My journey with mental health has always been a revolving door of experimentation with practices and tools. Just as we change inevitably so do our needs and the tools we use to meet those needs. For me, grounding has been paramount to my healing and day-to-day health and well-being yet so have to be flexible and keep an open mind. Many times when our lives are shaken by mental health its an indication that something is not working; but where so often we might find stability in our habits, routines, environment, and the people we surround ourselves with we often fail to give credit to or see the importance of finding our own inner anchor. Our Inner anchor not only helps us weather whatever storm might be brewing in our outside world but is also essential to grounding as we heal and undergo dramatic and powerful changes internally.
Mindfulness and self-reflection have been a huge part of my healing journey. While they are tools for me they are more so values that I create tools and habits and make decisions around. At a young age, I found myself floundering in childhood trauma and the mental health symptoms that it had created. I was not in a safe and supportive environment to begin to make sense of my experiences being that my trauma had originated from home. While I did not have the awareness or capacity to verbalize what I was feeling, my behavior and symptoms told the story for me. Slowly my ADD became ticks and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. My grades in school were at an all-time low and I could barely function at home. After getting put on medication the symptoms began to subside but something deeper inside me was still unsettled. Around this time my mother bought me a book on meditation and I began sitting in the dark in my bedroom with a candle silently for 5 minutes at a time. Solitude was something I was becoming used to after not being able to attend school and while I felt alone it gave me time to be with my thoughts.
My emotions, inner pain, and anger were a compass I was discovering and the more I spent with myself the more they were dying to be expressed. As I became more acquainted with my inner world, poetry became a natural tool I soon discovered to transmute the raw feelings I felt. It was an excavation process and the more I found myself dedicated to giving these hidden emotions life the lighter I became and the stronger my own inner compass grew. I began to learn what loyalty to myself truly meant and was willing to speak my truth among friends and family. Through trial and error, I would watch how I would discover my own triggers, reactivity, and self-sabotage.
After the stress and overwhelm in my home life became so unbearable in late high school I ended up stabbing myself in the arm and ended up in the psychiatric hospital. Realizing my home environment was no longer a safe or healthy option for me after high school, I ended up on the street. There, a safe distance from my family where I had felt so unable to understand the pain and trauma I had experienced, I began to remember sexual abuse from my father. As my world fell apart I knew I needed help and once again I came back to myself. Sifting through the inner chaos I struggled to decide what to do. As I began pushing people away from the overwhelm of my situation something deeper inside me spoke and I knew my friend who had been with me this whole time was the only safe person I could trust. I began to realize that my inner voice had guided me far enough away from my family so I could feel and discover this and now I had a choice. I could keep running and potentially die as I could barely take care of myself in the overwhelmed or tell my friend, get help, and face what I had remembered. Finally just as I had almost pushed him completely away right as he was about to leave me I made the decision to tell him.
The Fear melted as I exploded into tears and shared with him about the abuse from my father. The lid was off and now I stood face to face with the pain and weight I had been carrying around. My therapist later would describe me as a leaky box. I had no clue how to contain the enormity or weight of my pain or the abandonment I felt. With one decision to stop running, I lost the idea of a family and began to see my life through a different lens. It was painful but it was a new chance, a chance to change things where I couldn’t have before. Getting off the street and healing from my trauma wasn’t immediate but required me to continuously say yes to myself and keep pivoting towards a life with less pain. Pain in fact was my compass and as I began talking about what I had been through the emotions became lighter and instead of drowning in overwhelm my emotions became more potent and distinguishable. I began to learn more deeply what it felt like to trust myself, to say no when something didn’t feel right. To not hold in my anger and instead use it to set boundaries and skillfully express myself instead of exploding and lashing out at people or quietly being resentful and to love in a way that came from my own self-respect and not out of the need to please for fear of being abandoned.
Jeff Spiteri is an author of the unpublished book ‘The Bridge Within’ a memoir chronicling his experiences as a homeless young adult riding freight trains around the United States and the childhood trauma he uncovered along the way. Jeff is proud to use his voice as an instrument of influence, guidance and impact with young adults and educators sharing his experiences and tools for resilience and healing.