Believe in yourself. That was the round about response I received from a friend when I recently asked her what her greatest life challenge had been and how she overcame it. She didn't say, "believe in yourself." Instead, she bravely shared the horrors of her childhood and told me what she did to survive. The message I heard? Believe in yourself.
First, a bit about my friend. She is breathtakingly beautiful. She has this glow about her that is hard to describe. She walks in the room and suddenly the room is brighter. Yeah, she's like that. Radiant. Glowing. Brighter than bright. To quote from Victoria Moran, she is "Lit From Within", and it shows on her face, in the way she walks, in the way she talks, in her very presence. The woman you would see if you passed her on the street - well dressed, not a hair out of place, make-up perfectly applied, shoulders back, head up, walking at a confident pace like she knows where she's going. . . she knows where she's been. My writing skills are not sufficient to describe this ethereal being so I ask you to visualize your ideal of beauty and there you'll find her. My strong and beautiful friend.
In childhood, love came packaged in a bottle of alcohol her father would drink just before beating her mother in front of her toddler eyes. Love included hiding in the closet or a car or a neighbor's house trying desperately to avoid and escape the rage, the abuse. After teaching her what love looked and felt like, my friend's father passed away. She was 6. Her brother quickly picked up where their father left off. He found the bottle, drank from the bottle and soon surrendered to the bottle so he could continue the love, the abuse he too had learned at a very early age. Addiction, hatred, rage, fear, beatings - they became the norm. Love looked and felt like hell. After the death of her father and continued abuse by her brother, she began spending time with a friend. A place to escape. A place to hide. A place of safety. A place where she could start to heal and learn from a "normal" family what love really felt and looked like. But no! That was not to be! Abuse and terror were not finished with her yet. Regardless of where she went or what she did, she could not escape the evil love she had learned from an early age. He was 17. She was too young to consent. He did as he pleased. He showed her a new love. Wrapped in unwanted hugs and forced kisses, she was introduced to love on a whole new level. Sexual abuse. That's what she called it. He sexually abused her for years. And she remained quiet. Submissive. She obeyed his commands because that's what love did. She knew that. She learned it from her father, the parent that every little girl looks up to for sound advice and guidance. This sick and twisted man/boy raped her over and over. Physically, she could not escape. There was nowhere to go. No one to tell. She was all alone as her body was used, abused and tortured in every imaginable way. But! In her mind, she could hide. In her mind, she could find safety. In her mind, she could escape. And she did. She stayed in the closet. She stayed in the car. She hid in her mind wherever she could. Stay safe. Stay alive. Believe in yourself. And she did.
She's an adult now. Behind her is the evil. Behind her is the black, rotten, nauseating kind of love she was taught as a child. She believed in herself. Enough so that she graduated from high school and then college. Though she could no longer concentrate or think clearly or stay focused because her mind was "never clear" after all the horror she endured, she did what others told her was impossible. She fought back. She fought hard. She proved all the naysayers wrong. She - the first in her family - earned a college degree. Somehow she knew that education would open doors for her, and it did. She got book smart. But more than that, she learned the truth about love. What real love looked and felt like. She discovered it was not the face of evil so many had painted for her.
She may never have the answers she wants. She may never know "why" people did what they did. But what she now knows is that she was the victim. She didn't do anything wrong. She stayed afloat through the storm and she came out strong and wise on the other side. Abuse - physical, emotional, sexual has been her greatest life challenge. Education is how she overcame. She found a new path. She found new people. She found a way to discover love - the right kind - the kind all people should be shown from birth. Today, she is loved in all the right ways by her doting husband and faithful friends. She now knows real love not because of evil, but in spite of it.
To my friend, thank you. Thank you for your honesty. Thank you for sharing a piece of your heart. Thank you for showing all of us what is possible if only we will believe.