“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
– Emily Dickinson
Today is the three year anniversary of no abuse in my own home (yesterday was the three year anniversary of finally ending it for good with x). Three years ago today I woke up (or whatever you call it when you didn’t sleep at all) and was sad, scared, miserable and exhausted. But I also was aware that I would come home and sleep in a bed not overflowing with tension and could feel the smallest spot of lightness in my shoulders for the first time in years.
I still didn’t know yet that I was being abused.
And, as anyone who’s been in my shoes knows, the abuse didn’t stop – it actually got much scarier in so many ways at that point – but I knew deep in my bones that I was finally aiming in the right direction for me and my child.
On that day, I felt – really felt – hope radiating out from somewhere deep within – so deep it was mostly muffled, but it was causing a faint hint of lightness I hadn’t felt in so long.
I had spent years being told, among other things, that I was a negative (& angry) person. Usually when I was expressing how something x did hurt me, or how his lies had caused pain and real, tangible damage. It was one of his many abusive mantras to me and it was a heavy hammer to yield when he wanted to shut me down completely.
In what stands out as one of the most embarrassingly vulnerable moments of my adult life, a few years before finally ending it with x, I wrote an email, out of the blue, to my ex before x – someone I had spent thirteen years with – and asked her if she thought I really was a negative and angry person at my core. She had been with me through some very traumatic and difficult times for me and my family and had seen me at my best and my worst. I trusted that she would tell me the truth and would know the less flattering parts of me better than anyone else.
She said no. That I was some other not-always-positive things, but she didn’t see that in me. Everything she said – good and bad – resonated with what I knew of myself.
But I was so lost, so broken down, so confused that I couldn’t trust my own answer to that question anymore.
I had to have someone else tell me what I was and was not. What I already knew. But I was unable to trust myself anymore.
I was angry. At x.
But that anger was not like an eye color or face shape – it was a condition of being abused.
I didn’t rail against x because I was an angry person.
I railed against him because it was the only way to survive.
What it took me nearly a year out of the relationship with x to see is this: I didn’t end it with him and build the walls and do everything I did to protect myself because I was running from something.
I did it because I was (& am) running toward something.
No matter how much he tried – or how much he succeeded at – breaking me down, x could not take hope from me.
Hope is something in our very cores and is the last thing to go, I believe, in any life threatening situation.
Hope aims at what can be instead of settling for what is.
I chose to let hope win, finally, three years ago today.
I have chosen it every day since. Even when it seems the foggiest and most distant thing ever.
Every single person who has left an abusive relationship has done it because they have held on, somewhere deep inside, to hope: hopes for freedom, for autonomy, for love, for a good life.
If hope is the thing with feathers, sometimes I think about it as the oil-soaked birds of the TV news videos of the epic oil spills of my childhood: creatures covered in slick, dark oil cradled in the hand of some caring human gently lathering them with dish soap.
Their feathers were always there: immobilized and weighed down, but still there. After cleaning off what held them down, those birds’ wings still worked.
Their wings weren’t broken – their feathers were just too heavy to lift for a while.
Sometimes, we cannot get those feathers to do anything but lie there and wait for us to clean them and free them from the weight of all that holds them down. To love them and care for them.
Sometimes we need to surrender to help in order to free ourselves completely of what is making it impossible for us to fly away.
Abuse doesn’t end when you leave, especially if you share children with an abuser. I’ve wished on so many stars that it did – not just for me, but for all the humans who walk out only to find a whole new kind of hell to wade through.
But the fact that you left, the fact that you are fighting this impossibly difficult fight for your child’s (& your own) safety and well-being is proof that hope was not stolen from you.
Someone tried very hard to take that from you and they failed.
So tonight my daughter and I celebrate, for the third time, Love & Hope Day.
She doesn’t know why it is on this day every year, but she does know that we stop and eat cake and take this day to celebrate all the love that we have in our lives. And that we honor hope and how it is something that we can always keep safe deep inside of us. That hope can help us do very brave things when needed.
She does not need to know why this day matters, in particular, to me – only that we aim ourselves toward hope and love, always. Only that she has her own unique hope deep in her core and she can always, always keep it safe.