Alright – so… I’m in Argentina, and have been for a little over a month now. I have no f*ing idea why I came down. I do know, though, that I’m glad I did.
Nearly sixteen years ago, I left my room in two suitcases to visit my Dad for the summer, and I didn’t come back. A few years later, I began to come back for visits. A week here, ten days there, nothing that really merited unpacking my suitcase. Until now.
It took me nearly a week to empty my suitcase. When I opened the closet that once held my school uniform, I half expected to find the neat (and bilingual) labels that marked each drawer. The door still marks my height – 4’11” and 62lbs – but the labels and uniform are long gone. Instead, I found the monsters that had tormented me for years patiently waiting for me to come back. Some had grown stronger and meaner in my absence, while others just looked bored.
As I was home alone for a few days, these demons took full advantage and settled in comfortably to keep me company. In the evening, they reminded me of the fear and dread that would wash over the house when the garage would open for my stepdad. His footsteps down the hall would stop as he re-wound the cuckoo clock, marking that the house was now to be tip-toed in and that “Mummy is busy” for the rest of the night. They showed me the painting in the formal dining room I used to stare at during family dinners, doing my best not to cry under the latest round of bullying from the same man. After lunch, they sat with me by the pool, where my older sister had stood for hours with me trying to get me to jump over a broom handle – recreating my first taste of paralyzing anxiety. At breakfast, they gave me the same crippling stomach pains that would keep me home from school and unable to eat. These very same monsters that made me feel alone and insignificant, that told me I wasn’t good enough, and that made it terrifying to feel anything at all, were still here – happy doing it all over again.
It was overwhelming, to say the least. But after a good three-day total meltdown, I realized I’m bigger now; maybe even braver. So instead of running away (which clearly didn’t work last time), I am getting to know these monsters for what they are. If they’re going to hang around, I need to know what they’re all about.
When I moved sixteen years ago, I was moving away from a psychologically abusive house where I had never felt at home or wanted. What I didn’t realize was that I moved into a verbally abusive one where those feelings were not only still present, but also explicitly confirmed. In both cases, the abusers are/were my step-parents, which was hard. In both cases, neither of my parents were able or willing to defend or protect me, which was worse.
I remember at times wishing for physical abuse instead of having my insides completely gutted by a heartless slew of venomous words. I am in NO way trying to diminish the atrocity that is physical abuse, and I would not wish it on anyone – ever. But at the time, physical abuse felt like a black or white environment – it had clearly defined boundaries between right and wrong. It can be felt, seen, processed, understood, and to anyone with even half a brain, it is absolutely unacceptable under any circumstances. The psychological and emotional warfare, however, held me hostage in this dungeon of gray area that made it so hard to explain and understand what I was going through. Granted, my willingness to share my feelings was (and arguably still is) right up there with a spoiled toddler’s willingness to share his favorite toy. I was sent to therapy, sure, but after at least half a dozen “failed” therapists, it was clear to me that I didn’t need therapy – I needed parents.
I needed the people who I was supposed to be able to trust and count on to be there for me. I needed them to stick up for me, to stop the abuse, to tell me I was doing alright. I needed them to listen to me, even when I wasn’t able to talk. I needed to be hugged, to feel loved, and to know that as their kid, I (along with my sisters) came first. I needed them to at least occasionally put being a parent ahead of being a spouse or a scorned ex. I needed a home – not just a house.
I got lucky. I was able to find a lot of this support from other places, and have a lot of people to thank for helping me through some of the really rough times. In the last few years I have started to created my own home, but I am still carrying around this old void that I need to close.
It’s a process, but I think I’m starting to heal. I have been able to show my Mom what my depression looks like up close. I think it has helped her understand it a little better. It’s also just nice to be able to share what I am going through – especially since I can’t really just hide from the world like I normally do at home.
It’s going to take time, but I am really glad I’m here. Monsters and all.