The Beginning and the End
My last counselor asked me to write the book I wish I had found at the beginning of my journey from abuse victim to healthy survivor. This is it. I wouldn’t qualify myself as healthy, yet, but I’m headed in the right direction. I hope what I’m learning will help someone else on their journey to becoming healthy.
I realize that throughout the book I switch between tenses and sometimes I use “you” instead of “I.” My apologies for any confusion, but this is my book to myself, and sometimes I remember that someone may be looking over my shoulder and reading it, too. I haven’t used my real name because I’m protecting the innocents, including me.
Over the years, as I’ve read of the abuse others have endured and are enduring, I think to myself that mine wasn’t so bad, but I also knew that what I’d grown up with wasn’t healthy. I wasn’t brutalized with welts or broken bones or cigarette burns. I wasn’t viciously raped. I was molested, belittled, neglected.
I always felt as though I were in some in between place, on the periphery of everything. Not as bad as many, but nowhere near “normal.” I have to remind myself of the saying that normal is a setting on a dryer. So, if I use “normal,” I mean healthy. After all, dysfunctional is considered normal by many, but it is not healthy.
When I was in counseling for the third time, I was beginning to grasp the severity of the abuse I endured. Yet, I frequently felt like a fraud for saying I was abused because I didn’t fit into the worst-case scenario category. Finally, my counselor had me read Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning. Then my counselor asked me what the inmates had to do to survive the guards. He had to compare me to a concentration camp inmate, living under the rule of concentration camp guards, in order to help me understand what I had endured.
And yes, I can imagine you’re thinking that I’m delusional at least and sacrilegious at worst, because that’s what I thought, at first. Then my counselor talked to me about how dependent I was on some of my abusers, for my very life. He wasn’t trying to infer that I was a concentration camp survivor. He wanted me to understand how severe my situation was, and how it affected me. It was a place to begin.
In many ways, I’m still in a prison, only now it’s one of my own making, from years of habit. This book is my advice to myself, from all the years I’ve been searching for answers.
I am not writing this from the perspective of “I’m-a-huge-success-so-you-will-be-too-if-you-do-what-I-do.” Because I’m not. I’m forty-eight years old and live at home, with my parents. Yes, the same environment I grew up in. My career, as I knew it, in the medical industry, has ended because of changes in the industry. I’m single, never been married, and haven’t dated in almost fifteen years.
Nevertheless, I’ve had a lot of amazing experiences. I am blessed with several close friends. Most importantly, in spite of all the struggles, I’m still hopeful.
For the record, my life has changed significantly from the time I started this book to publication readiness.
And before you write me off as the quintessential, proverbial loser, which I almost did to myself, here’s a little perspective: I’m not the only one struggling. If I were, there wouldn’t be so many books about how to change one’s life. Mine is unique because I’m writing it for me.
When I started working with my third counselor he encouraged me to move out on my own, every time I saw him. I would have loved to do exactly that, but finances weren’t available for such a venture.
At first, I felt defensive, but I learned to ignore it. Then I began to wonder why I was so defensive. So, I searched my history. Why hadn’t I moved out? At first we discussed my fear of something happening to my parents. Then we discussed my fear of something happening to me. All of it made sense. Then I took a hard look at my actions. What an eye-opener.
Taking into consideration that I had been taught, at church and more especially by my own experience, to always seek God’s guidance and inspiration, this is what I found:
My senior year in high school, I approached my guidance counselor about going away to school. He believed that a young girl should stay home with her family and go to the local community college. He would not help me, in any way, because he thought my desire to go away to college was wrong, and it was his job to guide me in the right direction.
I talked to my local church leader, who also felt that a young girl should stay home, close to family.
I didn’t know, until far too late, that scholarships had to be applied for well in advance. I also discovered that if your parents make a certain amount of money, combined, you don’t qualify for many scholarships. So, I stayed home, and attended the local college.
“Okay, God, what next?”
My parents “encouraged” me to study engineering. Math and engineering was where the big money was made. Never mind that the only reason I didn’t flunk out of calculus was because I had transferred out of the class, half way through the year.
In college, I took a variety of classes, trying to find a comfortable fit for me, all the while hearing the lecture that math was where the money was. Anything else I considered was belittled and derided. I kept taking classes.
