Keep Your Light On

I put on a brave face to the world but the truth is, every fucking day is an effort. The good days are spent wrestling with gratitude because my experience has shown that it’s only a matter of time before any one of my good fortunes or feelings will prove me a fool for believing I’m deserving of lasting happiness.

I was raised in a highly dysfunctional family that lacked healthy boundaries and the freedom to ask questions or speak my own truth. When I was really young, my father sexually assaulted me. I’m not sure if my mother knew, but I have memories of her dressing me up and parading me in front of him. My brother was allowed to consistently threaten and attack me. And as I began to mature, my mother’s jealousy and disgust towards me increased. My mother was not an emotionally balanced woman. She often changed stories to suit her needs, and her needs were vast and unattainable. On the outside world, my parents managed to charm people with an act of humbleness, generosity, and love bombing. Taking in a poor, unwanted child from a supposed third-world country only added to their facade.

When I was raped as a teen, I was made to feel dirty and that it was my fault. What happened to me felt a great imposition to my parents at a time when they had other things to worry about. 

I met my first husband at nineteen and didn’t know at the time that it was a means to escape. And because I knew love to be volatile, disruptive, and unpredictable, I settled for someone who showered me with flowers but regularly punched holes in walls, broke things, and eventually hit me. I was afraid to leave, but knew staying would kill me.

When I left, I was on top of my career and exhilarated by newfound independence. I finally had what I’d always wanted. Except I was afraid. I feared sleeping alone. Sleep has never felt safe to me, which I now correlate to when I was a young child and my father interrupted it. My fear of sleeping alone and wanting to be loved seemed to repeatedly propel me from one terrible situation to another. I always thought it was in my power to fix things. I felt, “If I just say or do the right thing, he’ll love me enough.” I didn’t know it wasn’t my fault for being unlovable, and not my job to convince someone of my worth. I didn’t have a clear idea of what healthy love was. And when I failed, I gave in to drugs and alcohol, numbing the pain just enough to get by another day.

I’ve been suicidal since age seven or eight. I started cutting at around twenty. I’ve survived swallowing a bottle of pills and countless times where I sat on the verge with a blade or a knife. Two things always saved me: 1) Not wanting to traumatize the one who would find my body, and 2) I was stubborn. I didn’t want to let the ones who hurt me win. I wanted to write the end to my story.

The truth is, when you die you don’t completely erase from the minds and hearts of those left behind. Suicide is like rage quitting life. You might feel powerful in the moment but in reality, you’re giving away all your power. Most people won’t be sympathetic and your life’s turmoil will devolve into meaningless gossip. When I was young, sometimes the idea of killing myself for revenge–to show my family how much they hurt me–felt appealing. But deep down, I knew they wouldn’t see it that way. My family would never admit they were wrong or treated me badly, but instead blame me for being unstable. You live on in the words people speak of you, like it or not, truth or lies. So my stubbornness rises like a cape on the verge of my jump, reminding me that those who’ve hurt me don’t deserve the satisfaction or control. Killing yourself won’t change how the ones who’ve done you wrong will feel about you or their part in your pain. It will only silence you.

I’ve read a lot about trauma. I’ve been to a variety of therapists. Sometimes it helped, sometimes it didn’t. I’ve joined support groups. Sometimes they’re validating and sometimes they’re overwhelming. I don’t have many friends I discuss this stuff with because I don’t feel worthy of leaning on them and disrupting their time and happiness, despite my willingness to be there for them. I have mostly chosen friends who are okay with and welcome that dynamic.

I exercise, meditate, cook, and practice an array of creative outlets. I go outside and take in the fresh air, appreciating how much beauty there still is in the world, and how much more there is to experience. Sometimes those things help. Sometimes I can’t force myself into action.

What it all comes down to for me is that stubbornness inside that says, “Don’t let the bad guys win. Don’t give them relief by your demise. Stick around and be brave enough to be what they’ve always feared you would be: without them, thriving, happy, and unafraid to speak your truth.”

I’ve lost a lot of friends since I stopped people pleasing. I’m done making excuses for why others treat me badly. And I’m done being disappointed in myself for letting them. There are over seven billion people on this planet. I’m all for introspection and self-improvement, but wasting time trying to understand why some don’t value me is crazy-making.

I don’t know where my life is leading me and I can’t promise anything but that I will keep trying. I don’t believe in God, fate, or any of those things that people gravitate towards when searching for a reason to hang on. I don’t know if anything I have now will continue beyond this afternoon. But I do know life is happening all around me and will go on with or without me. So even if my birth father didn’t think I was worth hanging around for, or my birth mother thought I wasn’t worth the social stigma or hardship, or my adoptive parents thought I wasn’t worth their love, and countless others didn’t think I was worth the time or effort, I am recognizing that there is so much life left and I am worth some of it. 

You are worth it, too. Everywhere you look, there will be people who suck and will treat you badly because they don’t see your worth or because they’re too damaged to own and work on their own shit. But everywhere you look, there will also be at least one other person with an open heart and kind soul. Find the good ones. Walk away from the rest. You deserve every breath you take. You’re not ungrateful for not being more healed, positive, or over it. And no, your suffering wasn’t meant to be, didn’t happen for a reason, doesn’t make you stronger, and you don’t have to be grateful for it. It will always stay with you. It will never not be a part of your story. It just doesn’t have to be or end your whole story. Let it help you understand life on another level. Let it give you perspective. Let it connect you to others in beautiful, almost eerie ways. Sometimes I swear I can see the survivor’s light glowing inside another across the street or crowded room. It reminds me I’m not alone. I feel a kinship in recognizing another. We are the unsung superheroes.

Keep your light on so I can find you. Keep your light on so you don’t lose yourself. Keep your light on because you were born with the right to live, love, be loved, and know joy, and not one single person deserves to distinguish that motherfucker.


Shared by a KAD who prefers to remain anonymous.

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