I wish I knew how to put into words just how challenging writing this article has been for me. I’ve come back for weeks now, pouring my heart and soul into words, only then to delete it all because it’s just so much. It makes me feel vulnerable. It makes me feel ashamed. The reason why it’s difficult for me to talk about toxic behaviors is that even though I’m no longer the person I used to be, much of my past still haunts me and causes a lot of guilt. I know that everyone makes mistakes and that we all have to grow from our history, but a massive part of me still struggled with the fact that I was once a toxic person.
Affirming this fact, that I was once a toxic person, isn’t easy for me and I know I’m not alone when it comes to facing a less than pleasant past, but that doesn’t make it any less painful.
Over ten years ago, with self-help literature and friends at my side, I began to understand that there were such profound and powerful things within me that I needed to get under control. Although eye-opening, it still wasn’t easy for me to change. Unfortunately, even though I wished differently, I still had that voice in my head that never let me sleep at night without the help of alcohol and drugs. A voice that had me going from one unhealthy relationship to another so that I could be consumed with someone else and not myself. The voice inside my head that screamed that I was not okay, that I was a mess, that I was unhappy, that I was hurting those around me and most importantly I was hurting myself but gave me no answers as to how to change it. All I knew is that there was a part of me that desperately wanted change and it was forcing me to face the thing within myself that I didn’t like. I knew I had to, but I wasn’t ready, and so I did what most people with extreme toxic behaviors do, I remained in denial for as long as I could.
Eventually, all of those feelings that I had spent years shoving deep into my psyche began to bubble up, and force their way to the surface. My behaviors worsened, and my emotions became drastic. It was overwhelming. I was no longer capable of pretending that everything was okay and my toxicity had slowly seeped into every area of my life.
I still remember the day I left the old me laying on that dirty apartment floor. The years leading up to that moment riddled with anger, disgust, drugs, affairs, fights, showing up to work belligerent, shame, suicidal thoughts, and believing that the ones I needed most were all against me. After the relationship I had entered with a married man had ended and I quit a job that I truly loved, I went to my apartment where I locked the door and closed it all out. I made myself a nest of blankets and pillows on the living room floor where I drank and drank and drank to the point of numbness. Finally, I had reached my rock bottom.
As I lay there on my floor, bawling my eyes out, I began to ask question after question. How I would ever move on from this. How I had destroyed every value, I thought I once held. How I would ever be that person that I desperately wanted to be. How I could be that good, loving, kind, considerate, and aware soul that I KNEW dwelled within me until I finally received the answer, and that answer was that I gave up and stopped fighting. I accepted who I was in that exact moment and gave up this idea that it’s who I was or had to be forever, and then finally decided to let her go for good.
I still refer to this moment as my spiritual awakening because it was nothing less than divine guidance. I honestly, without a doubt in my mind, physically felt the separation of who I was at that moment and the woman that would without a doubt help me become who I desperately wanted to be. The voice that was once terrifying and painful to face had become soothing and loving to the point that my tears of desperation quickly became the tears of bewilderment. I wept as I accepted all of my past behaviors for what they were and promised myself that I would never live in denial again.
Who I was going to be from that point on was my choice, and I had to make decisions, hard decisions, to face the behaviors that I didn’t like and change them.
I’d be lying if I said it just HAPPENED like that. I still struggled for a long time afterward with my toxic behaviors. I took it one day at a time and slowly, I stopped abusing alcohol and drugs. Slowly, I began to implement more self-care. Slowly, I put spirituality at the forefront of all my decisions. Slowly, I began to realize my worth. Slowly, I began to heal the relationships that I had tainted. I took it one day at a time, and I forgave myself often. Slowly, I began to shine a light on one toxic behavior after another.
The most significant change came from me refusing to be in denial any longer. That single night on my apartment floor didn’t fully rectify me, but it did make me fully aware of myself, and I couldn’t let that knowledge go to waste. I knew that a better me could only happen as long as I endlessly focused on my negative habits and toxic behaviors, so I continued to make small changes to the things that went against the woman I wanted to become. Not just once, but always; and I will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
To this very day, I still look in the mirror and recognize my toxic behaviors. That’s one of the reasons why it was so hard for me to write this – I felt awful discussing how to identify your negative thoughts and responses and move on from them when I know that I am still struggling to do the same. Holding onto this guilt and shame is itself, a toxic behavior, that I have to work through. The list honestly can go on and on…
I can become envious of others.
