You’re worth fighting for
I remember thinking, when I first realized that my relationship was over, that I didn’t want this experience to change me.
I remember saying it out loud to a friend. A few friends.
“I don’t want this to change me.”
In my early despair, a repetitive cycle of sleepless nights and spontaneous bouts of therapeutic tears, I was transitioning from the person I was required to be to keep everything steady, to the person I needed to be so that I could claw my way through an uncharted journey that I would soon come to know as a new kind of hell.
I learned very quickly, despite him being gone from the house, that he still had the ability to drop grenades on my mental state. To disrupt my days. To inject a dose of instability. To upset my stomach.
So, yeah. Leaving was hard. It was so hard. It took me years to see that I needed to.
It took me, facing him, as he stood on the other side of the proverbial line I had drawn, looking at him in disbelief. Even then, it was hard. He had crossed my line and there was no going back and I knew it.
And leaving was one victory. It didn’t feel like one at the time, but people around me let me know what an accomplishment it was. Because some people never do it. They never get there. For their own reasons, they just can’t. But, they want to.
So, once I left, I was scared of becoming someone I didn’t want to be. I didn’t want this whole ugly shitshow to change me. I wanted to hold on to who I was inside. Who I knew I was. I was terrified that I would become cynical. Vengeful. Bitter. Angry.
And, none of those things are me. At all.
Turns out, I needed to be a little angry. And I had a right to be. I did. Friends needed to remind me of why my anger was warranted, especially when I was in “I have to get these 100 things done in order to just get through the day” mode. Because life doesn’t stop, ya know?
I now know that I needed that anger to straighten my spine a little. To pull my shoulders back. To lift my chin. To breathe, slowly, with purpose, when I needed to.
Because, I needed to fight for me. For the first time in my life, I had to fight for me. And, that ain’t easy.
Here’s the thing: I can fight for someone else. All. Day. Long. I’ve done it for years. I’m a “right and wrong” gal. What’s right is right. And, what’s not, isn’t.
I did it as a kid. I did it as a teenager, as people have recently reminded me. And, I’ve done it as an adult. It’s part of me.
I can “Mama Bear” the shit out of parenthood. Like nothing. I’ll fight for them until my last breath, against anyone. Rumors. Drama. Bullies. Broken hearts. Homework. I can do that. I can do all that.
I can fight for my friends, my family, my coworkers, the “little guy.” I can do that until I run out of gas, and I have. And by some miracle, I can keep going even after I feel like my tank is empty. Because what’s right is right. And, what’s not, isn’t. And I won’t let people get pushed around. I just can’t.
But fight for myself? Like, what the hell is that all about? What is that foreign concept? That’s like another language, one I don’t understand. For real. And, the contrast between the two didn’t even hit me until a few days ago, months and months after life made fighting for myself some type of new requirement.
The people around me knew I would have to. They told me over and over in several different ways. And I would nod. Eyes fogged over. My inner monologue interrupting their sage advice. Because, I didn’t know how to do it. I didn’t even really understand what they were saying. The concept was so out there for me that I couldn’t even grasp it.
I vividly remember one exchange. I remember it because it was the day that the advice planted itself and wouldn’t let go.
A friend, a female in law enforcement, she pointed at me. She was sitting, and she leaned over and pointed at me. I was a mess. My hair was a disaster. I had cried that day, but put on a smile to go with my sarcastic tone — because that’s how you talk to this woman — and I vomited out cliff’s notes of the drama that had just gone down. And it was bad.
“You need to be someone else right now,” she said. “You can’t be you to get through this.”
And I understood her. It clicked. I got it. I walked away from her and knew that I needed to shift. Not change who I was. I didn’t need to change. I just needed to shift. I needed to start fighting for me.
Because, fighting for me was not me. But that’s who I needed to be. And what I needed to do.
And what did that mean?
It meant dousing out the harassment. It meant saying “no.” It meant that I needed to understand that no matter what I did, I would never do enough or do it right for him. It meant coming to grips with the fact that any gesture I made in good faith, or with kindness, would not be returned. Ever. Knowing that, it meant realizing that no matter how I responded, kindly or sternly, I would get the same reaction.
So, fighting for me wasn’t as scary anymore.
It meant setting boundaries and making him abide by them. It meant reporting incidents that violated court orders. It meant ignoring his grenades. It meant going to court, showing up, being strong and holding my breath if I needed to until I left the building.
It meant preparing statements for court, and delivering them if I was called to. It meant absorbing his intimidating stare when facing him in court and finding a way to flush it out my system. It meant I had to pay no mind to the judgmental looks I would get from his family.
It meant laughing, sometimes, at the absurdity. It meant having faith in myself.
Early, someone told me that people only get away with what I allow. So, stop allowing it.
That’s what it looks like to fight for yourself. And, maybe I needed the years and years of practice, the years I spent fighting for other people, to train for what I would needed to do. Maybe it was my own personal boot camp.
It took me a while to recognize it. Because, I look different now to myself. But, I haven’t changed. I’ve just changed what I will allow.
And that’s more an evolution. A welcome one.