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
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)
In all this time, I’ve learned a lot of things. While I buried what I learned to be lies in the ocean, I needed to hold on to the truths that I learned.
I didn’t want to do stones; I wanted to do something different. I wanted something symbolic, something that reminded me of the place I was in. I thought about the beach. I remembered how, when I first planned out my escape, I walked along the beach and looked for sea shells. I was looking for certain ones, which were hard to find among the seemingly endless amount of shells that had washed up.
I eventually found them. I also found some really beautiful shells, completely by accident. I didn’t look for them, I just stumbled upon them in the search for my special shells. It made me think of the truths I’ve come to learn in these last 1,000 days. Some of them I went looking for; others I just stumbled upon on the way.
So I got sea shells, and wrote six of the most important truths I came to learn inside them.
I deserved to be loved and nurtured.
There is nothing — NOTHING — a child could ever do to deserve to be abused, tortured, raped, or assaulted. I didn’t do anything to warrant that. I was a child who deserved to be nurtured and taken care of, not abused and neglected. I deserved love and care, hugs and kisses, kindness and warmth. I didn’t get any of that. But I deserved to get that. I deserved to have a childhood without fear and pain. I deserved a home I could feel safe in.
I can speak the truth. She can no longer silence me.
I had no voice for years. I grew up in fear of telling people who my mother was, and telling people what was going on. I thought I was lying to protect myself, but I was really lying to protect her. I know that now. Now I can use my voice, because I am free. I will continue to speak the truth because it’s my truth to speak. I am no longer afraid to speak. I am no longer shamed to admit what has happened to me. I will not be silent.
I am a good person who deserves good things.
Even after I ran away, I lived my life for others more than I did for myself, because I still believed that I was somehow less deserving than others. I deflected compliments as if they were poison, because I believed I didn’t deserve them. I understated my achievements because I believed I didn’t truly earn them. But I’ve come to realize that I do deserve the good things — whether they be compliments, promotions, awards — even food. I am a human being. I am a good, kind, genuine person who deserves some good, as hard as that may be for me to acknowledge.
Family isn’t biological. You can make your own family, and I have.
Despite what people have said to me, even recently, my family is not the people who are genetically linked to me. My father may have been my sperm donor, but he was not my family. My mother may have given birth to me, but she is not my family. The others who never intervened, they are not my family. My family is made up of the people who support me and care for me and love me for who I am. They are there for me no matter if it’s a good day or a bad day. My family is unconditional.
I am nothing like my mother.
I’m not a sociopath. I’m not a predator. I’m not an abuser. I’m not who my mother is. I used to think that if I liked the same things as her, if I ate the same food as her, that meant that I was her. She used to change her hair to match mine. She used to take my clothes to wear them herself. People used to say how much I looked like her because she made herself to look like me. I could never separate any aspect of myself from my mother. But now I realize that physical appearance means nothing, and that shared blood doesn’t make for shared behaviors.
I can ask for help. It doesn’t mean I’m weak. It won’t get me in trouble.
I grew up never asking for anything. I never wanted to be a burden. I never wanted to be punished. I could never reach out because I knew, in the end, it would only end up getting me into more trouble. That fear carried over into my adulthood, and even after I ran away, I struggled with reaching out. There were times I needed someone to talk to, but I was too afraid to be a bother. There were times I was dissociating and needed help grounding, but I thought asking for help meant I wasn’t strong enough to do it on my own.
It’s no surprise that one of my main goals in every treatment I’ve been in — from PHP to IOP to individual therapy — has been to learn how to reach out for help. I don’t have to wait until I’m at a breaking point. I don’t have to refuse help when someone offers it. I can ask because people are willing to help me.
These truths will stay with me, as a reminder of how much I’ve learned and grown.
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.
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.
I’ve been managing my impulse to isolate quite well, considering my circumstances. I try to get out of the house every day, even if it’s just to walk the dog. Some days, I just can’t do much. I’ll take a walk down the block, and I’ll just know from the dizziness in my head and the pain in my chest that I can’t do anything but rest. There are times when I push myself too much, and I always end up regretting it. But I still get out there the next day.
