YOLO

I’ve wanted a tattoo for a quite a few years. Every time I planned to get one, I ended up not following through because I couldn’t settle on what to get. I wanted a Phoenix, because if it’s significance in rising from the ashes. But it would have to be a reasonably sized tattoo, and I wasn’t sure I could handle something that intricate on my first go.

I thought about getting a butterfly. Once again, for its significance and relation to growth. But butterfly tattoos had gained popularity, and I didn’t want the meaning to get lost in the hype. But I always wanted something to symbolize my freedom.

Then when I got sick, I was told tattoos were a no go. Too much risk of infection, I assume. So I didn’t think about it for awhile, until the other day. I filled out a short get-to-know-you thing out of boredom. One of the questions asked about tattoos, and I wrote no. When my friend saw it, she said we should go and get my tattoo. Admittedly, we were both overly tired and I was not in the best frame of mind. But when I thought about it the next day, I really wanted to do it.

I’ve had to avoid so many things in my life. Can’t get vaccines anymore because my body isn’t strong enough to fight them. Can’t eat high-risk foods, like raw vegetables, because any contamination can make me sick. Can’t be around anyone who may be sick.

But what’s the point if I still get sick anyway? I can’t live in a bubble. I can’t avoid everything that will hurt me. So why deprive myself of something I wanted just because it might make me sick?

Just a day before, I had gone to a buffet — Golden Corral to be exact. They don’t have those where I’m from, so I was a little excited when I saw one here. Buffets are not good for me — not only because of the higher risk of contamination, but because most of the foods there aren’t good for my GI Isaura. But I said fuck it, I want to go. And we did. And I suffered for it, as I expected. But even through the discomfort and pain, there was a sense of joy in doing something I wanted.

So I took another risk. Today, I got my first tattoo. It wasn’t anything ornate or fancy. I didn’t want to take too much of a risk.

I couldn’t think of a more meaningful tattoo. The date I ran away, and birds of freedom. It’s a constant reminder for me, in those times when I do want to give up, to remember how far I’ve come from where I was.

Guard down, guard up

Sometimes, I let my guard down.

Then, I am quickly reminded of why I shouldn’t.

It’s a complicated thing. The fear of trusting anyone, yet the seemingly innate pull to open up to someone. The desire to be alone, yet the need to be in contact with others. The want for a family, even when family has continually been nothing but toxic.

I made a mistake. I should have seen it coming; looking back, I don’t know why I even put myself in that position. But it’s that seemingly continuous push and pull of two opposing wants that seem to lead to these mistakes.

It was the right timing. I was vulnerable. I had just left to go across the county. I left everything and everyone behind. I was disconnected, not only physically, but emotionally as well. And I wanted so much to reconnect to something or to someone.

And I did. I got a friend request on Facebook from a distant cousin — my mother’s niece. Years ago, I would have immediately deleted it. In fact, I may have even had her and others blocked. But over time, I let my guard down. I let my fear dissipate. But, given the circumstances, I felt okay enough to accept her request. After all, I was nowhere near her or my mother physically. After all, this was someone who hadn’t seen me since I was 14 years old. After all, this was someone who my mother avoided having any physical contact with, someone who my mother spoke ill of (along with her sister and others in her own family). So how much of a danger could it have been? I added her.

I soon learned that was a bad decision. In response to my last blog, she posted several comments, all of which focused on how I was loved and cared for, how I chose to leave the home where I was loved and cared for, how my mother loved her children and wouldn’t ever molest them…you get the gist. I did, too, because I heard it before. Almost word-for-word, in fact. Because they were my mother’s words, her defensive speech. We’ve all heard it before.

I was trying not to engage, but I eventually gave in and defended the truth. I reminded her that she was barely in our lives, how the last time she saw me was when I was 14, and that she really couldn’t have had any realistic idea of what was going on. I told her that I could connect her with people who witnessed the reality first hand — not just of the physical environment we lived in, but of my mother’s inappropriate words and actions. I suggested she be open to hearing both sides, as it seemed she was taking my mother’s word for truth without taking any initiative to find out what existed outside of my mother’s words.

