1994

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?

Failure to communicate

I struggle to get my words out of my mouth. People assume it’s easy for me. I’m decently intelligent, I can write well. But I can’t always speak. It’s hard for me to communicate.

I didn’t have the best resources growing up. My parents didn’t communicate anything to anybody, even within their own extended family. Little socialization gave me little opportunity to learn from others. I didn’t have very many options, and I ended up being socially stunted. Then there was the regular threats not to speak to outsiders, which after a while just made me fearful of speaking to anyone.

My brother was nonverbal for a few years. He had extra help in school to catch up. He eventually did catch up, but it really set him back quite a bit (and I think that, in many ways, it allowed him to be manipulated to the severe degree that he was). Even so, everyone sort of just accepted that he wasn’t the best or the brightest. He had that rough start. Whatever he tried, he would get coddled and encouraged.

But me, no, it was different for me. I was the smart kid. No excuses. Whenever I couldn’t get words out, I was called dumb and stupid. You think you’re so smart, but you can’t even speak. I’d freeze in school, not because I didn’t know the answer; the answer was in my head the whole time. But I couldn’t get the answer from my head and out through my mouth. It would get muddled up in something — I don’t know what exactly — and wouldn’t come out right.

People didn’t understand. They just made it worse because their words hurt so much and only made it harder to speak. I’d say things only to have people confused about what I was saying. Then I’d get frustrated and give up. I felt like I was speaking a language no one else spoke. I felt alone. I’d tell myself that my mother was right; no one understands me.

It’s no different now that I’m an adult. I can hold conversations sometimes, but other times, I am quiet and don’t respond. I’m not being rude, but unfortunately that’s how most people take it. I want to respond, I so badly want to respond. But I can’t get the words out and I don’t want people to think that I’m dumb. And seeming rude doesn’t hurt nearly as much as being dumb.

It’s a problem. Because no one wants to deal with my verbal vomit.

It’s a problem. Because I have so much to say and don’t know how to say it.

It’s a problem. Because I can’t ask for help when I need it, so I suffer in silence.

My therapist and I have been working on communication for some time now. There are many times I don’t speak in session because I don’t know how to say what’s inside of my head. My therapist knows that I’m thinking (apparently it shows on my face), and gently pushes me to speak about it. I tell her no, I can’t, it doesn’t make sense. She always assures me that it doesn’t always have to make sense.

Eventually I muster up the courage to talk out loud, but even still, I apologize profusely at the end of every sentence. My therapist sits and listens, and encourages me to keep going. But it’s dumb, I tell her. I’m not good at talking. She reminds me not to judge myself. She reminds me that there’s no such thing as being good at talking.

I’ve reached a minimal level of comfort with my therapist, a level at which I don’t always feel so afraid to speak out loud. She never judges me. She never calls me dumb. Sometimes it takes a while for us to translate what I’m saying, but other times she understands what I mean right away.

But how can I take that out in the real world? How can I get people to understand how hard it is for me to communicate my thoughts, to communicate my needs?

I need patience and understanding. Society doesn’t have time for that.

Falling apart

Do I exist? Do I matter?

I feel invisible. Just like I did before. I ran away. Different surroundings. Same feelings.

I quit my job. I didn’t want to. That job was everything to me. It was my safe place. It was my family. It gave me a purpose. But it was too overwhelming. I tried voicing my concerns, but no one would listen to me. I asked for help and didn’t get it. I spent day after day struggling to get my work done, all the while watching other coworkers get away with doing next to nothing. I must be invisible. It feels like I’m invisible again.

I’m weeks behind in my work. It bothers me, because I strive to be the best. But I can’t work miracles. I blame myself for my inability to get my work done, even though on some level I know that the problem doesn’t lie with me. I’ve been going to work every day stressed out before I even walk through the door, because I know the piles of work that need to be done and I know it’ll be another day that it won’t get touched. I cry in the bathroom. I talk myself out of bashing my head against the wall. I contemplate walking out of work and running into the highway. Because I am a failure. I can’t even work right. So I gave my notice, because I would rather leave than be told I fail at my job. And no one said a word to me about it. Because I’m invisible.

So I no longer have work to lean on.

Home. I can’t lean on that, either. I don’t want to be home as much as I don’t want to be at work. It’s a consistent source of frustration. It’s a home full of triggers.

I try to be reasonable, but I have limits. I don’t need to be talked to like I’m dumb. I don’t need to be called retarded. I endured that long enough from my mother, and I couldn’t say anything then, I had to just absorb it. But now that I am free, I try to stand up for myself, I assert my needs. I asked her to stop and she just kept on, and then I had to deal (and am still dealing) with the emotional backlash. It may have been a different person talking to me, but it sent me right back to being at home with my mother. Why can’t people just stop when I ask them to stop? Why does no one respect my boundaries? This isn’t even the first time. I must not matter.

