(Since this got bigger than expected, if you guys need to talk about anything, reach out. I’d be happy to talk to you.)
(originally posted on Medium.com)
I need you to get angry, my therapist told me. Until you do, you’ll be held captive to the shame and guilt for things done to you.
I’ve been afraid to be angry at what happened. But then we watched that scene from Grey’s Anatomy where Jo storms into her therapist’s office and has that breakthrough of healthy anger. That, my therapist said, is what you need.
. . .
“Anybody can become angry–that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose and in the right way–that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy.” – Aristotle
. . .
Step 1: Sit in therapy and list all the things you’re angry at. “My sister for moving to Seattle; my pastors for resigning and leaving me alone; my spiritual advisor for moving to Pennsylvania; God for abandoning me when I needed him the most; myself for letting terrible things happen to me; my therapist for making me write this.”
Step 2: Go home and text your best friend, telling her that your therapist wants you to get angry. She’ll reply, “You should.”
Step 3: Wait until 9:00 at night to realize you’re not angry at any of the things you listed in therapy. Not really.
Step 4: Start writing what you’re really angry at; apparently, it helps: “I’m angry at Brandon and Patrick and Matt and Chris and David for raping and then abandoning me. Leaving me there to clean up the mess they made. Leaving me there to pick myself up and move on with my life as though nothing had happened.
I’m angry that two of those names belong to people who have also helped me the most.
I’m angry at what’s his face–assigned to sit with me on the bus in Kindergarten because I was scared–who, instead, sexually abused me for the first month of school, discretely and quietly.
I’m angry at Marcel for exposing himself to me one day at work because “the writer girl has pretty eyes, and I never disappoint a woman.” He didn’t know I speak Spanish.
I’m angry that I have to sit here and write this in order to move forward. I’m angry that I was taught growing up that anger is bad, that I shouldn’t be angry, that good Christians don’t get angry.
I’m angry that I hurt this much, that there are trauma and pain in my life, that people don’t believe me when I say, “This is what happened to me.”
I’m angry that I got pregnant and miscarried. I’m angry that my ex treated me the way he did. I’m angry at being raped at 13. At being sexually abused at five. At the bullies who told me I’d never amount to anything.”
Step 5: Be ok with being angry. It’s ok because your therapist says it’s ok. It’s ok to feel things, to feel anger. It’s what you do with those feelings that matter most.
Step 6: Reflect on your therapy appointment and how you sympathized with Jo. Her therapist and your therapist had the same message: until you become angry at it, you’ll always be stuck. Think to yourself: “Boy, am I tired of being stuck. I’m taking all these steps forward, but my mind is still ‘you can’t. You’re not worth it. Your past.’
Step 7: Name it. What’s the it that’s been plaguing you for years? That is stopping you from moving forward? “I lost my childhood at five years old, lost my teenage years at 13. I became an adult sooner than I should have needed to.”
Step 8: Validate it. Go back through your old blog and find that letter you wrote to your childhood self. Read it. Feel the words. “This is an assignment long overdue, and I apologize for that. What do you say to a 4-year-old child when the 24-year-old adult doesn’t know what to say to herself?
I’ve been told to write this letter many times, to validate you, to make you heard because for so long you thought you had to be quiet, not take up space, not ask for help.
The only way to navigate life was to do it alone.
And you did it alone. For 19 years, you struggled quietly, sobbed behind closed doors, let yourself waste away until you were just a hollowed-out shell where purpose used to be.
But sweet, beautiful, little girl, who laughed at life and stole animal crackers off the snack cart before dinner, you were never meant to walk this path alone.
Little girl with big blue eyes opened in wonder at the world, your teary eyes were never meant to cower in the dark.
You see, life. Life. Life is alive.
What to say about life except that it’s alive, ever-changing, fluid. What’s true one day is not always true the next.
And what’s true is that one day, you’ll be hurt, and you’ll be hurt some more.
But sweet, sweet child, it’s not your fault. And the years of pent-up emotions blocked by numb feelings aren’t your fault either.
You adapted because you wanted to survive.
And survive you did. You made it this far. Farther than you thought you would. Father than you hoped you would. Farther than you dreamed you would.
Right now, you’re 4-years-old, and some days you wake up and wonder why you’re alive. Sometimes you forget to look both ways before you cross the street. Sometimes you don’t want to get close to the edge because you want to jump.
Sweet girl, I hear you. I see you. I validate you.
One day, you’ll be 24, and you’ll be sitting in your therapist’s office crying because you don’t want to be here. Alive. Breathing. Above ground.
You’ll dare cars to hit you. Hit me. Hit me. Hit me. (There’s a reason you’re not allowed to make dead jokes.) You’ll hold the extra pills in your hand, hesitating before you put them back.
But. You are worth it. Your therapist reminds you of this as you sob in his office. He’ll whisper it through tears as you break down, letting the years of hurt and pain wash over you.
You’ll hear it from your adopted big bro over and over and over as you’re the first one to leave events to protect yourself from trees.
You’ll hear it from within. Because there’s a part of you that wants to thrive, not just survive.
Child, you are worth it. Despite what people will tell you years from now. Despite what the hands tracing your body on the bus tell you in a year. Despite the whispers in your ear 9 years later in a school bathroom. Despite the emptiness in your stomach where a baby should have been.
Child, you are worth it despite all that. Because that doesn’t define you.
It hurts and healing sucks.
And I still don’t know which way healing’s going to go, what it’s going to look like: is it gonna be some bright light, weight lifted, crying because we’re free? Probably not.
It’ll probably be acceptance: radical, life-changing acceptance.
Child, I hear your sobs in the night. I see your tears in the locker room mirrors. I see the moments you look in your eyes and don’t recognize me looking back. I hear your whispered no’s. I hear your silent prayer for God to take you in the night.
I hear you. I see you. I’m validating you.
I feel the ache in your heart to be loved, to feel understood, to feel wanted.
Child, you are all those things.
All those things and so much more.
Child. You have a future brighter than gold. You care about others, and one day, you’ll even laugh again (trust me, on this. You’ll be a big punster).
Child. Life will be hard.
Child. Life will be beautiful.
Child. Life will be tears of sadness and laughter.
Child. Live. Life will be.
Step 9: Sometimes the best revenge is just getting out of bed every morning.
Step 10: Breathe.