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.

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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.


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.

Freedom, Part 2

It has been one year now that I have been free.

In the beginning, I didn’t think I was going to make it this far. I had limited finances, no job, no family, and no friends. I sat in my room the first few days and just got lost in my thoughts. I told myself I would enjoy freedom as long as I could, and then kill myself once I ran out of money. I had very low expectations, a lot of fear of the unknown, and a lot of anxiety about the world.

Many people don’t understand it when I say I ran away from home, that I escaped. Regular people just move out when they change locations. But I never had that ability. I ran away and ran towards freedom.

But even then, I could not run away from my mother’s programming. Even though I was physically free from her, I carried the same beliefs about the world that she had trained me to believe. She wanted me to believe the world was a scary place because that is how she kept her control over me. And when I moved away, I still thought the world was out to get me.

As the weeks went on, I started making small achievements. I took the bus all by myself. I crossed a busy highway. I went to the mall. I had conversations with strangers. I went to the grocery store and picked out new foods. I sat on my porch at night and looked at the sky. While these all sound like everyday things, they were not to me. They were things I was never allowed to do by myself.

Within a week, I started therapy. I already contacted my therapists before I even made my escape. They were ready and willing to help me. Therapy started out fine, and then all hell broke loose. After one month here, I dissociated so badly that it took two therapists to bring me back. That was when I got my official DID diagnosis, and I’ve continued therapy ever since. It’s been a couple hundred hours, thousands of dollars, and a whirlwind of emotions, but it has allowed me to be where I am today.

Within two weeks, I got a job. I had a couple of interviews lined up, but I decided to go with the first place that wanted me. In the long run, that ended up to be a great decision, because the people I work with are some of the most understanding, amazing people I have ever met in my life. The night before my first day at my new job, I ended up in the hospital. My PTSD was severe and I was admitted to the psych unit for a few days, without a phone and without a way to contact my job. I thought for sure that was it. I missed my first day and I was a no show. But they understood, and within 24 hours of being released, I started my new job, the job I still have today.

Within six weeks, I finished my thesis on mother-daughter sexual abuse. I received the highest grade of 99. With that, my undergraduate career was done with. I graduated with high honors and a 3.9 GPA.

Within two months, I was hired as a writer for a mental health website, writing about the disorder I was still in denial about. It was a challenge for me in many ways. Taking the position meant that I had to be public, and up until then I was completely untraceable and off social media entirely. It also meant that my name would be tied to DID forever, and that my diagnosis would be public record, so to speak. I decided to go for it, and even though there have been some trials, I am happy with my decision. I have grown a lot through my writing, and have learned so much from others as well.

Within six months, I got accepted into graduate school and started my first semester. I went on to take the CPCE and score above the national average. I ended my first semester attaining a 4.0 and a lot of praise from my professors.

Within six months, I also started PAFPAC. I knew it would take a lot of time and effort, and even though I wish I could be doing more for the organization, it’s there for those that need it. I haven’t been able to do much as far as advocacy, but our Facebook support group continues to grow and helps survivors connect with others.

It hasn’t always been good and easy. I also broke my foot (which did not heal correctly and still leaves me in pain), I was hospitalized a few times (PTSD and panic attacks), I quit a job after four days because I had an emotional breakdown (I couldn’t handle seeing so many happy families), and I had to drop out of graduate school because someone reported my mental illness, via links to my blog.

Looking back, I can’t believe all of this (and more) happened within one year. I never expected to be where I am today. I am still standing. I am healing. I am helping. I am writing. I am telling my story.

And I am free.

I celebrated the day in my own way. I baked brownies and shared them with my coworkers. My getaway driver came down and we went to the movies and went out to dinner. My roommate got me a bouquet of flowers. I ended the night by deciding, on a whim, to get a fish.

I named him Freedom.

We’re both in better places now.

Meeting people

In general, I have a hard time meeting new people.  A lot of that comes from growing up and being conditioned not to speak to anyone outside of our inner family circle.  Some of it is this underlying fear that people can see right through me and know all of the disgusting truths that lie within.  And then a small part of it is just lack of social skills, which sort of ties back to my shitty upbringing.

Even though I’ve been down here now almost six weeks, I have, for the most part, actively avoided meeting people.  I haven’t really had the energy to expend on others because I have been so preoccupied trying to keep myself together.  Luckily, I haven’t been approached by anyone, so it hasn’t been an issue.  Until yesterday.

