The blackest ink isn’t always visible to the world

I had all of you, most of you, some and then none of you…take me back to the night we met. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do haunted by the ghost of you.

Lord Hurdon – “The Night we met”

I have been hurt in my lifetime. Hurt at a level that most will never understand, and I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. For years, when I viewed myself through the lens of ED, all I saw was an ugly, angry person. The view from the seat I sat in was one of such deep pain, such incurable confusion that I couldn’t see the whole picture. I was someone whose future had been stolen before I knew what that even meant. The thing about recovery is that you take steps to know yourself at the deepest and scariest levels, and sometimes what you learn is what you never knew existed. 

This process was a painful process for me. I entered into therapy thinking that these baby steps towards knowing myself would simply consist of talking about how my parents broke me as a child (which is not the case by the way), but what I found buried deep in the recesses of my mind were memories that were so painful I had never allowed myself to feel them, or at least realize that the anger and pain at my very core were caused by them.

Simply put, I was broken before I knew, and discovering why, nearly crumbled my carefully put-together exterior. What, you might be wondering could cause my journey of self-discovery to bore such a never-ending depth of pain that I thought I may never move past it? Well, to answer that you’ll need to keep reading, because it wasn’t just one, but three events that broke me, and it took coming to terms with them to get me to where I am.

The Child

When I was a child something happened to me. I have positive memories like most kids. Memories filled with a life of love from my parents. Memories of being held and snuggled, of visiting family, and of special moments that too few children get to experience. Unfortunately, under all that glitter of a beautiful childhood, a dark memory lay buried. When I started unraveling the details of what led me down the path toward ED, those memories came with it.

I didn’t initially realize that the nightmares I have from time to time all seemed to be the same memory. I never stopped to analyze that there were a lot of odd coincidences that when put together like a puzzle, all provided a view of something sinister. But as I sat on my therapist couch one evening last winter talking about how I had awakened one night in a cold sweat from a nightmare, it all came together; crashing into me like a tidal wave of pain. It was at that moment I knew what had started it all.

I remember being around a year old and my mother holding me and singing me lullaby’s in her wooden rocker. I remember the layout of our house, and the smell of my dad’s garage. I remember a lot from my very earliest life.

Then there is this gap.

This time period that no matter what I do, it’s just hazy, and tucked away just out of my reach. Those memories I only have when I sleep; the faintest hint of them will surface from time to time outside of my nightmares. This is what clued me into the fact that I was not just a victim of ED and the other events I have endured, and that my problems really started when I was around 2.

I can tell you some details about whatever those missing memories contain, though not a lot. I can tell you that there is a very specific looking man that sends me into panic attacks even today, and that I can’t watch movies with ANY actors who resemble that person. I can tell you what changed in me after that ‘lost’ period of memories, and how I was suddenly aware of things related to sexuality that I wasn’t before. I can tell you about how I suddenly started wetting the bed, and that confinement, and certain types of touch still make me so sick I can’t handle them. But I can’t tell you who, or why, or where because those memories have buried themselves within my subconscious, just out of reach. So I’m left with the vivid memories of my nightmares that recede with morning, and the sense of having experienced something before from time to time.

This was the first event, the original. The event that created an awareness and a hurt inside that opened the door to ED. Some days I hate that the memory or memories are so foggy because it feels like the weight of them will drown me. Other days I realize what the comfort of not remembering may have saved me from as well.

The Teenager

Like most adolescents, my teen years were tough on me. I was bullied, and confused about who I was and who I wanted to become. Unfortunately, I also sought out attention in all the wrong places. I was desperate to be part of something, and have friends. 

It was at then that ED really surfaced for the first time. Prior to my 7th grade year in school, my self-hate had been reserved for the mirror; unable to see me for who I was. This year, however, proved to be the time that ED came calling, and my door was wide open, waiting for his arrival.

Once ED got in, my world got turned upside down. Everything I had kept so well hidden behind my walls, suddenly became cries for help. I don’t think it was obvious to those around me, the level at which I was hurting. How could it be? I didn’t truly understand it either, so I kept putting myself out there. Trying to fit-in, trying to be loved, trying in all the wrong ways.

I didn’t lose my virginity as early as you would have thought, though I acted like I must have. I was still too young, and too broken to be ready, but I just thought this was ‘normal’. I gave myself away to my first serious boyfriend, and then event #2 came calling, and another piece of me was stolen.

I was only 17, I had only been with one person. He worked with me. He told me he was only a year or so older than me, and then took what he wanted while I cried and begged him to stop. It wasn’t like the movies, or even like most rapes. I convinced myself because I wasn’t physically assaulted like most women in that same extreme way, that it wasn’t really rape, so I didn’t tell anyone. That is the loneliest feeling in the world. Hurting and not telling a soul.

