About three years ago I was in a pretty dark place.
I was feeling down and defeated. Autism was kicking my ass. Being a single mom was kicking my ass. My job was kicking my ass. Life was kicking my ass.
So naturally, I turned to my boyfriend for support and encouragement.
He did not respond as I had hoped.
"You know what your real problem is? You need to stop feeling sorry for yourself and do something about it," he said.
Wrong answer. His insensitive reply prompted me to unleash a tirade of f-bombs so brutal that we didn't speak for a couple of days.
But during that time, I thought long and hard about what happened, because he wasn't your average dude who didn't have a clue about what it's like to raise a special needs child.
He had his own special needs child with spectrum issues, an intellectual disability and health issues. His son is verbal, but overall, he probably has more challenges than Tosh does. Yet at the time, his son was attending college - COLLEGE! - at a school across the country. The program had supports in place for special needs students, but he was living independently and had achieved far more than anyone had ever expected. And his parents deserved the credit.
So my guy knew what he was talking about, even if he didn't communicate it in the most helpful way.
When you portray yourself as a victim and seek out sympathy from others, it literally gives you pleasure because the nurturing you receive causes your body to produce dopamine, a feel good brain chemical. Nobody can fault someone for wanting a little relief from suffering, and we've all been there. But just like any feel good brain chemical, it can become physically addictive.
And like all drug addictions, you do it so you can escape from your reality. That won't solve any problems and only leads to a nasty cycle of momentary pleasure followed by increasing pain.
Positioning yourself as a victim also allows you to avoid taking responsibility for yourself and taking risks. Both of those can be scary things, but when you overcome them, the rewards are lasting, and guess what? That awesome feeling you get when you overcome a fear or obstacle? You feel it because when you're successful at something, your brain produces dopamine.
I was doing all the victim things: fishing for sympathy to make myself feel better, avoiding responsibility and avoiding scary risks. All those things had short-term benefits, but living my life as a victim was making me utterly miserable. And because I was miserable, Tosh was miserable too. Which made me feel even more miserable.
Isn't it funny how you can know something all along, but then an event shakes you and causes you see it in a different light and you can never go back? This was one of those moments.
Let me be clear: I didn't magically wake up the next morning an empowered, kick ass super mom. However, my negative patterns were suddenly obvious to me, and each day it became easier to catch myself when I slipped into that victim mentality and turn it around.
Kids with autism are very sensitive to the emotions of those around them. When you're sad, they're sad. When you're full of anxiety, so are they.
It's not only important that you get your emotional house in order for yourself, you need to do it for them, too. You can expect your child to remain positive about their autism and work hard to gain new skills if you're not modeling that behavior by doing the same.
If you'd like to meet a kick ass group of autism moms committed to their own personal development, join The Cabana. Learn more here.