I clocked out of work at one o’clock and went to the lounge to grab my things.  I sat down at the table to make sure I had everything before I left to catch the bus, when a man’s head popped out from the couch in front of me to say hello.  I recognized him from having briefly been introduced the first day I started.  He immediately struck up a conversation and I found myself sitting there, listening intently.  Then he said “I don’t even know why I’m telling you so much, I just feel really comfortable talking to you.”  I get that a lot.  Which is weird to me, because I also have been told by a few that I am completely unapproachable due to my permanent resting bitch face.  Even so, most people have felt that same inexplicable comfort in coming to me with their problems; I’ve been “counseling” people since I was in high school.  I always found it ironic because my greatest desire was for someone, anyone to help me, and here I was helping everyone else.

Back to work guy, he started asking me questions. Not in a pushy way, just general curiosity.  He knew I just moved here (I had mentioned it in our brief introduction), and he asked me where I moved, if I had a roommate, etc.  I explained I had a roommate I just met.  He was a little shocked, so I explained that I moved here on a whim.  He seemed naturally curious and asked why someone would do that (which I should have expected, I didn’t think that through).  At this point, I’m playing out all of the scenarios in my head.  What do I tell him?  Do I make up a story?  Shit, I should have come up with a cover story beforehand.  I don’t have enough time now.  I can’t tell him the truth, these people won’t understand.  That’s way too much to throw on someone I just met.  My head was spinning.  I just went with what came out.  “Have you ever just been around toxic people?  I was, and I just got to a point where I knew I needed to make a change, so I did. And I left.”  I’m pretty sure I panicked the ten seconds between my last word and his response.  But he didn’t freak out.  He said “I understand toxic people.  That was a big risk you took.  I don’t think I could ever do that.”  Whew.  Crisis averted.

Here we are, now 35 minutes into a conversation, still going well, still not needing an Ativan to keep it together.  Then he asked about my duck.  The duck I carry around to help keep me grounded.  The duck I held close to me that day like it was worth a million dollars because I was still so unstable from the day before.  Why did he have to ask about the duck?  I turned my head away from him and said “It’s stupid.  I’ll tell you another day.”  But he persisted.  “I won’t make fun of you or judge you,” he said, “I really want to know.”  There went my head again.  Cue hurricane of scenarios spinning in my mind.  I couldn’t be rude.  This guy seemed really nice and genuine.  But there’s only so much people can understand.  I know for sure he wouldn’t know about DID.  PTSD?  Maybe.  Let’s go with that.  So I told him I have PTSD, and I carry it around to keep me grounded in case I start having flashbacks.  His head dropped and he apologized, but he had nothing to be sorry for.  He knew what PTSD was; he knew a few people who had it.  He asked me what caused mine.  I said I had a really traumatic past.  At this point, I didn’t even hesitate or overthink on what to say.  My response just came out.  Then he opened up about his childhood and how he has dealt with his stress.

We talked about Superman (he noticed my bag), the movies (we both like going), about people who drink and smoke too much, and then about crazy customers.  Before I knew it, an hour had passed.  He was about to go punch in for work and asked if I was on any social media.  Fuck.  Everyone is on social media.  Unless you are in hiding from your abusive family.  FUCK.  The reality of my situation really set in at that point.  I realized that even though for the last hour I felt almost normal, I was still living the life of a person in hiding, because I very much am a person in hiding.  I said “Well, I did.  I do, but it’s under a fake name.”  I looked to the floor like I was ashamed.  He said “That’s alright.  I don’t know much about you, but from what I do know I’m sure you have your reasons for it.”  What is wrong with this person?  Why is he still talking to me?  And then…THEN…he asked for my number!  Even worse, I gave it to him.  I don’t know what is wrong with me.  Fuck this human connection shit.

Superman

The other day, one of my therapists suggested that I buy a stuffed animal to comfort my child self.  I never had a stuffed animal.  If I needed to hold onto something, I’d use a pillow.  I’m usually compliant when it comes to therapy, so that night, I checked online to see if there were any stuffed animals that caught my eye.  After ten minutes or so, I came across the perfect bear – a brown teddy bear dressed in a blue sweater with a lightning bolt, red cape, and eye mask.  It was the teddy bear version of Superman.

