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 2: The Lies

I am hopeless. I will never be safe. It’s my fault I’m sick. I abandoned my family. No one will love me. No one will believe me. I was just confused. She had to rape me to save me. I am just like her. I will never get better. I am ruined. My father died because I left. I am an abuser. I deserve a gravestone.

These are the lies I believed as truth — some believed for years, others believed for decades.

I found the heaviest, blackest stones, and wrote a former belief on each one. I carried them with me to the beach this morning. I walked right up to where the ocean meets the sand. I picked one stone at a time, read it to myself, and then tossed it as far as I could into the sea. They are all there now, somewhere buried in the sand beneath the waters. They are no longer weighing on me.

I am hopeless.

I spent most of my life this way. My childhood. My adolescence. My 20s. I didn’t expect to live very long. I didn’t expect to ever get out alive. But I am still here, alive, and free. There are still times that I lose hope, but I am not hopeless. Even as I struggle in nearly every way, I keep trying to rise above. I have not given up.

I will never be safe.

It’s a hard belief to shake when you have spent most of your life without a safe place. Home was a battleground, a prison, a hell — it was never a safe place to be. Yet she taught us that it was the outside world that was dangerous.

Every aspect of my life was controlled by her. Even when I was outside of the house, I still was under her control. She was everywhere. She knew everything. There was no escaping her, until I finally did. And even then, I struggled with the fear of her coming to get me, the fear of her finding me.

I still have that fear, and it’s a valid one. There’s no doubt in my mind that she knows where I am. But I can’t live my life always in fear. I can be vigilant, and I can be proactive. The fear of her won’t go away, even in her death. But I can still embrace the small moments when I am surrounded with supports, in a secure place. It’s in those moments that I am safe.

It’s my fault I’m sick.

I put a lot of the blame for my medical issues on myself. The truth is, it’s not really my fault. Dysautonomia just happens. Ehlers Danlos is hereditary. My lung problems existed long before I started smoking, from living in a home that was environmentally unsafe. It’s not my fault. And neither is my PTSD or my DID. None of this is my fault.

I abandoned my family.

I did not abandon my family. They abandoned me a very long time ago. There was no love, no nurturing, no support provided by my mother. My father was absent emotionally. My brother was lost in his trauma early on. I never had the connection to them. Aside from DNA, they were never my family.

I ran away from my abuser; I did not abandon my family.

No one will love me.

She would tell me that so many times, especially when I was a teenager. She treated me like I was the ugliest person, constantly pointing out any flaw she could find, and making stuff up when she couldn’t. For a while, I believed she was right. I couldn’t connect with anyone, but that’s because I never learned how, and never had the right people to connect with. Now I do. Now I have people who genuinely care about me.

No one will believe me.

I spent my whole childhood believing that lie. I spent my teenage years believing it, too. And then in adulthood, when I finally came out and tried to tell people what happened, they didn’t believe me. I thought it was just like she said, that no one would understand, that no one would believe me. It turns out she was wrong. People were just blinded by their own stereotypes. They didn’t want to believe. Trust me, I didn’t want to, either. But people know the truth now. People understand because they’ve lived the same pain, too.

I was just confused.

Years ago, a social worker told me that my mother wasn’t abusing me, that she loved me and was just showing that in the best way she knew how, that I was just confusing it for abuse. It made me second-guess myself. So many moments I had to step back and ask myself if I just misunderstood what was going on. How could a mother hurt her own child? It’s inconceivable. But it’s reality. There’s no confusion about that.

She had to rape me to save me.

There could never be anything wrong with someone who would justify raping them. There was nothing ever wrong with me. It was just a lie. She wasn’t helping me. She was hurting me. She didn’t save me from anything. I needed saving from her.

I am just like her.

I know enough about sociopathy to know that there is somewhat of a genetic link. That sat in the back of my mind for a while. I thought that maybe my emotions weren’t mine — after all, I was never allowed to have them for all those years. I had to learn about them from watching videos. Maybe I just learned to copy them. Maybe I have no empathy.

But I have real emotions. Sometimes they suck, but I have them. And I have empathy. Maybe a little too much at times. I’m not a sociopath. I’m nothing like her.

