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.

What no one wants to know

One afternoon last year, I was walking up the street to catch the bus I was taking to get to my grad school classes at night.

As I was walking, a little girl came out of one of the buildings and started walking just a few feet in front of me. She was around six years-old, and was walking alone. I started to panic. I felt sick to my stomach. I was hoping she’d go inside somewhere, but she just kept walking in front of me.

I was scared for her. This girl is in danger. She’s going to get hurt. I wasn’t scared that she was going to get kidnapped or anything like that. I was scared that she was going to be hurt by me.

I am scared to be near children. It’s a crippling fear of mine. I don’t want to hold anyone’s baby. I don’t want to babysit anyone’s toddler. I avoid children at all costs. When I see them, I run away. It’s part of the reason I have not, and never will, have children of my own.

It’s not so much a fear of children (although some are quite scary). It’s the fear that I will hurt them. The fear that I am a predator, an abuser just like my mother was and is. They say the cycle of abuse continues, the abused become the abusers. I think that’s true, because I think that is me.

It’s a topic you won’t find in any support groups. It’s something hush-hush, something to be ashamed of. And I agree. I never told a soul what I had done until I hesitantly brought it up to my therapist last year, after suffering from painful flashbacks of incidents from my childhood, incidents in which I hurt other children.

I didn’t know any better. I was a child, too, a child who believed that all little girls were supposed to be “helped” in the bathroom, a child who thought it was normal to touch parts that shouldn’t be touched. I didn’t know it was wrong. I didn’t know I was hurting other children. I was just doing what I was taught was okay.

I realized the reality of the situation when I started getting flashbacks in my early 20s. At that point, I knew what I had done. I knew I hurt children, in the same ways I was hurt. I was no better than any other abuser.

I hid it from the world for so long, even after I told my therapist. It was the one topic I never discussed with anyone else, the one topic I could never write about on this blog until today. I was still ashamed. I still am ashamed. And I carry that shame and guilt with me every day of my life.

They say the best way to counteract shame is to tell people the wrongs you have done. I realize that this may hurt me further. I realize some will respond with disgust, and even hatred. But I am taking the chance that at least one person will understand. I can’t be the only one out here. I don’t want to be the only one.

Why talk about this now?

I did something last week, something I’ve been afraid to do. I acted against my fear. In DBT, they call it opposite to emotion action. If your fear is unjustified, you don’t run away or avoid, you approach. And that’s what I did.

I was in the mall trying to get to the bus stop. All of a sudden, a group of Daisy girl scouts ambushed me. Usually, I would dash and run away, but I couldn’t do that because I am still using crutches. I froze for a minute, physically and mentally. Then I remembered, approach don’t avoid. You are not your mother. You are not a predator. I came back to reality, and stood there and listened as they sold me two boxes of cookies. The anxiety was still there, stewing inside of me; the panic was, too. But after a few minutes, it was all over. I got my cookies. I talked to children. And I didn’t hurt them.

I faced one of my biggest fears head on, doing something I had avoided for so long. The fear was still there; I would be lying if I said it wasn’t. But here was evidence that I could be near a child without hurting her.

I shared my experience in program the next day (without sharing the details of what caused the fear in the first place). I’m not sure anyone quite understood the gravity of my fear, because they don’t know my story much at all. But they didn’t judge me.

And neither did my therapist at program. We talked about it more in individual session the following day. It was uncomfortable for me at first, because I was afraid she would ask me the question I had been avoiding every time someones asked have you ever hurt someone? 

My therapist asked if my fear of children was justified or unjustified, and I told her I wasn’t sure. I really wasn’t. In a way it is justified, I thought. I have hurt children in the past. But not in the present. Not as a conscious adult. Not as a perpetrator. So then it’s unjustified. She asked my reasons for the fear being justified. I felt the shame rising up again. I told her I hurt a child, but I didn’t know, I didn’t know, I was just a child. I was afraid of her reaction. This was a woman who knew me all of two months, and yet she knew so much about it already — and now this.

