Freedom in Death

One year ago today, my father passed away.

I prepared to grieve. I prepared to be an absolute emotional mess. But I wasn’t.

I cried this morning. I’m not even sure exactly why. But my immediate reaction was to push all of my feelings down. I wanted to run. I wanted to escape myself for a little while. But I knew it wasn’t healthy. I knew I would end up sitting on a corner somewhere, smoking until my lungs gave out and my emotions were dead. My usual go-to form of self-destruction and emotional numbing as of late.

But then where would that put me? I try to be the exact opposite of my parents. Nothing like my mother, nothing like my father. It’s been difficult enough struggling with my heart issue, trying to remind myself that my being sick doesn’t make me like him. But he was also a person who suppressed his emotions, until they came out in the worst ways. The same thing I’ve done, the same thing I’ve been doing. While it might be in a different form, it is nonetheless what he would do, and how he would be. I have just been repeating the cycle.

I froze for a bit, unsure of myself, unsure of what to do. As much as I didn’t want to feel, I also didn’t want to be overwhelmed with emotions. So I baked. As a distraction. And it worked. The urge to bury my feelings was gone. The urge to self-destruct was gone. But the grief was still there.

Grief is complicated in general. I think it’s even more complicated when you’ve gone through trauma, when you have different parts. I have to be understanding that some parts of me know my father differently than I do. Some hate him. Some have experienced pain because of him. And some love him, because they knew him as daddy. They don’t know who he was as a person; they only know the experiences they had of him, the memories they hold of him. Just like people on the outside that knew him, knew him only as they saw him. I can’t take that away from them. I can’t just dismiss their grief, because they are grieving someone different.

It’s easier for me to consider other people’s grief before my own. I never told my grandmother the truth about her son. It would serve no purpose; it would only cause pain.

But it’s so much harder for me to accept the parts of me that grieve for the man I don’t want to grieve for, to love the person that I hate, to feel sad about someone I feel such strong anger for. To take that away from them would be dismissing and invalidating them, much in the same way my father did to me.

So I let them grieve. I let myself feel however I needed to feel in each moment that passed through the day.

I remembered how he felt when he got sick. I remembered his pain, his wanting to give up and just die. I remembered how much he suffered in the end. It was in those times that I related to him the most, because I knew what it felt like to be in so much pain that you wanted your life to end. I understood him.

It’s a bit ironic that my father died on Independence Day. He gained his freedom; freedom from pain, freedom from suffering, freedom from a life he didn’t want to live.

And in his death, I also gained freedom. The fear of him, the worry about his health, the guilt I felt for leaving him behind, they all died when he died.

High School

My high school shut down permanently the other day. I knew it was coming. It was a Catholic high school in the midst of severe financial misappropriation and scandal. Nothing could have saved it, despite the efforts of alumni donating money to keep the school open.

I didn’t donate anything. Mostly because I was poor, but also because I had such mixed emotions about that high school. As much as it was an outlet for me, a safe place for 8 or so hours a day, it was also another institution, another group of people who seriously missed the mark in getting me help.

I have nothing left from high school. No yearbooks. No memorabilia. Nothing but distant memories and bottled up emotions. I can count on my hands the number of people from that I still talk to from there, and that is only thanks to connecting with them through Facebook (oddly enough, most of them I reconnected with last year when they announced our school was in crisis).

There’s a lot of high school I don’t remember. I know that’s common with dissociation. I know it was a time of transition for me, and not just the typical adolescent transitions. High school was the start of my health problems. It was the start of a life in and out of emergency rooms and hospital beds.

It was also the time when the abuse I was experiencing became more physical and psychological. My mother could no longer overpower me enough to sexually abuse me as regularly as she had been, so she changed her ways. And it wasn’t any better or any easier. In many ways, it was worse. It was a change for me, and one I didn’t know how to cope with.

I turned to drugs and alcohol, because I knew no other way to cope beyond the ways I was already coping. And no one suspected a thing, because I was still functioning, I was still getting As. But I was drowning my feelings in alcohol, forgetting about life with every line of coke I snorted, popping any pill I could get my hands on because I didn’t care. I wanted out of the pain. I wanted out of my life.