I could have stayed home on Easter. I could have stayed in bed all day or smoked through a pack of cigarettes in the backyard, which is what I usually do when I’m alone on days like that. But I decided to go. After all, my case worker says I should work on being more social.
It started out okay. There were a lot more people there than I thought there was going to be, most unknown to me. I stayed calm, and migrated toward people I was familiar with. I had my knee brace on over my pants (because it’s impossible to wear a full-length knee brace under anything that’s not oversized sweatpants). A friend of the family asked what happened. I told her I had torn my ACL, and wore out all of the cartilage on my knee. I stayed positive about it, though, telling her how I was still getting out and walking around as much as I could. She shared some (very) distantly related story about how her knee hurt her 40 years ago.
And then she said those words, the words that never, ever end well.
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but…”
She then proceeded to tell me how my weight was likely the cause of my problems, and how I need to watch myself, and when I feel the urge to take those “third helpings” of food I just need to stop.
As soon as I caught the gist of what she was saying, I had so much shit going on in my head that I couldn’t listen to her anymore. I just sat there quietly, holding back the tears. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t. I was just hoping she’d stop. But she didn’t.
When the food was finally served, I stayed in my seat. All I could think about was how fat I was. My friend was encouraging me to get some food, telling me what they had. “You should eat a salad.” Before I could even respond, my friend told her that I didn’t eat that. She then went on to make another suggestion, and by that point, I had enough. I knew I was going to emotionally explode, so I got up and went outside.
I smoked a few cigarettes, let out some tears, and calmed myself down enough to go back inside. I thought I would be okay, but I wasn’t. The sight and smell of the food made me nauseated. The memories replaying in my head made me sick to my stomach. I wanted to run, but all I could do was walk away. I wandered the neighborhood, smoking my last cigarettes, crying, and blasting my music as loud as it would go so I could drown out the voices in my head.
I eventually found my way back, numbed out from all emotion. But I still couldn’t eat. I felt like anything I put in my mouth would be judged by people, would be judged by her. It felt like I was under control again. Instead of you can’t eat this, you don’t deserve it, it was now you can’t eat this, you don’t need it.
I get it. I’m not a thin girl. I never was. But why do people feel the need to tell me what food I should or shouldn’t need, and what I should be eating? I’m on a high sodium diet, recommended by not one, not two, but three cardiologists. I also have to consume a considerable amount of protein to keep my creatinine levels normal. I eat a lot of vegetables — they are my “safe” food, the food I can always eat no matter what, and they help increase my vitamin levels, which have been dangerously low in the past.
I may be fat, but I struggle with an eating disorder. And no, it’s not binge-eating disorder. I’ve been doing well in recovery for the last several months. I’ve been eating two to three meals a day. I haven’t purged. I haven’t obsessed over counting every calorie and weighing myself every morning. I haven’t had to fight at any meals because I haven’t refused to eat. Although a combination of my knee injury and my heart medication has led to a substantial increase in weight over the last few months, I wasn’t letting it get to me.
But now the devil is back on my shoulder. My ED brain woke up from its peaceful nap and is now wreaking havoc. I’m struggling to eat. I’ve started counting every calorie. I let myself get this way, and now I need to fix it. I need to not be fat — a goal which logically, I know is unachievable, but emotionally, I believe is the cure for what ails me.
Don’t take this the wrong way…it’s amazing how just a few words can really fuck up your recovery.
I still don’t know — what other way was I supposed to take that?
Some nights, when I find myself unable to sleep, I look up old classmates on Facebook. Most of them appear stable. They have successful careers. Many are married with several children. They’re doing things that 30-something year-olds should be doing.
It brings up feelings in me — but not feelings of envy, feelings of grief. I know there are some things I will never be able to have, some things I will never be able to be or to experience.
I didn’t get to have a childhood. I didn’t get to experience the freedom of the teenage years. I spent 29 years of my life in hell. And when I finally got out, I didn’t get to experience the life that I thought I would.
