One of the saddest things about abuse is that even after you get out of the abusive situation, or away from your abuser–if you are lucky enough to do so– life doesn’t just go back to the way it was beforehand. It’s not like waiting out a thunderstorm so that you can play outside again…even when the clouds move on and the sun shines, life doesn’t continue the way it did before the storm. Instead, surviving abuse is like getting through a storm, only to find that the dark clouds move from the sky around you, to form a squall within your own head.
For me, through the worst parts of the abuse, I simply prayed to stay alive. I prayed to live through the day, through the night, through another week until I could make it to the day when I got my life back. I was one of the fortunate ones. I did get out. I got away from my abuser. And I got back to my life, only to find that when I did, I was no longer in it.
The person I had been before; the happy kid, the carefree and wild and innocent girl who wore bright orange spandex to field hockey practice the first day the temperature dropped below 30 degrees and pretended to fall flat on her face while walking in the middle of a crowded mall because her best friend bet she wouldn’t; the girl with that huge, ridiculous smile on her face that radiated from her fingers to her toes…..she was gone. Looking back, I watch the process: the slow stripping of confidence, the way my abuser etched away at the strong personality I was unaware anyone could touch, piece by piece, combined with my own desperate attempt to rid my body of any semblance of feeling, all burying me as far away as possible and leaving nothing more than an empty shell to take my place.
I’m not sure, really, where the weight of the destruction lies for each individual victim. For me it was shame. Shame; that shut me up, that kept me smiling just the way I had always smiled, and forbid me from ever trusting myself again. The type of shame that clouded me from seeing anything beyond the distorted view of what had happened. The type of shame that never let things be anyone else’s fault other than mine. The type of shame that made me hate the sound of my own voice, the glimpse of my own reflection, and made the thought of letting the girl I was close enough to see the girl I had become, unbearable.
It took me years to realize that the shame I felt, was given to me– wrapped nicely in a pretty package that looked a lot like love, and even after I broke myself from my abuser’s hold, I still held the shame he left behind and thought it was my own.
So….how do we get our lives back? How do we find our way back to the person we were before the abuse and merge the pieces of ourselves together? I’ve spent most of the past few years since becoming a victim, convinced that I am serving a life sentence while my abuser walks free; wishing for some outline of steps to follow to get back to the person I lost and to figure out who I am now, but willing to settle for knowing that any of this is even possible; all of which leaves me wanting to scream out to someone, anyone: Am I even heading in the right direction? Will I ever get to the end of all of this….will I ever be ok again???!?!
And then, ever so slowly, it begins to come back; tiny flecks of me that force their way through the numbness and the fear. For me, this process started by chipping away at the shame the same way my abuser chipped away at me. Piece by piece. So slowly that I’m sometimes not aware that I am making any change, but as I look back I can see how far I have come. I don’t have to be the abuse. I am not the crazy jealous rage. I am not the assault. I am not a lie.
And I realize, that although I prayed for my innocence and naivety back, I now have a deeper awareness in my own ability to make an educated decision based on what I want; although I wished to disappear from it all, I now see the strength I earn from fighting through; although I swore that no one would ever understand, I now have a better understanding for other victims; although I cursed the years I lost because of abuse, I now appreciate every moment of my life I have; although I wanted to hate a world with so much pain, I am surprised by how much love surrounds me.
I am more than what someone tried to make me. I am more than just a girl left alone on her floor. I am more than an empty shell, a sleepless night, a silenced voice. I am more than what has happened to me.