“How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” ~ Maya Angelou
For those of you who have also endured abuse and somehow survived and broke free of the ravenous lion stalking you mercilessly in wait of repeated, unending ambush to bring you to destruction, I wanted to take a few moments and share with you some things that I have witnessed in my connection and bonding and sharing with you that you all too often point out in others but never seem to extend the same wonderful, loving, profound observations to yourself. Even I am guilty of this, and while I will decline to speak for the things that cause you to do so, I can say I feel like I did only what I had to, that I was just surviving and carrying on with life as best as I could. And it’s strange how the things I see in myself that I used to offer up as evidence of my weakness and inferiority are the very same things that I see as beautiful examples of strength and triumph in others. This post is for all of us who need to be reminded just how wonderful and amazing we really are. Of all the words you use to describe yourselves, weak, powerless, inferior, stupid, worthless, and average should never be among them. Here is why:
1. Your strength is immeasurable. Whether or not you thought so, during your abuse you showed strength beyond compare every day you lived despite knowing the possible dangers and suffering that were in store for you. We tend to write this off as being in survival mode, but even survival mode requires resilience, perseverance, strength, and the drive to make it through. The tears you shed, the times you cried out in pain, the countless hours you tread barefoot over eggshells and nails, the days, weeks, months, and years you traversed a desolate wasteland devoid of hope, joy, and purpose, all the times you pushed on despite being exhausted of all capability of moving forward, moments when you had to disassociate from yourself to survive the more traumatic instances of abuse, all the emotions you balled up and shoved into the darkness…. None of these things are weakness. Being able to continue, whether or not you always were able to hold up your head and look people in the eye, whether or not you cracked and bent under the weight of it all, took inhuman amounts of strength.
2. Your courage is unrivaled. As survivors of abuse, we know how dangerous our situations really were. We can still probably go back and make a detailed list of every possible infraction our abusers would manufacture, their reactions, and the corresponding punishment each transgression carried with it. We know all too well that these punishments were often cruel, dehumanizing, and torturous to endure. Along with that, we also can do the same for instances of disobedience and noncompliance when the abuser is pushing us to bend to their will.
Fear became the norm as we suffocated slowly in our daily lives, but we still faced each day, and in the end when we could no longer endure, when we knew we must leave or die, we had to make the most dangerous choice of our lives: to leave. In daring to rip away their power and control over us, we all knew we carried immense risk on our shoulders. We knew what those who haven’t been abused do not: that abusers are willing to do what they have to in order to keep us trapped, including killing us and/or our family. Choosing to risk death to have a chance at life over staying and imminent death is the hardest, most dangerous decision we will ever face, and it takes every ounce of bravery we can muster up.
After leaving, you made the decision to willingly face the horrors you endured and took responsibility for rebuilding a life you did not destroy. This meant reliving events that scarred us so deeply in therapy and support groups (which has the potential to re-traumatize and cause more damage). It meant lifting your voice and sharing vulnerability that you may not have wanted to reveal or were not ready to disclose in whole or in part. It meant facing criticism, judgment, and blame from others who were not eager to display compassion or have appreciation for our story. For many of us, it also includes a form of public speaking to bring awareness to domestic violence and the truth of how we experience abuse as victims.
I know several of you are probably telling yourself at this point that what you do can’t count as speaking publicly, but I promise you it does, even on the smallest scale. It does not have to be speaking in front of large groups to count as sharing your voice. If you have ever organized or participated in an event specifically for domestic violence, you have spoken out against abuse. If you have ever facilitated, mediated, or participated in a domestic violence support group, you have spoken out against abuse. If you have ever participated in or given to a fundraiser or supply collection for an area domestic violence shelter / services organization, you have spoken out against abuse. If you have written a book about your story, if you have a blog – even one NOT devoted entirely to subject matter as it relates to domestic violence – and have published a post about your story and / or shared others, you have spoken out against abuse. If you use your social media profiles, whether it’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Google+, you have spoken out against abuse. If you run a domestic violence services organization, have lent your name / face / story – even anonymously – you have spoken out against abuse.
