Growing up with a father that's bipolar and a recovering alcoholic, I learned a lot about living with big emotions and wrestling inner demons.
Mine's the Dad that drops you off at school, waits until you're 20 feet away then embarrassingly yells from the car, "Arrrrrrriiiiiiiiaaannnnaaaa, I loooovvvve you!"
He has a larger-than-life presence. And a fiery temper. He was often tinkering with some project around the house - the tractor, the chipper shredder, the log splitter, etc. Inevitably the job wouldn't go as smooth as he hoped and there'd be a very loud succession of expletives, "Mother f*cking, sh*tty piece of f*cking..." you get the picture.
My dad also has the biggest heart. He has immense empathy for the suffering of others. And is constantly standing up for the underdog. My dad will drop everything to help someone in need.
Growing up, he showed me time and time again that I'm worthy of love just as I am. He is my most enthusiastic, eager, effervescent cheerleader. I love my dad.
When I was 15 years old, my dad was in a tailspin. He had stopped taking his meds and was drinking again. It had been bad for a few years by then. But he became more explosive and withdrawn than I had ever seen before.
To be sure you get the complete context I should mention that his biggest business deal ever went belly up. He lost everything he invested. But we didn’t lose the house, in that we were lucky. Still, my dad was depressed.
My second journal was filled with me trying to fix my dad's pain and suffering. In middle school, I used journaling as a manifestation tool. I wrote what I was hoping would happen. My entries generally involved me trying to manifest the attention of a boy I had a crush on and business success for my dad. I never finished that journal, I didn't like the energy of it.
Getting back to his tailspin. I’m 15. I'm in the basement, where my dad decided to hide out from the world indefinitely. He's sitting at his desk, the computer monitor light is casting a blue hue on his face. I'm standing nearby.
And my dad tells me, "You're the only reason I'm alive Ariana...If it wasn't for you I would have killed myself a long time ago..."
I felt like I just stepped on a landmine.
I was speechless. I felt this immense weight on my shoulders. I stopped breathing. Then I felt like I had to breathe for both of us. The pressure was heavy, because that's what I do, internalize - take personal responsibility.
The thought "you are responsible for your dad's life" played on repeat in my mind.
Interestingly, around that time is when I started journaling again. And in my new journal, I stopped trying to fix my dad. Instead, I processed what it felt like to be someone's lifeline. I didn't like it. It didn't feel right for me to be responsible for someone else's happiness. It didn't feel fair that I had to parent my father.
I felt within me this distinct assertion - I need to live my own life. Despite my urge to be the fixer. Even though a part of me had already crafted a plan to build my life around keeping my dad alive. I had this realization with love for my dad and respect for myself. I decided, at 15, that I couldn't be responsible for my dad's happiness in life.
As you can imagine, this was a challenging and confusing time for me. In addition to all the normal struggles of being a teenager, I was navigating heavy life decisions. Walking the fine line between meeting other people's expectations and being true to myself. Feeling the uncanny burden of disappointing my dad (potentially even losing him) or sacrificing myself.
This moment is one of the first instances where I can recall distinguishing between the voice of my inner critic and the wisdom of my inner genius. Through slowing down, and processing my thoughts and feelings in my journal, I was able to listen within for deeper wisdom.
Without a doubt, this wisdom guided me well when I was 15. I lived my life, which in retrospect, was what my dad really wanted anyway. He never wanted me to build my life around him. But that was the story I had been telling myself because a part of me liked being needed. A part of me was scared of what might happen if I didn't assume responsibility for my dad's life. A part of me was comfortable in the shadows.
Clearly, this experience has stayed with me. It shaped me because it was an inflection point in my life. I had a choice to make. I could have let myself wither away out of fear. But I didn't. I chose to listen within and lift myself above the fray.
This is a gift we all have the capacity to access in challenging times. We can let the fear dominate and lose ourselves. Or we can listen within and LIFT ourselves up.
Journaling helped me LIFT myself up then and it has continued to. Because when I journal I Let It Flow Through me unfiltered, uncensored, raw, messy, honest, and open. Eventually, underneath the pain, the hurt, the fear, I excavate deeper wisdom. When faced with what feels like impossible situations, my inner genius guides me masterfully.
Are you ready to LIFT yourself above the fray? Could you benefit from listening within for guidance around a difficult life (or business) decision? What if you could gain actionable insight from 20 minutes of journaling? Join us for the next Journal Jam. More information and registration is available online here.