There are times when I wish I could trade identities, my entire life, with any random passerby on the street. The feeling comes when the past intrudes on the present, making a mockery of any kindness or wisdom offered by others. The past… breathes… in those moments. If you’re lucky, it’s only moments; not hours, days, months… a lifetime. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way. I know there are others who have it worse, who are so lost in the ugliness they can see no light, no joy. Some are so damaged they don’t know themselves, can’t express, or even grasp, their own pain, even their own names. Yet at times, I don’t know why I am not among them, unsure of how I escaped. If I knew, I would try to tell them, to whisper in their ears in the hope of helping them out of such a black hell.
Wisdom warns of course, admonishes. Those passersby I wish to trade with? A gamble with your sanity, health, and soul stacked like the lowest chips, the ones not worth winning solely because you were willing to sell them so cheap. The wisdom is this: That man waiting for the bus? He may have cancer, with a month left to live. That woman, checking her grocery list? Perhaps she hates her children. That child trying to grasp the hem of her coat, dried tears on cheeks no hand has ever wiped away? If you were ever that child in your own life, you know that’s a fate you don’t want; it might be worse than your own.
The true horror of wishing is, if it were possible, the person I chose would have my life, my past, my pain. The mirror reminds me what I would be wishing on them, and if I think about it too much, it makes me feel sick. That gamble goes both ways: what if that man, that woman, that child are happy, unmarked by the depths of adversity and terror that made you want to wish your life on another? How could you consider it, and remain worthy of any kindness, any love, at all?
In the light, I am grateful I cannot wish this trade of lives. In the dark, if you can see at all, it’s hard to care how escape from it might harm another.
What is the answer to the wish, then, how do we who writhe and cry in the pit of the past unravel this Gordian Knot and find a measure of peace? Of solace? The answer is clear to those with a few steps along the path. We must try to live, to turn our backs on the pain, not listen when the past whispers that we are ugly, we are unworthy of love, of light, of peace.
If somebody afraid to begin their own walk down the path of survival asks, “How?” I can only say that the way is different for all of us, but for me, I work at becoming the man I wish I was, and if that sometimes means pretending I am that man when I’m not quite there yet, then that’s what I do. Find somebody you admire, somebody you trust, and discover why they make you feel that way. I call them stepping stones on the path. When you can’t move, they can offer a hand, help you up; and step by step, it gets better.
Who are your stepping stones? Are they your family? Or your new family, the one you make for yourself if your birth family created the darkness? Are they people you never met, or met only once and that person was kind? I’ve had many stepping stones over the years as I’ve struggled along my path out of the darkness. At this moment in my life, it is a man I’ve never met. Sometimes this man makes me afraid because of my past, but he doesn’t know that, and he is innocent of my pain, my fear. He doesn’t know I exist, of course, but that doesn’t matter. In my mind, I see him reaching down from the next step up, offering his hand. With a smile, a bell toll of laughter, a beauty that pierces my soul, and a voice that makes my heart bleed even as it begins to dance, to cry, to heal – this man’s name is Adam Lambert. For others, it might not be, it can be anybody. Understand, the person you choose isn’t required to do anything except be who they are; they don’t owe you anything at all. It’s just their example, the qualities they possess that your trying to create in yourself. Choose wisely.
For those not yet on the path, those so lost in the dark they only want to stop; stop trying, stop breathing, because it’s the only way you can see to stop your pain? Please take my hand. I’ll try to guide you in moments when I’m strong, and someday you will become strong enough to turn around and perhaps offer your hand to me when I’m weak, or to somebody else who needs your help, who admires how you helped yourself survive.
This is how you start. Take my hand; be careful, there’s a step here, just a small one. Let’s walk together for a while. Even in the dark, we can feel each other’s touch, hear a friendly voice, listen to another soul breathing, trying, one who understands how you feel.
Before I go, let me ask this question: Has anybody ever said to you, “I love you”, “you’re beautiful”, “you’re worthy of love”? If not, let me say it now. You are beautiful. You are worthy of love, and somebody loves you.
© W.R.R. 6/8/2011
For all survivors of any form of rape or abuse; you are not alone. Speak out. Find your path to healing.