It’s not just the psychological shit. Trauma doesn’t go away just because the environment changes. I knew that would follow me wherever I went. But I wasn’t expecting all of the physical damage to hit me so fast.
I’ve spent the last month hobbling around on crutches. I’ve been in pain for a while. But when you’ve been through what I’ve been through, you learn to shake pain off and deal with it. That’s the safe way, right?
Except it wasn’t. By the time I ended up in the ER last month, my knee was already severely damaged. I had worn all of the cartilage away, to the point where bone was rubbing against bone every time my knee bent, causing pieces of my knee cap to chip away. They recommend a knee replacement. Another surgery.
People don’t understand why I won’t just get the surgery. What’s the big deal? It’s not about the surgery. It’s about everything. Every part of my body is damaged. I have problems that people my age don’t have. People my age aren’t hobbling around on crutches, getting body parts exchanged with metal substitutes. They aren’t sitting in support groups, surrounded by people 40 years older than they are.
Trauma changes people. Not just their minds, but their bodies, too. My emphysema — that isn’t just a fluke. It’s from living in a toxic environment. My heart problem, the dysfunction of my brain and my autonomic nervous system — that isn’t just bad luck. That’s from my brain having to constantly be in overdrive. The poorly healed fractures, the joint problems — that isn’t just the bad genetics of EDS. It’s the result of constant trauma to the body.
Constant reminders of what I went through, courtesy of my body. Constant reminders that I will never be a normal 30-something, just as I had never been a normal child, teenager, or 20-something. Loss after loss after loss.
I deal with the pain. No one really asks about it, so I don’t talk about it. Except for my therapist. He asks me every time we meet. And I brush it off. I tell him I’m used to the pain. Because in my head, I keep telling myself at least I’m not at home, at least I’m not being actively broken. Be grateful for that. In my head, pain is normal. In my head, pain is deserved.
If only they could fix my broken heart like they could fix my spine. Glue the broken pieces back together, then screw in some brackets to hold it in place. Good as new. No darkness any more.
If only they could fix my damaged mind like they could fix my knee. Take out all the broken pieces. Suck out all the bad memories. Take out the whole damn thing. Just replace it with something new, something stronger, something that can’t be damaged.
I’d give anything to erase what’s happened to me, to replace all of the damage that’s been done with parts that cannot be broken. Replace the memories with happy thoughts of what life could have been. Replace the pain with strength. But that’s a hope that can never be fulfilled.
For the past few weeks, I’ve been having the same dream.
I’m not even sure what to call it — a bad dream or a nightmare. It’s not something I’d like to remember. It’s not something I want to keep thinking about. But the fact that it keeps seeping into my sleep consciousness is frustrating to me. It’s easy to push things out of my mind when I’m awake. But when I’m asleep, I have no control of what comes through, and no ability to push it away.
The beginning is always the same. I’m in a car. My father is driving. My mother is in the passenger seat. We’re driving through some neighborhood I can’t recognize. There are lots of bare trees. Small houses. Everything is quiet. It’s not the nighttime, but the sky is gray.
No one speaks. My father keeps driving. After a few blocks, he turns a corner and stops in front of a house. My mother gets out of the car. I watch as she steps up to the front door and walks right in. The light in the house is on. I can see a few small beds in what I would have otherwise assumed was the living room. Two children run up to my mother, and she grabs one and lifts her up.
I turn and ask my father what’s going on. He tells me this is where she works now; she takes care of the children. My father continues to drive, repeating the same line over and over again. I want to scream, but I’m frozen.
I always wake up at that point, experiencing the same panic as I imagine I would be experiencing in the dream. Sometimes I cry. Sometimes I get angry. Most times, I lay in bed physically frozen as my mind races between the dream and my reality.
It’s something I thought I would be over by now. The guilt for leaving. Not just leaving, but leaving my mother behind. Leaving her to hurt other children. Leaving without saying a word about what she had done to me and others.
