“Freedom is what you do with what’s been done to you.” ~Jean Paul Sartre
We all have our stories of how people have wronged us and caused pain. Allow me to tell you mine.
I’m a survivor of abuse: mental, emotional, physical, and sexual. I was born into a family of abusers and witnessed it from the day I was born until age sixteen.
As a child, I thought my family was perfect. However, when I was twelve years old, I realized just how truly dysfunctional my family was. It was as if a light bulb went off and the image of my “perfect family” was crushed.
This realization led me into a deep spiral of depression and rebellion which entailed running away from home, hanging out with the wrong crowd, and experimenting with drugs.
Needless to say, my future was looking bleak and my behavior was worsening.
I had no one to turn to, and my home life was only getting worse. As I developed more into a woman, my father started to make sexual advances at me, and when I was fifteen, openly admitted that he was in love with me.
My mother was another other story. She disconnected and completely isolated herself from communicating with anyone in the house, including my brother, father, and me.
While my parents’ relationship completely fell apart, the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse in the house became more frequent. I witnessed my mother stabbing my father, and constant fistfights happened between them.
The police were constantly being called and one if not both of my parents were arrested for domestic violence numerous times.
It wasn’t easy growing up in an abusive home, but eventually I found new ways to cope and deal with the circumstances I was born in. I realized that if I couldn’t change my home life that at least I could work on my life outside of it.
Tenth grade was the year that changed my life forever.
I signed up for many after-school clubs and programs, joined the soccer team, and started to focus more on my studies. I tried to fill my schedule up as much as possible to avoid going home.
One day I came home to find my parents arguing, which eventually turned into a fistfight, and my brother and I got the brunt of it. I remember my father punching me straight in the face and me yelling at my brother to call the police.
The experience was unlike all the other fights. This time it felt like something was going to change. Sure enough, police came and arrested my parents.
That day led to a year of social services involved in my home life. My father was forced to go to anger management classes mandated by the state and my entire family had to be in therapy.
A part of me felt truly relieved that this had happened. My parents weren’t so happy with the results but for me it finally felt as though something was being done to change my living circumstances.
Eventually, I moved out of my parents’ home. At age sixteen, I was emancipated and lived with my friend’s family until I was eighteen, when I then joined the military and later moved to New York.
I’m twenty-five now and still maintain communication with my parents. My relationship with them will never be amazing, but I am learning on how to accept them for who they are rather than wish they were different people.
The painful memories and experiences of growing up in an abusive home will never be erased. At one point in my life, I wished that I could. However, I couldn’t be more grateful that I had the opportunity to experience this way of life.
I allowed my pain to teach me something rather than blame someone or something for it happening to me.
I realized that regardless of what has been done to you, it’s up to you to decide what to do with it.
I have found gifts in my traumatic experience of abuse. It has taught me how to be humble, compassionate, and most of all empathetic to other people. If anything, I have learned more on how to truly connect with the human species.
Pain can have a strong transformative power and way of leading people in the right directions. It definitely has for me. Allow it to be your compass to find the light at the end of the tunnel.
I know it’s easier said than done. In the midst of a painful experience such one can often feel as though there isn’t a way out. I know for years I felt as though I was helpless and scared of what would happen if I spoke up about the abuse.
I was concerned about what people would say, if they would judge me or think I deserved it. These types of doubts and fears can stop a person from moving forward and believing in possibilities.
These fears definitely kept me from speaking up for sixteen years. However, I realized that my happiness and overall well-being were more important than anything, and that it was time to start believing in myself and who I was.
Here are few lessons I learned from my experience of abuse:
Don’t blame yourself for what has happened.
When being abused, we can often ignore what the person has done to us and think we are the fault. This is not the case at all. No one deserves to be abused.
Remember, it’s not you; it’s them.
Recognize your worth and value yourself.
Think about all of the things that make you great and use those characteristics to give you strength and motivation. If this is difficult, seek out support from a close friend, confidant, or someone who knows you well and can help you believe in yourself again.
Friends and close loved ones may be your saving grace and strongest form of support, especially if you are in need of encouragement or motivation to push forward.
Remember you are a human being who is worthy of being loved in a healthy way. Abuse is not love.
Challenge fears, negative self-talk, and doubts.
Fear is going to be your #1 enemy in trying to change anything in your life. Surround yourself with positive quotes, books, inspirational messages, and people who love you to get through.
Believe in yourself and trust that you have a life purpose here. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Be aware of who you fall in love and become friends with.
As a survivor of abuse, I found that I would attract people who had qualities similar to my parents. It’s easy to fall for and attract people who will be or feel familiar to the past.
After getting out of an abusive situation, the last thing you would think to happen or want is another abusive experience. However, this is common and happens often.
I found that intense and frequent therapy sessions helped me to identify key beliefs about myself linked to being abused. These beliefs were things such as fear of being judged, low self-esteem, and not knowing what a healthy relationship should be like.
The first step in changing anything in your life is always the hardest. My life is still a work in progress but I am so happy with my decision to change it.
It all starts with one step and a little courage. As the wise Buddha once said, “You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” Trust that you deserve it and don’t look back.