People often say I am one of the most resilient people they know, given what I have experienced and that my own abuse spans over a length of 18 years. It is a nice sentiment, but day after day I realise how it’s not actually a character trait, it is a demand of trauma.
I have to be resilient. I have to be resilient in order to live and experience more than just ‘it’ (the pain) without belittling or lessening or hushing or numbing or in any single way pretending it will/could ever be less. Which means, progress for someone like me doesn’t look like progress. It looks like hell and feels like grief, before it is ever experienced as freedom.
After abuse, progress looks like choice.
It is sitting on the ground hyperventilating, as my body sinks into the safety of my present, releasing and embodying the pain it wasn’t safe enough to feel before. It is coming face to face with the biggest lies that abuse has told me and redefining my relationship with them, and myself, daily. Progress is admitting that erasing any point, demeaning any reaction, or denying any part of my truth’s validity would be worse than any agony I walk out. Progress is reclaiming choice, where choice was raped from me. A subconscious response to life, post abuse, becoming a conscious one. I am breaking, because I am allowed to. Because it is real. Because I can. It is a breaking that, over time, begins to be felt into and witnessed with power, rather than an unsafe sort of vulnerability. A breaking that welcomes a modification in the patterns I walk, over a demand that feigns I can somehow just be “okay” walking around like nothing happened just because it isn’t happening anymore. Because trauma healing isn’t in past tense, trauma healing is a result of abuse that happened; it is by nature, present. It is a choice that is walked over and over, where you are invited to meet your old footprints with honest grief instead of hidden shame.
I am not less than or more than in my progress, anymore than I could be less than or more than if I chose to remain in the cycle of abuse because cultivating a freedom outside of it is too painful. A heavy statement that deserves clarity over pretty words, and truth over popularity. Because so many do not have the privilege to grieve. So many do not have the privilege to separate themselves from generations of abuse. So many do not have the privilege to be supported, to be heard, and to be known. So many.
This world is not equipped to hold space for the reality of what abuse does, because it doesn’t know how to. It shuns and silences the ugly and uncomfortable truth, because in the most innocent way it is scared to hurt too. However, that means when abuse seeps out into the world it is reacted to from a ground of guilt instead of clarity. How can I help you, for me? How can I stop your hurt, so mine stops? How can I?
Listening affirms that reclamation of choice, rather than innocently manipulates it into something we deem worthy of such pain. We strip choice from the healing, and push people into spaces that are so foreign to them. Thinking it is exactly what we need to be safe, but what actually plunges us into the depths of our pain as we are shocked by the difference between what we were enduring and what we could have had. A real home, with healthy love. A real commitment, with healthy boundaries. A real job, without exploitation. A real life, without owing life the debt of our skin and body. Too fast, too much, too soon. Our pain becomes too great, and this is where you witness people returning to the abuse, instead of staying the “course” set out for them. It is too hard.
Progress needs to be slow, and deserves the deepest level of commitment. A commitment that needs to be equipped (i.e. professional) in order to meet us where we most certainly need to be met. It cannot be one swift change, or one exuberant emotional decision, or it will undeniably throttle us back into the patterns we need to witness and slowly modify with our own voices.
Our self autonomy is the most powerful tool that we have to actually turn our suffering, our experiences, our pain and agony, into something balanced. Because they will never go away. They will never end. No buts about it.
“You have options,” was one of the most powerful statements that my therapist ever told me, as we met three times a week for years. “Skyler, you have options.”
I do. I have options.
My options look different than yours, because of my privilege. I know this, and my work and advocacy is flawed because of it. I commit to speaking my truths vs yours because of this. Because if it isn’t mine, it isn’t valid. Your options look different than mine, because of where the world forces you to stand. I believe your choice. I believe your decision. I trust your truth. Our options are our resources. Our resources are our bridges. Our choices are our freedom. Even if that choice isn’t acceptable to anyone else, it is yours now. Not the abuse’s, yours.
That is progression, after abuse. The freedom to make a choice. And, it is painful and scary and hard. No matter what I have walked, I will never know what it feels like for her, for him, for them, for you. But, I believe you. I believe in the power of your progress, for you. I support your decisions, for you. I trust that you know. Because the silence is definitely breaking, even if it is only breaking in specific ways. And, maybe because progression on an external level can only shift in minute ways, just like progression on an internal level does? Maybe one day, progression won’t only be for the privileged.
Skyler Mechelle is a budding author and advocate, traveling the world and sharing her harrowing story of abuse. Her commitment to ending the stigma of what life after trauma looks like, feels like, and can be not only serves to validate those who have experience abuse themselves, but those desiring to understand it.