I am my own greatest gift to the world!!
Please read those words carefully and take them all in before judging. I say that as much to myself as to anyone else. Because it’s taken me years of therapy, analysis, soul-searching, shaman-style self healing, and connecting to spirituality to finally figure it out- I AM a gift to the world. The best thing I can do for the collective consciousness is to accept my imperfections, fall in love with my strengths, and embrace who I truly am. It all sounds great, but what do I do on those days when my inner critic is kicking my butt?
As a sexual and ritual abuse survivor, I’ve found that moving beyond ‘victim mode’ has been the hardest battle of all, but what I’ve finally figured out is, there IS no right or wrong way to heal. The only ‘right’ way is the one that works for me. I’ve learned (on good days) how to wear my battle scars like medals of courage. It helps that I actually DO have battle scars to look at and play with at will. I’ve earned those battle scars and tiger stripes. I’ve got surgical scars from the invasive gallbladder surgery that saved my life in 2007, and the sliced-open left hand from a broken dish, sewn back together. I’ve got other scars too- I acquired them from a near-fatal accident last year, and the car accident fifteen years ago. My ‘scars and stripes’ are a daily reminder that I am a miracle, in so many ways. A few times now I’ve tangled with death and beaten the odds. Clearly, the universe has had big plans for me since I was born.
But I didn’t always see it this way. I’ve lived with P.T.S.D. and battled depression most of my life. As a teenager I even had a detailed ‘five year plan,’ written out in a journal. I promised myself that if things didn’t get better and if the pain didn’t go away, I would end my own life, and I outlined exactly how I would do it. Such was the level of pain I was in. I didn’t want to die, I just wanted the pain to go away, and I couldn’t see any other way out. I was living in a constant haze, completely disconnected from my feelings, keeping everything not only bottled up but bagged, tagged and sealed, like a laboratory. My outer shell was spic and span, and until high school I was an overachiever, but inside I was a dark cavern, filled with horrific memories, nightmares and the darkness of self-loathing, rage and pain. I frequently cried myself to sleep and abused my body. Not through eating disorders (I tried making myself vomit once or twice, but hated the sensation of ‘purging,’ and food was my primary source of comfort, so I couldn’t go without it.) Cutting didn’t work for me either, because the sight of blood made me nauseous and dizzy. It was too much of a trigger for body memories, though I didn’t know it at the time.
As a painfully shy, socially inept teenager I didn’t have many friends, so access to drugs and alcohol was virtually non-existent, thankfully. So I abused my body, mind and soul in other ways, by putting myself in dangerous situations with dangerous people, by standing in the street, wishing to be run over (luckily I’d panic and move away from oncoming traffic just in time). By torturing myself with sleep deprivation, overeating and telling myself the most awful things. By sitting in the shower for hours on end, or washing my hands until they were red and raw. No matter how long I washed myself I could never feel clean.
I did all of these things because I believed that I was worthless, no good and deserved the abuse. I believed my abuser’s lies, and lived my life in accordance with them. And I desperately wanted to numb myself from the pain that kept creeping up on me, shrouding me in a heavy layer of fog.
I was a living, breathing poster child for pain, crying out for help, and I believed that because no one intervened for years, that nobody cared. I was wrong. My mother saw my journal, and convinced me to start going to therapy. After a few years of cognitive behavioral therapy and a pivotal moment of discovery after watching a television talk show I realized that my problems were not the result of a chemical imbalance. The dissociation and depression were all caused by the same thing: repressed memories of an abusive past.
My abuser told me that I should shut down my feelings, and behave in a purely logical manner, like Spock. He also told me that nobody would ever believe me if I told them about the abuse. He was mentally ill, and when he was in a psychotic state he’d say things to me like, “I’ll kill myself and take you with me one day soon.”
While I believe that most of my depression has been situational rather than inherited, it has been a lifelong battle to build up my self-esteem, heal from the childhood trauma and find a sense of purpose. It took me a long time to realize that the shame does not belong to me, it belongs to my abuser(s). Despite the intense fear and the flashbacks, I remain strong and courageous, battling through the grief, anger and terror. Although my primary abuser was mentally ill, it did not excuse the abusive behavior. I had to forgive myself for abusing myself for so long, and those in my life who didn’t protect me growing up, but I’m still working on forgiving him. I’m honestly not sure if I ever can, but that remains to be seen. Apparently he has been receiving some form of treatment, but I have not seen or spoken to him in years and I have no intention to, and no desire whatsoever to reconnect with him. Some wounds just cut too deeply, and I’ve lost too much at his hands to ever allow him into my life again.
So I know about mental illness first hand. I’ve not only experienced it, I’ve been at the receiving end of an untreated illness. I am a survivor, and a fighter.
I’m speaking out, for those children who are going through the pain of abuse right now, and for those adults who’ve survived, but are living with the hell of P.T.S.D. Know that you are not alone. I hope that my story inspires you, and that you will come to the same realization that I have, with healing and recovery- the abuse was NOT your fault, and it does NOT define you. Stay strong and mighty, and put that shame right back where it belongs- on your abusers. You ARE good enough. Wear your ‘scars and stripes’ with pride!
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Maya Garcia is a writer, poet, artist, singer and advocate. She has a design firm, Maya’s Divine Designs, and is the author and illustrator of Before the Fire. She is an active member of the survivors’ community, participating in weekly chats on the subjects of sexual abuse and P.T.S.D. and is an outspoken supporter of the “Red My Lips” campaign and Amnesty International.
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