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

Ruined

Research shows that people who have experienced sexual abuse in childhood are four times more likely to work in prostitution than people who have not.

It doesn’t surprise me at all. Because it’s happened to me.

I’ve done things I really shouldn’t have. I didn’t end up on street corners putting myself in danger, but I definitely put myself in situations in which I did things I didn’t need to. Yet it wasn’t just about the money.

People constantly judge, asking how someone could degrade themselves like that. But I was already degraded. I was already ruined. And it wasn’t my choice.

It’s inexplicable just how damaging it is when your first sexual experiences were with your own mother. I had sex before I even knew what sex was. I felt shame before I even knew what shame was.

My mother created a never-ending cycle, a lose-lose situation that I could never, ever win. I was programmed not to say no; saying no got you punished. Yet saying yes meant I was a whore. Any time my mother believed I was being remotely sexual (and I really wasn’t — what seven year-old is), I had to be cleansed of my sins. After a while, I started to wonder what was wrong with me, why the evil hadn’t left me. I’d been burned so many times, I learned not to feel.

It just got worse as I got older. There were constant accusations. I couldn’t stay after school to work on group projects because my mother believed I was having sex. She accused me of posting nude pictures online; I never did. She’d pull these crazy ideas from I don’t know where. Even when I was an adult, she’d accuse me of being in relationships with people at work. She accused me of having sex with my (female) boss; she was just my friend. She’d also accuse me of having sex with several coworkers. When I would stay late at work (to avoid going home), she claimed I was at work having sex. She continually reminded me how much of a sinner I was and what a whore I was.

None of what my mother claimed was ever true. And I knew that, on some level. But I became conditioned to believe that I was a whore. That something inside me made me this way. There was a defect in me that everyone could see but me. After all, normal, pure kids don’t do these things with their own mother. Maybe I made her do it. She always said she was trying to help me, but maybe I was just too damaged from that start.

I never had the chance to form my sexual identity. I grew to fear sex. Unless it involved my mother, it was somehow wrong. Yet in an intellectual way, I knew that if it involved my mother, it WAS wrong. There was no right way. It was all wrong. It was all bad.

Once I was a teenager and really understood sex and sexual identity, I realized that my body, my sense of self, was already ruined. While others my age talked about losing their virginity, I had already lost mine, more than ten years prior, to my own mother. It was never my body; she stole it from me. It was hers. All of it. All of me. It was hers.

The fear of telling someone no overruled my life for years, even after I managed to run away. While my body was no longer being damaged by her, I let it be damaged by others. I was already ruined; there wasn’t much more anyone could do to me to make me hate myself any more than I already did. All those years she called me a whore, it stuck with me. It was like a prophecy that needed to be fulfilled.

Before I left IOP over a month ago, I made a promise to someone very important to me that I wouldn’t engage in that type of shit anymore. I promised I wouldn’t put myself in any kind of situation that would cause that weakness in me. And I haven’t. It was easy to do, a lot easier than I thought it would be. One less thing to worry about.

Except I didn’t account for all the possibilities. I managed to avoid  not-so-healthy people who had been involved in my life before, but I forgot about the not-so-healthy people who I couldn’t avoid — the strangers, the acquaintances, the come-and-goers.

I was sitting on the bus the other day, on my way home from a doctor’s appointment. I was emotionally drained. There was man on the seat across from me; I’d seen him many times before, but never really engaged much aside from hello. This time, he started telling other passengers that I was his fiance. I told him to shut up, but he didn’t. He just kept saying it. When the bus emptied out a little, his comments got worse. He told me what I could do to him, and all the things he could do to me. I just frozen. As much as I should have told him to fuck off, I couldn’t say anything.

I could feel the nausea kicking in almost instantaneously. I showered as soon as I got home, trying to scrub away the feeling of being dirty. But as much as I washed, I didn’t feel any better. I could hear my mother’s voice in my head. This was my fault. I was a whore. He must have sensed it in me. That’s why he said those things and made those gestures. Somehow he just knew.

