I Will Not Lose Myself

“I’m really worried about you with your family situation,” my boyfriend said to me in his apartment last weekend. “I’m not worried someone will physically hurt you, but I am worried about your mental well being.”

As I reflect and type this up, I look at the list of deadlines involving moving to a new place to live, entirely caused by my family debacle. I have until the end of the month to break my lease, cancel my gym membership at the end of the current term and a few other things. In two weeks, I will sign the papers for my new place. I’m deciding between two places, or rather two buildings, with options for different floors, and in the case of a few of them, depending on which place I go with, I may have a roommate.

Just another thing to do on the checklist. One thing at a time.

I’m going to get through this. I have a lot of things now that I did not have when I was twenty. A rewarding career on many levels, friends that I have close contact with one way or another, and a special someone who has been good to me so far.

I’m going to get through this. I’m not going to die. I’m going to make it. Once I move to my new place, I don’t have to worry about being physically harmed. It will not happen again. Yes, I said it – again. I’m going to make it.

“You’re worried about security?” quipped my friend Kirsten (who is also a prospective roommate at the moment), “Nothing to worry about here. If the doormen are suspicious, they will challenge you to produce ID or a FOB. If you don’t have that, they make sure you aren’t here if you aren’t supposed to be here. If you aren’t a resident, you won’t make it to the front desk without being escorted by one, end of story.”

Oh goodness, music to my ears. Just a few more weeks…

I have every reason to get through this. I have so much else going for me. I need to focus on what I have, and not what I don’t. Even if what I “don’t” is a pillar that so many in this world can rely on. I need to live without the pillar. I didn’t make that choice, someone else did for me.

“God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.”

I’m going to get through this. My family has been eating at me for eleven going on twelve years. But they will not eat me alive.

I’m going to get through this. I will not lose myself.

Repeat: I will not lose myself. Pillar or no pillar, I will not lose myself.

Seven years ago, I was all alone. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. It was just me and the books, and my pillows. I had little to no money – all of it was going towards rent and tuition. My then-boyfriend had broken up with me out of the blue and at the time I had no idea why. I was working 30 hour weeks on top of 18+ credits a semester. On top of that were numerous scholarship applications. I needed to support myself. I had no real close friends and my high school friends weren’t located anywhere near me. And on any given night, I wasn’t getting more than 5 hours of sleep.

If I went home for breaks, I was yelled at. On occasion, I was beaten up. I remember screaming in pain when my ex had run his fingers through my hair – he had unknowingly caressed the bruises I sustained from getting beat up. I remember lying to my hairdresser my during my third year at UPenn – as she was cutting my hair, she noticed the red and purple bruises peeking from beneath the roots of my hair.

“Is everything alright?”

“Yeah, I was inadvertently clouted in Sunday’s soccer match.”

It was humiliating. I couldn’t take it anymore. Just when I had thought it was all over…I woke up in a hospital room.

Today, my soul is wounded but not broken. My spirit has regrown, and is stronger than ever. I’m older, yet wiser. I’m scarred, yet tenacious.

“Tenacity personified,” my brother Marcus told me, “For someone who isn’t even 30 yet, you have been through a hell of a lot.”

My colleague Sergio, who has had similar problems with his family (but NOT to the extent of abuse), and particularly his mother before she passed away, also empathized with me.

“We’re distance runners,” he said. “When the going gets tough, we keep going. That’s also true in real life too.”

I knew how much family issues had taken a toll on Sergio. For years, he had fought with his mother; finally, when she was in the hospital for months, he found himself driving up every weekend to North Jersey to be with her. Even with the 100+ hour weeks at his former job. Even getting calls from clients at 3am on Sunday mornings.

This past summer, he took some time off work for her unveiling.

(Note: Sergio is Jewish; the unveiling is a religious ceremony where immediate family members shred clothing in mourning of the deceased family member.)

When he came back, he admitted to me that the fighting and her passing still hurt.

After all I’ve been through, I have no idea what I’d do if something happened to her. I miss the Phoebe I knew in 1999, the one that ultimately died in 2002.

Yet, I feel that everywhere I go, everyone talks about the wonderful times they have with family. Everywhere on facebook, there are people my age, smiling with their parents. Even my relatives from abroad, my cousins and their mothers are best friends. What hurts me the most is the stigma that results should I tell people that my mother and I fight nearly all the time. When I told others years ago, they either didn’t believe me or said that I was part of the problem.

It took me a lot of nerve two weeks ago when I met up with Patrick and Rina at Old Glory to admit that things were truly turning for the worse with my family. When we were in high school, Patrick would see me with my smiling mother.

That was 11 years ago, before things turned rotten.

I was scared they’d think less of me. I was scared confessing the same thing to some of my other close friends from high school, all of whom we’ve kept in touch over the years. I have attended all their weddings, and my one friend’s Baptism (Catholic initiation ceremony for usually newborns, although adults are baptized if they convert) for her son. Every event, the parents are there. Always in full support, always socializing with everyone.

It took me a hell of a lot of gumption to tell them that I was struggling as my mother continued to torture me. Instead of ridicule, though, I got just the opposite. I couldn’t believe it.

My friend Tania, whose fiancé is Indian, told me that his brother no longer attends family gatherings because he is constantly hounded by family to get married and have children to the point of insanity. The sibling in question is 35 or so, though, whilst Tania’s fiancé is also our age, late 20s. “Sometimes things don’t turn out the way you want to,” another friend of mine explained to me. “The world has changed drastically in the last ten years, so have some people with the times, and not always for the better. Some of us might be fortunate with our families, but now family just isn’t what it used to be.”

In times of strife, I learn who my real friends are. If I didn’t lose any friends in this process – and I didn’t – then I have no reason – or excuse – to lose myself.

Nonetheless, it’s a nightmare I live now. Eleven years. More brutal than any other marathon that I will ever tackle. THIS is a real-life marathon to endure.

26.2 is nothing now. You can’t compare four hours give or take of stress and pain to eleven years of pure hell. Not to mention you have the opportunity to prepare for the former; you can’t really do so for the latter.

The former will continue to be one of many remedies for the latter though. That won’t change.

I remember Lou Holtz’s speech during my business trip to San Antonio in October.

“Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you react to it.”

I will get through this. I will not lose myself. The going got tough all right, but I will keep going, both on and off the pavement.


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