She asked if I ever had urges to hurt a child. I never have. I can’t even imagine myself knowingly hurting a child. It’s not like that at all. But there is a fear of an urge. A fear that if I am left with children, an urge will come and I will hurt them. Like it’s something that has been ingrained in me. Like it’s something I inherited from my mother.

It’s fear that is both justified and unjustified. There are no easy answers. There is no easy explanation. The only thing I know is that I’ve hurt someone, but I am not my mother.

When you approach your fears, over time, they gradually lose their strength and you are able to overcome them. But this is not one of those fears. My therapist said it might get better over time, but I also may always be afraid of being near children; that fear may never go away. That’s understandable, and that’s okay. But it hurt me when she said that. Even though I know she’s right, I realized it’s just another part of life I have lost because of my past.

While children bring most people joy, they will bring me fear. And I may never be able to change that. Just like I can’t change what I have done, who I have hurt, or those who have hurt me.

I am sorry. Every minute of every hour of every day, I am sorry.

Take it all away

These are the gravestones my mother sent to me. I carry them with me, just like I carry the fear with me, every day.

There is no safety here, no sense of security. The very small amount I may have had is lost now. I spend every day waiting for her. I check for her behind the unlocked doors of the house I live in. I look for her down the street wherever I’m walking. I see her in my nightmares. I hear her voice in my head. She lives here, now more than ever.

Part of me wishes she would get it over with already. Punish me for my sins. End my life.

I was never supposed to tell.  And I spent so many years not telling a soul. But then I started to speak, only to be shut down.

I already knew that was happening. You’re just confused. You’re misinterpreting her love. Mothers don’t do those things. She’s not that kind of person. Your mother loves you.

My mother was right. No one understood. No one believed me. So I gave up the fight  . And then I escaped and I believed that I was free. I found my voice and I told the world who my mother was and is — I committed the ultimate sin, the most horrendous crime against my mother. And the punishment for that is death.

I wonder when she comes for me, will they all stand and watch, just as they stood and watched her abuse me? Will they cover their eyes and pretend like they can’t see anything, just like they covered their eyes and pretended they couldn’t see the scars? Will they turn and walk away, just as they turned and walked away from me all those times they knew what was happening?

Or will they see me on the ground, bloody and broken and dying, and give me a band-aid so they can say they tried to help me? Your bunnies, your prayers, your positive thoughts did nothing to save me. Bunnies didn’t stop the rape. Jesus didn’t stop the beating. Affirmations didn’t stop the pain. I needed help — not material things or spirits or empty words. I needed help and I got a band-aid. You can’t put a band-aid on a hemorrhage.

They want to hide me. They tell me they help me find safety. But they don’t understand that I will never be safe. They don’t understand that no matter where I run away, she will always find me. I will never be safe for as long as she is breathing. She cannot be stopped. She is a criminal free to roam, a monster in plain sight. No longer a captor of my body, but always a captor of my mind.

The damage is done. No one can help me now. The fear is a part of me; it runs through my veins. The pain cannot be healed; it lives on in every scar. That can never be taken away or erased. It’s permanent.

My mother thinks of my death as punishment, but I think of it as a reward. Killing me is the best thing she could do for me, the greatest gift she could ever give to me. It’s the only way the fear will end, the only way to stop all of the pain.

She’s already taken so much life from me. She shattered my mind, she murdered my spirit, she drowned my soul. There’s nothing left to take but the life from my body.

Take it all away.

I can’t change.

I’ve been trying to die for the last 24 years.

At six years old, I tried to drown myself. Six. Years. Old. It’s difficult for me to process, because I am entirely detached from the emotions of six year-old me. I remember what it felt like when the water filled up my lungs. I remember what it felt like to sink. I can’t remember the feeling, how sad and hopeless I must have felt to think that I could end it all by drowning. I wonder what it must have felt like to be pulled away, rescued from the ocean, but never rescued from what was really killing me, who was really killing me.

