Fight Like a Girl

This is a post I wrote toward the end of my Peace Corps pre-service training last year.  In the spirit of International Women’s Day in correlation with the letter project I’m working on, I wanted to share again.  

The past couple weeks of training have caused an extraordinary amount of anxiety to arise within me.  I have felt that anxiety from the moment I get up to the moment I go to bed nearly everyday for the past week and a half as I prepare to receive my site assignment this Tuesday.  Although training is coming to a close, our workload only seems to increase as time to complete that work winds down.  Lately, I have felt as though I lost sight of why I came here in the first place.

It wasn’t until I opened a letter from my younger sister that I was reminded.  While there are many reasons why I chose this unconventional path, one particular reason was the driving force that compelled me to take the plunge and apply to Peace Corps last spring.  I am a relationship abuse survivor.  In February of 2015, my on-again-off-again boyfriend of nearly two years put his hands on me for the first time, resulting in a black eye and a week spent at home during my second semester of junior year at University of South Carolina.  In November of 2015, after countless months of both emotional and physical abuse, that same boyfriend put his hands on me for what would be the last time when his irrational anger escalated to the point of strangulation.

While suffering from an abuse this extreme was inexplicably horrifying in the moment, the months following proved to be even harder.  After confronting a police officer that night, I began the process of holding this boy accountable and pressing charges.  I was forced to relive that night over and over as I had to tell my story to investigators, police officers, victim advocates, etc.  I had massive panic attacks walking to my classes, out of fear that I would run into him.  I avoided restaurants and bars he frequented, and even refused to drive down his street, the main street in Columbia, because the flashbacks were too intense.  I was embarrassed to tell most of my friends what had happened so when they would take his road, I would shut my eyes to avoid seeing his car and apartment that triggered the unpleasant memories.  Then, I lost many friends once I confided in them.

The worst part of it all was the way I was treated by local law enforcement.  I didn’t understand why the police officer didn’t decide to look further into the situation the night of the incident.  I was even more confused when he took me home that night and almost drove off without giving me a copy of the police report, which I needed to pursue legal action.  It then felt like pulling teeth to get the lead investigator to meet with me to discuss how to move forward.  And once I was finally able, I will never forget the feeling in my chest when he muttered, “yeah, well, most of these cases tend to be vindictive girlfriends who get upset when they see their man has moved on.”

To say that the months following were anything short of hell would be an understatement.  I was immensely paranoid, anxious and depressed.  I didn’t sleep for months because I was kept up by flashbacks of what had happened and in of fear my ex-boyfriend suddenly looming over my bed.  I reached a low that I didn’t know was possible.  I had almost hit rock-bottom when I had an epiphany and shifted perspectives.

I am a middle-upperclass American who, at the time, was about to complete her college education.  But I am a woman, and that was my handicap.  Still, so much of my background seemed to outweigh that one detail.  Then it suddenly hit me.  I am an American woman with access to what many would consider to be the ‘best’ resources in the world to assist me through this trauma.  It pained me to think of fellow women living in less developed countries and entirely misogynistic societies suffering from the same abuse.  It pained me even more to think of the young girls and daughters in those households, witnessing (if not suffering) the abuse and growing up to think that mistreatment of women is okay.

Although Peace Corps had been on my radar since I was 16, it was this experience that solidified my decision to join.  And it was this experience alone that made applying to a position that incorporates Let Girls Learn so appealing.  Let Girls Learn is an initiative instated by Michelle Obama and Peace Corps plays a vital role as LGL volunteers coordinate girls’ education projects.  My involvement in this initiative is one of the things I am looking forward to most about beginning my two years of service in just a couple weeks.  As both a woman and a survivor, I am confident in my ability to be an empathetic resource to the girls I encounter in Thailand.

And so I am reminded of my reasons for being here.  When I signed up for this, I knew I would have moments of doubt.  But as my sister so eloquently reminded me in her letter, “fear is not a weakness or a sign that [I’ve] chosen the wrong path.”  In fact, it means quite the opposite.  Anyone who chooses to do anything worthwhile is bound to experience hardship along the way.  And as I have learned over the past year or so, how we conquer those hardships is what truly matters and molds us into the people we are destined to become.

