Something I often get teased about is how excited I get about going to therapy. I talk a lot about my therapist and how she’s changed my life. I also talk about how great it feels to be cared for by a therapist and to be truly understood. “She’s amazing!” I’d say, with a really big smile on my face. “Did you just smile? What’s that on your face?” I’m often asked, with a hint of intended sarcasm.
The Perfectly Imperfect Childhood
I was born weak, both physically and somewhat mentally. I was unable to walk much, unable to eat without vomiting and was unable to use my hands a lot of the time, without either crying or just feeling pain. At some point in my childhood, I was told that I’d be getting surgery so that I could finally walk, but it wasn’t without a doctor saying something along the lines of “Even after the surgery, he won’t become a basketball player” to my mother. It was just a nicer way of saying that I still wouldn’t be able to pursue physically demanding activities after my recovery. He was wrong.
One moment in time is all it takes to change everything forever. One moment in time is all it took to change me forever. Time is the one thing we want more of, because it’s the only thing we can’t get more of, which is why I always told myself “Do something instead of kill time, because time is killing you.”
I remember the first night my sexual abuse began. My childhood therapist gave me an assignment: ask a nurse for help when I want or need something, instead of staying shy and reserved. So, one night, that’s exactly what I did. I was lonely, bored and wanted some water and to use the restroom, so I pressed the red call button and soon, the nurse arrived. I guess it’s important to mention that the nurse who walked in was a nurse that I like, because he’d always tell me silly jokes. What followed was the worst night of my life, with many more to come. Later that night, I felt my pajama pants moving, but I was laying on my stomach, so I was unable to see what was going on. “It’s just a game”, I heard a male voice say. It was that nurse again. I turned my head slightly, only to see him taking his pants off. For the next five minutes, all I heard was chuckling as I cried and the sounds of a shaking bed as I felt the pain of what he was doing. He did this almost every day for a long time. On holidays, on my birthday. I never told my childhood therapist what was going on, though. Still, my admiration for her grew stronger, as when the nurse kept doing abusing me sexually and physically, I’d dissociate, imagining my therapist there with me, holding my hand and talking to me, trying to distract me. It was what made me admire therapist so much, to this day. It still makes me laugh, but one day, when my therapist walked into my room to take me to her office, I sat up in my bed, hugged her, and wouldn’t let go. Not two minutes later, being a silly child, I asked her to marry me, because she was the prettiest therapist ever. Laughing and calling me cute, she responded with an “Of course I will!” among other things.
How Trauma Changed My Identity
I believe in the power to reinvent yourself and that’s what I’ve been trying to do for years. I ran a company that failed, I pursued college but dropped out and then I became a freelance worker and that’s where I am now. Am I successful? Not in the way most people would define success, no. I struggle with a lot: PTSD, Anxiety, Crohn’s Disease, Arthritis, ADD, a personality disorder that has since slowly been calming down, etc.
I was never the type of person to take life too seriously. I hear so many people say “I’m too busy with work.” “I just worked a 12 hour shift, three days in a row, I’m exhausted.” Hard work is great, I’m not knocking hard work, but I’m also not praising it. We only get once chance at life, so why not make the most of it doing what you love? You don’t know when your time will come. None of us do. I live by the philosophy “Live like it’s your last day on earth, but learn like you’re going to be alive forever.” When life is taken too seriously, we forget the basic needs in our life. Self-care, self-love, mindfulness, our own happiness, etc. I read this story once, about a man who, on his death bed, said something like “I grew up too fast. I worked hard, I became successful. Now, looking back, I realized I forgot to truly live.” That man died crying. It inspired me to realize that life is truly valuable.
After first remembering my abuse about two years ago, I became an angry, condescending, competitive person who distanced people because he always wanted to feel in control. I was someone that wanted to feel powerful, because my abuser violated every cell and thought in my body and mind. It’s funny how our minds work, because even when we don’t necessarily remember our abuse at first, our mind still subconsciously is still working hard to protect us from it, until we’re ready. We live in a culture that admires the “suck it up and move on!” attitude, so I guess it’s a large part of the reason I was scared to tell anyone about my abuse, at first. My belief is that if you’re not going to tell someone who has cancer to suck it up, you shouldn’t tell someone who struggles with Depression or PTSD to suck it up, either. A lot of the time, mental illnesses are a lot more complicated than physical illnesses, because they have no clear path. They are invisible illnesses, oftentimes, that take years of recovery, if not a lifetime.
Core beliefs are how we view ourselves and the world we live in. It’s something that shapes our identity and character. After remembering my trauma, I went from being someone who was able to be outspoken and someone who ran a business, to someone who became reserved, compassionate towards others an somewhat gentle. My memory was affected so much, that I can barely remember the best parts of my life. I wouldn’t eat or sleep and I could barely write my name. Things got so bad, that at one point, I forgot who I was and who my family was. I was a stranger in my own apartment.
The first step towards healing trauma is finding someone you trust to talk about it with. In this case, it’s my current therapist, who taught me that there’s always a way out of the darkness. It sounds cliche, but for a lot of trauma survivors, there’s a darkness inside of us. At one point, we may even become our own enemy, blaming ourselves for the abuse. I know I still do, but my therapist keeps my darkness at bay an helps me understand that it takes change to make change.
I left my job a few years ago, because it didn’t make me happy. I let go of my dream of running a company, because all of that control is what brought back the memories of me not having control, as a child. Instead, I became an artist. A struggling artist. A writer who loves writing for the sake of writing and if someone can relate to what I’m doing, I’m even happier. That’s why I write. I live in so much pain, that I want to conjure up something better than me, because I don’t like myself. Seriously. My writing is a reflection of that, in my opinion. It’s a better version of me — better than I could ever be, because as tough or distant as I may come off in real life, the world still scares me. My abuser still scares me. If there’s one thing I learned and am still learning through my recovery, though, it’s that the more you try to be better than you were the day before, the better for your present and future, as well as for those around you. Taking the hard road is a lot more difficult and takes grit, but it pays off in the long run. If you’re at all ever feeling lost, though, the question that always puts me back into place is “Can you remember who you were before everyone told you who you should be?” It is that question that reminds me of who I am. A struggling artist that hopes to reach people and not your typical go to college, work and get lots of money to be happy type of person. If I’m happy waking up, if I wake up with no regrets, that’s success enough for me. Getting through the day, not losing sight of who I am, in spite of my illnesses.