She hides behind her smile, her insides riddled with anxiety, her breath shortens while her chest is tight and yet you can’t fathom how deep her troubles run. She disguises it well from the outside world while she fights to get up and face another day.
This friend of yours shares a story with you, one where you aren’t sure if she’s referring to herself or something she’s read, but suddenly you realize, it is in fact her horrific experience. As you continue to politely listen, the shock and disbelief well up. The pain grows in her heart, the agony dims the light in her eyes and as you watch, her body physically changes. She speaks more words, you become uncomfortable and though you don’t mean to, you interrupt her flow with your concerned opinion. Suddenly she turns the faucet off, chokes back her tears and shuts back down. She is experiencing a trigger from a deep gaping wound. Voiceless again, she shoves that secret back down to where it lives.
You didn’t mean to create this reaction. How could you know that this friend standing in front of you has such inner turmoil erupting inside of her? She took a chance on you, trusting you to just hear her cries and take her seriously without judgement or condemnation. So often when she has a moment of bravery and courage to reach out, she does so with the hope of being heard, believed and understood. She hesitates, even retracts some of the information and begins trivializing it once more.
She didn’t “know better”. She struggles with confusion and retraces her steps over the years of abuse. How could she be so trusting, so naive, as she beats herself up now too, feeling so dumb. Over time, she disappeared, even to herself. The coercion and insidiousness of what had become her life, though a little more behind her, the pain engulfs her and she desperately fights to overcome. Her friends observe from their perspective., “She’s a survivor. She’s resilient. She’s strong”. You think you see her solutions and without meaning to, the accusations fly; “if she would just abc, xyz”. “This again?” “Are you still talking about HIM/that?!” These are the worst things you can say to her. All of your well intended thoughts would cause her to retreat back to her darkness where she resides with those secrets that whittle her away.
Never dismiss her need to keep talking. There’s more that keeps emerging with every passing day as she fights for the freedom of her soul. This isn’t one of those things she can keep ignoring and hope it dissipates on its own. No, the poison has to come out with the fear from her oppression. One day you will notice the light returning to her spirit and you’ll know she is healing. Meanwhile, hear her, hug her, just be there.
They have all loved her through the battles they can see, but can you with the ones invisible to you? Is it unconditional or based on her doing what makes you more at ease? She keeps wrestling with the lies she’s been told and the battles still to overcome, wondering if there’s truth to any of it. She is telling you in her own way of her broken spirit, her beaten body, her shame, her wounds, her hurt and her survival. What she doesn’t realize is, she’s truly revealing that she is a conqueror, but she has no idea, not yet. She is still coming out of the affects of his gas lighting leaving her to think maybe she is crazy, but she’s not.
There are days she believes what you dear friend tell her with your uplifting words, but when she needs to run the thread down to the core of its root, listen compassionately, respond with love, offer the gift of your presence and allow her the dignity to process and time she needs to get to the other side. The only way for her to get through it, is to go through it, one hour, one day at a time.
When she comes to you, her heart in her hands, be the light in her darkness and a dose of love because she is running on empty. In doing this, you have given her a gift she will cherish and it reminds her she has another fight left in her…
When she was a young girl, before the insidious abuse began, it was just the 3 of them. Her mama would often make her way into the single bathroom they all shared and look in the mirror beside her then 7 year old daughter and smile. “Do you think we look alike?” she would ask. Daughter grinning back at her pretty mama, “yes!” They would giggle and go about their grooming and silliness before the school bell rang and her pretty mama would head off to work. She was learning at a very young age what being a soft, feminine, sweet little girl was by watching and learning from her very young mama. At 26 years old, she was the most beautiful, kind person in this girl’s life. She loved her with all her heart and she knew her mama did too.
They were essentially growing up together, but she also knew that mama was the adult and she had to follow her rules. Her big brother was only 16 months older than her and he loved them both, but somewhere he began growing up faster than she did. Maybe this is what happens to a young man when there isn’t a daddy around. She loved her big brother. They had fun playing outside, riding bikes and skateboards, tossing the football and playing catch. No one ever told her she couldn’t play like the boys and when his friends came over, they didn’t mind having the little sister tag along, much. She had her own friends too, but being with the boys was fun.
