I still remember the day. November 21, 2016. The day I celebrated 500 days of freedom. The day I planned to celebrate my successes. The day I went to the beach to release the stones I had lost into the ocean. The day I carried with me the stones of all I had gained. Stones I still have to this day, laid out right by my desk, reminding me of my new truths.
It was also the day I let go of the stones it was time to give away. Guilt. Shame. Fault. Blame. They were no longer weighing me down. I was free from them. I was free from my trauma. I was free from my mother.
I remember how I felt that day. Like I accomplished something. Like I had started a new life. Like I had finally realized what it felt like to be free. I felt a sense of happiness amidst the grief. I finally knew what it was like to feel safe, I knew what it was like not to worry. It took 500 days for me to get there, but I got there none the less.
But those feelings were soon ripped away from me, because November 21, 2016 wasn’t just my 500th day of freedom. It was also the day my mother found me.
Just days after I celebrated my new-found freedom and safety, I received her first letter in the mail. A business envelope with no return address. A catalog sheet of gravestones, ready for my choosing. They were the stones my mother believed I deserved. The ultimate punishment for going against her.
I ran away. I escaped prison. And I told my story. Because I knew upon my leaving, that people were still in danger. Telling was the only way to help them. And it did help. Some people were able to see through her manipulation and get out before it was too late. But others are still being hurt by her. And in many ways, I am still being hurt by her.
She took away my freedom. She took away my sense of safety. With each piece of mail she sent, she took it all away from me. That accomplishment I felt, that glimpse of happiness I got to experience, it all faded away.
My life was no longer one of freedom, no longer one of safety. Even in distance, my mother was no longer so far away. She made her presence known. She took away all of the things I worked so hard for since running away, with just a few pages of words, with just a sheet of gravestones.
Why? Why couldn’t she let me experience that freedom just a little bit longer? Why couldn’t she just let me feel safe? Why did she have to take that all away from me?
I haven’t been the same since then. As much as I’ve moved around, I am still afraid of being found. As much as I try to be invisible, I can still be traced. As much as I try to live my life, I am still in fear of her. Is she watching me from afar? Is she behind me? Is she waiting outside my door? Are her words sitting in my mailbox? Is she sitting there, reading my thoughts? Is she planning to hurt me? Will she be picking my gravestone?
I haven’t felt safe since then. I’m not sure I ever will. Because I know as long as she is here on earth, I am in danger. It’s something I cannot change. I chose to be on my own while leaving her to hurt others. I chose to run away instead of putting her in jail. I chose to hide instead of bringing her to justice. I chose this life, and I set myself up for these consequences.
I should have known better, but I was drawn away by the illusion of a free life. A life I now know cannot exist.
I just want to feel safe.
She jumped off the edge of the boat into the deep blue ocean. She didn’t tell anyone that she didn’t know how to swim. She took her chances. She couldn’t stay on the boat any longer, knowing that the boat was soon going to sink and they would all sink with it. The others refused to acknowledge that the boat sinking. So she left them there to drown. She couldn’t save them. She chose to go her own way, risking life or death as opposed to just the latter.
As she dove in, she found herself falling deeper and deeper into the sea. Overwhelmed, floating into a complete unknown. She opened her eyes and looked around her. She saw hundreds of fish swimming about. All the beautiful colors surrounding her. Majestic sea creatures, existing in harmony. The pink and white coral on the sea floor. The glistening sand beneath her feet. It was peaceful. It was safe. So many things she had never seen before, so many new things to explore. She walked across the sand, a stable ground, experiencing happiness for the first time in her life, experiencing freedom.
But she got so lost in the wonder that she didn’t realize she was drowning. She didn’t realize there were sharks circling her. She tried to get away, but she fell deeper into the sea, into a black abyss. There were no more beautiful colors. No more glistening sand. No support beneath her feet. Just darkness, and a shark swimming above her, waiting to attack.
She tried to swim back up out of the darkness. She tried to get away. But she had never swam before. She didn’t know what she was doing. She tried so hard to escape the shark, but it was relentless. It could smell her fear. It could see her, but she could no longer see it.
She moved her legs as hard as she could. She tried to push her feet but there was nothing to support her. She waved her hands about, hoping someone would see and save her. But no one was there. She was swimming alone, with no idea of what to do next. Powerless against the shark. Powerless within the water.
But she kept fighting. She knew she had to. She kicked and screamed her way out of the dark abyss. The shark was still following her, but she could see better now. She felt the sand beneath her feet again. She saw the colors of the new world, a world that was hidden from her for so long. She was finally learning to swim. All by herself.
Somehow, she managed to make it to the surface. She could see the sun breaking through. A beautiful sight. A new hope. Shadows of promise. She tried so hard to reach it, but she was tired. Tired of running from the shark. Tired of trying to swim when she was never taught how to. This new world had been too much for her.
She continued to look at the sun as it was breaking through the water’s surface. But she was sinking. She lost all her power. She lost her way. She sunk back into the darkness of the ocean, wondering if the shark will ever give up its hunt, wondering if she’d ever get to see the sun again.
[This piece is a writing activity I completed in therapy — the prompt was to create a story inspired by the image].
