Imagine if your mom was a drug addict, your dad was a drug dealer, and you had to live on the run in abandoned roach-infested houses—one step away from the law. Or, what if you were tortured and abused by your biological dad for years and then later learned that you mom had committed suicide when you thought she had been killed in an accident. These are the true stories of Justin and Alexis Black, an amazing young married couple who overcame foster care, horrid abuse, neglect, and obstacles to graduate from college and become inspirational leaders for youth throughout America. On Love University, we were honored to hear their stories and how they came together to form a “Love Power” couple who are inspiring millions of youth through their speaking and writing (Redefining Normal: How Two Foster Kids Beat The Odds and Discovered Healing, Happiness, and Love: www.re-definingnormal.com). Here are some of the lessons we learned for overcoming abuse and trauma from Alexis and Justin:
*Be intentional and love yourself first. Before they could come together as a young happily married couple, Justin and Alexis had to heal their own wounds. Through group and individual therapy, they learned that they had value and were worthy of love. Loving themselves first before they could fully love their partner became an important element of their mental health recovery. Part of being emotionally healthy is to be aware of your triggers—the things that remind you of your past pain and trauma. Through awareness of what reactivates the pain, says Alexis and Justin, you can have clear communication with your partner and establish boundaries and respect so that mutual healing can take place in a safe and nurturing love environment.
*Let go of the past of those who hurt you. After being abused and betrayed by her biological dad for years, Alexis had thoughts of killing him. One night she had a knife and was looking at the back of his head, but she didn’t do it. Although she felt suicidal and was hospitalized later on, she never gave up hope. One of the things that helped her was a beautiful song by Gospel singer, Kirk Franklin, “Imagine Me,” which says, “Imagine me letting go of all the ones who hurt me ‘Cause they never did deserve me…Because of your love, fear’s gone away. Can you imagine me?” Although she experienced terrible things at the hands of her biological father, she has been able to move forward from the pain and leave it in the past. Likewise, Justin has begun to forgive his dad who let down his family many times, and now they are rebuilding their relationship. Forgiveness is not just for the one who did you harm, but for your own healing. It’s for liberating yourself from the memory chains to the person who hurt you; it’s for forgiving yourself for the past and looking forward to a bright and hopeful future.
*Find love in the Higher. One of the things that saved Justin and Alexis from even more despair and even death was their Christian faith. Believing in a higher Nature or cause (God, spirit, destiny) is one of the most powerful aids in overcoming trauma and pain to live a loving and fearless life. Justin quotes one of his favorite passages from Psalms 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want…. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” When he was young, Justin says he looked up to drug dealers who gave him money; they seemed to have all the success, but were really failures in life. His drug-addicted/drug-dealing parents were also not good “shepherds” or guides. The one guide who never let him down, according to Justin, was God, whose love is always faithful, kind, patient, and forgiving. Regardless of your religious or spiritual background, having a belief in something higher than yourself –a benevolent and loving force that doesn’t let you down—is an important part of psychological healing and recovery. As Justin and Alexis believe, “Humans can let you down, but God never does. He will find a way for you in His own way.”
*Create your new “better normal.” The title of Alexis’s and Justin’s Book is Redefining Normal. In their past, their normal was defined by sexual and physical abuse, domestic violence, teen pregnancy drug abuse, poverty, aggression, and fear. Their advice is to create a “Better Normal”—raise your expectations for yourself and those you love; reverse the cycle of fear, violence, and negativity that plagues you, your family, and your community. One way to do this is by finding positive role models—mentors who can help guide you to live a more elevated and positive life. Justin found successful black professionals in his college mentoring program who had higher expectations for him than he had for himself. Alexis found a loving foster family who adopted her at age 26 and loved her unconditionally. She changed her “old normal” concept of “Love Hurts” to “Love heals, feels good, and is healthy.” Once you have raised your own standard of mental well-being, your calling is to become a healthy and positive role model for others, as Justin and Alexis are doing. This helps to create a cycle of love and emotional excellence in place of the old downward cycle of fear, despair, and failure.
Although the love and transformation story of Justin and Alexis is unique and beautiful, it is not the only one that exists. Others have overcome trauma and pain to live healthy and loving lives, and so can you. Follow the path of Justin and Alexis and be intentional about loving yourself, let go of the past of those who hurt you, find a Higher Nature love, and create your “Better normal.” If you do these things, you will be able to overcome the emotional chains that bound you and achieve your dreams of love, joy, and contribution.