I have recurring negative thoughts.
I criticize my husband, especially when I’m overwhelmed and exhausted.
I make excuses as to why I should quit the things I know will make me happy and proud if I see them through.
I try and control my daughter’s environment when I know I need to let her experience her life freely so she can grow.
I don’t have a healthy control over my emotions.
I still hold resentment due to emotional trauma.
I lack disciple in certain areas.
I am not perfect, and I judge myself for it still, (toxic, toxic, toxic), even though I know this is natural. My imperfections make me HUMAN, not one of us are free of this harsh reality.
We all have toxic behaviors.
Mahatma Gandhi himself experienced toxic behaviors that caused him to suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts, and they nearly destroyed his life. He lost his wife. Gandi lost himself. Then, after reaching his rock bottom, he focused on his imperfections and created a whole new self that could finally be at peace. It’s one of the reasons why he is the empowering, loving, and spiritual man he is today, and someone I look up to and admire because he recognized what was wrong and made the decision to change. Something we all have to ability to do. “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself,” he says.
I could if I wanted to, go on and on with a list of toxic behaviors that we need to keep an eye out for, but the truth is you know what they are.
These acts are the ones that keep you up at night.
They’re the behaviors that have you feeling guilty and wishing that you could change.
The practices that cost you relationship after relationship.
They’re the behaviors and ways that make you feel bad.
They’re the ones that keep you from staying positive, being optimistic, letting things go, and always coming from a place of love and understanding.
The ones that prevent you from being the person you want to be.
We all have different toxic behaviors that affect us at different levels. I can’t be the one to point these out for you, that’s your job and your journey, plus we already know I’m not free of toxic behaviors myself, and this makes me feel like the pot calling the kettle black in a way. So! What I do want to discuss, is a few ways that we can move past them, grow, and become the person we ultimately want to be.
Admittance. You have to admit that you have faults. You have to admit that there are things about you that need to change for that beautiful life you seek to come true. You have to admit that this is your life, and your responsibility, no one else is going to be able to save you from yourself.
Seek help. If there’s something that you want to change the best thing you can do is seek assistance from someone or something. Life change is not a simple task, so when you can find a community or a therapist to help you, it will make a huge difference. I started off with self-help literature ten years ago then three years ago I found an online community that pushed me even further in my journey. Now I’m seeing a therapist once a week, and it’s only getting better. We all have toxic behaviors, some are big, and some are small, but regardless of how intense they are, there are ways to find help and correct them over time.
Learn to see everything from a positive perspective. Everything has two sides to it: good and evil, yin and yang, positive or negative. If you focus only on the things you don’t have, the bad things you do, or the crappy events that occurred in your life, you will remain in a toxic place. Not always the easiest thing to do but it does get easier. An example that I faced last week: “I’m not a toxic person, I have toxic behaviors that I’m recognizing and changing so I can continue to grow and become the person I wish to be.” I’m not perfect but the fact that I’m trying to change my faults is definitely something to be proud of, and you should be too.
Envision who it is you want to be, then work every day to bring her to fruition, and most importantly, remember to love yourself every step of the way. Like I mentioned before, getting to this place that I am now, where I am a loving mother, devoted wife, a mostly positive person who makes her health and happiness a priority wasn’t simple, and it still isn’t, but it is becoming easier. I’m sure you share a similar story. So, we’re not where we want to be, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t appreciate how far we’ve come, and remain as positive as possible on the journey. Remember that most of your attention should be on everything that you love about yourself and your life. Focus on all the good that you bring into this world and the good that other’s bring as well. This focus doesn’t mean that you ignore recognizing your toxic behaviors or work on them, but rather that you try your best not to let that negativity cloud what’s truly there.
Let the light in.Open yourself up to everything that is good in this life. Good food. Good conversation. Good people. Good places. Good activities. Everything. Open your eyes and see how beautiful this life is. Find the things that make you feel great. Find whatever it is that helps you understand that you are a part of something bigger and that this inner work is worth every struggle, every tear, and every victory. Find or strengthen your belief system. Figure out what inspires you to be honest with yourself and feel safe while you make your way to who you’re meant to become. Open yourself up and let the light in so that it may help you consume every dark area that’s inside of you.