**Please note that this post may be triggering as it deals with the subject of an abusive relationship. The music video at the end has also been known to trigger emotions around abuse.**
I looked back and I saw a woman. She was afraid, trapped, suffocating. She had been abused. She had been used. She had been manipulated. Every day she was living at the end of her rope, trying desperately to hold on for dear life.
She walked along pathways between old buildings — buildings that had been around long before she was — and she knew her tormentor was lurking around their corners. He could appear at any minute. And she was afraid.
She sat in fluorescent rooms with her tormentor while trying to focus on Aristotle, Kant, Hume, but she was distracted. She couldn’t stay out of his gaze and it haunted her wherever she went. She felt trapped.
She wanted to speak up, but the words didn’t come. She knew he would only chastise her, shut her down, twist her words like a tightly-wrapped cord around her neck. So she stayed silent. She was suffocating.
Meanwhile, she was crumbling away inside. Her sense of self: diminishing. It was consumed by darkness. It was consumed by fear. Her days were full of panic and utter hopelessness.
She tried asking for help in the ways that she could — looking for people that could guide her to safety. But she couldn’t articulate everything that was going on: about the man who was haunting her, about the consuming fear and darkness inside of her. She could only eke out small hints of what was going on to her helpers. And, so, she couldn’t really be helped — not in the ways she truly needed to be helped.
She heard the words, “we need more details,” “there’s not much we can do,” “it’s a long process.” And she lost her hope. She heard the words, “I am baffled by your performance” and “I’ve never seen a student like this.” And she lost her dignity.
She was stuck. She couldn’t find a solution. She couldn’t find a way out except for a small, underground tunnel. It was dark, it was bleak, and it was her only option at the time. She would have to get down on her hands and knees and crawl out through the dingy, dirty tunnel to salvation. She would have to plunge her hands through the hard earth and carve a path for herself. The tunnel’s name was “failure”. She would have to fail and fail, again and again, until the point of no return.
As she crawled through the depths of the tunnel she came to the other end and she found a light. But, the light wasn’t triumph, it was shame. She felt shame and disappointment in herself. She felt shame for her failure. She felt disappointment because she knew she could have been great. She knew she could have achieved so much if the odds were different. But, she had to leave greatness behind in order to survive. It was a trade that haunted her for years, just like he had haunted her.
Years passed and she carried this shame with her. It weighed her down, pushed down on her shoulders, sent pain through her spine, churned in her gut. She wished she could get rid of it, but she didn’t know how. Until, one day, I met her. I saw a hunched-over woman who had been carrying the weight of shame for years. I felt such pity for her. I felt such sorrow. I wanted her to see what I saw in her. So, I told her.
“The failure you endured was never your weakness, it was your strength. It was your strength that helped you dig that tunnel and crawl out through the dirt to salvation. Only someone with pure strength could have done that.
It was your strength that kept you alive when others would have crumbled, folded, given up. Not everyone could have endured it. But you did. Not everyone could have found an escape. But you did.
You are strong. You did the best you could with the hand you had been dealt. Sometimes, failure is survival. You are a survivor. What is most important is that you survived.”
So, I picked her up, lifted the weight off of her shoulders, relieved the strain from her spine, settled the churning in her gut, and she was empowered. “Look at what I did,” she said, “I was strong when I thought I was weak. I was brave when I thought I had nothing left in me. I survived.”
“Yes,” I said, “you survived.”
"Yes," I said, "I survived."