I’m supposed to have most everything figured out by now. When I was in my 20’s, not having my act together was acceptable, maybe even normal, predictable and somewhat endearing. But I’ve reached the point in life where it’s no longer adorable. Not even close.
Not only should I have figured out the mysteries of life by now, I should have implemented what I learned and lived the mystery in style. I should even have a few words of wisdom to share. Some insights. Some nuggets of truth. Observations that can save others from stepping in a few of the holes I fell in that nearly broke me or that caused me overwhelming despair and consternation.
Instead, I have only examples of what not to do. I can only tell you a cautionary tale. I’ve nothing with which to inspire you. I have not overcome. So the path I have wandered and the lessons I have learned only concern directions best not taken and decisions one should not make.
My lessons are tainted with regret. And longing for a second chance. If only I could try once more, I think I could get a few things right this time.
All I can offer you, since there are no second chances in life, is a warning to not do as I have done. To not walk the way I have walked. To not think the way I have thought.
With that in mind, I share what little I have to offer, hoping it will at least cause you to consider some of the things I didn’t consider at the time.
Lesson #1: I was silent when I should have shouted.
I am probably much like many others. As a child, I was timid, quiet, frightened of adults for obvious reasons. I was perhaps even more silent than most, considering I was being abused by those who gave birth to me and who should have protected me from the very things they were themselves doing. I swallowed the abuse and the resulting pain. I swallowed it whole until it very nearly choked the life out of me. I didn’t manage to whisper a word until I gathered my courage and talked to members of a Christian group visiting our town when I was 13 and badly broken. I didn’t want to make trouble for my parents, but I did hope to get some help for myself because I was drowning in anguish and deconstructing with every punch, slap, penetration and harsh, cutting word of rejection. I had been raped, forced to participate in the sick sexual fantasies of my father, fondled, molested, kissed, ejaculated in and upon, soaped up in the shower, made to dance nude, had fingers and objects inserted into me and there was nowhere for me to turn for help. When I finally did reach out to this group from out of town, dared to speak the words I had been holding inside of me, telling them I was being sexually abused, they quickly, to my horror, turned me over to the pastor for follow-up. I didn’t attend the church…that wasn’t something my family did. I had gone that night with a neighbor. So the pastor didn’t know me; not really. But he knew my parents, particularly their stellar reputation within our community. So when he closed the door to his office and turned to face me, he told me with unbending force and anger to go home and never tell a lie about my parents ever again.
I was horrified. Shattered. I shut my mouth and kept it that way most of my life. I shut my mouth and swallowed the rancid toxic waste that flowed through me, keeping it to myself lest I infect someone else.
I should have shouted. I should have screamed at the top of my lungs until someone listened and got me out of that unbearable situation. I should have talked and kept talking until someone heard what I was saying and did something about it.
Which brings me to…
Lesson #2: I should have done whatever it took to get the help I needed when I was young and malleable.
I didn’t reach out until I was almost 50 years old. By then, the damage had not only been done, it had been cemented into place. It was cemented, nailed down, buried under tons of soil and I had built a massive brick building over it. I couldn’t even remember what I had buried down there, so far beyond the earth, where light and air didn’t penetrate.
Trying to undo what had been done at that stage was a difficult, hopeless, unproductive battle. Simply put, it was far too late. It would have taken a miracle to help me at that point. But miracles are in short supply. If they aren’t, in fact, extinct.
Had I thought I had worth, if I’d had a clue I might actually be a “real” person, I might have done more, fought harder, stood up for myself and gotten what I needed to heal. And that brings me to the next point in my cautionary tale.
Lesson #3: Don’t let anyone tell you that you aren’t worth loving or don’t deserve to be loved.
I was told I was nothing. An object. An object who continually failed to live up to expectations. I listened to what I was told, as most children do. I believed it. Swallowed it whole along with everything else I was forced to hold inside and it swallowed me whole in return. I became invisible. Nothing. A non-person.
It took me nearly all my life to even begin to consider I was a “human” just like everyone else. I felt completely inferior. So utterly lacking in value, I didn’t realize I was a living being. I could only see that I was contaminated and worthless, so surely everyone was justified in shunning me and throwing me away. When it happened — again and again — I thought this was all I deserved. Being tolerated was all I could ask. How could I expect more? I was lucky to get a scrap that fell from the table. Eating a meal was not in the cards. I did not deserve nurture.
I let them beat me down and destroy my belief in myself. Their abuse had the effect of dismantling my confidence, self-worth and demolishing my person hood.
Had I not gone quietly, had I instead done everything in my power to get the help I needed, had I been able to see my own value, I would now be able to be that inspirational example I’ve always longed to be. I would have stories worth sharing, words worth saying. I would have wisdom and encouragement to give you. I could have lived instead of existed. Thrived instead of survived. Overcome instead of under-achieved. I wouldn’t be stuck in the darkness, broken and without hope, still trying frantically to paste the fragments of my soul back together again.
I could have lived a vibrant life.
If you can learn anything from me, if I can inspire you in any way, learn this. Hear and grab hold of this.
Don’t swallow yourself. And don’t let yourself be swallowed by emptiness. Don’t let anyone shut you up. Don’t choke down your pain and allow the darkness to strangle you…not without a fight. Shout from the rooftop until someone pays attention and helps you get whatever help you need. No matter the cost. Do whatever you have to do to heal, to learn to deal with what has been done to you. Do it now. Early on. Before you are so numb you can’t even remember what it is like to have emotions. Never allow anyone make you feel that you aren’t important enough. Don’t let them steal your value or diminish your humanness. You are worthy of being loved. You deserve to be cared for. You have worth.
Don’t follow in my footsteps. Don’t let life kill you before your body is ready to die. Live your life. You deserve to live. As did I. A lesson I learned too late.