*Trigger Warning: this post contains adult themes, sexual abuse and adult imagery.
My mother and father were married and divorced within two years of me being born. They got married NOT because they had a child on the way, well I guess partially, but because my father was a Dutch citizen living in the states illegally.
I don't think he would have cared much about that either, but my grandparents had invited my mom and dad to visit in the Caymans and my father wouldn't have been able to get back home without a green card. Clearly THAT was a stellar idea, not. So they were divorced and had dual custody of me, before I had a chance to know what living in one house was like.
Dual custody, especially with very short visits like what was inflicted on me, especially with two polar opposite parents in each household, has a tendency to almost split ones personality. You learn to dress and act and talk a certain way because that's what they want of you. But still I pushed back, defiantly trying to hang on to what I liked, the parts that made me ME.
I got involved with the theater, that place was my home away from home. If people made fun of my black clothes I had a reason for it: I was a stage hand, among other things, and we needed to dress in all black so we didn't stick out like a sore thumb when rushing about on in a darkened stage doing set changes. The theater gave me confidence to deal with a chaotic home life, and a sense of family and community, at least while we were working on a production.
I may not have been the best actress, but fuck it I was 12, I loved it and I didn't care about being ON the stage. I loved being a part of those productions so much, it filled me up with a warm glowing feeling that I've tried to call love most of my life. It's mostly been a one sided emotion. I did it all in the theater, happily. I did makeup and costume design, stage hand, stage manager, set building, and yes I even acted. I knew I wasn't the best, but I didn't care because I loved it.
At that point I just embraced the stereotype with everyone in our small town calling me "goth". I was morbid, I was sullen, I dressed in black with chains hanging off of me and thick messy dark eyeliner. I kept my hair in my face and I had atrocious posture. There was a reason for this as well. My mother had gotten a boyfriend whom she later married, that I know now was an abusive narcissist, but at the time he was another father figure I felt I had to impress.
He could be very charming, I'll give him that, when you were in his favor it felt like you could do no wrong, you felt like the golden child with all the answers. But he had an explosive temper and a hair trigger, it was nearly impossible to tell what set him off. For the most part he was a smart man, because his abuse was mental and emotional, or he'd shove/bump us into things and then laugh cruelly at how "clumsy" and "stupid" we were. He knew not to leave bruises or any physical evidence that he hurt us, but it didn't hurt any less what he did to our minds.
He tore us my mother and I both down, like a fragile house of straw. Because he'd been in the army for a brief stint, before getting injured and discharged, he fancied himself a drill Sargent and treated me like a soldier. Everything was: faster faster faster, go go go!! Why are you not busy, why aren't you cleaning?? You can't fight a war in a dress, you know you look like a stupid whore when you try to put makeup on.
And in regards to my theatre career path "don't quit your day job" He said that to me after going to see one of the plays I'd been in with my mom, everyone else is getting hugs and congratulations on a job well done, and I'm off in a corner trying not to cry because he said that to me. "Don't quit your day job" That phrase will never leave my mind. I know I pulled away from the theater at that point, convinced I wasn't any good at it and I never would be, because of COURSE he knew better than me, right? He was older and had more experience, so he MUST know better, right?!
Around this time I had a growth spurt that made me one of three REALLY tall girls in school, I was 5'8" in the fifth grade, towering over our classmates and eye level with most of the teachers. My mother's husband apparently noticed the budding female form in our home because his tactics changed.
He wanted me to sit on his lap and he'd pull me close and cuddle me and wiggle around with me. I liked the attention because he wasn't yelling at or hitting me. He told me he wished I was older or he was younger so we could be together, as he stroked and touched me. If I would get tense because he touched my breasts, ass or pussy, he'd act extremely offended like there was something wrong with me and the "kind" attention would cease. So I stopped calling attention to it.
Also his moods would turn on a dime. I spent a great deal of my childhood, sitting quietly in my room, barely breathing, listening for the screams that meant he was hurting her again. To hear that pitch in his voice that meant he was going to hit her. I got REALLY good at running down the stairs and to the back room he occupied.
"The office" they called it, but it was a glorified man cave. I would go and knock on the door and sweetly ask my mother for something, if it was a less serious altercation she'd usually use that opportunity to escape with me and focus on another task for a little while. Or when it got really bad I would pound on the door and drag her out, protecting her with my own body if I had to, getting between them to shield her from the blows. I was an only child, no one else was going to do it. I think this is when the "joke" that I was HER mother started, but it fit so it stuck. I still hear those screams when it gets silent, in my head, to this day.
