I wasn’t ok. I. Was. Not. OK.
Finally realizing this was the one of the toughest things I have ever had to face. It was also the most healing.
When you think you are so strong. When you think you have it all together. When you think you are happy. When you think these things and find out you were none of those things, it sucks. It really sucks.
I wasn’t ok until about 5 years ago. I became more me and more happy over the last 5 years. It seems like every day I get closer and closer to me. Closer to who I really am and it feels amazing.
I am in my 40s now.
So what about before that? (Insert audible sigh)
Excuse me while I pull you down this rabbit hole.
I don’t remember a ton about my childhood. What I do remember is mostly dark (yes, that does suck). I have some really nice memories of spending time outside with my Mom (especially in the summer time). We would take walks alone or with my sister and brother. We would pick blueberries to make jam. My mom was really great with us. It’s tough to be great with 3 kids and a lot of stress. She made things fun…when it was just us. She was also pretty badass. She once killed a Copperhead snake by throwing a rock at its head right at the moment I was about to step on it. No joke. It was epic. I don’t condone killing animals but I would have done the same thing if I were her. I take that back. In my head I would have wanted to do the same thing but I am not as badass and coordinated as her to pull that off. It was like movie style badassary. She taught me how to be tough. How to survive. Those were great memories. I have great memories of spending entire summers at my grandparent’s house and learning to cook or fish or make bows and arrows out of twigs and fishing line. But those memories all have one thing in common. They are all missing the same thing. Thankfully.
Abuse doesn’t always leave a visible mark. The bruises left behind fade but never truly disappear. Some people hide those bruises. Some people wear them proudly. Some people don’t realize they are there.
Gaslighting has become a really popular description for the actions of narcissists lately. Or it has always been a popular description and I am just now paying attention. I’m not sure actually. Many adults have a hard time seeing through it because typically the person who is mind-fucking you is so sick that they actually believe the lies they tell. If an adult has a hard time navigating through this land mine and coming out on the other side alive and well (or just alive), what about a child?
Listen to your parents. Respect adults. Be a good listener. Do not be disrespectful. Stop crying. Are you listening to me? I’m getting my belt. Come sit on my lap. You have to give me a kiss goodbye.
What if the adults are the bad guys?
I don’t know about boundaries. I am only 5. What’s the difference between listening and being abused? I have no way of knowing. I don’t even know what abuse is. I just have to listen and be sweet. Be polite. Don’t argue. Something isn’t right but I am being told I have to listen.
I have to listen.
The day came when I decided I did not, in fact, have to listen. I left. I thought I was so strong. I was surviving. That is all I was doing. Thankfully I was able to at least do that.
I always thought strength meant not dwelling in the past, moving on, not talking about the hard times, smiling a lot, and forgiving. That was part of the character I played. I didn’t actually know I was playing a character. I didn’t know that I had packed my childhood in perfect little boxes, wrapped beautiful bows around those boxes and pushed them way back on the highest shelf I could find. I mean, I knew I had pushed it all away. I was aware I had made a choice to forget. I just didn’t know what that all actually meant. I didn’t figure it out until my 40s. It took 40 years to understand what “being strong” actually did.
I wasn’t a mess. I had great jobs. I had great friends. I did some really cool things. I found a great relationship that lasted 11 years through my 20s and early 30s. But then things started to fall apart. And so did I. I left that situation. I needed to survive. So I did. But I think I was running out of…hope. I know that sounds pathetic. At the time I claimed to be so hopeful. I claimed to be so strong. What I became was a target. A target for every other messed up person. I was a narcissist’s dream come true. My friends tried to tell me but I thought I was ok because I would keep leaving the relationships. I would find myself in one horrible situation after another but would leave and start over. The nice guys…Oh I had no idea what to do with them. I wouldn’t let them in enough. I didn’t know how. It’s almost like I thrived from “surviving” bad situations. When I felt like it was getting too close to what I felt like as a child I ended it. I was attracted to situations that were exactly like that and even more energized by being able to leave those situations. I AM AN INDEPENDENT WOMAN!!! I don’t need anyone. Except that creep over there. Oh, and maybe this new creep over here. Red flag? What red flag?
Oh. That red flag.
I also dated the unavailable-but-has-potential guy a lot. You know why? Because he was unavailable and that worked for me. One of my closest friends called some of our dating habits the “(Insert your full name here if this is you) catch and release program”. You know, the guys who were a complete mess but for some reason became our pet project until our life energy was sucked away so it ended. Then later we were thanked by them for helping them through such a tough time. “If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be so awesome right now and married to this other awesome person. You helped me through a tough time.”
I didn’t take care of myself. When I did things were great. Occasionally I would come back to hiking and running and when I did, things seemed better. At least for a time they were better. But without really knowing what was going on in my own head, those times didn’t last. So I didn’t take care of myself consistently.