I didn’t understand why no one helped me. There were many efforts, both mine and those of my teachers, but they all ended up in failure. I remember my health teacher pulling me aside after class one day. She knew something was wrong. It was the day after my mother had taken all of my clothes, threw them in garbage bags, and tossed them away, because I had no longer deserved them. I’m not even sure what I did or didn’t do to deem myself unworthy. I’m not sure I ever knew. But I ended up breaking down and telling my teacher what happened. She asked questions I couldn’t answer, questions I was trained not to answer honestly. I hesitated, and she knew something wasn’t right.

It didn’t matter, though. She went to the head guidance counselor, who questioned me and ending up calling my mother, who of course would never admit to anything that made her look at all bad, and it was all deemed a misunderstanding. But that was my fault. I could have spoken up. I could have told them both what else was happening, and I didn’t. I stayed silent. I stayed voiceless.

But my actions continued to speak; my actions screamed out loud something’s not right here. All the times I ended up in my guidance counselor’s office breaking down in tears, but unable to tell them why. The bursts of anger I had taken out on other classmates, both verbally and physically. The bruises, the unexplained wounds, the self-inflicted injuries, all getting worse, all getting (for the most part) ignored.

And I say for the most part because there was action. It was just the wrong kind of action. Any attempt I made to tell my counselor how I felt was met with a call to my parents, even after I begged, through tears, for them not to call. They didn’t understand why I was so desperate for them not to call. They didn’t understand that each phone call led to another beating, another punishment, another break to my heart. But I couldn’t tell them the real reason I didn’t want them to call. So whose fault was it?

I blamed myself for the longest time. If I had just spoken up. If I had just done more than cry, and push people, and bury everything down with shit I should have never been doing, maybe they would have noticed.

But they did notice something, enough to tell my parents I needed outside help immediately. But that was it. No calls to CPS. No further investigations. Why? Because private school tuition pays for silence. If they cause a commotion, they lose their money. I didn’t realize it at the time, but as I got older, I met more people with similar experiences. Obvious child abuse, but no action taken by private schools. Because money buys silence.

And that’s what angers me. I know times have changed. I know schools have started to take more action. But what we know now is not any different from what we knew then. Abuse doesn’t just happen in poor families; abuse happens in all kinds of families. It’s just easier to cover up when you have money and hide under the guise of the Lord.

I’m not sad to see my high school shut down. The corruption that was uncovered wasn’t new, it was just bad actions in a different form. It needed to be closed.

What I am sad about is the loss of those four years of my life, the let down I experienced, the screams left unheard, the questions left unanswered.

And the fact that I will never know how my life could have been different if someone had just spoken up for me, if someone had just listened to the truth in my silence.

Purposeless

Stability outside, chaos inside. That is what my life is right now. And saying stability outside may even be a bit of a stretch. But I guess for those who don’t really know me (and even some who do), I appear stable.

I’m not at all stable. I barely know what day of the week it is anymore. I haven’t paid any of my bills this month. I don’t even know why. It’s not like I have a legitimate excuse. I’m not even working. I’m just existing.

I am useless, and not for lack of trying. I tried to get my regular doctor to write a note for me to return to work. Bad idea. It took an hour for me to even get her to consider writing me a prescription for an antiobiotic. An antibiotic. Not a narcotic. I’m just asking for some penicillin, because I clearly have an infection in my lungs that was not going away with steroids alone. And she even agreed. That’s the best part. She knew I needed medication, but told me in fancier words that I was too complicated to treat, between the COPD and my heart condition. I was lucky I got a Z-Pak; getting a note would have clearly just been too much.

So I told myself I’d wait. Just another week, and I can see my cardiologist and she’ll write me that note, she’ll clear me for work. And then I get a call four days before my appointment, with a voicemail that said my cardiologist has resigned and my appointment has been cancelled. The woman on the phone said it like it was no big deal. Even added in the have a nice day. This cardiologist performed my surgery. My cardiac monitor is subscribed to her name. She was a specialist. She was the first one to legitimize my concerns. What in the fuck am I supposed to do now?

I called the office back. I told them I was out of work. I told them I had been in the hospital several times since my surgery and needed to be seen. She told me I could see my old cardiologist, the one that always assumed my heart issues were really just the aftereffects of cocaine abuse and a possible seizure disorder, completely dismissive of anything cardiac despite everyone else telling me my heart is not beating right. Fine. I have no other choice. I’ll take him.

