I’m crouching down on a rock messing with an old digital camera, looking up at my friend M. And making a funny face. For me, it is a picture of me as I am held above the waves by a dear friend who refused to let me be pulled under even as I told her time and time again to let me go.
I am not smiling, but my eyes are alive. Every other photo from that time has a forced grin or a shaky neutral smile that was careful to not go too wide or too big or too happy. (Too me.)
There is a reason that abusers try to cut you off from your family and friends. Those people are the ones that hold your head above the waves and keep you from being pulled under. They lull you back into the pattern of being yourself and jangle with your subconscious in ways that make you question why sometimes you feel so free and others you feel muffled, strangled, suffocated, held down, twisted into something that you have never been. A work of Bonsai, held in place with fear.
Years out now, I marvel at the people who held me in their hearts when I pushed them away and accused them of the things my abuser held true. I’ve said my apologies and have been met with tears and open arms and more love than I could have ever imagined.
I marvel at how I managed to find those moments with my friends where I could come out of hiding, be at ease. I struggle to comprehend how much time I wasted feeling so worthless that I could only be myself alone in front of the mirror in a bathroom behind locked doors. I used to make those me-faces struggling to see them as objectionable so that I could train them away in exchange for the love of someone who could never truly love me.
I love each and every one of you who held my space in the world when I was not allowed to be. Each of you who helped me back to my feet. Who listened to me as I processed what had happened.
You kept me from being pulled under.
And now I have joy.