At ten years old, I tried to hang myself. For those few seconds, I felt what it was like to suffocate. I felt what it was like to have no air. I don’t remember feeling fear. I don’t even remember feeling pain; it was actually quite the opposite. I felt at peace. And then the strap snapped, and I fell to the floor. Instead of relief, I felt anger. The opportunity for peace had been ripped right out from under me.

At fifteen years old, I tried to bleed to death. All of my anger, all of my pain, and all of my desperation poured out through blood and tears. I couldn’t feel anything but the pain. Nothing else existed in that moment. My body was there; my mind was somewhere else. I sat in the bathroom alone and waited to die, but death never came. The bleeding stopped, and so did the tears. I became numb. I had no other choice.

At nineteen years old, I tried to stab myself. It was violent, fueled by the anger and rage that I had no other choice but to suppress. I so often dreamed of stabbing my mother, but I was too weak to make an attempt. I couldn’t stab the people who hurt me. So I stabbed myself. It scared me. The rage I had inside pushed me to a level I had never experienced before. And it’s a rage I can never forget, because those wounds turned into malformed scars that I see and feel every day of my life.

At twenty-two years old, I tried to end my life. I wasn’t going to mess it up this time. I planned it so carefully. I had a notebook full of calculations, weight conversions, lethal dosage levels. I triple checked to make sure it was going to be right. I took twice the lethal dose of aspirin and waited to die, with my family there, hiding me away, ashamed of what I had done. I didn’t die that day. I should have died. Instead of finding solace in death, I found hopelessness in life.

At twenty-five years old, I tried again, on the very same day I tried three years prior. A mix of three this time. If one isn’t enough, surely the others would do me in. I just wanted everything to end. I wanted her to stop hurting me. I wanted to stop crying myself to sleep. I wanted to stop being afraid. I wanted to be free, and the only freedom was in death. But once again, death didn’t come to me. All that came was more pain.

At twenty-nine years old, I tried a third time, on that very same day. I thought of running into the ocean that night, getting lost and drowning before anyone would ever find me. But I couldn’t move. I was stuck in a bed in a strange place, drowning in my own memories. I took an Ativan hoping it would help me, but I was still drowning. So I gave up. I took twenty more and before I could do it again, someone saved me. They didn’t understand that I didn’t want to be saved.

At thirty years old, I tried to die. I ran out in the highway in the dark of the morning, in front of traffic, hoping that someone would hit me and end my life. If I couldn’t do it, I wanted someone else to do it for me. I wasn’t worried about the pain. The broken bones, the internal bleeding, the crushed insides — those possibilities were nothing compared to the pain and hopelessness that consumed me. Crush my body just like my heart has been crushed. Break my bones just like my mind has been broken. But no one hit me. They saw me, even through my invisibility.

All those times, I should have died. I wanted my peace. I wanted an end to the pain. Why couldn’t I get that? I don’t know. I fail at dying, but I also fail at living.

The expectation that I can just take away everything that has happened to me, that I can go on with my life without wanting to die — I can’t. I’ve spent most of my life trying to end my life. A pill won’t fix that. Group therapy won’t fix that. A new therapist won’t fix that.

It’s part of my life, ingrained in me since childhood.


I needed to destroy something.

The feeling would not go away. I had been struggling with it since yesterday afternoon, when I sat in therapy and imagined ripping my own skin off. The thoughts continued to play in my mind, and it took everything in me not to comply.

But I still needed to hurt, I needed to destroy, I needed to do something to get this feeling to go away.

I sat in the break room at work, too weak from throwing up all morning to make my way home, but too lost in my feelings to trust myself to go anywhere else. I wanted it all to go away, but sitting in silence just made it come on stronger.

I started looking through my folder. I keep my notes from therapy there, as well the letters I’ve written to people, and important papers I need to work through. I was looking for one of my grounding reminders when I came across the envelope of religious crap my mother had sent me. I kept it because I wasn’t sure of what to do with it. I was waiting for the right time to set it all on fire, but in that moment, I didn’t think I could wait. I needed to destroy something, so I chose that.

