The Power of Our Presence

Warning: Contains graphic details on the topics of abuse and suicide that may be uncomfortable for readers.

Illustration by: Mandy Tsung

Illustration by: Mandy Tsung

A week from now, I will be turning 27 years old. I usually like to reflect on how much growth I’ve experienced and what areas I need to improve in. This year, however, the gift I want to give myself is the gift of surrender. Surrendering is a liberating feeling. For so long, I have conditioned myself to believe that it was ok to be quiet and mum about the details of the experiences of my past. That if I were quiet or vague about my experiences, it would make others believe I was strong and that if I talked about those things it would made me weak or disrespectful towards my loved ones.

But after 27 years of accepting that what happened to me was just “another form of love”, I have reached the edge of a world I no longer wish to appease and realize the power I have when I acknowledge my presence in my life. It has taken me several years to write about this subject, but I feel, in my process of surrendering, becoming, and accepting towards my self, that my story is now, more than ever, relevant and necessary in a society that secretly craves truth-telling. If you have experienced any of what I am about to share with you, I hope that you find the strength in yourself to recognize the power of your presence and walk away from the things and people that do not move your being forward.

Up until the age of 17, I had been a witness to domestic and emotional abuse at home, was a victim of both, bullied by my peers at school, and what people would call, a “cutter”, during my self-destructive years. When you grow up never feeling what it is like to be comforted or praised for your accomplishments, or even complimented for your changing looks, a person grows up to become really numb and fearful of others giving compassion and love to them. I’m always told that it is just an “Asian” thing, and while that’s partly true with upbringing, I do believe that the presence we are surrounded by when we grow up greatly affects our understanding of ourselves and the relationships we create with other people. I never grew up with parents who expressed compassion or emotions. It was always known that if we defied our parents or showed emotion towards what they were telling us, that we were disrespectful and knew nothing. I grew up with constant yelling, and at times, plates and other objects being thrown violently across rooms. I was just a kid then, but I remember everything so vividly. To escape the pain and violence I was witnessing and sometimes receiving, I would create imaginary worlds in my head that I would take refuge in, playing “pretend” with the creatures and people I created in my head or drawing until my tears blotted the colors away.

Growing up Asian, you learn to not cry in front of anyone because doing so would signify your weakness. You also learn to grow a thick skin–taking in the most degrading, humiliating words you can imagine, sitting silently and nodding in agreement when it was all over. You get used to being thrown into the flames at any moment and deal with the new burns that fester on top of previous burns still healing. For so long I’ve been told, “that’s just the way Asian parents show their love. They don’t know how to be compassionate.” I would allow this excuse to override the actual pain I was feeling and I would tell myself, “It’s ok that this is happening to me. It’s just their way of showing me they love me.” I was a fool to believe that this was true. What society and families miss in the shaping of children’s future’s, are the soft skills necessary to create sustainable relationships with ourselves and others. I was taught to believe that putting my head down and working hard and never acknowledging my feelings would put me on track to a successful life. I am finding that this is all wrong.

When I started to “experiment” with different personalities and dying my hair and evolving my “self”, I would come home to my mother telling me I didn’t look pretty that day or that I was fat or worse, that I wasn’t doing anything with my life. I was just a kid. Of course we don’t know what we’re doing with our life when we’re that young. In high school, I was told that I was a “waste of beauty” when I dated women for a brief period and that God would punish me by sending me to hell to burn. What idea can we shape of religion when who you are (at the time) is punishable by a God you’re not wholly aware of or understanding of in your life yet? You’re just a kid. You have no idea what God is yet. You only have what you’re being told. And why would anyone want to burn in hell? We are just trying to learn more about ourselves and our place in the world by living it in our way. I was put down plenty of times for any achievements I had in school and if I did something bad, I was acknowledged as “useless”.

Emotional abuse is still abuse. Do not think that just because they do not physically harm you that it is not abuse. Abuse is abuse. When you berate someone constantly and put them down, it is not coming from a place of love. It is not LOVE. People will tell me that “they just have your best interest at heart”. Those who have your best interest at heart would not put you down or make you feel useless or ashamed to be an imperfect human. These are toxic people who take satisfaction in seeing you fall and crumble just so you can yield to their righteousness. They may not ever admit it, but toxic people find their fuel in the energies of budding hope and change in someone. If something wasn’t done in the way they experienced it, what you do will never be good enough. In these instances, stay present with yourself and what is really going on around you. Listen closely to the words being said and the actions being displayed. The affects of having to experience emotional or physical abuse is that it does begin to numb you and chip away at your soul. You question your humanity and you begin to question if receiving love is something you’re worthy of. You question how to behave when you’re in relationships and sometimes find yourself behaving just like the person who inflicted the abuse on you. It took me a long time to realize that love didn’t come in the form of cuts and bruises or mental beatings, but it only happened when I found the voice of my presence.

