by Penny Smith
I had admitted to myself that I had been abused. I reached the point that I was tired of the way I was living. I wanted something more. I knew I had to deal with the effects of abuse if I ever wanted anything to change. I wanted to heal….so, why then was the process of healing so scary and hard to begin?
It’s like I had been a slave or imprisoned my whole life, and then I was offered the chance to be free. Freedom is what I had dreamed of, longed for, but never really thought would happen. Slavery is depressing, demeaning and kept me from realizing my true potential. So why wouldn’t I jump at the chance to leave it?
It is all I had ever known. To leave it would mean to enter the unknown, to be dependent on myself for the quality of my life, to explore my potential. In order to be free, or to heal, I would have to leave my old patterns of thinking, habits and people who kept me shackled in the chains of my abuse and its effects.
Yes, my first instinct was to go running towards freedom, but then I looked at all the coping mechanisms I’d used to make my life bearable, to survive what I’d had no control over. These were what I perceived myself to be and I was afraid to leave them behind. I felt a sense of control over my life because I had learned to cope.
That’s all I was doing—coping. I wasn’t dealing with the effects. I wasn’t getting to the bottom of how I felt and why I felt that way. I wasn’t dealing with anything—I was simply shoving it under the rug—coping.
The problem with that was, the more I shoved under the rug, the lumpier my life became. Since I was afraid to leave my cell it became more and more uncomfortable as issue after issue popped up in my life.
Finally, I realized that I couldn’t live that way any longer. I had to strike out on my healing journey. It was a relief to make that decision, but also scary. I thought that by beginning to deal with the affects of abuse, I would give up who I was. That in leaving the comforts of my coping mechanisms, I would somehow lose myself.
It was difficult to leave the familiar and set off in to the unknown. It was frightening to not know where the journey would take me or who I would become. In reality, I wasn’t losing my identity, I was finding out who I truly am. I had become a product of my abuse and the skills that I had honed to survive it. I was about to find out that under all those layers and layers of lies, there was so much more to me than I’d ever dreamed.
Not long after I had plunged myself in to the process of recovery, I remember finding out first-hand just how difficult it is to leave those old patterns of thinking and responding behind. I had a “friend” who seemed to only call me when she needed something. She called me one day and wanted me to do something for her on very short notice. It would be a huge inconvenience to me and it was not something I felt comfortable doing. I was so used to saying ‘yes’, so trained to do whatever was asked of me, that I told her I would. As soon as I got off the phone, I felt horrible about it.
I began to try and process my feelings. I realized that the inability to say ‘no’ was an aftereffect of my abuse. I had been trained to think that I wasn’t allowed to say ‘no.’ Right then I decided that I was no longer going to be a doormat. I was just as important as anyone else. I called my “friend” back and told her that I couldn’t do what she wanted me to. I’ve never heard from her again.
To some people it may seem simple, but it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was the most amazing feeling to finally stand up for myself. It was empowering to realize that I didn’t have to do everything that was asked of me. That I have rights too and that it does not make me a bad person to say ‘no.’ That is when I took control of my life back from my abusers.
By leaving the slavery, the cage, the prison cell where my abuse had kept me, I wasn’t giving up anything (at least not anything that was good for me). I was actually giving myself a chance to find out who I truly am.
At times it feels like I go backward more than forward, but when I look back, I can see that I’ve made progress. I’m amazed that I was ever afraid to leave that bondage. I marvel at who I have become. I am not who “they” told me I was…I am so much more and so are you.
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Penny Smith is a frequent contributor to Overcoming Sexual Abuse, especially through her heartfelt poetry. Penny uses her creativity in many areas including cake decorating, sketching and floral arrangements. She balances her recovery with being a busy wife and mother of three precious children.