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To the students struggling to adapt into college after leaving a toxic household,

It’s okay.

I know it’s hard.

I know it hurts.

I know that some days are easier than others. One day, you’re laughing with your friends, getting your work done on time, and walking around campus thinking: “this is how it is supposed to feel.” And then the next day, the change in environment is overwhelming, your mind is in a daze, and you’re wondering: “Am I a bad person for leaving?”

I know some days it feels like no one understands. It hurts watching your peers and friends leave for the holidays, wishing you could do the same but the comfort of your new dorm room is better than the storm back at home so you stay and watch them go instead. You don’t want to share your emotions and thoughts out of fear that that you’ll be trampling on their happiness because you are happy for them, it just hurts.

I know sometimes it’s hard to decipher whether you feel confused, lost, lonely, relieved, guilty, or angry. You’ve lived your whole life running from your emotions, trying to survive in a household rampant on their emotions that now when you finally have the freedom to express how you feel without restraint or criticism, you don’t know how. You’re not sure how to feel sometimes.

I know you have been waiting to finally leave that house. You thought: “Finally, finally I’m free!” and then when you got here, sure, you felt happy and relieved but the damage had been done. You don’t feel any different. The memories, the trauma, the toxic habits, the regrets… they’re still there and it hurts. It should have disappeared once you left but it didn’t.

I know some days, it finally feels like your free from the chains of the past. You go about your day and then one small thing, maybe a text or a phone call, brings you back to the that place and suddenly, you feel like a scared little kid all over again. Every thing you have accomplished over the months or years, all the hard work, all the good moments come crashing down and it’s like you’re back at square one.

I know sometimes it’s an internal battle between “they’re my family” and “but I deserved a better home.” It doesn’t make you a bad person, I assure you. None of this, if it applies to you, makes you a bad person. I’m here to tell you that you’re not alone. I understand and although it may not feel like it, there is a community of students like me and you who also understand because we’ve been there- or in our cases, we are currently in those shoes now. And if this isn’t you, that’s okay too. Everyone transitions different at their own pace through their own ways. But if you struggle, like me, then this one is for you.

Letting go of toxic people in your life is a big step in loving yourself.”Unknown

You did what was best for yourself and there is no shame in that. You’ve been through enough and you deserve a happy ending. You deserve to be where you are. You have worked so hard to get here and while it feels like your past still defines you or even shackles you, one day, you won’t feel that way. It hurts now but it doesn’t always hurt. It gets better.

I am currently still in the motions of adapting so I know how hard it can be. I know that limbo feeling like you’re in the unknown and you’re stuck, just wondering if you’ll ever get out. There is light at the end of the tunnel, it just takes work to get there. I’m here to give you some tips that have helped me through my own transition and I hope they might help you as well.

Here Are My Tips on How To Help You Transition Better From a Toxic Household to College:

Reconnect With Your Inner Child:

I had to learn this one the hard way. When you are forced to grow up quickly, you don’t experience your childhood like everyone else does. You don’t get to act like a kid your age and so you miss out on a lot of experiences other kids had. Sometimes, this manifests itself into jealousy and bitterness in adulthood as a result of consistently repressing our youthful dreams that we could never experience. Most often than not, it is a deeper wound than we realize.

So do yourself a favor and reconnect with your inner child. Inside of you, that scared little kid is reaching out for help. It longs for what it’s missed and they deserve love and healing just as much as the adult version of you. Treat them as you would have liked to be treated back then. Recently, I’ve bought coloring books and I color just for the fun of it. It was something I enjoyed a lot during my youth but I could never do outside of school simply because I didn’t have the means of buying the tools at the store growing up. It is an easy exercise to feel like a kid again, just for 30 minutes.

For some people, reconnecting with their inner child means buying things they have always wanted but were denied. It could also mean allowing yourself to eat sweets or say certain things or behave a certain way that was ridiculed by your family in the past. I have a friend who likes to reconnect with their inner child by decorating their room the way they always wanted to when they were a kid, simply because their parents would never let them.

