It’s been downright fascinating for me to watch my husband (who I’ve known since high school) grow up and navigate his adult relationship with his parents.
For the most part, it’s been pretty drama-free — something that I barely recognize in a parent-child relationship. His parents treat him with respect, they acknowledge his feelings, and hanging out with them is not panic-inducing or stressful to him. He actually welcomes his time with them and continues to feel nurtured by them even as he gets older.
His childhood was not free from bumps and stressors (is anyone’s childhood, really?), but he was not abandoned, abused, or traumatized.
And for me — someone who did experience abuse and trauma — it is absolutely enlightening and reassuring to know that such childhoods exist, and that one’s relationship with their parents can bring comfort and safety throughout adulthood.
It gives me hope that I might be able to provide that type of childhood for my own children. And the idea of that happening — it just makes me sob with joy.
You see, I am a survivor. My parents tried, they really did, in their own ways. But damaged grown-ups who have not addressed their brokenness, well, they tend to bring that dysfunction into their lives with their kids.
My childhood included too many moves to count — up and down the East and West Coasts, and then back again. It included broken promises, deceit, divorce, and financial strife. It included a verbally and emotionally abusive stepmom and an absent, narcissistic father.
My mother was my rock in many ways — the stable one — but she brought a level of neurosis and anxiety to the table that infiltrated every aspect of my life and made it difficult for me to feel like the world was a safe place or that I had the power to protect myself from the people around me who were causing me harm.
And so, I did what so many children from broken, abusive homes do: I survived.
While it was happening, it didn’t feel like I was surviving. It felt like I was stumbling, pushing myself further than I believed I could go, completely inventing life as I went along.
When I applied to college on my own and figured out a way to finance it (also on my own), it felt like I absolutely didn’t know what the fuck I was doing, and that I was definitely going to mess the whole thing up. When I took up running on my own, got my first job, and taught myself to cook, clean, and balance a checkbook, I felt completely alone and wondered how I was going to make it through adulthood unscathed.
And when I signed up for my first therapy appointment at 18 years old, I wasn’t sure if I was making the worst, or the best, decision of my life. I wasn’t even sure if I had the right to complain about my daily panic attacks or the fact that my father wasn’t speaking to me anymore because I’d stopped visiting him after a particularly painful and abusive fight between him, my stepmom, and me.
If you are a survivor, too, you know what it means to question everything — to wonder if you are even right about what went down in your childhood. Do you even have a right to complain?
That time that she called you an ugly, ungrateful wimp and threw a vase in your direction (but missed) — did that count as abuse? What about the time he took off in the middle of the night, moved across the country when your mother was five months pregnant, and married the woman he had only known for three months — is it right that this stung so hard?
Are you just a weak person who can’t handle the hard facts of life? After all, that’s what you’ve been told for as long as you can remember. You’re the inadequate one, the one who isn’t grateful enough for all they’ve sacrificed for you. You’re the one who didn’t love strong enough, didn’t give enough to them. You’re the one who’s damaged goods.
If you’re a survivor, you know how hard it has been to silence those voices in your head, to tell them as succinctly as you can to STFU.
But you’ve done it. You’ve done it loudly and long enough to start to plant the seeds of your new life. You know, that one — the one where you are worthy, beautiful, strong. The one where your hurt feelings are real and deserve to be acknowledged. The one where each and every thing that was done to hurt you was truly and actually so very wrong — and why the fuck hasn’t anyone come forward to own that, to offer a simple “sorry”?
And most importantly, this is the life where you have carefully chosen the good, kind people who are capable of whole and complete love — and who magically, miraculously, love you right back, without condition.
And now you’re here, in this new life, with these new loves, and you are grateful. Yes, you are, each and every day.
But you also live in fear. Each day you wake up and wonder if this life will go up in smoke, if the rug will be pulled right out from under you. You imagine your children’s deaths, your husband’s death. You believe on some level that you don’t deserve any of this, and so you self-sabotage it all in your mind, your heart, and in your dreams (your nightmares).
But listen up. I want you to know something. I want myself to know it too. That is all bullshit. Those are all lies. The life that you have made for yourself — it’s real. The people who love you now — they are real too, and they aren’t going any-fucking-where.
And you know what else? This life that you have now: You made it. That’s the incredible thing. You made a beautiful, amazing, nurturing, badass, strong AF life out of the shitshow that was your past.
You are a survivor. You should be proud. And I should be too.
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