Have you ever wondered who you could have been, if not for trauma? Have you ever grappled with the injustice of an abuser from years ago casting a shadow of pain or insecurity over a current relationship with a person they will never meet? Dampening would-be beautiful moments they’ll never see?
Someone recently shared with me this quote from the character Leeza on the Netflix show Midnight Mass. She said to her abuser: “You stole from me. Not just who I was, but who I could’ve been. You stole from me things I didn’t even have yet. You reached through time and you stole!”
That courageous assertion hits the nail on the head for many trauma survivors. This is exactly how I have felt many times and tried to put into words, not quite as poignantly as Leeza. It reminded me of this piece I wrote, attempting to convey the experience of having an alternate life stolen from you.
Some days I don’t even recognize myself.
Who am I? A stranger? A monster?
Gone is the innocent, bright-eyed, trusting girl of my youth who had only happiness before her. In her place is a jaded, self-protecting woman with a sharp eye and quick wit. I scan my surroundings, taking note of tiny observations. I jump to conclusions. I am swift to accuse when I feel attacked. I easily feel trapped and lash out like a caged animal.
I hurt the people I love the most when I feel unsafe, which is a little bit all of the time.
My coping mechanisms eerily echo what was done to me. A lingering ghost, a stain I can’t quite wash out.
Am I just like them?
Are my abusers right? Am I the crazy one?
I wonder who I would be if it wasn’t for my PTSD.
I am constantly on edge. I can never fully relax, never completely trust. Always looking for the string attached, the ulterior motive, the hidden meaning behind words.
My body is weary and it cries out to me through mysterious medical symptoms that send me to clinics and specialists who can’t ever quite help me enough.
It’s all so confusing; the world spinning so fast. My head swims as I try to pinpoint what is happening and what is true – what is tangible and what is mental. I hear things incorrectly, my memories are inaccessible, I don’t know what’s real. I can’t control the state of my own mind.
The old familiar self-loathing starts to trickle in and then a roaring flood of hate. How can I be so dumb? Why can’t I just be normal?
Some days I wonder about the little baby born on my birthday who has my name but doesn’t feel like me anymore. Surely she was brimming with potential. She had a bright future that hasn’t been fully realized or maybe has been squashed altogether by trauma and abuse.
Am I my “real self” or someone else, formed by PTSD? If I’m someone else, where did she go? Can I find her again?
From this short life with limited time and finite moments so much has been taken from me. So much I can never get back. My very self is different because of the abuse; did they take me away from me too?
Does a villain from years ago have more power over me than I have over me? Why can’t I become the person I want to be?
How would the child Sarah feel knowing the chaos she experiences would follow her into adulthood? How would little Sarah react hearing her closest companions, her soulmates, in her late twenties would take on wounds from an entirely different lifetime 15 years prior?
Can I ever really heal? Can this be undone? Can I be reborn?
Is there a parallel life out there for me that I should have been living, if my train hadn’t jumped the tracks? Or is this the real me now?
I’m determined to make the best of the unjust hand I’ve been dealt. I am proud of me. I’m a mess but I’m also wise and strong and resilient and much more powerful than any of my tormentors. They were weak, so they preyed on the vulnerable. I wasn’t battle-ready when I was thrown right into the war. Nevertheless I fought for myself and I’m taking back my territory. I’m reclaiming what is mine from the invaders who stole from me and scarred me.
I don’t know who I could have become or what would have been, but I know who I am now and I am damn proud of how far I’ve come. Perhaps I’ll stop looking for the version of me that never existed. It’s time to celebrate the me that I birthed of my own will and strength and grit. I am my own again.