I will never get better.

After 17 years of off-and-on therapy, I start to wonder if I will ever get better. Then I am quickly reminded that for most of those years, I was still living with my mother, still being abused. No amount of intervention or therapy would have helped until I was out of that situation. So, I can’t really count those years as much of anything in terms of trying to get better, because at that time, I was just struggling to survive.

It’s difficult, especially in the last 15 months (10 of which were spent in intensive outpatient therapy), to see myself getting better. Other people are able to get over their traumas and move on. Yet I’m here, fresh out of IOP, still having emotional breakdowns and flashbacks and thoughts about dying.

My therapist reminds me I’ve been through “a lot of fucking trauma”. It’s going to take time. A lot of time. It doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

I am ruined.

I used to think I gave off a vibe where people just knew — maybe they could tell by looking at me, or the way I walked, or something that let them know that I am ruined. I felt like others could sense my shame more than I could. I thought they could tell that I was dirty and worthless because of what she did to me.

But there’s no vibe, no invisible stamp on my forehead that tells others I’m somehow ruined. I’ve got damage, but I’m not ruined. I can be repaired.

My father died because I left.

My father did not die because of me, as much as my mother would like to throw that blame on me. He wasn’t heartbroken when I left; he couldn’t wait to sell all the stuff I left behind. He didn’t care I left.

My father had multiple heart attacks, strokes, and blood infections. He had a plethora of medical problems for over a decade. That’s what killed him.

I am an abuser.

I’ve written a few times over this past year about how I have been working on overcoming my fear of children, which stems back to incidents in childhood that had me believe that I was an abuser. I am not an abuser. I am not a predator. I am no longer afraid of being near children. I don’t freeze or panic when I am near them, because I know that I would never hurt them.

I deserve a gravestone.

My mother thinks I deserve a gravestone. She always said I would never get away from her. She always threatened that if I told anyone, I would get hurt. I’ve gone against her rules in the biggest ways. She’s used to being in control, and she’s not anymore.

I don’t deserve to die because I ran away. I don’t deserve a gravestone because I told the truth. I took control of my life. I did what I had to.

These are the lies I let float away.

1,000 Days of Freedom, Part 1

It’s been one thousand days since I ran away, one thousand days since I found my freedom. And yes, as silly as it may be, I still count the days. It helps me on those days when I feel like giving up. It helps me see just how far I’ve come.

I hesitated even acknowledging today for what it was. For the last couple of months, I went back and forth on what to do. On one hand, acknowledging these milestones has helped me. It gives me something to look forward to. It also gives me a day to recognize things that I don’t take the time to really think about.

But there is also a tremendous amount of fear. When I celebrated my 500 days of freedom back in November 2016, I felt at peace with quite a few things I had been struggling with. I celebrated myself. I had a stone ceremony at the beach. I got rid of the false beliefs that were holding me down, acknowledged the things I came to learn since running away, and gave back the guilt and shame that were not mine to keep. It was a huge accomplishment for me. I felt okay.

And then days later, that all changed. I received something in the mail that I will never forget. I recognized the writing on the outside of the envelope — it was my mother’s handwriting. Inside was a poster with options to choose a gravestone. No note, just the poster with the gravestones. But I didn’t need a note from her to know what it all meant. My mother wanted me to die — that gravestone was the stone she believed I deserved.

The veiled death threats, combined with a letter she wrote and sent to me through an old friend, were enough to create an emotional clusterfuck in me. Any inkling of safety I thought I had was no longer. She knew where I lived, and I knew what she was capable of. It changed everything.

I knew her anger, or whatever it was, was clearly exacerbated by the celebration I had for my 500 days of freedom. It took a long time for me to recover from what she did, and to be perfectly honest, I’m still not over it.

So as it got closer to the 1,000 day mark, I wondered if it was worth it to acknowledge and celebrate it, fearing that what happened last time would in some way happen again. Up until a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t going to celebrate it at all. I just didn’t think I could emotionally handle any bullshit.