I tore each card into pieces. I cut the plastic stained glass window with a knife. First into strips, then into squares, then into tiny flecks. It was relieving. All of my focus shifted from destroying myself to destroying these things that my mother used to help destroy me. I took the pieces I tore and tore them up again and again, until the pieces were so small that I could not tear them anymore. I became so immersed in this pointless destruction that I completely forgot about my own need to self-destruct.

Three hours later, I was done. I threw it all in the trash like confetti. All except for one thing: a picture from 1994, which had been pasted on a religious announcement. I peeled the photo off, quite easily, before tearing the rest of the card to pieces. Pieces of my childhood, completely destroyed. But they weren’t really pieces of anything, except the lies my mother used to tell me. The only true piece of my childhood was in that photo.

I sat there and looked at it Curly blond hair. I know I had curly blond hair. Big glasses. I knew my vision was poor. My name and date on the back. This photograph is of 8 year-old me.

But why was I having so much trouble realizing this? It was like I was looking at a picture of a stranger. I know this is me, but not inherently. I can rarely look at a picture and recognize my self looking back at me. I’m so disconnected with those parts of my life that I don’t even realize those parts are me.

And then the realization hits. This is me.

I sat there and cried. Seemingly over a picture, but it wasn’t really the picture at all. I was crying for that little girl. That little girl I couldn’t connect with. That little girl who was holding in so much, at just eight years old.  I tried to look in her eyes. I tried to look for a sign that someone else could have seen. But I couldn’t see anything. Just a girl in a dress, forced to crack a smile for a school picture. No one could see the pain she was in. No one could see the fear she felt. No one could see the shame she was already carrying with her, in this picture, and every day before and after. No one could see. No one wanted to see.

I cry for that little girl. I cry for the horrible things I know she went through.  I cry for how confused she must have felt — to be told that mommies love their children, but not knowing that love is not supposed to hurt like it did, not knowing that her mother never really loved her. I cry for how strong and brave she had to be. I cry for the childhood she lost, the childhood she never got to have.

I cry for 8 year-old KJ. But I don’t want to cry for me. We’re different people, aren’t we?

She doesn’t know

I sat on the toilet Thursday afternoon, fully intending just to pee and go back to work. Instead, I ended up crying. Alone. In the bathroom stall. For 15 minutes.

I was okay before all of that. It was Thanksgiving day. I went to see a movie in the morning just to engage in something to pass the time. Then I went to work, and I was busy but being busy was good. It kept my mind occupied as much as it did my body.

But it was in that moment, sitting alone in the bathroom in silence and inaction, that my mind began to wander. Then my reality sank in. It was Thanksgiving day and I had no one. Everyone else was eating with their families, and here I was alone, crying on a toilet.

It took me awhile to get myself back together. I managed to stop crying a few times before bursting into tears again. I told myself if I just went back to work, if I went back to being busy, that I wouldn’t have to think about the sad stuff and I would be okay. I got up, washed my face, and went back out.

I noticed my manager looking for something in my area, so I went over to see if I could help. She was checking something I had already fixed. No problems. Then she looked up and noticed my face, still red from my earlier crying. She asked me if I was okay. The question I’ve always dreaded.

I could have lied in that moment. I could have said I was fine just like I said I was fine so many cries before, for the last 30 years. I could have pushed her away and that would have been that. But I didn’t. I stumbled with words for a minute, before I finally said no, this is a hard time for me.

I felt myself starting to cry again, but I tried to contain it.  She came forward to give me a hug, but then stopped. Then she asked me, is it okay to touch you? I could have cried in that moment, but not out of sadness. Here was someone offering me support. Here was someone respecting my boundaries, respecting me. This was different.

I told her it was okay, so she continued to give me a hug. I needed the comfort, as awkward as if felt for me. I felt supported and cared for. I knew I didn’t have to hide. If I needed to cry, I didn’t have to go and do it alone on the toilet.