Great. Now let’s get an appointment. Well, he doesn’t have any openings until next month. Are you fucking kidding me? My surgery was in May and I haven’t even had a post-op appointment yet. I have stitches hanging out of my chest that I have tried my hardest not to pull out myself. I am out of work because, understandably, who the fuck wants to be liable for someone working who passes out consistently. But let’s just give it another month. Fine. Because I really have no other choice.

It’s frustrating. I want to scream and cry, but instead all I do is bury it down and put on a smile. I’m good at that. Hide the anger, hide the pain. I hide my tears, too, until I can’t hold them in anymore. Then I run. Out of the house. A few blocks away. And I sit on a bench and cry. And I smoke a cigarette until the pain goes away. I tell myself I’ll smoke just one more, and then it’ll all be fine. That’s what I’ve done my whole life. Just one more line, just one more drink, just one more pill. But it’s never fine. It’s not now, and it never was in the past. Yet I still keep trying. It’s how I ended up on a bench in the middle of a thunderstorm, soaking wet, with an empty pack of cigarettes, wondering why I couldn’t breathe.

I am a mess. Not wanting to die, but not caring if I exist. Because I feel purposeless.

People tell me my intelligence, my grad school work gives me purpose, but it doesn’t to me. I just finished a year of graduate school and maintained a 4.0 GPA, but it just doesn’t matter to me. I didn’t put forth any effort. I didn’t study. Hell, I took my last final drunk and started and finished my final project in the hour before it was due, and I still managed to pull 100s. That is not effort. That is not purpose. That just is.

My intelligence does not give me purpose. If anything, it only causes me more pain. Knowledge hurts. Because I know how to fix the damage in others, yet I can’t seem to fix the brokenness within myself. If I didn’t know any better, it wouldn’t bother me as much. I’d just be broken.

How can I plan for a future when I don’t even know what’s happening now? There are things I’ve accepted. I won’t have a family. I won’t live as long as planned. I am sick, and I will be sick for the rest of my life. But how can I plan around that?

I dreamed of being a therapist because I wanted to help people in ways I wished people helped me, I wanted to make a difference. But that dream isn’t realistic now. I can’t be a therapist with DID. I know they exist, but they have to exist in hiding. Because the world will never accept them.

I don’t know how to make a difference outside of that. I can’t stop every child abuser. I can’t make people understand that mothers abuse their children, too. I can’t get people to open their eyes to truths they don’t want to see. So what is my purpose?

Beyond housework, I am nothing right now. I keep busy as much as I can. I wash the dishes. I do the laundry. I sweep the floors, vacuum the rug, take care of the dogs. But in the moments where there’s no more laundry, there’s nothing left to clean, and the dogs are asleep…those are the moments that scare me. Those are the moments I hear my mother’s voice, telling me I am nothing, that I am a burden.

Those are the moments I sit and realize that I am purposeless.

Terminate

I think there are people in this world that just can’t be helped.

I think I am one of those people.

I tried. I really did.

I took every pill the doctors prescribed. Every anti-depressant that left me more suicidal than before. Every anti-psychotic that failed to stop the voices or the impulse to self-destruct. Every anti-anxiety pill that only took the edge off. Every mood stabilizer that sent me spiraling deeper into depression. Every sleeping pill, every stimulant, every off-label medication they tried to help me with has failed.

There is no pill for this. There’s no magic medicine, no chemical imbalance to correct.

My mind is broken in a way that can’t be fixed. You can’t put a splint on my brain. You can’t put a cast on my memories. You can’t fix something that’s been broken too many times for too long.

Maybe if someone had caught it early, I wouldn’t be this way. If someone spoke up instead of saying silent. If someone had questioned my mother instead of letting it go. If someone told her to stop instead of helping her. If someone feared her as much as they feared God. If someone had saved me, instead of leaving me behind.

But no one did any of that. And now I am here, shattered pieces held together by watered-down glue. Forever unstable, the slightest touch breaks me all over again.

There is no cure for this. There’s no way to undo what’s been done. I can’t hit rewind. I can’t start over. I can’t erase the pain in my heart because it’s been written in permanent ink.

Every time I was raped, molested, assaulted, beaten, burned — another piece of me was broken. A tiny crack on the surface was all anyone could see, but beneath that was complete brokenness. A soul left to die, a mind left shattered, both hidden underneath the face and body of an innocent child, an innocent child who didn’t know her innocence because it was stolen from her before she ever had a chance to experience it.

