I often forget how long and hard life has been to get where I am today. The many sleepless nights, pain, shame, isolation, and sacrifice I’ve gone through. Did you know there are about 10,950 days in 30 years? Ten thousand days is an awfully long time to experience dark times. Often, I have to remember the things I have today, are things I earned by myself. No parents, no husband, no in-laws, no family, no extended family, it was just me, giving everything I had, just to get to average.
I felt very entitled to my anger and rage and used that to keep me focused on goals plenty of times, but that anger, just like my trauma, hurt me far more than it helped me. By people not genuinely caring for me on top of the abuse I suffered, I became progressively more bitter and hopeless. At one time, I was so bruised by my trauma, I couldn’t seem to look past it even when good things happened. I would be so worried the other shoe was going to drop that I couldn’t enjoy even a moment, truly. At eighteen I was tired and by nineteen, I was fully exhausted working two full-time jobs to survive on my own.
I did have my freedom, and that was worth all of the struggle I was enduring. I remember one day, I was so exhausted and sleep deprived, getting ready for work at 2 a.m. It was completely quiet and still. Not a siren, a car horn, a bird or bug made a sound which allowed me to focus all of my energy on my memories, which immediately got the best of me and so I quickly spiraled into depression. I stood in the doorway, keys in hand, hungry, feet and legs swollen, so sad that the world had failed me. At that moment I realized I’d likely struggle for the rest of my life. I was basically surviving on caffeine pills while my friends were in college and starting their lives. I decided then I deserved a life of luxury and I would work as hard as I could until I could achieve that. Not in the way of designer goods (although I do sincerely love them) or expensive vacations. I wanted to be able to afford therapy if and when I needed it, that if my car broke down I could afford to have it fixed, and to never have to work two jobs again to survive. I never wanted to go to a laundromat again or worry if I’ll be able to take care of myself in the future. But as I stood there, struggling to walk to my car, crying, I knew I was a long way from reaching that dream.
People tend not to talk about the aftercare of abuse when you have to make it on your own from absolute zero. I read that if you come from poverty that half of those who get out of poverty will become poor again within 5 years (see: https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/30636/411956-Transitioning-In-and-Out-of-Poverty.PDF) Odds are you’ll go back into poverty more than once in your lifetime. It was one thing to go through what we went through. The bargaining, the pleading, the shaming, the blaming, the beatings, and worse, just to be forgiven for wrongs we didn’t commit or for the hope of gaining love from the people who birthed us, but, now we go into the world, completely unprepared, and very damaged. At least I was. Now, I had to not only repair all of the damage that I suffered at the hands of someone else, but now I have to struggle and put myself through a new series of pure hell in hopes of making it out ‘ok’. So, you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t agree with the concept ‘forgiveness.’
Whomever came up with this idea that I am to be the bigger person and wipe the slate clean, in my opinion, was overly optimistic. I think that’s impossible and I, and you, and all the millions of other victims should not feel obligated or ashamed that we can’t ‘forgive’ our abusers. They wronged me and affected me for my entire life in every decision and in every relationship. I had to rebuild myself because of them. So….they will remain accountable for that. The trauma didn’t make me ‘stronger’ it’s trauma. It crushed me. It made me think I was worthless, ugly, fundamentally flawed and unlovable. I am in no way ‘grateful’ for that set of experiences.
Now, I don’t want to carry the pain of what they did to me and I realize I’m supposed to forgive for my benefit and not for theirs but, I want the power I lost to be restored back to me that they took from me, so I can’t give that. What I refuse is, to be haunted by the pain of what happened or triggered by it. When I see a little girl on T.V. getting her degree and her parents are so proud of her, watching as she walks down the stage to get her degree, I don’t want to break down into tears. Nor do I want to be triggered by rude people who dismiss me when I speak because my parents didn’t respect me so, in those areas, I would let go. Eagerly.
