Living every day with someone who is a stranger to you is not the most comfortable feeling in the world, especially if this person is always under foot and will not let you get away. They are there when you prepare meals, go to work, do laundry, go shopping, and help you like it’s supposed to matter to you. Except it doesn’t. You constantly wonder what their angle is. What is their purpose? What is their plan? And why won’t they just tell you who they are already? Even worse than this, they have the audacity to lay down with you at night when you try to sleep, and they compete to count cracks and dibbits in the ceiling until your eyes become so heavy they can stay open no longer, leaving you at the mercy of the stranger in your bed. They stalk and violate your privacy, watching eagerly even as you take care of the most base functions of existence. Your pleading for knowledge of them falls upon deaf ears. Your urging for clarification does nothing to ease the presence of the fog before your eyes, and the voices in your head scream at them to go away. To leave you alone, and to let you be in peace.
I am not talking of a literal stranger. I am talking about how uncomfortable it has been to find myself trapped within this skin, to be staring back at myself after having been so erased, so devoid of myself, so foreign in every sense of the word, that I have spent much of my time since leaving Kevin feeling as though I should know who I was but failing to be able to figure it out. Struggling some days to point I would just sleep, because I couldn’t tolerate one more second of people asking what I wanted, where I wanted to be or go, what I wanted to do or eat or watch, what kind of books I liked to read, why this, why that… I grew anxious of that that infernal racket, and the only way to quiet it, to avoid it, was to sleep. And when sleep failed me, there was always the option to flee.
I never lacked in knowing who I was, who I wanted to become, where I wanted to go, and what I wanted do. I knew unequivocally, with no hesitation, no second guessing, no doubt who I was and why. If the absolute truth must be known, I never waited to be asked; I told you what your options were. This is what I am willing to do, so choose. I never asked permission to do anything. There was no need, as I was a complete person with the ability to not only think for myself but also act without fear. Without regret. Without changing my mind a million times before squinting my eyes shut tightly and randomly picking so as to avoid full responsibility of my choice. My choices were deliberate and never forced. I acted with confidence and purpose.
Imagine the predicament in which I found myself on December 14, 2012. I had no confidence. My life had no purpose. My insides, my heart, were bled dry and filled with some substance akin to artificial life. The only thing I felt was blind fear and this weight crushing me down, and the only one who saw it, the only who felt it was me. Everyone around me expected me to act normally, to function like they were, and they couldn’t see how far from normal I truly was. What they saw manifested on the outside was a charade in the form of well ingrained autopilot. I made no choices but I deluded people into thinking I had. Asking me to plan out a month was too much. Asking me what I wanted five minutes in advance was overwhelming. I wanted no part in making a choice I just knew I was going to be punished for. Try explaining this to someone who has not endured and subsequently survived extensive trauma. No matter how hard you try, no matter what you do and say to get your point across, they will not understand why you can’t tell them if you want pizza or chinese. If you want to go see a movie, go shopping, go to the lake.
So when I couldn’t make that small of a decision without battling a panic attack, they began interrogating about what I like. What interests me. All these things had become burdensome to me. Don’t heap me with details, don’t pound me with questions, I just wanted you to tell me what I wanted, because not only did I truly have no idea except what Kevin forced me to be conditioned to “like” by corporal and verbal punishment, I was empty. I did not care. It was not for me to want or desire. I was just to get by.
This was where the battle began. The epic struggle so many victims of domestic violence face after leaving the person who erased them: finding out who we are. I have to strip myself down to nothing and rebuild from the inside out. As I went on, I was fortunate enough to find things about myself from the past that were still there, buried deep inside and waiting to be brought back to life. Even so, although I may look like the Amy everyone used to know, it’s just the shell. She is gone, and I can never get her back. I battled this for month after month, feeling like I was broken for not being able to get myself back together to my satisfaction. But I finally realized in the middle of all my kicking and screaming like a child having a temper tantrum in the middle of the store, I was never going to be able to rebuild a phantom. Once who you are is so shattered and strewn about in the wind, you will never get it all back. Also, given my past tendencies to be hypercritical of every little last thing about myself, satisfaction with the rebuild would never come to fruition. Why would I want to rebuild following that model?
Amidst my constant state of flux, I came to appreciate the newness. I embraced the changed. I adapted and re-adapted as necessary, not only because I had no choice if I were ever to become whole again, but because learning new things about yourself can be almost adventurous, but you have to let it be. It is never a perfect situation to endure, but if you have to do it, you might as well find the motivation to keep moving forward, and mine was learning.
I am still a work in progress, but aren’t we all? Aren’t we all in a state of flux, even if it’s more stable for some compared to others? If we are living purposefully, even without trauma tainting and poisoning our hearts beyond recognition, shouldn’t we embrace that? You can only become more content, a better person, more peaceful, happier if you continue to improve on the foundation that is already there. I had to change my mindset, and I fought that in the beginning, too. (At least we still know the impatience and stubborn nature is there!) I have finally come to see that I have been blessed to have a second time around to learn who I am and figure out what direction I want my life to go in. So many get the one time and do nothing with it. I get a second go, and I have to be honest that while the catalyst for my second time around was not anywhere near ideal or welcome, it has allowed me so much opportunity that I cannot even begin to explain in a way that you would understand.
At the very least, I have renewed appreciation for the smallest of things that most take for granted. I study things still yes, but always in the back of my mind is the constant voice reminding me that this… that everything… was almost taken away from me. And while I am here I must appreciate everything to the furthest extent possible. Even my bad days where I am miserable and testy and obstinate are met with appreciation, because they are an affirmation that I am still here. That I am learning who I am, and that the stranger that stalked me mercilessly has been slowly fading over the past seventeen months even as I was unaware.
For the first time, I look into the mirror and don’t see a stranger staring back at me. I don’t see struggle, pain, suffering, misery, futility, or desperation. I see strength, courage, and beauty. I see someone of value who loves life and all its uncertainty with every last fiber of her being. I see me. And I am amazing. Who cares about the past? I am alive now. I have refilled my heart with love, peace, and security. Faith and hope. I have reaffirmed important things that were always a part of me and learned so many new things. And if I live this life right, I always will be learning.
I am amazingly me.