“Your wound is probably not your fault, but your healing is your responsibility.”
I saw this phrase shared by a friend a few days ago, and it resonated deeply with me.
I did not realize until I became an adult that my childhood was not normal. Looking from the outside in, I don’t think anyone really noticed anything wrong with me, but that could also have been because I was so isolated from the rest of the world, and although I don’t think this was done by design, it definitely helped the situation seem more normal than it really was.
My first memory of an interaction between my parents was my father throwing my mother against the wall, and her head bleeding from the impact; I believe I was 5 at the time. I don’t ever recall a moment in my childhood where my parents were loving to each other, but I remember all the loud arguments and fights, that more often than not, became physical.
I’d like to think I was a good kid: I always brought home straight As, never got in trouble in school, always came straight home school to work at our family business. Despite that, I was never allowed to go to my friends’ birthday parties, have a sleepover, or even have friends over at the house after school. My “job” from the early age of 11-12, was to be ready to work at the store until closing, after my homework was done.
I have no single pleasant memory of going shopping with my mother for clothes or shoes; in fact, I recall getting tennis shoes that were way too big for my feet so I could grow into them, and not getting new ones until they were so tight that they hurt my feet. In my entire childhood I went to the movie theater one single time; I remember my mother took me to see Batman Returns in 1992 when I was 10. It sticks in my memory because I know my sister was a toddler at the time, and I found out later my mother had tried to kill herself by way of pills after she took me to the theater. That was supposed to be her last goodbye (she is still alive).
During my early teens, when I started looking more like a woman, my father began sexually abusing me. Not that we had a normal father-daughter relationship until that point, but it definitely got even worse as one can imagine. My father ruled the house with an iron fist, and he expressed anger by screaming and hitting; my mother and I were his normal targets. He was a very charming man to others; I don’t think anyone would have ever guessed the fear I lived under.
Nothing I ever did was enough. If I brought home an A, I was asked why I didn’t get an A+. If I ever brought a B home, I’d better get ready for some serious punishment. Apparently I was fat too; my mother had nicknamed me “duck butt” because my ass was apparently too big for my body.
To add to my already low self-esteem, there was the issue of racism and open discrimination. I grew up in Argentina; at the time, people would openly mock Asian people in the streets and call you names like “china sucia (dirty chink),” and yell that you were fat, or ugly, or whatever. It seemed so normal at the time, but looking back… what the hell?
When we moved to the US, I was 17. Because my parents had to both work away from home, I had more freedom to come and go as I pleased. I was able to see that it was not normal for my father to beat me because a boy called the house. It was not normal for a friend to call the house and for him to hang up and say “she’s not here” when I was in the next room. It was not normal for him to chase me out of the apartment with a butcher knife, screaming that he’d kill me and kill himself.
Why I never called the police is beyond me. Having been a cop for almost 13 years, my current brain cannot comprehend how not once the police was called during my entire childhood. But I guess that’s what fear and complete domination does to a child.
During the 9-10 years that followed, I completely suppressed all my childhood memories. I pretended that they didn’t happen, and I even continued to live at my parent’s house, until 2003, when they moved back to Korea. They came back to the US for my first wedding in 2008, and my father even walked me down the aisle. What a sham my life was. Somehow I was holding it all together inside of me, until I finally burst.
One day I just had a realization my life was completely fucked; it just happened out of nowhere. I was in my late 20s. I had never told a soul about what had happened to me growing up, but I told my husband at the time for the first time years after we were married. Then I told my best friend. Then another friend and another. I went into further depression when told my mother the sexual abuse I had gone through, and she told me that she knew all along. I needed therapy and a lot of medication. That is when I started running and working out, because it gave me some resemblance of sanity. I worked a lot of overtime, because if I was busy, my brain was not thinking.
I had a lot of guilt. I wondered if what happened was because I wasn’t strong enough. I wondered if I had been a stronger person, maybe my mother and I would have been able to stand up to my father. Maybe if I had said no more forcefully, my father would not have abused me sexually. Maybe if I had made myself less desirable, he would have left me alone. Bunch of nonsense.
It took me a long time, but I had to accept that what happened was not my fault. But I also realized that instead of boohooing around, I had to take the next steps to be the best I could be. It was my job to fix my life, and be a productive member of society. It was my responsibility to heal myself, and I made a conscious decision to do the following things:
Start valuing myself. I had to stop with the excessive self-criticism, and do things that made me happy, without constantly worrying how it will affect someone else. I had to start treating myself with respect and kindness, and realize that I was worth something, despite the fact I was told time and time again I was not enough. I am enough just the way I am. I had to get my own hobbies, and that is when I discovered running. And despite the fact my ex-husband thought I was “obsessed” with running, I kept it up, because I had to do something for myself, without worrying about how it would affect someone else.
I began taking care of my body; I started running and lifting weights, eating better and getting more sleep. There was a time in my life when I ate absolute crap all the time, worked two full time jobs and went to school full time. Granted, part of that was because of necessity, but I was overweight and my health was not a priority. I also realized that a balanced diet and exercise regimen do wonders for one’s depression and anxiety.
I surrounded myself with good people, and reached out for help and support. I ditched the toxic people in my life and decided that I’d stop wasting time and effort on people that didn’t put the same effort into the relationship as I did; instead, I began spending more time nourishing those relationships that were important. I wanted to surround myself with people that make me happy, make me laugh and help me when I am in need. People who genuinely care. I realized I’d rather have 10 close friends than a large group of acquaintances, because those people are just passing through your life.
I turned my wounds into wisdom. I didn’t want to become X “because of my wounds.” I wanted to become X “despite my wounds.” I never want to use my past as a crutch on how I walk the rest of my life. Yes, there are times I am little difficult, and don’t respond as an “emotionally normal” person would react to certain things, and my poor husband knows all about those moments. But he is kind, and understands (most times) that my brain is wired a tiny bit differently.
I am who I am, and I am definitely a product of what has transpired in my life until this point. But I am taking responsibility for my healing, and I am working toward being an emotionally healthy human being.