Three Years of Freedom

My three year freedom anniversary was three days ago. I wish I could say that I celebrated it in some way, but I didn’t.

And that is not the normal for me. Ever since I ran away, I have celebrated every milestone — one year, 500 days, two years, 1,000 days. I’ve always done something symbolic, something meaningful to celebrate the day. The celebrations helped remind me of where I was, and where I came from. I know some people thought it was a bit much, but you never really understand just how important these days are unless you’ve escaped from hell. And I know many of you, unfortunately, can understand that.

But as my three year anniversary rolled around, I didn’t feel like there was anything to celebrate. Over the last few months, my life has fallen apart. I found myself homeless. And even though I found a bed in a shelter, that stay ended up damaging me even more. I wandered the streets. I slept on friends’ couches. And out of desperation, with no options left, I found myself on a bus traveling west to stay with someone I never actually met other than through online conversation.

How did I end up here? Why did I end up here? I still don’t understand what happened. I still don’t understand how, despite everything, I am ineligible for any type of assistance. If I was an alcoholic, or a drug addict, I could get help right away. In the midst of my desperation, I actually considered breaking my sobriety because I knew it was the only way I could get help. But why should I have to? It makes no sense.

I’m angry. And not just because I am homeless. Not just because my only option was to leave the state where I had everything, including my medical care, in place. I’m angry because I’m sick.

It’s not like being sick is anything new to me. I’ve been sick for awhile. But I think, in that time, there was a part of me that didn’t think it was a really big deal. Until I started getting really sick. Until that hospital stay back in May when everything took a turn for the serious. Pulmonologists, infectious disease specialists, doctors in and out of my hospital room telling me that I was very sick. This wasn’t just a cold. This wasn’t something that was going to go away. I must have answered a hundred questions as the doctors tried to figure out just how I ended up this way. It doesn’t make any sense, they’d say. Little did they know, nothing in my life has ever made much sense.

As much as I hate to admit it, I was (and still am) scared. A part of me wanted to run away from my medical problems. If I just left my doctors, left the hospital, that somehow my issues would just disappear. Until five days into my stay in another state, when I passed out at lunch and found myself at the hospital once again.

The hospital did chest x-rays just to be sure everything was okay and there was no pneumonia (as I had a massive thrush infection — completely unrelated to me passing out). The doctor walked into my room and I could see the confusion and concern on his face. There’s no pneumonia, so that’s the good news, but — before he could finish his sentence, I told him it was okay, that I knew I was sick. I realized I’m going to have to have this conversation every time I end up in the hospital. A consistent reminder that I’m sick, no matter how hard I try to pretend like I’m okay.

How is this fair? How is any of it fair? I fought so hard to get out alive and this is where I end up after three years. My mother is free. She is healthy. She doesn’t struggle.

And I am nowhere, sick and struggling.

All of the things I learned along the way have left me with nothing. The people that said they would support me have turned their backs on me. The system that says it helps those in need has left me stranded.

So what’s left to celebrate?

1,000 Days of Freedom, Part 3: Truths

In all this time, I’ve learned a lot of things. While I buried what I learned to be lies in the ocean, I needed to hold on to the truths that I learned.

I didn’t want to do stones; I wanted to do something different. I wanted something symbolic, something that reminded me of the place I was in. I thought about the beach. I remembered how, when I first planned out my escape, I walked along the beach and looked for sea shells. I was looking for certain ones, which were hard to find among the seemingly endless amount of shells that had washed up.

I eventually found them. I also found some really beautiful shells, completely by accident. I didn’t look for them, I just stumbled upon them in the search for my special shells. It made me think of the truths I’ve come to learn in these last 1,000 days. Some of them I went looking for; others I just stumbled upon on the way.

So I got sea shells, and wrote six of the most important truths I came to learn inside them.

I deserved to be loved and nurtured.

There is nothing — NOTHING — a child could ever do to deserve to be abused, tortured, raped, or assaulted. I didn’t do anything to warrant that. I was a child who deserved to be nurtured and taken care of, not abused and neglected. I deserved love and care, hugs and kisses, kindness and warmth. I didn’t get any of that. But I deserved to get that. I deserved to have a childhood without fear and pain. I deserved a home I could feel safe in.

I can speak the truth. She can no longer silence me.

I had no voice for years. I grew up in fear of telling people who my mother was, and telling people what was going on. I thought I was lying to protect myself, but I was really lying to protect her. I know that now. Now I can use my voice, because I am free. I will continue to speak the truth because it’s my truth to speak. I am no longer afraid to speak. I am no longer shamed to admit what has happened to me. I will not be silent.

I am a good person who deserves good things.