But my words to her didn’t get very far, because when I woke up the next morning, her comments were deleted and so was she.

I had a tiny bit of hope that a friendship could have existed before all of this happened, that I could be connected to a part of my family, even if it was just in this small way.

I’m not that hurt over it. I got over it quickly. I think what stuck out to me the most was just how gullible people could be, how easily they could drink my mother’s Kool-aid and believe everything she says just because she says it. I’m fortunate enough that many people didn’t fall for her lies. I just wish that more of those people were family.

I find the timing interesting. Adding me as a friend a week before my freedom anniversary. Waiting until that very moment to let it out. I highly doubt it was all just a coincidence. But it doesn’t even matter. My lesson has been learned.

In her last comment, my cousin talked about how my mother was sick and suffering.

Good. I’m not going to lie. Good.

And that’s even if she is really sick, because I really don’t think anyone is close enough to her to truly know.

But, I will not feel bad about my anger or my grief. She is in her 60s. She got to live. I am 32 and can barely make it a month without a stay in the hospital, dealing with health issues that people my age (or anyone really) shouldn’t have to deal with. I’m not going to feel bad for being angry at her. I’m not going to feel bad for hating her. And I’m not going to feel bad for not caring about her, because she sure as hell never cared about me.

Three Years of Freedom

My three year freedom anniversary was three days ago. I wish I could say that I celebrated it in some way, but I didn’t.

And that is not the normal for me. Ever since I ran away, I have celebrated every milestone — one year, 500 days, two years, 1,000 days. I’ve always done something symbolic, something meaningful to celebrate the day. The celebrations helped remind me of where I was, and where I came from. I know some people thought it was a bit much, but you never really understand just how important these days are unless you’ve escaped from hell. And I know many of you, unfortunately, can understand that.

But as my three year anniversary rolled around, I didn’t feel like there was anything to celebrate. Over the last few months, my life has fallen apart. I found myself homeless. And even though I found a bed in a shelter, that stay ended up damaging me even more. I wandered the streets. I slept on friends’ couches. And out of desperation, with no options left, I found myself on a bus traveling west to stay with someone I never actually met other than through online conversation.

How did I end up here? Why did I end up here? I still don’t understand what happened. I still don’t understand how, despite everything, I am ineligible for any type of assistance. If I was an alcoholic, or a drug addict, I could get help right away. In the midst of my desperation, I actually considered breaking my sobriety because I knew it was the only way I could get help. But why should I have to? It makes no sense.

I’m angry. And not just because I am homeless. Not just because my only option was to leave the state where I had everything, including my medical care, in place. I’m angry because I’m sick.

It’s not like being sick is anything new to me. I’ve been sick for awhile. But I think, in that time, there was a part of me that didn’t think it was a really big deal. Until I started getting really sick. Until that hospital stay back in May when everything took a turn for the serious. Pulmonologists, infectious disease specialists, doctors in and out of my hospital room telling me that I was very sick. This wasn’t just a cold. This wasn’t something that was going to go away. I must have answered a hundred questions as the doctors tried to figure out just how I ended up this way. It doesn’t make any sense, they’d say. Little did they know, nothing in my life has ever made much sense.

As much as I hate to admit it, I was (and still am) scared. A part of me wanted to run away from my medical problems. If I just left my doctors, left the hospital, that somehow my issues would just disappear. Until five days into my stay in another state, when I passed out at lunch and found myself at the hospital once again.

The hospital did chest x-rays just to be sure everything was okay and there was no pneumonia (as I had a massive thrush infection — completely unrelated to me passing out). The doctor walked into my room and I could see the confusion and concern on his face. There’s no pneumonia, so that’s the good news, but — before he could finish his sentence, I told him it was okay, that I knew I was sick. I realized I’m going to have to have this conversation every time I end up in the hospital. A consistent reminder that I’m sick, no matter how hard I try to pretend like I’m okay.

