Hesitancy Toward Happiness

When I think of my mother, I remember her arm across my neck, pinning me to the wall in the hallway outside my bedroom. Behind her was a large window that overlooked the court we lived at the bottom of, and I saw a car come and go as she said nasty things to me that have since faded into a vague sense of abuse that only sharpens into something clearer and cutting on bad days. The car loped slow through the street and I wondered if they noticed the window I was looking out of, calculating how quickly I could get outside. Was I even visible through the trees that were just starting to grow dense with leaves again?

Ten years later, I still think of fourteen-year-old Erica. At an age where every small thing was susceptible to seeming incredibly dramatic and world-ending, I subverted. Major problems were dealt with through a shrug. I ignored and buried and boxed up trauma until I ran out of room. It was so much easier to fixate on smaller, petty problems than deal with something that, at the time, seemed unfixable and much too complicated and scary to face the truth of. The sensation of being trapped--in my house, in the life I was living--was overwhelming. One day, when I had locked myself in my room and sat at the bottom of my closet, putting one more set of doors between us, I tried to picture what my life would look like in a year, in three, in five. I couldn't see it. All I could picture was the same days on repeat, the same fear and vulnerability playing itself out in a loop. I would be stuck, and all of the terrible things I was told were true.

No way out; nothing better waiting. I wouldn't deserve it even if there was.

How I ever came to believe such lies is beyond me. There was nothing but better waiting for me. I haven't had actual, intentional contact with my mother in about six years, and the happiness I've found in that time is unimaginable. When I think back to the times I felt helpless, I am endlessly grateful for having made it to where I am, and for those who made me feel a little less powerless. I know I owe everything I've achieved and how far I've come to those whom I loved, and those who showed me what it was like to be loved back. My sister, my friends, my dad--people who, even unaware of what I was going through, showed me unfailing strength and kindness, shining examples of hope. At fourteen, I couldn't see a way out, or forward. At twenty-four, I see that there's nothing but possibility before me.

Now that I've had enough space and time to process things in a healthier way, I'm cleaning house. I'm unpacking those boxes, one at a time, and setting what's not useful to the side and holding onto the lessons I learned and the moments--however bad--that made me who I am. I know, for example, that I have an incredible capacity to care about others that I likely would not have achieved without those difficult times. My sister and I are as close as we are because I wanted to see her do more than I did and be happy and whole. I can endure more than I think, but instead of making me hard against the world, those experiences I survived gave me an acute sense of empathy and a desire to help, protect, and heal.

My hesitancy toward happiness is fading the farther I get away from her. It's been hard to shake the doubt when I have moments of peace, but I live my life better. I know that I am worth the contentment I wish for others, and I am capable of achieving it. It doesn't matter what I've heard in the past, because the voices I surround myself with are more supportive than anything I've experienced before; and the times when I start to forget, they're there to remind me. We are all so much more than we believe, and everyone deserves happiness and security.

I can't see my mother as a whole person anymore. She exists only in flashes of moments, only in instances of anxiety. She rarely crosses my mind, but when she does, I remind myself of all that I want to be better at--I want to be kind and happy and vulnerable; I want to be honest and I want to love and defend, never harm. I'm not mad or angry at her anymore, though there were years where I struggled with something close to hate. I've finally reached a place of indifference. There are rare times when that slips and I let her darkness worm its way back in, but I'm so full of light that it's nothing. Where's a shadow to exist at noon, after all?

She seems so small to me, now. I never thought that would be possible. I never thought any of this would be possible, but here I stand, closer to contentment than I've ever reached before. And I'm still moving forward, because there's nothing but better things waiting.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month. If you have the means to do so, please donate to National Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Association, a program that supplies judge-appointed volunteers to watch over and advocate for abused and neglected children, to make sure they don’t get lost in the overburdened legal and social service system or languish in an inappropriate group or foster home. 

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