I Hate to Admit . . .
I have been in and out of community college for fifteen years. I feel ashamed that I have never earned a degree.
I work as a tutor for university students, and the stress of imposter syndrome crushes me sometimes around my coworkers, and even my students. I don’t believe that college completion separates the smart from the not-smart, but I know the disparity between my own goals and my achievements. In light of my education goals, I see myself as a failure.
The reasons I have dropped out - wrapped up in my history of abuse - get to me the most.
My Education Timeline
I enrolled in my first college class way back in the summer after tenth grade. My strictly religious school couldn’t provide the class because they had problems luring math and science teachers.
I continued with community college courses throughout high school. I took a couple science classes for high school credit. I also jump-started my college career with extra math, sociology and psychology classes. I dreamed of multiple advanced degrees— all the knowledge I could handle.
I met my abuser (ex-husband) in February of my senior year in high school. I dropped out of college soon after my high school graduation because he punished me for going to classes and sabotaged all my study time.
After he and I moved to Oregon, I took another stab at higher education. I enrolled at Chemeketa Community College. The same scenario played out. He trashed the house or blew money whenever I left for campus. I tried an online class, but at my desk he stood over my shoulder griping about chores to do or food to prepare.
Shortly after leaving my abusive marriage, I took a course recommended by Napa’s Adult School. I completed the course, and then learned it wasn’t certified.Then I gave up for a while.
I returned to community college, beaming with joy, in 2012. A year and a half later, I had a really rough time with depression. It affected my ability to work and to perform in school. I had to divert all my time to taking care of myself and keeping on top of my finances.
I have now been back in school full-time for a year.
Why do I talk about something that I’m so ashamed of? I do it because I bet that at some point you thought, “oh, you don’t need to feel ashamed of that.”
If you did, I hope that you will apply the same compassion to yourself, whatever gnaws at the pit of your stomach.
Self-care is a simple concept, but it’s not easy for everyone. I used to think taking care of myself meant paying my bills and expenses, folding my clean laundry, and stuff like that. Now I know it’s a lot more. Self-care means taking care of one’s own emotional and spiritual needs as much as any physical needs.
Steps to Self-Care
First, I had to acknowledge that I had feelings. I had suppressed my emotions for a long time. Acknowledging their existence had been too painful with an abusive husband, so I convinced myself I felt nothing. After I successfully left my ex-husband, therapy and support groups helped me get in touch with my feelings. It hurt, but I learned strategies to manage my PTSD symptoms and cope with my strong emotions.
Second, I had to consider that I deserved to care for myself fully. In part because I hadn’t found self forgiveness, I didn’t think I was worthy of being nice to myself until recently. I still struggle with this sense of worthiness, but I have committed to self-care. (I have told myself, as a backup, that I will care for myself even if I don’t think I earned it. A lot of people get more than they deserve, I figure, why can’t I?)
Third, I had to learn a lot of ways I can care for myself. I still add new tactics to my list.
Fourth, I had to remember to care for myself. I had such a habit of ignoring my emotional needs that I had a hard time remembering to practice self-care. Even after I thought to care for myself, I often couldn’t think of specific actions because I was overwhelmed by my emotions.
I made a list. I have a few versions of my self-care list around my house. I also keep a version on my phone and another in cloud storage. Now when I’m overcome with dread, anger, sadness, or hopelessness, I reach for one of my lists and pick a tactic.
My 10 Main Self-Care Tactics
Spread the Love
Share your go-to self-care habits in the comments below. I’m excited to see the ways you meet your emotional needs. I hope I see some new ones for my own list!
Do you know anyone who might benefit from this post? I’d appreciate it so much if you shared it with them.
I Wrote A Book
I am about to publish a memoir about recovery from an abusive marriage. I started the memoir in October, 2014, after nearly five years of resisting the idea.
A few women in my first support group asked me to write my story. They liked the way I talked about my experience. They wanted to read about it and share it with their friends.
I said, “No way, I’m working really hard not to think about all this crap all the time. I can’t write about it. I can’t even journal. I end up just stabbing the page with my pen and crying.”
As the years away from my ex-husband passed, friends and casual acquaintances added their own suggestions that I write about my abuse. The idea never grew on me.
How Did This Happen?
I made a lot of progress and a happy life for myself, but I still felt lost. To make matters worse, every time I asked in meditation what to do next in my life, I got the same answer: “What about that book? Write that book.”
At a time when my new life imploded, I tried so hard to hear some other answer when I closed my eyes and begged to know, “what next?”
One day, I had had enough. I opened my eyes from a meditation, and I had a plan. I would write that book. I would write, not about the abuse but about how I got through it and my journey of recovery from domestic violence.
Desperate, I thought, “if I have to write this f****** book to get a new answer, then I just have to write this f****** book.”
Writing And Be Happy has been even more difficult than I had anticipated. But I am stronger than I thought I was, too. The experience brought me a deeper understanding of myself, abuse dynamics, recovery, and human nature.
What Happens Now?
Now I get to learn all about the self-publishing process. I’ll have the book out in May of this year, and then I have more writing to do. I have started a sequel to And Be Happy called Without Him. Recovery is a long process, and so much growth happened for me in the years after the end of And Be Happy.
What I Love Most
The best part of having shared my story is the inspiration I have seen others take from it. Other abuse survivors realize they do not have to keep their pasts secret. They do not have to pretend they are magically cured by being away from their abuser. They don’t have to feel alone.
Loneliness and isolation were two of the most painful parts in my own journey, and I’m happy for any bit I can contribute to the community of support for abuse survivors.
The words felt like a punch in the throat. I thought I had sat down for a peaceful, guided meditation but ended up sobbing for half an hour.
Did my tears symbolize a release, the thought that I could finally forgive myself? No, the cry came out of deep rooted terror. I wanted far away from the concept of self forgiveness.
The notion of forgiving myself scared me so much because I thought implicating myself in abuse I had received would somehow protect me. If I forgave myself, I might let the same things happen again.
The Real Problem / Solution
With years of work in therapy I have made a lot of progress toward self forgiveness. (Have I blogged about my love for therapy? I’ll be sure to do that soon.)
I know now that being abused has never been about me letting things happen because victims don’t choose to be abused. Abusers choose to abuse.
My responsibility to myself is recognition of a bad situation if I’m in one and leaving it safely. I do that by making the best decisions I can with the information I have at the time.
Being a victim wasn't my transgression, blaming myself was.
Step By Step
This self-forgiveness journey isn’t over, but I can’t only think of the work I have left to do. Progress along the way needs recognition, so discouragement doesn’t take over from only seeing what is wrong with a situation.
I encourage you to share your progress in the comments below. Whether in self forgiveness or another area, I want to hear it.
Thanks for reading. If you liked this post, please share it.
If you’d like to order your copy of my memoir about leaving domestic violence, click here.
‘Til next week,
Rebecca encourages survivors of domestic to speak about their experiences and to lean on each other for support.