I had a picture-perfect childhood: fit with loving parents, a nice house, a big yard, and plenty of toys. My only concerns at the time were going to school and playing with my Barbies; running off to soccer practice and riding my scooter; bugging my brother and watching Dragon Tales. Unfortunately, it never dawned on me that this less-than-eventful lifestyle was a privileged one—or that this normalcy might one day get interrupted, and I should appreciate it while I had the chance. Fast forward to my sophomore year of college. It’s a Saturday night, and I’m getting ready to go out with some friends. I’m quite literally walking out the door when my brother calls me, concern and confusion in his voice. I ask him what’s wrong; he talks; I cry; we step out of the cookie-cutter mold.

Mom left, he told me. She stayed in a hotel for a few nights while she “thought things over.” But in the end, she left. She told us time and time again that she wasn’t leaving us, she was leaving our father. But it was all the same. She couldn’t be found in the kitchen on Wednesday nights making spaghetti or on Sunday mornings making pancakes. She wasn’t around to wake me up with a smile or wish me a great day, every day. She simply didn’t exist the way she had before.

I felt completely abandoned. This woman—my mother—who I idolized, loved, and cherished for 20 years suddenly disappeared. And I was left to deal with whatever mess she left behind. It took me a few years to acknowledge the magnitude of this mess, but today I understand it will take time and hard work to clean it all up. To heal from the pain and the abandonment issues she left me with. It certainly isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. And I’m thankful I have the opportunity to grow from this experience as I continue on my journey. The following tips have steered me in the right direction and light the road to healing:

How to Heal from Abandonment Issues

1) Own the story.

“First, recognize and name what happened to you: ‘I got left. I was orphaned. I was betrayed.’ This helps you own the situation and get some power back from doing so,” says Jessica Tappana, Licensed Clinical Social Worker. “Make sure when you do this that you try to identify how you are feeling about what happened. ‘I got left and this sucks. My beloved died, and I feel bereft.’ Stop rolling the presses if you go too far and start drawing conclusions about what this event means for you, especially if you are drawing negative conclusions. If you find yourself saying, ‘I got left, this sucks, I must be an awful person,’ or, ‘I never deserve to meet anyone great,’ put some limits around these statements. This is the kind of thinking that puts you in a downward spiral and makes your abandonment feelings more intense.”

2) Identify and feel your feelings.

Heidi McBain, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, says it’s important for an individual with abandonment issues to then “acknowledge that they are hurting and in pain, and that this situation is going to be hard, but they are strong and will get through it.” In addition, they should “give themselves plenty of time to grieve the loss of the life they had planned with the person who left and remind themselves that they are going through a big transition in their life—that things will get easier, but they have to take things slowly, step-by-step, day-by-day.”

3) Find a healthy outlet for expression.

It will also help to channel those feelings into something positive. Caleb Backe, Health and Wellness Expert, explains: “One of the most important aspects of overcoming your fear of abandonment is to find a healthy outlet that can help you face your emotions and fears in a way that is safe and secure. Sometimes this can be talking to a close friend or family member; other times it can be as easy as making art or keeping a journal.”

4) Recognize that you are not the problem.

Another critical stop on your journey toward healing from abandonment is acknowledging and understanding that you are not the problem. “When a person is abandoned, they tend to view themselves as unlovable,” says Tappana. “When we find ways to view ourselves as a whole person and understand at the deepest levels that it had nothing to do with us, but rather more to do with the inabilities of the person who left, then we can become free.”

5) Be willing to ask for help.

And lastly, don’t be afraid to ask for help, perhaps from a professional. “If the abandonment you went through in the past is keeping you from moving forward, know that you may need a little extra support,” advises Tappana. “Consider talking to someone trained in helping people overcome struggles such as a pastor or professional counselor. A professional can help you take a deeper look at your wounds in a safe environment. You don’t have to live with the weight of your sudden loss or in constant fear that anyone you love might leave. Through counseling, you can find your self-confidence and learn to slowly rebuild your trust in the world around you.”