I was afraid. Afraid my mother would find out. Afraid I would be punished. I believed his actions were my fault, just like my mother taught me — look what you made me do. 

It was always something I did, something I was, something I said. It was never anyone else, and never her. But that was her falsity, not the reality.

One day I want to be able to decipher between the two. One day, I want to tell her, look what you did to me. Look how you ruined me.

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.

Clean

I had to have a stress echocardiogram yesterday. I’ve been having chest pains, and my primary doctor wanted me to see a cardiologist to rule out anything heart-related (my lung issues put me at a higher risk for certain heart conditions). My PCP is aware of my PTSD and my issues with medical stuff and warned me that it wasn’t going to be easy for me to do. She even said that I may have to be sedated to get through it. I thought she was joking. Now I don’t think she was joking at all.

When I went to my cardiology appointment a few weeks ago, I wasn’t expecting anything major to happen. I thought the cardiologist was going to tell me I was okay and send me on my way. I think he may have thought that, too, when he looked at my record. A 30 year-old with no high blood pressure, no diabetes, and no high cholesterol. No risks. But then he started asking me questions, and by the end of the medical interrogation, he told me I had a lot working against me. Smoking, drug use, medications, family history, and past overdoses were all fucking me over in that moment. There was enough concern to schedule more testing.

I didn’t really know what was going to happen aside from getting hooked up to wires and running on a treadmill. It didn’t seem like much, so I tried not to stress about it. I didn’t even bring it up in therapy the day before because I wasn’t expecting anything bad to happen. I thought I had it all under control.

I didn’t even make it to the first part of the test before breaking down and crying.

A nurse took me to the room and gave me a gown to change into. I knew I had to do it, but it was difficult. My layers of clothes help me feel safe, and now I had to let them go. I stood there, completely naked from the waist up, trying to wrap myself in the gown and holding it closed. But the nurse had to get in. She had to put patches on my skin so I had to uncover.

I stood there, completely vulnerable, trying to hold myself together. I felt the skin of her hands touching the skin on my chest. I wanted to tell her to stop but I couldn’t. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I froze. Then she reached her arms around me. I felt her against my body just like I had felt my mother just years ago. And I lost it.

I felt so sick. I couldn’t say a word. I just cried. All I could think about was my mother. All those times I would stand there and let her touch me and I never said a word. I never told her to stop. I never made her stop. I must have wanted it. 

How sick am I to have let this happen. Does she think I wanted this? I wonder if she know. Does she see how disgusting I am? Does she know what I’ve done? 

I don’t even really know all that went on during the test. I was so lost in my mind that my body became automatic. I know I stopped crying after a while. I finished the test. My heart was okay. My cardiologist was happy. I remember him asking me if I was excited to have a perfectly healthy heart, and I couldn’t answer. All I wanted to do was run to the nearest bathroom to throw up. And I did.

I needed to wash the filth off. All I wanted to do was scald my skin in the hottest water. But I was afraid to go home, because I knew I wouldn’t be safe being alone with my memories. So I took the bus to clear my mind. I fiddled around on my phone. I went to the movie theater to distract myself, only to end up crying in the bathroom stall for half an hour instead.

I wandered and cried for hours until I finally ended up at home before dark. I got in the shower and cried even more. I washed myself a dozen times but it wasn’t enough. I wanted to rip off all of my skin and scrub away all of the filth hidden underneath. I felt it everywhere. I just wanted it to go away. But it wasn’t going away.

I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I needed clean. I couldn’t clean my body anymore, so I started cleaning my surroundings. I washed everything down with vinegar. I scrubbed the baseboard. I spent hours wiping every surface. I got a garbage bag and threw away everything that was dirty. Dirty clothes. Dirty shoes. Dirty knick-knacks. I needed everything to be clean. I rid myself of everything dirty because I couldn’t get rid of the dirtiest thing of all: me.