Into my second year of college, I learned about working for the national parks. Without telling my parents, I applied to work in housekeeping, at one of the park hotels. I was accepted, then I told my parents what I was doing. I spent that summer there, and loved it.
At the end of the summer, I came home, and decided I’d go back, but my local church leader told me I should go on a mission. I argued with God, but decided if that’s what I should do, then I would do it.
I served an eighteen-month mission. When I came home everyone said, “So, I guess you’ll be getting married now.”
“Okay, God, what next?”
All I had ever wanted was to marry and be a wife and mother, in that order, but waiting around for it was not acceptable to my way of thinking. I felt very keenly the need to prepare as much as possible, to the best of my ability.
“Okay, God, what next?”
My plan to major in home economics had already been shot down. I loved travel, so I went to travel agency school. My parents weren’t thrilled, but it was considered better than home economics. I was hit with a kidney infection a few weeks before my class was supposed to go to Mexico, as a weekend fieldtrip. I stayed home. However, I noticed that it would cost me about the same to go to Europe. I figured, if not now, when? So I went to Europe. The plan was to be there six weeks. I extended it another eight weeks. It seemed logical to me that all the travel could only enrich my experience for the travel agency industry.
While I was there, the family friends I was staying with invited me to stay longer, including helping me obtain a green card in order to work there. However, I had spent my mission teaching about the importance of families, and felt a bit of a hypocrite considering my lack of interaction with my own family. I was willing to face the truth that I had been running away, all my life. I prayed, and felt I should go home and figure out how to live with my family, face my past. Stop running away. Little did I realize there was so much I simply didn’t know, let alone understand, then.
I came home, but when I went looking for a job, I was told that I had been away from the computer too long. Four months was too long? Apparently.
“Okay, God, what next?”
I went back to school.
Knowing an Asian language, having studied French, and currently enrolled in Spanish, I decided to major in languages. I was also working for the local high school’s switchboard. Then I learned they were ending my position.
“Okay, God, what next?”
I’d heard an airline’s reservations center was hiring. I picked up an application one day, and turned it in the next day. When the secretary took my application I was worried that she hardly said anything. What next? Then one of the executives came in needing a flight home but not sure how to look it up on the computer himself. The secretary didn’t know either. I asked what computer system they were using (my training came in handy). The secretary pinned me with a look and asked if I could look up the information. I admitted it had been over a year. She encouraged me to try. I tried. Nothing happened. I was sure I was doomed. Then she said that I’d simply put the date in the wrong place. They switched it, and up scrolled the flights. The secretary turned to me and said, “You, we want to interview, today.” I was promptly hired.
I worked for the airline for seven and a half years. I loved the company and learned a lot.
During this time, my dream of marriage and family did not abate. I realized I had a wicked temper that I needed to master. I didn’t simply become angry, I raged. I hit the wall, and sometimes myself.
“Okay, God, what next?”
More prayer, and I felt a dog was a good choice. Really. I would rather die than hurt an animal. (I saw myself as lower than dirt.) The fuzzy ball that chose me was a perfect fit.
I felt more confident. I wouldn’t be alone when I moved out. I started looking at apartments, but now I had a dog, too big for any apartment, if they took dogs at all. (Times have changed.)
“Okay, God, what next?”
So I started saving for a house.
During all this, my family kept saying, “So, when are you going to get a real job? Because working for the airlines isn’t a real job.”
I grew discouraged, and increasingly weary. I continued working and went back to school, part time. Then the computer system, at work, was changed, and I developed tendonitis. It wasn’t looking good. I was well on my way to carpal tunnel syndrome.
“Okay, God, what next?”
For almost a year I planned. By the time I left the company, I had socked away enough money to live on, comfortably, for a year. I had one semester of school to finish my teacher’s aid AAS, and only another year or so after that to finish my American Sign Language interpreting certificate. I’d worked with a teacher who I thought had all but promised me a job when I graduated as a teacher’s aid.
Granted, my health was a mess. I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue, sleeping an average of 14 hours a day, but I made it through the semester with flying colors. I’d learned how to work efficiently.
That “promised” job was given to someone else. I knew how difficult it was to learn a second language. I knew I could help children learning English, but because I didn’t speak Spanish fluently, no one would hire me.
“Okay, God, what next?”
