Articles, Features

Keep Fighting

Trigger Warning: Physical, Emotiona, & Verbal Abuse

My parents divorced shortly before I turned eight. Despite a history of alcoholism and a history of abuse against my father, the court granted my mother primary custody of me. That was the start of 13 years of constant physical, verbal, and emotional abuse at the hands of my mother. I was punched, slapped in the face, and had my hair pulled. I was told numerous times that I would never amount to anything, that I was a failure, and that I would never be good enough. More than once my mother threatened to kill herself in front of both me and my younger sister and told us that it was our fault. As if my mother wasn’t bad enough, I was also dealing with a stepfather who didn’t know how to keep his hands to himself.

At the start of seventh grade, after we moved from Western New York to Greensboro, North Carolina, I found myself not only struggling to deal with the abuse I was suffering at home, but also struggling to come to terms with being a lesbian. I saw others in the LGBTQA+ community being mistreated at school and as a result I feared that my orientation would get out and I too would become a victim of homophobic harassment. So I did my best to hide, going so far as to lie to myself and making a few poor decisions in an attempt to prove to myself and to others that I wasn’t gay. At home I feared my mother’s wrath and as a result would frequently lock myself away in my room. I was also struggling with being so far away from my dad.

As a result of the situation I was in and the things I was struggling with, I ended falling into a deep depression and eventually began self harming. The self harming started more out of a desire to punish myself than anything. I’d heard so many times from my mother that I wasn’t good enough and that I was a screw up that I began to believe it. That combined with my orientation made me believe that there really was something wrong with me, that I was bad, and that I deserved to be punished in some way. When my mother caught me one night, she dragged me into her bathroom to clean me up and lectured me about how much of an embarrassment I was.

I felt like I had no one to turn to and nowhere to go. I felt trapped and I felt lost. The people who did offer to help and who were there for me I ended up pushing away, or I would lie to them and tell them I was fine, including my dad. I put up walls and told myself that I could deal with everything on my own, even when I knew I couldn’t. Truth is, we aren’t built to deal with these sorts of things alone. But I was ashamed, and maybe even in a bit of denial, so instead of asking for help I hid myself away. The only thing that stopped me from self harming and helped me to combat my suicidal thoughts was the idea that by hurting myself I was letting the people who were tearing me down win and I refused to let them be victorious over me.

By the end of eighth grade, despite feeling alone because of homophobia and due to a lack of representation, I managed to accept myself for who I was. I wasn’t ready for anyone, aside from a select few close friends, to know about my orientation, but at least I’d come to accept myself and to accept that there was nothing wrong with me for being a lesbian, and that it wasn’t something that I could change but rather something that I should embrace. A few bad relationships after I learned to accept myself made it hard to embrace sometimes, but now it’s a part of me that I do embrace wholly, something that I celebrate, and one of the only things I’ve actually come to love about myself.

I didn’t come out to my family and the rest of my friends until shortly after I turned 21. That was when I decided that I couldn’t keep sacrificing who I was. I couldn’t keep sacrificing my own happiness for the benefit of others, because I was hurting myself too much while trying to pretend to be someone I wasn’t to appease those I thought wouldn’t accept me. I realized that it was my life, not theirs, and that I needed to live for myself and in such a way that made me happy, not them. Making that choice lifted a huge weight off my shoulders and made me feel a heck of a lot better. Since then, I’ve also started using my writing to try and help combat the lack of LGBTQA+ representation. Of course, that’s getting better now; there’s certainly more representation now than there was 12 years ago when I was learning who I was, but it’s still not nearly enough, and the more representation there is the easier it will be for others to accept themselves and see that they are not alone, and perhaps for those outside the community to see that we are not the monsters and criminals we are sometimes made out to be and learn to be more accepting.

The option to escape was offered to me a number of times. I always knew that I could turn to my dad, that he would be there and that I would always have some place to go. I simply couldn’t work up the courage. I feared what my mother would do or say if I tried to tell her that I was leaving. It wasn’t until a week before I turned 21 that I did manage to find the courage to call my mother one night, while I was visiting my dad over the summer, and tell her that I wouldn’t be returning to Tennessee, where we’d moved after I graduated high school.

It was a difficult phone call to make, partially because I was afraid of my mother’s reaction, but also because I was afraid of such a big change. I’d also gotten so used to the abuse and came to believe the negative things that I’d been told (not only by my mother at that point but also by a few “friends” and a few girlfriends) so much that I wasn’t sure I deserved a life that was better than the one I’d been living.

It took me finally managing to escape from the constant abuse to realize and accept that I did deserve better, and sometimes I still have times when I wonder if maybe I don’t. I still struggle with depression as well as anxiety, and I struggle everyday with my self-esteem. The effects of the emotional and physical abuse that I’ve suffered are still present and though I have begun to heal now, I know it will still take more time. The important thing, not only for me but for anyone who has been through similar situations, or is currently going through a similar situation, and for anyone who struggles with any form of depression or anxiety, is that we all keep fighting. The healing that I have done so far would have been impossible on my own. It was hard, but I knew I needed help and I eventually found the strength to ask for it and I’m glad I did. I’ve also learned to use my writing as an outlet when I feel myself getting down and I’m more willing to reach out to friends, family, and my counselor now. Some days it’s hard; I’ve had relapses and sometimes I still have days when I want to give up, but no matter how hard it gets I will keep fighting.