I can’t sleep because I can’t stop thinking. I can’t eat because my stomach feels so sick. I’ve taken four showers today and I still feel so disgusting.

I don’t think any amount of showers in the world would make me feel clean right now. I just want to feel clean.

Dear Brother

Dear brother,

I wish you were the brother described on the front of this card. I wish I could have depended on you. I wish I could say “I love you” without it feeling so complicated.

You were my big brother. Seven years older, taller, and stronger than me. I looked up to you. You were the only friend I had. You were the only person that knew my reality, because you were living part of it, too.

I wonder how hard it was for you to stand by and watch me get hurt. You were there all those nights she came into our bedroom. You knew what she was doing to me in the shower. But you had to close yourself off from it all, you couldn’t help. I understood that. You were just a child, too.

I grew up and watched you struggle. I watched you get beaten, just like I had been beaten. I watched you slowly self-destruct. I heard you crying in your room at night. I was crying, too. I watched you make yourself bleed, and I bled, too. Those scars on your body that you still bear, I know how you got them. I have those same scars, too.

I still remember the night you locked yourself in the bathroom. You banged your head against the wall until you were bloodied and bruised. You couldn’t even speak. All you could do was cry. Hurt and cry. I understood, because that was the language that I spoke, too.

We didn’t know any better. We weren’t allowed to have voices. We shared the same silence. We shared the same hurt. We shared the same pain. I understood you. I thought you understood me, too.

But then you turned against me. You became her adjutant. You pretended to be my brother only to report everything back to her. You helped her terrorize me. You stood by her side as she treated me like a prisoner. Why? You are her son, but you were also my big brother. I needed you. You could have protected me, but you didn’t.

I wanted so badly to help you. I felt horrible leaving you behind. I was weighed down with guilt for over a year. Did you ever feel any of those things when you chose to work against me? You never reached out. You never once showed me that you cared. You told lies about me just like she did, when you could have just said nothing at all.

I used to envy you. I wondered why she loved you so much. Then when I got older, I realized that’s not love. It’s abuse, too. I hope one day, for your sake, you will see that she doesn’t love you. What she’s done to you, what she continues to do to you — it’s not love. It never was.

Part of me fears that it’s too late for you. You’ve become so much a part of her that you don’t even know who you are without her, and who you could be. There’s a great big world out there waiting for you to see. I hope you see it one day.

We have chosen different paths. I chose to be nothing like her. I chose to be free. But you’ve chosen to follow in her footsteps. You’ve chosen to stay.

I’m grieving your loss, because I’ve realized you will never be the brother I needed you to be. I held out hope that you would make the right choice, but you haven’t. I don’t blame you, but I hope you understand why I have to let you go.


Can nobody hear me?

I regularly make excuses for the poor behavior of others in my life, especially when their behavior directly affects me.

I excused my father’s part in my abuse because I told myself my mother made him do it (as if she held a gun to his head). I excused my coworker’s behavior a few weeks ago when he called me a bitch several times, telling myself he didn’t know any better because he was raised to treat women that way. I excuse a close person’s consistently offensive behavior, telling myself she just can’t help the way she acts.

I do this not as a way to defend these people, but to defend myself. If I didn’t excuse them, that means I would end up angry. And I don’t want to be angry.

But making excuses only works superficially, because on an intellectual level, I know that my excuses aren’t viable, that these behaviors were/are wrong, and that I really should be able to feel angry and hurt and however else I want to feel. Eventually, my feelings come to the surface, and I can only push them back down so many times before they come out full force.

Last therapy session, I couldn’t push my anger down any more. We were discussing the aftereffects of the letter, about how it made me feel sad. Then my therapist asked what else I was feeling, because it seemed like more than just sadness. Without thinking, I said “I’m angry. All of those fucking idiots, why didn’t they do anything to help?”

