Behind the Poem
This poem “The Friend I Left Behind” was written during a time in my life when I was trying to make sense of the trauma I experienced. The year before, I had been removed from my mom’s house and placed with my father. This shift took me from home with violent abuse to a home with emotional abuse. In the new home, my stepmom was not shy about making sure I knew she hated me, even going as far as confessing that she believed my abuse was deserved. I had since ventured on my own, and at 18 for the first time in my life, I was not afraid to be home.
As the storm that was my life ceased, I was able to start processing my past for the first time. To be honest, I was nowhere near emotionally stable enough to handle the crushing emotional wave this would bring. For so long, I had lived on pure survival instinct. Not so much denial, but in a world where to pause or let my guard down could literally mean death. With this chapter of my life closed, I was left alone, trying to make sense of a situation that should never have been allowed to happen.
The hardest part of the whole situation was trying to reconcile the fact that so many people had known I was being abused and done nothing Including most of my family, friends, their parents, not to mention, many random church and school staff. I’m not sure how this had not occurred to me earlier, but now that I realized it, I couldn’t help but feel resentment for all of them. Not one, but 20+ people knew about my abuse and justified reasons they should not be involved. If only one person had done something, I might have escaped some of the pain I endured. Imagining my life with even one less scar or bruise seems like a blessing.
When writing this poem, I was channeling this pain. I wrote it as if I were one of these individuals looking at my life with a feeling of regret. Hating myself for being angry at these people, I tried to imagine the pain they would feel if they knew the way their inaction impacted me. Through the writing process, I also found feelings of guilt and shame I myself had. I kept trying to figure out what I could have done differently if I had been stronger, braver, or better in some way. More than anything, I wanted to go back and protect that poor child.
I think one of the most common questions I get is why I didn’t just get out if I was being abused. The thing is that it isn’t that easy. Even adults living in situations of domestic violence will stay, sometimes indefinitely, living through repeated cycles of violence.
What you have to understand is that abusers are usually master manipulators. They make victims feel like they deserve the abuse or find a way to ensure the person won’t leave long before it ever becomes physical. My mom used control techniques like suicide threats and insults that made me feel small and weak for years before the physical side of the abuse ever set in. By the time she began hitting me, I was already emotionally broken and under her power. From there, it only took a few reporting failures to break me into submission.
People are often surprised that even when child protective services got involved, I was still protecting her and refused to press charges. I absolutely regret this decision now, but at that time, I had been manipulated for so long part of me actually felt I owed her something. The other part of me was so consumed with shame that I was consumed with fear just at the thought of these strangers discovering the truth. Somehow I actually convinced myself that if I were to pursue legal action that my own fault would be exposed.
It seems strange in hindsight, but that is the reality of abuse. It is not just the physical injuries we endure; it is the emotional scars that we carry for life. Because of this, we rely more than anything on the intervention of others. Even when we say we are fine or insist we can handle it, the truth is we are only acting the way we are taught. Maybe we can handle it, but the question we never stop to think about is if we should have to.
By the time she began hitting me I was already emotionally broken and under her power.
* I have worked hard to heal from my past through professional therapy and personal growth. Over the years I have become comfortable enough to start using this story in public speaking events and as a major part of my writing. Writing about personal trauma can be very triggering and is not recommended for those still working through trauma unless instructed to do so by a mental health professional.
Read more about my story in my Diary of a Trauma Survivor project.