I am no master. I have survived some horrible situations and lost much of my innocence way too young. I still fight, cry, and struggle through some of life’s twists and turns. Here is what I know, life is full of lessons and I have survived them all. Some of my deepest scars have helped others through their darkest days. At seventeen, I was lucky to survive an attempt at ending my journey. I didn’t think my life was worth living. I felt like all I brought people was pain. I thought I would be doing my family a favor by not being here. At the core of it all, I felt unlovable and not worth loving at all. My failed attempt changed the trajectory of many lives, not only my family and friends at the time, but the two amazing lives I’ve brought into the world.

The lessons showed me that I needed to keep learning and expanding. I have to keep going deeper into my inner core to see what I really need to be learning from all these experiences in my life. Some lessons I can figure out with a little distance, but others may take years or a lifetime to figure out. All I know is that if I learn the lesson, I can stop repeating it. The lesson won’t get harder, but I will be able to spot the problem before it starts.

One of my most challenging lessons has been with my romantic relationships. I had the patterns of behavior that kept attracting the wrong men. The lessons would get worse and worse as the years went by until it escalated to verbal and emotional abuse. I became a person I didn’t even recognize at the height of the toxicity. I didn’t like the untrusting, unloving, and emotionally unavailable person I had become. Since my mom taught me very young that no one can make me feel anything, and that my perception chooses my feelings and reactions, I knew only I could fix the darkness that stirred inside me.

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Since that is where my mind focused those were the lessons that would present themselves to me. If I focused my mind in a dark place, like I had chosen to do many times, I would dig myself deeper into the problem. I used to focus on the guy I was in the relationship with instead of me. I learned I can’t fix the problem there, because I can’t change him. I can only change me. I found all the books and teachers I needed to help me change my perception and patterns. This didn’t happen overnight, and I’m still a work in progress, but through reflection and watching some of the people I love follow similar paths to what I was on, I see how far I have come.

Now, I’m in a relationship where I love, trust, and respect myself. Since I feel that way about me, I can love, trust and respect him equally. I acknowledge and see where I’m putting past relationship stresses on him and I work through them. No need for dramatic fights and false exits. Does this mean we don’t argue, of course not. We are not going to agree about everything. We do fight fair and know when each other need just enough space to process the information so we can discuss it reasonably.

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Giving and accepting space is new for me. I remember not trusting the space at all in past relationships and thinking that those big dramatic fights were essential. With some, I felt like the end of the world was happening if we couldn’t talk reasonably in the very second a problem occurred. I would panic and get super clingy. With others, I remember walking away and having a man follow me around yelling and calling me names to try to make me feel as small as he was feeling about himself. The knot in my stomach and all my fight or flight senses would be going off. For a period of time before kids, I would try to use alcohol or depression medication to cover up my feelings, but that was not what got me out.

Facing my feelings fully and changing MY behavior towards, number one, myself was the catalyst for breaking free from the pain that these unhealthy relationships brought to the surface. If I abuse and belittle myself, I bring people who will reflect it back to me. The worse I abuse myself, the worse the abuse will be. Abusers can spot our weaknesses from a mile away. There are little signs from the moment we meet them that create a dinging in their ears knowing we are a match. We look for our equals. If we want better, we have to be better. I had to learn to be the person towards myself that I wanted to attract. For instance, I love nature and adventure, but I wasn’t doing that for myself. I was waiting for someone else to take me. Well, screw that! I started taking myself on adventures in nature and what did I attract, someone who enjoyed the same things. We go on some adventures together, but I keep adding more of my own adventures. I expand my adventures every year. This past summer I took my kids on  camping with another single mom for 5 days in Asheville, NC. It was amazing. The adventure didn’t start or stop there, we saw friends, family, and added wonderful experiences to our memory books.

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Before, I kept going above and beyond for men who I hoped would one day give back the same amount of effort. I thought that the more I helped them, maybe they would feel like they needed me and fight for me to stay. I was the rescuer! A superpower I thought I had, but really that was my codependency. I just felt depleted and frustrated and the relationships didn’t work. I finally understood the message from the Bible about treating others as I treat myself. I used to think this just meant treat others, as I wanted to be treated. I kept getting walked on. I now see it as, if I treat others with the same respect and love that I show myself, I will attract people who will reflect that back to me. I will attract people who really want to get out of their misery (if that is where they are). I won’t attract the men who want to be stuck in the victim of the world role and want to take me down with them. I realized the the Bible wasn’t telling me to give myself away, it was telling me to show the world my inner beauty and strength. I have read many books that have the same message, and it took me reading all of them and experiencing everything I did to finally make it sink in. There is no one book, person, place, or being that is capable of showing us everything we need to see. We are human, we have to experience many lessons to get the messages to sink in. At least, I do.

As I grow in love and respect for myself, my relationships gets better. My life gets better. I no longer feel like I need another person to complete me. I am complete. I get to enjoy the man I’m with for being the person he is and what he contributes to the life I want to live. I keep growing and getting stronger. This is the example I want to show my kids. I want my son to see that it is good to be with a woman who loves, trusts, and respects herself. I want my daughter to become a woman who loves, trusts, and respects herself. My job is to be the example.

With Love and Gratitude,

Rachael Wolff ©2017

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