I immediately felt bad for what I had said, and apologized to my therapist. When she asked why I was apologizing, I told her I shouldn’t have used those bad words. I said, “it’s not their fault. They didn’t know. I wasn’t their problem. I shouldn’t be angry.”

“Why don’t you want to be angry?”

“Because if I’m angry that means I’m like her, like my mother.”

“Anger isn’t the same as abuse. What your mother did to you, she didn’t do because of anger. Anger is something that everyone feels, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean you’re going to abuse. It’s okay to be angry.”

I sat there for a minute, still trying to push down what was trying to come out. I looked around the room, trying to think of something else to talk about.

“No, no, I can’t do it.”

“Yes you can. It’s okay to be angry. Anger makes you human.”

I repeated what my therapist told me to myself a few times. Anger doesn’t make me like her. Anger doesn’t make an abuser. Anger is okay.

And then it erupted. Through tears and clenched fists, I let it all out.

I don’t understand. I don’t understand why nobody helped me. I never wanted to go home after school, I tried to stay with the teachers but then the teachers sent a note home and said I couldn’t anymore and then I got in trouble. None of them ever asked why I didn’t want to go home. None of them asked why I wore so many layers of clothing to school, why I was always covering up. No one questioned why a six-year-old girl tried to drown herself. Children don’t just try to kill themselves out of curiosity. No one wondered why a girl would scratch off her own skin. No one questioned my injuries. How many times could a child walk into walls? I wasn’t clumsy. But nobody did anything! They just nodded their heads and moved on!

There it was. My anger. Finally free and out in the open. The anger that was rightfully mine to have. I was a child who had no other way to communicate. A child who was threatened never to tell. And I didn’t. So I tried every other way to speak without using my words.

I could see just by looking at my therapist’s face that she understood. She got it. And she was okay with my anger, and my hurt. “There were all these red flags, all these ways you tried to ask people for help…”

“And they still didn’t hear me!”

There were so many red flags in my childhood. So many. Yet no one wanted to see them. I could have set those flags on fire and waved them an inch away from their faces, and they would have just stood there and talked about the weather.

I am angry. I am angry that these people just perpetuated my hell by not intervening. I am angry that I spent my childhood thinking that it was just normal to be hurt like this, thinking that no one is hearing my cries so this all must just be normal. No one should ever believe that abuse is normal. It should have never had to be my normal.

It’s an anger I am not sure will ever go away.

I am that little girl, and that little girl is me.

When my therapist asked me last week to write a letter to my younger self, you would have thought she had just asked me to write a dissertation on behavioral neuroscience. It was the last thing I wanted to do. Actually, at that moment, I probably would have rather written that dissertation. Or stuck my head down the toilet. Or both. I didn’t want to write about feelings. I didn’t want to acknowledge any reasons for having any feelings. Blah.

But I knew I couldn’t get away with not writing it. My therapist and I have worked out an agreement so I could stay out of the hospital, and it requires that I participate fully in therapy. I waited until the night before our next session to write it, not expecting that it would turn into the letter that it did.

While I was writing it, I did get emotional. But it was a different kind of emotional. I felt genuine empathy for the child who experienced this pain. I felt the anger she felt. I felt sad for her. But there was a huge disconnect between me and this child. In my brain, we were two different people. I wasn’t yet connecting that we were one in the same.

My therapist asked if I would be comfortable sharing the letter with her in our session on Monday. At first, I was afraid. I didn’t think I did it right. I asked her if she was going to be mad if it was wrong. She explained that there wasn’t really a wrong way to do it, so I said it was okay. She asked if there was anything I needed first. Needs. What are those? For the first time, I did ask for something. I asked if she could sit next to me instead of across from me in her usual spot. It would make me feel less alone. And she obliged.

I started to read the letter. It had been the first time I read it all at once, and the first time I spoke it out loud. As I was reading it, I started to realize that this wasn’t another person. The words on this paper, these words I wrote to this little girl, those words were written for me.