I knew I had to have it, so the next day, I trekked to the nearest Toys R Us and searched frantically for over a half an hour for that bear.  I even went to customer service, who could only tell me that they had it in stock and that it “must be somewhere in the store.”  I was minutes away from breaking down and crying before I finally found it, stuffed behind a bunch of ballerina bears.  I hugged that teddy bear so hard, right there in the middle of the store.  No fucks given.  That bear was mine.

You might be wondering why it was that particular bear that I needed.  As a child, I would close my eyes and hope that Superman would fly down and defeat my evil mother and save me from ever having to be hurt again.  I would look out the window, just waiting for him to fly through, at the same time trying to distract myself from the pain of the abuse.  Superman never came.  But that never stopped me.  Superman gave me hope in a hopeless situation.

Now that I am older, I know that Superman can’t save me.  I have to save myself.  In a way, I had to become my own Superman.  I took on a Superman persona.  I wore my Superman pajamas every night to bed.  I wore Superman t-shirts all the time.  I even wore a cape (out in public).  People that knew me associated me with Superman.  During a group therapy workshop a few weeks back, we had a body image exercise in which other members and therapists wrote messages on traced images of our bodies; my therapist drew the “S” and wrote Superman on mine.  Among all of the messages, it stood out the most.  I knew I wasn’t Superman.  I just needed to feel like I was in a theoretical sense.

My coworkers used to call me Superman because I could do anything.  I could unload trucks, answer any question, and complete any task with ease.  Little did they know how weak I really was.  I could lift a 200-lb grill by myself, but I didn’t have the strength to fight back my abusive mother.  While I may be physically strong on the outside, my inside is completely shattered.  There’s no point in having physical strength without the support of an internal structure.

While I have escaped, I still don’t see myself as strong.  I didn’t confront my mother.  I didn’t stand up to her.  I didn’t stand my ground.  I left in a weak way.  There was nothing Superman about that.  I’m still so broken.  Why didn’t anyone save me?

Resilience

Some would say it’s a contradiction for someone with PTSD to refer to themselves as resilient, since PTSD itself contradicts healthy adaptation to stress.  But you know what, I am resilient.  I don’t care who agrees or disagrees with me.  It doesn’t matter.  I’ve made up my mind.

With less than a day of being released from the hospital, I started my job.  I called them as soon as a got out of the hospital to find out if I even still had a job.  Luckily my roommate called them while I was in the hospital so they were somewhat aware (though they do not know the circumstances).  I woke up at 4:45 in the morning so I would be able to shower and get ready in time to make it to the 6:00 bus.  I was tired and in pain, but I managed.  There were a couple of times when I just had to go to the bathroom to decompress for a few minutes.  I also lost myself for I don’t know how long.  When I came back to reality, it took me a few seconds to even realize where I was and what I was doing.  I don’t think anyone noticed, thankfully.  It’s not something I wanted to happen on the first day, though.  I’m so scared of someone not understanding what’s going on.  Why can’t I just be normal and not dissociate and not have flashbacks and not have breakdowns?

Regardless of all that, you know what?  I still went to work.  I functioned like a normal human being.  I would bet my savings that a good portion of the other patients that were discharged either went right back to drugs or right back to another hospital (most of them admitted that they would).  I’m not about that life.  I want to function.  I’m fighting my hardest to be normal despite all this bullshit I have to deal with.  How is that not being resilient?

Even in childhood, I managed to adapt quite well despite everything that was going on.  I received excellent grades.  I rarely got into trouble (except the rare instances when I was tremendously bored out of my mind).  I wasn’t a complete social outcast, though I was definitely socially inept.  Perhaps being resilient hurt me in a way, because no one suspects anything bad is going on when a child is acting relatively normal.  Maybe if I did act out, someone would have noticed something was wrong.  Resiliency seems to have been a double-edged sword for me.  While it got me through to adulthood alive, it also quite possibly prolonged the abuse and trauma I experienced for so long.  But I can’t do anything about that now.

I know a lot of people think I am weak for not being able to handle myself all of the time.  My strengths far outweigh my moments of weakness.  Maybe that is my fault for not talking as much about my strengths as I do about my faults.  I believe people can learn more from me if I talk about the things that so many others don’t want to talk about.  No matter what people say, no matter what people think…I am strong.  I am resilient.  I am me.