This time, I’m giving less. Of myself, of my world, my love, my feelings, my opinions. And I mean it this time. Because I’m tired. I’ve tried—and failed—to internalize this concept for years. I found pride and strength in my idea of perseverance, thinking I was doing some higher bidding, living some better way, by tearing myself up into little pieces for other people. I believed protecting one’s self from the world was a folly of the fearful.
That ends now.
I’ve long believed the idea of protection was a lie. Freak accidents happen. Other people are an unknowable factor. The world is too chaotic for unequivocal safety so you should just live, big and loud. But even in my middle class, privileged Connecticut upbringing, I encountered abuse that was physical, mental, sexual, and emotional. I survived on the fumes of being gaslit, came of age on the agony of people leaving without a peep, and the devastation that comes from familial rejection. I’ve raised myself on the promise of honesty, the crumbs of affection, and the subsequent lies that prove far easier in the end. And I did it all with a smile.
Protection isn’t something a girl like me readily seeks, the mystique of it shattered long ago. If I close my eyes long enough, I’m eight years old and back in that purple and kitten-covered bedroom again, telling myself what happened to me was just a lesson I needed to learn so that I could finally be strong. I’d always been categorized as the weak one: too emotional, too dramatic, too much for everyone, my willing vulnerability a lethal catnip for the emotionally manipulative. How I responded to this experience, though? This would change all of that: in this response, I could finally learn to be strong. Stronger than the forces of my past, of all the things that propelled me into my future. This secret would prove I didn’t need protection—I would come out on the other side like, so what? And?
Because bouncing back is what I do. I never needed to be saved from outside situations, never mistaken for a princess-y damsel. I was everyone’s happy girl: strong and smart and loving, maybe a little delusional. I gave and gave and focused on others. I believed it to be pure strength. Because when we see people putting others’ feelings and needs before their own, it’s largely shown as a selfless, noble cause. The work that makes us all see…