I worked in a bookstore and quit, after a month, because I’d literally spent more than I’d made, while I finished my sign language classes. I became an interpreter, for a couple of semesters, and could not live with the ethics. I understood that I was there only as a facilitator of the language, but I’m also a born helper. I didn’t know how not to help, if I could. Fortunately, I had a teacher who understood the problem, and assured me that I wasn’t unusual.
“Okay, God, what next?”
I was living off that money I’d saved; enough money for a year lasted me three years, with a lot of careful scrimping. The dog saw the vet, but I didn’t see a doctor. I ate out occasionally, at fast food places, on the value menu. I didn’t go to the movies or do much shopping beyond the necessities.
I learned about medical transcribing. It seemed a perfect fit for me. So, I took the last of that dwindling money and paid for a correspondence course. I’ve been doing it for over thirteen years. I enjoyed it, but it didn’t make enough to allow me to be independent. I started saving for a house, again.
Over and over, I’ve asked God for more work so I could be out on my own, because if I could carry the workload they advised when I was taking the classes, I could be doing very well indeed. So God would give me another client. However, the more clients I would pick up, the sloppier my work would become, so I’d cut back. Clients would come and go, and I continued to save for a house. Now, the industry has essentially evaporated.
“Okay, God, what next?”
At every turn and fork in the road, God and I talk about which way to go. Despite being depressed all my life, seemingly thwarted at every turn, and struggling in so many ways, I am still asking, “Okay, God, what next?”
Now, I am writing this from the “life-is-hard-but-I’m-not-giving-up-no-matter-what-and-this-is-how-I’m-helping-myself” perspective. I hope that this book brings the realization that you are not alone, because you aren’t, and you can face everything life throws at you. I won’t promise it will be easy; in fact, I promise it won’t. I won’t even promise it will be worth it, because sometimes it doesn’t feel like it, but as long as I keep trying, then there’s a chance to turn my life around. Besides, I’ve had a lot of amazing experiences. If I quit now, how much will I miss?
What I have learned is that becoming healthy is a multifaceted undertaking. If you want an easy fix, there isn’t one. What works for me, may not work for you. What helps me learn may not help you. There is no abracadabra, no magic pill, no wonder formula, no one-size-fits-all.
Why? Because you are not a one-size-fits-all person. We are each unique and bring our own strengths and weaknesses to every experience. However, being unique does not mean we can’t learn from each other, but we can only learn from each other if we share our experiences.
One of the important things I’ve learned is: I am my own unique, life-long project. I am the project planner, coordinator, artist, manager, overseer, foreman, engineer. I am in charge, really. Plans will change as I change. Who I choose to work with will change. There are people with whom I will choose to work on my project and people I do not, family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, etc. I decide. It’s my project, and I have two choices: Will I continue to react to what happens in my life, hoping to keep life conflict free (an impossibility) or will I start choosing to act? I’m tired of allowing life to happen to me; I want to live my life.
I hope my insights help you discover your own solutions to some of the snags and stumbling blocks you encounter, but I admit that I worry about how much I should share of my story. I don’t fit the common definition of domestic abuse survivor, and I’m no longer a child. I have few happy childhood memories. Most of them have pain and fear attached.
Please understand that I don’t want anyone to confront any member of my family. The time for intervention is long past. And I am learning how to protect myself. Besides, I’m not the only one who is still trying to interact with their abusers, and as long as the situation isn’t life threatening, and mine isn’t, then I want the opportunity to work it out. It’s my right to decide how to fight my own battles and to follow through on that plan, or not. I finally recognize this as an opportunity for me to grow.
I am not a professional. So, if you’re still not sure what qualifies me to write this book, let me share with you the tape in my head:
Crabby Appleton Rotten to the Core, there’s nothing good about you. You’re rotten. You’re evil, all the way down to the core, bone deep, through and through. There’s nothing good in you, anywhere. If there’s nothing good, then you’re evil, wicked. In fact, like a rotten apple you spread rot to everything you touch, everyone you touch. You deserve whatever happens to you. It’s your fault. Pretty is only skin deep, but ugly goes all the way to the bone. You’re ugly. You’re stupid. After all, if you were smart, you’d figure out how to be out on your own, how to be independent. But you’re not. You should do better, but you don’t. You should try harder, but you don’t. You should. You could. You ought to. But you don’t. Why don’t you? Why haven’t you? Why are you still here? Because you’re worthless. You’re no good to anyone. You are a danger to those who care about you because you are rotten to the core, rotten through and through. You take and take but never give. You don’t have to worry about being hurt by those you love, because you are incapable of love. You have to worry about hurting those you love. Not that you know what love is. You’re wicked. You’ll never be good enough, smart enough, clever enough, pretty enough. You are not loveable. You are not worthy. You are despicable. You couldn’t even have the good sense to be born a boy. No one could love someone with a face as scarred as yours is. No one could love someone as fat as you are. You’re too stupid to live. You’re lazy. You’re disobedient. You don’t deserve to live, but you’re too stupid to die. Life would be so much easier without you in it, taking up space, asking for too much, needing too much. You’re a leech, a parasite. You are a miserable excuse for a human being. You’re life is a mistake. And there’s no one to blame but you.
