I was abused as a child. Physically, mentally, emotionally.
My abuse wasn’t unusual, in that it came from a close family member — my stepfather — and that it was couched in the premise of disciplining me.
When you’re six, or seven, or eight years old, it’s easy to believe that you asked for it, that you deserved it, that you got what was coming to you. When you’re older, say 10 or 11, you might realize that the way you’re being treated is extreme, or unusual, but there’s still this feeling of helplessness and shame that you just can’t kick.
Maybe you know it’s not right, but that feeling of deservedness has just been beaten into you, over and over and over.
The abuse was coupled with a sense of abandonment on the part of my mother, who was both present and not the whole time. She was there, aware of what was happening… And yet, she just stood by.
I spent years aching for her to stand up for me, to intervene, to make things stop. But she never did.
Afterward, I spent years wondering why. It took me a long time to realize that she, too, was a subject of my stepfather’s abuse, and that she, too, felt helpless.
It took a long time for me to understand. It took a long time, even after they had divorced and my stepfather had passed away, for me to forgive.
I spent my junior high school years trying to escape. And by escape, I mean, in the only way that a dirt-poor 11 year-old can — by running away.
I never got very far, as I was always on foot and didn’t even have the bus fare to get more than a few towns over. More often than not, I got picked up by the town police on patrol just a few hours after I had left home, swearing never to return.
And when they did pick me up, there was little they could do but drop me off back at my mother’s house, where I would face my stepfather’s discipline for running away all over again.
This went on for a while before my father intervened and finally asked for custody. He lived not too far away, but I always felt like he was uncomfortable with the idea of raising me on his own.
It wasn’t until he was ready to settle down with the woman who would become my stepmother that he felt he would be able to support his adolescent son.
So one summer I moved in with him. At first it was provisional, a few months, then a year, just to see how things went. But I never moved back in with my mother.
Things there were better, much better, but it didn’t feel right living with my father and his fiancee.
Soon they were married, and soon after that, my sister was born. As a high schooler, I was mostly self-sufficient, but there was a baby in the house. All attention turned to her.
When it came time for college, I didn’t know where I wanted to go, but I knew I needed to get out of town. I ended up at NYU. I was in New York, one more soul in a city of nameless faces. But that was ok. Somehow, that felt right.
I had gotten used to this feeling of being alone, I had gotten used to feeling like I didn’t have a tribe. And yet, I always yearned to belong, even after it seemed impossible to fit in.
I practiced extreme narcissism. I’d share openly the worst parts of myself, hoping it would drive people away. Some stuck around. They became my friends.
But I was never really a great friend to them. I had a hard time showing real empathy. I couldn’t understand how they could be so muddled down by problems that were easily solvable. I became frustrated when they wouldn’t take my advice, especially when my advice required action.
I flirted around the edges of social circles, struggling to break through. I found it difficult to manage relationships with more than one or two really close friends at a time, and those friendships were in a constant make or break mode.
I got married for the wrong reasons, then I got divorced. I spent some time after that wondering if I could ever, really, be loved.
Somewhere along the line I became interested in my career. Writing became more than just a job, something that paid the bills. I took an interest in technology and was lucky enough to get paid to write about it.
I failed upwards. When one publication I worked for went belly up, I somehow managed to find refuge at another. Later, while facing yet another self-inflicted personal crisis, I landed at TechCrunch even though I wasn’t doing my best work at the time.
I am extremely grateful that I have a voice and an audience and anyone cares about what I write. But I still don’t feel like I deserve it. Those feelings keep with you, after years and years and years.
I’ve learned not to take anything for granted. I’ve learned not to let things get in my way. I’ve learned to fight for everything I’ve got.
But there’s still more to do, things to be better at. I need to be better than I am. To be more than just this collection of emotions I’ve grown up with.