I was a victim of childhood sexual abuse and I was adopted at 5 days old. I was born drug and alcohol dependent. I have self injured and also tried to kill myself many times. My therapist says I'll get through it but I don't know if I can. Plus, I'm overweight and ugly. Please help.
Everyone in my life is important to me and would be devastated if I committed suicide. They feel like I can get through these times. But how do I go on living when I feel I can't bear the burden anymore?
Andie (32 year-old Woman)
My dear, congratulations on being such a tough survivor.
You haven't had it easy, have you? Adopted, drug problems from birth, childhood sexual abuse, body image problems... I have had many clients who were devastated by just ONE of these issues.
And here you are, at the age of 32, still alive and battling.
I can see something else that is wonderful about you: you are still alive because you don't want to hurt the people who love you. Although you have occasionally weakened in the past, I can see that you are strongly motivated to live, for one reason only: you are important to some people (you don't say who or how many), and you'd rather suffer the pain yourself than to hurt them.
Having worked with many people affected by the problems you have listed, I know how you feel. You feel ugly. You have actually said so. I don't have a picture of you, and it is possible that I might agree.
But let me share a couple of secrets with you. One is that EVERYONE who has had an abusive childhood feels ugly. I did, for much of my life, and yet when I look at old photos, I was a cute baby, nice looking boy, attractive as a young man. Now -- I don't care. But people like me.
The second thing is that I know quite a number of women I consider ugly, who nevertheless are very attractive people. Some have the guys clamoring for them; others have a loving husband and kids. Ugliness is in the eye of the beholder, and also, even in our crazy culture, physical appearance is actually less important than many other aspects of personality.
You probably feel faulty, damaged, inferior or not worthwhile. You may think of yourself as stupid, or unlovable or some such.
Again, this is the result of childhood abuse, and is FALSE. I challenge you to identify your bad feelings about yourself, then find evidence in your past of where these feelings were proven to be wrong. I know nothing about you, but I am willing to bet any amount of money that this evidence is there, in your memory, and in the memories of people who know you well. Ask their help.
And if you are as hopeless a case as your message implies, then how come there are people who love you and care whether you live or die? If they care for you, that must be because they don't see you as ugly and worthless and bad. Their very existence is the evidence you need to prove to yourself that you are a good person. You feel hopeless. Your therapist has told you that you can expect great improvement, but you can't believe this, because your childhood legacy won't let you.
Andie, I agree with your therapist. I have seen many people who think of themselves as irretrievably damaged, who nevertheless manage to turn their lives around. Actually, I am one of them.
If we could do it, so can you.
One final point, Andie. You say you are overweight. Well, for all I know you might be. So are some 75% of Americans. But in your case, the fat may be armor. You were sexually abused in infancy, so being attractive to men is probably a very frightening thought to the little baby girl you carry around inside you. Being fat is a way of trying to be unattractive, which may have been necessary for you in the past.
Now that you are 32, you know that you are no longer a helpless victim. You can make decisions for yourself.
I suggest that you start actively working at losing weight and making yourself as physically attractive as possible. Don't do it by dieting, but by a combination of eating plenty of healthy foods plus lots of vigorous exercise.
It's a pity you didn't leave an email address. I'd like to send my answer directly to you, but I can't. Maybe you can drop me a line if you read it. I'd like to know if my answer was helpful to you.
Have a good life (it's possible),