I think it was when I started looking at the whole story, not just my story, that the power inside me changed. Before then, I had been heavy with a thick pain that draped over me and seeped inside me, half protecting me, half torturing me. At night I’d cry myself to sleep and then cry myself awake as the flashbacks of abuse, neglect and cataclysmic events were stuck on repeat daily, almost hourly. My traumatic memories raced and raged on a continual loop for years not just haunting me, but devouring me.
No matter how I tried to distract myself, my past would randomly reshow me only the painful parts of each story. One minute I’d be making dinner and suddenly recall when my mother called me for Christmas one year to tell me she wished she had an abortion and how much of a failure I was to her and how ashamed she was of me. I’d turn the stereo on to drown it out only to flash back to a different time when I was given a ride home because my friends left me at a club and I was nearly raped. Then onto another time when I was nearly raped by my roommate then flashed to when my ex dumped me and kicked me out because me having cancer was inconvenient to him. I got so upset I developed Shingles from the stress realizing I was likely to be homeless. Then a flash forward to where the mother of a different ex was trying to get me to live in a halfway house because I had no where else to go.
I could remember everything about that place. I could remember how incredibly clean the kitchen was, the faded Antonia Vella Damask wallpaper, and all of the rules. Above that, I remember how sad it must have been for them to see me bald, covered with petechiae and adorn with a large port coming from my chest for my routine blood transfusions. They did seem relaxed by the time they introduced me to Christina, my soon to be raging alcoholic and meth user roommate. They very seriously and calmly explained why I had to keep my cancer medication locked in a separate room and that I’d have to memorize the combination to the safe because they had to protect the safety of the others living there. I also remember how ashamed Christina was to meet me knowing I was dying from something I wasn’t causing myself, while she had spent years trying to kill herself by her bad choices. I remember the look on her face as she sat on her bed staring at me looking as though she realized her problems weren’t so bad after all. Then I’d flash onto something else.
I had so many bad things happen over the course of my life I was sure I’d be lost forever. People didn’t come to see me nor did they call me. They certainly weren’t going to help me. I was totally alone and completely destitute. How could I really expect to recover when I felt I had nothing to live for? The people I had experienced in my life either wanted to take advantage of me or mistreated me and I certainly didn’t want to run out and meet new people with the level of disappointment I had already experienced. I had no faith in anyone. Not even myself. Then I started to piece more things together and started examining the people who had caused me pain.
While I wish it was self compassion or understanding that helped me turn a corner, it wasn’t. It was the seduction of righteousness. I had been so focused on how much I had cared about them and how hurt I was, I never took into consideration as to what kind of people they were, how many opportunities I gave them that they wasted, or how many years I had spent crippled because of their selfishness. Realizing this made me incredibly angry. I was angry at them for how they had unjustly treated me. I was angry at myself for how I had undermined my abilities, completely lost sight of myself and felt I was totally inadequate, ugly, and a loser in life. I have never been more grateful for my anger. I had used it to turn my feelings of shattered vulnerability and helplessness into control and personal power. All this time I wasn’t plaguing myself with my shame, I had been plaguing myself with their shame. They had made bad choices in which I had suffered, not just in that specific period of time, but it bled into everything else I had touched or strived for. Those failures would distinctly remind me to stop trying so I could prevent making a fool of myself, but all I was doing was limiting my opportunities and building from pain and not purpose.
Being enveloped with rage sparked new energy in me. Right or wrong it’s what I needed at the time. Powerlessness left me in poverty, damaged my health, and tricked me into devaluing my worth. I had been wronged in every angle of my life and I knew in order to break out of my coffin, I had to discover what talent or qualities I possessed. My odds of having stable employment, food, good medical insurance and reliable transportation were extremely low since all I had worked for up to that point and been lost due to my illness. I knew I’d have to be strategic, disciplined and very focused for a long time in order to transform the rot that had been buried inside me into a seed. No motivational quote or inspiring YouTube video was going to be enough to keep me on task or start believing in myself. I needed something much bigger. I need a plan.
I started with a plan for how I’d be able to work and finish school. I determined how much money I’d have to make to pay bills and still get good grades. I learned how to care for my body on a budget and became extremely resourceful. I was going to do whatever I could to win. I would sleep in my car sometimes while I worked two jobs while going to college. I would stay up for 24 hours straight sometimes completing school work. I would also learn new methodologies for my career so I could be indispensable and desirable. Since I still had chemo brain while I was learning new skills, I’d put them on flash cards all around my home and in my car. I’d learned how to care for my gut health so I could stop taking immunosuppressant medication. I learned how to dress, act and negotiate so that I could get opportunities. I learned how to be strategic and resilient. I learned how to outperform my peers so I could have more stable employment. I was better than the hand I had be dealt in life. I was smarter, braver, more together, healthier, and more talented than I had been told I was. So are you.
I still have flashbacks. I still doubt myself and have my insecurities but I have a whole host of successes to battle those haunting nightmares. It’s never been about my problems. It is, however, about how I face those problems and if I cherish my life or if I feel trapped within it. I had to learn how to build myself and blossom while being totally clueless and helpless. I find people who’ve had more fortunate lives fail to understand that those of us who’ve grown up with abuse and neglect have our nagging self-hatred to continue to hold us back no matter how angry we get or how much we try to forget our past.
We have to learn that hopelessness is a type of addiction that we cause ourselves. The whispers of insignificance stopped when we left our toxic environments. We are the ones continuing to play the record of those bad moments and they, in turn, are our bad choices driving bad behaviors. In order to make those records stop, we have to very seriously and calmly take a hard look at ourselves and consider who we want to pull the strings in our own lives. That’s the other side of the story I was missing and that you may be missing too. The story of how I didn’t protect myself, didn’t arm myself, didn’t notice those who were abusing me weren’t people whose opinions should matter in my life, that I had chose pride instead of learning coping skills, that I was taking all the responsibility and blame when there was more than just my story to consider. Me being stuck on a singular self was my own personal poison, which left me in the same boat of addiction as Christiana after all. I hope this causes you to look into your own stories and see what versions you’ve been playing all these years and leaving stuck on repeat.