How is this fair? How is any of it fair? I fought so hard to get out alive and this is where I end up after three years. My mother is free. She is healthy. She doesn’t struggle.

And I am nowhere, sick and struggling.

All of the things I learned along the way have left me with nothing. The people that said they would support me have turned their backs on me. The system that says it helps those in need has left me stranded.

So what’s left to celebrate?

Do You Trust Me?

I just wanted to fly under the radar. I didn’t want to bother anyone. I didn’t want to cause any problems.

When you have next to nothing, you tend to hold on to whatever you do have with whatever strength you have. For me, I wanted to hold on to having a place to sleep every night. I wanted to hold on to being able to stay at the shelter.

So I did everything I was supposed to. I made my bed every morning. I did my chores. I was nice to the other residents. I couldn’t afford to lose my spot. I thought the shelter was going to be a safe place. But that’s not what it turned out to be.

I didn’t realize what was happening. I’ve only read about it briefly in ethics books when I was doing my graduate work in counseling, how social workers and counselors would engage in inappropriate relationships with their clients. I’ve only seen it in a few TV shows and movies. I never witnessed it in real life. And then it happened to me.

It started out with conversations. He knew about my trauma history — I had to reveal it upon my intake at the shelter. Shortly after, he started asking questions. I didn’t mind answering; I thought he was just asking out of curiosity. But then the questions turned into asking for details. He wanted me to tell him exactly how my mother hurt me, down to every detail.

Then it turned to questions about sex. My discomfort increased. I didn’t want to answer. I hesitated, but all he kept saying was “Do you trust me?” He said he needed to know all of this stuff so he could help other clients. That if I answered his questions, I’d be helping them, too. And isn’t that what I wanted to do?

I was confused. I didn’t know what was happening. I didn’t want to upset him, or get him angry enough that he would turn around and kick me out of the shelter. So I obliged. I answered his questions, hoping that eventually he would get all of the answers he needed.

“Do you think you could ever have sex with me?”

It was then I realized this was going somewhere further than just questions. I felt sick to my stomach. I was trapped. Physically and emotionally trapped. What do I do? I hesitated as much as I could. I tried to make jokes to stray away from the conversation. But he wasn’t budging. All he kept saying was “Do you trust me?”

He told me he could help me be normal. Like he could fix the 29 years of abuse I went through. He was so insistent. I couldn’t say no. All he would say was “Why don’t you trust me?”

Everything always came to trust. I didn’t understand. I didn’t trust him. How could I? I felt like I was right back to being a kid again. It was so confusing. If I said no, it would get me in trouble. I can never say no.

I felt disgusted. I kept what happened to myself because I was so afraid of someone thinking it was my fault. Maybe I did something. Maybe it was something I said. Maybe it was something I did. I didn’t understand.

I spent my days at the shelter on edge. I never knew if he was going to come in my room at night, like he said I could. I never knew what I would have to do next in order to keep him happy. I was miserable. But I was so used to it, I thought that maybe this was just how everyone was.

I debated for weeks about telling someone. I wasn’t concerned about me; I was concerned that he might have done it to other women. If I didn’t tell, I’d be responsible for any women he hurt in the future. No matter what I did, it was going to be my fault. I feared I wasn’t going to be believed. But I was smart. I started recording what was happening on my phone, because part of me knew I needed something to stop him.

I had a panic attack one night when I was on my way out of my room; there was another resident walking through the hallway in his underwear, and I panicked because I thought it was him coming into my room for me. I couldn’t explain why I was crying. I couldn’t explain why it upset me so much. All I could get out of my mouth was you don’t know what happens here sometimes.

And that was enough. It initiated a conversation the next day. I hesitated, fearing that somehow I would get in trouble. But they told me I wasn’t going to get in trouble. They said if something not right is going on, they needed to know. Through tears, I told them what was happening. I couldn’t get everything out. I was overcome with shame, believing they thought that this was all of my fault. After all, something must be wrong with me since this keeps happening.

He is gone now. But I will soon be, too.

All I am left with is shame and confusion, and an even greater inability to trust.

Do you trust me?

