The first time I was told I was worthless, I was 11 years old. I had mistakenly shared a goal for the future aloud in my house, and he scoffed: “You? You’ll never do shit, because you’re not shit. The sooner you learn that, the better off you’ll be.”
It wasn’t until later that I realized I was being broken down, an unrecognizable shell of a girl sat where a confident, bold child once stood. The sexual and verbal abuse was constant. I can distinctly recall having my teddy bear with me to try and help shield me.
That’s how young I was. I went from having big, imaginative dreams to being forced into womanhood. He reminded me I was officially damaged goods. He knew it would take a crushed spirit to listen to his lies, cave in to the manipulation and keep quiet as long as he needed me to.
I was 14 when it all finally stopped. Typical post-abuse behaviors began surfacing: I was desperately boy-crazy one day but modest and withdrawn the next. I partied and drank alcohol with the older kids too early, feeling like being popular and “wanted” was somehow fulfilling the deep desire I had to have value to someone.
I never acknowledged what happened. I had no intentions of telling anyone, of seeking help or of ever thinking of the abuse again. This toxic mindset allowed another person to take advantage of my vulnerability while I was in college.
I was proud to have even made it to university, something I was always told I would never do. The boy who tried to finish breaking me was a textbook sociopath: attractive, sure of himself and lived by the mantra of “be mean and keep them keen.”
I allowed people to tell me they loved me while they exhibited actions that resembled love as much as Hitler resembled a saint.
For every five verbal lashings and emotional tear-downs, he would give me one compliment or kind gesture. I was hooked, convinced that this kind of love had to be normal for me to have experienced it twice now. I allowed people to tell me they loved me while they exhibited actions that resembled love as much as Hitler resembled a saint.
I allowed myself to be battered and berated for two years with this person. When I finally tore away, it was because I had finally found the strength to let everyone in on this dark secret I kept for so long. I faced my original demons in court, where the sentence he received was laughable.
Nevertheless, it had awakened something within me. Coming toe-to-toe with the person who almost destroyed me proved to be so cathartic, that I began to understand I truly was worthy of real, enduring love. I could and did find it, but my journey of healing was still in its infancy.
I’m not a professional, I have no psychology degree, but I can give you some insight into how to start seeing yourself as a person who deserves to be treated well. A person who deserves kindness and respect. A person whose past does not have to become the norm.
(Please note this advice is not meant to take the place of therapy. Just know that therapy hasn’t worked for everyone. Please try going to therapy, but if you’re one of those people resistant to it, maybe you’ll find some solace in my musings below.)
1. Take Up a Hobby
I am so serious about this. As cliché as it sounds, finding something that will occupy your mind and time is as good as therapy ever was for me. I found writing to be my natural outlet for pain release, but I’ve had many friends who devoted their time to learning an instrument, joining book clubs, volunteering or cooking. Reminding yourself that you are good at something is helpful to reminding yourself that you are good.
2. Break Something
A good girlfriend of mine is a fantastic artist, who had a ton of old windows that she wanted to get the glass out of. I went over to help her and went to town on those poor old things. It felt so good to physically release so much of that anxiety that I did it a few more times over the course of the next few months. (Naturally, I never broke anything that belonged to someone else! Someone had already broken something of mine. I’m not in the business of doing that to anyone else.)
3. Use Negativity as Fuel
Tell me I can’t do something and I’ll do it twice as well as I originally intended to. If they told you that you couldn’t go to college, go. Get the degree. Get the job, make all the money and treat yourself until the cows come home. They told you that you’d never make it without them? Thrive in such a way that you can’t be ignored. Shine your indomitable shine and know their darkness will never extinguish your light.
4. Know That It’s OK to Not Be OK
This is one of my favorite things surrounding current conversations about mental health. It’s OK to not feel like shining all of the time. If you need to take the day off work to be with your thoughts and to sleep, do it. But please, please don’t give in to the negative thoughts. It’s OK to not be OK, but it is NOT OK to let yourself live there for too long. You deserve to rise up, but you also deserve to rest. Strike a good balance—and let me know how to do it, because I’m still learning.
5. Give More to Others
When it feels like you’ve got nothing left to do or give, that’s exactly when you need to find someone who is worse off than you. Write a card, send a text, go for coffee, whatever. Just know that your spirit is strongest when it is exercised, so go out and be that positive light for someone else. Always remember the wise words of Dumbledore, "Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light."