And I did cry, a few more times that afternoon. But the sadness didn’t consume me. I wiped the tears away and went on. My coworkers supported me. They told me it was going to be okay. You are here with us, now. They were right.

There were several hugs that night, in the moments I desperately needed them, but also in the moments I didn’t know that I did. My work people were there for me. They made sure I was okay. And even though I was only scheduled to work until late afternoon, management let me stay a few more hours so I wouldn’t have to be alone.

When I finally made it home that night, I sat in my bed and cried. But I wasn’t crying from sadness. I was crying because I realized I had found what I thought was missing. I thought I had been without a family, but I have a family. It’s a family made up of amazing coworkers, great friends (online and offline), support groups, sometimes frustrating roommates, and weird people I’ve met along the way. But it is my family, and more of a family than my parents ever were.

And that’s what my mother doesn’t know.

She only knows the weak little girl she hurt and abused.

She only knows the broken woman she took advantage of.

She doesn’t know I have love and support and acceptance and understanding and all of the things that I didn’t have before I ran away.

She doesn’t know I found strength.

She doesn’t know I’ve been gluing myself back together, piece by piece.

She doesn’t know she can’t break me anymore.

It won’t work. I won’t let it. And neither will they.

500 Days of Freedom, Part 3 (The Stones I’ve Gained)

I am good. I have worth. I have power. I have hope. I have a purpose. I can have feelings. I can say no. I can live. I deserve care. It wasn’t my fault. I am safe; we are safe. I am free.

These are the stones I’ve gained. They aren’t false beliefs. They are the truths I learned from being free.They don’t weigh me down like the other stones.They don’t need to be thrown out to sea, or thrown out of my mind. I hold them close to me. I hold the beliefs in my mind everywhere I go, and the stones in a jar I keep with me. The stones remind me of what’s already growing inside: my new beliefs, the truths that I’ve gained from the lies I threw away.

I am good.

I was a good child. I am a good adult. I am a good friend, a good colleague, and a good human being. I was a good daughter, even though I never got the good mother I deserved. I do good things. I think good thoughts. There is goodness inside of me that was never allowed to come out. But now it can. And now I know. I am a good person, inside and out.

I have worth.

My body matters. My thoughts matter. My feelings matter. I matter. I am a human being, and human beings have worth. I am worthy of respect, kindness, and love. I am worthy of family and friendship. I am worthy of so much. I matter.

I have power.

I can make choices now. I may not always know how to, but I am learning. I have the power. My mother can’t make decisions for me anymore. I make my own decisions. She took my power away from me, but I got it back. Now I am learning to use it.

I have hope.

I see opportunities. My mother wanted me to be nothing, but I am going to be something. I used to live in the darkness, where there was no light. But now I know that light exists, so I try to talk towards it. Even if I still stumble in darkness, I can remember that there is a flame.

I have a purpose.

I try to believe that there are reasons that things are the way they are. There is a reason I’m still alive when I should be dead. There is a reason I found my way here, in this city, at this job, writing this blog, telling my story. I am not useless, or a waste of space. I have a purpose, and I will make a difference to someone, even if that difference is small.

I can have feelings.

I can be angry without being my mother. I can be sad without being punished. I can cry for as long as I want. I can feel without fear. I can feel something other than constant fear. I don’t have to hide my feelings anymore. I am learning that it’s okay to feel.

I can say no.

I couldn’t say no before, because saying no never worked. No one listened. I became powerless. I lost my ability to say no, and it caused me a lot of pain. But I can say no now, because I have power. I don’t have to comply with other people’s wants at the expense of my own needs. I can say no without feeling bad or wrong for doing so. I can be assertive now, and no one will punish me for it.

I can live.

I don’t have to die now. I am not destined for a life of pain. I still hurt, but hurt is not my life. I no longer wait for death. I no longer wait for an end to the pain. I find relief in the every day. The little things are the reason I can keep living.

I deserve care.

