There is a saying, erroneously attributed to Albert Einstein, that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That was me for years and years and years. Now I’m finally starting to change. It has been a few weeks since I posted, and I am seeing myself making some small changes, yet in many ways I continue to do the same things again and again.
I have become stronger, mentally. I no longer have so many fears, especially as surround my parents. While I have neither seen nor heard from my abusive stepfather since the wedding that kicked all of this off and forced me out of the shell I had safely occupied for years, I have since resumed cautious, cordial email exchanges with my mother. We even spoke briefly on the phone the other night. I was actually supposed to see her today, but a change in my schedule made that impossible. I know she is disappointed, and I am as well. I just celebrated a birthday, and it is the first time I have celebrated without a visit with her.
I have remembered a deeper, darker side to my abuse, one I never thought was there but one my therapist believed all along would surface. It is unspeakable, and it shakes me to the core, but it explains a lot about my behavior during high school and college. I am getting to know myself and my deep, dark corners much better. I’m trying to embrace it all, my inner beauty and the ugly places, every bit of me.
I have begun to stand up for myself more often. This does not always mean that those around me are comfortable with that. When for years someone you’ve known has apologized for every little mishap, her fault or not, has reacted with unending sympathy and patience and never questioned or opposed hurtful speech or attitudes and suddenly this new person does just that, it is unsettling for those around her. It can be like your old, faithful dog, no matter how many times you spoke harshly to her, she wagged her tail and came for a pat, but today she barked and bared her teeth.
I used to apologize for EVERYTHING, anytime someone was unhappy, discontent, bored, you name it. Truly, it was rarely if ever something I had done, or even something I had any control over, but I somehow felt guilty for the displeasure or unhappiness of others. Husband has a bad day at work? “I’m sorry.” Daughter can’t find something? “I’m sorry.” Brother in law slept poorly? “I’m sorry.” My life was an endless litany of “I’m sorry”. I was a pleaser, trying to keep the peace for everyone, because in my youth, if someone was displeased, I might get hurt. When tissue damage is involved, your desire to keep everyone around you happy and content is ingrained in your psyche, entwined into your soul, so deeply. You feel as though “I’m sorry” is tattooed over your heart or on your forehead.
No more. I am now only sorry for the things I actually cause. If I neglected to do something I had committed to doing, yes, I am and can be legitimately sorry. My apologies are only for things I have done or things I have failed to do. My apologies are never for me and who I am. I refuse to be sorry for who I am any more. I was a victim, and that was not my fault. Nothing I did could justify what happened to me. This is a huge leap for survivors of abuse. Many times, as it did with me, this realization takes decades to come to fruition. It can take forever for the survivor to really believe this in his or her heart; for so long we were told it was our fault and we caused it. Not just no, but HELL NO!
This is not always a comfortable thing, I do not wear this new “it’s-not-my-fault” face easily yet. In many ways it is like learning a new makeup technique. I’ve viewed the video on You Tube a gazillion times, and I’ve put the makeup on this way for a little while, but the technique is not yet natural. And that’s okay. Change is never easy, even when for the better.