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I WAS a victim, I AM a survivor
"I do sometimes remember a nervous and frightened girl alone in her room trying to fill her empty heart with gobs of paper." -Amy Rogers

by Amy Rogers

I was a thin, fearful child. When I was small, I ate paper. Sheets and sheets of notebook paper, typing paper, tissues, whatever paper I could find, ball up and cram in my mouth. I would chew the wrinkled pulpy wad until it became soft, and a rare, ever elusive feeling of safety and calm would wash over me. It would never last though, and soon I would be anxiously wadding up another and another, nearly choking on the wet, gagging lumps but unable to stop myself.

Toothpaste too-gobs and gobs of brightly striped Aquafresh, medallions of chalky pastel blue Crest. It burned my mouth and made me want to vomit, but still I could not stop. Salt pellets from the hot water heater and bits of rock salt from the horse pastures. The salt would sting and make my lips and tongue raw, but still I would suck and crunch on the sparkling white chunks until there was nothing left, nothing but a sore mouth and a memory of the sharpness and pain.

I ate plastic, erasers, bits of wood, cardboard, straw-you name it, I ate it, though I trembled from shame and fear of discovery. There was a huge gaping hole right through my core that I was trying to fill. Searching for something, anything, to absorb the hurt, to heal the wound.

I was abused as a child. I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from years of abuse inflicted by the very ones supposed to protect me. Move or raise a hand too quickly and I will gasp and shrink away in terror. Fling open a door and I will startle and jump out of my skin, heart hammering wildly. Old nightmares never fade, especially not those that happened when you were awake.

Yet being a survivor of abuse is not about being a victim. I WAS a victim, I AM a survivor. There is a vast difference.

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A victim is cloaked in fear, shame and intimidation. You are marked, you've been abused, there must be something wrong with you to make someone want to hurt and destroy you.

Surviving abuse does not mean just getting through it. It means getting OVER it, over the pain, the fear, the stigma of the abuse. It is forgiving your abuser, so you can forgive yourself. It is not forgetting, not ever forgetting, but it is refusal to allow your abuser to define and control who you are. It is finding your strength, and not hurting yourself anymore because it was all you knew how to do.

I didn't ask to be brought into this world. I did not ask to be hit, to be hurt, to be hated, to be used as an adult punching bag and object of loathing and abuse. But I was given this path to walk for a reason, and I survived my abuse to find that reason.

Every single day, a reason to go on.

As an adult, I no longer exhibit symptoms of pica, the urge to eat non-food items. But I do sometimes remember a nervous and frightened girl alone in her room trying to fill her empty heart with gobs of paper. It plugged up the emptiness, somehow making her life just a little more manageable, if only for a fleeting moment.
Amy Rogers lives in Tampa, Fla.

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