As she got a little older, this eventually started to fade. Either way, she was outgrowing them or they quit liking the baby sister hanging around. This is when that new man came into mama’s life and our lives began to turn upside down. Mama gradually stopped visiting her in the bathroom mirror and she was beginning to look elsewhere for validation and approval. She was turning the corner on adolescence when a young lady desperately needed her mama to keep teaching her about being that soft, feminine, young lady she was emerging into. She was losing her, or was mama losing herself?
Her teenage years were approaching and while other girls seemed to struggle with the normal issues of confidence, self esteem and courage, she continued to spiral down in her own self worth and doubt about her appearances. Boys were the topic amongst all these girls she was getting to know in her junior high days and she was becoming more shy with every passing day. Attention she received embarrassed her and she didn’t quite know what to do about it. She secretly had crushes on this boy and that one, but that was all she knew, how to like them, but not talk to them. She was getting good at hiding.
By the time she was in 8th grade, her family had moved to a new area which meant she had to start a brand new school and make new friends. This was especially difficult for the extra quiet and shy girl she had become. He immediately liked the new girl on the block and by that winter had become her first boyfriend. She had gone from admiring boys from afar to holding hands in public and at school with this assertive young man and she liked it. He was well liked and everyone knew him in this tiny little school. She quickly made a handful of new friends and was no longer angry about being uprooted from the only home she had ever known. This didn’t increase her confidence or boost her self esteem, but it did create an addiction to love and affection that would affect her relationships from there on out.
She learned that being with that special someone no matter the cost, was always better than being alone. This was the pattern she had established at the very young age of 15 when they entered their sophomore year in high school still a couple. What can you possibly know at that age? Was being in a committed, long term relationship normal at their age? Apparently to them it was. He told her often of her beauty and built her up the best he could, but she couldn’t receive his words of her external looks when she was fighting an internal battle for so many years now.
This would go on for years to follow, clear into adulthood. Her inner beauty so lacking in the strength and confidence a father typically instills in his little girl early on. Having an absent bio daddy and an abusive, substitute, narcissistic step monster who began objectifying her at age 14, she just wanted to be invisible and she worked hard to succeed at that. Her mama had long since been able to replace any of the hurtful, demeaning words that humiliated her since she herself was suffering most of the abuse from this monster. Her once, beautiful, spirited, lovely mama was just gone. Deep in the pits of despair she was cast and there she remained until her death.
By the time that young lady was married and a mama with 3 babies of her own, she had attempted to follow the beauty regiment she had learned at such a young age. She often recalled those intimate, special moments buried in her memories she shared with her mama. She recoiled at remembering his disturbing leering and twisted innuendos and once again chose to be invisible, rejecting the advances of her own husband and father of her children. Her head was muddled and certainly fucked up as she thought, what sort of woman doesn’t welcome the compliments of her own husband? Surely there is something horribly wrong with me she thought, but still she couldn’t shake off the shivers that haunted her. Don’t look at me, don’t see me and please, whatever you do, just don’t notice me.
It would be years later, five years post divorce that for the first time in her life, there was a man who did in fact, not only notice her and made her tummy flip, she welcomed his advances and wanted him to indeed see her. After the first 6 months or so his love bombing had hooked her so deeply she couldn’t get enough of his attention and longed for more. At some unknown point in time, after all the confidence and uplifting he had poured into her, she had changed her appearance to the point that he took notice of people noticing her and he loved that. As long as she was by his side, protecting her from other men, she felt safe. For the first time in her life, she thought she had been found and actually loved.
A secure sense of belonging overcame her for the first few years. One day she saw something different looking in the mirror at this indescribable image, she no longer recognized the lady looking back at her. The closer she gazed at the reflection, the more distorted and unfamiliar the features became. She had quietly been slipping away and was reverting back to that young girl, desiring nothing more than to be invisible once again. She had become her beautiful, lost mama after all. Fuck.
The compliments and uplifting expressions they keep tossing at her, are words and verbalized observations of her outward appearance. They haven’t matched her inside disturbance since she was that 7 year old, standing next to her mama, staring in the looking glass. Now she says to them…
As if grieving during the painful process of a loss isn’t enough. She thought she had dug her way down to the delusional bottom of the pile and wait, oh yes, there is another heap to dismantle. She had begun to breathe, even find a little peace now and then as she made her way through those still, sometimes agonizing days. She actually found her smile again.
The stages of grief, she can recite those off the top of her head, but more importantly, she understands them when they hit. “Oh, you again, fuck off”, but she didn’t mean it. Embrace each one. Look it square in the face little one. We are survivors, sure, but really, we are resilient fighters and most of all, important as fuck.
