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Thank you for Surviving

by J. Lee 24 days ago in trauma

To the strongest "woman" I know personally, I see you, Now.

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It wasn't until somewhat recently that I noticed how important a specific person was to me. This person, who certainly presented as a strong woman to most, always seemed pretty weak and useless to me. Looking back on all the years I've known this individual, for the life of me I can't figure out why those thoughts formed, let alone why they stuck so vividly and adamantly in my brain.

I suppose in order to understand the sheer willpower and durability of this person, you have to know a bit about her, and all the utter shit she went through. I've known her most of my life, so I suppose I have a good understanding of what led her to where she is today. Let's see if I can explain it well enough to capture her image: but be warned. Many of the things this young woman has experienced over the years can be potentially triggering in a multitude of subjects, such as abuse, violence, bullying, disordered eating, self harm, death, and suicide.

Although it was never explicitly stated this way, her birth, her life, her entire existence was a mistake. Her mother had no intentions of getting pregnant, and upon the discovery of her presence, thought she was the product of a different man. It wasn't until after she was born that it became obvious this mystery man was not her biological father.

No, she was instead the result of a drunken one night stand with an old friend, while both of them were in other relationships.

In all honesty, by the time she was born, her sperm donor was newly married and had another bun halfway completed in an oven. He wanted nothing to do with her, and subsequently, never had the chance to meet her little brother, born just 5 months and 4 days after she made her entrance on this Earth.

Now, as she grew up, she knew who her father was, was aware that she had other siblings (yes, plural. By this time there was another baby brother, and apparently an older brother as well), and also had full understanding that she would probably never exist in their eyes. She had this huge gap in her life- an endless abyss that could be filled if only she had a connection with her brothers. Alas, this was never meant to be. At least, as of yet.

From an early age, and well into her teens, she blamed herself for this. Since her father had stuck to her brothers, he must have known that she was going to be a failure. Out of four children, she was the only born female. She was supposed to be twin boys. Instead, she was a disappointment. He must have known she would amount to nothing, accomplish nothing, be nothing, and do nothing with her life. That's why he left, and took her brothers across the country away from her, without ever a "hello," let alone a "goodbye."

It was her fault for existing. It was her fault for being a girl. It was her fault for being everything wrong.

This beautiful little girl, around the age of two

When this little girl was four, her mother married her stepfather, and she gained an older sister. She never quite trusted her stepfather. Over the years, she found out why. But this time was also a pivotal moment for her, because of where she went to her second year of preschool.

She was always exceptionally bright for her age. At the time, most people didn't use the words 'gifted child,' but if they had, it would be a common phrase to describe her. As such, she often stood out from her peers. She didn't fit in with anyone her age, found it difficult to connect with other children, and kept mostly to herself with her nose in a book. All she wanted to do was learn, and these rowdy kids seemed to hold her back. This definitely caught the teachers' attention, and she began to work with the school's counselor 2-3 times a week during nap time, when everyone else was fast asleep.

Little did they know they were sending her to be feasted on by the alpha wolf.

It didn't happen all at once. Even if it had, she probably wouldn't know what it all meant, or just how much it would impact her in the future. No, he took his time with her. Making her feel somewhat comfortable and creating the air of care for a child in school, this predator feasted on this poor little girl until there was nothing left in her worth fighting for.

By the age of five, when she moved up to kindergarten and away from the monster, she was broken. The light she once had for life was gone, and any hope she had, any dreams, any positive thoughts about herself were crushed. She couldn't escape the nightmares that plagued her mind, both as she slept and while awake. Everything good had left her, leaving a hollow husk of her former self. All she knew was pain.

By the age of five, all she knew was pain.

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With no other form of reprieve, this is the coping mechanism she turned to in order to get through another day. It started simply enough- a few nicks with the scissors during crafts here, a scraped knee there, a bruised arm perhaps. But, over time, as her internal pain grew, the external pain needed to grow too.

She still didn't fit in with the other kids her age. Now fully in elementary school, these small beasts were learning how to tease, pick on people, and even go so far as to be miniature bullies. No one stopped them though. They were just kids being kids, right?


