You do not need to repeat the past, and continue to live in a cycle of unhappiness if you don’t want to. Living in the past does bring unhappiness because it keeps you from the present, and you miss all the amazing things around you. It has been said that depression has you holding onto the past, and anxiety has you fretting about the future. They are two sides of the same coin. Either way you are not living in the present. I’ve been writing about my past and posting these stories on this blog as a way of letting go of the things that were keeping me from being present. The things that were preventing me from my own happiness. Once I hit my own bottom; I realized that I’ve been repressing these stories of my past and my feelings about them. I was doing my best to pretend that they either weren’t real, or that they weren’t as bad as they really made me feel. It is this denial, shame, and guilt that brought me to my knees. It was the most humbling experience of my entire life. It was then that I realized that I needed to surrender to my past. I needed to allow myself to actually feel my pain. To grieve for my losses, and let them go, so that I can make space in my heart for the love, and happiness that I deserve. I also needed to stop blaming myself for what happened in my life. I’m not a bad person, these things didn’t happen to me because I deserved them. Far from it. These things just happened, I didn’t choose it. However, holding on to this pain has you gravitating towards the familiar. It has you unconsciously choosing to relive this pain over and over again. It has you convinced that you deserve whatever happens to you because it keeps happening to you.
This is simply not true. You know that because through this process of healing, you are starting to see the role that you play in your life and the choices you’ve made in your life thus far. It is through your healing that you’ve begun to realize that all these “bad things” aren’t just happening to you. In fact, there are many people out there who know the pain you’ve experienced. It is comforting to know you’re not alone. It makes it easier for you to feel and express your pain openly and honestly. The more honest you are with yourself about the things that are happening in your life, the more aware you are of the “problems” the better you’ll be able to solve them. You can’t fix something that you’re not aware is broken. And you know what? Maybe I’m not broken after all! Maybe there’s nothing wrong with me, maybe my feelings, my thoughts, my emotions, are all completely normal reactions to the things that I’ve been through. I’m human just like everyone else, I just seem to have forgotten that fact. The most loving and genuine thing that I have been able to do for myself is to openly talk about my pain, it has allowed me to forgive myself for what happened, it has humbled and humanized me. Giving up my power in this way has slowly helped to align me closer with God, closer to real power.
I came to the realization that for the past six months I have been going through the grieving process. It wasn’t until yesterday that I fully realized that I haven’t properly grieved for my past losses. I have had some major losses, but I never gave myself the chance to fully embrace all of my emotions, thoughts, and feelings at the time of loss. Unfortunately, I have been conditioned to repress my feelings. I have always been an emotional person, and I have always been shamed for it. This never helped me to cry less. This never helped me move forward. This never made me become a healthier person. Being teased and made fun of for my emotions has been a regular practice my entire life, from my parents, to teachers, to my grandparents, and so on and so forth. Imagine being a child and never fully understanding your emotions and your feelings, so you cry because that’s all you know how to do, but at the same time you’re being told in many different ways to stop crying. That you’re a baby, you’re “sensitive.” As if there was something wrong with you. Now imagine internalizing that, telling yourself that you don’t need to cry. That everything is going to be okay, when it really doesn’t feel that way. Imagine repressing your anger, fear, guilt, sadness, and grief because you didn’t want to cry. Because you didn’t want to feel weak. You didn’t want other people to think you were weak, or that you can’t handle it, or that you’re not okay. Imagine convincing yourself that you’re fine, lying to yourself enough times that you began to believe it. Then one day, all of these feelings that you never had the chance to fully express and let go of come tumbling back? That’s exactly what happened to me. It was extremely overwhelming at first. When I broke down on New Years Eve, that’s exactly what happened. The flood gates opened and all my emotions came pouring out. I could no longer ignore it, I could see it coming too. My emotions were boiling over in December. I just did my best to keep them back, something I’ve been doing for years. However, the New Year came and I could no longer hold them back, and that was it. I finally surrendered and let myself feel things I haven’t felt in years. You could say that I had become comfortably numb, and disconnected from myself and my life.
