Months go by.
And not just the face. The person.
So maybe it’s getting hard, and of course it would. The days you wake up to the simple gratitude of your own life are beginning to be interrupted with days that you wake up realising that you live alone, in a bloody underground bunker.
But you can’t leave yet, because there’s that damn war….
So down into this bunker I came and the first few months I was just so thankful to be safe. But now the books have been read and the thoughts have been thought and the only thing to look at is the reflection in the mirror and as I stare and stare at who that person is, the details are simply frightening and with that, this bunker feels so much smaller than it did when I first arrived but I can’t leave yet because its not safe for me out there, I can still hear the bombs falling…
When things damage you and you don’t know how to deal with it, or you aren’t ready to deal with it, you tend to put a beam up where you felt weak and hope the beam will hold things up. More damage makes you erect more beams and if life deals enough blows you will soon have to step very carefully through your underground self lest you knock a single beam and it knocks into the next beam and the beam after that until the whole lot caves in and leaves you buried in the rubble.
So earlier this year when I was heartbroken by someone I loved and adored, I heard the echoes from cracks in the ground widening miles and miles away as long buried brokenness began pushing its way to the surface, demanding to be dealt with. Uh oh I thought, here we go…..
That is when I decided to take this 1000 day sabbatical. I instinctually knew that I was about to enter into a time where I would be taken back in time to face the several key events that broke my spirit and changed who I was when I was young. Events which I refused to deal with, choosing instead to prop the brokenness with a beam were being ushered into rooms dotted down a long hallway and several months ago I stood at the beginning, staring down the corridor trying to prepare myself for what I would find in those rooms knowing I would have to explore each and every single one of them and would not be able to leave until it was truly finished.
I have started to visit the rooms…
The first room is in disarray. I walk the perimeter, running my hands alone the textured wallpaper and counting the fist holes, one, two, three….four, five six. Furniture lies on its side and there is a VCR shattered into a thousand pieces. A fax machine lies ripped from the wall and the emergency operators voice can be heard coming from the mouthpiece ‘111, what is your emergency?’
Cowering behind the furniture are young girls. Daughters. The room echoes with the sound of a mans voice, shrill and breaking from the rage. A father.
The writing on the wall of this room is ‘fear’ and this room is my childhood.
The next room is the room of a 16 year old girl. On the wall is a picture of a car parked in the darkness. Nothing else is around for miles. The reflection of the moon bounces off the lake…
There are also people in the picture. Two men. One is pulling a girl by her hair, the other has his arms firmly around another girls waist as her legs kick up in the air. The young girls eyes are glazed over. Drugged. The next picture on the wall shows the three girls running, running, running up a long dark road, with no where to run to. The next picture is just black as if the artist can’t remember what happened next. The writing on the wall is ‘attack’ and this room is a summer holiday gone wrong.
The next room is dark but for the dim light of a streetlamp creeping through the window. Sitting on the bed is a blonde girl with her face in her hands. Standing above her is a man who has just done the unthinkable. The room echoes with the sobbing and yelling and threats. The writing on the wall of this room is ‘crime’ and this room is the night that ruined my life.
The next room has 2 small children and a man and a woman. Outside the windows you can see a lovely garden and a white picket fence, so perfect but the windows are barred. On the walls are photos of a beautiful wedding and photos of two baby boys, but the frames are smashed. The man is holding two masks in his hand. One mask is bright and smiles, the other is dark and the lips are curled at the edges. Cruel.
The woman is kneeling on the floor trying to gather up the pieces of her spirit and the man grabs the pieces from her hands and tramples them on the floor again and again and again. The writing on the wall of this room is ‘brokenness’ and this room is my marriage.
These rooms are just a few of the many that represent things that changed me, or broke me, but things that up until now I couldn’t bare to face, choosing instead to hide behind locked doors hoping that if I just kept my back against it for long enough, that the hurt would stop being so hurtful and just go away. But years have passed and i’m an adult now and yet its still there, raging behind that door with as much ferocity as the days in which these things first happened so how long does this stuff hurt for?.
If it is one thing I know for sure, it is this: ‘It will hurt until you deal with it.’
Those secrets you’ve hidden behind locked doors hinder you and the tendrils of the consequences will reach far further than you could ever realise leading to self destructive behaviour which will in turn, invite more hurt into your life, creating a vicious cycle.
It is only now that I am really beginning to see how much those few events I spoke of affect my life every single day and the scary thing about it all is that the effects aren’t big and obvious, they are small and silent and gradual.
For as long as I can remember I just haven’t liked the person I am. If you were to ask me why, I wouldn’t even be able to give you a reason. I have just never liked being Vanessa very much, somehow feeling uncomfortable in my own skin.
I have never had any confidence in anything I do. If someone compliments me on an achievement, I instantly feel guilt as if I have somehow tricked them into appreciating something about me that shouldn’t really be appreciated. If I get a particularly good mark in my studies, I immediately believe a mistake must have been made, or I must have just got a very lenient marker and then more guilt because I have somehow been given something I don’t deserve.
