No one is responsible for your health and wellness except yourself. I can’t fix you. A new boyfriend/girlfriend/husband/wife can’t fix you. Your mom and dad can’t fix you. Your kids can’t fix you. Your best friend can’t fix you. The author of that book or that blog can’t fix you.
The only person who can fix you is YOU, and the route to health and happiness in the aftermath of trauma and abuse is a choice. You are destined to heal yourself…but only if you’re willing to face the truth about yourself.
For many, many years after being abused by my boyfriend when I was 18, I denied myself the truth. I denied I was a victim. I denied I was in pain. I denied I needed help. Why? Because if I had faced all of those truths, I would’ve had to face even tougher truths about myself, like:
- “Why did I feel the need to fix him?”
- “Why didn’t I put my personal safety and happiness before his?”
- “Why did I stop trusting myself and start listening to the ugly lies he told me about myself?”
- “Why didn’t I love myself the way I desired to love myself?”
- “Why did I care more about what others thought of me than what I thought of myself?”
- “Why did I fear failure?”
- “Why did I judge myself so harshly for every small mistake and misstep?”
The list goes on, but you get the idea: I spent years shaming and blaming myself, because I thought my abuser was “sent” to me to punish me for being unaware and unconscious of the indirect and direct harm I was inflicting upon myself and others. Yes. I allowed myself to go there; this distorted view of myself became my excuse for directly and indirectly harming myself and others. Ironic, huh? That which I most feared became my reality.
It’s been 26 years since my 18-year-old boyfriend assaulted me numerous times over numerous occasions. That boy has grown into a true menace, and the system doesn’t seem to know what to do with him. He was arrested last week, the morning after Thanksgiving, his 23rd arrest in Allegany County Maryland since 1990. Yet, the system doesn’t know what to do with him or how to protect and serve its citizens? To me and so many others who know him and have been victimized by him, it seems pretty clear what the system should do. But we’re just this guy’s victims. How reasonable can we possibly be when it comes to making suggestions for his punishment and sentencing? We’re obviously too unstable and unhinged to rationally make recommendations to the system, right?
Part of my story is below, the part involving this criminal. You be the judge. Am I being unreasonable, unfair or somehow imprudent in my quest for justice? Do I seem like a vengeful, jilted lover out to destroy another human being just because my heart was “broken” by him? Are my words tangled and incomprehensible? Do I stutter, mumble or shout incoherently? And do I lose credibility as a “victim” because I’m not demonstrating unstable behavior?
I was 17 when I became a victim. Wow. I don’t like that word…victim. It’s so heavy and weighted. Even now, 25 years after the abuse, I’m unable to accept that, yes, I was a victim.
I was a high school senior, sitting on a full academic scholarship. My abuser was 18, a high-school graduate, trying to break into semi-professional lacrosse. I was impressed by his passion and drive and believed in his potential.
His abuse started in subtle ways. He made strange comments about what I wore, about who my friends were and about my family. He hypocritically judged and shamed me for having sex with him “too early” despite the fact he also participated in having sex with me “too early.” I was baffled he would judge me for doing exactly what he was also doing. It made no sense, and if I made the mistake of pointing this out to him, he’d say things like, “Oh, you think you’re so smart, Little Miss College Girl. You don’t know anything about life. You’re clueless and stupid. One day you’ll find out what life is really all about.”
His comments left me confused, because most of the time he was telling me how pretty and smart I was. How could he simultaneously think I was stupid, too? I was so confused.
Soon, his shaming comments were paired with physical attacks. Like the emotional abuse, the physical abuse began subtly. He’d poke me on my arm or on my forehead as I was talking or expressing an opinion or saying something he didn’t like. Suddenly, the pokes escalated to a shove and a push and then a grab. He grabbed, contained and constrained me from speaking further about whatever it was I was trying to say. My shock and confusion grew. I remember saying, “Why are you grabbing me? No one grabs me and touches me like that! My father doesn’t even grab and touch me like that. What makes you think you can treat me this way?”
His response left me shocked and even more confused. Instead of standing back and apologizing for hurting me, someone he supposedly loved, this 18-year-old boy began to cry, and stories of his childhood abuse came rushing to the surface, spilling out of him as he sobbed. His stories and accounts seemed never-ending. Instead of being hurt and angry with him, I pitied him.