Do things you used to enjoy a lot as a kid or learn things you always wanted to do. I promise you that it will feel so rewarding and heartwarming to give back the childhood you were never allowed to have.

Re-Learn Yourself:

Living in a toxic household is a lot like living in a zombie videogame. It’s a weird comparison- I know, but think about it. When you’re playing a video game like that, you consistently feel like you’re on the edge. It is a battle of survival: do you run or fight or hide? How can you possible live your life to the fullest and be your most authentic self when you live in a battlefield, constantly trying to survive day by day? It’s nearly impossible.

A lot of kids end up leaving bad homes feeling lost, empty, or confused. Not only were they robbed of their childhood but they often can’t recognize themselves outside of the storm and the chaos. Finding out who I was when I wasn’t in survival mode has been one of the hardest challenges in my transition period from my household to college. It’s a process but it is so worth it.

My biggest piece of advice would be to step outside of your comfort zone and try new things. Ask yourself: “Is there something I have always wanted to try but never did?” I’m sure you can find one or more things that you have always wanted to do in the back of your mind but never did for whatever reason. For me, it was yoga. I always wanted to do it but I didn’t know where to start. Once I did, I ended up liking it a lot and it’s helped me destress during hard weeks.

Sometimes, though, things we’ve always wanted to try just don’t work out and that’s okay! If that happens, simply try new things you have never thought about. Try to do something or learn something new every month and if it doesn’t work out, cross it out of the list! It could even be as simple as looking back at old hobbies and thinking, “You know, I don’t think I really liked that.” Learn new hobbies. I’m trying to learn how to paint- I’m not sure if it’s working out yet though.

Find out what you don’t like and what you like. Listen to new music. Meet new people. Figure out who you are. You’re still young and you got time.

Be Kind to Yourself & Embrace Your Emotions Throughout the Healing Process:

Healing hurts. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise, but don’t let anyone discourage you from doing so either. Healing is never linear. Some days are easier than others but that doesn’t mean it’s not working. You are working through years of hurt and trauma, it’s going to hurt uncovering everything you have pushed down to protect yourself. As human beings, vulnerability is scary and it hurts because we don’t want to put ourselves in the position of getting hurt again. But pain is a part of life and if nothing else, it teaches us how to live to the fullest and embrace the happier moments in our lives after knowing how dark it can be.

I remember thinking I was completely done healing and then one bad day reminded me that I still had more to do. I was devastated and almost gave up entirely. I didn’t see the point of getting better if it wasn’t working and it was just hurting me instead. It took me a while to learn that I had to be kind to myself and embrace the pain because the cuts were deep and I was the surgeon assigned to my own operating table, carefully stitching it up. Of course, it’s going to hurt. Life doesn’t give you pain medicine the way a hospital does. We can’t run from it because then we’re not healing, we’re escaping.

Some days, it will be harder than others. And on those days, I find it beneficial to simply let myself have a day to be sad. I forgive myself for falling out of my routine, for not getting out of bed, for not doing work. I tell myself: “It’s okay. I know it hurts. Let’s feel this and do better tomorrow.” By being patient and kind during my hard days, I was able to go through the motions and let it pass, instead of letting it build up inside of me. I’d treat myself to sweets and comfort things as a kind gesture and it helped, more than you know.

Don’t give up. You got this. Embrace the pain and let it pass. And when it’s too much, be kind to yourself. Sometimes, we need to break a little to put ourselves back together. Healing is almost like a part time job and you need a break every once and a while. Forgive yourself for the mishaps but don’t forget to get back on track.

Find An Outlet:

I find a lot of people, including myself have a hard time with this one. It can be easy to throw this step into the back burner and let your emotions bottle up inside. It’s already hard managing classes, homework, friend groups, and maybe even a part time job. It is hard finding time to process your emotions and let them out. But keeping them inside until you have time for it is not healthy for you or the people around you. And something I realized while pushing aside this step is that there never really is a good time, you simply have to make the time or fit it in.

