Over the last year, I've read a good amount of books. Nothing like the amount I used to read in my High School or Jr. High days, but a good amount. It brought me to a couple of amazing books that really challenged me. The books shook me, made me remember and made me really think about what I've gone through.
It hasn't been easy. It's been ugly, emotionally draining and outright scary at times. Only a few people really know what I've been through because it's not only hard to talk about, but it's already hard enough to cope with on a day to day basis.
I struggle with these things every single day. Even if I look "okay" on the outside, chances are - I could be having a hard time. It could be any little thing that sets me off - sending me into downward spiral where I just break down and have to put myself back together and fight through.
There are times where I have to force myself to just take a step back and a deep breath before pushing through and going forward.
Except, it's not that easy.
People think it is. I've heard it from a lot of them. They think that because I'm in a better, safer place now that I can just pick up and move on. That I can just automatically change and be better. They assume that I'll just be able to turn off the memories and suddenly be OKAY.
I can't. I won't. These aren't something that I can just forget and be one hundred and ten percent okay one day out of the blue. I don't think they ever will be.
When you've experienced situations like the ones I've been through - looking back isn't easy. It's hard. It's a mess of tears and it's ugly. It takes a lot to go back there, and I'm there a lot because it's brought me back to where I am today. The truth is: I still struggle. Every day. Every day is a new challenge to face, a new day to push through.
There are a lot of things I've never talked about with a lot of people. Not because I don't trust them, but because what I've been through is hard enough to even think about myself, much less completely open up and talk to them about everything.
I've read three books that really challenged me and made me think. They made me cry, they made me remember and they made me think about what I've gone through to get to where I am today. IF YOU STAY by Courtney Cole, IN HONOR by Jessi Kirby and my most recent read - IF YOU FIND ME by Emily Murdoch.
Each of these books has touched a part of me in some way, deep down. They've uncovered memories, challenged me to face my past and open up to a select few. They've challenged me to realize how far I've come and have reminded me that I'm not alone, even their characters have experienced some of what I have.
In the darkest of days, that is what calms me. It's what encourages me to remember that I'm going to be okay, that when things get bad - to take a deep breath and remember how far I've come. Those three books have forced me to take a closer look at where I've been and really pushed me to start to heal - very, so very slowly.
I simply don't have enough words to thank each of these authors. It's been a long, hard journey to get to where I am today but with these three books - I can finally feel like I can face these things, to open up and to most importantly to realize that "Hey, this is me. This is what I've been through." I haven't really been able to do that until this past year and with each of these three books, I've been able to do that more and more.
Thank you for the stories and your characters who have been where I've been, to help me remember and trust enough to get this all out. It's a journey I have been needing for years now and as scary as it is to remember, and to open up - I know that it is something I need to do. I need to do this for myself in order to process my experiences and be able to begin to heal in some small way.
Last night as I read IF YOU FIND ME at work, curled up on the couch I was struck by how much Carey and I were alike. I was suddenly remembering the years where I had to do whatever I could in order to survive and to take care of myself.
There were times where there wasn't enough food to eat in the house - and if it was there, it was rotten or old. I had to eat whatever I could, where I could in order to make sure I had something to eat. I walked a couple of miles one day to the store to buy a jug of milk and some bread just to have something to eat. I don't remember the details, but I'm fairly certain I had to scrape together whatever change I could in order to do just that.
The place I lived in at that time (and before we moved into that apartment) were a disaster. They were filthy. I was living in filth, but just trying so hard to get by each day. Going to school was a struggle. Coming home was even harder because nothing changed in those few days I was away from there. Looking back, I wonder what would have happened if someone had called about my situation - I wonder where I'd be now and what would have happened.
That was about the time I really started to struggle with eating. Maybe it had to do with the fact that there just wasn't much around. I would go days with barely eating anything only to stuff myself for a day or two before starting the circle all over again. It was bad. It was really bad - I had people who only saw me once a week (if that) begin to comment on how much weight I'd lost.
I knew it was bad - but it was one of the very few things I was able to control in my wild, broken life at that time. I had finally had enough at one point and reached out for help. I was referred to a doctor, explained my situation and was bluntly told that:
"There is nothing wrong with you. You are just a normal teenage girl."Oh. I can't begin to explain how damaging that was on top of everything else I was experiencing and going through already. I had finally worked up the courage to reach out and get the help I knew that I needed only to be told that there wasn't a thing wrong with me.
What happened was that I continued the cycle. I don't remember how many years ago that was - but I'm still fighting it every day. It's so scary at how easy it is to slip back into that cycle when I'm stressed or overwhelmed and it's even scarier at how hard I have to fight myself to pull myself up and out of it. The entire experience was damaging.
