Birthdays usually mean surprises. I remember one particular birthday en route to our destination I was lead into a dark room and without warning, all of my closest friends popped out shouting my praises. I was so taken aback. Immediately my defenses went up. This should have been a happy moment, but it felt more like a violation. What was meant as a celebration of me, I saw as an attack.
Why was the surprise party so jarring? Because it wasn’t what I expected. I had anticipated a calm evening, with our course mapped out and a full agenda of what, when, where, who. And it wasn’t so much that I was missing out on the evening that should have been; I was disturbed that I had lost control of everything.
Control gives me a sense of security. I know what is going to happen, when it’s going to happen, and who it will happen with. I recall someone a long time ago naming one of their best qualities as spontaneity. I was baffled. How could that be a good quality? People just pick up and go. Ahhhh! The whole idea of that was terrifying to me. It wasn’t until recently that I began to explore my feelings about being spontaneous. What so many people view as a fun and admirable quality I saw as dangerous. It seemed irresponsible to me. I thought that people were just throwing themselves in harm’s way by doing something without planning it in advance. Spontaneity requires that same loss of control that I hated so much.
Where did I get this? I had no control over what my abuser did to me, and to counteract that I have made an attempt to control everything. The truth is, trying to control hasn’t kept me safe. Instead, it has instilled more fear. Being terrified of surprises doesn’t make them go away.
As I’ve started to take back my voice and established healthy boundaries in my life I’ve also started to let go of the fear that bound me. Dealing with the fears that compel me to try to control everything has allowed me to take baby steps, starting with my plan to lose control. I know that sounds like it doesn’t go together, but for a type A girl like me it was my best solution. I took pockets of my week when I would allow for the unexpected—whether that be a beach adventure or just picking a direction and seeing where the wind blows. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the outcome. Sure, at first it was a little stressful, but I pressed on and actually started to enjoy not being on edge all the time.
Over time it’s become a habit. And this doesn’t mean letting go of all my defenses, but it did mean not letting the loss of control dictate whether I had a good time or not. It’s been freeing! I began feeling like a human being instead of a robot.
Just the other day I asked my mom if she wanted to go on an adventure and we just picked up and left. I never could have done this a year ago, and it’s exciting to know that I’m on my way to being completely free.
Bethany, along with her mother, Christina Enevoldsen, is the cofounder of Overcoming Sexual Abuse, an online resource for male and female abuse survivors looking for practical answers and tools for healing. Besides helping abuse survivors see the beauty within themselves, she enhances the beauty of others as a professional make-up artist and has worked in television, film and print. She lives in Los Angeles.
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