I trust no one now.

Shelter

I am exhausted. Physically, mentally, and emotionally. Possibly the most exhausted I have ever been.

Social services found me a bed at a homeless shelter today. It’s a temporary shelter — 30 day max stay. It’s on the other side of the county, in an area I don’t really know. But it’s a bed. There wasn’t much else they could do. I don’t qualify for any assistance because I am in the small percentage of people that fall within all the loopholes of disqualifications.

I’m trying to pick up the pieces. I’m trying to catch up with all the school work I got behind in when I was hospitalized. I’m trying to figure out if I’ll ever find a stable place to live. I’m trying to figure out how I’ll pay my bills.

I hadn’t cried until today. I’ve been pretending to be strong, when inside I’ve been a mess. It finally came out when I was sitting at social services and they told me I would be going to a shelter. It finally sunk in that I was homeless and alone.

It’s really hard to see the positive in anything in times of crisis. I could totally see myself having a complete meltdown. I could see myself giving up entirely.

But I have so much support. Friends, some I’ve met and some I’ve only known online, have continued to be supportive throughout these last a several days. Phone calls and emails have helped me get through the day. People have donated money to help me with transportation and food costs. And their messages of hope and gratitude for how I’ve helped them brought me to tears.

To those that have donated and help me in any way, I am incredibly grateful. You have given me hope.

I’ve always been the person who helps everyone. It’s hard for me to be the person in need. It’s hard for me to focus on myself and not caretake for others. When I first came here to the shelter, I donated half of my clothes. Because even in the chaos of my own happenstance, I felt that I had to give back in some way.

I don’t really know what’s going to happen anymore. But all I can do is hope that this experience has some kind of deeper meaning that I just can’t see right now.

Without Notice

This time of the year is probably the hardest for me.

I’ve written before about the significance of April 25th. It is the most difficult trauma anniversary for me.

It’s been ten years now, and yet the pain still remains as if it happened yesterday.

It’s a different kind of hurt. A worse kind of hurt.

Of all the things my mother did to me, all the pain she caused, none of it hurt more than what she did (and didn’t do) that day.

I almost died. To this day, I still don’t know why I didn’t. But she knew what happened. She knew I overdosed. And she did nothing. She didn’t take me to the hospital. She didn’t call 911. All she could say was how could you do this to me? And then she went back to her normal daily life, as I sat alone, suffering in the worst way, physically and mentally.

I’ve racked my brain trying to understand what happened that day. I’ve tried for years to understand how anyone, especially a mother, could leave her child to suffer. There is no understanding it. She didn’t care if I died, because that meant the truth would die with me.

It still hurts. It still makes me cry. I still feel the pain in my heart, the hopelessness. A part of me still wishes that I died that day. It would have saved me from seven more years of abuse. It would have saved me from living the same pain over and over again.

I am still grieving. I think I will always grieve that day.

I hadn’t handled it well in the past. But I was going to do better this year.

I told my therapist in the beginning of this month that the end of April was going to be a difficult time for me. I didn’t go into the details right then, but I let him know I was going to need a lot of support. I told him then because I knew as the date got closer, I would isolate and shut down.

Then last week, the night before my therapy appointment, my therapist text me to let me know he would not be returning to the practice. I knew he was planning on taking a within the next couple of months, but this wasn’t a temporary leave. This was a permanent one. Without notice.

I couldn’t believe it. I had already made a mental list of everything I needed to talk about that next day, and here I was, left with no therapist, heading into the most difficult few months of the year. It couldn’t have come at a worse time.

I scrambled to find someone, but there was no one I worked with previously that was available. It was difficult to find ANYONE who was available. It was hard enough finding this last therapist. Many places around here have waiting lists, and because I don’t have any money to pay out-of-pocket, I have no choice but to work with therapists who take insurance. And those are the ones with waiting lists miles long.

