I’m a giver. I admit it. And most of the time, I really, really love that. Nothing brings me more joy than being able to bring joy to others, to make their lives a little easier, to make them laugh in the rough times and help them celebrate the good ones.
Giving, to me, is one of the easiest things in the world to do.
Accepting help when I need it is a lot harder.
I’ve probably always been like this. I was a naturally quiet baby, prone to introspection over babbling. It’s not that I didn’t know how to talk, it’s just that I didn’t see the point if I could eventually figure out what I needed and do it myself.
But there are things that happened to me—situations I put myself in—that made it worse. I’m a survivor of a years-long abusive relationship, and he took that part of me and manipulated it into a demon that would haunt me for years. It is difficult to explain gaslighting to someone who has never experienced it, but I can tell you this: I have been in a healthy, loving relationship for seven years, and my abusive ex’s words still haunt me in the quietest moments. They drift back to me when I’m washing my hair, when I’m on the second mile of a run, and when I’m trying to fall asleep at night.
The most successful manipulators take your worst fears and intertwine them with tiny truths about yourself so that they will successfully latch onto your soul. If your abuser is isolating you from your friends and family, and knows how important they are to you, he will tell you that you’re a bad friend and daughter. If your abuser is upset you’re spending time at work or at school, and he knows you fear failure, he will tell you you’re stupid and incompetent, and neglecting him because you don’t have the right priorities. And yes, if he knows you’ve been abused in the past, he will tell you you’re broken beyond repair, and that no one else but he could ever love you.
And it will be scary, because you will know that he knows you, and you will trick yourself into thinking he’s the best judge of your character. And the abuse, because it is so isolating and awful and exhausting, will in fact make you a worse friend and daughter. It will rip you from yourself in a way you can only ever understand if you’ve been split the same way.
And some will think when you walk from the burning house that is an abusive relationship that you are free. But all burn victims and abusive victims know that is just the beginning of a terrible and incredible recovery.
And so I walked from the burning building as a giver with nothing left to give, nothing that I felt was worth giving, terrified to ever ask for help, and scared of the prospect of survival—of everything I knew it would mean.
And I am still doing it—surviving. Every day, I wake up, and I brush off the demons, and I reaffirm my Truth, and I laugh and cry and dance and run and teach and design and survive.
And you know how I did it? How I’m doing it?
By finding my tribe and letting them love me in the darkness. My tribe taught me how to leave, and gave me a place to go, and held my hands when they were shaking. They made me laugh when I needed it most, and let me cry when I couldn’t stop the tears, for as long as I needed to.
And they still do. They are still pulling me up when I am weak, still cheering me on, still speaking truth and love to me exactly when I need to hear it. They are inspiring me, always. They are generous and kind and brave and brilliant and they love me. And I let them.
And I believe them—that they are right. That their voices, and their love, is more powerful than my past, more powerful than any darkness I will face in the future.
So find your tribe. And love them hard. And don’t forget to let them love you—to let them help you survive.