Even if it’s for ten minutes or thirty minutes, find a way to vent our your emotions in a healthy way. Don’t wait until it becomes too much and your thoughts are ready to explode. In the long run, it might hurt you more. I find that a lot of people who come from toxic households never had the chance to do this step, so it’s almost instinct to hold it all in out of habit and fear of the consequences. But you’re not there anymore. You have the freedom and safety to let it out.

Go to the gym and vent out your frustrations. Go on a run around campus and jam to music. Scream into a pillow or even write about how you feel in a journal. Rage into a video game for hours. Do whatever helps you get those negative emotions and thoughts out. I found out that talking to friends and journaling helps me process my thoughts when they’ve become too much, especially after talking to my family, it’s nice letting it out so it doesn’t continuously bite at me throughout the week.

Write A Letter:

I struggled a lot with guilt, shame, and closure when I first moved into my dorm. Although I knew what I did was the best decision for me, it didn’t mean I was completely content with it. I love my family, I do. And I love my younger siblings so much. I hated leaving them knowing what I was leaving them to deal with. But my family, like many other families similar to mine, aren’t so good at expressing their emotions and communicating.

So instead of letting all of those things boil up, I wrote letters. I dedicated a specific time during my day to write a letter to every single member in my family and in those letters, I wrote down everything I had wished I could have said. I didn’t sugarcoat or beat around the bush, I spoke frankly and honestly. It was hard but it was necessary. When you can’t find closure from them, you have to find it from yourself.

Grab a sheet of paper and write everything you held back for years. All the mistakes, the regrets, the hopes… everything. Don’t hold back. Let it all out. You might feel empty at first after holding it all in for years but the relief and the peace you feel once it sneaks in will provide you all the closure you need to accept it. You don’t have to send these letters, you can tear them up or burn them or even hide them away somewhere. You choose what helps you best find closure and peace.

Set Boundaries:

I dare say this is the most important step of all, hence why I decided to end my list of tips on this note.

After everything you have done and how far you have gone, do not let them one simple action or one person ruin it. I know it’s hard setting boundaries with family members. They’re your family and you shouldn’t have to be put in a position to draw a line. But when it comes to you and your peace versus them- always choose yourself. If they had done their job in the first place, you wouldn’t have had to do this.

It is not selfish to put yourself first. They had their chance to be in your life and they ruined that chance. You are not responsible for their mistakes and undoing, they are. So don’t keep guilt tripping yourself into letting them back into your life, stirring up chaos again and messing up how far you have come.

If you have to cut down contact to once a week or once a month texts, that is perfectly fine. If you’re in the position to send them a formal text, notifying them what is okay and what is not okay, feel free to do so. If you’re still scared and uncertain, that’s okay too. If you know your family won’t be accepting and you’re waiting until you’re fully independent, that’s okay.

Take the time to really think about what relationship you want with them and then make an action plan from there. It might hurt them, it might even upset them but you owe it to yourself to build a safe and happy environment for you to grow in. It’s a process and it might takes years. You’ll find the right method for you, especially considering your own individual situation, you know what will work best for you.


I hope this article has helped you feel less alone and figure out some tricks to help you better in your journey. I only wish the best for you and your healing process. I know it’s hard and it hurts, but it’s going to be okay. It gets better. And one day, when you finally make your dream home, you’ll look back and it’ll be a distant memory then. When that time comes, I hope you feel proud of yourself and you treat yourself a little kinder that day because you are so strong for it. You got this. I believe in you.

Julisse (pronounced JEW-lease) is an English major with an Educational Studies minor, inspiring to be an English high school teacher. She has plans to one day publish her own books and go back to school to hopefully get her doctorate. She likes to watch anime, read, paint, and write during her free time. She loves to read articles about activism and self-care tips.
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