I thought about the next couple of months. Even once I manage getting through April 25th, I still have Mother’s Day. Mother’s Day has always been difficult for me, for obvious reasons. Last year was probably one of the worst in terms of how I coped with it (because I didn’t cope with it). This year will be even more difficult, because I won’t just be grieving for what my mother did to me, but also grieving for the loss of my own motherhood. Things are more complicated this time around. The loss is more complex.

As much as I would like to say that I can handle things on my own, that I can cope with my losses without being drowned by them, I know that’s not the truth. I can’t do it on my own. I need help. I need support.

Even though my life is shit right now, I have 47 cents in my bank account, I’m failing school this semester, and my health has been horrible, there is a part of me that doesn’t yet want to throw in the towel. That’s why I made the decision to reach back out for help.

I called the PHP I was in a few months ago. I felt ashamed. I had spent so much time in the program that I shouldn’t still be this fucked up. I shouldn’t need this much help. Clearly something is wrong with me. But then I remembered the psychiatrist tell me it’s okay to come back if I need it. And I think I do. I don’t have many other options at this point.

My intake is tomorrow, and I don’t know how to feel.

1,000 Days of Freedom, Part 5: Hopes

I decided to end with something a little different from what I had done before. I had acknowledged my past and my present, so I thought it was important that I also acknowledge what I hope for in my future.

I chose sand dollars to represent my future hopes. Sand dollars are hard to come by, but when you find one, they are said to bring you good luck. Some traditions also say sand dollars symbolize peace.

I chose six sand dollars, and wrote one hope I have one each one.

To become psychologically, physically, and financially stable.

It’s been a struggle to achieve stability in any aspect. Psychologically, I’m not the best. I spend way too much of my life in therapeutic settings. I can’t take most medications, and the ones I can take don’t seem to work. They’re always telling me it’s going to take a lot of time to get better; it’s going to take a lot of time to undo 29 years of programming. Those who know my story tell me I’m doing great considering what I’ve experienced. I could have died. I guess they are right.

Physically, I know I’m never going to be 100%. My health issues are not curable. Some will get progressively worse over time. I just want to be able to feel better, to gain whatever control I can have, if that’s even possible, over my illnesses. I want to be able to stand up and walk without people being afraid I’m going to drop.

I want to be able to live with more than $1 in my bank account. I want to be able to go out without having to sell something to pay for the bus. I don’t want to be a burden on others, even if they tell me I’m not. Whether it’s financial assistance or some kind of work, I just want to be more secure and stable.

To get justice for myself and others.

I still feel responsible for leaving people behind, for leaving my mother behind so she could hurt others. I know it’s not my fault, that her actions are not my responsibility. But I long for justice. I want my mother to be punished for what she has done, for all the crimes she has committed. I want that for me, and for the other people she has hurt. I know it’s difficult to go through a trial. I know a lot of therapists don’t recommend re-traumatizing yourself for the sake of justice. But I hope one day, I can be strong enough to go through it. And if I can’t, that I can find some other way to get even just a semblance of justice.

To know my purpose in life.

I never had a chance in my first 29 years to learn who I was, to gain any sense of what my purpose was in life. Even after I ran away, I spent so much time focusing on therapy and work that I really didn’t spend enough time trying to find myself. I thought my purpose was to be a therapist and help others like me, but after the incident with my grad school that led to my removal, I lost that sense of purpose.

Perhaps it’s not about how far I can get in my education. Perhaps I don’t even need a degree to do what I was meant to do. Maybe I am meant to be a writer. Maybe I am meant to speak out about abusers like my mother.

My therapist always asks me if I’ve built a skyscraper yet. He said in one of our first sessions that I am the type of person who has the intelligence and the drive to do amazing things; he said one day, I’m going to have my own skyscraper. I have no desire to do that, but I understand what he’s saying to me. I can do things. I just have to figure out where to start.

To help others like me.

I’ve already started to do this, I think. I put myself out there when I started writing professionally, and I’ve had so many people reach out and tell me how much my writing and my honesty has helped them. I know I haven’t done much with PAFPAC lately. It’s been difficult to manage everything I am doing by myself, tired and sick. I want to do more one day, but I need to work on myself first.

To know what it’s like to live without wanting to die.

