I didn't realize I had a story until one question forever changed the trajectory of my life. One question. That is all it took. That question came from a dear friend during one of those late night girl's weekend discussions where courageous words come forth freely in the darkness unlike in the light. I was relating a recent interaction with my dad that had landed me in anger and pain, which wasn't unusual, and she was quietly listening. When I finished sharing, she remained quiet for long enough that I wondered if she had fallen asleep. It was around 2AM after all! Then softly she asked, "You do realize his behavior is abusive, right?"
I didn't know what to say. I loved my dad. And as far as I knew, she loved my dad as we had grown up together. Yes, my dad and I had a tumultuous relationship, but abusive? Abusive was frequent bruises and injuries with strange explanations found on meek, submissive people who had lost their power and voice. I was a strong, vibrant, opinionated woman who only had physical injuries to explain away when I was a child and even then, it was a rare occurrence. Abuse? I don't think so! Besides, I was in my early twenties, wouldn't I have known my dad's behavior was abusive before now?
I wasn't able or willing to process her question at that moment, so I said, "Maybe we can talk about that another time. I am tired. Good night." I didn't fall asleep for a long time. I kept rolling her question around in my mind. I couldn't shake the fact that something about her question rang true for me. What I couldn't let go of is why I hadn't figured this out until now. It turns out, most victims of chronic abuse have a moment similar to mine.
I don't remember my precise process, but I do know within a month of my friend asking that brave question, I hired a therapist. If nothing else, I needed to prove her wrong. I went to that first session with the story I had shared with my friend and her question in response. The therapist responded in a way I least expected. She said, "Let's see if your friend's observations are correct." I expected a firm yes or no. Welcome to therapy where exploration is the vehicle towards healing! We explored and by the end of my first session, the waters were still murky. She sent me home telling me to journal, reflect, and connect with God until my next session.
I returned the following week and told her I knew my dad's behavior was abusive, but I was having a difficult time accepting that because it would mean that I had lived in denial all these years. What she said next opened the door to freedom and healing for me. She explained that what I experienced with my dad was normal for me. I didn't know any different. This was how life was and I had learned to navigate it with some pretty savvy self-preservation skills. I had become resilient and strong and I had learned to stand up for myself. I had also learned to self-protect through manipulation, lashing out, and anger. It was good news/bad news, right? What she taught me during that session has never left
me. She asked me to look behind me and consider what was along the path I had just come from. I saw bleeding, wounded, and even almost dead people who were victims of my self-preservation tactics. They weren't actually bleeding, wounded, and almost dead, but emotionally, I had left a mark. Most of those people were men whom I had dated and tried to fill my need for masculine love with, and some of them were women who had tried to get close and I burned them. It was a life-shattering realization for me, in a good way.
I was inspired to change my patterns, to leave no wounded behind me anymore. It was the first time in my adult-life that I was experiencing intention. I was learning I had a choice in how I would show up to my life, to my relationships, to my self-care and healing. The journey was only beginning and as my therapist warned me that day, it would get darker before the light would truly begin to shine. That question asked by my friend is the moment my story began because it is the moment I knew I needed healing. Without healing, I have no story because it is the journey of vulnerably exploring our past, doing the healing work, and making different healthier choices moving forward that has the power to change lives beyond my own. Where does your story, or should I say healing, begin?