How does someone get over that? I think I would have rather been hurt by a stranger. Maybe I could have handled it better then. At least I would have known what love was, at least I could have had someone to turn to. But I didn’t have that, because the one person that should have loved and supported me and kept me safe was the person that hurt me night after night and taught me how to be afraid.

I tried to be helped. Every school guidance counselor, every social worker, every therapist. They tried. But they couldn’t help me, either. I took one last chance. I told myself if this didn’t work, then that was it for me. Fifteen years of medication and therapy failures is fifteen years too many. I didn’t want to go through it anymore. I gave up everything for this one last attempt at healing.

But I don’t think it’s working. The cost of my freedom has been permanent fear, a fear that can’t be helped. No matter what day it is, no matter where I am, I am living in fear of her. I’m afraid every morning when I try to take a shower without her. I’m afraid every afternoon when I’m walking home alone, waiting for her to come and kill me before I can get in the door. I’m afraid every time I go to bed, because I don’t know if she will come in and hurt me. I’m afraid every time I get sick, because I’m scared it means she will have to take care of me.

I’m in two worlds. One that’s the present and one that’s the past. One where I’m living and one where I’m dying. One where I’m grown up and one where I’m growing. I can’t tell the difference anymore. I don’t think I’m in one or the other. The worlds collided and now I am stuck in the middle, walking alone. I just want someone to walk with me. I want someone to understand what it’s like to be inside my mind. But that can never happen.

It’s not fair. It’s not fair for me to put other people through my chaos. My therapist can’t cure me. She can’t go inside my mind. She can’t walk with me. She can’t help me.

So maybe it’s time to let therapy go. Maybe I’m just supposed to live with the fear and the panic and the pain and the shame and the confusion. Maybe I’m lost because there isn’t a way home. Maybe I’m just supposed to exist like this.

Maybe they were right all along. I am too complex. I am a puzzle that can never be put back together because the pieces have been torn up, burned, and thrown away. And no one ever wants to put together a puzzle that doesn’t have all its pieces. It’s an effort destined for failure, no matter what you do, the puzzle can never be solved. I can never be fixed.

Help came too late.

A Letter to Us

Dear younger parts and me,

I know things seem really scary right now. It’s okay to feel scared. I’m scared, too. You had to be scared in the past, because there were a lot of scary things and scary people. But you are safe now. We are safe. You don’t have to be scared anymore.

I know that mommy made you believe that you were sick. She told you that parts of you made you bad. I know she made that part of you hurt really bad. I know she made your heart hurt, too. I’m so sorry she hurt your body, and your heart. Little girls shouldn’t have to hurt like that.

I know you wanted so badly to be a boy. You thought that it would make everything better. You believed that it would stop mommy from hurting you, that you wouldn’t be sick anymore, that mommy would love you like she loved R. I’m so sorry you felt that way. But it was never your fault. You were never sick there. You were never bad just because you were a girl. Mommy was wrong. So wrong. There was nothing you could have ever done to make mommy love you. She was the sick one. She was bad. Not you. It was never you. You were always perfect. You still are.

I know you’re still so scared of mommy hurting you. You still try to protect yourself from her hurt. I’m so sorry you don’t feel safe. Little girls deserve to feel safe and loved and respected. Mommy shouldn’t have stolen that from you. You deserved all the love and respect and safety in universe. I wish I could have given it all to you then, but I can give you them now.

I know that mommy made you think that your body was not your own. She controlled your body and your mind. You had no other choice. I’m sorry she made you believe that lie. But you have choices now. Your body is yours. These are your toes, your feet, your legs, your arms, your fingers, and your eyes. This is your hair, your nose, and your mouth. And this is your vagina. It belongs to you. It’s part of your body, just like all of your other parts that make you, you.

It isn’t sick or bad. It doesn’t deserve to be hurt. It deserves to be taken care of, just like you. In order to take care of it, we need to go to the doctor. Just like the doctor that takes care of our lungs, and another doctor takes care of our feet, we need a doctor to take care of our vagina. It’s not bad or wrong to go to the doctor. All of those things that mommy said, they were wrong. She was wrong. She was just trying to scare you, and make you feel bad. I’m sorry she lied to you. You are not — and never were — dirty or bad. The doctor knows that, too. The doctor just wants to help us, and make sure we are healthy and strong. The doctor won’t hurt us. She won’t make you feel like mommy did. I promise.

