A little over six months ago my life changed.
Nothing actually changed. But everything changed. (I swear I am not purposely trying to be confusing.)
In simple terms, on May 11, a really lovely spring day in Connecticut, I had some long-repressed memories of childhood sexual abuse come back to me in a rush.
That should have been enough. But there was a cascading effect. My brain had spent 30+ years holding strong the wall that protected my heart, and when the curtain on these specific events of abuse was torn away, other events became clearer to me. Over the next 2-3 months, I uncovered ugly realities behind “memories” I had whitewashed over. I swam, rather unwillingly, to the shore of the blissful river of denial. It was not pretty.
Now that the rose-colored curtain has been pulled back, here is what I can say with clarity: as a child I was abused. I was hurt, physically and emotionally; I was neglected, abandoned and belittled. I was surrounded by drug and alcohol abuse. I was the victim of rage that was meant for another person, a convenient and generally helpless outlet for anger felt toward someone who was out of reach. Presumably caring adults who were nearby and could have helped, didn’t.
The details of my abuse, of the things that were done to me, are unimportant at this moment in time. The whos, the whats, the wheres–they are not a part of my story I am ready to share widely. At least not yet.
Suffice it to say that my abusers were all people who were supposed to love and protect me. People I trusted. People I looked up to, idolized, worshipped. People I made excuses for all these long years. People I worked with great diligence, throughout my childhood and into my adult life, to please and to convince that I am a good, loving, smart, worthwhile person.
These last six months have been god awful, my friends. When I look back on them I see a black hole. These months will for the rest of my life be the demarcation of the “before” and “after.”
The images associated with these dark months are grim. My bedroom, with all the shades drawn to make it as lightless as possible. Me burrowed into my bed with the comforter covering my swollen, red face. The mirror in the bathroom covered with a towel so I wouldn’t have to look anymore. I couldn’t stand the sight of myself, because when I looked I saw someone the world would be a better place without.
“You have to feel all the pain you’ve blocked out all these years,” my therapist told me (and continues to tell me). “You have to get through it. You can’t turn back now.”
With the onset of this gut wrenching pain, all of my old coping mechanisms tapped more and more insistently at my heart. My rational mind knew they were wrong, but the pull was so very strong. The pain was unbearable. How could I possibly be expected to endure this? I had to do something to make it stop. To distract myself from it.
I felt such intense yearnings to binge eat. To not eat at all. To throw up after I ate. To physically hurt myself. To drink. To detach from everyone and everything good in my life, because that’s what I deserved. I was not always successful at ignoring these yearnings.
You see, when you are treated like everyone’s whipping girl for so many years, you start to treat yourself that way, too. The messages of worthlessness and shame nest in your heart.
And the shame, my friends, the shame was visceral. I tried to make myself disappear in that dark room, knowing that I was unlovable with all this blackness inside of me.
For the first two months, I cried every day. Copiously and multiple times. I hated myself for it. One day I stood in the grocery store, tears streaming down my face, trying to hold back the heaving sobs.
After so many years of priding myself on being a soldier, being unflappable, being a fortress of strength, I was unable to leave my own home for fear of falling apart. I was disgusted with my pathetic state of being.
I missed so much living during these months. My son played the lacrosse game of his life–scoring three goals in a row to bring his team back from behind and win the game–while I was in my darkened room of shame, unable to get up and go out. My daughter marched in the parade and sang at church, and I missed that too.
I breathed in and out. Sometimes I screamed. Sometimes I felt like I would never live through the day. But, often despite myself, I kept breathing in and out.
I mourned myself. I mourned a sweet, eager, smart 9-year old girl, the same age as my daughter, who swallowed the terror she felt because of what was being done to her and smiled.
I mourned a 13-year-old girl, the same age as my son, who was newly thin from anorexic behaviors and tried to commit suicide because she felt so alone and so unloved.
I mourned a high-achieving, well-liked teenager who was desperate to keep appearances up, to hide the cuts on her body, to keep her vomiting quiet, to make sure no one knew all of her dirty secrets and only saw the shiny exterior.
I mourned a girl who moved around a lot and grew up as a chameleon, easily fitting in with lots of different crowds but never getting to know anyone too well. Or, more importantly, never letting anyone get to know her too well because chances were, if they knew what was inside her, they would abandon her, too.
I had shunned all of these versions of myself. I had cast them into a dark room and shut the door on them, so it makes sense that I had to spend so much time in that blackness with them to move through this.
Into the third and fourth months, I didn’t cry as much. I ventured out of my safe zones, a little bit. I talked to a few more people. I found that some people that I had trusted with my story should not have been trusted with it. I found that there were some people I had been looking at through rosy glasses, and this was the time to take off the glasses and look at who these people really were…and then let them go. When I let some of these people go, it felt as though a huge burden had been lifted off me. But I still wondered if I would ever feel happiness again. “Joy” was not even a consideration.
Mercifully, I also had some of the right people in my life. My husband, who has been nothing short of heroic during this crisis. My children, with their light and their unflinching love for a mother who had nothing to give them for three months. Women who I call family even though we don’t share any blood. They were all my lifelines.
I am in a better place today. I am functional, although still pathetically fragile. I am trying to figure out what my life means now, so radically different from what it used to be even though, on the surface, nothing has changed.
I have had quite enough of useless platitudes telling me I am going to launch forward into SOMETHING AMAZING. I am tired, friends, and I am not amazing. I cannot stand the fucking pressure of trying to bring forth something AMAZING from my struggles, because just getting through the day is the most amazing thing I can manage most days.
This is not a mountain to climb or a brick wall to get around. I carry the burden within me, and I don’t know how to put it down just yet. I recognize this. Maybe soon I can put this heavy, heavy load down. Maybe soon I can marry the logical, rational voice in my brain that tells me that I am a smart, competent, capable, kind and compassionate human with the voice of the lost girl in my heart that tells me I am worthless, shameful and unlovable.
Maybe soon. But not today.
Today, I hugged my kids and my husband. I had a relatively productive day at work. I interacted with other humans in the world like a normal person. I ate and I slept enough and I met my meager steps goal on my fitness band. I played Guitar Hero with my son. I sang songs with my daughter. I laughed with my family. I felt happiness.
Today was a good day, and for now that is enough.