I am five years old and hiding in the closet, the baby safely hidden in a bottom drawer; waiting for the shouting and screaming to get quieter, to know how long to stay hidden. And finally, loud knocking on the front door and a man yelling my name, promising it’s safe to come out. I peek around corners cautiously as I make my way through the broken glass and wood. Then I see the man in the small window of the door up high. A kind smile and “Open the door, Honey. It’s ok now. We’re going to take you to your mommy, ok? Just unlock the door, Honey.” I open the door and men in uniforms rush past me. “Where is the boy?” Strong arms are lifting me. Shock and terror are preventing me from being able to speak, unable to tell them where I hid my brother. Now I am being rushed out of the broken house into the night and Daddy is there with the men with guns. I hear him saying, “Where’s my Camels?” He sees me and is crying and shouting at me “Baby, don’t let them take me. Daddy’s so sorry.” I’m being carried to the neighbors where I can hear Mommy screaming. I’m put in bed with her and she’s still crying and screaming for Johnny.
“My baby, where’s my baby?” The wailing is as scary as the yelling and hitting only moments ago. I just want everyone to be quiet. It’s so loud. Her clinging to me is oppressive, and I want to be back in the soldier’s arms. My inherent need to survive is what led me then and from that, a seed of self-worth was planted. Are survival and self-worth the same thing or is one born from the other? I was able to protect myself and my brother. That time. Not because I felt worthy, but because I had the primal instinct to survive. I think that the deliberate act of survival is self-worth in its truest form. If I am worthy of saving myself, then I have value.
I thought I had very little self-worth. I thought my low self-esteem and general dislike of my face in the mirror were the truth. I thought I was an ugly coward. I was simply breathing and waiting..to not. Only forty-eight and already so tired, the best experiences in my rear view mirror. I am too young for health problems, no longer contributing to society in a meaningful career, and a wax figure of a mother, no longer necessary for my children’s survival. The distinction between worth and self-esteem is necessary because one is truth and the other is what I have created in my mind. I have to remind myself of that. I have worth, I have value. I am loved. So the real question is; why am I so determined to take away any value I might have? Because of my failures? Why am I so quick to erase my worthiness? Because I’ve been hurt? The lies I’ve told myself keep me quiet and subdued, unable to answer. The voice that says “you’re an ugly, no good, piece of shit” was born to protect me, to remind me to stay hidden until it’s safe to come out.
For a long time, I thought someone else needed to save me to prove my worth. I searched every face for a glimmer of kindness; I looked outside of myself for someone, anyone, to value me. I went to bars alone and went home with men I didn’t know. I did so many needy things that I am ashamed of. I let myself get hurt time and time again. I was vulnerable and broken. It was like the flower I grew from a seed. I stayed in that shameful place for a very long time, not knowing that the seed of survival was germinating and every time I was abused it grew stronger. Each stress to the plant, every time the dog stepped on it or I forgot to water it, made it impervious to the blights, and strengthened its roots.
Recently, I had to tap into that well of strength, revisiting my childhood. Buried emotions rose to the surface and overflowed. I found myself sobbing, wailing, and slobbering in the fetal position. I didn’t eat or sleep and I cried so hard I threw up and wet my pants. I would catch myself in the mirror and couldn’t recognize the swollen, lined face I saw. I expected to see a child’s wide eyed face looking back. The reflection I saw filled me with pity, sadness, and dread. What I thought was ultimate weakness and my sanity saying “I’m out” was, in reality, a brief, intensive, grieving period. I had terrorizing nightmares when I could sleep, with old monsters visiting, and real monsters occupying my waking thoughts. I was irrationally afraid all the time. The phone ringing, a text message, or dogs barking sent me through the roof. Then my old friend, Self-Worth showed up and it changed.
I told Kristy I was sorry for what happened to her and it wasn’t her fault. I told her she was loved and worthy and innocent and pure, and that I would protect her at all costs. I told her she was not alone and I honored her and her brother’s memory. I got angry at all the predators, abusers, victimizers and bad guys who prey on the hurt and weak. I took action and said NO. I talked to my children, I reached out to my family, I found a way to reconcile the past. I reached out for help and let myself be vulnerable. In doing so, I gained a confidante, another supporter, and found out I’m not alone. I became a survivor, when I used to be a victim.
Like a seedling stretching towards the sun, I have grown stronger. My roots are deep and I won’t be stomped on or crowded out. This flower will bloom! And it will be glorious.
“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories… water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.” ― Clarissa Pinkola Estés