Then I realized that I was letting my mother win. I was missing out on an opportunity to better myself because of a fear she instilled in me, a fear that will be there regardless of what I do or don’t do. She doesn’t have that control over me anywhere. She can’t.

I worked through all the what-ifs with my therapist last week, setting up what we would do in case anything did happen. By then I was confident that I could have this day, that I deserved this day.

I went to the beach this morning, just as I had 500 days ago. There is a lot of meaning there. Not only is it where I ran away to, but it’s also where I tried to end my life when I was six years old, the first time I attempted suicide.

Now it’s the place where I drown the beliefs that no longer serve me, the lies my mother made me believe for way too long.

When Reality Hits

For as long as I’ve spent in therapy (thousands of hours at this point), I can count on my fingers the number of difficult sessions I’ve had.

It’s not that my sessions don’t involve difficult topics. While most of my early therapy experiences focused on tackling surface issues unrelated to trauma, the last nearly three years have been all about my trauma. Even then, I found myself able to detach from emotions a lot of the time.

Just a week before this latest session, I told my therapist about an incident from my teenage years. I was triggered a few days prior when the dog had split her nail and bled on the carpet. It almost instantaneously led to a flashback from when I was stabbed in the abdomen and left the same marks. When it happened, I was lost in all the same emotions. I felt like it was happening all over again. But when I told my therapist about it, I was void of emotion. I didn’t cry. I didn’t feel anything.

I thought I could do the same thing in our next session. Don’t cry. Don’t feel. Just get it all over with. Instead I cried, and I felt more than I ever wanted to feel. I was unprepared for that.

My therapist was concerned. And I knew it wasn’t just her concern. It was the treatment team’s concern. And as much I tried to deny it, it was my concern, too. My symptoms were getting worse. Not only in the last week, but in the last few months. I had been getting increasingly lethargic. No matter how well I sleep, I’m exhausted. Some days, I can barely climb the stairs without feeling like my heart is going to explode. My legs and feet swell, the right side worse than the left. Some days, it feels like I’m dragging 100-pound weights on each leg. Just moving around puts my heart into overdrive. Several times I found myself leaving group because of chest pains.

It was other things, too. Signs of heart failure. I knew it all too well. I watched my father go through it. I didn’t want to watch myself go through it.

I couldn’t avoid it any longer. If you don’t make an appointment with your cardiologist by tomorrow morning, you cannot return to program. An ultimatum with no option for negotiation. A crisis I could no longer avoid.

This session was different. My therapist wasn’t softening reality at all. She wasn’t letting me get away with avoiding the pertinent shit in my life. Not this time.

You know what, yes, you likely do have heart failure. Not going to the doctor isn’t going to change that. She was right. But there’s a difference to me, in suspecting something to be true and then actually having it confirmed. The latter is unchangeable. At least with not knowing for sure, there is just enough room for a small possibility of change, a small chance of it not being true.

Yes, you’re going to be sick for the rest of your life. And I will never understand how that feels, how you feel. It’s frustrating. It makes me angry, for many reasons. I’ll never know what it’s like to feel normal, to not be sick, for just one day. But my mother knows that. She’s not suffering. She’s living longer than I will likely live, more healthy than I have ever been and will ever be. Where is the fairness in that? I lost the genetic lottery big time.

But it can be treated. Yes. Just like my emphysema is treated. Treated, but not cured. Another diagnosis to be added to the list. Another health issue I didn’t need in my 30s. Another illness I don’t deserve.

Is it just about not wanting the diagnosis, or is it more than that? Is it another indirect way to be suicidal? It’s like she knows me. The same reasons why I still smoke with emphysema. It kills me faster, and no one really sees it as a slow suicide; they just see it as being stupid. The longer my heart goes untreated, the sooner I’ll die. Why prolong a life that’s destined to be minimal?

I didn’t tell her that, of course. I told her it was just about the diagnosis. I thought that would put a stop to the difficult conversation, but she just shifted to something even more difficult: the purpose of my life.