Some of those things were said to me, many were implied, and a few were the only thing I could think of to explain why I was the problem. You can guess at some of what happened. It started before I was born, and went downhill from there.
I grew up on a street with a pedophile; he preyed on both boys and girls of varying ages, for years. I was spared by a nightmarish bargain. And I knew it. Though he was finally arrested when I was an adult, there were still people in the neighborhood who believed he was framed, even after he was convicted. Most of the victims remained silent, not to protect him but to protect themselves.
The abusers and abuse in my life were varied and long term. Like any victim, I was taught to keep the secret, because I was alone; no one would believe me, or if they did believe me, I would be blamed. I would be held responsible, and I was.
Again, I don’t want anyone condemning or confronting those who hurt me. If I were still a child, it would be different. I’m not. I’m a grown up. I may not be very good at acting like it, but I’m claiming the right to learn how, at my own pace and in my own way.
That being said, I freely admit that I spent a good portion of my life looking for someone to stand up for me, to protect me, to rescue me. I wanted a knight in shining armor, in tarnished armor, or any kind of armor, or even without armor. And yet, I remembered the horrible price paid for the one time I remember being spared. Nevertheless, I wanted someone to do what I felt I could not: Save me, and save me in a more tangible way than the soul-saving Jesus Christ offered. I had a lot to learn.
Gradually, I reached the point when I had to accept that no one was going to protect me or come to my rescue. There were two choices: I could allow my life to continue as it was, i.e., I could continue to feel powerless and at the mercy of those around me. Or, I could accept responsibility for the fact that since no one was going to do it for me, then I’d better step up and do it myself.
It wasn’t easy to acknowledge that securing the protection and rescue I so desperately desired really was my job, no one else’s. A part of that, with which I still struggle, is knowing that I had to decide, for myself, that I was worth defending, worth protecting, worth fighting for, worth caring for, worth believing in, worth changing for, worth loving, worthy. I am.
To start, I wrote down — for myself — every event I could remember; to be honest, I don’t remember much of anything, good or bad, from my growing up years. I filled a couple of pages. I narrowed the list down to the events that seemed important or that best represented a particular type of abuse. Specifically, these were the events that I saw as pivotal in my life. Now, when I think to myself, “Maybe it wasn’t all that bad,” or “Maybe my perception was wrong,” I use these notes to remind myself of how bad it actually was, so that I never allow myself to be so disrespected again. Actually, I don’t need the notes, but I did need to create some order in my chaotic thought process.
Interestingly enough, as I’ve acknowledged wrongs and hurts, honestly and openly, the memories have dimmed in importance. The cutting edges have softened, not because the event isn’t as bad as I thought it was, but because I am changing. I am releasing my hold on the past, which in turn releases its hold on me, but I needed to own my past, before I could let it go. By owning my past, I recognize and accept that the past is what brought me to this point in my life. The question is: Where do I go from here?
The vast majority of my memories will not appear in these pages, though I will include a few. I’m willing to talk about them, but in careful reflection, I feel like the details don’t matter nearly as much as what I took from the experiences. In part, I don’t want you to feel like what happened to you wasn’t that bad because it wasn’t as bad as what happened to me. Nor do I want you to feel like your experience was so much worse that there isn’t any hope. Add to that, I figure you have enough horror stories of your own; you don’t need to add mine.
There are those, I’m sure, who are already chatting, “Stop blaming! Get over it, and take responsibility. It isn’t about them; it’s about you.”