I was the confused little girl who didn’t understand why mommy and daddy kept hurting her.

I was the little girl afraid of her own parents, with nowhere to hide because mommy blocked all the closets and underneath the beds.

I was the scared girl who thought everyone was just meant to hurt her.

I was the empty little girl who believed the only thing inside of her was evil.

I was the little girl who felt so alone, even when she was surrounded by people.

I was the little girl who felt invisible, who tried so desperately to get someone to help her, but no one listened, no one cared.

I was the little girl who tried to kill herself at six years old because she had lost any sense of hope of a life without pain.

I started to read the paragraph about feeling hurt. I felt the heaviness in my heart. As I read the words “I wish there was a Band-aid I could give you that could make your hurt go away”, I broke down entirely. It was like I found out someone I loved just died. I cried so hard I was blinded by my own tears. I needed comfort. I reached out to my therapist and she allowed me to hug her. She held me as I cried (and covered her in tears, drool and nasal discharge), until I calmed down enough that I could see again.

I took a few more minutes fighting through tears, trying to catch my breath so I could finish the letter. After a few failed attempts, I picked up where I left off, and finished reading. I even managed to laugh at the part where I wrote that “something was wrong with mommy and daddy and I guess they missed that memo.” Something was surely wrong with them to say the least, but I know that they shouldn’t need a memo to remind them that they were supposed to love their children.

My therapist encouraged me to keep reading the letter. She said that younger part of me needs to hear all of those things, and that I need to hear it as well.

And as I kept reading the letter, the more I realize that everything she went through was real. The more I realize that everything that happened wasn’t fair. The more I realize that something could have been done to stop the damage.

The more I read, the more I realize I am that little girl, and that little girl is me.

I’ve been such an emotional mess these past few days because of this. I saw it as a bad thing, but my therapist did not. For the first time, I am letting myself feel. After a year in therapy, I am finally feeling sad about my abuse. Apparently, that’s progress.

Letter to My Younger Self

Dear younger self,

I’m so sorry for all the feelings you’ve been having all this time. I’m sorry no one listened to you. It must have been so hard to keep it all inside. But I want you to know now that it’s okay to feel. You deserve to have feelings. Your feelings are valid, and they are yours. No one can take them from you anymore.

It’s okay to feel confused. Mommies and daddies aren’t supposed to hurt their children. There’s nothing wrong with you. There never was. Mommy and daddy told you that so they could keep hurting you. It was all lies.  I’m so sorry they confused you. You may never understand why all those times, daddy chose to hold your hand instead of pushing hers away. He was wrong. She was wrong. But you were not wrong. You were just a child.

It’s okay to feel afraid. Instead of fearing monsters, you feared mom and dad. It must have been so scary for you. You had nowhere to hide. I’m so sorry you had to live in constant fear. But you were always so strong, even when you felt afraid. You are one brave little girl.

It’s okay to feel scared. Mommy and daddy made you believe that the world was scary and full of bad people who were going to hurt you. That wasn’t the truth. That’s what mommy and daddy told you to make you stay. The real scary place was home, and the scariest people were mommy and daddy. I’m sorry you feel so scared. It’s not fair. You don’t ever have to go back home again.

I know you feel empty. Mommy and daddy made you believe that you had no purpose, that you were worthless. That must have hurt your heart so much. I’m so sorry for your pain. But the truth is, there are so many good things inside of you that mommy and daddy never wanted you to see. Now you can let those good things free.

I know you feel lonely. Mommy and daddy kept you away from everyone. You were never allowed to talk to outsiders. Mommy and daddy told you that no one would ever understand you, that no one could be trusted. But that was all lies. I’m so sorry they lied you. It hurts to be alone. But there are people here to help you now, to help you feel less lonely. You don’t have to hide anymore.

