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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.

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Changes, Part 1

I realize I haven’t written in a long time. There are reasons for that. So much has happened within the course of the last couple months that I am not even sure I can adequately cover everything.

There have been some major changes in my life. My housing, my health, my career…everything is different now. Some for the better, some for the worse. And it hasn’t been an easy journey on any front.

I’m going to start with one thing at a time: housing.

When I first started PHP back in January, it was clear from the start that my living situation was going to have to change. They were concerned about my mother knowing where I live and reaching out to me. They were also concerned with things going on within the home. I told them it wasn’t a big issue, that I could cope just as I had been for some time now. After all, I was no longer living in hell, so I saw any place that wasn’t there as a huge improvement.

As the weeks went by, it became apparent that my living situation was a big issue. I couldn’t sleep, despite being on an extraordinarily high dose of Trazodone. There were a lot of things going on which I won’t go into detail about, but it made the environment a safety issue for me. My therapist at PHP made it clear I could not progress in treatment while living in that environment. They insisted I go to a women’s shelter quite a distance away, and I refused. I told them I would find something, anything as long as it didn’t involve living in a shelter.

And at the very last minute, I found my way out. I found what seemed like a safe place to live, with safe people, in a safe neighborhood. A whole upstairs to myself. Sure it was old. My room didn’t have heat. Another didn’t have electricity. There were holes in the wall and it was falling apart at the seams. But it seemed safe. Without any thinking, I wrote a check and got my key. I was willing to do anything not to live in a shelter.

I was okay for a couple of weeks. Nothing extraordinary happened. Then the landlord said he needed a security deposit (something he said he didn’t need at all when I paid the first month’s rent) in a check written out to him personally (he was not the owner of the building). Something didn’t sit right with me. Then the next week, I came home from work to find out there was going to be a man moving in to one of my rooms upstairs. I googled the landlord to find out that he was a convicted felon who owed over $30,000 in restitution.

I was starting to lose my hope again. This was not the safe place I envisioned it to be. This was turning into a nightmare. Still, I told myself, this is better than hell, this is better than where I was before. I isolated myself in my room, just as I had done before. Hopelessness increased, and I wanted to just give up. My therapist at program was concerned and asked if I could stay with anyone for a few nights, just to keep myself safe. I really didn’t know anyone outside of work, and I was afraid to be a burden on someone. But somehow, I mustered up the courage to ask if I could stay over for one night, and that person said yes.

I don’t know why things worked out the way they did, but it turned out to be a good thing that I wasn’t home that night. I received a call that night that the landlord had moved a homeless man into my bedroom while I was at work that afternoon. My things were removed from the room, my artwork torn off the walls and put in the hallway in a giant pile, like they were meaningless. These were things that meant so much to me, thrown together like trash. Fighting broke loose, violence and threats ensued, and it was definitely not a safe place for me to be in. Just hearing what was happening over the phone was enough for me. All I could think was what would have happened if I was home that night, how things would have turned out. But I’ll never know, because somehow I ended up in the safest place I could be.

I didn’t know what I was going to do. I tried to block it out and tell myself it was all going to be okay, that I could deal. I didn’t go to PHP that following day because I had a cardiologist appointment. My therapist called me that afternoon while I was at work to see how everything went. I mentioned the situation at home the night before and I could hear the concern in her voice. She told me I could not return home, that it was not safe for me anymore. She called me back with the contact information for an emergency shelter a few towns away.

I sat in the corner of the backroom at work in a complete emotional meltdown. It was less than one week into the month, I had just invested all of this money into a new place to live and now I was going to end up in a shelter. I had nothing left. No money. Nowhere to go. No hope.

I found an angel that day. I’m not exaggerating when I say this person literally saved and continues to save my life. I didn’t end up in the shelter. They took me into my home, bought me what I needed, fed me, and supported me and have continued to do so even as I have nothing to give back in return.

I was able to go back to that home and get most of what I needed out of there. My clothes, my shoes, my books, my computer, my bed. I came in to find some of my stuff in the hallway and I wanted to cry. My bathroom was a mess, brand new shower curtain torn off the rings, feces all over the toilet. It was all a disaster. We grabbed everything we could fit in the truck and left. Just once, I thought, I wanted to be able to move somewhere without it being a runaway situation.

But I am safe now. It’s been nearly a month and I am with people who I can trust and who support me. I don’t live in fear. I can sleep at night without having to worry about anything. Although I am out all of the money, my security deposit included, and am struggling financially just ot get by, I will figure things out.

I found a home, and that’s what matters right now.

The Cost of Silence, Part 1

When I was in first grade, my teacher gave me a small plush bunny. She told me to hold on to it, that it would help me feel safe. And I did. I held on to it for years. I never thought anything of it.

While I was shopping in a store awhile back, I came across a small plush bunny. The bunny looked just like the one my teacher had given me. I remembered. I remembered everything. Then I immediately pushed it all away.

