“I knew who I was this morning, but I’ve changed a few times since then.”

Alice, “Through the Looking Glass”

Amidst the sound of ice falling as it hit my window sill and the chilly breeze from a not-so-sealed front door, I took a sip of my once piping hot coffee, which had reached room temperature level warmth. The wintry weather of a frigid February had me reflecting on sunshine, walks in the park, and the sights and sounds of Spring. I recalled gentle breezes from moderately warm mid-April afternoons, iridescent orbs floating from bubble wands, joyous laughter filling the air, and the chirping of the robin that regularly perched itself on my fence.

For just a moment, I remembered the robin as it rested, perhaps gathering its strength before making its way to a tree branch or contemplating if the broken wooden fence surrounding the empty lot next door would be its next destination. I paused mid-thought with an epiphany. The breeze, the bubbles, the laughter, the robin–they were all gentle reminders of the one thing that connects us all: the desire to be free. 

Leaving the life that had shaped my entire adulthood after a decade and a half wasn’t easy, but neither was suffering silently from abuse that had no scars but showed up as anxiety, depression, weight gain, and sleep loss. At the time, I lacked the language (or, perhaps, the courage) to name my experience: emotional abuse.

I had resolved that the lesser of the evils I faced daily was to stay and wear a painted smile. There were no words that would adequately describe the agony of perpetual invalidation, manipulation, and other subtle behaviors that contributed to years of suffering in silence. Suffering that I had endured in the name of making something work.

The idea of spending my life with someone forever was formulated by years of adopting concepts and ideologies from society, religion, family, culture, and entertainment. Mixed with my own hopes and dreams, these concepts created a synthetic version of “happily ever after”. When the answers became more grey than black and white, I stopped asking hard questions and settled into the only life I’d known. I stopped asking why I stayed so long. I stopped asking why I felt that we didn’t deserve better. I just stopped, until I had enough.

Perhaps it was the notion of freedom that was presented to me was an intangible, elusive concept that made for a feel-good-Sunday sermon coupled with a great worship set. It was the perfect combination of emotion-invoking elements that left me weeping at an altar Sunday after Sunday, desperately awaiting deliverance. Or by chance, it may have been the way in which history’s blood-stained pages painted a gruesome picture of my ancestors being bound in chains, hoping frantically to taste freedom at any costs. Whatever the catalyzing moment, when I finally grasped the idea of freedom, it settled within the depths of my deepest desires, affixing itself to my hopes and aspirations as my soul cried out and longed to be free. 

I share my story with an invitation for others to glimpse into the broken and the beautiful moments which have allowed me to uncover my true self, the self I am learning to embrace and love authentically and unapologetically. I share so that people will never stop asking the hard questions. I share so that someone else can destroy the lies from their past that have kept them bound to the idea of not being enough or of being too much. I share because our stories have power. Sometimes in the silence of our thoughts, we find ourselves bound, not knowing what the next step should be on our journey. I hope that these words resonate long enough for someone to know that freedom is available and attainable. 

The breeze, the bubbles, the laughter, the robin. The pain, the healing, the storms, the sunshine, the sorrow, the joy. Me. You. Gentle reminders of the one thing that connects us: oh, to be free.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

Zora Neale Hurston, “Dust Tracks on a Road”