“That’s the thing about pain, it demands to be felt.”Augustus Waters from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
I am here today to tell you that for me, pain was just the beginning. My story is my burden to carry for the rest of my life, but I refuse to keep it hidden any longer. No matter what my abusers have done to try and shut me up, or pretend it never happened, I am still here, and I am stronger than I have ever been before. I have crawled from the bottom of some very dark places to be here and it is not over yet. I am still fighting to keep my voice, but I promise you and I promise myself that I am never going to give that up again.
First, let me introduce you to my original self. As a young child, I brought life to my family. I’ve been told that I would make people laugh and was full of joy and hope. One of the most distinct memories I have from my early childhood was playing in the local park on school breaks. They were short 30-minute breaks, where I remember being that young innocent girl who was so trusting and naïve. I was able to enjoy the moments and my life, without a worry in the world. This was the girl I was before the age of nine, and the girl I longed to be again for years to come.
When I was nine years old, everything changed. A young man close to my family began molesting me the summer I turned nine. The once trusting young girl was replaced with a sad, distrusting child, filled with self-hatred and low self-esteem. In the years that followed, I was betrayed time and time again by people close to me. I was used and abused by people that I looked up to, older people who should have known better, and I didn’t know how to say no. I was told that it was “just experimenting”, and that it was “normal for boys to do”. I was conflicted, and an indoctrinated sense of duty towards men kept me from being able to say no.
I had no one that I could confide in about what was happening, and the guilt felt as though it rested all on me. Fear of harsh punishment, being called a liar, or worse, stopped me from telling anyone. I felt trapped in my own body and wanted to escape it all. There I was, alone in the midst of a crowd; I was hurting and afraid, with nowhere to turn. All I longed for was to be seen. I wanted someone to look me in the eyes, see my pain, and reach out to me. I begged God to take the pain away and to make it all stop. I cried myself to sleep and prayed that I could go back to the innocent young girl I once was. Yet, night after night, I fell prey to the abuse and went to bed hating myself and the body I was captive to all the more. I fought with all the strength I could muster to hold on to what was left of that happy innocent girl I used to be, afraid that if I lost all the pieces of her, I wouldn’t be me anymore.
Years went by like this, and when it finally stopped, I found that I had forgotten how to breathe. I was a teenager by now, and all the feelings the abuse had awoken in my body made me unable to forget. I did everything I could to be what I considered “normal”, which was really just code for innocent. I wanted to forget all that my eyes had seen and all that had been done to me. I reached out for friends, surrounding myself with people in an attempt to silence my own pain. I would have given anything to be like some of my friends that didn’t have a care in the world. I worked hard to make sure I blended in with them, and made my family believe I was living a happy life. Under the surface the pain never went away, and my self-hatred grew stronger. If only I had said no, if only I hadn’t let them touch me. Then maybe I would be free from the guilt and I would be worthy of love and belonging. I showed the world false strength during the day and at night I would lie in bed and cry.
Work, as a coping mechanism started when I was twelve. I would garden, work at a bed and breakfast, in an office, or any other odd jobs I could get. I would work as much as possible while in school and every summer. After I graduated, I used my year off to work overtime as much as possible, and I continued to use work, friends, and other things to occupy my time. Yet nothing could fill the void or take away the pain and self-hatred that had ahold of me to my core.
In one of my first relationships, I began seeing a man who had been my best friend, a man that I trusted with my life. I was fragile and broken even more than I understood. He didn’t know how to help me or give me the support that I needed, let alone how to treat me because of my abuse history. He did the best that he could, but in his weakness, he hurt me too. Yet again, I found myself betrayed by someone I trusted, someone that I had allowed into my corner and bared my soul to, and I was devastated. My heart was ripped in two, but I couldn’t even blame him. I understood how someone could fall out of love with me, and I didn’t blame him for giving up on me. I never imagined some nine months later, that I would break all over again with suppressed memories and more pain resurfacing.
In the last four years, I have hit absolute rock bottom several times, and have learned a lot about myself. In moments I didn’t know how I could possibly go on, I focused on one step at a time even if it meant I had to crawl. I chose to leave the place I once called home and lost countless people in the process. I found the courage to tell my family the truth of what happened all those years ago, and the strength to report my abuser. I found myself, amongst the rubble of my broken and crumbling life, and I learned the importance of courage. After giving up all that I once thought to be true, I have been working hard, piece by piece, to rebuild my faith and relationship with God on the truth of what I believe.
Most importantly, in these last few years, I have found my voice and some meaning to why this all happened. I have channeled my pain and the abuse of my past into empathy and compassion, both in my personal life and my life as a nurse. I have found much strength in this, and I thank God for the pain that has enabled me to be strong for others like I needed someone to be strong for me. I have held friends as they cried and told me their stories, and I have sat up late talking with others, supporting them, and letting them know that they are not alone. In a world where I have spent most of my life trying to be someone else, I have finally found beauty in being me.
My journey is far from over, and my struggles may never end. Yet I know that in the midst of all my pain, there is beauty rising from the ashes, and that beauty is me. I am still standing, still fighting for who I am and what I believe, and I will keep fighting until the day I die. The pain of abuse doesn’t go away with time, and healing doesn’t happen overnight. No matter how many times I am knocked down, I will rise. No matter how strong the forces around me, the force within me is stronger. Healing will be a lifelong journey, but I am proud to tell you that this is my story and I am no longer a victim, but I am a survivor. A survivor who is strong and beautiful and still fighting every single day to stay true to myself and what I believe in.
In closing, if you have ever been abused, know that you are not alone. There are so many of us, and silence is deafening. In your own time, and in your own way I hope that you find your voice and the courage to share your story. You are strong, and you are brave for the battles you fight every day that others may not know about. Healing is not linear and moving forward takes time. Know that I am a safe person to talk to, and I will do what I can to support you.