I deserve to receive care from others. Friends, coworkers, doctors, therapists. I am worthy of others’ care. I can go to the doctor. I can ask for things I need without having to feel guilty. And I deserve my own care, too. I deserve to take care of myself, in the ways I should have been taken care of as a child.

It wasn’t my fault.

My family’s failures were not my fault. My father’s death was not my fault. The abuse was not my fault. I was a child. I wasn’t to blame for any of this. It was never my fault, no matter what she said and still says. I didn’t do anything to deserve any hurt.

I am safe. We are safe.

I got away. I escaped. My mother can’t hurt me now. She can’t hurt my parts any more, either. I try to let them know that. I try to let me know that. I don’t have to be scared all of the time now. I am trying to learn how to be not scared.

I am free.

I can leave my house. I can walk down the street. I can lock or unlock my door. I can buy what I want. I can eat what I want. I can do all of the things I should have been able to do before, but couldn’t. I am free now. She can no longer control me.

They are the stones I’ve gained.

500 Days of Freedom, Part 2 (The Stones I’ve Lost)

I had a good family. They didn’t know better. My mother loved me. I can’t live without her. I am bad; I am evil. I am just crazy. I am worthless. I deserved to be hurt. There is no hope for me. It was all my fault.

These were the beliefs I carried with me for so long. These were the beliefs I held on to because I had no other choice. I didn’t know any better. I couldn’t know any better.

And those beliefs weighed on me. They kept me from moving forward. They kept me stuck. Even after I ran away and found my freedom, I still carried those beliefs with me, every day. But as time went on, I realized those beliefs were not the truths I thought them to be. They were just lies my mother wanted me to believe. They were lies I needed to believe so I could survive without breaking.

I realized I had to let those false beliefs go. I didn’t want to carry them anymore. I had enough weight to bear already.

I wrote one belief on each big stone. Each stone was heavy on its own, but as I gathered the stones together, the weight was tremendous. I wasn’t going to carry these stones with me; I needed to send them away.

So on my 500th day of freedom, I took the stones to the beach. I walked out to the ledge of rocks where the waves were breaking. I watched as the tide washed everything away. I wanted it to wash my beliefs away. I picked each stone out one by one. I felt the weight of the stone in my hand. I read each belief to myself, and thought about how each affected me.

I had a good family.

The wish, the belief that my family was good, was one my mother provided for me. It was all an act; they only played a good family in public. It’s why I couldn’t think any differently. Everyone would say what good people my mother and father were, and I took that in and believed that it must be true. It wasn’t true. It was never true.

They didn’t know better.

I’d tell myself maybe they just didn’t know any better. Maybe they were hurt, too. Maybe they think this is normal. How can I be mad at them if they just didn’t know? But how the hell couldn’t they know? Any person in their right mind knows you don’t beat a child bloody. Any person knows you don’t sexually abuse your own children (or any child). It doesn’t matter if that was their normal. It should have never been my normal.

My mother loved me.

Mothers love their children. It’s what society says. It’s what movies and books says. The bond between mother and child is special. Maybe this is just how she shows her love. But love isn’t supposed to hurt like that. You can’t tell someone you love them and then turn around and break them over and over and over again. That is not love.

I can’t live without her.

She told me no one would ever love me. She told me I would never survive without her. I became so enmeshed with her that I lost my self in the process. And that’s exactly what she wanted. She planted the seed of insecurity in me and then she fed off its leaves for decades. I thought I could never get away. I thought I could never live without her. But I have been living for 500 days without her now.

I am bad. I am evil.

It’s why she always had to hurt me. I was a bad child. I had to be punished. I had evil inside me. I had to be cleansed. It’s the only way her hurting me made sense. I believed what she said because no one else was there to say any different. But I am not bad. I am not evil. I am good. I have a kind heart. I have empathy. I was not the bad one. My mother was.

I am just crazy.

It’s what she’s told everyone for the last 15 years. Don’t believe her, she’s crazy. She lies, she’s crazy. She’s bipolar and crazy. Just don’t listen to her, she’s crazy. I was not crazy. I was dealing with things a child should never have to deal with. I was struggling with emotions I wasn’t allowed to have. I wasn’t crazy. I just wasn’t being what my mother wanted me to be.

