The Exhale

Written: September 2016

It has been one year since I returned from Malaysia and it feels like a life time ago.

One year ago today, I was broken in a way that not many people understood. Maybe because I never spoke about it? I had experienced and shared so many incredible things abroad that I didn’t want to warp that image. My experiences came with a price. One that I left me feeling ungrateful at first. Later it was embarrassment. Or maybe because those who heard the story considered it too unbelievable to be real? I mean, I was in a pretty bizarre situation.

In any case, it left me feeling isolated from those I considered close. I felt as though I was burdening them with my struggles. That I was annoying because I was not the same Sam that left three and a half months prior.

Which any individual had every right to believe:

I was scared to go outside. I was scared of people.

I was self-conscious of my appearance. I felt disgusting. Nothing fit.

Literally and figuratively, I could not seamlessly slip back into the life that I had left.

One year ago today, I just wanted to hide in my room and stay horizontal until it was painful. I was not sure how to cope with being home. How to live with the anxiety and trauma that being in Malaysia had added to my life.

I survived the paranoia of being constantly watched – whether it be by CCTV cameras, or bugged rooms. I survived a woman who wanted me to conform into an individual she envisioned for me. To stay with her, and to be open to her. To be a partner in a partnership that was not reciprocal. To have no freedom. To be kept within a constant range of her. To have her, attempt to manipulate every situation until I had no sense of direction. For me to become completely disconnected from reality, because to accept what was occurring around me would undoubtedly lead to my instability.

The constant reminder that no other teacher had experienced this abuse left me feeling conflicted as well. Perhaps I was imaging everything? Her lips did not brush against my neck while she hugged me goodbye. She was upset when I asked her not to hug me because she considered me a close friend? The coldness she gave my friend when she visited was made up?

I was imagining everything. I was just ungrateful.

This is the mind game I played with myself, as I plunged myself deeper into an abyss of mental abuse. Withering away. Unable to be stronger because I was barely healed from my last bought of mental, emotional, and physical trauma.

I wanted to be strong for the students though, so I hide everything behind a smile. Singing songs about strength and stories about detective mice and green eggs with ham. These small humans became my world.

My students were – are still – everything to me.

They were the sunshine in what felt like an eternity of darkness.

Through them, I had a glimpse of what a parent feels in a dire situation: for those little people, you’ll move the world. Everything else disappears, tucked away to be dealt with at a later date. To open their eyes to more of the world – for them not to be afraid of dogs, to walk them through a book report, to share with them that sexual orientation or the race of a person does not define the individual – is what inspires you. To teach them compromise, but also self-respect and how to respect others, is your goal. To watch them flourish and be excited to learn: it is an unparalleled joy.

Life is a collection of moments; I am fortunate to have experienced the bad in order to have the wonderful. What I learned from my students; the simple joys of life, how to be expressive, forgiveness, patience, the ease in which a child loves, another level of empathy – and that I still have a long way to go before I can ever call myself a master of these skills, I can only say thank you.

I sincerely hope I taught them at least a fraction of what I learned.

Today I am okay. I am sure there will be ups and downs, as the roller coaster we call life continues its journey. I am unsure how many laps this track will take me on, but I will bravely face it. I am not my circumstance. I am more than it.

 

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