She’s the Shark

ocean

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].

Trapped

I can’t talk about anything.

I can’t write about anything.

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

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

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

No answers

I call my dead father’s cell phone. He never answers, because he’s dead and the phone is disconnected. But I still keep calling. I still keep hoping he answers the phone.

I’m not sure why I keep calling. There’s just so many things I want to say to him. There’s so many questions that I want answered. But he’s dead, burned to ashes, gone away forever.

Why didn’t you stop her? Why did you help her? Why didn’t you protect us? Why did you become just like her?

He leaves me with no answers.

Sometimes I call my mother’s cell phone. She never answers, either, but she’s not dead, and the phone isn’t disconnected. It just rings and rings then goes to voicemail.

I left her a voicemail once. I told her I was sorry for being a failure, for being a bad daughter. I asked her for forgiveness.

I wanted her to answer. I wanted her to tell me she missed me. I wanted her to tell me she loved me and that it was all just a big mistake. I wanted her to tell me she was sorry, too. I wanted a mother. I wanted her to give me a reason to live, because in that moment, I had planned to kill myself, and I wanted to feel an ounce of love before I died.

I still call her, hoping one day she will answer. But I don’t call her to apologize. I call her because I want answers.

I want to know what I did wrong.  I want to know why she hurt me.

I want to know how she lives every day knowing what she did to her children, knowing what she did to others. How does it not eat her up inside? How does she get through the day feeling worthy enough to still be alive?

I want her to know how I live every day, constantly reminded of what she did to me. I want her to know that I am eaten up inside. I want her to know that most days, I still struggle to find myself worthy enough to still be alive.

I want her to know she broke me. Every time she raped me, beat me, burned me, bruised me, made me sick…she shattered me.

I want to know if she knows that. I want to know how that makes her feel. I want to know if she even feels at all.

I called her again the other day. I didn’t want to ask her anything. I didn’t want an answer.

I wanted to tell her I didn’t need her anymore. I wanted to tell her goodbye. I wanted to tell her fuck you.

Because now I know the problem was never with me. It was with her.

Sometimes, there are no answers. And sometimes, there are answers hidden within no answers.

This is not my family.

I still remember what my mother wrote to me

You made your decision to disown your family.

It wasn’t a decision to disown my family. It was a decision to save my life.

And I am reminded of that decision every day.

I left a life behind. A life I can never go back to. A life full of people I can’t see anymore.

One of my best friends graduated from college last week. I wanted to be there to support him, in the same way he was there to support me when I graduated college last year. But I couldn’t. I could only experience his moment through pictures he posted on social media. Because I can never go back to that place again. I can never take the risk of my mother seeing me, of finding me, of hurting me. I can never return to the only place I knew for 29 years of my life, my home, my friends, my family. And that hurts in a way I’m not sure I can ever explain in words.

For all those months after my escape, I went through my hardest moments alone. I spent holidays alone. I stayed in the hospital alone. I struggled to explain to every person taking down my information that I had no emergency contact, no next of kin, no person to notify. No mother? No father? No siblings? No one? They could never seem to understand how I had no family. Didn’t they hear? I disowned my family.

And now here I am, smack dab in the middle of a family that is not my own. I’m going through shit with people by my side from a family that is not my own. I am spending time with people from a family that is not my own. I am living in a house that is not my home.

Now it’s different. I went to the cardiologist appointment with someone by my side, someone who cared enough to take the time to come with me, because she knew I wasn’t going to speak up for myself. But she doesn’t know I don’t speak up for a reason. She doesn’t understand I’ve been trained not to speak up for myself.

I went through my surgery with her by my side. As the cardiologist stitched up my incision, she said “I’m going to go out and tell your mother how everything went.” In that moment I realized that’s who should be here: my mother, my family. Instead here was this woman, of no relation to me, standing by me through a hard time. She isn’t my mother, but she cares and supports me more than my biological mother ever did, strong enough that even my doctor mistook her for my own family member.