And then I go to eat dinner, my only meal of the day, only to find that my food has been eaten. Three days worth of food gone. So I sit and cry, because no one realizes the amount of effort it takes me just to get to a point to want to eat. No one realizes how complicated food is for me. They don’t understand that I eat an entire plate of food in minutes not because I am hungry, but because I am afraid my food will be taken away. They don’t understand that my mother took away my food because I didn’t deserve it. They don’t understand that she would take the food that I bought away from me because she said it was selfish not to share with the family. They don’t understand that I still struggle with food every day.

I’ve explained all this before. I didn’t think I was asking for much. But no one listens. Now I have to repair the damage yet again. Now I have to convince my parts that we deserve food. I can buy more food eventually, but that’s not the point at all. It’s hard to convince myself and my parts that we are safe and can have things if those things are taken away from us. My needs don’t matter. I don’t matter. I exist only for the use of others.

I wanted a different a life, not just different surroundings.

No job. No family. No purpose. No safe place.

I’m tired. I’m emotionally drained. I’m lost. I’m gone.

Everything is falling apart.

Can nobody hear me?

I regularly make excuses for the poor behavior of others in my life, especially when their behavior directly affects me.

I excused my father’s part in my abuse because I told myself my mother made him do it (as if she held a gun to his head). I excused my coworker’s behavior a few weeks ago when he called me a bitch several times, telling myself he didn’t know any better because he was raised to treat women that way. I excuse a close person’s consistently offensive behavior, telling myself she just can’t help the way she acts.

I do this not as a way to defend these people, but to defend myself. If I didn’t excuse them, that means I would end up angry. And I don’t want to be angry.

But making excuses only works superficially, because on an intellectual level, I know that my excuses aren’t viable, that these behaviors were/are wrong, and that I really should be able to feel angry and hurt and however else I want to feel. Eventually, my feelings come to the surface, and I can only push them back down so many times before they come out full force.

Last therapy session, I couldn’t push my anger down any more. We were discussing the aftereffects of the letter, about how it made me feel sad. Then my therapist asked what else I was feeling, because it seemed like more than just sadness. Without thinking, I said “I’m angry. All of those fucking idiots, why didn’t they do anything to help?”

I immediately felt bad for what I had said, and apologized to my therapist. When she asked why I was apologizing, I told her I shouldn’t have used those bad words. I said, “it’s not their fault. They didn’t know. I wasn’t their problem. I shouldn’t be angry.”

“Why don’t you want to be angry?”

“Because if I’m angry that means I’m like her, like my mother.”

“Anger isn’t the same as abuse. What your mother did to you, she didn’t do because of anger. Anger is something that everyone feels, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re going to abuse. It’s okay to be angry.”

I sat there for a minute, still trying to push down what was trying to come out. I looked around the room, trying to think of something else to talk about.

“No, no, I can’t do it.”

“Yes you can. It’s okay to be angry. Anger makes you human.”

I repeated what my therapist told me to myself a few times. Anger doesn’t make me like her. Anger doesn’t make an abuser. Anger is okay.

And then it erupted. Through tears and clenched fists, I let it all out.

I don’t understand. I don’t understand why nobody helped me. I never wanted to go home after school, I tried to stay with the teachers but then the teachers sent a note home and said I couldn’t anymore and then I got in trouble. None of them ever asked why I didn’t want to go home. None of them asked why I wore so many layers of clothing to school, why I was always covering up. No one questioned why a six-year-old girl tried to drown herself. Children don’t just try to kill themselves out of curiosity. No one wondered why a girl would scratch off her own skin. No one questioned my injuries. How many times could a child walk into walls? I wasn’t clumsy. But nobody did anything! They just nodded their heads and moved on!

There it was. My anger. Finally free and out in the open. The anger that was rightfully mine to have. I was a child who had no other way to communicate. A child who was threatened never to tell. And I didn’t. So I tried every other way to speak without using my words.

I could see just by looking at my therapist’s face that she understood. She got it. And she was okay with my anger, and my hurt. “There were all these red flags, all these ways you tried to ask people for help…”

“And they still didn’t hear me!”

There were so many red flags in my childhood. So many. Yet no one wanted to see them. I could have set those flags on fire and waved them an inch away from their faces, and they would have just stood there and talked about the weather.

I am angry. I am angry that these people just perpetuated my hell by not intervening. I am angry that I spent my childhood thinking that it was just normal to be hurt like this, thinking that no one is hearing my cries so this all must just be normal. No one should ever believe that abuse is normal. It should have never had to be my normal.