So I was juggling my new found role as my mother's keeper, two households that were as different as night and day (my father also remarried to a quiet mouse of a woman, also extremely controlling and manipulative, but in a less insidious manner) and suddenly I'm accused of having a bad attitude and being depressed. Well no fucking shit!! REALLY?! Are you fucking kidding me??? You put all of this in the back of a child and you think "Oh yeah she's depressed, put her on some meds to shut her up and move on."
I was sad and sullen from the abuse I sustained in my home. I was tired and behind on my schoolwork because I forgot my school books at my moms or dad's house, or I was stressed from a long week of protecting my mother and I just needed to rest. I wore black baggy clothes to hide my body from the borderline pedophile who resided in one of my homes. I slouched and kept my appearance intentionally raggedy to avoid his attentions.
I learned very quickly that the four parental units I had all wanted very different things from me, be it my behavior or manner of dress. I learned at a very young age to use my empathic nature to pick up on what about me made other people happy and content and to accentuate those traits when in their presence. Needless to say I lost a bit of myself with that tactic.
I thought a lot about killing myself or running away during that time, but there's a defiant streak in me a mile long. This got me in trouble a lot in school, mostly because I didn't have a problem asking "Why?" Of people who legally weren't allowed to hit me and had witnesses to stop them. I fucking knew they weren't allowed to hit me, so the defiance I felt at home was inflicted on my teachers. For this I am sorry, they didn't deserve my ire and hostility, they were just easy targets of a rage I had nowhere else to express.
They'd threaten me with the principal and I'd laugh, detention and I'd thank them for a few more hours away from home. I ended up being the chick that always skipped study hall, but they only said something if I brought other kids with me. I remember the exact speech I was given even: "We KNOW we can't stop YOU, just please don't bring other kids with you" This defiance made multiple people call me "contrary" in my life. Because I like the cold and the fog and the rain, I like snow and the Fall, the ways the leaves change color, and Halloween is my favorite holiday.
Back then I was a freak and a weirdo, I knew a few kids like me, but mostly I related to older creative types, in arts, music or theater. To this day I have a deep understanding and profound respect for artisans and craftsmen. But now I know I'm easily classified as an introvert, and with the emergence of the internet I know now that I'm rare, but not the last of my kind.
So I did finally escape home with a train ticket when I was 17. I had some interesting adventures and a few failed relationships. I even found my own narcissist to repeat my mother's patterns with for a time, but HE left ME. I got REALLY thin because an extremely short term boyfriend said I didn't have the willpower to be anorexic. I was 110 on a 5'8" frame. Fuck you willpower, you have no clue the willpower I possess. So of course because of that I had a lot of people around me telling me to eat more and praising me when I DID eat.
When I finally got into a relationship with a man who had GOOD intentions for me, I didn't know how to react. I kept him at arms length for a while. He saw I wasn't eating so he'd bring me a covered plate of food when he came over to my house for a booty call. I wouldn't let it be more than that for a LONG time, my sense of self worth was in the toilet and I was waiting for the other shoe to drop again, like it always had in the past. In that way "food=love" started to become a thing for me. He loved to cook and feed me and I would eat it all, to be a good girl and make him happy.
Around this time I also made a friend who was a larger, some would say overweight woman, doctors called her morbidly obese. This woman had a tendency to tear down the "skinny bitches" in our midst, "eat a cheeseburger bitch" words that were on her lips frequently. So I guess you could say I GAINED weight because of peer pressure. She became my closest friend, or so I thought, until I had a child which she hated. She dislike children immensely and quickly replaced me with a younger, childless lady. For some reason that friend breakup, the subsequent finding of a new friend group, seeing myself in pictures and how large I'd gotten, coupled with no one giving me the time of day, and an abject hatred of attempting to dress my overweight body in flattering layers made me decide to make a drastic change.
I applied the advice given to me by a nutritionist when I was pregnant with my first. I cut my portions and started to lose weight. I went from 220 down to 125. I pushed past the fear of my youth and started wearing clothing that made me feel sexy and strong, not hiding the parts of my body I'd worked so hard to carve into muscle, not ashamed of my femininity. I wanted to try my hand at modeling so I started taking amateur pictures with my iPhone, improving with each photo shoot, not caring as much if I looked "silly" at first, and remembering when I used to do pictures of myself when I was a teenager, with film that needed to be developed, yes I know that dates me.