Put that together with a home situation where I didn't care about anything - I was too busy trying to survive. Forget school. I went to school and zoned out, trying to figure out how I was going to get through the afternoon at home. I'd fill my backpack up with snacks from various vending machines just so I knew I'd have something to eat later at home.
I knew my teachers knew something had to be going on at home - but none of them stepped up to ask what was going on.
Not a single one of them.
I had been a star student at the beginning of the year - and now towards then end I was in a downward spiral and no one cared. No one did anything to try and get some help, or to ask if I was doing okay. So I let myself stay there - I just didn't care about anything but trying to survive.
Pair that with someone coming into my life and even without words I knew she thought that I was worthless, that she could step in and control every aspect of my life without asking. I had to do what she said, or god forbid, the wrath. I hated it. I was put beneath her, I was used and even without her speaking to me - I knew she hated me and felt that I was worthless to her.
I was just another person in her way.
As the years went on - I just wanted to survive. I kept to myself, I didn't talk about this stuff with my friends. I kept it inside, locked away - a secret that I didn't want to let out. I had become so focused on my survival that I realize, years later - I don't remember many things. I've blocked so much out, and in way... I think that's for the best.
I'm sure I don't want to remember some of it, but I do.
I remember the bits and pieces. The fear, the anxiety, the hunger every day because there wasn't anything to eat unless I brought it home in my backpack. I remember the stress of going back and forth from house to house, and then stress of moving - hoping that a move would make things better...
Only to find out that it didn't. We'd be okay for awhile before we went right back to where we were. No food, filthy and I was just focused on my own survival to care about anything else. I had to do what I could in order to take care of myself.
No one at that age should ever have to go through that. Ever.
Somewhere in there - I began to grow up, to slowly discover myself. I realized somewhere along the way that I was gay. That alone was terrifying. On top of everything else, that was one of the more terrifying realizations I had come to.
I kept it to myself, not wanting to share it with the world. I was still living through hell at that point, I didn't need another thing to push me down further.
Eventually I got brave enough to come out.
I was told that I was wrong, that I just needed to experience "the other side" before I made up my mind. I was pushed, I was held (physically) against my will. Boundaries were crossed, trust was broken and I lost a big part of myself in that. It's a part of my I'll never get back because trust was broken and I was assaulted by someone that I trusted and cared about.
To this day - I still feel disgusted by it. I still get woozy thinking about and the cold chills. I got out of there - of that place, away from that - but it's not something that easily goes away. It never will. I have to keep my guard up constantly because of this.
That memory brings me back to growing up - playing in the front yard and having the creep neighbor J (as I'll call him) watching me all too closely. He'd lean up against his red truck, shirtless, drinking beer after beer and he'd watch all too closely. I was too young at first to understand - but when I was older - the realization hit me like a brick.
He wanted me.
That all became too clear one afternoon when I was outside and he called me over to his house. I remember standing on the walkway as he stood in his doorway, urging me, begging almost - for me to come into this house so that he could "show me something".
The feeling of absolute dread and sickness was immediate and I turned and ran as fast as I could. I now knew what would have happened - it was bad enough with the way I had grown up with him watching me, following my every move and looking at me in that way.
In a lot of ways, I had to grow up too fast. I had to forget things in order to survive and go on with some twisted way of day to day life. I had to focus on my survival when someone else should have been making sure that I had enough to eat and a clean and safe place to live in. I had to reach out on my own for help because I knew that no one else was only to have that thrown in my face.
I'm messed up. I'm not going to deny it. I've been through way too much for someone my age. I've seen and heard too much. I've lived through situations that no one should ever have to. I've had to learn to take care of myself and when to block things out, to put up a wall to protect myself.
Even now that I'm in a safe environment with people that truly love and care about me - it's a struggle. I know that there are people who think that now that I'm safe and getting better that the past should be something that I forget and that I'll be okay in a snap of their fingers.
No. I won't.
How can you say that to someone who still buys extra food just to make sure that there's always going to be enough of something to eat? How do you say that to someone who can burst into tears with a simple conversation about growing up? It isn't something I can magically just get over. I've lived this life - deep down, in the trenches, terrified and starving. It isn't something that I can (or will) just forget.
But at some point, I knew I needed to open up - and that's why I'm thankful for the few friends who have listened and stood by my side on those ugly days where everything surfaces. That's why I'm thankful for the three authors and their books I've read in the last year. They've shown me that I can (and will) get through this, no matter how hard it has been and will be.