I know you feel small. All of the bigger people around you didn’t help you. They didn’t notice you were desperate to be saved. It must have hurt so much to feel invisible, to have no one see your pain. I’m so sorry no one let you know how important you were. I see you, and you’re not small. You’re a little girl with a big heart, and you matter. You always have.

It’s okay to feel angry. You can be mad at mommy and daddy. They hurt you, and you didn’t deserve to be hurt, ever. You can be mad at the other adults who didn’t listen to you. They should have helped you. You can be mad at world. You deserved to have good parents, and you didn’t get that. I am so sorry for all of the hurt they caused you. I’m so sorry for all of the anger you’ve had to keep inside. But it’s okay to be angry. You deserve to be angry. I’m angry, too.

It’s okay to feel sad. Mommy and daddy told you it wasn’t okay to cry. They told you that you had no reason to be sad. They hurt you. But they were wrong. I’m so sorry. It must be so hard to hold that hurt in your heart for so long. But it’s okay to be sad now. No one will punish you. It’s okay to cry. You won’t get hurt. You can cry for the childhood you didn’t have. You can cry for the mommy and daddy you wished you had. You can cry for all the times they hurt you. You can cry. You can be sad.

It’s okay to feel hurt. You were wronged, in so many ways you were wronged. The grownups in your life failed you. Your mommy and daddy hurt your heart as much as they did your body. You had to learn to live with the pain. You deserved to be comforted and supported and nurtured, and instead you were hurt over and over again. It wasn’t fair. I’m so sorry that you are hurting.  I wish there was a Band-Aid I could give you that could make your hurt go away. I want you to know now that mommy and daddy can’t hurt you anymore.

I know you feel hopeless. Mommy told you that you would never be away from her. You thought that she would keep hurting you forever. I’m so sorry that you were hurting so badly that you wanted to die. You were just a little girl, in so much pain. Someone saved you from drowning, but no one saved you from what led you there to begin with.  I want you to know that you are safe now. Mommy can’t hurt you. You don’t have to die anymore.

I know your heart is broken. My heart breaks for you. You are just a little girl. A beautiful, intelligent, strong, kind, amazingly courageous little girl.

I know you feel unloved. Children are supposed to be loved by their parents. But something was wrong with mommy and daddy and I guess they missed that memo. It’s not your fault they didn’t know how to love. It doesn’t mean you are unlovable. You are so loved. There are good people out there who want to love and care for you. You deserve love and care. You deserve to feel good feelings, too. You deserve so much, and I want you to know that.

Thank you for being so strong. Thank you for being you. Thank you for helping me get here. I love you.

They were wrong

“I want to hate him, but I can’t.”

Those words I spoke during my therapy session yesterday have continued to stick out in my mind.

I told my therapist what I had been struggling with in relating to my memory, in a very general way because I wanted to avoid a flashback. I don’t understand how someone could do that. I don’t understand how you can reject your own child.

I tried so hard to hold my feelings inside. Anger, hurt, and sadness were swirling around inside of my heart. I tried to hold in the tears, but that wasn’t working as well as I had liked. Even my therapist could tell I was trying to hold back, and told me it was okay to let it out.

My therapist asked what I would say to my father if I could talk to him right then. My mind started going into overdrive. So many questions and statements started running through my head, and without really thinking, the first thing I said was not even a question or a statement to my father. I said “I want to hate him, but I can’t.”

Despite all of the things he has done to me, and now the rejection I am very much aware of, I still have trouble hating him. I want to hate him. I think he more than deserves it. But somehow, despite being raised by two heartless people, I have a kind and compassionate heart. It’s what allowed me to bury my feelings and take care of my father when he got sick so many years ago. He didn’t deserve my care, to be honest. But he got it.

My therapist asked me again. I ran through a list of questions in my mind, quickly playing out what his responses would be. Then I realized that, it wouldn’t even matter what I asked him or what I said to him. “It doesn’t even matter, he doesn’t believe he did anything wrong.”