Last Friday marked six months of stability for me.
I use the term stability loosely, because in quite a few ways, I am anything but stable. My health is
kind of a mess. My eating disorder has hit some pretty low lows. My emotions waver from non-existent to overwhelming. I’ve been spending 30 to 40 hours a week in intensive group therapy. I am not exactly the picture of stability here, and I know that.
But stability is much more than that. For me, stability started the day I found a safe place to live.
I didn’t realize it at the time. I thought that when I ran away from home and moved down here, that was stability. But I mistook freedom as stability when it really wasn’t. It was a change in environment, an improvement in many aspects, but it wasn’t stability. I tried so hard to move forward by going to therapy twice a week, yet I was still struggling. I was stuck because I was spending all of my energy trying to manage the stress in my environment that I had nothing left to put towards managing myself.
It took a long time (and a bit of outside influence) for me to realize that the way I was living wasn’t healthy or stable. So I worked (with help from others) to change that. I changed my environment. Things started looking up; not great, but getting there.
But that didn’t last, because after a month, I ended up broke and homeless. Well, this is great. Now I am the most unstable I have ever been. I was about to give up. But then, a friend stepped up and offered me a place to live. And that’s when the real change started. Because it was way more than just a place to live.
These past six months have been some of the hardest, yet some of the best months of my life. For the first time, I am living somewhere stable. I don’t have to hide in my bedroom. I don’t have to sleep outside. I don’t have to worry about how I’m going to eat because there is always food available (whether or not I am willing to eat it is another story, but…progress). I don’t have to worry about getting yelled at, or put down, or hurt. I can make mistakes and still be cared for because care isn’t conditional here.
I’m not used to this life. I’ve never had anyone there to tell me I need to eat, that I need to take my medication because I’m getting sick, that I need to go to the doctor, that I need to go to treatment. It’s a completely different dynamic. Before, I could just self-destruct and it wouldn’t matter because no one would notice, no one would care. That’s just not the case any more. I don’t just affect me; I affect others.
There’s been so much change over these last six months. Even though my health has declined a bit, I’ve managed to cope with it somewhat well. There are still (many) times when I need a push to take my medication or to make a doctor’s appointment, but I do it (eventually). I experienced the loss of the first dog I came to love last weekend and I’ve been able to grieve his death with spiraling out of control. That was a first for me. I also had support, and I was able to support others. Another first.
Even in the hardest times, I’ve managed to find happiness in the smallest things. Playing with the dogs. Going out to dinner with the family. Shopping at Walmart on a Saturday. Watching TV with a friend. Playing cards with the kids. Baking cookies and making dinner for the people I care about. These are the things I try to remind myself of when I want to give up. The brief glimmers of something better. The somethings I was never able to do, let alone enjoy before.
I take pride in the small accomplishments. Making it through the Costco parking lot without freezing from fear. Sitting through dinner at a restaurant without having an anxiety attack. Shopping in the grocery store without running away before I’m done. Eating a meal in its entirety. Going to a party without getting drunk. Trying new foods. Going to places I’ve never been before. Little things that no one really celebrates because it’s normal for them. But it has never been normal for me.
Yea, I’m a mess. I can’t work. I survive off medication. I spend most of my days in therapy.
But I’m not the same mess I was before. I have safety and stability. I have food on the table. I have people who listen to me and help me. I have reasons to not give up.
I guess I’m a little more organized chaos and a little less clusterfuck.
I went to a session today on self-compassion.
It was actually my idea. It was supposed to be an orientation group for new people, but no one was going and the other groups were getting full. So the lead therapist asked what group topic people wanted to cover instead, and for some reason, I blurted out self-compassion.
I say “for some reason” because I’ve been avoiding self-compassion groups when they’ve been offered. I hate self-compassion. I understand it on an intellectual level, but in practice it feels like one of the hardest things in the world, something I’d rather not (and don’t) bother with.
I don’t know why I said it. Perhaps it was the pain medication kicking in. Perhaps it’s because I wanted to learn how to be compassionate towards myself as I’m learning once again how to navigate the world on crutches. Or maybe another part of me knew it was needed. Regardless of the reason, I said it, and everyone was in agreement.
It was a good group. We each picked out a random card from some kind of motivational collection and shared it with the group. I happened to pick the card with the quote:
“Those who bring sunshine into the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”
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 checked the mail today.
A few pieces of junk mail. A credit card bill. And one envelope with my name and address handwritten on it, in familiar handwriting.
I told myself, this couldn’t be. She doesn’t know where I live. She said she doesn’t know anything; that’s why she gave my friend that letter to give to me. It’s just a coincidence.
I hesitated for awhile. But then I opened it.
There was a single piece of paper inside, with pictures of gravestones. No letter, no note, no explanation. Just a paper with different gravestones for me to choose.
I looked at the envelope again. My mother has always had a distinctive way of writing certain letters of the alphabet. The writing was the same.
My mother wrote out that envelope. She knows where I live. She lied to everyone.
Whose gravestone am I supposed to be choosing?
I am scared. My hands are still shaking, and I can’t stop crying for more than five minutes before I break down again.
She is coming for me. And I don’t want to die.