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Defining My Own Story as an Abuse Survivor

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Last week in English class we had an assignment on style, where we were instructed to pick a topic we are passionate about and use our personal experience to mimic the style of Martin Luther King’s “Letter From A Birmingham Jail.”

I wasn’t going to share what I wrote, but the more I’ve mulled over it and reread it, the more I have realized there are probably many people in my situation.

If you can relate to any part of what I wrote, I have something to tell you.

It is easy for those who have never felt vulnerable and unprotected in an unforgiving world to understand neglect, but when you have:

  • waited in vain for your parent to come home;
  • when you watched as grocery money was spent on bottles of wine and cigarettes;
  • when you’ve been told to eat herbs and sugar crystals for dinner and to “stop being so ungrateful”;
  • when you spent the majority of your seventh grade year running rampant around a shady apartment complex and taking refuge in a nearby dog park, because it at least could block you from the heat, and you’ve sat in a hidden gazebo you took shelter in while it hit you that you were treated no better than a malnourished puppy;
  • when you’ve felt the jerk of the car as your drunk parents speeds down the shoulder of the highway;
  • when you’ve spent your allowance tipping waiters because your parent got angry and walked out of the café without paying;
  • when you’ve recoiled in horror as your hero pulled out a gun in the middle of a Buffalo Wild Wings;
  • when your “protector” threw pencils at you that inevitably landed square in the middle of the wall;
  • when cell phones have been slapped into your open palm;
  • when you’ve overheard phone conversations where your own mother claims she wants you to “pay for what you’ve done”;
  • when you’ve gone to bed with an empty pit in your stomach and been sung to sleep by the grumbles of your own tummy;
  • when your friends have felt the need to take turns staying at your apartment because they knew their company might bring food and the façade of normality;
  • when you’ve fumbled over an answer to the questions, “where is your mom?” and “why do you look so tired?”;
  • when smuggled food comes tumbling out of your backpack after you tripped on a door, leaving you crying, hungry and judged by peers who have no clue what is happening;
  • when you’ve been forced to put all your things in boxes for your safety as a drunk parent screamed obscene things at you;
  • when you’ve spent hours on your hands and knees sobbing for your parent to come home and shattered when they traded you in for their boyfriend of the month and had to be forcibly held down by your father in a fit of frustration and desperation…

Then you will understand how I learned to live off so little food, and why I still search for her face in large crowds — why I will never be the same.

If while reading this passage you thought to yourself, “Wow, I relate,” there is something I need to tell you. I made the choice at 14 to leave my mother and move in with my dad full time after a series of bad decisions on her part.

In the midst of everything, I didn’t see a way out. I didn’t see a future without her, and I certainly couldn’t keep living my life with her.

At the age of 14 I made the best move for myself. I learned to be my own advocate. I’m not going to tell you it was easy by any means, but it is possible.

If you are like me, you need to know: there is a way out. Keep going. You have so many days ahead of you. So many memories left to make. Your abuser does not define your story; only you can choose to do that.

Getty image by Aleksandra Golubtsova

Originally published: January 8, 2020
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