I’ve been wanting to die since I was six years old. Not a day goes by that I don’t think, even for a moment, that dying would be so much easier than living. I’m chronically suicidal to the point that it’s become normal to me. The thoughts come up at any time; some triggered by events or trauma anniversaries, but some don’t even have a reason to be there.

It’s exhausting. It’s like I’ve been fighting a battle that will never end. I just want to live without those thoughts. I don’t want to have to worry about waiting for the urges to get stronger, because I know from experience they will get stronger. I want to live a day without the weight of that on my mind. Just one day.

To accept that I’ll never know or understand why.

I think this is the most difficult hope for me, and yet the most necessary. I’ve spent years trying to figure out why my mother did what she did. I’ve read every book on sociopaths and narcissists. I’ve studied psychology and neuroscience. I’ve shared with others who have had similar experiences and I still can’t come up with a reason why. I need something to blame; for some reason, blaming her hasn’t been enough. It’s keeping me stuck.

I’ll never be able to understand why I have this life. I’ll never understand why I had to endure things that no child, no person should ever have to endure. I’ll never be able to rationalize the pain and hurt I feel every day of my life. Sometimes, there aren’t reasons. Sometimes, we will never know why. I will never know why. And that’s okay.

I will be okay.

Don’t go looking for the reasons
Don’t go asking Jesus why
We’re not meant to know the answers
They belong to the by and by

–Chris Stapleton, Broken Halos

1,000 Days of Freedom, Part 4: Help

I would not be where I am, 1,000 days into freedom, without help from others in my life.

I’m fortunate to have these people in my life. They have helped me in more ways than I can really even count. Whether it’s listening to me vent, helping me with medical problems, or getting me through tough days, these people have made a huge impact on me getting this far.

I wanted to recognize them, so I got three blue starfish shells. Starfish have multiple arms to help support them. They need them in order to survive. Blue starfish also have their own unique defense system that helps them survive from predators. I found it similar to how my support system helps me defend myself from people and things that hurt me.

On one, I put the names of my parts on each arm of the starfish. I couldn’t fit all of the names of my system on one starfish, so I put them in groups. I recognized K, even in her absence; I know she did a lot for me before I even knew she existed. I acknowledged Charlie and Violet, who have come to the forefront to keep us going, even when it was hard. I thanked my younger parts, many of whom hold trauma for me and for us. Without my parts, I wouldn’t be here, and I wouldn’t be functioning as I have.

On another starfish, I put the names of the therapists and doctors who have been there for me as I struggled through PHP and IOP. I spent five days a week with them for ten or so of the last 15 months. They helped me find a stable place to live, and even though we hit a few bumps on the road, we got there. I wouldn’t have been able to do that on my own. They pushed me to make doctor’s appointments and reach out for support when I needed it. The psychiatrist worked with me through all of my medication reactions (and there were quite a few), and never seemed to give up even when I wanted to throw in the towel. The nurse was there for me through all of my medical issues; she was the first person to legitimize that what I was going through was real. She and my therapist helped me through my pregnancy and abortion, without judgment, and helped me see that I was making the right decision. My therapist sat with me and let me cry when I needed to. She told me it was okay to feel. She dealt with me when others would have given up.

I went through some of the most difficult struggles in those months, and they were there for me through it all, and helped me through the darkness when I thought I would be stuck there forever.

On the last starfish, I wrote the names of those involved most closely in my life. My therapists, both new and old. My best friend, who I’ve known for half of my life. Even though we’ve never actually met in person, she has been the voice of reason for me in a lot of situations. She also never fails to make me laugh. My friend who took me in when I was homeless, who has made sure I always have what I need, who has consistently reminded me that I am safe, and who has taught me what it’s like to experience a normal life. My online supports, who not only give me an outlet, but many were also there for me when I escaped, encouraging me not to give up and give in. The people I met through work and therapy, who have since become friends. They’ve been there for me, they’ve made me laugh and cry, and they’ve managed to deal with me quite well, as I know I can be hard to deal with sometimes.