You may very well never be able to work again. You may not be able to get through all the schooling you want to. She was direct, in a way she had never been before. We’ve always thrown around the idea that I could eventually start working again, that my heart condition would get better and I could be normal again. But that didn’t seem like a realistic option anymore, at least not in the sense that I wanted to be normal. As far as school goes, I missed the deadline for my doctorate application because I was inpatient when the application was due. So any plans I had for getting my doctorate next year went out the window. And maybe that was meant to be, since I can barely get through the last few courses I have for my masters. Not for lack of knowledge, but for lack of energy.

But maybe you were meant for something different. Maybe you can’t be a therapist, or go into research. But maybe you can help others in a different way. She read the letter I wrote to the hospital. Another example of my never-ending drive to correct wrongs. I told her about the director’s response, how they were going to look into how they can change. See, think about the people you’ve helped just by doing this. You may likely cause this hospital system to change their ways.

I knew she was right, but it still didn’t seem like enough. I needed more. Maybe you can start an organization. I told her I already did. I told her what my dream was for PAFPAC, what I wanted to do when I first started it. But then my health (mental and physical) took a turn and I haven’t had the energy to make it what I wanted it to be. You’re still helping people.

But not as many as I wanted. I admitted to her that my life goal was an impossible one, and that’s where I’ve gone wrong. I wanted to stop mothers from abusing their children; I wanted to prevent people from hurting. And I know, logically, that will never happen.

You can still affect change. You’ve already started. Your actions help people. Your writing helps people. You give a voice to those who can’t speak. You’re going to have really bad days. That’s inevitable. But some days, some days are going to be okay. And it’s those days that you can really be you.

The dreams I had when I first ran away are now gone. My hopes of being a professional, of living a long life, of helping the world, are just not possible. The universe has given me this life of constant struggles. It has taken away too much from me. I’m just not sure if what I am left with is enough for me.

What no one wants to know

One afternoon last year, I was walking up the street to catch the bus I was taking to get to my grad school classes at night.

As I was walking, a little girl came out of one of the buildings and started walking just a few feet in front of me. She was around six years-old, and was walking alone. I started to panic. I felt sick to my stomach. I was hoping she’d go inside somewhere, but she just kept walking in front of me.

I was scared for her. This girl is in danger. She’s going to get hurt. I wasn’t scared that she was going to get kidnapped or anything like that. I was scared that she was going to be hurt by me.

I am scared to be near children. It’s a crippling fear of mine. I don’t want to hold anyone’s baby. I don’t want to babysit anyone’s toddler. I avoid children at all costs. When I see them, I run away. It’s part of the reason I have not, and never will, have children of my own.

It’s not so much a fear of children (although some are quite scary). It’s the fear that I will hurt them. The fear that I am a predator, an abuser just like my mother was and is. They say the cycle of abuse continues, the abused become the abusers. I think that’s true, because I think that is me.

It’s a topic you won’t find in any support groups. It’s something hush-hush, something to be ashamed of. And I agree. I never told a soul what I had done until I hesitantly brought it up to my therapist last year, after suffering from painful flashbacks of incidents from my childhood, incidents in which I hurt other children.

I didn’t know any better. I was a child, too, a child who believed that all little girls were supposed to be “helped” in the bathroom, a child who thought it was normal to touch parts that shouldn’t be touched. I didn’t know it was wrong. I didn’t know I was hurting other children. I was just doing what I was taught was okay.

I realized the reality of the situation when I started getting flashbacks in my early 20s. At that point, I knew what I had done. I knew I hurt children, in the same ways I was hurt. I was no better than any other abuser.

I hid it from the world for so long, even after I told my therapist. It was the one topic I never discussed with anyone else, the one topic I could never write about on this blog until today. I was still ashamed. I still am ashamed. And I carry that shame and guilt with me every day of my life.

They say the best way to counteract shame is to tell people the wrongs you have done. I realize that this may hurt me further. I realize some will respond with disgust, and even hatred. But I am taking the chance that at least one person will understand. I can’t be the only one out here. I don’t want to be the only one.

Why talk about this now?

I did something last week, something I’ve been afraid to do. I acted against my fear. In DBT, they call it opposite to emotion action. If your fear is unjustified, you don’t run away or avoid, you approach. And that’s what I did.