At the age of seven, the combination of everything was already too much for her developing mind and sense of self to handle. At the age of seven, she decided that she didn't want to live in a world that only hurt her, in a world where she wasn't even wanted to begin with. At the age of seven, she already wanted to die. At the age of seven, she let herself fall from the tallest place she knew how to get to, in hopes that it would be tall enough to take the small life from her small body. At the age of seven, the shame of living after her first suicide attempt, meaning that she had to continue living, hurt far worse than the actual fall did. At the age of seven, she could barely walk for a week due a back injury where she "slipped" off the top of the play structure in the school yard.

Her mother and stepfather built a house over that summer, so going into second grade, she went to a different school. It was a whole new district, far from the old one. It was a whole new life, it seemed. For a brief moment, she had hope again. She thought that maybe, just maybe, things could be better. People could be better. She could be better.

Little did she know it was just the start of an even longer journey, full of pain, heartache, and death. So, so much death.

By Ahmed Adly on Unsplash

Being this exceptionally bright child in a school that now valued the education of their students, she was placed in a second-third grade split class. She spent most of her time with the best third graders, who often worked at a fourth or even fifth grade level in subjects like math, reading, and writing. She was too young to fit in with this group of students who she worked with day after day, but too much of a "nerd" to fit in with any of the kids in her class her own age.

Once again, she was an outcast.

And once again, the bullying started.

During her elementary school years, most of the bullies focused on her weird quirks, the way she always wanted to know everything, and her weight. It's not that she was excessively overweight, but the medication she had been put on to control her asthma definitely made a difference in her physique. This endless nagging, pointing, laughing, and commentary took a toll on her mental state and further plummeted her sense of self-worth.

By the time she finished elementary school in fifth grade, a whopping age ten-eleven, she was already skipping breakfast, and skipped lunch at least twice a week. In sixth grade, where this age of students were in a school all to themselves, she ate lunch maybe once a week- if a lunch aid was getting suspicious. In middle school, ages twelve to fourteen, she didn't eat breakfast, lunch, and tried to skip dinner and snacks as much as possible.

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This is also the time where her manifestation of physical pain to replace the emotional really took off, and her number of attempts soared to new heights. Every time she looked in a mirror, she heard the mocking words, the insults, the traits that made her disgusting. Every time she closed her eyes to sleep, she was met with nightmares that were just as horrifying as her daily life. The situation at school was full of torment, but her life at home wasn't much better, if at all.

After her mother had a mental health break, it was her responsibility to care for the woman who would forget to eat, go to the bathroom, take her medication, get out of bed, or even remember to pick her child up from school. All the while, she was being berated and abused emotionally by her stepfather, who's callous words and insults were even more creative and poisonous than the miniature monsters that inhabited the school. She had nothing good in her life, nothing to look forward to, nothing to work for...

Until she discovered French. It started off as a little thing, really. Her sister, three years older, was in high school taking this course. To help out, she went over vocabulary flashcards, assignments, and helped her sister study. The pieces of the language and culture that she picked up on, she fell in love with. At this time, she knew that if by some chance she lived past middle school- let alone high school- she wanted to go there. It was the only thing she had on her bucket list, and by the power of the Universe at large, until the day she died she would work to try and make it happen.

By Cecile Hournau on Unsplash

During this time, she was also active on a website that was created for teens to help each other and make connections to try and get through the bad days until the Things Got Better that mental health advocates always stated was going to happen. She didn't quite believe in that Better Future, but she made some friends there, and finally found people she could relate to.

One of them actually became so close to her, that he was like the big brother she never had the opportunity to have. He listened to her pain, sat with her in her darkest moments, pushed her to keep working on her hobbies, and, somehow, saved her. Even when he couldn't save himself. Even after he was gone.

Picking up on this new and heavy interest in France, he sent her Eiffel Tower earrings. They were nothing fancy, just simple little dangles that probably cost less than 10$. However, they came with a conversation, which contained a promise that she was obligated to keep. He promised her that the two of them would go to France together. But, if she left before they went, he would never go. If she succeeded in an attempt, she would deprive him of ever getting to experience France- and he lived only a few hours train ride away. She couldn't do that to him.

