Thank You For Helping Me Learn What Is Right Through All The Wrong.
The holiday season is somewhat convoluted in my mind. The pumpkins of Halloween roll into the gobbling turkeys of Thanksgiving that slide across the icy ground into Christmas.
While these weeks and months are significant to many individuals for myriad reasons, in my life, many of the memories that accompany this swath of time are notable — not for their merriment and festive nature, but for the abuse that was visited upon my young body and my developing mind. It was undeniably a time filled with momentous events that informed, developed, and confused many of my burgeoning values and beliefs.
While it can easily be said that a lot was taken from me in the yearly repeating iterations of these months, I will also be among the first to admit that all that occurred also provided a framework for gratitude as well. And for this reason, I would like to offer a bit of thanks for all that was taken.
In some ways, I want to say Thank You for the exacting reminder that things really never go according to plan. Thank you for allowing me to see evil in its pure and genuine form, so I would be able to spot it much more simply even when it was veiled one way or another.
Thank you for teaching me that an admission of guilt, in and of itself, can mean very little. Even when he uttered the words that should have damned him, there was no sea change that was ushered in. And I had to learn that it remained up to me to make meaning from the horrors that were visited upon me.
My innocence was stripped from me, just like my clothing. As my tights were forcibly removed, so was my belief in the integrity of my own body. As I was manipulated physically and emotionally, my sense of safety was destroyed. I was forced to look elsewhere, to turn away from the devastation. My ability to trust and believe in the goodness of others very easily could have been shattered. But I managed to make it out with that intact.
I still see the goodness in others, while acknowledging the bad. Two sides of the same coin. My understanding of love and family and loyalty were bewildering and perplexing, and yet I still succeeded in untangling them and allowing them to embody the power they each possess.
I have a great appreciation for these lessons and puzzles that forced me to rearrange and disentangle the knotted ends until some things finally attained some semblance of sense.
And in the end, it was love that rose to the surface. True abiding love. Not the false and hollow versions that were thrust upon me, but the actual ability to see and hear and support one another during times of strength and times of struggle. I learned that by surviving. And for that I will forever be appreciative.
If I had not been subjected to abuse and exploitation, I may never have known the depths of my own strength. I may not have developed such compassion and empathy for the plights and struggles of others. It seems unlikely that I would have learned right from wrong in such a clear and precise way.
I am continuously reminded that I have to rely on myself. And that when things feel wrong, there is generally a clear reason for it. I still grapple with trusting myself, with understanding my reactions and my feelings. And knowing that what was done to me did not define me. No matter what was taken or changed or altered in some deleterious way does not mean that others get to dictate who I am and how I feel.
As difficult as it is for me to admit, I also owe myself a debt of gratitude. Because I survived. I made my way out. I am still here. With my words and my voice and my truth. And those are things that can never be taken from me. I was forced to dig deep to find the resilience and perseverance I needed to make my way. But in those depths, I was able to learn who I may be and what I genuinely deserve.
Amidst the recollections of costumes and pilgrims and hastily strung together popcorn and cranberries will always be images of sexual assault, suffering, and ignorance.
But they do not remove the magic of the season. They do not minimize the joy I see on my children’s faces as they don their costumes or gather around the Christmas tree or happily tell me what they are thankful for in their lives. The smell of fresh pine leaves and pumpkin pie still manage to invoke a festive spirit. I have survived and thrived in spite of what was done to me.
I will never say Thank You for the abuse and obliviousness that were mercilessly imposed on me. But I do remain grateful for what it taught me. And I will continue to say Thank You for compelling me to gather up the broken fragments and make them into something meaningful: strength and beauty and courage and perseverance and hope and love and gratitude.
The past does not get to win. Without the depths of darkness that I was exposed to, I never would have been able to appreciate the precious, piercing light. And I will forever remain thankful, appreciative, and grateful for my life — struggles and all.
Jill Dabrowski is in a constant state of flux. She is mom to a mini Dalai Lama and twin ninja monkeys and spends much of her time chasing dogs, children, chickens, and the occasional dream. She writes, laughs, runs, and climbs as she embarks on the continual process of learning how to appreciate her scars, breathe deeply, perfect a few random Yoga poses, and be comfortable in her own skin. Jill tries to strike a balance of being satisfied with life as it is in this moment, while continuously striving and actively working for it to be even better tomorrow.