I will no longer let my labels silence me

Straight
Thug
Lesbian
Slut
Woman
Man
Trans
Terrorist
Criminal

Labels. They are used to define, constrain, and ultimately silence who we are. We apply labels to people at will, sometimes with good intentions, but we mostly apply labels out of fear and hate. Labels are often given to us even though we don’t voluntary chose them, by people who we often fear or by those that are afraid of us.

I turned 36 last week. And it is only within this last year that I truly have begun to acknowledge and speak to some of the labels that have been bestowed upon me by people and life. I’d like to walk you through some of the labels that I’ve only recently started talking about.


Domestic violence survivor
Army Veteran
Single Mother
Patient

Domestic Violence Survivor

I was abused by the people who were supposed to love me most in this world. But it wasn’t until I was 35 years old, when I attended a teach-in for Bresha, that I talked publicly for the first time, in an open space, with people I did not know about what had happened to me and how it was similar to Bresha’s life.

Think about that — it took 15 years after the abuse stopped for me to say “I am a domestic violence survivor”. I never wanted that goddamn label. I hate that fucken label. It was used to silence me, my person, my love, my joy, my heart, my everything.

Every beating was used to silence my inner voice. A voice that I have been trying to listen to and recover ever since those days. And to be honest, I still haven’t fully recovered that voice. I know however, that this inner voice is growing more powerful with each passing day.

Army Veteran & Single Mom

I didn’t go into the Army because I had this grand notion of serving our nation, but because I was trying to survive life, and find a way to earn some money and go to college. The Army changed my life for the better. I learned what it means to serve our country, to have a family that was defined by the uniform you wore, and just how much those bonds, and that camaraderie really stay with you even after you’re done serving. The military became my new family, and it is an experience that I will never forget.

While I was in the Army, I got married at 19, had a baby, got divorced, and became a single mom at twenty-three. I had no idea what I was doing, how I was going to afford anything, or what I wanted to do with my career when I got out of the Army three years later. I just knew that I needed to survive for the sake of my baby.

So survive we did. Just like in those moments of abuse where that spirit inside of you whispers to you that you can’t falter, that you can’t give in, or else your abuser wins; that’s the same spirit it takes to really survive life as a single parent.

My baby and me…..we grew up together. And this kid is the only reason I’ve survived for so long. I got through 2 grueling years as a full time student getting my bachelor’s degree (with distinction!), as a single mom. I got accepted into a Ph.D. program and started graduate school to study microbiology as a single mom.

Those moments in school as a single mother were some of the toughest moments of my life. There were times where I felt like I was failing my kid because I wasn’t able to provide the life I knew a child should have. One where they can go outside and play instead of staying inside watching me study for 6 hours a day on the weekends. Looking back, I cannot believe that I actually made it through those years, with the 3:00am study sessions, the 3 hours of sleep every night, working as a student worker on campus, and caring for my kid.

Labels have a long term effect on people — so much so that even after that label no longer applies to them, the physiological, mental, and emotional affects of that label linger for the rest of their life

Patient

I now live my most boring life — I’m married to this wonderful man, and we have two kids of our own. Our three kids are growing up in an environment I could only dream of when I was growing up. Life is good now. So why am I still feeling silenced?

I know what you’re thinking. “Arti, let it go. That was a long time ago. It’s in the past. Look to your future instead of thinking about what happened in the past.”

I know. Really. I get it. Every shrink tells me this same thing — let it go. But that is bullshit.

What you have to realize, and what I want everyone to realize, is that labels have a long term effect on people — so much so that even after that label no longer applies to them, the physiological, mental, and emotional affects of that label linger for the rest of their life.

Let me give you a recent example. A couple of months ago, I started seeing a chiropractor for hip and back pain that appeared after I had my last child (side note: having kids breaks up your body in so many ways). The doctor took X-rays to check the alignment of my spine and noted that my cervical spine needed a lot of work. She said to me “the Army really did a number on you”. And I walked away knowing that wasn’t the full story.

As I drove away from my appointment, I started crying, and images of a moment from long ago appeared in my head, like a movie playing in my brain that I couldn’t stop.

Someone pulling my hair. My head snapping back, me falling to the floor. Someone pulling my hair. My head snapping back, me falling to the floor.
Getting kicked in my side and being yelled at to get back up again.
Someone pulling my hair. My head snapping back, me falling to the floor.
The wind being knocked out of me.
Getting kicked in my side and being yelled at to get back up again.
Someone pulling my hair. My head snapping back, me falling to the floor.

That was the first time that happened to me — the wind being knocked out of my lungs. It was terrifying. I remember thinking I was going to die because I couldn’t breathe. The next time it happened was in boot camp during hand-to-hand combat training.

My hair was down to my lower back when I was a kid. I cut off all my hair after I joined the Army. I looked like a boy, but no one could pull my hair anymore.

The next day, after that incident, I couldn’t turn my neck to the left or right. To get out of bed, I had to push up on my arms, and I couldn’t really move anything from my neck down to my shoulders. I remember thinking I might be paralyzed, but then feeling stupid because, well, I wasn’t paralyzed (duh). I just didn’t know what it was that I had experienced. If it wasn’t paralysis, and I could still walk, why couldn’t I move my neck, and what was that condition called? I know today that I experienced whiplash, or a neck sprain/strain. I never told anyone, I didn’t see any doctors, and eventually, my pain went away.

But I wonder now, was that moment responsible for my cervical spine condition that I learned about last month? Although it is impossible to say for sure, I think it likely plays some role in the pain that I feel now. I still haven’t told my chiropractor. Telling someone that you were abused and that this might be the reason you have this thing happening in your neck is just an awful feeling. Who the fuck wants to talk about that?

Fuck that. Fuck all of it.
I want my body back free of scars that I didn’t choose to put on it.
Free of nightmares I don’t want to see.
Free of aches that come like flashes of lingering memories from the depths of my nerve cells.

As I turn 36, I realize I have turned a corner. No longer do I feel the need to hide behind the labels that life had scarred me with. Having a teenager has forced me to be honest with my kid and tell them about my experiences so that they doesn’t suffer through the same things.

Bresha’s story was my story in many ways, and I realized when I attended the teach-in for Bresha, that if I remained silent about my experiences, and kept on holding them in, that they serve no purpose in my life but to burden me.

Even though I didn’t choose to have these labels placed upon me, I’ve know now that I can use these labels and experiences to speak out and fight for those who are still trying to survive. This post in many ways, is me rising up, thriving instead of surviving, and taking ownership over some of the labels that have been quite literally, beaten into me.

Labels. They are used to silence you — if you let them.


Thank you for reading this, for hearing me, and for standing in solidarity with those of us who know what it means to not think past tomorrow, because were are just trying to survive today. For you, I will write, even though writing this is painful, scary, and so incredibly tough.


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