I’d walk and think about my entire life. I’d find my strength again, far from everything that had made my life ridiculous.Cheryl Strayed
I wasn’t weak when I met x and then I left him and became strong.
I wasn’t strong when I met x and then weakened by him and then when I left him, I became strong.
I wasn’t weak until I healed enough to finally be strong.
I am strong.
We all are.
There are lots of fitting responses – flip, funny, angry – to that tired old saying what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger but the underlying truth is that it’s total bullshit.
I fully believe that most people who say this to someone struggling (or someone sharing something they went through) mean well. It’s a way to turn something awful into something positive.
But it’s still bullshit.
Our strength as people – soul, spirit, whatever you call it – is not the same as the physical strength of our bodies. Our inner strength doesn’t work like muscles where it takes stress and rupture to grow. Our inner fortitude is not like bones that sometimes have to ache as they lengthen.
I was strong when I met x.
And I was strong while I was with him.
(Even – maybe especially – when I felt my weakest.)
I was (am) strong after.
I had to remember how to fully access that strength after it was over.
But the strength was always there.
I wasn’t missing strength.
Strength doesn’t just slip out of my body, quietly and at whim, and wait to return until I’ve proven I can handle something hard.
I did lose faith in my own strength.
But like the air I breathe – whether I can see it or not, whether I believe in it or not – it simply exists.
Don’t get me wrong, the last four years in particular have required me tapping into my strength in a way I never have had to do before.
But I didn’t build that strength out of nothing and then use it.
The single most important part of me getting through post-separation abuse and countless court hearings and parenting a child who has weathered so much already has been me rebelieving in my own strength.
Remembering where and how to locate it.
An abuser wants us to believe that life is a forceful fight for the top of the mountain and only the one standing there is strong. (And they will always say they are the one at the top of that mountain. )
The core element of abuse – no matter which kind – is to trick us into believing we are not strong. Into believing that we are no longer strong or we were never strong and always always always that we will never be strong again.
As with all things an abuser tells us – it’s bullshit.
Lies. Sleight of hand. Illusion.
The idea that we are weakened by them is as flimsy as anything else they try to make us believe.
The other side of that coin – that their attacks on us strengthen us – is as make-believe as our weakness.
Our whole society buys into this lie about adversity and strength and tells us that we are heroic because we are resilient. That we are stronger because we have endured.
Resilience is sold to us – as survivors, but also just as people – as a way to not have to fix what is broken in the world.
Judges tell us children are resilient to justify forcing kids into visitations that aren’t safe for them. Police tell us we are resilient so they don’t have to take our reports seriously. Lawmakers use resilience as a talking point to keep from having to enact and enforce laws that truly protect people from abuse.
We – and our children – are not rubber bands that need to be stretched and released and stretched and released regularly to keep from becoming brittle and fragile.
That’s not how inner strength works at all.
I made it through x’s chronic attacks because I am strong.
Was, am, will be.
x did not help me become strong.
To say otherwise is an affront to the strength and humanity of all the women and children who didn’t survive abuse. Those who were killed while in it and also those whose pain consumed them in the after abuse gauntlet.
The flipside to me surviving because I am strong is that those women and children are weak.
Or not strong enough. Which means the same thing.
It’s as though there was a test of their strength and they failed – which is some insulting and untrue bullshit.
Others didn’t make it out alive despite the fact that they were strong.
Before and during (and after).
To call them weak now is an injury that is both cruel and unnecessary.
I know that is not the intention, usually, when someone says that it has made us stronger – but it is the effect.
Just like people don’t mean to give credit to our abusers when they say that – don’t intend to credit them for the very core of us, the very best of us – but it is the effect, nonetheless.
Please, everyone, stop saying that what happened to us (is happening) has a silver lining of making us stronger.
We are strong.
We simply sometimes lose that fact in the weeds of being broken down over and over by someone we love.
Our strength is there the whole time.
The whole time.
Even when we are huddled in a corner of a dark room in our own house hugging our knees and sobbing into our clothes to keep from being heard.
We access that strength in every stage of abuse.
What we need is for people to see that strength.
To truly acknowledge it.
To see it and not attribute it to some asshole who tried to tear us apart.
It is us.
We have it. Before, during, and after.
It doesn’t always look like what we think it should.
But it’s there.