I am worthless.

I don’t deserve to eat. I don’t deserve nice things. I am a piece of shit. These were things my mother told me, and I believed them. Because mothers don’t lie to their children. She knows everything, so she must know I’m worthless, too. That’s why she treated me that way. If I could just be worthy, maybe she would love me. But I’ve had worth this whole time. She didn’t want to see it. And she didn’t want me to see it, either.

I deserved to be hurt.

She’s hurting me because I am bad, and evil, and worthless. That’s why I deserve all of this. I was put on this earth to be hurt. This is God’s way. She is trying to help me. But she wasn’t helping. And I never deserved to be hurt. There is nothing a child can do that would ever warrant the abuse that she unleashed on me. I deserved to be nurtured and nourished and loved, not hurt and abused.

There is no hope for me.

I need to just die. I can’t live in pain like this. It’s never going to end. She is never going to stop. I just want to get out of here. Please, just end my pain. I believed I was never going to get out. I believed my mother was going to abuse me until the day I finally succeeded at killing myself. But I got away, and now she can no longer hurt me. I don’t need to die anymore. There is hope for me.

It was all my fault.

It’s what my mother wanted me to believe. I ruined the family. We couldn’t do anything because of me. She couldn’t pay bills because of me. She got in trouble because of me. She was hurting me because of me. She got angry because of me. Her life was ruined because me. Her life was my fault. My pain was my fault. Everything was my fault. But none of it was. It never was. It was her fault. I was just a child.

One by one, I threw each stone out to sea. I cried, not because I was sad about losing them. Rather, I cried because I was sad for the little girl, the teenager, and the young adult me that had to carry these beliefs for so long in order to survive.

These stones are no longer weighing me down. They no longer belonged to me. They are lying at the bottom of the Atlantic now. They belong to the sea.

They are the stones I’ve lost.

She stole the night from me.

I wonder what it must be like to crawl into bed at night and just fall asleep.

I could never do that. Not as a child, and not now as an adult. I crawl into bed and lay there for hours, tired, exhausted, yet unable to sleep.

I check the closets. I lock the door. I wrap myself up in my layers and I crawl in bed and wait.

Some days, I wait for sleep. I try to quiet the increasingly loud noise in my head. I think about a million things I don’t even need to think about. After a few hours, I finally fall asleep.

On other, more difficult days, I wait my mother. I lay still in my bed and wait for her to come through my bedroom door, just like I waited for her when I was back home.

So many nights of my childhood were spent laying in bed and waiting. Not waiting for sleep. Not waiting for dreams. Not waiting for the tooth fairy. I was waiting for my mother. I was waiting for her to come in and tear me apart. I was waiting for the pain to be over so I could just go to sleep.

I learned to expect it. I stopped asking questions. I stopped fighting back. I stopped wondering why. I couldn’t do it any more. I knew it wasn’t going to change. So I gave up. And I gave in.

Sometimes, I would stare at the ceiling. I’d talk to Superman, hoping he would hear my thoughts, and asked him to come and save me. I waited for him to fly in through the window, but he never did find me.

Sometimes, I would think about being in a different family. I imagined being adopted. I dreamed I was sitting in a cage at the shelter, waiting for a new family to pick me up and love me, but no new family ever came.

Sometimes, I watched my spirit float away from me, and I followed her. We would sit on the big branch of the tree right outside my window, waiting for the hurt to end so I could come back to me.

It would always end.. If there was one thing I could count on, it was that the pain was only temporary. She’d leave, and I’d come back. I could finally go to sleep, because I knew she wasn’t going to hurt me again. I found solace in that, in knowing that when it was over, it was over.

I wanted a normal night. I wanted someone to read me a story. I wanted someone to check for monsters underneath my bed, and tell me everything was safe. I wanted someone to tuck me in and tell me they loved me. I got none of that. There were no bedtime stories. There was no love or safety. And there were never any monsters under my bed, because the monster was standing right beside it.

