Emotionally Present / Lived Experience/Memoir

Radical Paradigm Shift

The past six months have been a nearly exact repeat of virtually all of the most difficult parts of my life. But something is different this time. I don’t know exactly when or how I reached the very brink of it, but it’s taken me six months to realize that I’ve undergone a radical paradigm shift. I no longer see myself as a passive object in any regard.

I used to tell myself that my strength came from other people who generously and gracefully bestowed it upon me. I would extend my gratitude to each one of them when they coaxed it out of me with compassion. I thought of myself as weak, worthless, and without a hint of purpose before their presence in my life. I often told them that they made me feel like my existence mattered to someone. That it mattered to anyone else was more important to me than the fact that it mattered enough, in and of itself, that I’m still here after everything I’ve been through. That’s all changed now. All the double-standards I know I’ve been holding against myself every day of my life have finally fallen away.

I now acknowledge every day that I had the strength, resilience, and integrity deep within myself all along. Other people could come along, and at any moment, set things in motion that would challenge me, devastate me, or even threaten to destroy me, but no one could give me strength I didn’t already have. No one could make me stronger, more resilient, or more complete. All anyone else could do is set things in motion that would urge me to change, to understand and respect myself on a deeper level, or to force me to take my life back into my own hands. And no one could take strength, resilience, or integrity from me. I am the only person that can give those qualities about myself away to other people. I truly understand that now.

But despite all the people who preyed upon me in some manner, but not knowing me from any other complete stranger and thinking that I had either given up or auctioned off all the qualities within myself that have brought me this far or that I could even be convinced to do so, I never once let go of them. I have been victimized and I have been overwhelmed. I have even broken completely down and thought I was ready to give up. I have been brought so low that I couldn’t even look myself in the eye for two days, let alone utter so much as a phoneme out loud. But I have never been a victim. I am still here, and I never stopped fighting, even when I was so disgusted with what I had just been through that I couldn’t face my own reflection. The very act of looking at myself for the first time and finally speaking again were active forms of resistance for which a victim has lost all capacity.

Some people have even attacked my character, trying to convince me that I’m “playing victim” and need to stop (see also: its close relative, the widely rumoured but rarely confirmed “drama queen”), as if I could just snap my fingers and make all the social predators stop trying to “work” on me. And this is truly a form of predation in and of itself. These words don’t come from a person who is invested in seeing someone else rise to success. They come from a person who gets a rise out of silencing and putting someone else down for daring to be visible in whatever their struggles may be. Their words unnecessarily exacerbate and prolong that sense of struggle, and directly inject them into a conflict from which they are removed, but where they may not have any other opportunity to become involved in any way. They are invested in convincing someone else that they are a victim, rather than invested in dismantling the false narrative of simply “acting like one” — whatever that’s supposed to mean, exactly, when one has been directly exposed to the kinds of horrendous violence that has repeatedly made appearances throughout my relatively short life.

My life now is reduced almost to what little I had left when I first became homeless eleven years ago. It may not be what I ever dreamed it would have been, but it’s in my hands now, as always. I’ve never been more conscious of that fact than I have been in the past six months.

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