Last month JCW Israel finished its first women’s survivors support group in Jerusalem. At the end of the group we asked the amazing participants to share their words of wisdom and advice to survivors.
Here is the third of a series essays we are sharing throughout the month.
You don’t know me but I know you.
That may sound kind of creepy, but I know you because I know myself. I don’t need to meet you to know what it feels like to be you right now.
I know what it feels like when you know something is wrong but you just feel guilty because it doesn’t feel wrong. I know what it feels like to tell someone what happened just because you want some attention. But I know that you don’t want her to hate you, or pity you, or get scared of you. I know what it feels like to be so utterly alone because you don’t tell anyone. And I know what it feels like when people keep telling you to talk it out but you don’t. You can’t. They weren’t there.
I know what it feels like to know that what everyone else tells you is wrong. They don’t know what we know. We were there, not them.
But no matter how much they can’t understand and no matter how wrong they are, don’t close up. Don’t shut down. I did that and then I exploded. Life became absolutely unbearable. I know that right now you hate yourself and your life, and things don’t seem like they can get any worse. But they can. They can get much worse. You can steal and lie and cheat because you just want to get caught. Why get caught? Because you can’t stop yourself any other way, you just want someone to stop you.
You know that concept in science called “inertia”? Inertia is the law that states that an object at rest tends to stay at rest and an object in motion tends to stay in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an outside force. For me that’s what the direction we take in life is like.
I know that naturally you’ll just continue the way you’re going. That’s what’s comfortable that’s what seems to make sense. But if you continue down the path you’re on, like I did, then you will end up where I crashed. I only decided to do something different when I hit the pavement. Hard. I couldn’t talk because I knew nobody could understand. I said, “They weren’t there!” Every time I mustered up the courage to speak I’d remind myself that they couldn’t possibly understand, so I shut down. I shut down and never gave myself a chance to even examine the guilt I felt for not feeling horrible about horrible things I’d done. I never gave myself a chance to trust anyone enough for them to attempt to understand me. I had all these secrets that I couldn’t let come to light because I was terrified to see them.
I felt like a monster on the inside, all green and slimy, and I knew, I knew that if anyone ever saw me for real they would hate me as much as I hated myself. I was so sure of it that I shut the door on the possibility for things to be different. I didn’t talk, I didn’t share, and I drank liquid courage to get me through the day.
That was, until that outside force hit me hard and I couldn’t keep going the way I was anymore. I burst. I cracked my heart open on the sidewalk and couldn’t hide the ugliness from myself anymore. Picking myself off the floor was so absolutely and utterly painful, and also the most rewarding thing I’ve ever experience. I couldn’t get up alone so I was forced to reach out my broken hand and grab onto that hand reaching out to help me. I talked and I cried and I didn’t hide anymore.
I’ve found people that understand me even though they weren’t there. I’m not alone anymore, and more than anything, I realized I’m not a monster.
I don’t want you to have to go through the years in between, where nothing seems right, and everything is real messed up, but I know you have to go through that to come out on the other side. Thing is, you don’t have to go it alone.
I was scared to speak because I felt like if I opened my mouth, all I’d be able to do is scream. That’s ok. You don’t have to wait for an outside force to change your direction. Speak up, shout, scream, cry, and if anyone runs for the hills because you scare them in some way, then they’re not worth talking to. But there are those people, those extraordinary people, who get it, and care for you all that much more.
I know you don’t believe it, but they exist.