“Abuse” was a hard word, a weighty word, to hear. Harsh and unflinching in the bright lights of that quasi-meeting room, and “abuse” wasn’t really the word I expected, much less wanted.
If anything, it was almost like I could feel THAT word dangling in the air, like it was suspended in time and motion, waiting for me to decide how to handle IT.
Abuse. It was a word I had heard so many times as a teacher – signs to look for, who to call if it’s suspected, how to get the appropriate treatment for its victims. I knew it too well as someone who has spent most of her life surrounded by kids of all ages and abilities and backgrounds, seeing too much of the good, bad, and ugly that society and people have ravaged upon its youngest and most vulnerable members.
And yet, it only made sense that I would understand it so completely.
Abuse seemed so distant and foreign, yet so real and intimate simultaneously.
Like some ugly thing you try to push away from yourself and yet know you can’t hide from IT.
It’s not that all of the times were bad or difficult, which might be what makes it harder. The flashes of wonderful times and loving words and fun, and then it would all get dropped on its head. Sometimes it has been almost impossible to dig out even the best of times from under the worst.
Heaven knows I tried to run as fast and as far from whatever chaos, confusion, and pain I could no longer keep inside. I ran so much and so often that I too quickly lost over 40lbs. It’s not that I wasn’t eating, and I don’t know if you could call it a real eating disorder. It’s just that I couldn’t stop pounding the pavement or the weights in the gym or the stair stepper, treadmill, stationary bike… I needed desperately to be too tired at night to make my brain stop swirling the hurtful words and heartbroken emotions. And I didn’t know why.
The ugly words always came from close by, and stuck nearer to my soul. Which always cuts the deepest and hides the longest, because it’s just not supposed to be that way. Which makes it harder still since no one else knows it’s there, but you’re still trying desperately to find a reason why everything was what it was.
And then one day, I was no longer who I thought I was. Replaced in favor of another, never to have contact again. Until the next time I was needed for something or someone else had become the scapegoat for a little while. And even if abuse wasn’t what was intended and it was just the by-product of un-diagnosed and untreated mental illness, it still had the same effect.
I have tried so unbelievably hard to not create conflict, but it has found me anyway. No matter how much I worked to minimize my voice and please others, I was wrong more often than not, no matter what I did.
Never did I think it wasn’t all completely my fault.
Because I learned that I was the epicenter of all of the problems that affected those saying the awful words, slicing and dicing relationships that should have been something better, alternating with apologies to lure me back and fleetingly happy moments to make it seem like everything was normal. Until it wasn’t. Again.
Sickness. Panic attack. Weakness. Running. Exhaustion. Conflict after conflict after conflict. Escape. Collapsing in a melty, sobby mess on the floor some days. Too upset to get outside of my shell of a self most of the other days. Pick it all back up again and start over.
And unfortunately, the cycle has continued too often to count, and more people have added to the number. Different faces. Different words. Different circumstances. Same result.
A life sentence. I still don’t know why.
Hearing the word “abuse” to describe my life until that moment not only smashed into my weary and broken soul and sucked all of the air out of my burning lungs, it crushed my fragile understanding of unconditional love.
In an instant, every memory I had had of my life to this point got tossed into the washer and went on a major spin cycle. Even today and every day, it is really hard to stop the spinning of what was, what could have been, and what is.
And yet, finally having a word to describe that which I hadn’t been able to identify and that which had stolen my soul and nearly my sanity for too long was one of the most freeing moments in my life. Finally knowing how to explain the other words, the ugly words, was liberating. And terrifying.
A whole new reality dawned, and I had no way of knowing what that could possibly mean – then or now. And certainly not the road that I have traveled between then and now.
I remember sitting in the car after that counseling session.
I remember the labels of “abuse” and “victim” fighting each other in some epic battle in my head.
I remember wondering if I really could be or should be considered a victim of abuse that was never sexual, rarely physical, sometimes spiritual, but always emotional and thus still mental.
I remember thinking that maybe there should have been a different descriptive label to stick on this type of person, since “victim” only seemed to fit those people whose horrors mirrored a Law and Order: Special Victims Unit episode.
Finally, I realized that I could let that day make me or break me.
That day when I finally knew how to explain the confusion and the chaos and start to bring light into the muddled mess.
That day when I finally started to think that maybe, just maybe, the stuff that had been happening in my life wasn’t entirely my fault.
That day when I finally started to realize when I could, and should, find my voice and the strength to stand up.
That day when I ultimately had to beg God to be that strength and hope.
Even though He and I had met long ago, I knew that I couldn’t keep going without Him in my corner. I didn’t know what was next, but I knew that He did, and He would be there every step of the way.
I remember not wanting to label myself a victim. I wanted to be a fighter. I still do.
God’s working on me and in me, every day, to figure it out.
But it’s still a struggle.
Every. Single. Day.