I always dreamed of having a real family, but I never knew what it looked like. I didn’t really imagine other people, I just imagined my parents being different. I imagined living a life with a mother who didn’t rape and abuse, and a father who hugged instead of hit. I imagined going out places instead of being stuck inside of that prison. I imagined that they would change, but they never did.

Thirty-one years later, I found that family. A normal family where I don’t have to be afraid to go to bed at night and I can eat food without being punished for it and I can go outside and see the world whenever I want. I found a family with a man who asks if I’ve done my homework every Friday, because he knows I have a paper due that night. I found a family with a teenager that asks where I’m going each time there’s a stranger parked outside the house waiting to pick me up for a date. I found a family with a kid I can joke around with so much, we both end up rolling on the floor. I found a family with a woman who tells me goodnight and gives me a hug before she goes to sleep. I found a family that makes sure I’m eating enough, a family that always makes sure I have what I need.

It’s a normal family. It’s a family I never experienced. And it’s not my family. Because I’m not sure I fit into a normal family. I am not sure it’s fair for them to have to deal with me. It’s not fair for them to have to make sure I am eating like a normal person. It’s not fair for them to have to hold my head off the floor every time I pass out. It’s not fair for them to care for me, when I can barely find it within me to care about myself. I am a burden. And they did nothing to deserve that.

As much as I’m included in everything they do, I still feel like an outsider. I feel like someone who doesn’t belong. Because I don’t belong. This is not my family. I am alone. In the middle of a room full of people, as crazy as some of them may be, I am the only one that doesn’t belong.

It’s ironic. My own family treated me like the outsider my whole life. Yet the truth is I never belonged with them anyway, because I was nothing like them. And now, with a family who is treating me like I belong, I find myself pushing away.

I ended up crying in the corner of the living room yesterday. The family had a barbecue. Other family members were there. And for a few hours I felt okay. I talked, I listened, I even got dragged into a mini-trip with a woman who had just learned my name. And then right before dinner, something clicked in me. This is not my family. I do not belong here. It hit me like a ton of bricks.

They sat down together in the kitchen and I isolated myself in the corner of another room. I knew I was going to cry. I tried so hard to hold in the tears. I tried to look at my phone, act busy, but then she came over to ask if I was okay and I just knew I wouldn’t be able to hold the tears in anymore.

She asked if it was my heart. I knew she meant my arrhythmia, so I said no. But my heart was broken in a different way, a way that I can barely explain. A broken heart that continues to break each time I realize all that I never had.

She knew something was wrong and kept asking me what it was, and I kept trying to hold it all in. I’m fine. I finally broke down and told her, this isn’t my family, this is yours. I couldn’t hold in the tears anymore. She grabbed tissues and tried to comfort me, while blocking me from everyone else in the other room. She told me that I was family, that she adopted me, that I belong. She had told me it all before, but it still didn’t feel right.

I got what I always dreamed of as a little girl. Love, care, support, safety, and all of the things a real family should be. Yet even though I am the safest, happiest, and most balanced I have ever been, I am still reminded of what I don’t have: my family. They are gone forever. Some dead, some gone away, some too dangerous to recognize they exist, but regardless, still gone. I am one standing, both disowned by my family and disowned to them.

This is not my family. I don’t want to be a burden to them.

I don’t understand how I got here.

Happy Mother’s Day, Self


Dear KJ,

I know it hurts your heart. Not just every Mother’s Day, but every day you wake up. What is written on your heart is pain, left there by the woman who was supposed to be your mother. I’m not sure that pain will ever go away. I’m not sure she will ever even acknowledge how much she has hurt your heart. But that’s okay. You realize it. You know it.

I know it’s hard. I know it hurts. But you’re still standing, broken-hearted, without a mother, but still very much alive.

The things in this card are things your mother should have taught you. A hug should have never been painful; it should have been full of love and care. But you have that now. It may have taken long, but now you have people to hug you without the pain and the hurt, rather with the love and support you deserve.