It’s an anger I am not sure will ever go away.

Letter to My Younger Self

Dear younger self,

I’m so sorry for all the feelings you’ve been having all this time. I’m sorry no one listened to you. It must have been so hard to keep it all inside. But I want you to know now that it’s okay to feel. You deserve to have feelings. Your feelings are valid, and they are yours. No one can take them from you anymore.

It’s okay to feel confused. Mommies and daddies aren’t supposed to hurt their children. There’s nothing wrong with you. There never was. Mommy and daddy told you that so they could keep hurting you. It was all lies.  I’m so sorry they confused you. You may never understand why all those times, daddy chose to hold your hand instead of pushing hers away. He was wrong. She was wrong. But you were not wrong. You were just a child.

It’s okay to feel afraid. Instead of fearing monsters, you feared mom and dad. It must have been so scary for you. You had nowhere to hide. I’m so sorry you had to live in constant fear. But you were always so strong, even when you felt afraid. You are one brave little girl.

It’s okay to feel scared. Mommy and daddy made you believe that the world was scary and full of bad people who were going to hurt you. That wasn’t the truth. That’s what mommy and daddy told you to make you stay. The real scary place was home, and the scariest people were mommy and daddy. I’m sorry you feel so scared. It’s not fair. You don’t ever have to go back home again.

I know you feel empty. Mommy and daddy made you believe that you had no purpose, that you were worthless. That must have hurt your heart so much. I’m so sorry for your pain. But the truth is, there are so many good things inside of you that mommy and daddy never wanted you to see. Now you can let those good things free.

I know you feel lonely. Mommy and daddy kept you away from everyone. You were never allowed to talk to outsiders. Mommy and daddy told you that no one would ever understand you, that no one could be trusted. But that was all lies. I’m so sorry they lied you. It hurts to be alone. But there are people here to help you now, to help you feel less lonely. You don’t have to hide anymore.

I know you feel small. All of the bigger people around you didn’t help you. They didn’t notice you were desperate to be saved. It must have hurt so much to feel invisible, to have no one see your pain. I’m so sorry no one let you know how important you were. I see you, and you’re not small. You’re a little girl with a big heart, and you matter. You always have.

It’s okay to feel angry. You can be mad at mommy and daddy. They hurt you, and you didn’t deserve to be hurt, ever. You can be mad at the other adults who didn’t listen to you. They should have helped you. You can be mad at world. You deserved to have good parents, and you didn’t get that. I am so sorry for all of the hurt they caused you. I’m so sorry for all of the anger you’ve had to keep inside. But it’s okay to be angry. You deserve to be angry. I’m angry, too.

It’s okay to feel sad. Mommy and daddy told you it wasn’t okay to cry. They told you that you had no reason to be sad. They hurt you. But they were wrong. I’m so sorry. It must be so hard to hold that hurt in your heart for so long. But it’s okay to be sad now. No one will punish you. It’s okay to cry. You won’t get hurt. You can cry for the childhood you didn’t have. You can cry for the mommy and daddy you wished you had. You can cry for all the times they hurt you. You can cry. You can be sad.

It’s okay to feel hurt. You were wronged, in so many ways you were wronged. The grownups in your life failed you. Your mommy and daddy hurt your heart as much as they did your body. You had to learn to live with the pain. You deserved to be comforted and supported and nurtured, and instead you were hurt over and over again. It wasn’t fair. I’m so sorry that you are hurting.  I wish there was a Band-Aid I could give you that could make your hurt go away. I want you to know now that mommy and daddy can’t hurt you anymore.

I know you feel hopeless. Mommy told you that you would never be away from her. You thought that she would keep hurting you forever. I’m so sorry that you were hurting so badly that you wanted to die. You were just a little girl, in so much pain. Someone saved you from drowning, but no one saved you from what led you there to begin with.  I want you to know that you are safe now. Mommy can’t hurt you. You don’t have to die anymore.

I know your heart is broken. My heart breaks for you. You are just a little girl. A beautiful, intelligent, strong, kind, amazingly courageous little girl.

I know you feel unloved. Children are supposed to be loved by their parents. But something was wrong with mommy and daddy and I guess they missed that memo. It’s not your fault they didn’t know how to love. It doesn’t mean you are unlovable. You are so loved. There are good people out there who want to love and care for you. You deserve love and care. You deserve to feel good feelings, too. You deserve so much, and I want you to know that.

Thank you for being so strong. Thank you for being you. Thank you for helping me get here. I love you.

Bugs

I saw a bug today. I can’t handle bugs.

From a distance, I think they are really awesome. Closer up, they are a reminder of what I grew up in.

