My life changed this past 4th of July weekend. Last year I was waiting for my fiancé to come home and worrying about fireworks triggering my PTSD. This year, I was single, living with my parents, and devising an impulsive plot to take my life because I couldn’t handle reality any longer.
What a difference a year makes.
Luckily, I wasn’t successful in my suicide attempt. Instead, I gained perspective and learned much-needed life lessons. Before, I felt I had little going for me aside from the prospect of marriage. I was so excited and built my whole world around it.
I’ve survived many instances of sexual assault, physical and emotional abuse throughout my life. Unfortunately, that’s affected my self-worth and sense of self since childhood. As long as I can remember, I have wrestled with feelings of being unworthy, damaged, and unloveable because of what others had done to me. The idea that someone genuinely loved, wanted to protect, and cared about me gave me hope for the first time in my life. I felt seen, heard, and accepted for who I was. For someone that’s been hopeless since she was three… that’s pretty monumental.
It took months for me to trust my newfound happiness. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, as it often did in all of my relationships, but it didn’t happen. More and more time passed, and my hope grew and flourished. My life finally had meaning. I began finding myself, my strengths, and my purpose. It was liberating to let my guard down completely. Not only was another person making me happy, but I was also creating happiness for myself.
Losing that hope and happiness so suddenly did more than break my heart. It broke my spirit and destroyed everything I had come to believe in: myself, my worth, my sense of belonging and safety. It all disappeared in an instant.
Why admit this on the internet?
Because that pain is going to become my power.
When I was a little girl, all I can remember was not feeling good enough. My parents were very critical. Often their criticisms were about things I couldn’t control, such as my teeth, acne, puberty happening later than my peers, or my lack of “real” friends. I still struggle with feeling like friends actually like me and want to spend time around me because of this. Many times, I wondered if my parents even loved me. The phrase “I love you” felt like some sort of automated canned response that I was supposed to say. It never had any real feeling tied to it. They were just meaningless words said before going to sleep. I don’t recall being hugged often or being taught self-esteem. The vast majority of my memories from childhood/ young adulthood are negative. I had no purpose, and couldn’t find meaning in anything. In turn, I’m a surprisingly negative person. I smile all the time. I laugh at everything. I try to help others be positive by showing unending amounts of empathy and sympathy. Usually, when I reveal this part of myself, people are shocked.
I wouldn’t say my behavior is all an act. It’s more of a defense mechanism from childhood. I was always performing. I walked a tightrope that demanded perfection. The phrase “never let them see you sweat” was more of a necessity for survival than a suggestion. When you feel like someone will pounce physically or verbally for even the tiniest mistake, you learn to be flawless on the outside, while becoming more and more disconnected and damaged on the inside. There’s a sense of depersonalization. On one hand, there’s the practiced version of yourself that you know well and put tons of energy into being. On the other, there’s the person you truly are that is smothered and suffocated out of existence. It’s hard not to feel like a fake 24/7, which is yet another thing I struggle with every minute of every day. In fact, the one time I was sure I was being my most authentic self was when I moved to Guam and felt safe. When I moved back to Florida, I was floundering and drowning trying to figure out myself and what to do. The loss was so painful that there were times I was sure I would never recover.
How do I turn that loss into power?
I’m going to use that pain to help others.
When I was in the Air Force, dealing with my assault, two women showed me endless compassion and empathy. The Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC) and the Special Victims Counsel (my lawyer) were my lifelines. I want to be that source of relief for others who go through the same pain. I’m going back to school this fall to get another degree to become a SARC. I want to be an instrument in changing the system that punishes victims for speaking out. Nothing would make me happier than actually making a difference in someone’s life, whether it’s helping them not give up hope or feel heard and accepted. I understand better than most what it’s like to be backed into a corner and feel like rock bottom is only a few centimeters away. I also know that each passing minute is a chance to turn it all around. That defines my recently discovered power.
That power also comes from the people I met in the hospital. There’s an old Katt Williams joke about not expecting to learn something from Flava Flav. I had a similar experience with a homeless woman, a woman detoxing from crack, and two women that didn’t speak English. They taught me all kinds of unexpected lessons about authenticity and honesty. The homeless woman taught me about setting boundaries and sticking to them. She told everyone not to mess with her and had consequences for those that tried her patience. She also explained how to get around on the Orlando bus transit system in great detail, because she took a liking to me for respecting said boundaries. The woman detoxing stated plainly during lunch that she was in the hospital to, “eat, sleep, and detox off crack,” in the middle of lunch one day. (Yes, it was hilarious, and I had to leave the room to laugh ’til I cried.) She also turned out to be a great listener and was very supportive of everyone there. The women that could barely speak English helped me practice Spanish. Eventually, the doctor and I figured out that Prozac was causing the side effect of suicidal ideations, and in days I was feeling better than I had in months.
Although I’m somewhat sad that I felt there was no way out earlier this month, I’m oddly grateful for the experience. I grew more in the last week and a half than I have in a long time. I know now that the bad things don’t have to define me. They can empower me. I have value, not despite what happened to me, but because of what happened to me. I’m not worthless. I lost my fear and self-doubt. My hope has returned, but this time, it’s created by no one but myself. My light will continue to shine.