I know you still feel weak and lost. You are still trying to find your way in the world. Your mother should have taught you these things, but she didn’t. She didn’t know how to be a good mom. But that’s okay. You are learning now. You are starting to trust people. It’s not at all like she told it was, You can trust. Keep trusting. You may have had a late start, but you are making your way. You’re doing it, even without her. You had to build your own foundation, with the help of others, but it’s getting so strong and solid and stable now.

You taught yourself how to be strong. You had to in order to survive. And you survived. You stood alone most of your life, when your mother should have been the one standing beside you, it was just you. But you still survived. Because you were born with a strength that could never and can never be taken away. That strength came from within you, and now you are sharing that strength with the world. You are so so strong.

You had to learn ways to survive that no child should ever have to learn. She wouldn’t let you be successful, but look at you now. You’re in graduate school with a 4.0, you’re a successful writer, and most of all you are a beautiful person inside and out. And you did that all on your own.

She did not teach you kindness, only cruelty. Yet somehow, some way, you learned how to be kind, you learned how to love. You didn’t need your mother for that. You have others there to support you now. You had (and have) yourself. So many people have been touched by your kindness. Listen to them. Remember when Sarah told you how you were so intelligent and so caring and so kind, even when you came from a place where none of those things existed? It’s the truth. You did that. Somehow you did that.

You spent your childhood having no one care about you, having no one believe in you. But you cared, and somewhere deep down, you believed. That’s why you kept going. That’s why you tried to stay alive, even when it was so much easier and so much less painful to die.

There are angels on this earth. You are one of them. I’m sorry your mother wasn’t. You deserved that angel. You deserved that mother. But even though you didn’t have it, you did it yourself. You became your own angel, your own teacher, your own believer, your own mother.

You deserve this as much as anyone else. Love yourself. Celebrate the mother inside of you that you had to be when no one else was there, when she wasn’t there. You were your own mother. You helped yourself survive, through love and care. Remember that.

Love,

KJ Continue reading

Happy Mother’s Day, Loretta


Dear Mom Loretta,

I wish this card was true for you. But it’s not.

Instead of taking your children to new heights, you knocked them down on the ground and left them there, suffering. Instead of giving me opportunities, you took them away from me, because you never wanted me to be any better than you.

You never gave me dreams; you gave me nightmares. Every day of my childhood was a nightmare, in living and in sleeping. My only dreams were those of being saved from you, until one day I realized those dreams would never come true. So my dreams became wishes for death…the only way out from you, my own mother.

You never gave me support, you took it away from me. You stole my life from me. Every time you beat me, burned me, raped me, tortured me. You broke me, physically and emotionally. You took away any support I had, What mother does that to her child? What kind of woman molests her own children and then goes to Church the next day? What kind of mother tells her child she is worthless, evil, nothing? That’s not a mother. That’s barely a woman, barely a human.

Your gift in life to me was never love; it was and always will be pain. Because no matter how hard I try, I can never fill the hole in my heart where my mother should be. I deserved a mother. I deserved support and love and dreams and care and life. But you stole that all from me, for 29 years I had nothing but pain and hopelessness.

I know you wish that I was dead. I know you believe I deserve those gravestones you sent me. But I don’t deserve to die. I deserve to live.

You took away nearly 30 years of my life already, you stole it all from me. And you’re still trying to take it from me. You blame me for everything, for your husband’s death, for your isolation, for your tarnished reputation. But that’s not my fault. It never was and never will be. It’s your fault, but you will never see it that way.

I’m not sure if it’s all part of your game or you’re so disillusioned that you don’t understand the gravity of what you’ve done. But I can’t change who you are. I can’t change what you’ve done to me.

You are a criminal, a rapist, an abuser, a narcissist, a sociopath. You are nothing. You are the evil and worthless one. It was never me. You just made me believe it for so long that I couldn’t see the real worth inside of me.

You may have broken me, you may have stolen my childhood and my innocence from me, but you did not steal my strength. It stayed with me, and it still does.

I am a caring, intelligent, beautiful, loving, funny, strong, amazing woman, full of worth that you will never get to see. It’s a loss for you, whether you see it or not, it’s not my problem anymore.


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.