This week on Thrive or Survive, I’m sharing my personal journey of dealing with abuse, anxiety, and depression. My hope is that anyone who may be having a hard time will be empowered to confront their problems, and work towards healing and creating a fulfilling life. I also hope that friends and family who may not have known I was struggling will remember to be kind to the people around them, who, regardless of how things appear, may or may not be in a very difficult season of their life.
Growing up, I learned early on that appearances were everything. My father would often violently beat my siblings and I, then kindly take a call from our church pastor while we were still crying in our bedrooms. Confiding in family members backfired horribly. No one took me seriously; no one wanted to believe that my father was anything other than a good guy. When Britney Spears’ song Happy Go Lucky came out, I memorized every word. Though most people probably thought of it as a depressing song, Happy Go Lucky became my anthem. You can still seem successful even if you’re unhappy, Britney assured me.
I decided from then on to only show people what they wanted to see. Though I was forbidden from making friends, playing sports, being out past dark, and many other things, my appearance was one of the few things that my father didn’t exert total control of. I modeled myself after Britney – blonde hair, blue eyes, the perfect outfit, slim figure, and big smile. I tried my very hardest to please everybody, hoping that somebody would love me. Nobody did. When people did seem to like me, I always worried that they were actually making fun of me or looking down on me, the way my father did every day. Opening up to anyone, even my peers, was impossible.
After going through school as more or less a loner, I was embarrassed and ready for a new start at college. Away from my abuser, a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. But I couldn’t afford to stay at school, even with numerous scholarships and part time jobs. After dropping out, I ended up moving in with my boyfriend, DJ, and his roommates. Living in sin, as my family said. I was desperate to seem cool and aloof, to hide my crushing failure. Nothing worked out like I had planned. Instead of earning my degree, I partied all the time. Drinking and smoking became my new daily routine, trying anything to appeal to my cool new “friends”.
Eventually, my boyfriend and I got better jobs and our own apartment. He started a busy new career. We moved away from our hometown, got engaged, and got married. Things did seem to be looking up. Now we could go out more, travel some, and spend money on a whim. When we went back to our hometown for visits, we talked about how great everything was and all the fun things we were up to.
But with us both working full time, we were beyond exhausted and barely surviving each week. I hated my job, and smoking when I got home each night was the only thing I looked forward to. I felt so empty and alone; DJ loved his new career, but I was a failure. I feared that I would never be able to find a fulfilling career. Weed was my only comfort in this existential crisis, to help me forget about everything that was wrong with my life. Then I started suffering from panic attacks multiple times per week. I didn’t even feel confident enough to say hello to people at work or text my friends back at home.
After enduring years of isolation, finally I just couldn’t take it anymore. I saw everyone else around me going about their lives and I just wanted to be like them. Everyone else had friends, hobbies, opinions, and they weren’t afraid to express themselves like I was. I started reading about healing from abuse and dealing with anxiety. After a few boring sessions with a therapist, I took matters into my own hands.
Armed with a notebook, a pen, and a box of tissues, I emptied my mind onto paper whenever I had the chance. I remembered and reflected on hard times. I honestly discussed my feelings and experiences with my husband. And I started letting go of the past. For the first time, I realized that it didn’t have to be this way, and that my feelings are more important than my appearance to other people. Growing up, my father made my days tough and my world small. But that part of my life is over now. I don’t have to be Happy Go Lucky anymore. I can actually be happy.
Instead of defining myself solely by my appearance, I’m focusing on other skills and qualities. Rather than spending precious hours in front of the mirror or closet, I’m devoting my time to writing and reading. I’m giving up the limiting beliefs that I accepted in the past. In many ways, it seems like my life has just begun. I can finally discover who I am and be that person wholeheartedly. I’m not too young, too poor, or too stupid to have a successful life. Before, I was too scared to attempt or even realize my dreams, but no longer.
Slowly but surely, I’ve started to speak up and find meaning in my life. Instead of desperately trying to gain my father’s or peers’ approval, I’m working towards my own goals. I’m learning to express myself and connecting with people around me every day.
The last year, I’ve been thriving in many ways! After years of reading blogs and wanting to be part of the blogging community, DJ and I launched our very own site. Publishing posts and working on our brand is a labor of love and learning. Putting myself out there is scary but empowering.
Through empowering myself, I’ve started to look at the world around me in a much different light. In the past, I limited myself to a very small life plan because I didn’t want to get my hopes up. But now DJ and I are working towards our goals and planning to expand our family by adopting a doggie.
Even though my life isn’t perfect, I am happy. Really happy and really lucky.