Warning: naughty language ahead.
We’ve all encountered this person: they are firmly stuck in the mire of their past.
They have 101 reasons to be lonely, miserable, sick, sad, broke, and hopeless. And, by most standards, they would be justified to feel that way. They are certainly entitled to choose this life in the role of the victim, and all the unpleasant things that come with it.
And, probably, they don’t even realize that they could make a different choice if they wanted to. But, truly, they could. They could choose it today and everything would change.
I used to be that person.
I grew up in a trailer in rural Michigan. My daddy was a bipolar schizophrenic, who was abusive and out of control most of the time. My mother and I didn’t connect deeply, I believe because she was preoccupied with her job, taking care of my dad and my baby sister, and because I was kind of a headstrong pain in the ass. I was molested at age three, I told my mother, and we spent the next 10 or so years hiding it from my dad.
I was a cutter, before cutting was “a thing.” I was a chubby kid, teased unmercifully in school, and never felt like I fit in. I was anorexic in high school, because I needed the male attention and validation not available to me at home. No surprise, I became pregnant my senior year and elected to have the baby, giving up a scholarship for pre-med.
Then, I realized that the man who fathered my daughter had a serious substance abuse problem. He disappeared one night during a brutal Michigan ice storm leaving me alone with our infant daughter, no power, no way to warm a bottle, and no way to get to somewhere with heat and water. So, I left him and returned to my childhood home.
At 19 years old, back at my parents’ house with my little baby, I enrolled in school full time and worked two jobs to try to make ends meet. Next thing you know, I was married to my best friend from high school. We had another baby, and moved 12 hours from home. I struggled to figure out how to adjust from life on the farm to life in Atlanta, GA.
After 13 years of marriage, two more cross country moves, gaining 100 pounds, and about six months of therapy, I decided to end our marriage. I had endured a lifetime of feeling unloved, stifled, neglected, and disrespected. I was lonely, miserable, and felt completely hopeless about my life. I had battled my weight, addictions, and all kinds of self-destructive patterns. I never understood why our marriage didn’t work, until my ex-husband came out of the closet. He married the man of his dreams just days after our divorce became final, and suddenly our relationship made perfect sense.
This is my reality—just the facts laid out for all to see. And, truth be told, there were lots of other shitty things that happened to me along the way. I could choose to be a bitter, awful, angry, resentful person today, and no one would wonder why. I could walk through life hating everything and everyone, and continuing to blame the whole wide world for my misery. That is not who I choose to be.
I could choose to hate my parents for their shortcomings. I could choose to hate the man who molested my little bitty three year old body. I could resent my daughter’s biological father for choosing his addiction over me and my child. I could even choose to blame my ex-husband for all of the issues in our marriage, and hate him for entering that union under false pretenses.
I do not choose to hold on to any of those experiences. Yes, all of these things have helped to shape me into the woman I am today, but they do not define me.
I understand that my parents did the best they could with what they had at the time. My not feeling loved and protected by them was a result of the circumstances we lived in. I don’t believe for a second that they ever set out to hurt or neglect me intentionally. They were just living what they learned from their own parents.
I know in my heart that the man who sexually abused me did so from his own pain and sickness. Perhaps he was abused when he was small, and was perpetuating the cycle as he experienced it. I saw firsthand that my daughter’s father could not control his addictions, which likely stemmed from his own difficult childhood. And, certainly, my ex-husband entered our marital union so deeply in denial about his sexual preference, that he didn’t even realize how it would affect us as the years went by. He was doing what he thought he was supposed to do.
I could play my crisp, shiny victim card at every opportunity, and no one could really blame me—because I’ve seen some shit. I could spend the rest of my life selling myself short, believing that I couldn’t overcome my circumstances, and wallowing in self-pity. And believe me—I spent years doing that.
I believed that I was damaged, and unworthy of love and respect. Because my focus was on the painful parts of my life, I wasn’t able to see the wonderful parts. I wasn’t able to see the woman I was under all the layers of abuse, neglect, and self-punishment.
Once I realized that none of the painful things I had endured happened because I was inherently flawed and deserving of punishment, I began to change. The abuse was in the past. It was the self-loathing that resulted from it that had stayed with me. I didn’t realize at the time that holding on to that was a choice, but it was. I had chosen to continue to punish myself for the things others had done to me. I didn’t know that there was a different choice available. When it finally occurred to me that I didn’t have to live that way anymore, I chose to tear up that shiny little victim card and throw it into the fire.
I am anything but a victim.
I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when the good witch tells her that the ruby slippers always could have taken her back to Kansas. The power to change my life was with me the whole time. I just had to face my fears. I had to pull the bandages off of my wounds and expose them so they could heal. I had to explore the darkness inside me, and look at the painful things that I had spent my life avoiding. I had to trace the patterns all the way back to their origins in my childhood. I had to forgive some people. I had to forgive myself. It was like surgery for my soul, dissecting every belief, every attitude, every memory. It was painful, and messy, and difficult.
It was also beautiful, and liberating, and validating. I was amazed at the beautiful soul I found beneath the rubble of my past.
I never deserved the things that happened to me. When I made that discovery, I found freedom. It wasn’t my fault. Nothing was broken inside me that I couldn’t fix. It was time to make a new choice.
Now, I choose love. I choose happiness. I choose to place my attention on the good things in my life. I choose to chase butterflies and dreams. I choose to surround myself with loving, supportive, positive people. I choose to put myself first. I choose to never, ever use the pain of my past as an excuse to not have an awesome life. I choose to be grateful for the whole experience of my life, because I know that it has made me the woman I am today. It is through the struggle that I was able to find my power and my voice.
Please, believe me when I say that everyone has a pair of ruby slippers.
They may be buried under years of self-loathing like mine were. They may be stashed so far in the back of the closet that we don’t even realize they are still in there. But, they are. We just have to brave the darkness to go in there and find them. The power to change exists within each of us. Go ahead! Tap those heels, baby!
Our past experiences may help shape us, but they only define who we are if we choose those definitions. We can be victims, or we can be survivors. We can be helpless and hopeless, or we can be badass warriors. In every moment of every day, the choice is ours.
Author: Renee Dubeau
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Kiera Chan/Flickr