It started five years ago, when I married my now ex-husband. Well, that’s when it officially started. But you see, it never just starts with a bad marriage. There is usually a history leading up to that poor decision. In my case, I had been abused previously. True, it was a different kind of abuse. But essentially, it’s all the same. It has the same devastating effects and takes the same sort of energy to shake out of your system.
It started when I was 7 years old. Thankfully, it’s over. But the journey has not yet ended. I am in a healthier place now than I have ever been in, but there is always work to be done.
Sparing you the horrific details, I was sexually abused for many years as a young child. I then went on to marry an abusive man. He put me down, shamed me, beat me, raped me and ultimately, succeeded in making me feel worthless and like I was nothing more than an empty shell. He did a ‘fine’ job of finishing off my rapist’s mission.
Throughout my years, I subconsciously took over the role of my abusers in treating myself like I do not have a voice, and doubting the small little voice that would attempt to speak up every now and then.
Now that small little voice has gotten stronger and louder and more assertive. But every so often, the condescending voices of my abusers pipe up and try to dissuade me from pursuing my dreams. But now, it is their voices that are hushed and quiet, the muttering that I am now able to ignore and prove wrong.
Because I am strong. Stronger than the weak men who needed to put me down in order to build themselves up. Stronger than the naysayers who thought I could never break free. Stronger than myself, because every day I am getting stronger than I was yesterday.
Here are some of the ways that I was able to nurture and bring forth my inner strength. For those of you who have battled with similar struggles, I hope this can help you break free too.
♥ Live your life for you! You are the most important person in your world. Your own mental health should be top priority. What everyone else thinks is just background noise. Ultimately, they are not living with your decisions – you are. This does not mean to totally disregard wisdom and advice from those wiser and more experienced than ourselves, but rather, to take it into consideration when you look at the grander picture that only you have access to. Remember: you can never please everyone.
♥ There is absolutely nothing wrong with being selfish. If something or someone makes you feel bad or gives you negative vibes, remove them from your life. You do not have to care for the world. You have to care for you. Take time to do the things that make you happy, that give you positive energy, and only surround yourself with those who do that for you.
♥ Set boundaries Very clear and strong boundaries When interacting with you, other’s should know what you will put up with. And the only way for them to know what your boundaries are, is if you tell them. Be firm. Be your own advocate.
♥ Independence. For every individual, this can mean something else. For some, it may mean getting a job and paying their own bills. For others, it can be taking college courses. And yet for others, it can be as simple as going pottery painting in the evening after the kids are asleep. Whatever it takes for you to feel like your own person, do it.
♥ Which brings me to my final point: Date yourself. This one may be more difficult for the extroverts out there, but it may prove to be even more beneficial. It entails doing exactly what it sounds like. Take the time out to be alone and do what you enjoy doing. Allow yourself the quiet and solitude to think deeply. Let your mind wander. Get to know yourself. Keep a journal of the thoughts you have. You would be surprised at how much you discover about yourself. It can only lead to good things.
Now as Pesach approaches, I am aware that I was bound by shackles of abuse, similar to that of the slaves in Egypt. But I, like them, am no longer a victim, rather I am a survivor.
I survived the deepest hell and came out stronger. Like the Torah tells us, the slavery in Egypt was compared to an iron furnace. It refined us to be able to receive the Torah. One of my favorite expressions sums this up perfectly “Stars can’t shine without darkness.” I am a shining star, as is each and everyone one of us. We all have struggles and those struggles shape us to be better, stronger and kinder people.
Let us use this upcoming holiday to reflect within and find our deepest strengths.
Wishing you all a happy, healthy, Kosher and liberating Pesach!
Photograph by Rivka Bauman Photography