I know you are afraid. You’re just a little girl. Mommy made you do things that children should never have to do, or see, or know. I’m sorry she did that to you. But you don’t have to do grown-up things anymore. You don’t have to hurt anymore. You don’t have to be scared or ashamed. Mommy isn’t here, and you can be you now. A beautiful, kind, loving, healthy, wonderful GOOD little girl. Mommy can’t take that away from you. She tried, but she didn’t know how brave and strong and courageous you were. She didn’t know the amazing little girl you grew up to be.

You can be that little girl now. I can take care of the big girl things, like going to the doctor. I will keep us healthy and safe. I will make sure that we are okay. I promise.

Thank you for being so strong. It’s my turn now.

Love,

KJ

Dysfunctional function

I’ve been going through the process of applying for disability.

I started the application in June, but hesitated finishing it because I had a lot of self-doubt. There was some fear in being rejected. There was a lot shame in needing help. I told myself I just wasn’t trying hard enough. I told myself I didn’t need this help, I just needed to be stronger.

I struggle with asking for help in general, but when it comes to finances, it’s even more difficult. My parents were not rich, but my father had a well-paying job that should have allowed us to live comfortably. My mother was irresponsible, and wasted money on material bullshit instead of paying the bills. She always had the newest phones, but could not pay the wireless bill. She had an abnormal abundance of home decor, but could not pay the electric bill. She’d guilt people into paying her bills. She used other people as a means of financial support, and I always hated that.

And I feel like I am doing the same thing by trying to get financial assistance. I feel like I am in some way able to do more than I am doing, that I’m just putting my money into the wrong things, just like my mother had done.

But I’m not. I’m putting my money into all the right things. I pay my rent every month. I pay all of my bills, even if it’s just the minimum payment. I pay my therapist every week. I’m not irresponsible at all. I’m not like my mother. But it’s still not enough. I am still not worthy.

I tried to work more. It lasted all of four days. I can only handle so much in one day before I get completely exhausted. I wish I could work full-time, but I know it would be disastrous; not only for me, but for those who would be working with me. Three hours into the day, and I’m already emotionally spent. Five hours into the day, and I’m already physically exhausted.

But I’m still working. I’m still earning a paycheck. And I am afraid that alone will get me rejected. They don’t understand that my paycheck doesn’t even cover all the basic necessities. They’re not there some months when I have to figure out how to get enough food to eat with $15. They don’t see the times I had to pay my rent with cash advances. They don’t know how much I sacrifice just to pay for therapy.

They will think I’m too able to be disabled, that I function too well to deserve any help. But they don’t see the dysfunction in my function.

They are not with me every morning when I can barely make it out of bed to take a shower. They are not there with me each morning I walk to the bus stop in tears because I’m so depressed and lost and scared of life. They do not see the panic attacks I go through at work, all the times I cry in the bathroom, and the multiple emotional meltdowns I have in front of my coworkers.

They don’t see how sick I can get just from eating a meal. They don’t see me struggling to breathe, or throwing up in the parking lot because there’s just not enough room in my chest for me to breathe if my stomach is full. They can’t feel my constant nausea. They don’t know what it’s like to walk around with an invisible elephant on your chest.

They don’t see me crying on the bus on the way home because I’m just so exhausted. They don’t know how many meals I skip, because I’m either too tired to eat or I just don’t care enough to be nourished. They’re not there every time I get dizzy, every time I pass out because my body is constantly running on fumes.

They’re not with me every night when I spend hours laying in bed, just wishing for a decent night of sleep. They don’t know how many times I am startled awake by the cat downstairs, or a car down the street. They can’t see the nightmares that keep me awake through the night. They can’t see how exhausted I am every day, how much I struggle just to hold my head up.

They can’t see my flashbacks. They can’t feel my body memories. They don’t hear the voices I hear in my head every day, or the noise that seems to get louder and louder. They don’t feel the fear I experience every day of my life. They don’t know how badly I just want to die. They don’t understand how much effort it takes just for me to have a conversation with somebody.

