Childhood molestation. Parental divorce. Teenage date rape. Abusive boyfriend. Suicide attempts. Morbid obesity and body image issues. Marriage gone horrible awry. Series of unhealthy romantic relationships with unavailable men.
That's the quick and dirty laundry list of the bullshit that led me to now. But that is not me.
Like so many other people, I fulfill a statistic. According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, 9.2% of victimized children are sexually assaulted. 1 in 5 girls are victims of sexual abuse. 3 of 4 children who are sexually assaulted are victimized by someone they know well. 63% of women who suffer abuse by a family member also report rape or attempted rape after the age of 14.
50% of children in America live through the divorce of their parents. Adults whose parents were divorced are 50% more likely to divorce themselves.
10% of high-schoolers are physically abused by their dating partner. 50% of youth who are victims of both physical and sexual assault attempt suicide.
15% of Americans are obese. 6.6% are morbidly obese.
40% of people have maladaptive attachments in adult relationships, driven by the events of their past—with the seeds of dysfunction often beginning in early childhood.
I am not special.
I talk very openly in public and in private about all of these things. I didn't for a very long time. There was certainly a sense of shame about all of it. When I came to the understanding that keeping these things in secret only perpetuated that cycle of shame that never should've been mine, I began to attack these issues head-on and put them into a healthy perspective. They've been analyzed and discussed and dealt with, at least until some other issue arises that is a direct or indirect result of what happened.
Muchness and Light was started, in part, as an outlet for dealing with the transformations that came from that self-scrutiny. Hell, I wrote a book about a lot of it.
But if you meet me in person, I will never offer you my hand and say, "Hi, I'm Stephanie. I'm a victim."
I don't live like that. I don't think like that. Stephanie is not defined by her past, but she sure as hell is shaped by those events.
Sometimes there's a reason to make parallels to something that happened with some new event in my life. Usually it's because there's a problem. Often the root of my problems surround how I crave and strive for intimacy and love from another person. I do have times when I feel unloved and worthless, and that's when the self-analysis can become brutal.
I've written a few times about my sense of worth, both to myself and to the people I love. Regardless of how it seems sometimes, I am acutely aware of my inherent value as a mother and a woman and a soul. I get tripped up in my value to other people, especially when something has gone wrong.
In my mind, as a combination of both head and heart, I have been worth very little to a lot of people in my life. Other people's perceptions and mistakes and miscommunications shouldn't be a barometer of my value, but they often are. And I know I'm not alone in this.
Even people who are in healthy, secure, romantic relationships see themselves in relation to their partner. There's a natural loop of positive feedback—through words and touch and action, consideration and thought and care—that show you how your partner values you. If they are attentive and thoughtful in their approach and recognition of you, if they are engaged with you, the neurotransmitters and hormones responsible for the physical emotion of love are released again and again. You feel closer to, and more secure with, this other person, making you more willing to reciprocate in kind. Then their body is responding similarly, and it's a wonderful cycle of love.
You are important to each other and are showing the other their worth to you by supporting and cherishing and caring for them.
But when words and actions don't match, or don't exist at all, it devalues the relationship. Eventually it begins to undermine the self-worth of one or both partners. If he loves me, he will care for me. If he doesn't care for me, I am unimportant to him. I am unimportant to the person I love, who is supposed to love me most in the world. If that is all this special person thinks of me, I must not be worth very much to him. I must not be worth very much at all. I am worthless.
One bad relationship shouldn't be able to damage your self-perceptions, but rarely is it one bad relationship. There's is almost always a series of events—of romantic, erotic, platonic, and familial relationships—that build upon one another, piling on the sense of lessthanness.
Look at it like an economy. At birth, you're worth $1,000,000, just because you exist. Your parents and family care for you and raise you and help you grow. Eventually you're worth $2,000,000, and you set out into the world, socializing and developing your own interpersonal relationships outside of your family. Your first boyfriend or girlfriend is pretty good; they add $250,000 to your value. Your next one breaks your heart, and you lose $750,000. Now you're at $1,500,000 when you meet your future spouse. They add $500,000. Your marriage adds $1,000,000. Lost friendships deduct $300,000 each. Kids add $5,000,000 each but have constant volatile flux for the first twenty years, so your value is in constant shift.
When you find that you have trauma after trauma, especially when they've happened at the hands of the people who are supposed to love you most in the world, it eventually begins to feel like no one has ever or could ever help bring you back into positive territory. No matter how hard you work to build your own value--$100,000 for graduating high school, $250,000 for college, $1,000,000 for the PhD, and $500,000 for the first great job—you're still constantly trying to overcome this deficit that's been in place and growing for as long as you can remember.
What I want and will say I need (That's an entirely different discussion I'll get into later.) most is for just one person to step up and show me that I matter to them. That I matter at all. Because I was let down so many times, I don't believe in my heart that anyone is capable of loving me. There are people capable of doing it, in general; I know many of them. But of all of the people who have come through my life over its course thus far, it is with rare exception that anyone has ever shown up for me consistently and shown me that I am worth a damn to them.
Even if I am worth $1,000,000 on paper, it means nothing unless someone is willing to barter for it. It doesn't grow unless it's invested. And if it's just used and depleted over time, it will eventually drop to $0. Even the Hope Diamond is estimated to be worth $350,000,000, but it's just a shiny rock in a box until someone actually pays for it.
I recognize that it's not necessarily about me. I am attracted to emotional unavailability, because it is what I have always known. In my own maladaptation, in my own inherent brokenness, I search for people who are just as broken in their own, extreme way that is the polar opposite of my own damage. Even if and when I learn new tools for handling that and making healthier choices, I will still be jaded by my past. I can't forget that these things happened, and they will always be a constant, flashing caution signal as I move forward along my path.
If I build my house on a hill, I can build it with a level foundation. I'm still building it on a hill. There's a strong possibility that, given enough time, the foundation will shift and settle, needing to be jacked back up and supported from time to time. I could always raze the damn hill, but that would require cost and energy to devastate miles of visible landscape to try to forget there ever was a hill in the first place.
My hill is a slippery slope, but I fought my way to the top to plant my rainbow freak flag in the summit. From here, there's a pretty damn amazing view. But it's also sometimes lonely, and I'm tired of looking down and seeing all the people who shrugged and walked away from the clamber, who found themselves unworthy of escalation and therefore made me feel unworthy of their effort.
So, yeah, sometimes I sit my ass down and cry, howling my lamentations into the wind. Far too often it has seemed like a siren's call, bringing a reticent hero crashing into the rocks below; for rescue or marooned companionship, I don't know. But maybe, just maybe, that song will be worth something to someone, someday. And maybe someone else will be willing to fight their way to my summit and join me in surveying everything we've left behind.