Being locked in a closet for hours and sometimes days. Witnessing his father beat his mother until she bled. Witnessing his brother being terrorized. Being beaten senselessly with a belt or a bat or a pot or a pan, whatever his father had handy.
I cringed. I was so angry. What kind of monster beats his own child? I listened with disillusionment as I cried for him inside. I wanted to soothe his suffering and tried my best. Unfortunately, my attempts at soothing him failed. Instead of being open to receiving comfort from me, he chose to scream at me:
“Stop feeling sorry for me! Stop touching me! You think you’re so special and smart! You’re nothing! You don’t know how easy you’ve had it. You have no idea what I have been through. Don’t pretend to understand!”
The physical violence escalated quickly over a short period of time. He smothered and kicked me. He attempted to break my arm. He even threatened me with a loaded gun. Why? For what purpose? How did beating me help take his pain and suffering away?
I felt shock mixed with fear and shame. I was afraid of his outbursts while simultaneously feeling too ashamed to walk away from him. After all, I chose him. What did choosing the “wrong’ person say about me? I didn’t want to be wrong. So I stayed in the relationship thinking he’d see how much he was hurting me and be moved to stop.
But the violence against me didn’t stopped, and I failed to see myself as a victim. I was less worried about saving myself from his violent outbursts and more concerned about making sure he felt loved. What I also failed to realize is that I was confusing my pity for love. I felt strongly for him, but the feeling wasn’t love…it was pity…and to move from a place of pity for an abuser is why so many victims get stuck and don’t leave.
The abuse continued.
One night in the late hours of a warm summer evening in 1990, he and I were sitting on the front steps of his parent’s house. Our conversation unexpectedly evolved into an argument. I tried getting into my car to leave, but he grabbed the car keys from my hands. He held them over his head. I jumped to get them back but couldn’t jump high enough. He took off running down the street. I chased after him for my keys. I was about to catch up to him when he suddenly stopped, turned and started running toward me. Terrified, I ran in the other direction. He quickly caught up to me and kicked me from behind, knocking me forward onto the ground. I got to my feet and began running. Again, he caught up, kicked me and knocked me down to the road’s surface. I got up. I couldn’t outrun him. I tried. Repeatedly, he chased, kicked and knocked me to the ground for what seemed like hours. I begged and pleaded for him to stop. But he wouldn’t.
“Please! Just kill me!,” I remember screaming, “You’re killing me! Just kill me already!”
Miraculously, a porch light flickered on nearby. This startled him. He hurled the keys at my face and ran off in the darkness. After many minutes searching and digging in the darkness among the twigs, leaves and garbage, I found my keys. I walked back to my car in a daze of shock, not knowing if, at any moment, he would jump out and terrorize me one last time.
I vaguely remember getting inside my car and locking the doors. I pondered my options. I believed telling my parents was out of the question. After all, I was the smart one, the daughter who always took care of herself and never burdened anyone. I also feared what my father might do. Violent scenarios spun inside my head. In a panic and with the absolute belief I would find solace and relief, I drove straight to the police station.
I walked into the reception confused and frightened. Although at 18 I considered myself smart and confident, I didn’t feel the least bit confident at the police station. I had never been to a police station. I had never spoken to a police officer in my life. As I approached the reception window, the officer behind the glass looked up from his paperwork and asked, “What do you want?”
His words echoed a few times in my head. What do I want? What do I want? I guess I want help!
I said, “I want help. I want you to arrest my boyfriend.”
The officer chuckled and laughed at me. I instantly became confused. Why is he laughing at me? This is serious. Doesn’t he believe me?
So, I repeated, “Will you please arrest my boyfriend? He tried to kill me!” From behind the glass, the officer asked in a patronizing way, “How did he try to kill you?”
I remember opening my mouth, but the words were hard to find. I started crying hysterically. I couldn’t form a complete sentence to save my life as I mumbled and wiped the tears and snot from my melting face.
The officer was agitated, “If you can’t control yourself, I can’t help you. How old are you?”
I screamed, “I’m 18, and my boyfriend just tried to kill me!”
Condescendingly, the police officer said, “If you expect me to help you, you need to be more respectful, young lady.”