P.S.: Happy International Women’s Day!  Although, let’s be honest, 24 hours isn’t enough to celebrate the amount of ass we kick everyday.

P.P.S.: I am including the forgiveness letter I wrote (but never sent) the aforementioned ex-boyfriend.  If my words can provide hope for even one person who finds themselves in a similar circumstance then the vulnerability of sharing this letter will be worthwhile.

Dear ______,

            I honestly don’t even know where to begin.  I have written you countless letters over the past two months, since that God-awful night on November 15.  Those letters have conveyed a range of emotions, most angry and sad.  And although they will never be sent and you will never read them, its therapeutic for me to put those words down on paper and leave them in a drawer.  There are so many things I have wanted to say to you, but I will never get the chance.  That isn’t my fault because I am not the reason our relationship fell apart, but that makes facing this truth only that much harder.

            I was convinced you were the love of my life.  I foresaw things with you that I never dreamed possible.  It would be cheesy to say I dreamt of us at 80 years old sitting in rocking chairs on a wrap-around porch, living in a house somewhere with a white picket fence.  And while white-picket fences are much too tacky for our taste, I saw something very similar.  I imagined meeting you at the end of a long aisle on our wedding day only to have you lift my veil, tears welling up in both of our eyes.  I imagined raising kids with you, naming our first daughter Amelia Lee like we always talked about.  I imagined the days when I would run into your arms after you had a long day at work and I had a long day with the kids.  I imagined a honeymoon, wedding anniversaries, countless birthdays (both ours and our children’s), charred dinners due to my lack of culinary skills and so much more.  I dreamed of a reality where you would be by my side until we saw our final day.

            Unfortunately, that possibility has been crushed.  Although November 15 was the culmination, the ‘dooms day’ that we wouldn’t be able to ignore, I have since realized that our future together was severed a long time ago.  The past year has been the most emotionally exhausting year of my life and the past two months have been the hardest yet.  I was unconditionally in love with you.  I carried the burden of your inner demons.  I faced the consequences of your life-altering decisions when you couldn’t bear to face them yourself.  I nearly killed myself trying to get you to see the beautifully flawed person I saw when I looked at you.  I knew I couldn’t be the one to save you; only you can save yourself.  But I so badly was hoping you would realize your potential as well as ours before it was too late.

            I have spent so much time blaming myself for not facing the truth sooner.  If I saw our demise, why didn’t I confront it earlier?  Why did I let it get to the point that it did on that mid-November night?  Why didn’t I cut ties after the first time you put your hands on me, the first time things went too far?  Why weren’t the drugs alone enough to make me walk away?  I stood by your side throughout so many horrendous acts that I promised myself I would never take from anyone, ever.  How could I be so stupid?

            But, I am not stupid.  I am human.  And I loved you more than anyone.  I believed in you more than anyone.  I literally couldn’t believe that you weren’t the person I once believed you to be.  Coming to the realization that I never truly knew you has been the hardest realization I’ve had to make thus far because not only did I believe you to be my soulmate, but you were also my best friend.  My compassion for you doesn’t make me stupid, however.  Your ignorance to it and your incapability to covet the things I endured for you makes you the senseless one, undeserving of that kind of love.  I’ve been so frustrated with myself for being such a fool, having continued to offer such an unconditional love to someone who took it all so for granted.

            Throughout all the letters I’ve written you, I have hardly been able to address November 15.  That night has replayed over and over in my head since it happened and yet I can hardly bring myself to voice the suffering I have experienced since.  That horrid image of you hovering over me in your boxers with your hands on my neck is the only image of you I have been able to imagine since that night.  Every memory I have of the two of us is now tainted with that image.  I sifted through and deleted every photo of us ever taken in an attempt to rid my computer of our memories.  I figured deleting the memories from my computer would hasten erasing them from my mind.  I saw the pictures from our first function together two years ago, pictures from the cruise with your family, pictures from our drive from Baltimore to Columbia, your 20th birthday dinner at Pearlz, my birthday at Preakness, morning walks in Litchfield and the many other moments we shared.  But I couldn’t even revel in the immense happiness I once felt when looking at these pictures.  I only came to resent every single moment and wished God would just retract the past two years.