I was in the mall trying to get to the bus stop. All of a sudden, a group of Daisy girl scouts ambushed me. Usually, I would dash and run away, but I couldn’t do that because I am still using crutches. I froze for a minute, physically and mentally. Then I remembered, approach don’t avoid. You are not your mother. You are not a predator. I came back to reality, and stood there and listened as they sold me two boxes of cookies. The anxiety was still there, stewing inside of me; the panic was, too. But after a few minutes, it was all over. I got my cookies. I talked to children. And I didn’t hurt them.

I faced one of my biggest fears head on, doing something I had avoided for so long. The fear was still there; I would be lying if I said it wasn’t. But here was evidence that I could be near a child without hurting her.

I shared my experience in program the next day (without sharing the details of what caused the fear in the first place). I’m not sure anyone quite understood the gravity of my fear, because they don’t know my story much at all. But they didn’t judge me.

And neither did my therapist at program. We talked about it more in individual session the following day. It was uncomfortable for me at first, because I was afraid she would ask me the question I had been avoiding every time someones asked have you ever hurt someone? 

My therapist asked if my fear of children was justified or unjustified, and I told her I wasn’t sure. I really wasn’t. In a way it is justified, I thought. I have hurt children in the past. But not in the present. Not as a conscious adult. Not as a perpetrator. So then it’s unjustified. She asked my reasons for the fear being justified. I felt the shame rising up again. I told her I hurt a child, but I didn’t know, I didn’t know, I was just a child. I was afraid of her reaction. This was a woman who knew me all of two months, and yet she knew so much about it already — and now this.

She asked if I ever had urges to hurt a child. I never have. I can’t even imagine myself knowingly hurting a child. It’s not like that at all. But there is a fear of an urge. A fear that if I am left with children, an urge will come and I will hurt them. Like it’s something that has been ingrained in me. Like it’s something I inherited from my mother.

It’s fear that is both justified and unjustified. There are no easy answers. There is no easy explanation. The only thing I know is that I’ve hurt someone, but I am not my mother.

When you approach your fears, over time, they gradually lose their strength and you are able to overcome them. But this is not one of those fears. My therapist said it might get better over time, but I also may always be afraid of being near children; that fear may never go away. That’s understandable, and that’s okay. But it hurt me when she said that. Even though I know she’s right, I realized it’s just another part of life I have lost because of my past.

While children bring most people joy, they will bring me fear. And I may never be able to change that. Just like I can’t change what I have done, who I have hurt, or those who have hurt me.

I am sorry. Every minute of every hour of every day, I am sorry.

Terminate

I think there are people in this world that just can’t be helped.

I think I am one of those people.

I tried. I really did.

I took every pill the doctors prescribed. Every anti-depressant that left me more suicidal than before. Every anti-psychotic that failed to stop the voices or the impulse to self-destruct. Every anti-anxiety pill that only took the edge off. Every mood stabilizer that sent me spiraling deeper into depression. Every sleeping pill, every stimulant, every off-label medication they tried to help me with has failed.

There is no pill for this. There’s no magic medicine, noo chemical imbalance to correct.

My mind is broken in a way that can’t be fixed. You can’t put a splint on my brain. You can’t put a cast on my memories. You can’t fix something that’s been broken too many times for too long.

Maybe if someone had caught it early, I wouldn’t be this way. If someone spoke up instead of saying silent. If someone had questioned my mother instead of letting it go. If someone told her to stop instead of helping her. If someone feared her as much as they feared God. If someone had saved me, instead of leaving me behind.

But no one did any of that. And now I am here, shattered pieces held together by watered-down glue. Forever unstable, the slightest touch breaks me all over again.

There is no cure for this. There’s no way to undo what’s been done. I can’t hit rewind. I can’t start over. I can’t erase the pain in my heart because it’s been written in permanent ink.

Every time I was raped, molested, assaulted, beaten, burned — another piece of me was broken. A tiny crack on the surface was all anyone could see, but beneath that was complete brokenness. A soul left to die, a mind left shattered, both hidden underneath the face and body of an innocent child, an innocent child who didn’t know her innocence because it was stolen from her before she ever had a chance to experience it.