Even after I ran away, I lived my life for others more than I did for myself, because I still believed that I was somehow less deserving than others. I deflected compliments as if they were poison, because I believed I didn’t deserve them. I understated my achievements because I believed I didn’t truly earn them. But I’ve come to realize that I do deserve the good things — whether they be compliments, promotions, awards — even food. I am a human being. I am a good, kind, genuine person who deserves some good, as hard as that may be for me to acknowledge.

Family isn’t biological. You can make your own family, and I have.

Despite what people have said to me, even recently, my family is not the people who are genetically linked to me. My father may have been my sperm donor, but he was not my family. My mother may have given birth to me, but she is not my family. The others who never intervened, they are not my family. My family is made up of the people who support me and care for me and love me for who I am. They are there for me no matter if it’s a good day or a bad day. My family is unconditional.

I am nothing like my mother.

I’m not a sociopath. I’m not a predator. I’m not an abuser. I’m not who my mother is. I used to think that if I liked the same things as her, if I ate the same food as her, that meant that I was her. She used to change her hair to match mine. She used to take my clothes to wear them herself. People used to say how much I looked like her because she made herself to look like me. I could never separate any aspect of myself from my mother. But now I realize that physical appearance means nothing, and that shared blood doesn’t make for shared behaviors.

I can ask for help. It doesn’t mean I’m weak. It won’t get me in trouble.

I grew up never asking for anything. I never wanted to be a burden. I never wanted to be punished. I could never reach out because I knew, in the end, it would only end up getting me into more trouble. That fear carried over into my adulthood, and even after I ran away, I struggled with reaching out. There were times I needed someone to talk to, but I was too afraid to be a bother. There were times I was dissociating and needed help grounding, but I thought asking for help meant I wasn’t strong enough to do it on my own.

It’s no surprise that one of my main goals in every treatment I’ve been in — from PHP to IOP to individual therapy — has been to learn how to reach out for help. I don’t have to wait until I’m at a breaking point. I don’t have to refuse help when someone offers it. I can ask because people are willing to help me.

These truths will stay with me, as a reminder of how much I’ve learned and grown.

1,000 Days of Freedom, Part 2: The Lies

I am hopeless. I will never be safe. It’s my fault I’m sick. I abandoned my family. No one will love me. No one will believe me. I was just confused. She had to rape me to save me. I am just like her. I will never get better. I am ruined. My father died because I left. I am an abuser. I deserve a gravestone.

These are the lies I believed as truth — some believed for years, others believed for decades.

I found the heaviest, blackest stones, and wrote a former belief on each one. I carried them with me to the beach this morning. I walked right up to where the ocean meets the sand. I picked one stone at a time, read it to myself, and then tossed it as far as I could into the sea. They are all there now, somewhere buried in the sand beneath the waters. They are no longer weighing on me.

I am hopeless.

I spent most of my life this way. My childhood. My adolescence. My 20s. I didn’t expect to live very long. I didn’t expect to ever get out alive. But I am still here, alive, and free. There are still times that I lose hope, but I am not hopeless. Even as I struggle in nearly every way, I keep trying to rise above. I have not given up.

I will never be safe.

It’s a hard belief to shake when you have spent most of your life without a safe place. Home was a battleground, a prison, a hell — it was never a safe place to be. Yet she taught us that it was the outside world that was dangerous.

Every aspect of my life was controlled by her. Even when I was outside of the house, I still was under her control. She was everywhere. She knew everything. There was no escaping her, until I finally did. And even then, I struggled with the fear of her coming to get me, the fear of her finding me.

I still have that fear, and it’s a valid one. There’s no doubt in my mind that she knows where I am. But I can’t live my life always in fear. I can be vigilant, and I can be proactive. The fear of her won’t go away, even in her death. But I can still embrace the small moments when I am surrounded with supports, in a secure place. It’s in those moments that I am safe.

It’s my fault I’m sick.

I put a lot of the blame for my medical issues on myself. The truth is, it’s not really my fault. Dysautonomia just happens. Ehlers Danlos is hereditary. My lung problems existed long before I started smoking, from living in a home that was environmentally unsafe. It’s not my fault. And neither is my PTSD or my DID. None of this is my fault.

I abandoned my family.

I did not abandon my family. They abandoned me a very long time ago. There was no love, no nurturing, no support provided by my mother. My father was absent emotionally. My brother was lost in his trauma early on. I never had the connection to them. Aside from DNA, they were never my family.

I ran away from my abuser; I did not abandon my family.

No one will love me.

She would tell me that so many times, especially when I was a teenager. She treated me like I was the ugliest person, constantly pointing out any flaw she could find, and making stuff up when she couldn’t. For a while, I believed she was right. I couldn’t connect with anyone, but that’s because I never learned how, and never had the right people to connect with. Now I do. Now I have people who genuinely care about me.

No one will believe me.

