Friday, November 5, 2010

Lessons from a militarized childhood: The day I decided to live

Quite a few people, upon learning of the rough parts of my childhood, have asked me if I ever considered suicide.

Three years in the paramilitary group, starting at age ten. Four years of almost daily physical abuse--beatings--starting at about the same time.

What do you think?

Of course I did. I'm not stupid. I contemplated every option available to me, from fighting back (tried it and failed), to running away (couldn't let my sister and brother face the abuse without me to protect them at least a little), to killing myself. I thought a great deal about all of the choices.

In fact, I pondered them so much and was in so much pain that I realized I needed to decide to live every bit as much as I would need to make a decision to end my life. I realized that living was a choice, too, albeit the default one.

The day I decided to live was a few months past my eleventh birthday. I don't remember the date, because that didn't matter to me. The abuse had been going on for over a year, as had my time in the paramilitary group. I was hurting and saw no way out.

Until I considered the future. I was right that the eleven-year-old me had no way out. From all the data available to me, however, I had every reason to believe that if I waited long enough, I would get big enough to stop the woman who was beating me. I would also age out of the youth group eventually. By doing those things, I would finally beat the people who were hurting me. I would win.

I liked the sound of that.

The way out was simple: take the pain, and wait for years. I didn't know how many, but I figured it would be at least three, maybe more.

I could do that time. I already knew the formula: Get up in the morning. Get angry; that was easy. Stay angry; also easy. Never let them see you cry. Go to sleep at night. Repeat.

Killing myself would have been losing, surrendering to them. No fucking way would I do that.

I decided to win, so I decided to live.

I won.

A lot of people who've endured great trauma have written me and talked to me about these entries. All of you, every battered kid, every sexually abused child, every veteran, every trauma worker, every cop--every single one of you had those moments, I know you did, when you, too, considered suicide. But you didn't do it. You didn't bow to the pain. You chose to live.

Stand tall. Be proud, even if you can't tell your closest friends why--and fuck those people who won't let you tell them your stories, who don't really want to know you. That's their loss.

You didn't lose. You're still here. You chose to live. You won.

You won.

6 comments:

J. Griffin Barber said...

Thanks, Mark.

Mark said...

You're most welcome, Griffin.

Dan Campbell said...

Thank you, Mark! I'm not sure I can express (yet) how much these posts mean to me. Knowing there is someone else willing to speak about surviving trauma, willing to speak plainly and openly (though respectfully) about it... helps tons.

This encapsulates it all for me: "The way out was simple: take the pain, and wait for years."

Thank you.

Mark said...

You're most welcome, Dan. No one who's survived trauma has anything to be embarrassed about.

Michelle said...

You are right, they shouldn't be embarrassed or feel guilty or feel dirty, but they do. You try to work past the pain, but it is always there. You always know you are just a bit different than those around you. Yet, even though you know there are more out there just like you, you try to hide your damage. Why? You know it wasn't your fault, you know you had no choice, yet, you are still ashamed. Thank you for giving all of us a voice.

Mark said...

You're most welcome, Michelle.

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