I’m Still Broken, But I’m Done Hiding.
I told myself I was a gypsy-souled, wild woman without roots, without fears, with my mind and my body to support me wherever the wind blew.
I packed my two-door car with the necessities, found an apartment on Craigslist, and left behind my cushy life with a supportive family, loving friends, a path to education, food in my belly, and a plan.
I drove from Wyoming to California, not with a wish or a dream, but with fear. Fear for my sanity. Fear for my worth. Fear for my heart.
I was broken and I was hiding, and I’m still broken, but I’m done hiding.
Since a young age, I was witness to pain — not necessarily from my own life, but close to it. I watched others struggle with abuse, deep, dark depression, disordered eating, self-mutilating, and tragically, suicide.
I felt responsible to be strong — to answer the phone when I was needed, to choke back tears and offer support, to talk them off the edge, to bring them back, show them it was okay, beg them to stay with me.
Please don’t do this. Please don’t hurt yourself. Please don’t leave me.
I had my own battles as well. I struggled with my own demons: crippling anxiety, body dysmorphia, depression, and a season of divorce and heartache that built a wall around my heart and prompted the creation of my own cold, detached, independent approach to love.
The day I found out my parents were splitting, I didn’t go to school. I couldn’t. It hurt too bad.
That evening my friends ganged up on me on the early 2000’s favorite, AOL Instant Messenger, and asked me where I was. I explained. They attacked me, told me I was pathetic, it was my fault, I should probably just kill myself. They thought they were funny — something I now look back on and think, “How broken were they?”
My best friend moved away — a near-death tragedy in the eyes of a 13-year-old girl, puberty hit, life was complicated — well, I thought it was at the time. It was junior high, it was miserable, I was helpless through most of it, but I made it to the light at the end of that horrid tunnel. I like to think that nearly all of us can identify with the aches and pains of junior high.
All in all, my life was standard in my eyes. When it sucked, I listened to angry music, slapped on some poorly executed black eyeliner, and trudged on. I cried behind closed doors, puffed up my chest, and forged through.
In a blur of poorly prescribed antidepressants and anxiety inhibitors, I made my way to adulthood. The details are fuzzy, and to this day I fight the feeling of shame — shame in whatever it is that happened during that time, because I don’t remember it. It wasn’t me.
In the haze of the medications and early adulthood, I found myself in a place where all these little things came together — all these little moments in life that I discredited where I claimed it was just life, brushed it off, bottled it up, and moved on as if I was some sort of a superhuman lady warrior.
I found myself in a relationship that was fun, crazy, and unlike many of the cautious, careful decisions I made in the past while I watched over those hurting around me.
I was broken, and pretending I was not. He was doing just the same. Together we were a train-wreck, hiding our pain in alcohol, clinging to each other out of fear like helpless children.
In moments of clarity, we knew we were a mess. In these moments, I knew I was afraid — not of being alone or feeling sad, I was afraid of him.
I blamed myself when we fought. I am hot-headed and strong-willed, which makes me a pure joy to argue with I am sure. In my mind, I pushed him too far, I poked and prodded at the wound until he snapped. I’d find myself pinned up against the wall, his forearm deep in my chest.
He had too much to drink, he didn’t know what he was doing. I shouldn’t have tried to talk tonight. I should have waited until the morning. My hands would grip his fingers and my blood vessels pop as he wrung his hands around my neck.
I’d coat the truth with cynicism and humor. “He’s just crazy. We are just crazy.”
I went with my usual M.O. “I am okay. It’s all good.” I’d apologize when someone would have to step in. I would say how embarrassed I was, how angry I felt, and how I didn’t know what to do to fix it, but I would never say, “Please help me.”
He scaled the side of an apartment building, broke into the room I was sleeping in, and screamed till a grown man had to rip him off. I still let him sleep in my bed.
He broke in my window, too drunk to speak, covered in hickies and Sharpie signatures from girls, like some drunken yearbook-signing. He screamed till I told him it was okay. I comforted him as he cried that night.
I found myself in situations I never wanted to be in — sexually and emotionally, but I told myself that it wasn’t abuse. That abuse doesn’t look like that.
I quit going to school. I lost touch with my friends. I drank it all away. I did everything but tell the truth.
But here is the truth: I thought I deserved it.
I thought real love stories were bullshit. Life was full of pain and it’s your job to handle it. You just wipe your eyes and soldier on. Take the pill, say what you need to say, fake it till you make it — whatever the moment called for.
I thought I loved him with a love so deep that eventually it wouldn’t hurt anymore. I would get used to it and life would be normal.
I thought I was lucky because I had two amazing parents who loved me and gave me an amazing life, opportunity to go to school and do whatever I dreamed, support from friends, my health. I was certainly not a victim. How could I tell the world I was broken when my story seemed so small in comparison?
Why, after years of supporting, nurturing and watching others’ pain could I not say, this time to myself, “Please don’t take this. Please don’t let him hurt you. Please just leave.”
That chapter of my life ended, not because I was strong enough to close the book, but because I used an opportunity to run away. I never had to find the power to say goodbye, because it was presented to me when he joined the Army and I told him I wouldn’t be there when he got back.
For this I am both lucky for the opportunity and paralyzed by the shame of not having the power to make the call.
I packed my car, found an apartment with a stranger, and announced I was going to culinary school in San Diego — not because it was a lifelong dream, but because it was an escape. I told the world I was tired of Wyoming and needed a change of pace. It was a lie. I was tired of myself. I was tired of my life.
I couldn’t look at me anymore, so I changed everything around me that I possibly could.
I am not, nor have I ever been, a gypsy-souled, wild woman without roots or fears. I am not stronger than any other woman.
I was broken long before I found myself hiding from the one I loved in a locked apartment. I am broken now, as I for the first time in my 27 years refer to myself as the victim of any situation.
I will be broken tomorrow, and the next day, and the next day, but I will not pretend that I deserve pain, that my story is too small, that my voice is too quiet and my purpose is solely to help, not to feel and certainly not to heal.
Yes, today I am broken, but today, I am not hiding.
Jessica Romero is a small-town introvert with a fiery passion for helping women do big things. She believes in heart-led, authentic living, finding the courage to be big and loud, and eating brunch every single Sunday. She coaches entrepreneurs by day, writes by night, and dreams big every step of the way.