My story had a very “once upon a time” beginning; the earliest memories I have of living by the ocean were so bright. Even the unhappy memories, few though they were, were enveloped in innocence. The world was a warm, gentle, safe place where love was everywhere.
It only lasted until I was four or five, when abuse first entered my life. I repressed the worst of it for almost fifteen years, though the memories that never left were enough to haunt me day and night. It cast a shadow over even the happier times. The world wasn’t safe anymore. It was cold, cruel, and oftentimes very frightening. Love seemed much harder to come by, harder to find.
The abuse came to a stop less than a year ago, when I finally cut ties and contact with my abusers, along with most everyone who took my abusers’ version of my story over mine.
Now, I’m approaching thirty. The abuse is over. But I’ve been left alone to figure out this whole “life” thing. This includes, of course, where love fits in. Most days, I forget the bright memories I had before five. All I can see is how humans can hate and hurt and do worse, often in love’s name.
Most days . . . I don’t believe in love.
Having hope and faith in love takes a lot of courage and will power when you find yourself in a place like this, at the very bottom of a dark well. When I’m brave enough, I can lift my head and see what I’ve learned (and unlearned) about love:
Love is more than sharing blood. It’s more than sharing values and beliefs, even about the important things. It’s even more than sharing interests, having good chemistry, or being attracted to each other.
Love is not something that is forced, taken, bribed, or tricked. It can only be freely offered and accepted. It’s also possible to love and accept love when you don’t “feel” love in that moment.
I learned love requires having the self-respect to say “no” to unloving things, and in turn, respecting other people’s “no.” While it’s not without pain, it doesn’t actively harm or use anyone.
Most importantly, I learned love can make miracles happen, when and where I least expect it to. Love breathes life into everything. I’m not that little child by the ocean anymore, and yet I can still see the world as she saw it.
When I dare to look for it, love is everywhere. It can appear as morning dew on a flower, or rain when I’m feeling sad and weary. It can be a surprising bit of good news, a smile, a kind touch on my shoulder, a message from a friend. Love can even be simply putting my hand over my heart and thinking, “I’m here. I’m alive. I’m okay.”
Love can give life and beauty to things that are otherwise colorless, mundane, or even unpleasant. Going to work, pay my bills, or just doing chores can bring love to my heart, as I remember that through these tasks I take care of what I’ve been given. Even my pain can be used for love; it can open the door for empathy and compassion that not everyone can tap into so easily. None of my abusers had to answer for what they did to me in the end. But I can still write, still spread awareness to prevent abuse, and still offer love and support for those who are lost and hurting.
In spite of everything, I think life is about love. When I look at the world and see only selfishness and cruelty, I think it’s because the truth got lost somewhere. It’s so easy to forget. It’s so easy to hate. It’s so easy not to believe in love.
But if we let it, love can breathe life into everything.
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