How does someone get over that? I think I would have rather been hurt by a stranger. Maybe I could have handled it better then. At least I would have known what love was, at least I could have had someone to turn to. But I didn’t have that, because the one person that should have loved and supported me and kept me safe was the person that hurt me night after night and taught me how to be afraid.

I tried to be helped. Every school guidance counselor, every social worker, every therapist. They tried. But they couldn’t help me, either. I took one last chance. I told myself if this didn’t work, then that was it for me. Fifteen years of medication and therapy failures is fifteen years too many. I didn’t want to go through it anymore. I gave up everything for this one last attempt at healing.

But I don’t think it’s working. The cost of my freedom has been permanent fear, a fear that can’t be helped. No matter what day it is, no matter where I am, I am living in fear of her. I’m afraid every morning when I try to take a shower without her. I’m afraid every afternoon when I’m walking home alone, waiting for her to come and kill me before I can get in the door. I’m afraid every time I go to bed, because I don’t know if she will come in and hurt me. I’m afraid every time I get sick, because I’m scared it means she will have to take care of me.

I’m in two worlds. One that’s the present and one that’s the past. One where I’m living and one where I’m dying. One where I’m grown up and one where I’m growing. I can’t tell the difference anymore. I don’t think I’m in one or the other. The worlds collided and now I am stuck in the middle, walking alone. I just want someone to walk with me. I want someone to understand what it’s like to be inside my mind. But that can never happen.

It’s not fair. It’s not fair for me to put other people through my chaos. My therapist can’t cure me. She can’t go inside my mind. She can’t walk with me. She can’t help me.

So maybe it’s time to let therapy go. Maybe I’m just supposed to live with the fear and the panic and the pain and the shame and the confusion. Maybe I’m lost because there isn’t a way home. Maybe I’m just supposed to exist like this.

Maybe they were right all along. I am too complex. I am a puzzle that can never be put back together because the pieces have been torn up, burned, and thrown away. And no one ever wants to put together a puzzle that doesn’t have all its pieces. It’s an effort destined for failure, no matter what you do, the puzzle can never be solved. I can never be fixed.

Help came too late.

Knocking on doors

I’m always wrong.

KJ, that’s not true.

Yes it, I’m always wrong. I can’t do anything right.

Who told you that, KJ?

My mother. She says that all the time.

She was wrong. And she’s not here now.

You don’t understand.

What?

I know that I am away from her, but I think she’s still here.

Like she’s inside your head?

No. Like she is here, near me. Right outside. I know she’s not here, but I feel like she is. I know I’m not there, but I feel like I am. She’s still going to hurt me.

By then I was crying. I felt like I was speaking things that didn’t make any sense. It doesn’t make sense for what I know to be so vastly different from what I feel. If I know my mother isn’t here, why can’t I just go on and not be afraid anymore? Why am I still living as if she is right outside my door?

I was crying because I was tired. It’s exhausting being on high alert all of the time. It’s even more exhausting when you know the danger isn’t real anymore, but as much as you try to fight it, you can’t switch off your fear.

People don’t understand what it’s like. I say I’m scared of my mother, they say well she’s not here.

If only it were that simple. It doesn’t matter that, logically, I know my mother doesn’t know where I live. It doesn’t matter that, realistically, her physical presence is lacking. My mind has not caught up to my physical reality. My mind still thinks my mother is here. My mind still believes I am in constant danger because I spent 29 years of my life in constant danger.

I tried to downplay it to my therapist. I told her I was okay. I didn’t want to tell her just how strong my panic was. I didn’t want to tell her I was afraid of opening the door and seeing my mother there. I thought to myself, I just need to get home, and I’ll be okay.

Then I left my therapist’s office, and went downstairs to leave the building only to find that I had been locked inside (it was a holiday — someone in another office must have stopped in and locked the main door on their way out, not noticing their were other cars in the lot). My therapist had already started session with another client and I didn’t want to interrupt. I had nothing else planned for the day. I thought to myself this is okay, I can just wait on the bench outside of her office until she’s done.