I thought I was right. Neither my mother nor my father would ever admit fault. I always just assumed that it was because they believed they never did anything wrong. That is how they (especially my mother) played it off.

But then my therapist asked what my father would say if I told him what he did to me. She asked, “Would he say there was nothing wrong with it, or would he say that it never happened?”

I didn’t even have to think for more than a second before I had my answer. “He’d say that it never happened.”

I grew up being told that people on the outside just wouldn’t understand, that’s why we couldn’t tell. But if that were really true, and nothing was wrong with what my parents did, then why would they deny it? If they really believed that they were right, they would say there was nothing wrong with it. They deny it because they know they were wrong.

All of a sudden, it started to make sense to me. I never thought of how contradictory their line of thinking was.

For so many years, I’ve been blaming myself for what happened. I have been carrying that guilt within my heart. Something must have been wrong with me, a child rejected by her own parents. The only reason that made sense to me was that something was inherently wrong with me. I was the wrong one.

Part of me still believes that. That is why it’s so difficult to work through shit in therapy. I hold a lot of shame because I still believe it was my fault. I need to stop carrying the guilt and the blame. I need to keep telling myself that they were wrong.

My father was wrong. My mother was wrong. They were wrong.

I was just a child, born to parents who didn’t deserve me. I was not wrong.

Flee, Part 1

I sat in the waiting room of my therapist’s office this afternoon, fighting the urge to get up and leave. I looked at the door, then looked at the clock, debating if I could dash out without running into her. I can’t leave. She’ll worry. I have to leave. I can’t do this today. I spent so much time debating with myself, that before I knew it, my therapist came out of her office and my option to flee was gone.

I was scared. I wanted to run away because I was scared of what was going to happen. I knew my therapist would know something was wrong. It doesn’t matter how many times I say “I’m okay.” My face always tells the truth, and today my face was telling the world that something was wrong.

Sure enough, my therapist knew I was not okay. She asked when it all started. I told her. I told her how I couldn’t stop crying. I told her I couldn’t sleep. I told her about the memories that were (are) not stopping. I told her I didn’t want to remember anymore. I couldn’t take anymore heartbreak.

My therapist talked about memories and what memory loops mean, and all the things I already knew. Therapy was a safe place to talk about it. I knew that. But I was still scared. I tried to process it anyway. I knew that hiding it and avoiding it was not working; that was obvious to me given how I’ve been the last few days.

He knew. He was there. I started crying. Uncontrollably. I felt the pain in my heart come back. My head was hurting in a weird sort of way, like a pressure was building up inside with no way to release it. And I just kept crying. I didn’t want it to be true. I wanted that little bit of hope I had been holding on to that my father was just the tiniest bit of a decent person. But that is shattered now. That hope is lost.

It was too much for me to accept. I started doubting everything. Maybe these memories aren’t real. Maybe I’ve just made this all up in my head. I knew in part that these memories were real, but I didn’t want to accept them. I wanted my hope back. I wanted my innocence back. I wanted my father back.

I’ve had memories before where he is there, but not really there. This was different. It was clear what was going on. There is no doubt in my mind. He knew. And he didn’t protect me. He didn’t help me. He helped her.

Why? I don’t understand. My therapist says not to focus on the why, not to stress myself out trying to understand people who cannot be understood. But I can’t help it. I don’t like it when I don’t understand something. I don’t understand my life. I don’t understand the people who raised me, although I’m not sure saying “raised” is really accurate at all.

I struggled to stay connected to the present. The difficulty of working through flashbacks and memories is realizing that you are in the here and now, and not back when the trauma happened. Sometimes I am afraid of reliving it, so I push it down and try to forget about it. For the record, that never works.

My therapist has to constantly remind me that I am safe there, that no one is going to hurt me. So why is it so hard for me still? I want to feel safe. I just want to feel safe for once in my life.