Many years ago, in my early twenties I was in a very controlling relationship. I didn’t really have any close friendships. And I was living back home with dad who had a very serious issue with alcohol, that would ultimately be his undoing.
They were hard years and whilst at times I felt so broken that I wasn’t sure how I would find a way through, the despair never lasted long and I would pull myself up, find the joy in things and push through.
It was a strange time having survived a less than standard childhood (if there is such a thing as standard) I had hoped that my adult life may present a little more certainty, peace and calm waters. It was so hard living in that situation, on our worst days my father would be verbally or occasionally physically abusive towards my sister. He wouldn’t often lash out, but to be honest that was easier to take that the constant fear and absolute inability to do anything right.
I also lived under the expectation as the eldest in the house that I had to keep home. Which involved after working all week cleaning our four-story house from top to bottom. Some day my father would even come to inspect the rooms once I had cleaned them finding fault with my efforts. Nearly half my wages at the time went on rent and I would plough the rest into escapes that only momentarily eased the aching.
Don’t get me wrong, this is me, most days I would find a way to nurture the joy in me, I would sing Disney songs at the top of my voice while I cleaned and when at work would push myself into delivering, relishing the escape. I found moments of pure happiness on some of those days, watching the sun rise over the town or passing an inspection without my father being able to find a single fault. I would go out on the weekends and dance, sing and drink amongst other exploits. I would often remind myself that my life could have been worse.
On reflection though there was one thing that kept me there. One thing that meant I wasn’t able to break free of the awful situation. It was my self-worth. I didn’t feel I deserved better, didn’t feel I should have more happiness, even worse I thought I deserved the suffering.
All this started to change after a chance encounter. I meet a guy one night at the bus stop outside work and we immediately struck up a conversation. He rode the bus home with me for almost two weeks. As we talked and got to know each other I started to share with him details of life. I remember the last day I saw him so well. Once we reached our destination and following a surprisingly deep conversation for two people that had only recently meet he said something to me and I remember so clearly my response “Maybe I do deserve better”. I never did see him again but it planted a seed, a possibility that maybe I could and should strive for a better life.
I managed to break free of the negative relationship and started seeing a guy from work, someone that I previously would have thought was well out of my league. He was kind and considerate, steadfast in an old-world sort of way and far more handsome than I believed would be interested in me.
After a couple more months at my dad’s the night came. My boyfriend had come over for the afternoon and we were lazily watching Sunday afternoon movies when my dad materialised intoxicated and told my boyfriend to leave. (Remember I am in my twenties at this point, paying a decent amount of rent (more rent than the council would later charge me for a flat of my own). I could tell he was hesitant about leaving but I didn’t want the drama and encouraged him to go hoping it would be enough to placate my father. It wasn’t though and my dad decide to launch into a full blown argument about he thought my boyfriend was not right for me, that I should split up with him. I couldn’t take it anymore and I stood my ground, Stephen was wonderful to me and for me, I wasn’t going to let my dad force the one good thing I had in my life away. The argument got increasingly horrid and so I eventually chucked some clothes in a back pack and said I was leaving. I had no idea where I would go. Realising I meant it he locked me in the house and tried to force me to stay it was only when I threaten to climb out the window that he reluctantly gave way, making me sign some hastily written up contract that said I owed he this months rent. My father loved contracts, this was his last act of control.
I left home with just a back pack of clothes, leaving my sister behind which was one of the scariest things ever, but I had no idea where I was going and no way of taking her with me. I spent an uncomfortable night on my foster sister’s couch (She was wonderful but I could tell her partner at the time didn’t want me there). And the next day I got up determined to find a way forward. My boyfriend met with me the next day having heard I had left my dad’s he had already spoken to his parents and bought reinforcements (his fab little sister). He knew I would resist his offer to come stay with him and his folks so he bought his sister along to help convince me. They won.
I stayed there that night and the following morning walked into the housing office, I had never asked for anything in my life and it was daunting. They asked me some questions and I begged for information on how long it would take to find a place. I tried to explain what the situation was like at home and that I had left my sister behind. After much pleading they said the best they could do was find her a hostile to stay at. I knew that wasn’t an option, my little sister suffered with learning disabilities and mental health challenges, home may be toxic but that situation could have been worse. Dad had previously directed most of his issues at me, I just hoped when leaving her behind she wouldn’t become the target. I had one life line my mother’s social worker. Her mental health team had been amazing all of our lives. I said to the housing officer that if more information would help perhaps, he could call her.
