CW: discussion of childhood trauma, mention of assault
The most traumatic part of my assault was actually a decision I made directly afterwards. I didn’t even realize I was making a decision, and at such a tender age I should’ve never been in a position to have had to make said decision.
I had finally found my mother, the mission I’d originally been on when two should-have-been-trustworthy men led me astray, and she was in tears. My mother had especially bad eczema on her hands back then, and the stress of being at a party where she was constantly having to meet new people and, as is custom, shake their hands, was just too much for her.
So the immediate question was, “Tell Mum what happened (already a bad idea for many reasons) or comfort her and forget about it?” But the question I was really posing to myself, the one that would reverberate throughout my life for decades to come, was, “Who first, you or everyone else?” This isn’t a question of selfishness, this is what do you do in an emergency–put on your own mask first, or immediately start assisting others?
I wonder now if it was even a choice to begin with. Even after only five years, the world has already start imprinting on you, especially as a “girl.” Already I was learning how to take care of my mother, emotionally and physically, for the days that she couldn’t. Already I’d learned my best and often safest bet was to be quiet. Already I knew my purpose was to provide a service. So it’s no surprise, really, that I didn’t have to ponder long before I took my mother’s hands and gently kissed them, reassuring her that they were soft, beautiful, and wonderful hands as far as I was concerned.
I can’t be mad at myself as a child. She didn’t know better and she thought she was doing what was right. But in that moment I sealed off a part of my heart and excavating it is proving to be a helluva trial.
I’ve gotten to thinking about the idea of “choosing oneself” recently, particularly as a possible antidote to my destructive decision made so many years ago. (I’m not saying I blame Hannah Gadsby, but uh, let’s say I had all this stuff put away neatly on the shelves of my heart and then I watched “Nanette” and now there’s crap just strewn all over the damn place and I want to blame Hannah but, hey, not her fault my shelves were not the least bit sturdy. Build better shelves, Smart Guy. BTW, if you haven’t seen “Nanette” yet just stop reading this right now and go watch it. I’ll wait.)
Anyhow, if you’re into pop psychology then you’ve probably come across the idea of “choosing one’s partner” before. I don’t mean as in actually selecting a partner, I mean this kind of new-age concept of “choosing” the person you love every single day. The presentation is hokey, but I get the concept: Be present with the people in your life instead of taking them for granted. I can get behind that idea.
Now I’m trying to take it a step further–what does it mean to “choose” yourself? Well, it must have something to do with self-worth because I am getting super uncomfortable just thinking about it (haha, but seriously). Ehem, anyhow. “Choosing yourself,” at least for me, means going back to that scared little child and telling her that she matters, and that I’m going to take care of her. And then the hitch is I actually have to treat myself like I matter and take care of myself and shit, that’s where we sink or swim.
“Choosing myself” would mean validating my own pain and giving heed to my experiences. It would mean trading in my jokes for less self-deprecating ones. It would mean telling my story without my heart being weighed down with shame. It would mean not laughing awkwardly after literally everything I say as a way of undercutting the importance of the things I am saying.
It would mean… not treating myself like a punchline, even though the rest of the world still does.
One thing I do like about the “choosing” concept is that reflects the reality of having to remake this decision every day. Some days are going to be harder than others; some days you’re going to want to abandon yourself outright (like I actually did). But the challenge is to keep choosing yourself, even on days when it is the last thing you want to do.
Honestly, the whole idea does make me very uncomfortable. I’ve discussed my dislike of positive affirmations in the past, but I have convinced myself to start using what I call “rebuttal” notes. For example, a positive affirmation is “Love yourself!” Gross, barf, please get that sugar-coated crap away from me as fast as possible. But my “rebuttal note” says “Love yourself anyway,” because it is intended to be a response to my snarky brain, which is probably at the time listing reasons why I am undeserving of love. “Love yourself anyway,” could care less about my crap reasons not to, but also kind of acknowledges the down and dirty nature of repairing one’s self-esteem. That is, for me, nothing about rebuilding myself has been cute or glittery or inspiring: it has been confusing, messy and anything but linear.
There will definitely be bad days. I’ve taken to calling them “BMH” or “Bad Mental Health” days. It’s an attempt to acknowledge that not all days are salvageable, but just because today didn’t go the way you planned doesn’t mean you can’t try again tomorrow. I am not a Katy-Perry-brand-“ROAR” kind of gal, I didn’t come to conquer (though my complexion would suggestion otherwise, oooooh, white people burn!). Which is why this quote as always spoken to my heart:
“Courage does not always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I will try again tomorrow.'” -Mary Anne Radmacher
So whether your courage roars or whether it is a quiet voice, know that the world needs it, and try to choose yourself.