            I’ve tried so hard to hate you.  I’ve tried unbelievably hard to hate you.  I have prayed and prayed to God to make me hate you.  And still, as hard as I try, I don’t hate you.  I can’t hate you.  I pity you for losing the one person who cared enough about you to so badly want to heal you – heal both your addiction and the struggles you suffered consequently.  I still have a text from you that reads, “I’m in love you with you, Liv.  I adore you.  You are my puppy.  You are the love of my life and you always will be.”  So I don’t hate you.  I feel terribly sorry for you for pushing that person away.  Ironically, that same text also reads, “All I want to do is put a smile on your face and keep you safe and secure.  I will provide for you like nobody else ever could.  I will sacrifice whatever it takes in order for you to maintain an amazing life.  And I will do that with the happiest heart of any man on Earth.  You have done more for me than anyone else ever has.  And now it is time for me to do for you.  I owe you the entire world and more, so that is what I will give you, forever.”  Reading that now, I am able to recognize that for the empty promise that it is.  I have even cried thinking of the “if he would just do this,” “if he would just get better,” “if he would just wake up and change and realize then maybe one day” scenarios in my head.  Admittedly, those ‘dreams,’ for lack of a better word, are pretty silly.  But I guess that’s why they call it unconditional love.  You’d think even unconditional love would have a breaking point, but clearly my love for you did not.  Otherwise, I would have reached it a long time ago.

            I have thought that hating you would make this easier on me.  I figured it would make me move past the assault as well as the break up.  Honestly, sometimes I am so focused on the assault that I forget I am even experiencing a break up.  But the closer I have come to God, the more I have realized that hating you would make this that much harder.  So instead, as far-fetched as this once seemed, I have chosen to forgive you.  I forgive you for putting your hands on me.  I forgive you for choosing drugs over me time and time again.  I forgive you for disregarding the outpouring of love and support and concern that I offered you.  I forgive you – for everything.  I forgive you because I will never hate you.  I will never hate someone I have loved as much as I have loved you.  I am forgiving you because forgiving you is the only way I am going to put the time I spent with you in the past.

            My hope for you now runs very thin.  I continue to pray for you, though.  I pray for you every time the priest prompts you to offer “your own prayers and concerns.”  As much as you have hurt me, I still pray that you heal in all the ways you need to in order to save you from yourself.  I pray that you give up drugs.  I pray that you learn to never treat another girl or person the way you treated me.  I pray that you stop telling yourself, “I don’t want to deal with it now,” when facing your demons because that will only make the day you face them that much harder.  I pray that you look back on the past few years and admit to your problems and the mistakes you’ve made because admission is going to be your first step on the road of recovery.  And although the road to recovery will not be an easy one in the slightest, it will be so worth it in the end.   Although losing you is going to make me stronger, it has nearly destroyed me in the process.

            Saying I forgive you is not saying I at all regret standing up for myself.  You abused me both mentally and physically for far too long.  I won’t go into further detail because you know your faults just as well as I do.  You’ve cried to me about them before in your rare moments of clarity.  Listening to you lie your way through the hearing was definitely not easy, but I also can’t say I expected much different.  It’s sad having such little faith in someone I used to respect so much, but it is the truth.   What hurt most was probably hearing you say that we broke up because we “just weren’t having fun anymore.”  Well yeah, constant lies and an abusive addiction do make it hard to “have fun.”  Especially when someone cares about the addict as much as I cared about you.  No, I wasn’t willing to look past what you were doing to yourself and our relationship to spare your ego or a couple fun nights.  I can confidently say, however, that refusing to face this is doing you a disservice.  I was fortunately able to escape this situation, but you have to live with this part of you for the rest of your life.  You have the power to change your future and I just hope you do so before it heads into an even worse downward spiral.  What more is it going to take?  You have been lucky for a long time, but these things eventually come full circle and your circle has certainly begun.  Ignorance is not bliss. 

            I could go on and on, but I fear anything more would be fairly useless.  I don’t know you anymore, just as you no longer no me.  I haven’t known you for a very long time.  You became someone so unrecognizable to me a very long time ago.  Fortunately, I am no longer carrying the weight of your burden.  It was never my responsibility in the first place.  I pray that someday you stop putting yourself through this pain, too.

With all the sincerity in the world,