I realized today that sitting in my jammies for days in a row makes me more depressed than relaxed. So I cranked up the music, cleaned the house, and then went for a walk in our nearby woods. It was 57 degrees and the sun was warm as I walked under the lofty, bare cottonwood canopy listening to the cardinals and chickadees. I felt anxious, like I was waiting for something, but I didn’t know what. And then it hit me, “It’s over.” The tears poured down as I realized, for the first time in my conscious life, that no one was trying to hurt me. It was over. I had survived. It’s such a simple, obvious statement that it becomes difficult for me to convey the profundity of those words.
I was about three the first time I remember any kind of abuse. I remember waking up from a nap to a babysitter holding my legs aloft as he did things I can barely stand to remember, more or less speak outloud. And it didn’t end there. Soon we would move in with that babysitter’s family. When I found out we were moving I hid under the table, in sheer panic, screaming until I was hoarse. My mom scolded me, telling me it wasn’t polite to react that way, that I should be grateful to this man and his family for giving us a place to stay.
My memories of the following years are dark and nebulous. I can clearly recall the tension between needing affection yet knowing the price that closeness demanded. I remember the limber stick, wrapped in electrical tape, that lived in the kitchen corner. I remember how it much it hurt yet how the pain paled in comparison to the fear. I felt as though his delirious rage could have killed me, while my mom sat fifteen feet away, calmly smoking a cigarette.
I’ve had to protect myself ever since I could fathom that was possible. I was prepared to charm, wiggle, giggle, or fight my way from adults with malicious intentions. Sometimes I succeeded, sometimes they did. But I never got over the need to protect myself, both emotionally and physically. Although I haven’t been under physical duress for quite some time, I’ve maintained alertness, still prepared to do what is necessary to survive. And I’ve never let go of the mental barriers to real intimacy, to closeness that might leave me exposed and vulnerable.
But it’s over. I’m not a child anymore. I’m not dependent on others for my care. If someone treats me poorly, I have the right to simply walk away. And I’m so very lucky to be surrounded by people who love me, people with only my best interests at heart. I do not need those protections anymore. I can relax, I can be close, I am safe.