I was okay for ten or 15 minutes. Then the panic started to set in. I am trapped in this office building. I can’t get out. I tried to steady my breathing, I tried to stay calm. But the fear and  panic continued to increase. I started to cry. I curled in a ball on the end of the bench and that’s when it all went south. I went from I am trapped in this office building to I am trapped inside my room. Mother locked me inside and I can’t get out.

By the time my therapist finished with her other client, I was a crying, dissociated mess. I could barely breathe. My therapist sat down on the bench with me and tried to help me breathe. She knew where my mind was. Do you know where you are KJ? Look around. I am here with you. You are safe.

I sat for a while, trying to convince myself that I was not at home. I apologized to my therapist (like I always do).

“Why didn’t you ask me for help, KJ?”

“I didn’t want to bother you. I didn’t want to get in trouble.”

“You won’t bother me. And you’re not in trouble. You can just knock on my door and let me know.”

Except it’s not okay. Because I can’t even knock on doors. Bad things happen when you knock on doors. Mommy never wants to be interrupted.

Bad things happen when you knock on doors because my mind still doesn’t realize my mother’s not behind those doors anymore.

Complex

One of the activities in yesterday’s group therapy was to create a Johari Window.

Each person chose six of the 57 adjectives listed to describe themselves, and then chose six for each other person.

It was so easy for me to choose adjectives to describe everyone in group. But when it came to choosing my own, I became frustrated. The adjectives on the list were mostly positive – too positive for my own liking. I struggled just to pick three. Intelligent. Nervous. Tense. Those words were definitely accurate for me. I could never deny my intelligence, even though I oftentimes wish I had less of it. Nervous and tense are words I associate with anxiety, and anxiety is my normal.

Well after everyone else was finished, I was still struggling to finish my own six adjectives. I quickly scanned the sheet again and choose three more: Knowledgeable, quiet, shy. I think knowledgeable pairs with intelligence. I have a lot of knowledge about a lot of things, probably more knowledge than I need. Quiet describes me sometimes, depending on the day, the amount of coffee I’ve had to drink, and how present I am. Shy, for sure. People scare me.

Then I received seven lists, each with six adjectives the others in group used to describe me. I went through the lists and wrote down each adjective in the appropriate window.


Not surprisingly, most people chose intelligent. At least I was right about something about me. I couldn’t argue with that.

Then I came across the words brave, bold, and independent. Everyone put brave. Me. Brave. Clearly they don’t know me, I said to myself. Brave would have been standing up for myself. Brave would have been fighting my mother and telling her to stop hurting me. Brave would have been hitting my father back after he beat me. Brave would have been running home at age 15, not at age 29. Bravery, no. Weakness, maybe.

Bold, I am not. Being bold is being fearless. Bold people don’t hide in the closet when someone knocks on the door. Bold people don’t get scared to check the mail, afraid a letter from home will appear. That is not being bold. Clearly these people don’t know me.

Independent, not me. I can barely decide what to eat for dinner. I can’t make my own decisions, or live my own life. I need other people to make decisions for me. I never had the ability to be independent. I spent more than 29 years in forced dependence on my mother, and now even though I am free, I feel lost without anyone here to make decisions for me.

Then I came across a word that set off a bit of internal rage. Complex. The second list I read through, and someone had circled complex. I blew it off, until the next list had complex circled as well, and then another list, and another. By then, I was just angry. At who, I am not sure. How could these people call me complex? I’m not complex. They don’t even know me.

As I sat with my own thoughts and slight inner rage, I realized the negative associations I had formed with that word. This wasn’t the first time I was told I was complex. I’ve heard it several times before, and never in a positive way. I heard it from therapists as their reasoning for not being able to help me. You’re too complex. Shit, I didn’t know therapists only worked with certain difficulty levels. I’m sorry.

Complex meant I was too complicated, too broken, too difficult to be helped. That word hurt me, multiple times. And here it was, coming up again and hurting me still.

I decided to share my difficulties with that word with the rest of the group. In response, some people explained what that word meant for them, and why they chose it. It wasn’t at all for reasons I had associated complex to be in my head. I was complex because there was more to me to get to know, more than what you see on the outside. I was complex because I was interesting. I was complex, as one of my therapists put it, because the gap between what I think and believe I can do and what I actually do is so large. I don’t believe I can do anything right, or even do much of anything at all. Yet I continually do these great things, and accomplish so much, despite the fact that it all goes against everything I believe about myself. I guess that it complex.