I left the office with a promise to be in touch in a couple of weeks and a sense I had failed. I didn’t make it out of the bus station before the guy at the housing office was ringing me and telling me to come back into the office. Whatever my mum’s social worker had said clearly had a far greater effect than my ramblings as he sprang into action promising to find a suitable flat as soon as he could. I had hope.
The next couple of weeks were really hard, between abusive phone calls from my dad, waking up to voice messages of him swearing down the phone at me, telling me I was ungrateful, an awful daughter, that I should get home, that I would not manage in the real world, I couldn’t afford to live outside of his house. And daily calls to my sister who appeared to be camping out in her room trying to avoid my father at all costs, but was clearly struggling more every day.
Then we got it, a flat, walls covered in tar from the previous tenant’s smoke, floors filthy and unliveable but when had it. The council would normally clear a flat and paint it all with a coat of magnolia but they knew I needed this quickly and I needed to get my sister out so me moved in as was. My sister came and with a £500 voucher we scoured the charity shops for a sofa, fridge, table and other basics. My wonderful other half stayed with us the first two weeks and we would work from crack of dawn to 11 o’clock at night, painting, cleaning and fixing things.
In hindsight I wish I had realised sooner that I could have more happiness and I was worth it. This is still something I struggling with truly believing but I am working on it. I dread to think of other people out there in abusive relationships, alone, struggling to find happiness and not feeling they are worth it. So if I could share what I have learnt to date about self-worth it is this:
Perfect does not exist – You cannot be the perfect wife, husband, daughter, partner, friend. Perfection is impossible to achieve. It changes so quickly you could never keep up. Be you, it is enough.
Your low self-worth devalues those around you. – Think of the great people in your life, whilst for me at times these people have been few and far between there has often been at least one. If you really can’t see the good in you ask yourself what do they see, why do they bother. Do you think so little of them that you would question their judgement? NO. So why question their judgement in you. And yes, a hear the same things your head as I heard in mine, I am the charity case, they keep around because they feel bad or they feel responsible. It is simply not true.
People Judge themselves more than they judge anyone else – For most of us our internal dialogue is focused inward not outward. All the things you think people are judging you for, they probably aren’t. In reality under their skin they are more haunted by their own perceived short comings – which are likely not true either.
Stop Judging others – If you do find yourself judging others stop. You can only ever control your actions, your thoughts, your feelings. Pay less attention to those around you and more attention to understanding yourself.
We are all different – Every single one of us is different and wouldn’t life be boring if we weren’t. You don’t need to be like anyone else. Just the best version of you that you can muster.
Some people won’t like you that’s ok – Given that you accept we are all different, accept that in this world of variation there will be some people who don’t like you and people you won’t like. That is great, it allows us all space to be individuals.
We ALL make mistakes – Nobody gets its right all the time. Nobody alive that has been or will be is immune from doing or saying the wrong thing on occasion. Don’t beat yourself up, fix it if you can and move on.
Forgive yourself – This is defiantly on of those easier said than done things. I am sure you may have read my story and thought no-one deserved to live through things like this. But honestly deep down and hidden away I think there was a time that I believed I did. I haven’t told you about all the things I got wrong over my life and maybe if I did you change your view, maybe not. It doesn’t really matter anymore as I am working to forgive myself and that’s what really matters. I am working to let go of the baggage I carried around. I am a different person now to then and I grow everyday the best I can hope for is to learn from my mistakes and don’t make them again.
Notice the good things you do – It is so much easier to focus on your mistakes or flaws. Notice the good things you do and take the time to do more of them. You feel better about yourself when you do.
Time is the greatest healer – Not because it gives you distance but because it gives you space to grow, to learn to change to evolve. Use time as your ally.
Ask yourself one simple thing – Would I let a friend put up with the situation I am in or feeling the way I do. – If the answer is no why should you accept it for yourself.