My New Years Eve 2018 experience was a gift. I had no choice but to surrender and be honest with myself and my loved ones. I was not okay. I was hurting and I was in pain, and I’ve been in pain for a really long time. I just never really knew how to get rid of the pain, I just kept doing what I was taught. Repressing my emotions, and taking care of others. I had become very codependent. I was the classic “hero” and caretaker, because of this I was never fully able to grieve my grandmother’s death at eight years old. I do believe that’s when this whole codependent thing started. My Mom lost her last parent, and found out she was adopted all in one year. Crazy right?! Imagine how hard that would have been for her at the time. Imagine, how hard that would have been for my Father who is not very emotionally intelligent (most men of his generation aren’t) who felt helpless at my Mother’s time of need. He wanted to help her but had absolutely no idea how. Either way, no one could help her, grief is a process you have to go through on your own. I’m sure he could have been more supportive, but what’s the point of playing the blame game now? My parents did their best to process the death of Nonna Battaglia, and so did I, but my Mom did lean a lot on her children. I guess she felt as though we were all she had, and her soul’s purpose for living at that point. That’s a lot of pressure. I, only being eight at the time did not fully understand what was happening but I did know that I was needed. I was needed by my family, and that made me feel loved.
Ever since Nonna died I was given more responsibility, maybe more that an eight year old could handle? I don’t know, but growing up I definitely felt a sense of duty and responsibility towards my sisters. I had to help take care of them, look out for them, this was my responsibility. I also felt responsible for my parents, and to some extent I still do (it’s something I’m still working on). I could see the pain that they were in, and I wanted to do everything and anything I could do to help. Because of this, I don’t think I really got to process all of my feelings about what happened until I wrote my letter to my grandmother earlier this year. I finally let go. Looking out for my family, putting their needs before mine was a survival mechanism. If I kept my family happy then I would be happy. My family would be safe, and I would be safe. That was the logic. I never wanted anything to break my family apart, and so I did everything in my power to protect them and therefore myself. I don’t think I could handle my family falling apart, and trust me there were some scares growing up! I don’t think I would have become so codependent if there wasn’t a real threat to my family life, and my well being.
You see, once Nonna Battaglia died, my family on my dad’s side were the only blood family that we had left, and they definitely made sure that we knew it too. Family was used as a tool of guilt, manipulation, and emotional/verbal abuse by my Grandparents. My Mom was constantly reminded that she was adopted, that she had no one, and so on and so forth. She was made to feel unworthy. This was damaging to me, and my family. My Grandparent’s on my Dad’s side were very toxic. Not only did my Grandmother die at 8, everything I knew and loved about my Dad’s side of the family was beginning to fall apart. No matter how awful things have gotten between my aunt and grandparents on my dad’s side, I still love them. That’s what hurts the most. I loved them and yet they continued to hurt me. At first the anger, and mutual hatred stayed contained within the adults of the family, however, the grandchildren eventually took notice. That’s when I started to come to the defence of my mother and father. Almost every time we went to visit my dad’s side of the family or they came to visit us, I always felt as though I had to be on defence. Another survival tool. I felt like I had to fight for my family. I constantly put myself in the line of fire to protect my mother, to protect my family, and most importantly to protect myself. Because I was always speaking up for my family and for myself, this caused a big rift between myself and my Dad’s side of the family. It didn’t help that I am so much like my Mother either. My Dad’s side of the family for whatever reason never fully accepted my Mother. This conditioning has made me a very reactionary person. It’s not hard to get a reaction out of me, but this is not me. This is how I’ve been conditioned to be.
Looking back, I did a lot of fighting in the past, a lot of yelling, a lot of crying. I was living in a lot of fear, and the thing is, so was the rest of my family. We all became very dependent on each other. We needed one another. In a way I’m grateful. My family is so close and loving, but we’ve been through some real shit, and none of us could really help one another get through it all because we were all experiencing it at the same time! We were all being victimized by my Grandparent’s (mostly my Grandmother). My Grandmother unfortunately has always been a very negative and unhappy person. I’m not sure she had ever been able to realize just how much power she had being the matriarch of our family. Fear, guilt, and manipulation was how she kept us around for so long, but it is also the same thing that drove us all apart. The saddest thing is, we all wanted out. None of us were happy being apart of that family, including my aunt and cousin, but when the anger escalated on Christmas Eve to a major fight, the ending of our relationship with one another, I was blamed for the entire thing. How is that fair? I was born into this family, I did not choose it. The anger and hate between my parents, grandparents, and my aunt existed before I came into being. In fact, my cousin, sisters, and I are the real victims of what happened.