Anxiety. Fear. Dread. It all became my nighttime normal. And even though she stopped as I got older, the fear anxiety, fear, and dread never left. They continued to be my nighttime normal. I continued to spend every night waiting for my mother to come back. And I am still spending my nights waiting for her to come back.

I try to remember that she is not here. I know the doors are locked, I know we are miles and miles away from her. She is not coming for us. She can’t hurt us anymore.

But sometimes I forget all that. Sometimes I can’t remember. I am still anticipating something that hasn’t happened for 20 years, but my mind doesn’t always know that.Sometimes it feels like something is missing; I feel like I need her to come in and get it over with just so I can sleep.

I find comfort in familiarity, and all of those nights that my mother hurt me became my familiar. Any deviation from the pattern only creates more panic, and that was true in my childhood and still true in my adulthood.

I feel frustrated, because I don’t know how else to convince myself that my mother cannot hurt me any more. I don’t know how to believe that it doesn’t have to be this way.

I feel sad, because adult me knows that no child should have had to endure the things my mother did to me. Bed is supposed to calming and relaxing, not a place of panic.

I feel ashamed, because some nights, the only way I can fall asleep is to hurt myself in the very same way she hurt me. And then I feel disgusted.

I feel angry, because I want to be able to crawl in bed and night and go to sleep, and have good dreams. I don’t want the fear. I don’t want the panic and anxiety. I just want comfort and peace, and the ability to sleep without a struggle.

My mother stole the night from me. I want it back.

Lose enough

My doctor looks at me with concern. She asks how much weight I’ve lost since my last visit. I answer. She says, “I don’t want you to starve yourself.” I tell her I’m okay. I tell her I’ve got it under control. But only half of half of that is true. I’m not okay. And when I say I’ve got it under control, I mean I’ve got my weight under my control: my obsessive, unhealthy control.

A few hours later, I go and see my cardiologist. He says to me, “You need to lose weight.” Before I could finish telling him I had already lost 185 pounds, he tells me “you need to lose more.”

All he sees is the fat. He doesn’t see anything else. He doesn’t know that my protein is low, that I’m undernourished and anemic. He doesn’t know that I struggle just to make 500 calories a day sometimes. He doesn’t know how many times I’ve fainted because I didn’t eat for days. He doesn’t know how I spent time in the hospital having every bit of food I ate (and didn’t eat) monitored because my eating disorder had left me severely ill. He doesn’t know I am at my lowest weight in two decades.

He just sees the fat, and the need to lose it. He sees that I am not good enough. I tried to tell him the good thing I did, and it was just ignored. Because it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t enough.

I knew in that moment, that doctor had just opened a door for me. He gave me a warped, valid excuse to limit my eating.

And it worked. I found myself saying “I can’t eat that. My doctor said I have to lose weight.”

I focused on what he said  and ran with it. I wasn’t lying. He did say it. But I didn’t want to acknowledge what my other doctor had told me. I didn’t want to acknowledge that this doctor knew nothing of my history. That wouldn’t help my cause. I believed what he said because it was a belief I had already.

And after my lapses in judgment when I ended up eating, I heard that doctor’s words bouncing around in my head, along with the words of my mother. I felt so sick, but it wasn’t from the food. It was from the guilt and the shame I felt for eating. I tell myself that this is why I shouldn’t eat. Those sick feelings are signs that I was doing something wrong.

It’s a vicious cycle. It’s a constant battle that never has a winner.

I don’t know why I even bother trying. No matter how much weight I lose, it will never be enough. I will never be enough. Just like my mother said. No one will ever love you looking like that. You’re gross. I tried and I tried, but I never lost enough weight for her to love me. But I will still keep trying. I will keep losing until I won’t be gross anymore. I will keep losing until somebody can love me.

Fat on the outside; starving on the inside.

Fine on the outside; dying on the inside.