Someone recently said to me,
“You have endured decades of repeated trauma and used that to find purpose in your life. How do you not see the value in yourself?”
I thought I did, but my behaviors don’t reflect someone who truly values herself. Beneath the facade of confidence, I am beginning to uncover that there are deeper insecurities that dictate the self-destructive tendencies that I can’t seem to justify, dwelling in my unconscious mind since I was a little girl and reinforced time and time again. I am just now realizing that I only see my value through the eyes of others and I don’t feel worthy of love just as I am, so I give and I work hard and I help others, satiating my need for the validation of my existence.
Since I was a child, I sought refuge in those who were powerless to protect me from the monsters that lived in our home, on the streets, and in my head, and since then I have learned to rely solely on myself. But what happens when you’re raised with self-doubt and can’t trust your own intuition?
The truth is, I have never felt safe on a visceral level and because of this, I have developed defense mechanisms, coping mechanisms, and survival strategies throughout my life, all of which I thought were meant to protect me but in the absence of threat were only inhibiting me.
Under my bright disposition, I am hypervigilant and anticipating attack. I say I am a rational person but am terrified of ghosts. I am anxious to the point where it cripples me at times and refuse to attach myself to anything that might blindside me or be taken away, anything that has the potential to destroy me. So I seek happiness through fleeting experiences with predestined expiration dates that have the sole purpose of serving me in that moment. I travel knowing I’ll have to return home, I read knowing the moral of the story is only pages away, and I water my plants knowing they’re replaceable.
But when I love, I love wholly, and let me tell you, my plants have never died from neglect but only from being overwatered. With people it’s not so easy because I can’t control the certainty or timing of their departure that I perceive to be inevitable, so I leave before I am left. And if I am ever stupid enough to let someone in, I make myself their home without asking for rent, but they come and go as if I’m a vacation and leave their stress and worries behind with me. I say I lose my self-worth when I am in relationships because I give and I give without asking for anything in return until I am depleted and distraught, and when it’s not enough for them to stay, I feel worthless.
So instead I seek temporary lovers whose agendas are self-serving but at least obvious enough for me to decipher because I can’t endure any more surprises. But even then I seem to lose self-value because their desire for me only runs skin-deep; I don’t let them see the rest of me. I start to think my body is the only thing I have to offer.
I have been conditioned to think that love is not truly love unless it is earned and tend to run away from those who want to love me. When they say they love me, I don’t believe them, perhaps because the one person who was designed to love me and nurture me has only ever hurt me and left me all in the name of love. She tore me down into an empty shell of a human for her own personal gain and when I had nothing left for her to take, she took my father and said it was my fault that we weren’t a happy family. You say all mothers love their children but you have never met mine, and somehow I have wrapped my arms around others whose internal demons have resembled hers and as a result, I continue to deprive myself of love. This is not the behavior of someone who values herself.
I am trying to identify and unlearn all the habits I have formed in order to keep myself safe and to learn new ways to sustain myself if a tsunami ever hits again because my past has shown me that it will. I say I am an old soul because I feel I have lived many lifetimes in my 26 years, each time that I have had to adapt in order to survive. I have rebuilt a home in my mind and my body many times over and luckily the healing has gotten quicker and easier each time. Now I am stocking my shelves with the tools to keep my head above water during the next disaster and the resources to start anew when it has passed.
Although history has shown me that people will abuse me, deceive me, and leave me, all while telling me that they care, I find solace in knowing I will never be like them and that there are others just like me. I am beginning to see the real value in myself because the common denominator through every traumatic experience has been my resilience to come out of the darkest days even better than if I had never been scathed in the first place.
Many don’t know that behind this seemingly happy life that I have carefully constructed to portray as my own, has been an arduous existence tormented by my abusers and a brain that torments itself in their absence. But my heart is still soft and my smile is still warm because although it’s been a bumpy ride, I can’t say I haven’t lived a colorful life, and the good things in my life taste extra sweet.