One of my greatest strengths at the time was my ability to disassociate during a traumatic event. It was one of my greatest survival skills, but because of it, I’d also forget important events or memories. It was a great way to avoid conflict but, certainly not a healthy one. Would you say ‘well, the past is the past and we both learned from it,’ and move on? Because I refuse. What I’d rather do is not live with the haunting memories they gave me and the damage they gifted me with. The pressure of guilt and shame that constantly presses on my mind each time I make an empowering decision feels crushingly selfish since my abusers told me it was and I have been conditioned to believe them. Society also says to ‘forgive’ and it’s just not that simple especially when you’ve had a lot of abuse for a very long time.
In reality, I should love and value myself. Once I started to learn healthy loving behavior such as: before I react, think about it from another person’s perspective or, I do this thing where I immediately say ‘what if they were abused just like you were abused?’ before I get upset and it helps calm me down, then I ask myself the following questions: 1. What would be the best case scenario outcome here? Is the best case mainly or only benefitting me? If so, then I need to better consider them and I’m being selfish. 2. Why am I setting unrealistic expectations for myself? What would be a realistic expectation? You can go above and beyond but make a truly sustainable goal (not a low goal but a reachable one like: “I will go back to College could be the big goal, but today’s goal will be I will explore college prices. Tomorrow’s will be I will look at the curriculum for my major and see how I’d balance that with my daily life,” and so on). 3. How healthy are my boundaries and how much self respect do I show myself? Meaning, do I often excuse their behavior making it seem ok for them to continue or continue to steal my voice? This isn’t about reshaping you or ‘making you the best version of yourself.’ This is about making you see you are the best version and finally seeing that. How dare we love ourselves like our abusers loved us. We have just prolonged that toxic behavior we hate them for and used it on ourselves. That was something I pieced together and that had a profound effect on me. No therapist could give me that. I gave me that. I also taught myself other coping skills. As a result, I was able to stop being haunted by my past so much. I still have rough days and flashbacks since I have Complex PTSD but they aren’t heavy like they were, nor frequent.
Today I live a comfortable life. What I mean by this is most of my days are actually happy, not concerned with being unemployed, not angry, not triggered, and I’m positive about the future. I don’t have suicidal thoughts or major depression, most days. Even when I write I don’t feel ‘cathartic.’ I don’t feel pain when I talk about it and I’ve also learned boundaries and how to respect myself. I’m not broken or secretly emotional. That to me is incredibly empowering and ways I know I’ve healed. In any case, just because I didn’t forgive them doesn’t mean I’m holding onto rage or hate or secret anger. It means I don’t trust them, I won’t have a relationship with them and I will never say what they did was ok. I will also never say ‘people make mistakes it’s ok’ when it’s not. They have access to help and should have gotten it and the still have time to get it and aren’t getting it. That is a choice and they choose their pride over loving me and I choose loving myself and the people worth loving in my life over them and the shitty toolkit they gave me to ‘live.’ I want to live on my terms. I don’t hate them, I just don’t want them to be a part of my life, even if they’re family. Blood is only an obligation if you let it be an obligation.
They can eat at any table they’d like, but they are not welcome at mine. All I’m doing in addition is ensuring they don’t impact my dining experience by learning the other tools and resources so I don’t get mad or feel rushed to leave as soon as I see them. I’ll be damned if I get so angry that I think about it all night and tell my friends about it the next day and then deal with flashbacks of trauma they caused just from the mere site of them. That’s an entire 24 hours of wasted energy on what? At one point I loved them and supported them. I had put so much energy and hope into them I had changed my own behavior as if I was the problem. If I could believe in them for even one day thinking they would change and become decent people, I thought, can believe in myself long enough to learn some better habits so I’m not feeling this way. Which is what I chose.
Don’t feel ashamed or guilty if you also aren’t bought into ‘forgiveness.’ You aren’t alone in that, by any means. You’re entitled to your feelings and you take all the time you need in your healing. I do urge you however, to do some simple math and count how many days you’ve been in a dark place to see if you’re ready to work on the pain that’s haunting you. If you are, then look into worksheets and resources in the ‘Level Up’, ‘Coping Skills’ section within this website. The resources are totally free. If not, take all the time you need. Your life is your life and the rules in how you live it are only up to you. There is this one quote I really love that goes, “I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire around me by Joshua Graham.” Find your voice when you’re ready, and when you do, I hope you shout it from the rooftops because, I and many others like me, will be listening.