finding the will to live amidst the trauma
The first thing I learned in therapy was to validate myself–validate the past versions of me that were hurt, validate the parts of myself that are hurting now; another thing I learned while completing the ‘Emotional Regulation’ section of DBT theory, designed to help manage the effects of Borderline Personality Disorder, was the idea of ‘willing hands,’ that is walking with life with your palms open, eager, willing, and able to take whatever life throws at you.
I was going to stay away from sharing my whole story in one post on this site: I was going to make it more about the present and the future, more about settling into my new apartment, my new home, my new normal. I’ve come to realize that there’s no such thing as ‘normal.’ I think. I think to finally move on, to move fully into the present, to take control of my life, I have to acknowledge what happened to me, framing it in such a way where I’m not defined by my past. You see, I moved out because a) it was time, and b) it’s hard to move forward when you still sleep in the same bedroom where you tried to end your life. This is my story, and I’m unashamed.
I was five years old the first time I wanted to die: a kindergartner, assigned to sit with a fifth-grader on the bus for the first two months of school–I cried my first day on the way home, you see. The bus ride was too long.
That wasn’t the last time I’d cry on the way home.
At first, I wasn’t sure anything was wrong, 10-year-old fingers tracing around parts of five-year-old me that shouldn’t have been touched: nobody knew; nobody ever found out. Every day, I wanted to die a little more–had dreams about being eaten alive, or the ground opening up and swallowing me whole, or being hit by a car while riding my bike.
I should’ve known then that something was wrong.
What five-year-old dreams of dying?
I have this vague memory of tying a scarf around my neck; I don’t remember anything after that–if it was a suicide attempt, or a morbid curiosity to see what it was like to black out for a second–to stop breathing–to see if there really was a light at the end of the tunnel, as they say.
I can’t remember that either.
I was thirteen years old the next time I found myself being touched in unwanted ways. This time, it was on the floor of a school bathroom–a bathroom I had been in many times before.
Sometimes, when I have a flashback or panic attack, I forget to breathe. It’s like I’m being choked all over again, held down, forced against my will. Erections pushing against my back as they dragged me to the ground. Showing me what I was missing out on because I turned one of them down.
They smelled like orange juice, sweat, and sawdust.
“At least we didn’t get you pregnant,” he smirked at me before slamming my locker shut on the last day of eighth grade. “Only sluts get pregnant at 13.”
But what they didn’t know, what nobody knew until a few months ago, was I did get pregnant. I did get pregnant, and that walk to the grocery store across the street, the one I had taken so many times, seemed like it took a lifetime the day I went to get those pregnancy tests.
A few weeks later, I had a miscarriage.
I watched the blood rising from the cut on my wrist glisten as it hit the light just right to see the memories of where they touched me. I cut myself where their fingers were–maybe if I caused my skin to regrow faster, I’d forget the way they made me feel; the touch of their fingers tracing my skin; the pain of the bite marks fading away.
I starved myself for the same reasons–maybe if I made myself less, nonexistent, zero, I could disappear.
They said I was worthless, anyway.
At 15 years old, I swallowed a handful of pills, convinced that they were the only way out, they were my savior; the world would be better off without me. When my boyfriend found out, he hung it over my head, used it as ammunition during arguments: you should have completed it.
God saved me from myself that night; he whispered in my ear, You’ll be ok. And he was right, I am ok. Even on the ‘I want to drive into a tree’ moments, the ‘I want to jump out a window’ moments, the ‘is this what a crisis feels like’ moments.
Life is a whole lot more beautiful when you’ve learned how to survive.
The last year of my life has been spent trying to move forward, trying to figure out how to navigate on the ‘life’ side of the humanity coin. I’ve been angry at God, angry at myself; I’ve carried guilt and secrets that could shame even the bravest of those. There have been suicide attempts and relapses, breakdowns and panic attacks.
But there’s also been healing, so much healing. I’ve moved into an apartment, alone–just me and my dog. 6 months ago, I never would have done that. Here I am, walking into the future, standing in the present with my palms open, arms outstretched, ready to catch whatever life has to throw at me.
I’ve learned how to survive, to find the desire to live amidst the trauma.