I have this memory from that night. It was back when cell phones were still not all that common, but the giant Nokia’s were popular. We had one cell phone as a family, and I had it with me that night, tossed in the back seat of my clunky car. The dumb phone would occasionally pick up without a button being pushed. It did that when he was raping me; while he had me pinned down, but I was so scared I didn’t cry out, I stayed quiet. It was my parents calling, and even though they were only 5 minutes away, and right there on the phone, they might as well have been on the other side of the world.

After I was raped I became numb. I said and did most of the right things, but inside I just stopped existing. It hurt too much to feel, so I stopped allowing myself to feel. I didn’t just allow guys to take advantage of me, I sought it out because ED convinced me that I wasn’t worth anything anymore.

The Adult

After high school I was simply a hot mess. I had always wanted to be a doctor. It was my life’s dream. A dream I still regret not fulfilling to this day, but I wasn’t in the shape to withstand college and what came with it. 

I started classes at the end of summer in 2000. I wasn’t able to declare a major yet, but I was already planning for Pre-med with a Biology focus. It was then that I met Bo. He was everything I thought I wanted in a guy. He was sweet, and funny, and looked at me like I was his whole world; we were inseparable. It only took a year and half for that to fall apart, and with it the last shred of any salvation he had provided. I was severely depressed, though no one really knew. At my worst, I remember sleeping with 3 guys in one day. I hurt SO deeply that I didn’t know where to find safety and love, so I just kept giving myself away to anyone who would look at me. (Please see side note below)

I was in the military at this time. Not the best environment for someone who was emotionally broken in the ways I was, but no one, not even me realized it. I was a medic, and drills happened on most weekends. The unit I was stationed with was primarily men, and I had always been competitive, so I really felt like I was thriving. Unfortunately, people only see what they want to, even when its withing yourself.

One drill weekend I was asked to run an errand with one of the guys from my unit, a good friend of my Sergeant. He had always made me uncomfortable with his comments and looks, but I assumed incorrectly that somehow I was safe.

Along the way he stopped, and tried making a move on me. While I was willingly throwing myself at so many men, this one I didn’t want, and I turned him down. That day Event #3 happened, and it was the last piece I had left of whatever innocence there was. I couldn’t him in to my Sergeant because no one would believe me. I was too flirty, so I would have it coming. Thankfully, I fought hard enough he didn’t rape me, but he did beat me up pretty badly. I had bruises all over my body for almost 2 weeks, and a black eye.

It’s amazing what you can convince people of if you are a well-spoken. I told everyone I knew a story about football and hid the rest of the bruises until they healed. No one ever knew until I told my husband in 2017.

The Aftermath

I was a broken women for more of life than I wasn’t. I’m not broken now, but for decades there was this ‘thing’ missing inside me. When I was convinced I was just a slut who wasn’t worth anything, I was really a 2 year old girl whose innocence was stolen. When I was a teenager begging boys to love me, I was really crying inside not to be alone. When I was a young woman fighting against two men who tried to kill the last pieces of my soul, I was really just an innocent who no longer understood how to cope. All the hurt became replaced with anger, and would explode out of me when coping was too hard. Purging was my way to cope to squash that anger when I felt it. 

You see, to everyone else, they saw someone different. Maybe some saw beauty, and others intelligence, and I’m sure my family saw a teenager and rude adult who seemed selfish, but none of them saw me. I didn’t either…not until this last year…not until I faced it all.

I’ve mentioned some of this before, but recently I’ve been having nightmares again. Memories have been forcing me to confront and cope without ED for the first time since I completed recovery. I’m not okay, but unlike before when ED convinced I needed HIM to get through, I realize now that its simply okay that it hurts to think about. It’s okay that I feel like someone stole something from me, because they did, and sometimes I still get angry. Three people stole from me, four if you count the ways I stole from myself. I can’t change what I went through, and in the earliest event I can’t even fully remember everything about it, but I can choose to be bigger and stronger than all of it. 

None of us wants to be hurt. We don’t want one single moment or short period of our lives to completely define who we are as people, so why do we give these things so much of who we are? There were several times in my life where I just wanted to quit living because the pain these three times caused me was so intense I didn’t think I could withstand it. These things don’t define me. I am brave, and strong, and smart, and FULL of love that I want to share. So, these moments  are simply that…moments.

Who you are is who you choose to be, not what things you live through. I will never be a doctor, and I can’t redo my childhood or teen years. Some days I still hurt for everything taken from me, and that’s okay. I am simply the person I am now, today. That person, though once shattered, is complete, and full of hope for the lives I want to impact. 

What a rapist takes from a woman is her future. The person she is going to become, who she is supposed to be, is gone.

“The Good Daughter”

SIDE NOTE: Just to be clear, I am a staunch supporter of anti slut-shaming. I believe completely that there is nothing wrong with anyone living their life the way they see fit, and sex is no exception. The difference I want to point out in this post is that mine was not a healthy choice but one of depression and confusion. I wasn’t making the decision based on enjoyment or any other healthy purpose, but because of events that had needed genuine recovery and therapy that I hadn’t received.