New is supposed to be exciting. But not when life already feels like a heavy weight on your shoulders that you can't take off. Moving to a new city at 11 years old was the relational last straw in my young but difficult social life. I had already attended four different elementary schools and the fifth school was going to be the least forgiving to a melancholy newcomer from a poor family. I'd always lived in a bigger city, where you could usually find someone who could identify with your quirkiness. But now I was being singled out for things I'd never imagined being an issue, like how I wore my socks.
Being a pre-teen is hard enough as it is. The change from being an imaginative child to a self conscious prepubescent girl is a very confusing time. For anyone. It would have been beneficial to go through this season with a group of friends who were experiencing the same transition. But I'd left my few friends I had already struggled to make behind and was surrounded by girls who seemed to somewhat understand each other (and enjoy each other) but knew nothing of my daily battles. Of leaving behind grandparents I was used to seeing regularly. Of the unpredictability of an angry stepfather who suffered his own horrendous demons and used numerous unhealthy coping mechanisms. Of having no safe place to recover from the day's stress. Of the battle to develop new relationships--again--with crippling anxiety.
I found only two ways at 11 to cope with my loneliness and fear. Children and books. It turned out that neighbours on both sides of us had two children each. And children were easy to relate to because they just wanted fun. They didn't need to know who you really were. They didn't care where you came from or how you dressed. I ended up babysitting as much as I could. Which got me out of the house and interacting with others, even if it was purely juvenile conversations.
As the school year progressed I did make some friends. Always as a third wheel or tag along. But in my jilted state I never let myself feel close. How long would we be here? How long will they be here? I'm certain I never actually asked myself this consciously. By this time I'd already built quite a conspicuous wall. The wall’s foundation took form when my mother and father separated when I was a year old. A brick put on every time my mother changed relationships. Another dozen or so when we changed addresses again and again. A whole section of the wall built when my previous stepdad of six years had committed suicide. By now the idea of getting close filled me with trepidation. And it wasn't before the year was up that I'd convinced myself that no one would care if I ceased to exist as well.
Eleven is too young to want to end your life.
At 13 it was time to move on again to secondary school. And now I officially didn't belong anywhere. I was a floater. Trying to fit in. Without ever, heaven forbid, standing out. I couldn't make eye contact. My voice was small and quiet. I remember the terror that literally took my breath away as I walked down the school hall. I remember the panic as I was expected to participate in drama class. I remember the embarrassment as I was picked last in physical education class. And I didn't want to do it anymore. I started feeling sick. All the time. Headaches. Backaches. Stomach aches. Here I was, a smart person, a creative person, and I couldn't bear to go to school, even if the last place I ever wanted to be was home with my stepfather’s abuse. I went to school as little as I could. I eventually stopped going to school altogether.
By 15 I was severely lonely and scared. And who knew? They did see a shy girl. But I was suffocating in my blanket of failure. I was a prime candidate for an escape introduced to me by my own step-father. Drugs and alcohol. I entered his world of debate and judgement. And with alcohol I was allowed to speak up and give an opinion with him. I found suddenly I could be free from the pain. Or find confidence. Even if only for a fleeting moment. Even to the detriment of my own already damaged self esteem. As time progressed I found it even harder to interact with people without help from liquid courage. More and more I was losing who I was, if I had even ever glimpsed that person. I saw myself do things I didn't want to do. Be in circumstances I did not want to be in. That very year I was both raped at a party and taken advantage of by a close family member.
The next four years were a tumultuous blur. Bad relationships. Uncomfortable and dangerous situations. Parties. Alcohol poisoning. Blackouts. Anorexia. Bulimia. Rape. Running away. Fear. Heartache.
And at 17 I'd had enough and tried to end it all for good.
This started the process of counseling. But healing doesn’t happen over night. It takes going back to the same issues again and again. It takes forgiving the unforgivable. It takes retraining the brain to not be so self depreciating and self sabotaging. Rewriting is so hard! It takes faith that there is hope in continuing.
It was probably 20 more years before I could see that my struggle was going to come to some sort of fruition.