Healing From Abuse That Did Not Begin With Your Abuser
Abuse is an ancestor.
It is a living, breathing infection that festers through lineage for generations. It is a parasite. One that always knows which host to occupy. And there is only one cure to this sickness.
If we want to rewrite the ending of this story, we must go back to the beginning. We must sit with the ghosts there, trapped in a place beyond time. We must listen to them. Hear what they speak to us.
I spent a lot of time sneaking back into the property where I was raised before it sold my senior year of high school. I would walk around the backyard, rest on the wooden deck, and smell the flowers of the Malus tree planted when I was born. I would go to be with the Spirits. The children running amongst the warm grass, climbing on the monkey bars, and sprawled out reading their books. I would also listen and hold their cries, the yelling echoing from the open windows, and walk to the hidden meadow nearby where they would hide. It was cleansing, and it was painful.
For a very long I felt like a “bad survivor” — a “defective survivor”. Mostly because of how I humanize my abuser. Because I have wept for them. I can empathize with their own pain — because I know they were in so much pain. Because a piece of me breaks every time I have told my story, knowing that they are a complex human, who has known joy and pain, just like me. That “abuser” is not all that they are. That they have a name. They have a story. They had hopes, dreams, and a heart. They have a Soul.
The person who abused me also grew up in an abusive home. And that fact is haunting. That complicates things — at least for me. That means once, long ago, my abuser was just like me. Just like me. I have sat with that Truth my whole life, and for a long time, it consumed me. It almost hurt more than all the abuse itself. To know someone broke their Soul before they broke mine.
I was finally released from the ongoing control of the abuse three years ago, after eighteen years. The real work is just beginning. The Great, Compassionate Undoing is my pathway forward. It is difficult. It is disillusioning. I slip into anger more than I want sometimes. I stumble into jealousy or denial more often than I would like. There is a lot of confusion to sift through. A lot of lies. Lies that have made the ability to function, see my worth, or believe that I am a complex person difficult. Extending grace to myself is very hard. Reminding myself I am Worthy, that I am not innately bad, that I have Power is an ongoing struggle.
What I have come to know, thus far, is there are three realities when it comes to abuse. It is a triad.
Victim. Survivor. Perpetrator.
There is only one way to be a survivor of abuse, and that is to actively undo the paradigms you were given. Otherwise, you will repeat them. You will eventually fall so far into the pit, that one day you will wake up and realize you never survived, you only continued the familial infection. That you went from victim to perpetrator — because you did not survive. But there is Hope. There is always Hope.
I am a victim of abuse, and every day I fight my hardest to be a survivor. Some days I fall more than others. Some times surviving looks different than I had imagined. Some times surviving is breaking through a panic or paranoia attack with someone by my side. Some times it is not talking to people for a few days, and resting for my Soul. It is learning how to not say “sorry” for everything. It is reclaiming my power, in every single way. As a dear friend of mine told me recently — it is hard to reclaim our power. It is really is. But I am getting there.
As survivors of intergenerational abuse, we often forget that we are just the most recent descendant in this progression of pain. That it is embedded in our blood. It marks us. It is a certain kind of abuse. It was a contract written long ago, buried in the earth with the firsts, not allowing them to truly rest.
If you have grappled with the disconnection between holding Love for your abuser, while also holding Righteous Anger — I want to validate that for you. It is not only okay, but it is your journey toward Healing, however that looks. The power comes from deciding it ends with us. That the ghosts can rest now. The pain can sleep now. It is finally over. That is Divine. That is Powerful.
As for me.
My life prayer has always been rest for my abuser. For peace. I wish that more than just about anything. I pray that one day, I might be able to hug them, and know it is real. Know that they have finally found freedom. They have finally known Light. That I forgive them. That I Love them. Fully.
I deeply, deeply believe that redemption is the foundation of Goodness. That Light will always drive out the loudest Darkness. That Forgiveness is a beautiful and painful cleansing. That Hope is not foolish, but the bravest act of human Love — when the Soul refuses to give up, even in the onslaught of Emptiness. That standing in our Worth, our Power, is the greatest act of resistance. That when we choose to march toward Goodness, we can never, ever, fail.
I think about the day when I will be an old woman, sitting on a balcony somewhere warm in the world. My hair will have faded to a new hue. My cracked hands will have known different pains and joys by then. With a cup of black coffee swirling steam into the evening air, I will look out at the horizon over a water source. In my lap, a grandchild with bright eyes and thick curls will be sleeping soundly. Sleeping safely. And I will smile.
I will breathe in and know it is over.
That is my Strength, that is my Oath. That is my Truth. To get to that moment. To Live that moment, every second, of every day.
To Be the Great, Compassionate Undoing for my ancestors, for me, and for those to come.
I Love You. I send you all my Light in your own Undoings. We’re gonna get through all this, Together.
In Warmth and Light,
a.j.k. o’donnell is an American author, activist, and artist from Omaha, Nebraska. Her second collection of poetry This Void Beckons is available now at www.ajkodonnell.com, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and various booksellers. She is currently working on her first novel.
Follow her @ajkodonnell