Little did she know that this would be the last conversation they would ever have. At a fresh fifteen, a freshman in high school, she lost the only "brother" she would ever know. He left her alone, with an empty promise that she had no choice but to fulfill by herself.

In her darkest moments, this is the thing that got her through. This promise to her brother is the one constant that always remained, allowing her to push through the pain and continue on another day, no matter what wrench was thrown in her plans.

An image of the tattoo she got as a daily reminder. Text translates to "I promise you" in French, located in the outline of France.

When she was raped by a classmate in the stairwell of her school a month later, this promise kept her alive.

When she didn't eat for 23 days, and lost 50lbs in 6 months, this promise kept her alive.

When two friends from school couldn't save themselves that summer, this promise kept her alive.

When she was handed a rope and given death threats that the school blamed her for, this promise kept her alive.

When she was so deep in her self-harm addiction that she couldn't find an empty piece of skin, this promise kept her alive.

When she was forced to work alongside her high school rapist for 4 months, this promise kept her alive.

When her stepfather threatened her with a knife and her mother told her to get over it, this promise kept her alive.

When she was beaten, berated, and bruised, this promise kept her alive.

Somehow making it through high school on nothing but this promise that meant everything to her, she got into her dream school as a French major. She moved out of her mother and stepfather's house, instead living with her grandparents for the first year of university. That is, until her grandfather got sick. After he passed, she couldn't stand to be in that house. She couldn't stand to see the pain in her grandmother's face. She couldn't stand to see his chair empty, to go to sleep without the sound of his coughing that she had grown so accustomed to in those final days. She couldn't go on like this, but she had to, for her promise.

So, against everyone else's judgement, she moved out into an apartment of her own with a person she thought she could trust. She was wrong. Very, very wrong. Not only did this "friend" quickly drain her measly savings, but he also sucked out her pitiful will to live. Abusing her in ways others had only started to, she thought he had broken her beyond repair. She thought she had no hope. She knew she had no reason to go on, nothing to live for.

Except, for the promise she had to keep.

Making a split second decision, she packed up a few nights worth of clothes and left her apartment to get away until he left. For the few weeks until she was able to kick him out and, as a result had to leave the apartment herself and find other accommodations, she couch surfed with some of her coworkers, or failing that, slept in her car in the university parking lot. She had nothing more to lose, nothing more to give.

His power over her was gone, and so was she.

Image received from:

Nevertheless, she kept going. She had a promise to keep, and somehow, she was going to keep it.

Three years later, nine years after the initial promise was declared, she made it. Against all odds, despite everything pushing her down and telling her to quit, she made it. She kept her promise, and brought the memory of her brother to France with her as she started the next, most amazing journey of her life to date. Except, at this point, she also discovered her true self, which wasn't her, but their. A woman proclaimed at birth, they were actually someone else; someone just as strong and resilient as a woman, they existed outside of their physical form and found peace in their newfound life.

At long last, they found those Better Days.

She, they, is me.

At long last, I found those Better Days. I survived, and I'm finally learning to be proud of everything I have accomplished.

So, to the young woman who Survived, thank you, for letting me be the They who Made It. You were much stronger than you should have had to be, and for that, I am forever grateful. I, we, wouldn't be here today without your endless determination and perseverance.

By Tim Marshall on Unsplash


For anyone who resonates with this work, in any of its forms, you're stronger than you feel. Things may not be okay right now, but they can be again. If you need immediate help, here are a few sources, but this list is far from exhaustive:

For victims of domestic abuse CA

For victims of domestic abuse USA

For victims of domestic abuse UK

For those struggling with suicidal thoughts CA

For those struggling with suicidal thoughts USA

For those struggling with suicidal thoughts UK

For victims of sexual violence CA

For victims of sexual violence USA

For victims of sexual violence UK

A PDF of various resources and links

Much love and safety to you, Friend.


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J. Lee
J. Lee
Read next: Never In the Cover of Night
J. Lee

French enthusiast, non-binary trans person, artist, writer, lover of animals, space, and the right for every living thing to experience their existence authentically.

Pronouns: they/them (English) iel (French)

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