My heart raced, and beads of sweat began pouring down my face, eventually the world around me ceases to exist and I was drifting away into my own universe one where I questioned my existence. In my universe I was driven by fear of not being good enough, and the fear of being ridiculed. In my universe I thought of a world where maybe I could be perfect, maybe I could be different, maybe, just maybe I could be like others around me. Immediately I was brought back to reality when my headmistress pointed at me and told me to spell the word “arithmetic.” I trembled, and stuttered, and began to do what I feared the most, I began to spell! “A-R-I-T-H”, I paused, my thoughts began to race, I did not know how to continue, I was about to ridicule myself in front of my classmates, I was about to become the failure I already thought I was, only this time everyone would realize the truth; “M-A-T-I-C,” “Arithm-A-tic.” ‘Incorrect,” my headmistress said sternly, “you are disqualified.” Somewhat relieved, but still petrified, I was trying to understand why I doubted myself, and at the same time I was trying to understand why I was not among the smartest students at my preparatory school. Growing up there was always a part of me that felt I was missing out on life; there was a part of me that felt my life was not the same like everyone else.
The end of the school day meant going home; it meant getting to escape my school environment for a brief period and retreating to the comfort of my home. The irony is that even at home I had to confront very different demons than the ones I faced at school. At home I was reminded that my childhood was plagued by injustices, my childhood was different, even though I never realized how different. At age nine I became quite a philosopher, not by choice but rather by circumstance. Unfortunately at the age of four I lost whatever childhood innocence I was born with. My world of cars and toy soldiers was replaced by a world where two adult males told me to undress. It was a world that felt uncomfortable, but why it did; I did not know. For approximately one year I experienced what I later learned in life to call sexual molestation. It was an event that at age 4, changed my life drastically. My home became a place of torment, a place that ironically was supposed to be my refuge.
The abuse occurred without my parents having any knowledge of what unfolded. The relatives they allowed to live with us briefly were robbing the innocence of their son day by day. My parents worked hard to ensure that I was taken care of, they built a life for me that any kid would dream off, but sadly everything they did was being eroded, not by strangers, but by people we called family. As my abuse continued I went through my developmental years accepting it as a normal part of life. Ironically, overtime I would go home anticipating my impending abuse. It was a reality that was going to live with me for years to come. You see, my abuse never stopped when my relatives left, it only paused for a moment. Up until age 17 I was unfortunate enough to experience similar abuse by other family members on not one, not two, but at least three other occasions. It was these occurrences that helped me to realize that my childhood, my life, was indeed different.
My abusers took more than my innocence, they took my self-esteem. Having to be subjected to their perverted ways, I lost whatever confidence I had in myself. I was no one, all I was, was an object. An object to be used; an object not good enough without the value placed on me by others. It was this devaluation of self that lead to my lack of confidence in school. What was the value of an education, what was learning when my home became such a distraction? I believe my sanity would have been lost entirely if it were not for the love that my parents gave me. The love that flowed so abundantly that my heart sank every time I thought about my abuse. I wanted to tell them, I wanted to ask them if my life was normal, but a part of me caused me to be reluctant. Once my abuser told me that if I dared tell anyone what happened to me, I would end up ridiculed, and maybe dead. He told me I would be called a liar, and that people would hate me. At 4, at 5, even at age 17 I felt that any lies by my abuser/abusers were indeed truth. I was a victim; a victim not only of abuse, but a victim of my own inability to recognize that my only way out, was through me.
School became mundane, to me, it was pointless. Every day I saw kids who appeared to have an excellent life. I saw kids that I could only wonder if their life was any similar to my own. I felt like I never had true friends because I could never allow anyone to know what my past, or what my present life was like, so I lived inwardly. I lived in fear. That fear translated into poor grades, and constant feelings of emptiness. Eventually I would come to an age where everything seemed to collide; I was approaching the end of my high school career. Eighteen years went by so quickly, although it was 18 years of a life I would have perhaps traded with someone else. As high school drew to a close, I had to confront another failure, the failure of not meeting the requirements to graduate with a high school diploma. My failure to meet the requirements to graduate high school solidified in my mind that I was useless and good for nothing. I was every failure I had previously believed I was.
I spent the next 4 years after high school trying to meet the requirements to progress along the educational ladder. Eventually I would have taken and scored poorly on the SAT, but manage to secure the equivalent of a high school degree. In the year 2000 I gained admission to a community college in Florida, and I would begin my tertiary education, taking the first step on the road to self-discovery and spiritual freedom. Community College represented the biggest changes in my life, because it enabled me to develop close friendships and find professors who believed in my potential as an individual. Somehow the power of belief by others that I was destined for greatness fueled my own motivation. I spent the next two years of my community college career becoming an honor student and receiving the privilege of graduating with highest honors in the year 2002. I graduated in 2002 for the first time in my educational life. For the very first time I got to experience what true accomplishment actually meant.
As I stood on the platform about to receive my Associate degree, I glanced out into the audience and saw the face of my mother, the woman who stood by me all my life, believing in me even when I did not believe in myself. Unfortunately, my dad could not make it to my graduation ceremony because we did not have the finances to make it affordable for both my parents to travel to the ceremony. My parents resided in Jamaica, and so that meant having to purchase two round trip air fare tickets. I walked across the stage in amazement and disbelief, it seemed so surreal. I grasped the hands of the college president and soon enough held onto what would become my first ever academic degree. In what took only a few seconds, I was able to overcome some of the ills from my past, I was able to take feelings of failure and turn them into moments of joy and victory.
Many times as individuals we will go through life not knowing why we are walking the path that we are on. We experience hurt, and we experience failure. I decided to share this most intimate story of my life, not to gain sympathy, but rather to demonstrate triumph over adversity. I cannot control what life decides to throw my way; the only thing I can control is my response to life’s situations. I can choose to make my circumstances break me, or make me better. Yes I was abused, yes I lacked confidence, but through it all I had two people who never gave up on me. Through all my struggles I had two parents who loved me unconditionally, and who made sacrifices just so that I could have access to opportunities they did not have as children.
Some of you reading this blog may also have experienced abuse, sexually or otherwise. The hurt you feel today may be just as real as the hurt you felt when you experienced the actual abuse. Your first step to true freedom is learning to forgive yourself first. No matter what happened to you; it was never your fault. I am sure it is easy to look back and think maybe you could have done something different, say something different, tell someone, or retaliated in some other fashion. Today is too late to think about what could have been or what you could have done. You must start to heal; you must realize that the path to true freedom can only happen if you free yourself. I had to learn to forgive me. I had to forgive the four-year old boy who was too young to protect himself, because if I did not, that four-year old boy would continue to exist in me, fearful of ever doing anything.
Realize today that the power to let go of the demons from your past is to confront them head on. Admit that it happened, admit that it hurt you terribly, but come to a point where you forgive. Forgive yourself, and ultimately forgive your perpetrators. Life is too short to harbor any type of resentment, you are only hurting yourself. Know that there are people in your life that love you for you, and who will always be there for you. I am living proof that you can triumph over adversity. Life may throw you curve balls that take you off your path to success, but this is only temporary. You have the strength to get back up again and to continue your journey to true freedom. Look at yourself today, not as a victim, but rather a victor. Your circumstances only have as much power as you give it. I hope that today I have been able to give you a small ray of hope. I hope that I have shown you that life can be better, and that despite your past, you are still a great individual. Learn to smile again, learn to let go, learn to love, and most importantly, learn to love you.
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