A blogger I follow recently wrote for the first time about the abuse she experienced growing up. For 30 years she’s managed to shove it beneath the surface of her life without ever talking about it or addressing it. And she has done an amazing job of it. Despite those damaging experiences, she is a happily married mother, a successful medical doctor, and a witty and gifted writer. But the past finally caught up with her and through a series of unexpected events involving helping an exchange student, she recently found herself no longer able to avoid venturing into the murky, uncharted waters of her past.
Venturing in is terrifying. It’s painful. And it’s scary to let oneself be vulnerable, but it is absolutely requisite for healing. I know, because I’ve been there myself.
I rarely comment on blog posts, but I felt like I should respond to her courageous post with some of my thoughts. Little did I know how much they’d resonate with her. That she’d print them out and highlight parts and carry them around with her. That when she wakes up in the night in a panic, she’d reread those words to calm herself down. She shared how much she appreciated the support and insights as she embarks on this path.
She is not LDS, in fact I believe she’s an atheist, so my comments don’t get into the role the atonement plays in overcoming hard things, but I know there are countless people who’ve had similar struggles, who may be in need of a boost right now. So it is with that premise that I share the comment I wrote to her that day. And I apologize for its length, but I felt impressed that this is a discussion that may benefit some readers of this blog, too.
You’ve been in my RSS feed for years and years, and I almost never comment. But these two posts merit it. I just didn’t have sufficient time when I read your first one.
I’m probably just a little bit ahead of you, on the same road. I felt paranoid for years that if people knew about my past, that it would mean all the horribleness I had inside me would be actually true. That I was really just an impostor in my own life, faking being awesome (and doing a poor job of it mostly).
I’d spent considerable energy growing up trying to be accepted, to figure out how to be popular, become someone else–anyone else–just as long as it wasn’t “that girl”, the one that had experienced those things. I was in huge denial about my reality. Experiencing these things resulted in me being one of those easy-targets at school and elsewhere, including my church. I didn’t know why my peers were so mean. They just were. One therapist explained that kids are like sharks…they smell blood in the water and sense an easy target; going in for the kill is almost instinctual. Maybe that’s it, but either way, between home, school and church I was neglected, abused, bullied, beat up, ridiculed and shunned as a kid. Early on I came to believe I was as ugly and worthless as “they” claimed.
But I survived, and once I left home I met a really wonderful guy and while he seemed to be aware of a lot of my loose ends, he truly loved me anyway (we’ve been together for 25 years now). For the first time I had a relationship that was “safe”, and thus I was able to stop expending energy trying to maintain my facade, and use it to start healing.
Over time, I have learned that not all therapists are created equal. It took seeing about ten of them over the past 25 years to realize that. I didn’t know how helpful a therapist could be til I found one that actually was, and that has made ALL the difference. I’m growing and healing so much faster now. There is an end in sight to all of this. In the past I talked for the 50 minutes, paid my $100 and left. There wasn’t a whole lot of insight or progress and I assumed I’d probably need help forever. Find a therapist who does more than listen and ask how does that make you feel? A good girlfriend will do that for you for free
Writing, especially in your case where you’ve been doing so anonymously all these years, should be really helpful not only to you, but to a number of your myriad readers. And that feels REALLY great, to know that some good will come out of this by way of helping other people get through their own pain. You’ve already experienced a taste of that with the exchange student. You are brave and strong and good and amazing and funny and talented and have an excellent support network, so I’m confident you will be able to go through this journey and emerge stronger and even more amazing, with wisdom and perspective to help others you encounter. It won’t make the bad stuff good, but it creates beauty from ashes.
Life isn’t fair. Sometimes it’s sad. Not just for people who’ve been abused, but for every one of us. Learning to take the sad moment and grieve the pain, but not let it become a cesspool you hang out in, is one of the keys. What we dwell on, we dwell in. So give yourself the moment, cry the tears, allow the pain to vent, and carry on. It’s part of the grieving process…which is really what this is all about; acknowledging what happened, how it has made you feel and impacted your life, putting things in perspective, letting go and moving forward.
Sounds easy on paper. It’s actually a cyclical journey that takes time, with progress and setbacks all along the way. But meanwhile you are making the world a better place just by being in it and not perpetuating those things upon the next generation.
The thing that tipped me, that finally gave me the courage to address my own past, was Jeanette Wall’s best-selling memoir The Glass Castle. It kind of gave me a map. Before reading it, I thought that if my past were true, (ie: if I acknowledged it), it would mean I really was damaged goods, worthless, and no one would want to be friends with me. I didn’t want to be labeled victim. I didn’t want to hang out with victims or be classified as in that “group”. I didn’t want that to become my identity.
But when I read her story, I closed the book wishing we were real life friends. I didn’t view her as a victim, or surviver, or anything other than one dang amazingly cool person that I’d really enjoy knowing and being friends with. And then it occurred to me that maybe that’s how others would feel about me. That I wouldn’t have to be known as a “surviver of abuse”. So it changed my life, reading her story. I hope that I can share my own story someday, and if it helps even one other person heal the way Mrs. Wall’s book helped me, it’ll have been worth it.
Here are links to a few things I had never learned about that were complete surprises to me: Boundaries. Hadn’t really heard about them, nor were they in place in my life–that’s been a huge one. Co-dependence…which is when I allow someone else’s behavior to dictate my own…was also huge. The Drama Triangle–learning about it enabled me to stop playing the game. And finally, Detachment, and forming healthy attachments. These ideas are all connected, and there is an abundance of information about all of them a google-search away. The goal is to be a healthy, kind, loving person. There were some skills and information I needed to acquire to get there, and these are a few of the main ones.
Thanks for sharing your story, and for being beautiful and good and strong even though you had a crap hand dealt to you as a kid. That isn’t who you are and doesn’t have to define you. And this will be one of those things that, someday, is a mere blip in your life…just like high school was actually just one piece in the puzzle of your life. It probably seemed so HUGE! and SIGNIFICANT! when you were in it, but looking back, it’s now something you sum up in a sentence or two. It’s not who you are. All of these are just experiences that impacted you in various ways, but they don’t define you in the long run.
Thanks for the inspiration you’ve given me all these years, and hang in there. The light will come!
This is a big topic, and we can continue the discussion in future posts if there is interest. Do you have any thoughts or insights you’d like to share? Are there any ideas you’d like to delve into more? Have you or someone you know struggled with similar things?