Updated: Oct 9, 2022
Sur-Vi-val/the state of continuing to live or exist, typically in spite of an accident, ordeal, or difficult circumstances.
The thing about being in survival mode is that it sneaks up on you insidiously over time: day- by-day, minute-by-minute, bit-by-bit. You’re swimming for your life, mentally and physically exhausted, with no sense of who you are or what you want or need. Over a period of 20+ years, I slowly lost myself in a toxic marriage that left me feeling unfulfilled, depressed, empty – and lonely. One day, I decided to take my life back. Here’s my story.
So, there I was. Sitting at the kitchen table having coffee with a good (and wise) friend. I was lamenting about my life – money, husband, kids, work, the usual culprits. She asked me a question: “What is your truth?” My truth, I thought? Sounded kind of hokey and I didn’t know what she even meant, let alone how I was supposed to answer. She pressed me about what I ‘wanted’ and ‘needed’ for myself. What? Huh? When I tell you I could not even think of one thing, I’m not joking. It was a deer-in-the-headlights moment.
The Onion Has Many Layers
That conversation would haunt me for the next several years, as I peeled away the onion that was my life. My marriage was at the top of the list. As I started to figure out exactly what was going on there, I also started to think about my friendships, kids, family, career. The simple fact: it never occurred to me to ask myself what I wanted or needed. Ever. Not when I started my career or when I got married. I never stopped to really think about my choices – whom to marry, where to focus my time and energy. Not once. Like a lot of people, I was on autopilot, making big decisions based on what I thought other people wanted or what I thought I was supposed to do without considering myself.
I had many hours of conversations with a good friend in an eerily similar situation. We would often (sadly) joke about our 'high capacity for chaos' and the unpredictability of our lives. As our respective situations began to unravel, we talked at length about dysfunction and unhealthy patterns and unmet needs. I remember the exact moment when I realized that I was merely surviving instead of living my life. Things clicked in my mind and I finally understood what my friend meant about living my truth.
Where It All Started
My pattern of putting other people’s feelings before my own goes way back. As a young kid, I can remember being acutely aware of my mom’s moods. The best time was after dinner was cleaned up, the dishwasher was going and she was having a cigarette at the kitchen table. That was a good mood. My ability to anticipate and acutely understand and be sensitive to other people’s moods and feelings laid the groundwork for my relationships over the next 30 years.
Empathy—the gift that keeps you giving and giving
I’ve heard the term ‘empath’ tossed around a lot. Now I know I’m what’s called an ‘emotional empath’– where you’re so tuned in to others’ emotions that you take them on. Husband’s upset? You’re upset. Kid is sad? You’re sad. And on it goes. What I did not know until recent years was that people like me are especially susceptible to narcissists and ‘energy vampires’ as they’re called in psychology lingo. Translation: toxic people like narcissists take one look at empaths and start sucking the life out of them. Alarm bells started ringing, more in the form of a gut feeling that was telling me I needed to listen.
The Crazy Road to Truth—and Extrication
Putting one foot in front of another, I began the process of ‘extricating’ from my life as I knew it. Mostly in a blur, with a sense of “Is this really happening? Am I really doing this?” Lives were disrupted and tears were shed, but a new reality was born. One based in truth. For the first time, I followed my instinct—that nagging voice or feeling—that was telling me to keep moving ahead, no matter how uncomfortable, excruciating, depressing, anxiety-provoking. Keep going. And. Don’t. Look. Back.
Getting divorced, dealing with the emotional fallout from kids, moving and creating a new normal is hard. No two ways about it. And living my truth is at once liberating and scary and leaves me feeling like I’m at the edge of a cliff at times with a blank canvas in front of me. This is me, living my truth.