From junior year of high school up until my sophomore year of college, I was in a physically (and emotionally) abusive relationship. I was lied to repeatedly, cheated on multiple times, wounded, and felt a low in my life I had never felt. I remember thinking at times when we’d fight, that this was their way of showing me love. That this was my way of showing how much I loved them back in return. That love was something we fought for, literally. There was one fight in particular that damaged me the most which sent me towards a very dark time in my life. The anger inside of me had built up having found out that they had been emotionally cheating on me again. I felt so unloved and just like in my childhood, unworthy of receiving love. “But this was their way of showing me love”, I thought. I wanted to show them how much I loved them. I wanted to show them that I was willing to bleed for them, and so I picked up the sharpest object I could find and dug the sharp end into my skin and slid it across multiple times. This is how much I love you. That I would die for your love. I thought. I watched the person I loved watch me bleed and do completely nothing to stop me. It was a devastating experience for me.

At the time I felt, “I must not be worthy at all to anyone.” I had taken my experience as a child and added this moment to equate that I must be unworthy of life and love. I was broken. Completely shattered and broken. I was so far away from feeling human that pain became the only friend I could trust because it was the only thing that felt real to me. Anytime friends and my new partner at the time tried to help, I would lash out and go in full disaster mode, thinking everyone was out to intentionally hurt me. If you have ever been through a physically or emotionally abusive relationship, you subconsciously begin to deny yourself of the good things that happen in your life that are meant to heal you. I pushed away people and created false stories of infidelity just to rouse my partner, because I had defined that love meant fighting. That love meant chaos. And if I wasn’t experiencing that, then it mustn’t be love. Experiencing abuse is something that I wish for no one to experience. Some people think that words don’t hurt, but in reality, they do more harm in the long run because these things stay in our memory. And our mind loves to spin the wheels of memory.

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Eventually, I overcame the darkest time in my life. It wasn’t easy–it still isn’t easy–to detach myself from those memories and experiences, but eventually, you get better because somehow, the light still wants to shine in the dark rooms of your heart whenever you’re hurt. Acknowledging the presence of your own self-loathing and destructive tendencies is not easy, but in the moments of despair and desperation for some kind of love, there is always something that saves you. I was saved by my own self.

In my darkest hour, having cried for 8 hours straight and lying on a floor, damp with a mix of my tears and blood, I found the presence I had been looking for in 22 years. I heard a voice inside me that whispered kindly,

“Get up. You are not who they say you are. You are not who you say you are. You need to live and tell your story. There are many others who feel the way you do. Only they are scared. You are their voice. Go on now. Get up.”

It is a presence that still finds me on days where I feel completely lost and alone. It is a presence that I believe people need to recognize they always have in them. The only reason it took so long to appear is because you had been surrounded by toxic people who were stifling your growth, but no matter where you find yourself in life, the presence will always be there with you, waiting for you to water and surround it with the good people and places that aren’t afraid to support you with their love and compassion. I want you to know that your presence, is also at your will. Establish what is love and what isn’t. Love isn’t violent. Love is comforting. Love isn’t bleeding. Love is healing. Love isn’t hurtful. Love is wishing for the best for you. Remember that, please.

Now that I’m reaching my late twenties, I am understanding my transformation and past experiences a lot better. I understand what love is and what it isn’t and I understand when I need to welcome love and when I see it disguised in manipulative and toxic people. While I am still working through a lot of things, I am learning the true gift of presence in our life. The presence and importance of compassion, of telling people you love them, of helping someone feel better even if you don’t understand their pain, of recognizing when something or someone has crossed the line of your self-love and respect, of knowing when to let go and walk away from people and places that no longer serve your highest self, and recognizing the presence of who you are–whatever it is becoming–that wishes for you to continue living and expanding in your own way of life and love.

Love is growing. Love is up-lifting. Love is your presence when you are weak. Love never doubts your courage or scorns you for trying. Love is not a score of who will fail first. Love is the highest belief of you.

And so you get up, and go on.

I promise you, there is a place where your love is deserving and worthy. It might take some time and detours to find it, but they are there. Just believe that you are enough and deserving, first. Remove yourself from whatever toxic environment you’re in, because there are people who will never berate you or bring you down. There is a place where even friends and acquaintances can be family and provide the love and familial comfort and support that you need. I am fortunate to have found this and grateful that I can continue to discover it, even if it means letting go of the people and places that we might consider our closest friends and family.

Your presence in this world is worthy of life and it is worthy of love. The recognition of the power of your own presence in this world is something never to be doubted. You are a head full of will and have a heart made oceans. You are beautifully, human.

Don’t you ever give up on that. Don’t you ever give up on you.

Yours,

Noemi

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