I spent my whole childhood believing that lie. I spent my teenage years believing it, too. And then in adulthood, when I finally came out and tried to tell people what happened, they didn’t believe me. I thought it was just like she said, that no one would understand, that no one would believe me. It turns out she was wrong. People were just blinded by their own stereotypes. They didn’t want to believe. Trust me, I didn’t want to, either. But people know the truth now. People understand because they’ve lived the same pain, too.

I was just confused.

Years ago, a social worker told me that my mother wasn’t abusing me, that she loved me and was just showing that in the best way she knew how, that I was just confusing it for abuse. It made me second-guess myself. So many moments I had to step back and ask myself if I just misunderstood what was going on. How could a mother hurt her own child? It’s inconceivable. But it’s reality. There’s no confusion about that.

She had to rape me to save me.

There could never be anything wrong with someone who would justify raping them. There was nothing ever wrong with me. It was just a lie. She wasn’t helping me. She was hurting me. She didn’t save me from anything. I needed saving from her.

I am just like her.

I know enough about sociopathy to know that there is somewhat of a genetic link. That sat in the back of my mind for a while. I thought that maybe my emotions weren’t mine — after all, I was never allowed to have them for all those years. I had to learn about them from watching videos. Maybe I just learned to copy them. Maybe I have no empathy.

But I have real emotions. Sometimes they suck, but I have them. And I have empathy. Maybe a little too much at times. I’m not a sociopath. I’m nothing like her.

I will never get better.

After 17 years of off-and-on therapy, I start to wonder if I will ever get better. Then I am quickly reminded that for most of those years, I was still living with my mother, still being abused. No amount of intervention or therapy would have helped until I was out of that situation. So, I can’t really count those years as much of anything in terms of trying to get better, because at that time, I was just struggling to survive.

It’s difficult, especially in the last 15 months (10 of which were spent in intensive outpatient therapy), to see myself getting better. Other people are able to get over their traumas and move on. Yet I’m here, fresh out of IOP, still having emotional breakdowns and flashbacks and thoughts about dying.

My therapist reminds me I’ve been through “a lot of fucking trauma”. It’s going to take time. A lot of time. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

I am ruined.

I used to think I gave off a vibe where people just knew — maybe they could tell by looking at me, or the way I walked, or something that let them know that I am ruined. I felt like others could sense my shame more than I could. I thought they could tell that I was dirty and worthless because of what she did to me.

But there’s no vibe, no invisible stamp on my forehead that tells others I’m somehow ruined. I’ve got damage, but I’m not ruined. I can be repaired.

My father died because I left.

My father did not die because of me, as much as my mother would like to throw that blame on me. He wasn’t heartbroken when I left; he couldn’t wait to sell all the stuff I left behind. He didn’t care I left.

My father had multiple heart attacks, strokes, and blood infections. He had a plethora of medical problems for over a decade. That’s what killed him.

I am an abuser.

I’ve written a few times over this past year about how I have been working on overcoming my fear of children, which stems back to incidents in childhood that had me believe that I was an abuser. I am not an abuser. I am not a predator. I am no longer afraid of being near children. I don’t freeze or panic when I am near them, because I know that I would never hurt them.

I deserve a gravestone.

My mother thinks I deserve a gravestone. She always said I would never get away from her. She always threatened that if I told anyone, I would get hurt. I’ve gone against her rules in the biggest ways. She’s used to being in control, and she’s not anymore.

I don’t deserve to die because I ran away. I don’t deserve a gravestone because I told the truth. I took control of my life. I did what I had to.

These are the lies I let float away.

Guilt Dreams

For the past few weeks, I’ve been having the same dream.

I’m not even sure what to call it — a bad dream or a nightmare. It’s not something I’d like to remember. It’s not something I want to keep thinking about. But the fact that it keeps seeping into my sleep consciousness is frustrating to me. It’s easy to push things out of my mind when I’m awake. But when I’m asleep, I have no control of what comes through, and no ability to push it away.

The beginning is always the same. I’m in a car. My father is driving. My mother is in the passenger seat. We’re driving through some neighborhood I can’t recognize. There are lots of bare trees. Small houses. Everything is quiet. It’s not the nighttime, but the sky is gray.

No one speaks. My father keeps driving. After a few blocks, he turns a corner and stops in front of a house. My mother gets out of the car. I watch as she steps up to the front door and walks right in. The light in the house is on. I can see a few small beds in what I would have otherwise assumed was the living room. Two children run up to my mother, and she grabs one and lifts her up.

I turn and ask my father what’s going on. He tells me this is where she works now; she takes care of the children. My father continues to drive, repeating the same line over and over again. I want to scream, but I’m frozen.

I always wake up at that point, experiencing the same panic as I imagine I would be experiencing in the dream. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I get angry. Most times, I lay in bed physically frozen as my mind races between the dream and my reality.

