**Content Warning** This piece mentions graphic violence, including childhood sexual assault (resources available at the bottom of this page)
Have you ever felt invisible?
As a child I felt invisible. In my home there were just three of us: my mother, my brother, and me. My parents divorced when I was three years old. My brother had health problems and required more attention, but as a child I didn't understand this, and I felt invisible.
As I grew older, my brother was the one that my mother chose to confide in. I felt like an outsider, not being included. As a teenager and adult, I was convinced that my mother didn't love me. I spent the rest of her life trying to earn her love. Later I learned that I was loved by my mother, just severely misunderstood and not liked by her.
I have lived in twelve states throughout my lifetime, and I have never lived at one address for more than three years. Every time I started a new school it was always them versus me, the new kid. I did not realize it until recently, but I learned to build a defensive wall around myself during these years. This wall made it hard to allow others in; I fell into a pattern of rejecting you before you rejected me. I thought I was protecting myself from being rejected and hurt.
I am the unicorn or odd ball of my extended family. I don't have much in common with them other than blood, and I didn't grow up with them for the most part, so they don't really know me. At family events I do not feel heard or seen. Especially now that my mother, the oldest sibling, and my brother are deceased.
While living in the shadows of my unseen world, I suffered sexual abuse as a child and did not tell my mother for seven years. I finally told her only when I was raped as a teenager. Even as a survivor of rape, I was invisible to the police, who felt more empathy for the perpetrator than for me. Then, a friend of the perpetrator threatened to kill me for disclosing the abuse, and I was sent away to a boarding school because my mother and grandmother feared for my life.
The trauma from these past experiences led to my making unsafe choices as a young adult. These choices led me to a diagnosis that would change my life. Between November of 1993 and January of 1994 I found out I was pregnant, and diagnosed with cervical dysplasia (pre-cervical cancer), and HIV.
No one wakes up one day thinking that they want to engage in unsafe sex practices, develop an alcohol addiction, or participate in self-harming behaviors. There is always a reason why individuals are attracted or driven to these behaviors. Any one of these behaviors can offer a temporary escape or release from the emotional storms within. Oftentimes the reason poor choices are made is because better choices are unknown, or they are just easier and offer quick but not long-lasting results.
If you are reading this and identify with any of what I have been talking about then know that you are seen, you have a purpose, and you are valued. A diagnosis of HIV, a history of addiction, or a past criminal conviction doesn't diminish your value.
The first step to stepping out of the shadows and into the light is to admit that you do feel invisible and unseen and that you want to be seen again. This is the hardest step because it means that you must trust someone with your vulnerability.
These are some of the very helpful ways in which I have asked for support:
First, I joined online support groups for people living with HIV. There are no local in-person support groups in my area, but in my online groups I have found a family of our own making.
I also received help from the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI). I have attended both online and in-person support groups for people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness (NAMI Connection), as well as groups for close family members or friends of individuals living with mental illness (NAMI Family Support Group). On their website you can find groups in your area.
In my life, my loved ones have struggled with alcohol dependency and suffered health problems because of it. I have two different groups which have helped me with this struggle. One is Al-Anon, a group for individuals affected by alcoholism. The other group is Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA) which is for adults who come from a family background of alcoholism and dysfunction. There are many other groups like Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA). Truthfully, you can find groups for almost anything on Facebook or Google.
I have also found hope and strength in seeking a better relationship with my higher power, whom I call God, and have sought professional help from counselors and psychiatrists.
It has taken some time and I am still working on it, but each day I am realizing more and more my purpose and value, and am starting to feel seen and understood. I refuse to hide in the shadows anymore, the light I am finding within me is too bright to go unseen.
What about you?