I guess, when I really think about it, I’m definitely not simple – the opposite of complex. Nothing in my life has ever been simple. I admit, at times, I desire simplicity. I crave ignorance. I want life to be uncomplicated. But that’s not going to happen, it didn’t then, it’s not now, and it won’t be in the future. And that’s okay.

Perhaps it’s not so horrible to be complex.

Perhaps those people in my past were just too simple to deal with my complexity.

Freedom, Part 1

On April 26th, 2015, I knew I was going to run away from home.

That weekend, I sneaked off to a retreat for my online support group. I knew I was going to be in trouble once I got back home, but something in me told me I needed to take the risk and go anyway.

It was at that retreat that I met my (now) therapists. On the last day of the retreat, I received a card from them, which I still carry with me every day.

You are so brave and courageous to come to this year’s retreat. You are deserving of a healthy, safe life. We are here to support you and believe in you. You are stronger than you believe.

Those words stuck with me, not only on that day, but throughout the following two and half months. As soon as I came home from the retreat, I started planning. I had my money spread across several bank accounts so I could hoard it without my mother finding out. I started selling things I didn’t really need (electronics, sneakers, books) online to make extra money.

I checked Craigslist every day looking for apartments and rooms for rent. I knew I needed to go where those therapists were – they were willing to help me, I just needed to get out. Several times, I thought my plans were not going to work out. No one wanted to rent to a person with no job in the area and no references.

Despite all of the ‘no’s, I kept looking. I knew this was something I could not give up on. I knew that I could not make it living there much longer. I put in my two weeks notice at work before I even secured a place to live. I told my family I was on vacation so they didn’t know I quit. I set up a fake post of my Facebook page that said I was accepted into an internship for school and that I would have to travel for a few weeks. I knew my family stalked my Facebook, so I made it public so my mother would see it. All of my friends were in on it, and posted supportive comments to make it appear legitimate. I had everything set but a place to live.

At the last minute, I found someone who was still willing to rent to me despite my situation. I sent the first month’s rent and security through a wire transfer because I couldn’t risk leaving my house anymore. That is how desperate I was.

Over the next few days, I was full of anxiety and doubt. I didn’t think I could do it. I was so scared to leave, and so scared to be somewhere new. I was also scared of how I was actually going to be able to get out safely. Very few people knew of my plans. My best friend, who was essentially my getaway driver, was the only person that knew exactly where I was going. I couldn’t risk telling people and tipping off my family. I had my online friends supporting me through the entire process, keeping me focused and helping me stay calm until the morning I finally did it.

On July 10th, 2015, before dawn, I woke up, cleaned myself up, got dressed, swallowed a few Xanax, grabbed my two sport bags of clothes, shoes and other essentials, and my computer, and I ran out the door. My father was there, waiting, as he heard me wake up early and wondered what was going on. He tried to question me but I did not want to get tied into anything, so I quickly told him I had an internship and went out the door.

That was the last time I would ever see or speak to my father again.

My friend was parked around the corner, in order to maintain his own safety in this unpredictable situation. I threw my bags in the back seat of his car and we drove away. My heart was beating so fast, my mind was racing, and I was nauseated. To add to the chaos, my friend had a flat tire. Not even 15 minutes into the trip, and we had to stop and find a shop to get the tire fixed.

As if I wasn’t anxious enough, I had to sit and wait for over an hour as they replaced his tire, watching the news on TV, continuously checking my phone to make sure none of them were trying to reach me. It seemed like forever, but we finally got back on the road and on the way to my new home.

Once we got into town, we stopped at a store so I could buy a few large items I couldn’t bring from home (a hamper, storage containers, bedding, hangers). With the car now packed with my only possessions, we drove to my new home. We were a few hours later than scheduled, but unscathed nonetheless.

July 10th, 2015, turned out to be the longest morning I’ve ever had. But it’s also the day I found my freedom.