The Warrior Within
I have always been a firm believer in being kind to everyone you meet, because everyone has a story. Things happen in our lives that help shape us: mould us gently, or sometimes not-so gently, into the person we are today.
I have a story. It has affected me in ways big and small every single day since it happened eight years ago, and I will probably think about it for the rest of my life. It has taken me a long time to speak up and share it. I have been scared of judgement, embarrassment, vulnerability and pity, but those things no longer worry me. I am strong, I am brave and if I can help even one woman, then it has been worth it.
Three days after my 13th birthday, I stood in front of the fire at my family home, gasping for air as the man who had been married to my mum for 10 years relentlessly beat me with a piece of wood. He beat me until I was in so much shock that I physically could not scream and could not move. He moved on to beating the other side of my body before the adrenaline kicked in and I realised I needed to run away.
I bolted to the kitchen, a dead end. My eight-year-old brother and four-year-old sister watched on as their father stood with his hands clasped around the neck of their eldest sibling, with no sign of letting go. I screamed, genuinely scared for what might come next, and they screamed too, in utter disbelief and terror, when all of a sudden he let me go. He threw me to the ground, got in his car and drove away.
What came next was a blur of interviews with police, forensics in white suits taking photographic evidence of my legs that were black from my hip to my knees on both sides, tears and fear. The boys at my school asked why my body was covered in bruises and I would lie, telling them that I fell down the stairs, covering up the abuse I had been subject to only days earlier by a man I had trusted. I was urged to press charges, to make him pay for what he had done, but I was too scared of the repercussions.
Instead of dealing with what had happened to me in a healthy and productive way, I let it eat away at me like an angry cancer. I hated him, I hated myself, I hated what he had done to me and I hated how I felt. I convinced myself it was my fault. If I didn’t have an attitude, perhaps it wouldn’t have happened. If I hadn’t provoked him, it wouldn’t have happened.
I started to believe that I was to blame and that I was unworthy of being treated with kindness and respect. My self-esteem crumbled and every relationship I had with men suffered.
This cycle continued for close to four years until, one day, I realised that I was in charge of the way I felt. This man who laid his hands on me so awfully all those years ago still had a hold on me through the way I was treating myself. I was a young woman, forming into the person I was supposed to be, yet I was so hung up on what had happened to me in the past. In order to move on, I had to forgive him within myself. By resenting what he did, I was letting his actions shape me. I was allowing the anger, hurt and confusion to take over my whole body, and that was a thousand times more energy than he deserved from me.
I decided to let it go, to free myself of his actions – not because he deserved it, but because I did.
I deserved to have meaningful relationships with men, to feel beautiful, loved, supported and delicate. I deserved to love myself and understand that what happened to me was in no way a fault of my own. I owed it to myself to be able to watch a beautiful sunrise and not think about the hurt I had been through.
It is now three days after my 21st birthday, and I still have extreme trust issues with men. Every relationship I’ve had since has suffered to some extent. I still get scared when men are rough with me, playful or not. As soon as any man yells at me, our conversation is as good as over; I will not utter another word. I still cry when I have serious conversations with men that get even the slightest bit heated.
I still struggle to fight off feelings of worthlessness and self-blame, but I carry no anger. As much as what happened will always be with me, I no longer think about it every day, and it does not play a forefront role in my mind. I do not let the past control how I feel about myself.
Though I cannot change what happened, I can choose how I overcome it and how I let it shape me.
So now, I try to remember that I am worthy of love. I am worthy of being caressed and touched as though I am the most treasured being in the world. I am worthy of feeling safe and protected by the men in my life.
The day I realised the extreme power of self-love and forgiveness was the day I started seeing the world around me in a different shade of beautiful. Women are strong, resilient, courageous, kind, gentle, earth-shattering and game-changing. We are to be treated as precious vessels, yet we are also to be feared, for we are warriors.