They can’t see the depression, the anxiety, the fear and the panic that runs through my mind and body every single hour of every day. They don’t see the wounds I hide under my clothes, or the pain I try to bury away so I can make it through another day. They don’t understand how many times I should have been in a hospital, but couldn’t afford to be out of work. They don’t know how many moments I’ve lost because I can’t handle the stress, so I dissociate.

They don’t see any of that. All they can see is a person who is able, the same as everyone else sees. She works, she is not disabled. But they don’t realize that any other job would have fired me. They don’t see how much this life is destroying me.

In a way, my resilience is my downfall. It makes me people think I am much better than I really am.

I am shattered glass inside of a shatter-proof box. No one can see the catastrophe that exists inside, because they only focus on what they see on the outside.

I am true dysfunction, hidden by perceivable function.

I tell them I’m fine

They say I look sad. They ask if I’m okay.

I tell them I’m fine. I tell them I’m just tired.

I can’t tell them the truth. I can’t tell them I’m not okay. I can’t explain that I’m tired of living.

So I lie. I lie to push them away. I lie so they don’t have to share the burden of my pain. I lie to protect them. I lie to protect me.

I don’t even understand what’s going on inside my own head. My thoughts don’t make any sense. All I can hear is noise. Loud noise.

I can’t find my words. I try to write, but nothing comes out right. I can’t talk about what’s inside. So I suffer in silence.

I just want them to stop. The memories. The flashbacks. I just don’t know anymore. I can’t tell if I’m 30 or 3. I can’t tell if I’m home or if I’m free.

Because I’m both. I’m living in two worlds at the very same time.

She’ll tell me I’m safe there, but she just doesn’t understand. I know my body is there, but my mind is somewhere else. A different place. A different time. A different me.

I dance on the line. One foot in, one foot out. It’s a line that only I can dance on, because it’s a line that only I can see. No one else sees it. No one else understands it. Only me.

They see me sitting on the couch, safe and fully clothed. That is my present. That is what everyone sees. But they don’t see what I see in my mind. They don’t see me standing in the bathtub of my childhood home, naked and afraid, awaiting my punishment. They can’t see that. Only me.

They see me working hard. They hear me crack a joke and laugh. But they don’t see what I see in my mind. They don’t see me burning in the flames, with every last bit of evil inside of my soulless body turning into a pile of ashes to be stomped upon and smashed into the dirt. They can’t see that. Only me.

I’m dancing the line. The line between past and present. The line between life and death. And I’m dancing alone.

I tell them I’m fine. But I’m not really fine. I never was. I’m not now. And I’m not sure I ever will be.

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?

She wants to say no

Little girl lies awake. She knows what’s coming.

Her mother comes in, and now she is crying.

She tries to yell out, but no one can hear her.

She shows all the hurt, but no one can see her.

She can’t take more pain, and she wants it to end.

She tries to fight back, but she just cannot fend.

She tells them please no, but they just don’t listen.

She wants it to stop, but no one will listen.

She stands there afraid. She can’t stop the shaking.

She yells out stop, no, but now she stands burning.

She can’t hold the tears; she wants them to drown her.

She tried to say no, but no one would hear her.

He tells her to sit. She knows what is coming.

She begs him to stop, but he just keeps going.

She tries to say no, but he doesn’t listen.

So she shuts down, because no one will listen.

She hides all the hurt, but can’t get very far.

So she shows them her pain in each little scar.

She hopes they will notice, hopes they will see her.

She needs their help, she needs someone to hear her.

She wants to be free, she wants to say good-bye.

But she is still trapped, and can’t figure out why.

She’s tired of the pain, but they just won’t listen.

She stops saying no, ’cause no one will listen.

She cries so much. They ask are you okay now.

She wants to speak out, but she doesn’t know how.

She can’t tell them no, ’cause her voice has left her.

So she tells them she’s fine, then they can’t help her.

She’s a big girl now, but she knows no better.

She tries to be grown, but they just won’t let her.

She follows commands, because they don’t listen.

She loses herself, ’cause no one will listen.

She swallows each pill, and hopes it will kill her.

The pills they don’t work, but that doesn’t stop her.

She lives with the pain, ’cause no one can see her.

She keeps it inside, ’cause no one can hear her.

She longs for a friend, wants someone to help her.

She wants to find trust, wants someone to love her.

He says he’ll be there. He says he will listen.

