TW: Suicide, Depression, Sexual Assault
I hope you’ll sit down with me a bit because this year is so personal for me. I turn 40 this year. And I’m more excited about this birthday than any birthday before it. You might be wondering why.
Honestly, as a kid and young adult, I never thought I’d make it to 40. I figured I’d be dead before I hit this milestone.
I grew up in a fairly dysfunctional situation. I have a teen mom and am also the product of rape. My mom and her mom, my Nanny, did not get along, which led to me often being a pawn piece in their game of chess and me working hard to be the adult that not only diffused their conflicts (which were, at times, physically violent), but also helped them heal from their abuses.
The cycle of abuse was strong in my family. My Nanny was abused. My mom. Me. I was first sexually abused at the age of 4 or 5. I remember when my mom found me being abused and blamed me for what was happening with a significantly older boy. She shamed me. My Nanny didn’t believe me. I was so confused and so upset with myself. It started me down a very long road to recovery because from that point on, my disordered relationship with sex and shame and my self worth would become my Everest.
My mother attempted suicide many times during my life. Her desire to die was so palpable, but so was her guilt over it. As a young person walking into the hospital to visit my mom, who slit her wrists, it didn’t even dawn on me that this was not a normal experience. For me, it felt normal. It felt ordinary. Living with a resting heart rate right below panic attack was just my baseline.
By the time my teen years arrived, my desire to stay on this Earth was slim. I didn’t understand why I should want to, I had no concept of my own self worth, and I didn’t have any people in my life who could model healthy relationships with themselves, with their loved ones. All around me, I saw addicts, people who were deeply depressed, people in abusive and/or dysfunctional marriages. Or worse, people pretending to be happy people. But my empathy was so high so I could always feel through that mask.
What’s funny to me is if you talk to my friends during elementary school and middle school, they’ll talk about me being the friendliest, the most talkative, the leader, the confident one. I’m the kid that started all the clubs and was president of every single one. I was so good at pretending to be happy that I don’t know I ever really understood what happiness was supposed to feel like. I faked it for so long that the fake me was the real me and the rest was just this faint echo in the distance.
I worked hard to be a chameleon because my life was about survival. I desperately wanted people to love me, I desperately wanted to protect myself, and I desperately needed to control every situation I was in so that I could be safe. But as hard as I worked to create some sort of stability in my life, even if I hard to wrestle that stability into submission, it felt like death was always at my shadow’s edge.
If you told teenage Beth that I’m married to the most phenomenal human that I didn’t have the life experiences to even imagine… or that I have this beautiful 11 year old child and have broken the abuse cycle… or that I’m well, still on this Earth? She’d never believe you. Because she earnestly believed our journey would be short lived. She earnestly believed that she didn’t deserve this life.
So, 40 is going to be my very best year ever. I’ve earned it. She’s earned it.