It’s something I thought I would be over by now. The guilt for leaving. Not just leaving, but leaving my mother behind. Leaving her to hurt other children. Leaving without saying a word about what she had done to me and others.

I didn’t press charges. I didn’t call the cops. I didn’t have her put in jail. I let her remain free. Free to hurt others. Free to get away with all she had done.

In the dream, I could have spoken up, but I didn’t. I could have told my father to stop the car, to turn back and save those children before it was too late, but I didn’t. I froze. I said nothing. I did nothing.

The guilt hangs over me. I don’t recognize it all the time, but it’s there. I feel like I can’t move forward with the knowledge (and lack thereof) of what I’ve left behind. I can’t save anyone from her. I chose to be selfish and save myself.

Last week, my therapist asked me what it would take to make me feel accomplished. I told him my expectations were entirely unrealistic. I didn’t tell him what they were — my grandiose goal of making sure no child is ever abused by their mother. That can never happen, and surely not by anything in my power.

Today, my therapist asked a similar question, but this time he focused on what would make me feel complete or purposeful. It was in that moment that I realized it wasn’t about my impossible expectations; that’s not what was bothering me at all. I started to cry, but I couldn’t find the words to tell him what was in my head. I couldn’t tell him how badly I beat myself up over leaving my brother behind. I couldn’t tell him I was too weak to stand up against her. I couldn’t tell him about the guilt that was eating away at me for years.

I couldn’t tell him that I would never feel complete until I knew my mother could not hurt another person ever again.

All I could do was cry.

And the guilt stays with me, even in my dreams.

To know what safe is

I don’t wanna be afraid
I don’t wanna run away
I don’t wanna be here fading
It’s more that I can take
I’m never gonna be the same
I threw it all away
I don’t wanna be here fading
Just let go

This song played today (Red – Let Go). And even though I’ve heard it dozens of times before, today it stuck with me in a way it hadn’t before.

I am in fear. Every day of my life, I am scared. And it’s frustrating, because I believed that once I got away, I would be safe. But I don’t feel safe.

I don’t think it matters where I live. I’ll still be afraid. Even though I have been in the safest place I have ever been in my life, I’m still just existing here, waiting for her to find me again. My heart still drops any time I get a handwritten letter in the mail. I still get anxious any time someone new follows my blog, wondering if it’s really her. Because why would she stop? She’s already done it before. She’ll do it all again and more.

I told myself I would lead a hidden life when I got out, but I didn’t. I wasn’t cautious enough. I took a job that put my name out there. Anyone who googles my name will find a plethora of work I’ve done and articles I’ve written. I’m not a nobody. I’m not hidden. I am exposed. And that scares me. If I had just stayed silent, if I had just blended in with society instead of writing and speaking out, maybe I would feel safe. Maybe.

I haven’t been writing like I used to. I haven’t published an article in over a month.  All I can think about is her reading it and finding her way back to me. All I can think about is her reading it and knowing how much she has ruined me.

I haven’t been able to sleep. I’m often awake for two or three days at a time. Severe insomnia, they say. I’ve tried everything short of a self-induced coma. But I don’t think it’s anything Medical keeping me awake. I can’t go to sleep, because I’m afraid. I keep having the same bad dream with her in it. I’m standing in line at the grocery store and there she is, in the line next to me. And I freeze. That’s as far as I get before I wake up shaking.

I don’t want to sleep, because I’m afraid to know what happens next. I don’t want to sleep, because I don’t want her to find me in my dreams. I don’t want to sleep, because I don’t want to relive her terror in my nightmares.

I can’t tell the difference between the past and the present. I know she’s not here with me, but I feel like she is. I spend my days in fear of punishment that will never come, because she’s not even here to hurt me. I hide under my bed some nights in fear that she will come into my room, yet I’m in a house that she doesn’t, has not, and will never live in. I tell myself I can’t do things, because I’m still living in a time when she makes all the rules and I need to oblige.

I am living my life in fear, wondering when I will have to run again. Wondering what threat will come next. Wondering where my mother is, because as long as she is alive, I will always be in danger.

My therapist asked me today what I thought feeling safe was like. I couldn’t answer. I’m not sure I’ve ever felt it. I’ve only known varying degrees of unsafety. 

I am tired of being afraid. I am tired of running. I am tired of this kind of life. A life ruled by fear. A life with me fading. A life being ruined by a woman who doesn’t deserve to have that power.

I just want to know what safe is.

Trapped

I can’t talk about anything.

I can’t write about anything.

Everything is trapped. My words, my thoughts, my emotions. In the prison cell that she created. And I don’t know how to get any of it out. It’s suffocating me.

I’m still afraid. Afraid of her. Afraid of the truth that I will never be free.

She speaks inside my head. She reads my words. She is everywhere, even when she’s not.