Have you ever looked in the mirror and wondered who was staring back at you?
It’s only within the last several years that I have begun to really get a sense of who I am. As a survivor of violence, incest, and rape – trauma which had begun at the age of eight – I had no sense of self. My worth as a human being had been determined by my abusers. Every assault, every violation pulled me further away from ever getting to know myself.
I knew that I was a person who lived in fear. I knew that I was a person who questioned everything I felt, thought, said, or did. I knew that I was a person who always sought to please people so that I would be safe. Most of all, I knew that I was a person who hated herself.
I grew up believing that other people’s truths had to be my truths, that their values had to be my values, what they believed, I had to believe. Who was I to question them? Who was I to think that I could have values, opinions, thoughts, and feelings of my own? To even consider this as a possibility would, I believed, put myself in danger. It was safer to just go along with what others dictated.
I floundered my way into adulthood. My sense of self drifted from one value and belief system to another, depending upon who my friends were or who I was dating at the time. I hadn’t a clue as to who I was. I’d never heard of low self-esteem until I got into therapy in my thirties. All I knew was that I lived every day in fear. I felt like I was being swallowed by it. Fear dictated how I interacted with other people and how I navigated my world. I felt lost and alone.
This was only compounded by my alcoholism. The deeper I sank into the bottle, the more lost and alone I felt. I had no center, nothing to hold onto. I couldn’t comprehend how I could feel so much fear and at the same time feel so numb.
It wasn’t until I was about four years into my sobriety that I began to realize that I was a stranger to myself. I realized that I had no beliefs, values, thoughts, or opinions to call my own. I hadn’t a clue as to what I wanted out of life, or who I wanted to be. All I knew was that I was a people-pleaser. I was afraid to think or feel differently than other people. I feared their disapproval. I feared their rejection. I feared their anger.
Part of my journey has been to discover who I am at a core level. What do I think? What do I believe? What do I value? What do I want? These questions might be easy for some, but for me they were difficult to answer – and scary. I worried What if I don’t like who I find beneath all these layers of damage? What if I discover that I really am worthless and unlovable?
Getting to know myself has been a rewarding challenge; to learn what I think, feel, and want and be able to express these things without fear of retribution or rejection. Though I sometimes still second-guess myself, doubt myself, and people-please.
While I’ve realized that my wants and needs are fluid, changing with time and life experiences, I have been able to determine some things about myself with a strong degree of confidence:
I know that I value sincerity, honesty and trustworthiness. I value integrity. I value friendship and family.
I know that I want to get to the point in my healing process where I no longer feel the need to refer to myself as a trauma survivor. I want to help other survivors on their own journeys toward healing. I want to help dissolve the stigma of mental illness. I want to stop caring about what other people think of me. I want to feel safe in the world. I want to be able to love myself.
I know that I am a good person. I am a spiritual person. I know that I feel compassion and empathy for others. I believe that we are all connected, that we all come from the same Source of Light and Love, even the most vile and inhumane among us. I believe that those who have chosen a path of Darkness have their own karmic burdens to bear.
I believe in being kind. I believe that everyone is worthy of love. I believe that we are stewards of this beautiful planet we call home, and of all the animals upon it. I believe it is our duty to take care of this planet for future generations. I believe in the importance of being of service to others, and to help those in need.
I believe that each person has their own path to follow. I believe in a woman’s right to choose. I believe in the power of a people united in the name of peace and solidarity. I believe in the power of one person’s voice.
Getting to know myself will be a lifelong journey. I look forward to discovering what lies within the depths of my heart and mind as each day presents itself with new challenges and rewards. Thank you for joining me as I continue along my path of self-exploration and self-realization.