These people are important to me, and will continue to be important to me, even if we don’t see each other. Their words and actions have impacted me in ways that will last a long time. They’ve helped me decipher the lies and discover the truth, and for that I am forever thankful.

(I did not show the names for privacy reasons)

1,000 Days of Freedom, Part 3: Truths

In all this time, I’ve learned a lot of things. While I buried what I learned to be lies in the ocean, I needed to hold on to the truths that I learned.

I didn’t want to do stones; I wanted to do something different. I wanted something symbolic, something that reminded me of the place I was in. I thought about the beach. I remembered how, when I first planned out my escape, I walked along the beach and looked for sea shells. I was looking for certain ones, which were hard to find among the seemingly endless amount of shells that had washed up.

I eventually found them. I also found some really beautiful shells, completely by accident. I didn’t look for them, I just stumbled upon them in the search for my special shells. It made me think of the truths I’ve come to learn in these last 1,000 days. Some of them I went looking for; others I just stumbled upon on the way.

So I got sea shells, and wrote six of the most important truths I came to learn inside them.

I deserved to be loved and nurtured.

There is nothing — NOTHING — a child could ever do to deserve to be abused, tortured, raped, or assaulted. I didn’t do anything to warrant that. I was a child who deserved to be nurtured and taken care of, not abused and neglected. I deserved love and care, hugs and kisses, kindness and warmth. I didn’t get any of that. But I deserved to get that. I deserved to have a childhood without fear and pain. I deserved a home I could feel safe in.

I can speak the truth. She can no longer silence me.

I had no voice for years. I grew up in fear of telling people who my mother was, and telling people what was going on. I thought I was lying to protect myself, but I was really lying to protect her. I know that now. Now I can use my voice, because I am free. I will continue to speak the truth because it’s my truth to speak. I am no longer afraid to speak. I am no longer shamed to admit what has happened to me. I will not be silent.

I am a good person who deserves good things.

Even after I ran away, I lived my life for others more than I did for myself, because I still believed that I was somehow less deserving than others. I deflected compliments as if they were poison, because I believed I didn’t deserve them. I understated my achievements because I believed I didn’t truly earn them. But I’ve come to realize that I do deserve the good things — whether they be compliments, promotions, awards — even food. I am a human being. I am a good, kind, genuine person who deserves some good, as hard as that may be for me to acknowledge.

Family isn’t biological. You can make your own family, and I have.

Despite what people have said to me, even recently, my family is not the people who are genetically linked to me. My father may have been my sperm donor, but he was not my family. My mother may have given birth to me, but she is not my family. The others who never intervened, they are not my family. My family is made up of the people who support me and care for me and love me for who I am. They are there for me no matter if it’s a good day or a bad day. My family is unconditional.

I am nothing like my mother.

I’m not a sociopath. I’m not a predator. I’m not an abuser. I’m not who my mother is. I used to think that if I liked the same things as her, if I ate the same food as her, that meant that I was her. She used to change her hair to match mine. She used to take my clothes to wear them herself. People used to say how much I looked like her because she made herself to look like me. I could never separate any aspect of myself from my mother. But now I realize that physical appearance means nothing, and that shared blood doesn’t make for shared behaviors.

I can ask for help. It doesn’t mean I’m weak. It won’t get me in trouble.

I grew up never asking for anything. I never wanted to be a burden. I never wanted to be punished. I could never reach out because I knew, in the end, it would only end up getting me into more trouble. That fear carried over into my adulthood, and even after I ran away, I struggled with reaching out. There were times I needed someone to talk to, but I was too afraid to be a bother. There were times I was dissociating and needed help grounding, but I thought asking for help meant I wasn’t strong enough to do it on my own.

It’s no surprise that one of my main goals in every treatment I’ve been in — from PHP to IOP to individual therapy — has been to learn how to reach out for help. I don’t have to wait until I’m at a breaking point. I don’t have to refuse help when someone offers it. I can ask because people are willing to help me.

These truths will stay with me, as a reminder of how much I’ve learned and grown.