She took her almighty shovel out today and said, “alright crap, let’s just see what other bullshit you have for us today” and with one sturdy plunge, the hunt was on. For fuck sake, she thought she had uncovered this one, but there it was in all its glory, hiding like the coward who put it there. “I see you” she said, “and you can no longer hide from me”. As she fought deliberately to force the pile apart, she felt the all too familiar sting of tears welling up in her eyes. What the fuck now? Haven’t we shed enough of these for all we’ve been through girl? As she thought these words to herself, she remembered what she had learned (again) from her oldest, long time friend in her world, “cry till you’re dry honey”. How the fuck is there anything left?
Ah, it was beginning to make sense to her. Every layer has another story to tell and all the cover up is eroding away to tell you what you need to know love, one small piece at a time. We can’t possibly take the 9 years from the most current abuser, the 18 years from the one before and the 10 years from the original source of childhood where it all began and have it magically be healed, over and done with it. It just doesn’t work like that. We have more work to do and so it continues.
Here we stand, together but alone, digging, sifting and sorting through the debris and rubble we have been left with. Let’s call this here, “experience”. Some would rather happily shove this shit under a great big rock and never look at again. Others, like us girl, will not only take it out from the dark place of which it’s been buried, grab the microscope and start the deep internal examination. Let’s call this here, “analysis”. This part of the process will help us determine the “whys, how comes and what for’s”. All the answers to these inquiries are crucial to why the fuck we do what we do, love who we love, follow and attach to what’s familiar, accept the unacceptable and tolerate the intolerable. Let’s call this here, “lessons”. The question that often arises during this portion is, “why is this happening?” When the better, more affective one would be, “what am I getting out of this, what am I learning?” No one wants to believe that the mounds of bullshit they’re uncovering and discovering is actually useful information for their own growth, but it truly is beneficial to the sometimes excruciating, always imperative, healing path.
What we will find next is becoming like a treasure hunt to learning who she really is, on her own, with no other outside influences controlling her thoughts and emotions, her soul and her body, just her and her alone on this fabulous ride called life. Why then does our princess in the story of her newfound life keep bumping up against more wreckage that can sometimes halt her in the middle of the deserted road? She asks herself this often while she keeps pushing on.
It is in the ashes where beauty remains. Yeah, yeah, she has this expression down cold having had her spirit burned to the ground and torn down, both literally and metaphorically. Each time she has risen, more grateful than the time before, but she has grown weary of them all. Let’s call this here, “strength”. “Diamonds are created under pressure and can cut through glass. A mighty oak grows strong in contrary winds. A palm tree might bend but it won’t break.” She often relates herself to these well defined comparisons and smiles, then wonders for how long she must endure and drudge through the remaining piles. It all comes down to educating your brilliant, sweet, smart, feisty ass girl and so she digs a little deeper into the soil of her soul…
Where did you go, she asks herself night after night as the darkness engulfs her every thought with delight.
She reached for him, pulling back an empty sheet. Are you coming home soon, she wonders inside her private, deepest desire. She was sure he’d be here when she woke in the daylight hour.
The sun streamed across her face, kissing her gently and for a moment she smiled thinking it was him, feeling the warmth on her bare skin.
She peeked out of the corner from one eye. A sleepy smile emerging from her lips, it was all but a dream, such a beautiful cry.
He reached over to her side of the bed, wanting desperately to pull her in as he’d done every day for so long, yet when he felt over to the edge pulling back his own empty arm, he awoke more to realize her form truly gone.
He flicked the light on as he’d so often do, read for awhile just to get him through.
Off goes the light with a toss of the tablet and glasses too, sighing a deep groan from his chest, pounding so slow, he lies there and wonders why, trying to rest.
Now separated by his very own hand, she’s nowhere near, lying there without her, both left trying to understand.
Could he have opened himself up to her? Would she have welcomed his heart, he isn’t sure.
So much time has passed them by. Somehow they let it all fade away or wouldn’t continue to try.
Her balance was wobbly, but she didn’t know how to shake it all out. His forceful ways made her afraid, kept her living in fear with so much doubt.
She wouldn’t talk, living in the darkest room, not telling him any truths how deep the loneliness loomed.
Where had he gone, so far out of reach, she imagined he’d grown weary of his baby girl that he’d wanted to teach.
She was so good, exquisite and bright, she knows what the magic 8 ball said in all her glory that night.