Embarrassment always flushes red in my face should anyone tell me I look nice, or if friends tell me i’m beautiful and for as long as I can remember I have always thought ‘you wouldn’t say that if you knew what I am’ and it was only recently that I started to really ask myself why I think like this. Why do I feel I am tricking people if they compliment me on an achievement? Why do I feel there must have been a mistake when I achieve good grades? What do I mean when I think to myself that people wouldn’t see beauty in me if they knew what I was?
What is it that I think I am?
And the answer to that, I realise now, is that as a result of those heartbreaking events that damaged me as a girl, what I think I am, is worthless.
How tragic that is, yes very tragic but at least now I know. For years I have lived with this monkey on my back, not feeling at peace and wondering why. Since the unfortunate series of events at the beginning of the year caused everything to come undone, i’ve realised that all these things I hid behind those doors still affect me and it gives me the opportunity to deal with them once and for all and while its going to be really difficult to begin dealing with it ( it already has been ) I can only wonder what my life will look like once I have truly dealt with everything and put it in a final resting place. I suspect my life will look very beautiful.
For now, I am in the throes of dealing with the very heart of the problem. The one thing that every single tragic event birthed into my life, the thing that makes me stare into the mirror and see nothing but an ugly girl staring back, the one thing that robs me of confidence and makes me believe I deserved every harsh word or lie or hurtful name,the thing that made me believe I was worthless and the thing that I couldn’t even name until someone else called it out for me one day in a little counsellors office.
It was my counsellor who I had handed the task of trying to fix me after the nervous breakdown I detail in Qualification: Pain.
She starts writing words on a big piece of paper. “Low self esteem, perfectionist, guilt, worthless, broken”…… word after word that I have used to describe what I am in the previous weeks. She then asks me to close my eyes. “I am going to write a single word in the middle of everything and when you open your eyes I want you to stare at this word because this will be what I think is at the heart of everything you struggle with’
When I open my eyes I stare at the big, red, single word that is on the paper and burst into tears. On the paper I read the word that I have seen written on my forehead every time I look in the mirror, its the word that whispers to me every night before I go to sleep and it is the word that I see scribbled all over my spirit.
Shame born during nights hiding from the rage of a violent father. Shame born from the years wasted to drug and alcohol abuse in my teens. Shame from the crime that ruined my innocence and shame from the years living with a man who lied when he stood with a ring poised on my finger promising to love and honour…. and protect.
This shame made me feel humiliated for just being Vanessa. I felt like a disgrace and unworthy.
The word shame is derived from a much older word meaning TO COVER and if I could paint or sketch a picture of myself as a small girl trying to grow up I would depict her with hands covering her face. Trying to cover myself. I just despised who I was and could see no good thing in me. All because of shame.
But shame needs three things in order to survive: secrecy, silence and judgement and the first step in overcoming all of this is to break the silence and so this post is me breaking that silence.
As there are only a few people who know any of what I have written about today, this is going to be a difficult post to read for the friends and family who I never had the courage to tell. Please forgive me for any nasty surprise that this post delivered, I wanted to speak of it for years and in times when I found myself wanting to tell you, I felt mute as if the words just wouldn’t come. Even now as I write I am filled with big, scary feelings and can’t even read it allowed because my ears hate the sound of the story.
To anyone reading this who has their own corridor of tightly locked rooms which hold secrets no one knows, and you want to know what your reflection might look like without the word shame branded into your forehead, then I would like to assure you of one thing: Once you speak of it, you are already more than half way there. The person you talk to doesn’t even have to be someone you know. The first person I told about all of this was a stranger from ‘lifeline’ who I rung while falling apart outside the library at my university earlier this year. She didn’t have to say anything, she didn’t have to give me a 5 step plan to recovery, the only thing I needed from her was for her to KNOW. The very fact she knew meant that I wasn’t carrying the tragedy alone anymore. Someone out there knew and maybe for some of you even that will be enough, but don’t let shame rob any more life from you than it already has.
Note to the reader:
This post has been exhausting to write. I got half way about a week ago and simply couldn’t continue writing because the toll that hours of weeping while writing was having on me was too much. Now I have finished and I know its long and I know its grim, but its also my reality and I promised at the beginning of this journey that I would document my progress and my discoveries with honesty… even if it pained me to write, and this has surely pained me.
But there is hope here. I have taken something that until only a few months ago was a secret no one knew and have now told the thousands who will read this. The liberation I feel right now is enormous. I hate that shame robbed me of life for all those years. I hate that shame made me believe I didn’t deserve to be treated with kindness, causing me to endure unkindness. I hate that shame has made me see nothing but ugliness in every reflection or photograph of myself. I hate it so much that I refuse to let it take anything more from me. It is also my hope that someone out there will read this and begin their own journey to recovery. You don’t have to tell your mother, your father, your sister your brother. You don’t have to write a post for thousands to read. Just tell one person. Even if that person is a stranger. The point will be, that someone else knows, and for you that may very well be all you ever need.
God Bless you and thank you for reading.