“Secrets keep you in the dark.”
I can remember someone saying that during one of those wild noontime meetings at my women’s halfway house. It’s one of those sayings that gets embedded in your brain in early recovery because it’s parroted far too often. My interpretation at that time was, “Oh. So, I need to tell people in meetings everything about me because anything that I hide can become dangerous and I could relapse.”
To an extent that was right. My decision making was terrible at best and bouncing my thoughts off others probably kept me from picking up. In time and with the guidance of women with longer-term sobriety I learned to censor myself–to present as a woman of honor and dignity. That became another mask for me. In time people “saw the change” in me and I ate all that positive attention right up. In reality, it was just another way for me to feed my ego by believing that I was “better than.”
Right before I celebrated a year sobriety, I met a guy. We moved too fast and we both made bad choices. But we were active in 12-step and people thought we had it together. We were together for a while but the relationship was generally unhealthy. I made every effort to keep up outside appearances and tried to convince myself and everyone around me that I was okay. I was miserable. I got pregnant. I clung to this delusion that he would step up. That the baby would change things. That the baby would change him. Even now, I tell myself that he had the best intentions but that may still be for my own emotional preservation. It hurts too much to think that maybe he never really cared at all.
When my daughter was born, everything was different.
I knew that I needed to grow up and fast. I knew by then that I was unhappy. I was seething with resentment at how he didn’t really seem to understand how different things were. We fought constantly. I’d come home from an exhausting day at work and we would argue. Sometimes about his inability to get a job or clean the house or do pretty much anything besides talk on the phone all day and chat in Facebook groups. Sometimes I picked fights just because I was so angry. I hated him for being who he was and I hated myself for allowing my life to become what it was. It was consuming me.
It was a late night in August when for the first time, our fight became physical. The whole event took about two hours but felt like two years. Sometimes I will relive it in my head. I can still hear all the hate he spewed at me. How I was a terrible mother. How my daughter deserved better than me. How he was going to take her from me. It still makes me feel small sometimes. I will never forget the fear that I felt grabbing my naked child and running out to the car to try to escape. The shame that I felt sitting in the police station in the middle of the night with my shivering eight-month-old will stay with me for the rest of my life. He was arrested and placed in jail. I had never been so scared in my life. I feared what he would do and I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to raise this child on my own. I didn’t know what to do.
I remembered another one of those early recovery quotes, “If you don’t know what to do–don’t do anything at all.” I went to work the next day. I had no daycare so every day I was scrambling to beg another person to take my daughter. The women I had met in recovery helped. They took care of my daughter so I could keep my job. I worked and then brought my daughter to meetings.
It was hard. I didn’t believe in myself.
I was not secure in my own skin so I attached to others to try to fill the hole in my heart. There were a lot of people in my life who were “helping me.” I quickly learned they had their own agendas. There was a lot of gossip. There were a lot of people accusing me of lying. I felt unsafe in the halls. I no longer felt like that woman of honor and dignity. I was so deeply filled with shame. I felt embarrassed by what happened to me. The coat of armor that I had built was ripped from me and each time someone brought him up it felt like sandpaper to my raw skin. I wanted to run. I ugly cried a lot and I avoided leaving the house. But my beautiful little girl needed me. I told myself that it wasn’t about me anymore and that I needed to get better for my little girl.
So, I began my journey of self-discovery. I said goodbye to all toxic relationships in my life. I stopped trying to go to every meeting that I could drag myself and my baby to. I learned to sit with myself again. I took my daughter to do fun stuff. I tried new things. I learned what I liked again. I learned to enjoy life again. I watched my daughter thrive in the face of adversity and it gave me the faith that I could too. She taught me so much.
She helped me to be strong before I knew how to do so myself. One year and two months ago, I was a victim of domestic violence. Today, I have over four years of sobriety. I have a career that I am proud of and I even have been going to school for about six months. All while being a single mother – and a damn good one. I am present for my family and my daughter. I am comfortable in my own skin today.
One year and two months ago, I was a victim.
Today I am a survivor.