I used to harbor a lot of pain in my heart because I felt like my innocence was stolen from me. I grew up watching my mother be humiliated and assaulted by my own father on multiple occasions. I grew up being cautious around my father. This was especially true if he was drinking alcohol. I avoided him at all costs if I could. It didn’t stop with my mother. He also hurt my siblings and I; in ways that were visible, but much worse were the ways that he tainted us from within. Sometimes it happened for no reason. Sometimes as he beat me, it felt like he did it just because he needed to take his anger out or because he simply could. I always find it so strange how my mind can relive a specific time so vividly as if it had happened yesterday. I don’t remember the specific age I was, but I’m more than certain that I was in elementary school. The reason I remember that is because I used to wear uniform skirts to school, and I no longer wanted to wear them after this incident.
It was just a typical day after school, and I was on the couch watching television. My older brother was running around the house, but I didn’t pay much mind to him. He said something to me hurriedly, and he was gone. My dad came home and asked me where my older brother was. Being a kid, my eyes were glued to the television, and I merely said, “I don’t know”. I am still dismayed at the outcome of that one insignificant “I don’t know”.
My dad came to me a while later and claimed that I had lied about not being aware of my brother’s whereabouts. There was yelling, and I grew frightened. I remember having a fight or flight response. Of course, at the time I didn’t know what was going on in my brain or my body. I could feel my heart begin to feel as though it was going to jump out of my chest. I had a strange feeling in my stomach sensing that something bad was about to happen. A feeling that was all too familiar, and I came to know so well growing up. My muscles tightened, and I felt myself become smaller. My eyes widened and my breathing became labored. I was nervous, and I trembled in fear. I must have looked a lot like a little wet dog. He demanded that I make my way into his bedroom and wait for him there. I didn’t want to go because I knew what was about to happen. Despite this, I compelled my body slowly off the couch to meet my fate. I waited. Every second that I waited the fear only became more immense. He came into the bedroom and demanded that I choose a belt. I know this shouldn’t be funny, yet I can’t help but smile when I think about how cruel it is to ask your child to pick out the weapon you’re going to damage them with. It’s fucking cruel irony. I didn’t want to be hit. I could already anticipate the pain from the many times it had happened in the past. Although I could anticipate it, it didn’t make it hurt any less. I remember that sometimes I would urinate on myself when he was going to beat me. I could only stand there. I didn’t even try to escape it anymore–learned helplessness is what they call this. He beat me that day until I couldn’t stand. When I couldn’t stand anymore he held me up by my arm, and it continued. I could only scream out and beg for it to stop, but I knew it wouldn’t until he was done. No, not until he was satisfied with the amount of pain he was inflicting on another human who couldn’t even defend themselves.
I couldn’t go to sleep comfortably that night because of the welts on the backs of my legs. The next morning, I remember trying to figure out how I was going to wear my skirt to school without shamefully displaying my bruises to my classmates and teachers. I didn’t know how I was going to explain it. I wore my skirt that day, but I made sure to lower it on my waist just enough to cover my bruises. I realize now how sad it was that I knew I had to do that. Knowing that in a way I was protecting my family from being torn apart. Knowing that I had to avoid questions. Knowing that I had to keep secrets and hide parts of myself.
As I grew into a teenager, I cultivated that pain and I changed it. I shaped it into what I needed it to be. To the world around me, that pain shun through as rabid anger in the form of self-destruction. I spiraled into an abyss. I saw darkness all around me, and the darkness stared coldly back at me. I kept the anger, sadness, and hatred close. I revelled in it. I used to cope by turning to self-mutilation. I split open my skin because it felt like a release. Oxygen grazing my blood made me feel like I was in control of my own pain. I didn’t necessarily always need to cut. Sometimes I pinched myself or pulled and released rubber bands on my skin repeatedly until I bruised, or until I was satisfied enough with the pain. I developed an eating disorder for the same reason. I experimented with drugs and alcohol because I wanted to drift into another world. A world that wasn’t my own. I started having sex and became involved in unhealthy relationships at an early age because I wanted to feel loved–really loved by someone. I didn’t make many friends because I didn’t trust anyone. I didn’t want to have to explain the broken parts of me to people who wouldn’t understand. I was alone all the time…and when I wasn’t alone, I only wished that I were. I attempted suicide more times than I can count. I wanted to end a life filled with all this agony and fucking misery. I remember locking myself in the bathroom, sitting on the floor, consuming pill after pill, putting the cold blade up against my skin and internally shouting to myself to just fucking do it already.
In retrospect, I’m thankful that I didn’t follow through. People in my life now probably wouldn’t suspect that the teenager version of myself ever existed. I have shown a few people those intimately dark parts of me, but those people still don’t know half of what I have gone through. I don’t like to touch those parts of me because they still hurt. What has changed is that I don’t let those painful experiences fuel me anymore. Various things saved my life.
I give a lot of that credit to the existence of my niece. As I sat on the floor in burning tears on the verge of changing the course of my life, my niece’s face came to mind. I thought of everything I would miss out on. She gave me something to look forward to. I wanted to watch her grow up. I wanted to guide her to ensure that she didn’t have to go through a cycle of this life. I also greatly credit my faith and the people who steered me back into God’s outstretched welcoming arms. I had lost hope in God as a kid… because no God ever came to save me. I thought, no God would have allowed that to happen to me. Where were you? But I learned that isn’t how God works. God works in ways that you can’t see, and that is the beautiful thing about faith. Growing up I came to believe that God didn’t ever love me, and if he had loved me at some point then surely I made Him shun me because of all the mistakes I had made. I was terrified to reach out to him again because I thought I wasn’t worthy of His love or any love at all.
Through my faith I learned the most important lesson of all: forgiveness. I learned how to forgive all the people who ever influenced my heart to be enthralled in pain, anger, and hatred. I didn’t forgive them because they asked for forgiveness. I chose forgiveness because it was only causing me more pain by holding on to it. Admittedly, the person that was hardest to forgive wasn’t my father; it was myself. I had to forgive myself for all the negative choices I made because I allowed my heart to change and remain that way for years. I allowed my demons to contain me in a cage, and I stopped fighting to see the goodness in others. I stopped fighting for myself.
Now that is my life’s work. I make the choice every single day to believe in people. To believe that there is a lot to every human being and everyone has struggled with some form of pain. I want people to learn how to fight for their selves in spite of this. I want to help people understand that you can come from pain, but that pain doesn’t have to consume every corner of your life in darkness. Don’t let negativity control you. This isn’t verbatim, but there is a quote that says, “You can’t control the things that have happened to you, but you can control how you react to them”. You have to make the choice just like I made the choice. Choose to view life in a new perspective. Choose to stop poisoning yourself with the same thought processes. Negative thoughts and emotions lead you to create negative experiences. You are what you put out into the world. Our view of what has happened to us greatly impacts how we perceive the world around us, so choose a different perspective. It’s never too late for change, even if you think you’ve made too many mistakes. Choose to acknowledge the mistakes, forgive yourself, and move in a new direction. Choose to see a different future and strive to make it a reality. Choose to rise from your pain, mold it, and let it make you stronger. Choose what you want for your life. You choose.