This is not what I planned to write today. This is not how I planned to feel today, on my daughter’s second birthday. But it is my story.
I found out today that a family member has returned home, after moving abroad with her husband. She is much younger and, due to the canyon of time and distance, we haven’t had much contact. But I followed her story, or the story she chose to portray over the past few years, on Facebook: Young love, passionate love, “meant to be” love, cohabitation, marriage, moving abroad to start a new life. I was busy and didn’t follow her story closely over the past few months, but did notice that she was back with her parents and family; back from living abroad. An extended vacation, perhaps?
I found out today that her return was due to the buildup of years of emotional abuse and shaming; of creating a couple, to the exclusion of others. This young woman is a bright, vibrant, extroverted, impassioned, self-proclaimed feminist. The straw that broke the camel’s back is her straw, her story to tell, but it concluded with her being thrown out of her house in the middle of the night, followed by many subsequent nights of her husband begging her to come back, to forgive his “mistake”. And what makes me so proud is that she didn’t go back. She returned home, to the people who loved her from the start in a way that is pure and true and makes a house a home.
But if it stopped there I probably wouldn’t be writing this. I am writing this because, as I finished learning about her story, I felt my body tensing up, then tears starting to well, then slight shaking, then shortness of breath and what can only be described as the start of a panic attack. My husband asked, “What’s wrong?”, and I couldn’t voice it yet; I could only feel. Because this is like a wound you think has healed, only to be torn open unexpectedly.
This is when you are brought back to a moment when you are a young woman around the same age as your relative. When you are in a relationship characterized by shaming, by emotional separation from your loved ones, and by control. When you are taken back to a moment when you can feel his hands around your neck, and you are sobbing uncontrollably, and then he is sobbing and begging forgiveness and promising it will never happen again because it was the alcohol’s fault, dammit.
And you are brought back to when you stay in that relationship year after year because that never happens again, and that low becomes the bar above which all else is accepted. Which means that, because you’re in a long-distance relationship and the control and shaming is conducted from afar, love is distorted in translation over time and space to mean having someone hold your spirit, because they can’t hold your body. And it means that, because you are outwardly successful and there are no physical scars, the emotional ones are allowed to stay just below the surface; scars detectable by some, but not visible enough to propel anyone, family or friend, to scale over the barriers you’ve erected to protect your pride, in order to save you. Because you are strong. You can take care of yourself. You don’t need saving. That is what you tell yourself.
And then you are taken back to when you finally meet someone else who gives you the strength to remove yourself from that situation, and not go back. When you feel shame because, as a strong woman, you feel you should’ve been able to do it for yourself.
So I am writing this because the cycle continues, and I made my story lay dormant, and now it’s been awakened and is on the attack. I have to let it out, because I don’t want any more emotional scars. And I am writing because other girls, other women, need to know that nobody deserves to hurt you in that way. But if someone did, know that emotional scars are wounds just the same, and they need to be given the chance to heal.
I’m writing this to all the girls and young women out there to let them know that, eventually, I found someone who has never come close to hurting me in that way; someone whose love is not perfect, not “Facebook-ready”, but whose love is sweet and honest and pure. For them to know that it is possible and that you should hold out for this kind of love.
Being strong does not mean being silent; we should not silence ourselves. You may look at the actions of my abuser and think those make him less of a man. The only thing I know for certain is that I am not less of a woman or person for having lived it.
Today I am writing because, on my daughter’s second birthday, I don’t want her to be writing this same story twenty or thirty years from now.
In some ways I am that same young woman today, but in others we are worlds apart. My daughter was born, and I am grateful. I have visible scars. I have grown. In many ways, I am reborn.