Have you ever gone through something so painfully heartbreaking that you almost forgot what it feels like to feel “normal”? You can’t seem to remember what it feels like to not be sad, confused, hopeless or alone, and you can’t seem to see the light at the end of the tunnel. One day life was good and the next day your life was flipped upside down, and you wonder what the point of all of this is. I know all too well what that feels like, but have also learned to press into those moments to see what God is saying to me through those situations and to allow him to do what only He can do.
For those of you who don’t know me, my parents divorced when I was in my early 20s, and it was by no means a peaceful split. It turned my whole world upside down and I thought my life was over; but God knew there was more to my story and He is still bringing beauty from the ashes. Throughout the past decade, I’ve learned many invaluable lessons that have truly shaped my character today, given me hope for the future, and have inspired me to want to live fully, confidently and freely. I now have so much empathy and compassion for those who are struggling with a broken or dysfunctional family situation, so if I can speak any life into your situation then that’s a win in my book. We all know that relationships are hard, but healing in relationships is even harder, so I would like to share a few (of the many) things that I’ve learned throughout my healing journey. My prayer is that one or more of these lessons resonates with you and serves as a foundation for healing and restoration in your life.
- Wear your own hat.
We’ve all heard the phrase “wearing multiple hats,” but how many of us actually think about what hats we’re wearing on a regular basis? Are we wearing the hats that belong to us, or are we putting on other people’s hats and pretending to be someone we’re not?
I learned this lesson the hard way. I was only 19 when I became the family shrink. I didn’t know what a boundary was; all I knew is that I wanted to be there for my broken parents, whatever that meant, and especially if it meant saving their lives. As I got a few years older, I became more of the mediator and the peacemaker, and by my late 20s I had unknowingly become more of the parent to my parents and my siblings. What I didn’t realize until later on, was that somewhere along the way I had completely lost sight of my true self. I wore so many different hats that didn’t belong to me, and sometimes multiple at once, that I got to a point where I didn’t know who I really was or how to act anymore. It was the true definition of an identity crisis.
What I learned is that you have to be authentic to your true self. If you are an adult child who has/is experiencing your parents’ divorce, you have to know what your role is in that situation. Let the parent be the parent. Let the therapist be the therapist. Let the lawyer be the lawyer. And let God be God. You are not the parent, nor the shrink, nor the middle man, and you certainly aren’t the Big Man upstairs. You are the child, and that is your one and only role. But you must set boundaries early, and often, in order to stay authentic to your true self.
Over the years, I’ve learned to set some healthy boundaries, but it required me to be in relationship with the Lord, seek professional help, read books and surround myself with spiritual friends and mentors. Boundaries will look different for everyone, but for me, keeping my distance from the drama, loving from afar, and focusing on God’s purpose for my life have proven to be the healthiest and most effective boundaries. They have allowed me to experience the un-circumstantial joy that we were all created to experience and have helped me to reclaim my identity as a child; both as a child of my earthly parents and as a child of our Heavenly Father. So set some boundaries; never forget who you are and whose you are; and go ahead and put on the unique hat that God has given you.
2. Stuffing is for Thanksgiving, not emotions.
Don’t stuff your emotions, just stuff your face… And stuff your face to deal with your emotions. I’m kidding, I’m kidding. Gluttony is not a healthy coping mechanism! But you do need to deal with your emotions. This is not something I did well over the past decade. Because I wore so many hats for so many different people, I learned to be “the strong one” by acting like everything was fine on the surface; like I had it all together and escaped unscathed. But I eventually forgot what it felt like to be a human and to feel emotion. And let me tell you, this is not living.
Through my journey, I’ve learned that burying your emotions only produces a hardened heart. And just as a literal hardened heart leads to physical death (see, don’t stuff your face), a figurative hardened heart leads to spiritual death. Eventually, you become numb to pain, sadness, fear, anger, and even happiness. You forget what it means to truly feel because you’ve learned to ignore your emotions and sustain an unnatural state of indifference. And then you wonder why you aren’t able to form intimate relationships. But yet, you continue to go through life telling yourself that everything is and will be fine and eventually you believe that lie, but deep down it’s pure chaos, whether you recognize it or not. The message that society sends us to “be strong” or “suck it up,” only fuels the facade. But this mentality is like a volcano; the emotions that are boiling beneath the surface will eventually erupt.
We were not created to hold it all in and always keep it together. We were created to experience and express emotion because it tells us what’s important to us, keeps us safe, helps us build relationships, etc. We must allow ourselves to be vulnerable and grieve the process. It will require you to invest both time and money into healing yourself. So get a therapist, pray and seek God’s healing, read self-help books, keep a journal, surround yourself with community and positivity, or talk to someone who’s been through a similar situation. Just. Do. Something. Never assume your problems will disappear if you ignore them long enough. Your heart will only become more hardened and you rob yourself of the healing that you so desperately need.
3. Look for the silver lining, not the silver platter.
My life before college was mostly sunshine and roses. Besides being grounded for silly stuff every other week, I had the picture perfect family, we went on exotic vacations, got all the newest toys/technology, splurged on shopping sprees, and the list goes on. It’s fair to say I was one spoiled, entitled, Millennial in the making. There wasn’t much I had to worry about in life, no real adversity… that is until I experienced the before and aftermath of my parents’ divorce.
In the beginning, I became very angry, bitter and negative because my whole world had been flipped on its head and suddenly those things that used to be handed to me on a silver platter, no longer existed. My life felt hopeless for a period of time, but eventually I realized that I had two paths to choose from: to dwell on the fact that my picture perfect silver platter life was over OR to accept the fact that life isn’t always pretty or easy, and to learn to look for the silver lining in every situation no matter how ugly it may be. Thankfully I chose the latter and my life has been radically transformed since before the divorce. My attitude shifted from a place of entitlement and expectation to a place of humble gratitude for all blessings, big and small. And I even became thankful for the whole situation because of the lessons I learned, the positive mindset I adopted, and the loneliness and desperation that ultimately led me to Christ.
We all go through difficult things, but it’s in those moments that God reveals His purpose for our lives, reminds us of our need for Him, and gives us an attitude of gratitude. If we can learn to look for how God is working to bring beauty from the ashes instead of just focusing on the ashes, it can be such a life-changing experience. Over the past couple of years God has been telling me that He wants to use me to break generational curses and change the spiritual atmosphere of my family. I know that is not going to come on a pretty silver platter, though, so I am committed to rolling up my sleeves, doing the hard work, and looking for the silver linings when the going gets tough. And I hope you will join me in that commitment on your own personal journey!
I pray we never stop living, never stop learning and never stop healing. It’s a lifelong process that we must be committed to if we want to be all we were created to be!
“Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.”- Napoleon Hill
Elizabeth Hughes is an East TN native who does not bleed orange. She attended the University of Alabama where she was a springboard/platform diver and graduated with a degree in Psychology. Six years ago, Elizabeth moved to Nashville after taking a leap of faith and dropping out of law school to pursue a calling on her heart. She didn’t know what exactly this looked like, but she knew she wanted to help people live healthier lives. In 2014, Elizabeth received her Masters in Exercise and Nutrition Science from Lipscomb University and in 2015 was radically saved by God’s love. She currently works for the YMCA of Middle Tennessee as the Director of Healthy Living doing a job she absolutely loves. Elizabeth is passionate about helping others achieve greater physical, emotional and spiritual health through small behavior changes. She enjoys being active, cooking, writing, traveling, college football (Roll Tide), and spending quality time with friends, family, and her fur babies.