He loves her more than he knows. He told her now and then. She sparkles and shines and is light on her toes.
She weeps not for him while she sleeps anymore, but dreams of him nightly, his breath on her neck as he gently grazes her lightly.
His love for her grows a little each day as he figures out what makes him happy and choosing to stay.
The words come freely and rhyme now and then. Love doesn’t cost a thing just to remember when. An easier time has arrived to be who she is. Closing his eyes until he feels her again.
They deserved a better ending after such an epic tale, so she raised her white flag and began to set sail…
Losing sight of that thing that made me smile. Forgetting what it feels like to laugh without explaining the punchline. Stopping to remember how the littlest of things brought a smile to my lips. Quitting on myself when everything I wanted out of life became out of my reach.
Ignoring the words that cut deep inside my heart. Dismissing the aggressive passivity when actions hurt my flesh. Denying the truth when it flashed directly passed my eyes. Lying to myself when I said I wasn’t hurting.
Picking myself back up after the seventh time. Learning that I cannot love too much. Deciding to stop going back to something that remains broken. Choosing me over all else for the very first time.
Mattering more than anything Being exceptional Never being perfect Being exactly who I am
If this is the only day I have, this 24 hours to make choices, to live and to breathe, I think I better choose wisely because tomorrow I may be in a different place.
Today is my day to do what pleases just me. No one to answer to, no one to selflessly serve, no one to have expectations strictly placed on me. What a freedom to breathe, to feel and be still.
On the 3am hour I awoke, just opened an eye to see the clock. Lying there in the dark, I smelled the fresh air drifting in my open window. I heard the rustling of a critter in the crispy leaves below. There was an occasional car passing by the road down the drive. It made me wonder where they were off to, but only for a moment. Suddenly the hoot owl began talking to me too. I drew my attention back to the stillness, to the quiet, peaceful little haven I call mine. Inhaling easily, I relaxed into my freshly fluffed pillow. With the next exhalation I chose to rise and have coffee in my semi dark room and embrace this alone time.
My thinking was remaining in slow gear. This day belongs to me. I asked myself, how do I want to spend it? With another sip of my delicious hot cup of creamy caffeine, I began to think about my life, as I often do. I picked up my phone for a few minutes and scrolled mindlessly through social media for all of 2 minutes. What am I doing? This is never how I want to start my day and I was reminded of my recent, former life. It startled me going down that memory lane. I was reminded of the disconnect between us. His addiction to devices, that essentially was an accessory to the death of our relationship, or at least that was how the demise initially began.
As I allowed my thoughts to wander down that road, I could feel them in my whole body, the discomfort was ruffling while the anxiety tried to bubble up in my throat. Choices, I have them, use them wisely I told my inner being. I took those thoughts captive. I pushed them aside and proceeded to venture my mind down another path, remembering instantly where I was, right here and now, safe, in the presence of my own company, relaxed and breathing.
Taking my last sip I felt sleepy instead of awake. I think I’ll start my day over again. What a concept and, if want to, I can do this all day long. I’m only as happy as I make up my mind to be. (Abraham Lincoln) And with that, I shimmied down beneath my covers, feeling the cool air upon my face, I rolled over and closed my eyes. My mind floating off to a softness of memories. I hear my own voice talking to God, “it’s been awhile since I prayed about him. Won’t you please take the anger in my heart and make it more gentle? It’s only harming me.” Out loud in my noiseless room, I still hear the faint “who, who” from my feathered friend and I ask again why he hurt me, but no words came back to me, not even a small sense of relief, only more questions. This is not how I wish for my day to go. I began to write again while I took notice of my breath and I drifted off to sleep.
It’s a peculiar thing, the brain, how it can reach far back into the cave of darkness and still find the unwanted mess amongst the wet walls, dead lightbulbs and cobwebs. Who stores these things up so tightly and why? What purpose do they keep serving? I’ve convinced myself I need to remember so I won’t forget the wreckage that caused the defeating pain. Isn’t that how I learn my lessons? I’m beginning to doubt, yet here I am, keep on keeping on.
It’s in all the thinking, the clambering of thoughts wrestling around in my head that stirs up emotions from unresolved, unanswered questions, and so, I continue to ask and I continue to wait, maybe even hope for resolutions. Now the coffee kicks in as I stretch beneath my warm covers. A thought forms, the next part of my day emerges as a visual prop, get to the gym girl. Perhaps something revealing will shine down on me there. At least my focus will change with every rep and round…