I didn’t put a warning on this one because it isn’t graphic or detailed. I know in the beginning I revealed a lot of very graphic details about my past. This one is more about people and how they react when they find out. I may have touched on this previously but today while working out I watched a TED talk, which is my new obsession by the way. I’ll link to it at the end but it was by Boyd Varty and it had nothing to do with abuse or anything I’ve really talked about in this blog. Boyd discussed ‘ubuntu’.
“[Nelson] Mandela said often that the gift of prison was the ability to go within and to think, to create within himself the things he most wanted for South Africa: peace, reconciliation, harmony. Through this act of intense open-heartedness, he was to become the embodiment of what in South Africa we call Ubuntu. ‘I am; because of you.’”
Ubuntu is a beautiful — and old — concept. According to Wikipedia, at its most basic, Ubuntu can be translated as “human kindness,” but its meaning is much bigger in scope than that — it embodies the ideas of connection, community, and mutual caring for all. Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee (watch her TED Talk) once defined using slightly different words than Varty: “I am what I am because of who we all are.” — Boyd Varty
Once it is out, and it does get out, that you were severely abused you lose friends. As much as that sucks, it’s okay. Some people don’t know what to say, how to act or even just how to deal with what they’ve been told. I’m a big mouth about what happened to me, I’ll tell anyone because I’m not ashamed and also because it made me who I am. I have no idea who I’d be if this never happened, there is no way for me to know, all I know is that this shaped me.
The friends who didn’t leave and the friends who came after have made a huge difference in all of that as well. Some friends wanted to comfort me, some wanted to understand me and still some just wanted to be my friend and carry on as we always have. All of this meant a lot in how I’ve evolved through what I’ve been through. Even the shitty system we have in the part of Pennsylvania where I’m from and their inability to deal with these issues properly has helped me.
See, once I turned 18 I felt obligated to myself. I was free of this monster even though I still saw him a lot but now I could change my world, he no longer had control. Or did he? In some ways he did. I drank, took some drugs, got involved with some not-so-great people, self medicated really. That also caused me to lose some friends. It hurt, but it’s okay. At the time, it wasn’t, I was hurt, angry, disappointed but just like with everything else you go through grieving periods no matter who or what you lose.
Now, when you’ve been through anything traumatic you have choices. I mean, get angry for fucks sake, you have every right to feel that. Get pissed off and wish the person or people were dead. It’s a healthy part of the grieving period. The most damaging part though is the self pity. Yes, you can pity yourself for a while. It does help you heal because you’re taking in what happened, you’re realizing it, you’re hurting and no one likes to hurt but you cannot wallow in self pity forever. You can’t, twenty years later, continue to live in that self pity. Why? Because you get nowhere after a while. You continue to blame what happened to you for absolutely every thing that happens in your life and while yes, you’ll still have moments where the psychological remnants of what happened will affect a decision or a situation and that’s okay but you can’t blame the past for everything. You have a duty to yourself to take control.
Okay, so you have to take control and no longer let this monster or whoever, whatever, control you. But no one survives alone. No one gets through it all alone. Whether it is someone in your past who said something and it resonates in your mind and helps you get through or someone you recently met who has qualities you wish you possessed or they just provide support and listen. For me it was all of that. The friends who never left made me realize I wasn’t a bad person for going through what I went through and, in fact, made me feel normal because they treated me like a normal human being. The people I met taught me who I did and didn’t want to become. The things that were said to me in my youngest years, especially by my great-grandmother, always resonated with me. That is what gave me the strength. Some of it came from within and some of it from these people who, whether they knew it or not, gave me strength.
We are all connect and we all affect each other even without thinking about it. You have bad days and you say things like “I hate people.” I say it. I get frustrated when I see something on the news or someone on the bus says something hateful but I’ve learned to feel bad for these people as well. What happened to them in their past that they are so angry or so bitter? So when I encounter these people even if just walking by, I smile, I say ‘hello’. I get caught in conversations with people at bus stops, not necessarily conversations I choose to be in, but some people just need someone to talk to, and I never argue with these people, I reply with neutral answers if I don’t agree or just agree but no matter, I do my best to never be mean. It can honestly change someone’s day, week even, if they encounter just one person who makes them feel human.
You are allowed to have bad days but not every single day is a result of what someone has done to you in the past. I understand we’re not all the same and we can’t all just up and change our ways because these are learned coping techniques to cope with what we were going through at the time. It takes time to unlearn some of them. It is also never ever wrong to ask for help. It can be a frustrating journey until you find the right help but half of that is you. Your determination to get that help. Never ever be ashamed of what has been done to you. Also something you have to learn…unlearn. And watch people around you and realize they are struggling too. You can even learn from the mean ol’ grumpy ones. I’ve learned from mean grumpy old ladies I meet that I don’t want to be a mean grumpy old lady. So I do my best to be kind and polite and understanding as much as possible.
You are not what happened to you, but what happened to you made you who you are. Somewhere in there, you have choices to make and that is all you. Friends, colleagues, strangers on a bus, in a grocery store, all of them shape you in some way and that is how you choose to deal with them. And how you deal with them will somehow shape them as well. Ubuntu.