Strength.

[Content note: I am going to be frank about rape, abuse, drug use, and other facts of my traumatic childhood. If you will find that hard to read, please practice self-care in whatever form that takes for you.]

Vengeance is me speaking up…
This is me speaking up. 
— Bastille ft. Angel Haze, “Weapon”

My mother is a drug addict who didn’t want children. I grew up knowing that the way some kids know that they’re loved and wanted. My mother is a drug addict who would have aborted me if she weren’t a Catholic, I was an accident. When she was angry, I was nothing. At least once a day when I was living with her, I heard about my inadequacies. My failures. How without me she would have been free of my transmom, who had impregnated her.

I was raped when I was a child. My rapist almost killed me. My parents punished me when they came home because he didn’t tell them he raped me. He told them I’d been eating food out of the fridge with bare hands. That wasn’t the only time my rapist abused me. I was best friends with his sister, and we would go to his house to play and he would put blankets over us and beat us or touch us. And for months I let it go because he told me if I said anything he would kill me. Or my brother. Or my family. And I believed him. Because I was a powerless child who couldn’t see anything else.

In the tenth grade I joined the cross country team at school. A boy on the team took the opportunity to grope me repeatedly while I was in PT with the school’s athletic nurse because I was immobilized by having to ice my leg. When I reported him he got two weeks off the team. I quit the team, after a screaming match with my mother and step father, who told me that sexual assault wasn’t a legitimate reason to quit the team. They told me I was a quitter and I made it up for an excuse not to exercise my fat ass. And yes, that’s a fucking quote.

My step-father once made my brother count the silverware after I left from visiting. They’d thrown me out, and when I came to see my brother who even when I have been incapable of expressing it I have loved more than life itself, they dragged him into my abuse too. Because I was nothing and I shouldn’t have anything. Not even a brother.

I grew up in this stew. These are just a few details. Just a sketch, so you can see the vaguest shape of the house I grew up in. The house of pain, the house of trauma, the house of sacrifice and self-destruction.

***

I grew up broken. I grew up believing it when people told me I was worth nothing. That no one would save me or love me or want me.

I spent a lot of years running from my past. Running from who I was because I didn’t just believe, I was everything they said I was. I was evil. I was a temptress. I’d grown breasts and a period in the third grade, of course I’d earned abuse. Of course I had.

People who knew my past would call me strong and I would stare at them as if they had two heads. I wasn’t strong. Strong would have been pushing the cops when they said I wasn’t really raped. Strong would have been pushing the CPS when they said they couldn’t remove me from my mother’s home because engaging in BDSM in front of your children isn’t abuse. Strong would have been getting my brother the fuck out when I found the unlock code that got them to kick me out.

Strong would have been all the things I should have done and didn’t.

And that was another way they broke me. Because I believed if I hadn’t done all of it, then I hadn’t done any of it.

People used to call me strong for surviving. And I wrote about that once. I wrote that I wasn’t strong, that I just wasn’t ready to die.

What I didn’t understand then is that looking death in the face and saying, “Not today,” is a kind of strength. A kind many people don’t have. A kind many people envy.

***

There are nights I shake and can’t sleep. There are nights I cry and rage and scream. Sometimes? Sometimes I still starve myself to feel it hurt. Sometimes I still pinch myself until I bruise because I am broken and believe that I may be fundamentally evil. Because the poison they grew in my soul will never be all the way gone.

I will always have a scar of pale white skin running jaggedly through my soul where their knives of word and deed cut me until I bled. Until I lost myself. Until I believed and shaped myself to that belief.

There are times where the strongest thing I am capable of doing is looking at my husband, or my best friend, or one of the women I am lucky enough to know who holds space for me, and say “I am not alright.” Admitting that I am hurting, that I’m scared, that I’m still broken, all hairline cracks in my facade of holding shit together. There are times (like when I get hatemail on the internet wishing I would be raped and killed) when I wonder if these people know my secret past. If they know that I have been raped, almost killed. That my mother probably wishes she’d finished the job.

But living? Living is strength. Friends are strength. Letting people love me when I feel unlovable is strength. Knowing that I survived, that I can survive, is strength.

Strength is that this morning I woke up, I looked the option of dying in the face, and I said, “Not. Fucking. Today.”

***

If you need to borrow my strength, my inbox is always open. And I will look giving up in the face for you, until you’re strong enough to do it, and I will tell it to fuck off. Because being a survivor is being able to lean on the strength of all the survivors I know.


Banner used with permission from: Go Make Me A Sandwich.

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