Yes, that Christmas Eve when my Aunt started laying into my Father the second we walked into the door, I quickly came to his defence. He did ask me prior to arriving to my Grandparent’s place to help him “deal” with his sister, and I agreed. I agreed because I felt an obligation to my Father, and I also felt like he couldn’t do it himself. I forgive my Father for asking me, and if I’m going to be completely honest I probably would have come to his defence whether her asked me to or not. I was in university when this all happened, and at that point I was at my limit when it came to the abuse. I had enough of putting up with their bullshit and being blamed for it. Once I came to my Father’s defence that night, I couldn’t stop! Insults flew out of my mouth like rapid fire. My anger flowed out of me like a volcano and there was no containing it.
I regret that it had to come to that, however, I’m not sorry. My relationship with her, and my grandparents was extremely toxic and it needed to end. For a few years after that I stopped speaking to my Dad’s side of the family. I was way too hurt by them. For my entire life I did everything I could to have them love me, to notice me, but nothing worked. No matter what I did I was never good enough, and then to eventually be told that because I look like my Mother I’m a hateful and awful person who destroyed the family? Well it was just too much for me to bare. I never realized how much this all affected me. My Dad was just trying to make it all go away. He wanted everyone to forgive one another and be a family again, and I think part of him still wants that. At the time, the fact that he would even ask me to see my Grandparents again was extremely hurtful to me. It was as if he didn’t recognize the amount of pain they had caused me. I started to feel like maybe I am fucked up? My sisters were able to see my Grandparents again with my Father. It was only my Mother and I who couldn’t bring ourselves to see them. Maybe they were right? Were we both hateful and awful people? It certainly felt that way at the time. We seemed to be the only ones still hurt and angry about what happened.
I never went to see my Grandparents again, until I realized that my Grandfather had to get a pacemaker, and my Grandmother was diagnosed with Dimentia. I made the choice to see them again because I knew their time on earth will be coming to an end soon, and I don’t want to still hate them when they leave this earth. When I went to see them, and every time since, the past was never brought up and they never apologized to my face for what happened. It was like it never happened. I never realized how much that hurt me until now. It was like my pain, my suffering wasn’t important. It was like I wasn’t important. It was only until recently that I realized how much this effected me. Thank God I found a therapist who made me feel normal. For the first time someone acknowledged my pain, and let me know that my responses to what happened was completely normal. All I needed to know was that I wasn’t a fucked up person and she let me know that. Such a relief! You have no idea. My entire life I was asked to put myself aside for the sake of the family. I can no longer do it anymore. I’m exhausted. I need healing. My entire life I’ve been fighting and trying to save everyone else, meanwhile, all I really wanted was someone to come and save me. I never knew until now that I can save my damn self and it feels so good! I’ve been saving myself this entire year. I’ve finally allowed myself the space to be with myself and my pain. I’ve asked my friends and family for space so that I can finally take care of myself the way I need. I’ve allowed myself to live my pain and express it in a way that was healthy and productive. I’ve grieved the loss of Nonna Battaglia, my abortion, my abusive ex boyfriend, my rape, the loss of my relationship with my Dad’s side of the family, it will never be the same, and now the loss of this old version of Alex that no longer serves me.
I’ve written letters to my Dad’s side of the family and burned them. This past month I’ve learned to let go of my anger towards them, and towards myself. I’ve learned to let go of the blame, shame, and guilt that I’ve been holding on to. I did the best I could with the knowledge that I had. I felt very threatened and I did whatever I could to protect myself. Now I realize that I no longer need to fight anymore. The fight is over, and I need to let it go. I’m sorry for what happened, but I don’t take any of my actions back. I forgive my Grandparents. They were in pain, we couldn’t help them, and for whatever reason they couldn’t help themselves. I forgive my aunt and my cousin. They were in pain and suffering too. None of us could be the best versions of ourselves with one another because we didn’t know how. I’m sorry that things turned out the way they did, but maybe it’s for the best. I’m sorry Alexandra Rinaldo. Your feelings matter. Your pain matters. You’ve been through a lot and it’s okay to be sad about it. I’m so proud of you for going through the grief process even before you realized that’s what you’re doing. I’m so glad that you found the help you needed, and now it very much feels like you’re on a new path. You know that you’ve become very codependent but now you’ve been given the tools to get yourself out of the codependent zone and into a healthier version of you. It feels so good to finally understand what happened to you and why you feel the way you do. It feels good to know that codependency was a survival tool for you, but now you no longer feel the need to survive. You want to thrive and I think that you’re well on your way to doing just that. Working on your codependent tendencies is the final frontier to a happier life. You’re the hero Alex in your own life’s story, you never needed anyone else to save you, you’ve saved yourself with help from God.