It was not the sweet childhood memory it should have been. It was much more complicated than that. And I didn’t want to bring it all up, so I pushed it back down and buried it and pretended like that memory didn’t exist.

Until the memory came up again. I was sitting in therapy, trying to think of childhood memories, and that memory popped through once again. I smiled at first because I felt the care I was given when my teacher gave 7 year-old me that bunny. Then my smile disappeared and I remembered things I didn’t want to remember. I had thoughts I didn’t want to think about.

I wanted to bury it all again. I didn’t want to think about what that memory meant. I didn’t want to feel the pain in my heart. But I did. And all I could do was cry.

Why did that teacher give me that bunny? Why did she tell me it would help me feel safe? Why did she think I needed to feel safe?

Those were the questions I thought of when that memory first came up, and I immediately pushed it all back down. In my adult mind, I knew the answers, and they were the answers that I did not want to hear. They were the answers I could not handle. And here they were, coming up again. I didn’t want to go there. I didn’t want to face the reality of what it all meant. The possibility that my teacher knew the truth, that she knew I was being abused.

My child self may have thought that bunny helped, because my child self didn’t know any better. But my adult self knows that a bunny wasn’t going to help me. A bunny wasn’t what I needed to be safe. A bunny wasn’t going to stop my mother from hurting me. I needed someone to help me. I needed someone to be my voice. Instead all I got was a plush bunny.

That teacher wasn’t the only person to stay silent. There were others: teachers, family members, family friends. Some of them admitted that they knew something was going on but just didn’t want to get involved, they didn’t want to cross any lines. Then there were other people who had to have known, but just ignored the signs.

It hurts. Sometimes it hurts worse than what my mother and father did to me. I think that it’s hard for people to understand. It doesn’t make much logical sense. How could being ignored hurt worse than the actual abuse?

It’s a different type of pain. It’s not the sting from a cut or the ache from a bruise or shooting pain of a broken bone. It’s a deep pain in your heart. The pain of being invisible. The pain of being unworthy of anyone’s love or attention. The pain of being so worthless that no one would help you.

My parents always told me to stay silent. Did they tell all of those other people, too? Why did no one speak for me? Why didn’t they help? Why did they stay silent? How was I supposed to know I mattered if no one ever acted like I mattered?

I was a child who held out hope that someone would save me. I needed to matter to someone. I needed to be seen. But time and time again, people turned their backs on me. I wanted my parents to be wrong. Instead I grew up believing they must have been right.

The loss of safety

I am still living my life as a runaway.

I am still living my life in constant fear.

Every time the doorbell rings, I panic. Sometimes, I freeze. Other times, I barricade my bedroom door and hide in the closet. Never I am able to just see who is at the door. The thought alone is terrifying. Why? Because I am so afraid that my mother will be at the door. I’m so afraid she will find me and take me back to prison.

Many times I go to therapy in fear that my mother will find me there. I’ll sit on the chair at the farthest end of the waiting room. I’ll sit on the farthest end of the couch in my therapist’s office. The farther I am away from the door, the more time I have to hide.

Every time my phone rings, I am overcome with panic. She’s found out I told. I’m in trouble now. I worry that any number that appears on my phone could be hers, so I don’t answer. I never answer.

Every time someone calls me by my birth name in just such a way, I am filled with fear and anxiety. Nothing good ever came from being called in that way. It has always been a precedent for pain.

Every bump in the night startles me awake and I freeze with fear. She’s coming for me. I’m never safe. Because I never felt safe as a child, and I’m reliving that still as an adult. I am still, in many ways, a scared child living in an adult body.

I thought it would get better by now, but it hasn’t. I live on high alert. I never feel safe. I have never felt safe a day in my life. Why can’t I get past this? I am in a better place now, but am I really? My feet are in safe zone, but my mind is still locked away in prison, and my mother holds the keys.

I’ve been trying to work through the fear and safety issues in therapy, but they are still coming up. My therapist wrote me a note to help me remind myself that I am here now, and away from that hell. I carry it in pocket everywhere I go.

You are safe now.  You got out.

You survived places and people that were physically and emotionally dangerous, and it made you feel that the whole world was dangerous — that you would never be free. 
But with your adult understanding and resources, you proved that philosophy wrong.  You escaped, and you are now free.

Those who harmed you are not here.  You are separate from them.

If they were here, you could lock the door and tell them to leave.  If they didn’t listen to you, you could call law enforcement and they would make them leave.  You have power now.  You get to make the decisions.  They can’t hurt you anymore.  
You can find safe environments and surround yourself with safe people.

You can care for yourself and protect yourself.  And you should.

Every day, you can choose freedom again.
When the world feels frightening, remind yourself that you got out.  And you are safe now.

How can I feel safe when they took that sense of safety away from me? They stole it. I need it back.