However, many of you have on a much smaller platform shared your stories many times, perhaps to some of the most potentially critical audience of all: your friends, family, and co-workers. It takes great courage and boldness to share such deeply personal experiences with those who most likely feel that their familiarity with you grants them rights to be openly critical in response to your story. They can and have taken liberties in being blunt and uncaring in their feedback when we were expecting support and love.
I am sure several of you have found yourself also in the position of comforting and encouraging someone who revealed to you that they were or are being abused. You might dismiss it as wanting to be there for them, but this also counts as speaking out against abuse, and from what better position than of someone who can listen without judgment, without criticism, and respond to them with the kindness and compassion that they need. Whether or not you realize it, it still takes courage to share your story with them, because it means having to face demons and memories that we all wish we could leave behind.
3. You become a warrior. Leaving abuse has an aftermath and destruction all its own. Not only are we facing years of healing while we battle nightmares, PTSD, panic and anxiety disorders, depression, we also find a troubling lack of support around us coupled with financial ruin, homelessness, chronic medical conditions, and ruined relationships. And on top of it, we turn to find countless fingers wagging in our faces, decrying all the things we failed to do or the supposed ways we brought the abuse and destruction upon us. Even under the best of circumstances, we all have battles we face during our lives. Being a survivor of abuse carries with it endless amounts of damage we have to navigate, and none of us come through it without scars and gaping wounds. You could choose to stay in bed with the covers over your head (honestly, I have days sometimes where I do this, and we’re allowed – we all have limits as human beings and there is nothing to be ashamed of), but in general, even when the weight is too heavy to take one more step forward, somehow, we do, one step at a time. One day at a time. Sometimes one breath at a time. We fight when we face victim blaming and stigma, when we stumble our way through the throes of PTSD, panic, and anxiety disorder. We find a way to financially take care of ourselves or seek out help to do so. We dispel myth. We overcome.
4. You still have the ability and the desire to show others love and compassion. Surviving abuse is not easy. Rebuilding our lives after it can prove to be more daunting, because we no longer have survival mode blinding us to how precarious our situation had really become. Our emotional lives are no exception to the damage caused while we were busy dodging assaults and live mines buried on the battlefield. When someone slowly alters your thinking and perceptions over time, destroying your objectivity and self-worth in the process, we become wary of everyone once we escape the pressure cooker. Because we were so badly deceived and subsequently betrayed and violated by the one person on earth who should have instead sought to protect us, we find ourselves wary of trusting others and slow to accept that they could be genuine in their interactions with us. Somehow, though, that love and compassion and need for connection that had been dulled, numbed, and seared during our abuse makes its way to the surface and affects our treatment of others.
Although we may be unable at first to forge a close bond with someone, that doesn’t seem to keep us from reaching out to others. Those of you who have children and pets become extra protective and watchful of their well-being. If you see someone struggling, even if the cause of their distress is not abuse, you still actively reach out to them to give them comfort and encouragement. You connect with other survivors (and victims) of abuse, and find yourself gravitating toward them and being a support for them when things are difficult and a cheerleader for each of their accomplishments. If you have it in it to help, you withhold it from no one. Because we know how it feels to struggle. Because we know how it feels to endure alone as we carry the weight on our backs. Because we can’t stand to look at someone in distress and turn away knowing how it feels to have it done to us.
Look in the mirror. See how fierce you are? Look past the exhaustion, the frustration, the hurt. Look past where you THINK you should be, because it’s clouding how far you’ve come.
You are fierce. You are indestructible. You are powerful. You are divinely beautiful with all your scars, with the wounds that re-open from time to time, with the vulnerability you sometimes struggle to show. These are not flaws. These are not evidence of your brokenness or lack of worth. They are evidence that you are stronger than granite, stronger than iron, because you not only endured and survived the worst circumstances, you overcome. Please, just look at yourself. You aren’t getting by. You took back your life from the Devil, and you’re killin’ it. In every wonderfully beautiful way you possibly could.
It takes great courage, love, and strength to be you.
Do you see who you are?
I do, and the person I see, the person you don’t always acknowledge you are, is amazing.