I was so confused. Can’t he see that I have been running in the dark along the streets for hours trying to get away from my boyfriend? Can’t he see that I have dirt and mud all over my knees and the palms of my hands from repeatedly falling after being kicked from behind? Respect? I respect him. What is he talking about? What’s happening?
I felt myself becoming more hysterical and unstable. The fluorescent lighting beat down on me. I sat in one of the plastic chairs along the wall putting my hands over my face. From behind the glass, the officer repeated, “If you can’t control yourself, I can’t help you.”
Control myself!? What the hell is he talking about?
My tears turned to anger and frustration. I dropped my hands from my face and spoke sternly, “I need you to take down my name and the name of my boyfriend.”
The officer retorted, “I don’t need to do anything.”
In that instant, I knew I was defeated.
I left the police station. If the police couldn’t protect me from him, the only person left to protect me was myself. As I drove home that evening, I was in a fog. I knew the relationship couldn’t continue. I knew I had to break up with him, and I instinctively knew the breakup had to be his idea. I was too afraid to break up with him or reject him in any way. So I cut off all of my hair, stopped wearing makeup and wore clothes that didn’t fit me. I transformed my once attractive 18-year-old self into a homely shell of who I once was. To put it bluntly, I made myself ugly, and it worked! He broke up with me.
My life continued in a virtual fog of existence. But I always held onto the notion and belief that I was lucky, because I got out and survived. My survival wasn’t pretty. While burying reality and avoiding the Truth, I became more and more self-destructive. I battled perfectionism, bulimia, depression, alcohol abuse and anxiety. I was always angry and easily triggered. My relationships with family, friends and romantic partners were shallow, never deep. Unconnected. Detached.
I didn’t understand how broken I was. My life was void of healthy and mindful self-care despite my efforts to convince everyone that I was normal, healthy and productive. I looked shiny on the outside…or at least I thought I did. I attended college, earned degrees and honors, moved in and out of relationships, worked, traveled…anything to distract myself from facing and understanding the shame and humiliation of what I allowed another human being to do to me.
For almost 20 years, I told no one about the abuse. I felt lucky I escaped and continued to believe I was never a victim. How could I be a victim if I got out and survived?
Despite my best efforts to forget the abuse, I was always reminded. Every few years, I received news that my abuser was arrested again for assaulting of a friend, a girlfriend or even a police officer. With each story, my shame escalated. I felt like a failure for not speaking up. I felt responsible for the pain of the victims who came after me. I became consumed with more anxiety and re-lived the visit to the police station over and over in my mind. I didn’t have the strength to speak out for fear of being dismissed and humiliated again. So I remained silent; being silent seemed safer.
But remaining silent wasn’t safer. Remaining silent harmed me and didn’t protect me from myself. My anger grew and began eating away at my hopes and dreams, insidiously just like his abuse. Although I appeared productive, motivated and healthy on the outside, I was an angry and toxic mess inside. I hated who I’d become; I was very angry at myself and at the world.
Then, at the age of 39, I found myself walking away from another abuser. This time, instead of holding my anger and confusion inside like I had as a teenager, I began reflecting and writing down everything that happened in the abusive adult relationship. The process of writing awakened me to my denial of the abuse by both abusers. I realized I didn’t love or accept myself like I had fooled myself into thinking I did, which, I believe, allowed two sick people to manipulate me and define my worth. This was a tough realization, one that caused me more pain, shame and guilt and nearly destroyed me.
Amazingly, even after reaching my tipping point and landing headfirst in my own mess, I awakened to the possibility that I could change my life’s course. I no longer had to surrender to the darkness. There was a light reaching for me, and all I had to do was reach for it, which took releasing my shame and asking for help. Through yoga, meditation, healthy eating, writing and sharing my story, I became transformed. I also discovered I wasn’t alone. I discovered others with similar stories and struggles, and I became inspired and driven to help and guide as many as I can find the same peace and joy to live.
Today, I’m a much different person than I was in my 20s and 30s. I like myself. No…I love myself. I see my life as a beautiful miracle and wish for others to see their lives the same. We are all destined to heal and discover our full potential loving selves and not be trapped by past choices, circumstances or abuse. There is hope in the aftermath for each victim to blossom and transform into an empowered and beautiful, thriving miracle. All it takes is a commitment to be open and receptive to the possibility and potential of a life transformed.
Peace, love and namaste,