I didn’t press charges. I didn’t call the cops. I didn’t have her put in jail. I let her remain free. Free to hurt others. Free to get away with all she had done.
In the dream, I could have spoken up, but I didn’t. I could have told my father to stop the car, to turn back and save those children before it was too late, but I didn’t. I froze. I said nothing. I did nothing.
The guilt hangs over me. I don’t recognize it all the time, but it’s there. I feel like I can’t move forward with the knowledge (and lack thereof) of what I’ve left behind. I can’t save anyone from her. I chose to be selfish and save myself.
Last week, my therapist asked me what it would take to make me feel accomplished. I told him my expectations were entirely unrealistic. I didn’t tell him what they were — my grandiose goal of making sure no child is ever abused by their mother. That can never happen, and surely not by anything in my power.
Today, my therapist asked a similar question, but this time he focused on what would make me feel complete or purposeful. It was in that moment that I realized it wasn’t about my impossible expectations; that’s not what was bothering me at all. I started to cry, but I couldn’t find the words to tell him what was in my head. I couldn’t tell him how badly I beat myself up over leaving my brother behind. I couldn’t tell him I was too weak to stand up against her. I couldn’t tell him about the guilt that was eating away at me for years.
I couldn’t tell him that I would never feel complete until I knew my mother could not hurt another person ever again.
All I could do was cry.
And the guilt stays with me, even in my dreams.
I still remember the day. November 21, 2016. The day I celebrated 500 days of freedom. The day I planned to celebrate my successes. The day I went to the beach to release the stones I had lost into the ocean. The day I carried with me the stones of all I had gained. Stones I still have to this day, laid out right by my desk, reminding me of my new truths.
It was also the day I let go of the stones it was time to give away. Guilt. Shame. Fault. Blame. They were no longer weighing me down. I was free from them. I was free from my trauma. I was free from my mother.
I remember how I felt that day. Like I accomplished something. Like I had started a new life. Like I had finally realized what it felt like to be free. I felt a sense of happiness amidst the grief. I finally knew what it was like to feel safe, I knew what it was like not to worry. It took 500 days for me to get there, but I got there none the less.
But those feelings were soon ripped away from me, because November 21, 2016 wasn’t just my 500th day of freedom. It was also the day my mother found me.
Just days after I celebrated my new-found freedom and safety, I received her first letter in the mail. A business envelope with no return address. A catalog sheet of gravestones, ready for my choosing. They were the stones my mother believed I deserved. The ultimate punishment for going against her.
I ran away. I escaped prison. And I told my story. Because I knew upon my leaving, that people were still in danger. Telling was the only way to help them. And it did help. Some people were able to see through her manipulation and get out before it was too late. But others are still being hurt by her. And in many ways, I am still being hurt by her.
She took away my freedom. She took away my sense of safety. With each piece of mail she sent, she took it all away from me. That accomplishment I felt, that glimpse of happiness I got to experience, it all faded away.
My life was no longer one of freedom, no longer one of safety. Even in distance, my mother was no longer so far away. She made her presence known. She took away all of the things I worked so hard for since running away, with just a few pages of words, with just a sheet of gravestones.
Why? Why couldn’t she let me experience that freedom just a little bit longer? Why couldn’t she just let me feel safe? Why did she have to take that all away from me?
I haven’t been the same since then. As much as I’ve moved around, I am still afraid of being found. As much as I try to be invisible, I can still be traced. As much as I try to live my life, I am still in fear of her. Is she watching me from afar? Is she behind me? Is she waiting outside my door? Are her words sitting in my mailbox? Is she sitting there, reading my thoughts? Is she planning to hurt me? Will she be picking my gravestone?
I haven’t felt safe since then. I’m not sure I ever will. Because I know as long as she is here on earth, I am in danger. It’s something I cannot change. I chose to be on my own while leaving her to hurt others. I chose to run away instead of putting her in jail. I chose to hide instead of bringing her to justice. I chose this life, and I set myself up for these consequences.
I should have known better, but I was drawn away by the illusion of a free life. A life I now know cannot exist.
I just want to feel safe.