It’s an interesting question…I don’t really know the answer. If you asked my 6 year old self, or 14 year old self, or even 18 year old self, what ‘freedom’ was, and what I was fighting for, I think my answer would have been very different to the reality of freedom actually is.
My idea of freedom changed drastically throughout my childhood. It depended a lot on my self-worth at the time; what I felt I deserved. It also changed as the abuse intensified, as I experienced grief, as I realised the complexity of the system and the idea of ever escaping felt more frightening and impossible with each moment. As a 6 year old, freedom simply meant fun. It also meant my family transforming into loving adults, me not being ‘naughty’ and being ‘punished’ anymore, and a lifetime supply of sweets. Freedom simply meant everything I didn’t have. My fight for survival was based on the hope that one day I’d wake up and a magic fairy would have turned my world upside down – to the way the world should be.
As I grew older and more aware of the world I was in, and more realistic, the idea of ‘freedom’ changed. I still hoped my family would wake up one day and suddenly be transformed into ‘safe’ adults, but I ultimately knew they’d never be a loving family. As the abuse started to massively effect my mental health, I also felt like escaping from the system was impossible dream. At the same time, I knew that if I was going to survive at all, then I needed to pin my hopes to the impossibility of escape, and just run at that dream irrespective of whether it was realistic or not. The alternative was to drown, and that wasn’t an option for me. I knew whatever happened, I wanted to survive.
There were periods where I didn’t want to escape at all. Mostly this coincided with events that triggered extreme grief, or a terrible sense of despair. At these times, freedom felt like it was only achievable through death. Surely that was my only escape from the madness. A few times, this came very close. There have been several attempts, but somehow my body is stronger than I give it credit for, and although after some attempts I was violently ill and weak for a few days, I still made it. My body didn’t want me to give up, and kept fighting even when I was sure I was finished.
At other times I felt like freedom was a faraway imaginary land of no pain and no fear. I dreamt of this possibility. Thankfully I never fully believed in such a place. I went to school and so I was exposed – on some level – to the ‘real’ world. I’d see my friends sob over boyfriends, or parents’ divorcing, or their cat dying, and although I couldn’t connect with them, I could at least sympathise with their hurt. And it at least taught me that even the real world isn’t painless. I’d watch the news and stare in horror at the things that go on in the ‘real’ world. I vividly remember watching the news on 9/11, and not really understanding what was happening, but knowing it was terrifying. I remember seeing headlines in newspapers, right through my childhood, about the latest murder or rape. I was therefore under no illusion about the ‘real’ world. I knew escape didn’t necessarily mean safety.
Sometimes, this frightened me, and I wanted more than ever to stay in the underground complex world that I was in – at least the dangers were known, at least I knew who and what was dangerous, and at least I knew where I stood. The real world sometimes felt like an overwhelming vastness of chaos, and at times I’d watch channels where perfectly normal people were destroying each other just for the hell of it, and I’d think there’s more humanity where I am, actually. There’s more humanity between the children trapped in this world, than in adults living in that world.
This thought process also terrified me, and I had an instinctive distrust in adults anyway, and so I was even more sure that staying put was the better plan.
But mostly, I wanted to escape. I didn’t know what I was escaping from, or going to, but I just knew somehow that what I was living through was wrong on every kind of level. I remember whispering to the stars at night-time, wishing and longing that a fairy godmother would come and rescue me. I remember pretending I was adopted and my real parents would come and find me one day. I remember thinking if I was good in class, maybe my favourite teacher would adopt me and rescue me. *Every* time I saw a fountain, I threw a penny in and made a wish. If I’d just saved those pennies I think I’d be quite well off now 😉
As I entered my teenage years, I stopped wishing. Well, sooner than this really. I remember as a child realising one night that if I was going to survive, and by survive not just become a vegetable but actually keep hold of who I was, and survive by living not just existing, then wishing wasn’t going to fix anything. I needed to fight, I needed to analyse the situation and spot the sick games and loopholes. I needed to fight even when it frightened me and I needed to keep hold of what was right, even if it felt easier to follow what was wrong. This I realised as a child. But I kept wishing too. As I entered my teenage years, I truly accepted wishing wasn’t solving anything. I do think I became depressed in my mid-teens. Somehow that period of my life feels darker and more oppressive, emotionally. I remember frequently feeling that it was pointless, but then quickly bouncing back. I remember being made to sell myself, and convincing myself it was all I was good for. At least the men called me a good girl. I was only ever good when an object to be bought. My self-worth was literally reduced to that of a sex toy, i.e non-existent, because inanimate objects don’t have self-worth. They don’t feel at all. And that’s what I did. I pretty much switched off everything and became a robot, doing as I was told, and going with the motions.
That isn’t to say I didn’t feel ever. If something traumatic or upsetting happened, I felt it alright. But I’d quickly bury it, and it’s only very recently that these intense emotions are coming back. It’s only recently I’ve felt worthwhile enough to feel properly, because I’ve only recently started to believe I’m more than just an inanimate object – I’m a human with feelings and the right to feel.
So in my teenage years the idea of escape became the idea of feeling again, of it being safe to feel again, of me being worth something enough to be allowed to feel. It wasn’t until my late teens that this expanded to safety. Feeling and being safe. At early adulthood this expanded further, to escape meaning I owned myself; that I wasn’t a job owned by others.
So right now, is this the freedom I fought for? Yes, simply.
There’s so much of my life that hurts, and scares me, and frightens me, and I don’t think I’ll ever fully feel safe until I’m out of the UK. But when I was fighting for freedom I wasn’t expecting a painless life – as I say, I’d seen enough news stories and gossip at school to know even the real world hurts sometimes. What I was fighting for was a life in which I’m allowed to feel that pain, and allowed to be comforted for that pain. I was fighting for a life in which I can laugh freely, and love. Where I can own myself and feel okay in doing that. I learned that freedom wouldn’t be a fairy story with a fluffy happy ending where all the bad guys turned nice, but freedom instead would be me laying down my boundaries and asserting my right to safety, and simply removing the bad guys from my life.
I have done that.
I am my own person now. It has nearly been a year since I changed my name, and the name-change made such a huge difference to my feelings of self and ownership. My old name felt like the name of an object or job. This name feels like the name of a person. Of a young woman with dreams and hopes, skills and some talents, friends and love.
I guess what I’m trying to say is – freedom does hurt. It’s supposed to. In freedom now I can feel the impact of what I went through, and have the space to cry and scream and feel rubbish. But freedom is also beautiful. I can go outside whenever I like to look at the autumn leaves, to watch the birds flying, to touch the grass and feel the breeze holding me. I don’t need to ask for permission to feel, except from myself. And that’s the ultimate freedom…. I give *myself* permission to feel, to love, to live. I give myself permission to recover and thrive, because I forgive myself.
So that’s freedom – not necessarily a painless life without fear…
But a life in which I can feel and live, where not only do I recognise I am not an object, but I give *myself* permission to recover. I forgive myself.
That is the freedom I fought for, and I never believed I’d make it. I never believed freedom meant loving myself. This is how freedom is so different to what I could have ever hoped for. But I did it.
So can you.