Our entire life seemed to revolve around one thing – the mother of my stepsons. Now I have no kids of my own so when I entered this already made family of four I didn’t realize there would be five of us. Being a stepmom was all new territory for me, and I had to learn fast if my new family was going to last.
The chaos and drama pretty much started from Jump Street when my spouse, Danny, and I started dating. It began with harassing text messages to Danny. This was annoying and definitely ruined the mood at times, but it was manageable. Then, it escalated to demeaning social media posts about Danny and I that his family and friends read. She tried to force his family to choose sides leaving the kids stuck in the middle. She successfully turned most of Danny‘s closest friends against him, which caused him a lot of heartache. Somehow Danny and I managed to survive every shot she took at us. But the stronger we became, the more determined she became.
The behavior gradually escalated into threats of calling the police or child protective services, taking my husband back to court for less time with his kids and more money for her, threats of taking my money, and even vague threats of violence towards me. This nearly broke us. Every day there was something new to worry and ruminate about. There were arguments in front of other parents at the kids’ sporting events, text battles that lasted half the day, screaming matches… it was consuming our lives.
Danny and I became physically and mentally ill. Anxiety, sleepless nights, anger, crying, migraines, and stomach distress became a normal part of our daily life. We were at our wit’s end. We needed something, something to help us get rid of the negativity and manage our stress better. Traditional techniques of stress management weren’t working. We needed spiritual healing. While researching spiritual retreats I discovered Sedona, AZ, known for its magnificent red rocks and spirituality. If we wanted to change our life, we had to change.
If we wanted to change our life, we had to change.
I immediately booked our retreat and in two weeks we were Sedona bound. Just driving down the narrow street into this jaw-dropping quaint city surrounded by massively beautiful red rocks my muscles loosened, my mind freed itself, and I took the deepest breath I had breathed in what felt like years. During our retreat we hiked, did Reiki, learned how to meditate, discovered the power of candle and crystal magic, prayed, journaled, and visited landmarks such as the medicine wheel, Stupa, and the vortexes. These spiritually powerful places are said to intensify your prayers and intentions. We learned the importance of a connected mind, body, and spirit and how to keep it all in balance.
At first, I admit, these activities felt a bit strange and we weren’t sure whether to buy into their effectiveness, but life had been so unbearable that we were open and willing to try anything that would help us. The new-age vibe in Sedona was somewhat of a culture shock but in a refreshingly positive way. At this point, we thought, “What do we have to lose?” This trip changed us in ways we never would’ve imagined accessing a spiritual side in us both that could never be closed again.
Our mind became opened to a world much greater than ours and, more importantly, her. For the first time in our marriage, I realized that she was not the problem. We were the problem… I was the problem. We allowed her to consume every part of us. We had neglected our mind, body, and spirit. It was as if the clouds parted and I could feel the sun’s rays on my face for the first time in years. I had an epiphany! She can’t text battle herself or make threats to herself. There’s no performance without an audience. So we took away her audience. We took ourselves out of the equation and drastically limited our contact with her. We trashed the idealistic approach of court mandated co-parenting and adopted the more realistic approach of parallel parenting. Everything changed after this.
I realized that it takes the power of all three – our mind, body, and spirit- to battle the negativity surrounding us, not just from her but from the world. If we wanted to change our life, we had to change. We brought back these lessons and the “Spirit of Sedona” and continue to practice them every day. I started participating in therapy and return as often as I need to. I exercise regularly, pray, practice daily meditation, and started writing again. I listen more to my body and less to my mind. I continue to learn and grow spiritually. I continually reassess my priorities and have refocused my attention on my family and my career. It’s been about three years since we took that life-changing trip and, even though my stepsons’ mother continues to try, we never again allow her to cause that much chaos in our life or give her control over our mind, body, or spirit. Although you may not be able to take that much-needed vacation just remember that you can learn to set emotional and physical boundaries and take care of your mind, body, and spirit from anywhere. You just have to make it a priority.
*Names have been changed.*
Dr. Traci Moreno is a licensed psychologist working as the Director of Mental Health Services for a non-profit community clinic. She has a Bachelor’s Degree from Florida State University and a doctoral degree from Alliant International University in Los Angeles, CA with a specialization in clinical and forensic psychology. Dr. Moreno’s background includes providing individual and group therapy, administering psychological testing and evaluations, conducting forensic evaluations for the courts and testifying as an expert witness.