She lets him in. She needs someone to listen.

She can be who she is, won’t need to hide now.

He gives her that hope, and she feels the love now.

But then it all disappears. It all leaves her.

He takes that away. He takes it all from her.

She clenches her teeth. He pries them back open.

She closes her legs, but he pulls them unopen.

She asks him to stop, but he just won’t listen.

She can’t tell him no, ’cause no one will listen.

She can’t find her voice. So she takes all the blame.

She didn’t say no. Now she carries the shame.

She just wants to hide, wants no one to see her.

She just wants to cry, wants no one to hear her.

She’s scared to connect, so she just pulls away.

She’s lost enough now that she can’t find her way.

She can’t understand why no one would listen.

All she had wanted was someone to listen.

She finds a way out, and she finds her way back.

She’s no longer hurt, never under attack.

She wants to come out. She wants them to see her.

She wants her voice back. She wants them to hear her.

Now she struggles to trust, and she struggles to speak.

But with strength in her heart, she is no longer weak.

She longs for respect. She needs someone to listen.

She wants to say no and have somebody listen.

Making choices

You’re making a choice.

I hear those words a lot lately, but I’m not sure I understand them. I’m not sure I know how to make choices. I’m not sure I ever had the chance to.

My mother decided everything for me: what I wore, who I spoke to, when I bathed, what I ate, when I ate, where I worked, what I used, where I went to college, what I bought (really, what she bought with my money), where I went. I never had the opportunity to have choices. My entire life had been chosen for me. I was not a human being; I was a system running my mother’s commands.

And now, in my mother’s absence, I have no idea what I’m doing. In some ways, I feel lost without her. She has done everything for me for 29 years. Who will make my decisions now?

I just want someone to tell me what to do. Tell me what buy. Tell me what to eat. Tell me everything I need to do.

Don’t ask if I am thirsty. Just tell me I need to drink.

Don’t ask if I need a break. Just tell me to stop what I’m doing.

I can’t answer questions, but I can respond to commands. I’ve done that my whole life.

You’re making a choice.

My mother used to say  I had choices. She’d tell other people that, too. She’d tell them that I could have friends, but that I chose not to have any. She’d say I could leave the house at any time, but I chose not to go. She’d tell them I could do whatever I want with my money, and I chose to support her. She wanted people to believe I had choices, but they were never choices. I couldn’t have friends because I couldn’t talk to anyone. I couldn’t leave the house at any time because I didn’t have house keys. I couldn’t keep my money because she would take it.

My mother ruined choice for me. She made me believe for so long that I had choices when I never really had choices at all. Now, I don’t know how to differentiate reality from my mother’s warped sense of reality. Now, every choice I make is complicated, even when it’s supposed to be easy.

You’re making a choice.

It doesn’t feel like a choice. It feels like what I have to do. You say I have the power, but where did it come from? It didn’t fall from the sky. It didn’t arrive in the mail. If I really have power, then that means I always had power. I always had choices.

And once I arrive at that point, my thinking goes to shit. I turn the ability to choose into the need to self-blame. If I am making a choice now, I must have made a choice back then. I must have chosen to be abused. It was my choice to let it happen. It was my choice to keep letting it happen. It was my choice not to tell anymore. It was my choice not to fight back. It was my choice to shut down. It was my choice to self-destruct. It was my choice to stay. It was my choice not to say no.

But were those all really choices, or were they acts of self-preservation?

It’s exactly how my mother wanted me to think. She wanted me to think everything I did was a choice that I made, and not a decision she had imposed on me. My mother wanted me to think that everything was my fault, when the reality was that she was the one to blame.

If I really had choices then, I would not have chosen to be abused. I would not have chosen to be hurt. I would not have chosen to remain in that prison for as long as I did. I would have chosen none of those things.

I did not choose to be abused. My mother chose to abuse me.

I did not choose to be hurt. My mother chose to hurt me.

I did not choose to stay in prison. My mother chose to take away my freedom.

It may have taken me 29 years, but I finally made a choice. I chose to take my freedom back.

And while the initial act may have very well been an act of self-preservation — a choice between living or dying — it isn’t any more. My choices are different now. Complicated, but different. I choose to speak. I choose to feel. I choose to write. I choose to heal. I am choosing to do things I couldn’t do before.

I just wish other choices came so easily, too.