My Right: To Live With Dignity
Updated: Oct 5
Quiet time is either a blessing or a curse as it allows you to observe and compare where you were and where you are. September 2020 is a turning point in my life because, for a year, I had the opportunity to compare, reflect, and become aware of things that are challenging to see as a kid. A peaceful life gives us a sense of security and serenity, and through time wounds are healed but not erased. However, through quiet times we tend to forget the hardships we fought to attain stability, and that is why people document their experiences, which become our history. Only through history, we are introduced to the difficulties that prior generations have endured, and how achievement or adversity affects our current state of society. The day we ignore our history is when our failure will be a product of perceived superiority. I digress, although I believe the reason for learning history is a topic so complex it deserves a post of its own.
I wanted to reflect on my history, and at the same time, I wanted to know what people meant by "living with dignity." I searched for the meaning on the internet, through some of the books available through my "Audible." I listened to podcasts from some of my favorite authors, including Jordan Peterson, the author of "the 12 rules for life: an antidote to chaos." The information came from various perspectives: religious, moral, philosophical, and practical. I focused on the practical. In my research, Psychologists speak on dignity, from their sessions with patients victims of abuse, and highlight their patient's difficulties in recovering their self-esteem. Yet, their knowledge comes from the interpretation of their patients' accounts and very few from their own experience. Adult women victims of domestic violence very openly express their tribulations, and after therapy, they recognize that living with dignity is also something they deserve. I confess with disappointment, not finding too many publications from teenagers on this subject. Yes, I realize that for a young person who is in the transition from childhood to adulthood, it is difficult to acknowledge the pain publicly and sometimes the misplaced guilt as we don't understand why we are subject to such treatment. Still, the truth is that we don't know any better.
To explore what it means to live with dignity one must first provide a basic definition of dignity, and then process what it means to live with dignity as it relates to that definition. According to The Cambridge Dictionary, dignity is “The importance and value that a person has, that makes other people respect them or makes them respect themselves.” Living with dignity means being valued and respected for what you are, what you believe in, and how you live your life. Having dignity means being treated with respect and treating others with respect. When examining my previous living conditions, even before we were forced into split custody, my mother created a space in which my sister and I were protected. After we went into split custody and she was no longer with us at the house in Crownsville, I realized that the real living conditions were very different from when my mother and our nanny “Emi” were there protecting us. We were constantly exposed to the second-hand smoke of marijuana by the people who resided in the house. I remember not being able to sleep because he was smoking in the room next door, and as you can probably imagine sleep doesn’t come easy with a foul smell like that lingering in your nostrils. The worst part was that the man tasked with my custody refused to do anything about this issue, although I told him multiple times. It is important to note that, much like tobacco, second-hand exposure to marijuana can have similar effects that typically come with smoking it first-hand but to a lesser degree. In addition to that, my basic need for food was not being met. The pantries in that house were quite empty, hardly containing enough food to snack on and have decent meals. Also, the food that was available was regulated by the man who had my custody. For example, there were certain foods that only he was allowed to eat from the pantry. These were things that he deemed too expensive for me to eat because buying enough to feed himself, me, and my sister was ‘too expensive’. The massive ego someone would have to possess to buy themselves a better standard of food than their children is incredible to think about. There were many nights, my sister and I came begging for more food because we were hungry, and he would always respond by cooking one box of macaroni and cheese (which wasn’t that big, to begin with), taking half of it for himself, and dividing the other half between me and my sister. At the end of the day, we would still go to bed hungry. But something that was ultimately the most scarring to me emotionally was the fact that I was exposed to sexual content while in this person’s custody (since I was perhaps 8 years old). I often while in the living room watching TV, this person had no issue exposing the screen of his giant iPad where I would see the pornography he was watching. Many times I thought he was purposely doing it and wanted me to see it, or he was too drunk to realize what he was doing. I had no desire to see this sort of content, and I felt terrible after seeing these things. He also purposely exposed his naked body to me and my sister multiple times and always terrified me at the sight. This man also weaponized my religion against me, claiming that if I didn’t obey him I’d be punished by God. God is deeply important to me, and the concept of being weaponized by someone against me is appalling.
But hell doesn't last forever for those who are by God's side and my sister and I are protected and out of that toxic environment. That being said, many people affiliated with the man formally charged with my custody are demanding our return to that toxicity as they say that we are kids and have no rights. We have also been offered an apology from him as a way to open the doors to the toxic situation. But we have already received his apologies when over the years my mother would force him to apologize for things he was doing. So why is this one he wants to offer different? is it because there are now lawyers involved? This person’s character has been revealed through his actions.
I ask myself what type of person has the morals to force anyone to return to his abuser?
I don’t want to have to worry because I forgot to close the door of my bedroom or bathroom because someone will come to expose his genitals. I don’t want my religion to be used to manipulate me. I want to be fed properly, treated respectfully, and allowed my God-given right to privacy. The fundamental requirement for a parent-child relationship is respect and this was never given to me by this person. I hope that my experience can help teenagers who, under the confusion of misplaced guilt or ignorance on the subject, realize that we, too, deserve to live with dignity.