I agree with that last sentence, but there has to be a starting place. I also believe in laying blame/responsibility for what happens TO someone squarely where it belongs. Before you shut the book, or cheer that it isn’t your fault and therefore you aren’t responsible for where you are, now, consider this:
Why is Pompeii famous?
Who would ever suggest forgetting or ignoring the fact that Mount Vesuvius caused all that destruction?
So why must I not recognize the cause of all the destruction in my own life?
A significant difference between Vesuvius and abusers is that abusers choose to become what they are, in a million little choices and decisions.
Do the majority come from abusive situations themselves? Absolutely; maybe even all of them do. However, it’s no more an excuse for them, than it is an excuse for me, should I ever choose to follow that path.
Laying the blame at the appropriate door is a beginning for a survivor. This means embracing the new idea that the abuser refusing to accept responsibility for his or her actions does not free them from the consequences of what they have done. They do not have the option of choosing what consequences follow their behavior, any more than I had the choice of walking away in the beginning.
The survivor lives with the consequences, all of them. The challenge becomes HOW to live with those consequences.
Again, I have two choices: Focus on destroying those who abused me and ending up like them, or focus on healing me. One or the other, never both; those two choices cannot coincide. One is destructive, while the other is creative.
I am choosing to be creative.
As a side note, it’s important to realize that being raised in a “Christian” home is no guarantee of being raised with true Christian values. Sadly, some abusers use it as a way to flog their victim. They don’t understand true Christianity. I know that in some homes it was required that all Ten Commandments be obeyed flawlessly. For me, the rules were simple and impossible: Be good.
Arbitrarily, minor infractions were severely punished, while major violations were glossed over. “Honor thy Father and Mother” became a whip to ensure obedience. “Love one another” was twisted into a measuring device. “If you loved me…” Loving self was evil because it was “selfish.” They conveniently forget the scripture that says, “whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
In my experience, abusers want someone else to take responsibility for everything. They want the easy way, the path of least resistance, smooth sailing, no waves, no upheavals, no conflict — ever, unless it’s their conflict, which takes center stage. They want someone to take care of them. And when it doesn’t work out that way, they must blame someone else.
Frequently, I wonder why I never turned my back on God. I don’t know. I certainly had a litany of reasons to walk away, but I didn’t. This is written from a Christian perspective because it is who I am, and I can’t imagine how I would have survived some days without my faith in God, Jesus Christ and His Atonement.
That being said, my faith wasn’t enough to solve my problems. I was still swimming in them. I needed something more, so I searched.
From various sources, I learned that if I changed my habits, I would be better. I wasn’t.
I learned that if I changed the way I thought, I would be better. I wasn’t.
I learned that if I changed my feelings, I would be better. I wasn’t, not in a lasting way.
God made us individuals. I know I wrote earlier that there is no one-size-fits-all plan, and I meant that, except one: The plan God created, because He sees us as individuals. It’s an incredibly all-inclusive plan, necessarily encompassing a variety of possibilities, as vast as each individual that has ever lived:
Love God with all your heart, might, mind, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.
So simple and so complicated. All three work together. Like a three-legged stool, it is only stable when all three legs are on the floor. Love of God, love of neighbor, and love of self. Without all three, the stool falls over and is pretty useless. You are not useless. You have a purpose, but it’s difficult to find that purpose if you’re spending all your time trying to figure out how to keep from falling over because the legs of your stool are unequal, unbalanced, or missing.
It’s difficult to love anyone if you don’t love yourself. You are God’s creation, so if you hate His creation, namely you… See the problem?
This balance isn’t so much the starting point as it is the end point. It’s the original sketch for the final outcome.
This book is the road map for myself. It is a well-used set of directions that is helping me find my destination, regardless of where or when I started out. Unplanned road trips can be exciting and fun, short term, but going simply to be going gets you nowhere fast. The nice thing is that when I find myself off track, as I often do, I can pick up the road map and start again, right where I am.
Sooner or later, you have to choose a destination. Mine is to live a loving life, filled with lasting peace, no matter how much upheaval shows up in my life. I want to be a blessing.
I hope to be able to look back and see days filled with sunshine — with accents of shadows, to remind me how wonderful the light is — as opposed to days filled with shadows, with only spotty patches of light.
© 2010 The Project: The Tools I Wish I’d Known About Sooner / My Abuse Survivor’s Basic Toolkit by Judy