And I drank. A lot. Like black out drunk. And often. I knew it was messed up and it was only a matter of time before something bad happened. But I didn’t know how to stop. Because I wasn’t ok. I was just surviving. I had never actually really talked about stuff. I mean, every once in a while I would. But I would talk about stuff in a way that was…I don’t know. I guess I would say the things out loud that I wanted to believe. “I went through some stuff and … now I am strong and I am happy and I am ok.”
Not even close.
Then some bad stuff did happen. A lot of bad stuff. Some worse than others. I was raped in my own home. That was pretty horrible (really horrible) but it didn’t change anything. I bottled that up too. Packed it away and forgot about it. I still didn’t snap out of it. And I thought it was all my fault. I thought that I put myself in all of those situations. I thought I was stupid. I thought I was weak.
One day, about 6 years ago, it started to click. So I researched and found a therapist. And she was (still is actually) awesome. I didn’t expect to say as much as I did. I didn’t expect to cry. But man, did I cry.
She knew I had a long way to go before I started truly healing. She didn’t push to fix it all at once. We just started uncovering layers and dealing with them one at a time. And some things… there were some things we did not try to figure out. Our brains protect us from things we can’t handle. I didn’t want to know those things. And that is ok.
We talked about the bad stuff. All of it.
It was not my fault. The things that others did to me were not my fault. Not just as a child. As an adult those things were not my fault. There are people in the world who feed off of a different kind of energy. The energy of others. Destroying them is like an achievement of some sort. They think they will feel better about themselves. They feel like they conquer something. I was just a target for those types of people. It was not my fault. Having to fight to find my self-worth was not my fault. I was a child when I was groomed to believe that my opinions didn’t matter and I had not earned the right to be respected. My body was not mine. My mind was not mine. Those things were property. Those were the property of the adult in charge. The things I was taught were wrong and not my fault.
I am not saying I am not responsible for my own actions. I am 100% responsible for my very own actions. I am NOT responsible for the actions of others. I am not responsible for what people did to me. I am not responsible for what happened to me as a kid. I do not have to forgive those people to heal. It is not my responsibility to give them that gift. Forgiveness is not something that everyone deserves. I believe people can heal without forgiving others. The key is to forgive yourself and realize that today is a new day. Hurting is ok. Today and tomorrow are the only things you can worry about. Today and tomorrow you get to decide who you are, who you allow in your circle, how you live.
I’m thankful I finally see those things. My life has completely changed since I began to stop blaming myself. I finally realize that being strong means understanding your past and deciding what you want that to mean for your future. It’s ok to have boundaries. It’s ok to ask a lot of questions. It is ok to talk about your past. It’s ok to hurt. I am strong. And it is because I understand that what I went through sucks and shouldn’t happen to anyone. Unfortunately it does. It happens to so many people.
What gives me strength now? Raising awareness of things we were not taught as kids. Boundaries and respect for yourself are rights we are born with. These things are not earned in adulthood. You always have those rights. Giving kids mixed messages is not ok. Hurting children is not ok. Victim shaming is not ok. Telling someone that the only way they can heal is by forgiving the person who hurt them is not ok. Telling people to keep abuse a secret is not ok. All of those rules are created for the benefit of, guess who? The ones who don’t want to get caught. We don’t have to follow those rules. We don’t have to enforce those rules. We can change the rules.
Listen to people. Truly listen to people. And be heard. Do not silence or be silenced.
Is it weird that I am not regretful? Is it weird that I am just thankful I finally figured it out? Occasionally I am slightly upset. Occasionally I am angry. Occasionally I wonder what life would have been like if I had figured things out earlier…but then I would be someone else right now. And I finally really love who I am. Completely and without doubt.
I know I write about a lot of dark topics. Those who know me now, know I am not a dark and gloomy person. I might be a little nutty but I think that is an endearing quality. Right, friends (insert the nervous laughter)? I have finally found myself. I am running and hiking again. Really beyond that in the last 5 years, I have carried my body over more miles than I thought possible. I am painting and drawing again. I don’t get drunk anymore and I don’t miss any part of being drunk. I have my own family now. I have a husband who is the best partner in life. He gets it. The people I surround myself with are really awesome, good people and they like this real version of me. Life is not always easy. Sometimes it is painfully hard but the difference is now I am happy and I know I am exactly where I need to be and it will always be ok. I can breathe and live and not settle. And the only thing that hurts my heart more than anything, is knowing how many of you reading this right now long to feel this way. I know how you feel. I remember. You can feel this way. I promise you that you can. It isn’t easy but you will be ok. More than ok. Acknowledge your past but do not let it define you.
Please remember that you are NEVER alone. You are important and loved.
If you need to talk to someone right now, here are some resources that can help.
RAINN-National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE (4673)
National Domestic Abuse Hotline: 800-799-7233
National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255