This is Where You Left Me

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Today is my birthday. Before you send your wishes my way, I want to tell you a story about the history of my birthday.

For most of my formative life, I was sexually abused. As a means to control something through the trauma, I developed an eating disorder that reared its hideous head during my teen years. Then, to top of a truly horrific sixteen years of my life, on my seventeenth birthday, I was raped.

The words ‘broken’ and ‘damaged’ are thrown around frequently to describe people like me. Shattered, and unable to form the ashes into something, anything at all, would be how I would describe the state of mind I lived with for a very long time.

Nineteen years later, I have given talks about my experience hundreds of times, but this is the first time I have put these words on paper, where I will have the ability to read my own words, about my trauma for the first time in black and white. And this, this is where you left me:

You left me robbed of simple things that bring other people joy: baths, playing in a pool, eating watermelon, mundane things that I don’t enjoy because they are triggers for me.

You left me with very few to trust and I thought for a very long time that I would never be good enough for someone to love me.

You left me with a nagging, vexatious sadness that plays like a broken movie reel in the back of my mind at all times.

You left me with a destructive cynicism towards humanity.

People ask me all of time — usually in an accusingly loud whisper — ‘what will you tell your boys? How will you explain this to them?’

I will explain it by teaching them not to rape. I will also explain to them that I am no longer ashamed and embarrassed, because this is my story to tell, and if no one wanted me to talk about it, then they never should have laid their hands on me.

I will explain it to them by teaching them about finding joy and peace within your life amongst a consuming pain. The picture you see captures the first time I realized that I felt joy celebrating my birthday, and celebrating the milestone of finding joy on an otherwise internally stormy day for me. The joy was so overwhelming in that moment, it felt as though I could suffocate under its sheer ecstatic weight of emotion. The hard truth is that life can and will change in an instant, and you must let go of expectations in order to move forward, because while the change might be hard, it also might be amazing, and you must be prepared for both.

I usually shun a celebration, because the pressure inside of me builds slow and steady in the months leading up to my birthday, but not for the reasons that you might think. I use this milestone to gage whether or not I have done enough in the last year to give back to others to make the weight of this baggage worth bearing, because sometimes not knowing or understanding the reason this happened to me becomes infuriatingly too much to bear. But, I have finally learned, that I, alone, am enough. And while I might never have the answer to the questions of ‘why’, I get to choose this newfound joy.

When I have flashbacks due to triggers, I choose joy, because you are no longer here to hurt me.

When I worry about who my children are exposed to, I choose joy, because I have two children who love me unconditionally.

When I feel inadequate and unlovable, I choose joy, because my spouse shows me otherwise.

I choose joy, because it is the only choice I was given to make in the collective experience. Where you left me is no longer a pile of ashes, but something I molded into a beautiful life. But you also left me with something that I now know: I have a strength you cannot match nor dare stand up against because my strength is greater than the pain you caused me.

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11 thoughts on “This is Where You Left Me

  1. So brave of you to share your story! This is a true testament that we never know what the person next to us is going through. It’s easy to make judgements…how you think someone’s life is perfect from the outside looking in. I am teaching my daughter to always be kind to others, because you never what they are going through.

    Thank you for sharing your story and helping others to heal from what has been done to them!

    Happy Birthday!! That is such a sweet pic of you and your boys!

    God Bless you all!

    Janel

  2. You are so welcome! Thank you for the service to your community and all that you do to give back to others! You are truly a light and an inspiration! Take care!!

  3. Thanks for sharing your story!! As sad as it is I’m happy to hear that you took those horrible moments and turned them into something positive!! And took you pain and turned it into strength!! I’m sorry for all of your years of suffering, but happy you are doing well!! You have a beautiful family!!! And I pray that you many years of Happiness!! May God continue to bless you with cheerful moments and happy memories!!

  4. HAPPY BIRTHDAY. Have an awesome birthday and a gr8 year ahead. Hope you have a wonderful life ahead to make up for those lost years of happiness.

  5. I messaged you on Facebook after I read this on Huffington Post but I thought it is better to leave a comment here too..

    Your words…they were like a mirror to me. I felt the way you felt as I too was abused a sexually as a child and I have just recently write publicly about it. I found out about it last year. So, this is all still new to me. I still have good days and bad days but I am healing and your words gives me hope. It inspires me to keep on writing…it felt like a beautiful reassurance that I am indeed on the right path. You are a voice for those who are yet to speak and hopefully will.

    Thank you for your words, your courage, your joy.

  6. Oh sweetie! I am so sorry for all the wrong done to you… However, your determination and strength inspire me! I wish you continued joy, everyday, forever! *hugs*

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