I wrote this piece a few years ago now and pulled it out again about a week ago because it still holds a lot of relevance. I recall not wanting to post it publicly at the time of it’s original inception for fear of upsetting family members or friends. But really, I didn’t write it for them, or even specifically about them, I wrote it for me.
I have to preface this by saying that some things have changed since I wrote this. I do wake up and have the ability to smile and feel happy now, at least a lot more often than I used to. Change is just slow and has been slow, but it is ongoing. It’s likely to be a long road and this personal article was certainly part of the journey that I now feel ready to share.
I wake up every day fearful, anxious and unable to smile anymore. Not like I used to. And if I’m honest with myself, I can’t remember a time in my life when that was a constant. I’m not depressed, and I don’t have any serious mental disorders or illnesses. Unless you count the associated insomnia, anxiety and social issues I have as a result of ongoing emotional distress that has been a constant for the majority of my life.
I lived through a mentally and physically abusive relationship for the better part of a decade. That in itself seems staggering to me when I actually write it down. I thought I could make things better. I thought I could fix things. Things that weren’t even my fault to start with. But I was made to feel responsible for all of the dysfunction and issues within that relationship. Nothing I ever did was good enough, or right. I was useless, worthless, ugly, terrible in bed, fat, stupid. Name the put downs and names called and I’ve heard it all. I’ve been beaten, chased with various weapons, had my life threatened on multiple occasions, suffered various injuries external and internal. Of course, I’m aware that I am not unique in that way. Thousands of people the world over have lived through similar situations and are living with them as I write this. But, I had very few friends, a family that was absent by way of emotional support and little else outside of this man, and so I stayed with it because that is just what one does. Or at least as far as I understood it, by example.
The why and how I ended up living in such a toxic environment for my well being, mentally and physically began as a child. I grew up with an emotionally stunted parent who taught me by-proxy that this behavior and acceptance was normal. And she herself had come from a very broken, abusive home, so it’s more than likely that she was taught the same, inadvertently. I don’t blame her entirely. I just recognize things for what they are, now that I’m old enough to sit down and take stock of my life, past and present.
In my household, abuse was the standard. It was normal. In all kinds of forms. Psychological, emotional, mental, physical. Fear, combined with a lack of self esteem, self worth and hypocrisy really reigned supreme. In truth, it still does.
Whether by example, or just simply for the fact that she couldn’t cope and was seeking to self-medicate, my sister became a drug addict for the last several years of her life. She was mentally unwell, undiagnosed of course for anything outside of depression, but she didn’t really cope with life, period. She’s at rest now. She died suddenly almost 6 years ago now and I miss her every single day. Mostly, I wish I could tell her that I understand. I truly understand at least some of what she was going through.
I’m not going to post my entire life story here because nobody needs to hear it in grotesque detail, but I want to make a point.
Abuse is not just physical.
It is still abuse if:
The incidents of physical abuse seem minor.
You are made to feel dominated and powerless to even make simple decisions such as how to run your life on a day to day basis.
You are made to feel bad about yourself or defective in some way.
You feel out of control and unable or fearful about making your own decisions.
You are made to feel as if you are ‘crazy’ or ‘out of your mind’, and that you are not ‘normal’.
There has not been any physical violence.
I am tired. I am afraid. I am insignificant. I am worthless. I can’t do anything right. I am a failure.
I don’t actually believe these things but I have lived with these labels for such a long time that I have to remind myself on a daily basis that I am strong, I am significant, I do the best with the hand I have been dealt and most importantly – I am a survivor.
The cycle ends today, for me. Enough, is enough. If I don’t end it myself and acknowledge and make steps to advocate positive change for the future, then the next generation of this family will continue the cycle instead, whether consciously or unconsciously.
If you are being abused, or know somebody who is, speak up, reach out. You’re not alone. There is hope. It seems like a small light at the end of a long, dark tunnel, but it is there.