Toxic Relationship Rehab: Show up!

Toxic Relationship Recovery

I am learning that when I show up for myself, other people will too!


On Friday I was the only one to show up to the 4:00 Yoga on the Beach class. As I walked up I saw the petite french instructor stretching on her mat in the sand with the ocean waves glistening behind her. It was the end of a long work day for me and the beginning of my vacation for a week. The sun felt good and there was a slight breeze as I flattened out a spot in the sand and put my mat down. ‘Do I get a private lesson?’ I joked with her as I looked around to see if anyone else was walking up. We both laughed and then we realized that no one else was showing up. She finished stretching and then said, ‘Well, since it is just you and me, what would you like to work on?’

Just a few days before I had inquired at the club about getting one on one instruction in yoga because I wanted to make sure that I was doing the poses correctly. I was told it was only offered on zoom, and to check back in a few weeks. Well, the universe obviously heard my request and gave me a private lesson anyway. It was a complete hour of learning foot placement, hip placement, and I was actually able to do a pose I hadn’t been able to do up until then. It was hard work as she made me try poses again and again, and push myself more than I would have if I was just part of the class. It was exactly what I needed.

I used to do yoga when I was still married. I did it in the morning before work, and it definitely helped to stretch me out and feel better. It also helped me to minimize interaction with my husband first thing in the morning. I would go in a separate room and focus on my yoga. Even though it was only 20 minutes every morning, it was one of my first steps of showing up for myself. He would sometimes try and interact with me anyway, but slowly learned that was my time. It helped me not to get side tracked by his moods and comments first thing in the morning, and send my day out of my control. So, it reduced stress but I never really understood the breathing part of it. I went through the motions and stretched, but my breathing was shallow and my mind was thinking about other things. It is a completely different experience now.

The more I get away from my marriage, the more I realize how completely unhealthy it was for me. I am at a point now that I am starting to forgive my husband. Not that I accept his behavior towards me, but I am realizing that it was really nothing to do with me. His actions were his way to cope with his own issues, and it worked for him for a long time. I took on the responsibility of the relationship and our family. Also, I took on most of the blame in disagreements and I would work hard to try and make things better. But, it was when I started standing up for myself that that he lost his way of releasing his anxiety. He had to find a new way to cope but he didn’t know how to. When I refused to take on his anxiety it was like I pulled the rug out from under him. With both of us trying to heal our own wounds, we ended up in a stalemate for a few years. I see that now, so I don’t feel angry at him or want him to apologize anymore. I don’t fantasize about him missing me, or wanting me back. When I look back, I know that he was hurting but didn’t have the skills or desire to change. He was stuck in his own toxic pattern, that I used to be a part of but was slowly breaking away from. It was painful for both of us, but given where we both were emotionally, it couldn’t have been any other way.

My journey now is more about me. It is about how I felt in my marriage, and how I feel now. I got so lost and moved so far away from who I really am, it kind of scares me to look back. I realize now, what everyone told me at the time, that I was very brave to finally walk away and start my own life. But I was able to leave when my motivation to get out of pain became greater than my fear of starting over. I had outgrown everything about my old life. It was painful to wake up and get through the day.

In order to make it through the day, my survival instincts kicked in and tried to find the easiest way for me to minimize pain and have the energy to hold my life together. So, my body and subconscious mind created patterns that I could call upon when I became too stressed out. These patterns are similar to the ones we use for things we do daily like brush our teeth, drive a car, tie our shoes, etc. Our brain and body knows what to do through repetition, so it becomes a subconscious experience that we don’t have to relearn every time. Our bodies are amazing in this regard, because imagine having to relearn how to brush your teeth every morning, and all the other things we do? But our bodies also have this memory for negative behavior, and that is when these patterns become toxic.

My patterns helped me to minimize pain in a toxic situation, but they damaged my sense of self and depleted my energy. Slowly these patterns became subconscious over time through repetition. My mind and body learned that when my husband and I were fighting there were certain ways that I could behave that would not help me to resolve the issue or relieve my anxiety, but would help to minimize my pain. I also learned to accept that I wasn’t going to get any answers as to why I was being lied to and ignored. So I had to bottle that pain up also, and accept that I was being disrespected, and there was no way out of that. Our relationship was dying before my eyes, and there was no reviving it, it was just a matter of minimizing my pain until it was pronounced dead.

Unwinding these patterns is painful, complicated and confusing. I wouldn’t recommend doing it unless you are in a safe space with support. I know I could not have unwound them in my marriage as it would have left me too vulnerable. My beautiful survival skills kicked in when they saw me overwhelmed and hid a lot of information from me, so that I could function. But now that information is being released as I undo these toxic patterns. It is being released as energy, and I can feel it leaving my body. When I breath down deep into my hips during yoga I can feel my body slowly releasing the trapped trauma that resides there.

It isn’t easy. I am a recovering addict of a toxic loop. And I do have urges to stop the inner work I am doing and relax into my old distractions of texting with men that I know will hurt me like my husband did. Because they fit the toxic pattern that is already circulating in me, they are like a missing puzzle piece. It hurts to just let that pattern swirl around in me with little release. Sometimes it is a relief to hurt myself emotionally to satisfy that energy in me, just as much as it a relief for an alcoholic to have that first drink after being sober for a while. That first drink tastes so good, but leads them down a path of destruction. It is no different for me, in that dating a man that is going to give me that toxic energy back is a relief at first but it leads me down a path of losing my sense of self, and my self esteem.

But I know that the most important part of healing myself is showing up. That means showing up for the sadness, regret, confusion and hurt that I feel when I let go of my trapped energy that I have pushed down inside of me. It is showing up and taking care of myself through the pain, but it is also being there for my new life and the new me that is slowly emerging. Like showing up on a Friday afternoon to Yoga on the Beach, with the sun warming my body and a slight breeze to a private yoga lesson from a knowledgable giving instructor that gave so much to me when she was not required to. She could have told me that since I was the only one that there wasn’t enough people for the class, or she could have stood in front of me doing poses and ignored my struggle as I tried to copy her. But instead, she looked at me with her intense blue eyes and asked me, ‘What do you need?’ I was able to tell her and I was able to get the help I needed. And I am learning that when I show up for me, other people will too!

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I know that the most important part of healing myself is showing up. That means showing up for the sadness, regret, confusion and hurt that I feel when I let go of my trapped energy that I have pushed down inside of me. It is showing up and taking care of myself through the pain, but it is also being there for my new life and the new me that is slowly emerging.