“There’s always someone worse off than you.”
My dad was a big believer in reaching out to those who, for happenstance of birth or as a result of regrettable choices, struggled in life. My mom was an elementary school special education teacher who was happiest when teaching in an inner-city school. All of my grandparents had grown up in poor Southern families but found a way to grace others. Growing up, those influences always served as a reminder that people are people and someone is always worse off than you are.
In the worst days of my post-escape recovery, I thought no one could be as big a “loser” as I was. I thought I was a massive failure. All evidence to the contrary, I was sure I was never going to be able to take care of my children or accomplish anything. I was convinced: my abuser was right and I wouldn’t be able to survive without him.
Somewhere on the floor of my “crying closet”, I found the answer. In the throes of a particularly bad breakdown, I knew I had to find something…anything…to celebrate. I started with the basics: I had healthy food in the fridge and electricity and water. I had a nice home and a paid-for van. I had clothing. My kids had good schools…
These were just some of the things I was accustomed to having but forgot to count them as positives in my life. I realized in order to get my thinking right, I would have to take this a step further. I had to pay something forward to someone in a worse situation than I was. Volunteerism has always been big in my family, which I carried forward to my girls. We did a lot of volunteering as a family, but it occurred to me that my helping a stranger would actually help strengthen me through my recovery.
Doing this can be very challenging, particularly when you feel you have nothing at all to give, but I found 3 things that always helped to build my confidence to move forward.
#1. – Lead With Your Heart
Because you are likely a very loving and nurturing person, you were the perfect target for an abuser. You begin to look at this as a weakness, but celebrate it as a strength. You can change the world for one person just by being kind. I found this very fulfilling one day when I was particularly down after having had to pay my attorney all of my tax refund. I saw a guy begging for change on a street corner. I had two bucks in change left in my wallet, but I had a car with a full tank of gas to get home and a fridge with food in it. So I gave the guy the money I had, then sat down on the curb and talked to him, human to human.
# 2. – Do Something Small to Make a Huge Impact
Kindness is free. Human interaction is free. Neither of these things takes a lot of time, either. But I found the more often I made an effort to be kind to strangers, the more I was reminded of my own ability to contribute something positive to the world. I started by making sure that every single time I dealt with an employee anywhere who was wearing a name tag, I would speak to them by name. “Hi, Nancy. How’s everything at Walmart today? Anything exciting?” This took very little effort but helped me to make human connections that reminded me of my own value in the world.
# 3. – Pay It Forward
There is always someone who is in a worse situation than you, but just as importantly, there is always someone who has helped you. If another person does something for you or teaches you or shares a valuable insight, pay that forward to someone else. I did mine in the form of a blog I wrote for 2 years about everything I was learning during my recovery from abuse. I knew there were a lot of people out there who couldn’t afford to go to therapy, so I wrote about all the work I was doing, insights I gained, lessons learned. My hope was that I’d help “a few” people. I ended up with 6000 hits a week in over 40 countries. This blog is what became Bodies in the Basement.
Recovery from abuse is a game of inches. It takes a lot of time but each step is exponential. The beauty is, the more you develop certain habits, the more efficient your recovery becomes.
You are valuable. Now just do some things to remind yourself.