When I was young I lived in a place that I jokingly refer to as ‘the commune’. It was a small community where the closest neighbor was nearly a half mile away, and for most people it was probably a relative. There was a tiny food/entertainment/restaurant/tool store, a tiny school with two hundred or so students in its entirety, and a tiny post office.
In the eighties and nineties this was the sort of small bible belt town where they still suggested that people of colour left the city limits before sundown.
At 13 I hated it, and even though things have changed, in some ways I still do.
Back then I knew there was a bigger and wider world out there, but I was only able to experience it through television or rented VHS movies from the tiny grocery. All things different or from ‘outside’ were regarded with both suspicion and probable hostility.
It was like that movie where everything outside of city limits was just fog.
I couldn’t find my way around the nearest larger town. I didn’t know how to get to the mall or the actual grocery store or any of the clothing shops. I knew absolutely nothing about the world beyond my dinky little map dot.
Before I made my escape no one stopped my family from forcing me to eat from dirty dishes if I was allowed to eat at all. Not one person said a word when I came to family functions or went to school with bruises or dirty clothes or matted hair. Nothing was done when I screamed and cried and prayed for someone to save me. They all turned a blind eye so that my existence would not corrupt their perfect little world.
I didn’t have a hero.
I didn’t know there were programs to help people like me because the mental and emotional abuse was so encompassing that I had no idea there was any other way of life.
While I always knew that the physical abuse that I suffered was wrong, I lacked the knowledge that would have allowed me to recognize the damage that they were doing mentally and emotionally. I didn’t know that I was in prison because I thought the cell bars were where the world ended.
Being told that ignorance was no excuse was like a slap in the face. Granted, hindsight is 20/20, and I now understand at least a portion of how the isolation, belittling, starvation, degradation, and physical violence has affected me, but when I was freshly escaped from that environment I was to a certain extent still under my abusers’ thumb.
It has been a long journey, and in my late thirties I still struggle with the damage done to me in my childhood. I battle agoraphobia, anxiety, and lack of ability to form healthy relationships. There are certain places on my body that my partner and children can’t touch me. Some days I cannot tolerate any touch at all. I have trouble with intimacy and with expressing empathy.
I am scarred. I am not broken.
Each day is a day that I get better. Some are harder struggles than others. I tell you this not for sympathy, but because I want everyone to know that there is help out there. Don’t be caught by the edge of the world like I was for so long. You can escape. Surprisingly enough, once you step over that invisible line the sky is wide open and blindingly blue. You can find help, support, and most importantly you can find yourself.
Free yourself of your gilded cage and fly.
You are intelligent; you are capable. You can do this.