I remembered that I'd always loved to write and I started a blog on Tumblr with my short stories and personal essays. I hope to publish a book of short stories, that's a future goal that is actually very attainable for me currently. The point is what I've learned is you don't have to be perfect at something the first time you do it. Sometimes you'll do something just because you ENJOY doing it, just because you love it. Some things you'll get better at with practice, like dressing your body in a flattering manner or makeup, or what light makes a photoshoot more dynamic, or even forcing yourself to exercise so you can love your body more and feel better about yourself. I do body weight exercises (squats, crunches, lunges, push ups and such) to tone up the areas of my body that I was not particularly proud of in the past.
Never let anyone turn you away from anything that makes your heart sing, no matter how "silly" it is, as long as you're not hurting anyone. I spent far too much of my life waiting for someone to rescue me, when it was just about pushing a little harder and DOING the thing I wanted to do. Pushing past the invisible weight of depression, that would hold me down for weeks even months at a time. And the anxiety that tells me all the ways anything can go wrong. Or the voices in my head from when I was a child, telling me I'll never do anything worth while, that I'm worthless and a joke. Or the screaming that threatens to drown out all. The point is, your life doesn't have to end after child abuse, after a diagnosis of depression and anxiety disorder, after 30, or after kids. Find the things that make you YOU, find those things and cling to them, defiantly if you have to.
For the most part I feel like I handle it all fairly well. I have panic attacks that make me feel like I'm dying, but I know how to keep them at bay now. Unfortunately it's made me almost an agoraphobe, but I'm a stay at home mom now, so at least I have a reason to be there other than crippling mental illness. I'm purposefully not going to share much about panic attacks because I know personally that even reading about them can sometimes cause one in myself, so Id like to spare my readers that Hell. But suffice to say it FEELS like DYING.
My advice? Water, meds, exercise, and eat well. You have to take extra care of your body when your mind can turn against you. Yes it will be an internal battle, it's something I still struggle with daily. But I remind myself that I'm more critical of myself than anyone else ever will be again. Not every opinion expressed about you matters, to quote Rupaul Charles "Unless they paying your bills pay them bitches no mind." So yeah I might seem a little hard edge to some, it's because I've been fighting most of my life just to survive.
Defiance and confidence (even faked confidence) have become my allies again the depression and anxiety, and I fight this war every day in my mind. I defy the negative thoughts and emotions that live in me, I defiantly do the things I love even though I'm scared to death of failure or looking ridiculous. I may stumble a thousand times in my journey, but I'll pick myself up a thousand and one, dust myself off and wave defiantly to anyone laughing at my progress.
I'm still happily married to the father of my two beautiful children, he still loves to cook for me, it's not always easy, but we do the best we can with empathy and understanding. These days I use my spare time (when the kids don't need me) to take pictures, write short stories (for my book) and I write on my Tumblr blog about my struggles with mental health and self worth. I reach out to suicidal or struggling strangers I see online and tell them the things I wish someone had told me: You're not a burden, you're not worthless, you are beautiful and loved and filled with so much potential it can hurt, but don't give up. Eventually someday I'd like to change "defiantly" to "joyfully" but I'm not quite there yet, I still have anger over what was done to me to work through. My defiance has kept me alive, even when my conscious self had decided to throw in the towel, SOMETHING inside always pulled me back. No, it's not you time yet, you're here for a reason.
So one final point: if you want to do something, to better yourself or try something new, as long as it's not hurting anybody, just do it. Seriously I feel like a cliche quoting a Nike slogan, but really. Life is so very short, but it can be amazing, if you focus on the things that make you feel BETTER about yourself, not worse. It's tough to climb out of the hole of child abuse, a time that is supposed to be the best and most carefree of your life, so as an adult you have to rebuild your own foundation from the bad examples given to you and what you can extrapolate of how successful people live.
What I've learned is this: everyone is fallible. You know in your heart what's right and wrong, what's good and bad and it's solely your decision which path you take. Not everyone is going to "get" you and that's ok, when you find someone that truly does it's so much more fulfilling than people liking you because you censored yourself to please them.
Defiantly Yours, Invisigoth Killswitch
Please follow her: Tumblr | Deviant Art | Facebook | Instagram