I know, to some degree, bugs are inescapable. It’s normal to have a few gnats, a spider, maybe even a fly or two living through your house. But that was not my experience. It wasn’t a fly or two; it was dozens of flies.

I used to close my room off hoping I could keep them out, but each time several managed to remain in my space. Large, constantly buzzing, disgusting flies. I remember sitting at my desk, with my shirt over my mouth and nose, because one had been flying so close to my face that I was afraid it was going to fly right up my nose.

I remember the flies “dancing” just feet from my bed. Were they mating? Were they fighting? I don’t know. I shouldn’t know. I shouldn’t have been close enough to know.

And I couldn’t leave. I had to stay in prison. A prison infested with flies. I couldn’t even sleep because I feared I would swallow one. Even at my cleanest, I felt dirty. Flies exist in filth. And this prison was filthy.

People rarely visited, with the exception of family on Christmas. Even then, my mother would just grab trash bags, throw all of the shit sitting around the living room in the bags, and then toss the bags in the shower hidden behind the curtain. As soon as everyone left, she’d empty the trash back out all over the house. I thought that is what everyone did. Everyone must have piles of trash and useless shit sitting around their house.

I didn’t know any better, but at the same time, I recognized the conflict. As a young child, I wondered why we had to hide everything whenever someone came over. If it’s normal, why are we hiding it? Even as a child, I saw the dissonance between my mother’s words and her actions. But I could never question it. You never question the queen.

It wasn’t just the fly infestations. It was also ants. Everywhere. Not surprising at all, considering the squalor. Old food left wherever. Garbage left out. Wet cat food left out for so long it would dry up and harden, and leave a nasty stench throughout the house. The ants would travel everywhere. Hundreds of them. I would sit for hours and just kill bug after bug. I became so good at it, I could put it as a skill on my résumé.

I would obsessively clean and protect my space as best I could. I tried to clean the kitchen when my mother wasn’t home, but there was just so much shit. Shit that my mother refused to clean. She didn’t see a problem with anything. If something was old, or broken, or useless, she insisted on keeping it. No one could throw it away.

And because she would never change her ways, the filth stayed, and the bugs kept coming.

And now, every time I see bugs, I am reminded of the squalor I lived in for so long. While I am grateful to be out and in a clean environment that I can control, those experiences will stay with me.

I live to live

No matter how shitty (or great) I feel, I wake up at 4:30 every morning, take a shower, get dressed, and go to work. I could have slept two hours; I could have slept eight hours. It doesn’t matter. I continue to do it because I need to, and because I want to.

When I fell in the street at the end of last August, I picked myself back up, wiped the blood off of my hands and knees, walked to the bus stop and went to work. I didn’t stop. I went to the hospital afterwards, where I found out I had fractured my right foot (and sprained my left knee). Even then, in a cast and crutches, I woke up at 4:00 the next morning, took a shower, got dressed, and hobbled my way to the bus stop to get to work.

When I neared the end of my undergraduate career last August, I put my heart and soul into my work. Despite moving out, being hospitalized, working, and being officially diagnosed with DID within the course of a month, I managed to complete a research project and thesis and receive a near-perfect score (99). I graduated with top honors, despite the chaos going on around me.

When I ended up in the hospital in the beginning of August, I worked my ass off to get out. Right after I was released, I walked right to my therapist’s office and had a session. I went home, unpacked my things, and worked on my thesis, a chapter of which had then been overdue. Then the next morning, I woke up at 4:30, took a shower, got dressed, and started my first day at work, less than 24 hours after being released from the hospital.

When I ran away from home prison on July 10th, 2015, I did so against impossible odds. I managed to hide money away in separate online bank accounts that my mother didn’t know about. I managed to find a place far enough away to keep me safe, but close enough to a competent therapist and to a school where I could fulfill my dream of being a counselor. I managed to free myself and physically leave through the front door of the apartment, the same door that my mother slept just feet away from every night, as if she were a prison guard on duty. I could have been hurt. But I escaped. Despite everything, I found freedom.

I have consistently shown that I do not give up. Life seems to knock me down quite a bit. Sometimes it really gets to me, but I have never stopped living. Even in the darkest times, I continue to live.

I can’t change some of my circumstances.

I can’t give myself a biological family; that’s gone forever. But I have a family that consists of my friends from the new life I have built here.

I can’t grow money on trees. But I can keep working and find ways to survive until I find success someday.

I can’t cure my DID or take a pill and forget everything that happened to me. But I can keep going to therapy, even if I have to go for the rest of my life.

I may not be the best at life. Considering where and what I came from, I think I am doing a damn good job. I am living. Despite everything, I am living.

And I have died so many times, but I am still alive.

I am a work in progress, just like anyone else.