Our backpacks: The things we carry, including abuse
By Macaile Hutt
I think that everyone we come in contact with is wearing a heavy backpack on his or her back. This backpack is filled with mistakes, failures, dead-end roads, regrets, secrets, demons and skeletons. We trudge along, day after day, and this backpack becomes part of us. We don’t question it, don’t ask others about what they’ve got in theirs, and we definitely don’t unzip it to see what’s inside ours.
The backpack never gets lighter; we just get stronger, as if this is the only option we have.
Rewind my life about 25 years, and the only things my backpack contained were Barbie outfits and Polly Pocket Dolls. I was young, innocent, and fearless. I was too little to know how my backpack worked, but I didn’t have problems that were big enough to carry around, so it was okay.
It was about this time that other people decided to start putting things in my backpack. For the first six years of my life, my neighbors molested me. Little by little, my tiny backpack began filling up, until it was more than I could handle. I zipped it shut and carried it along, forcing my mind to forget what was inside.
Once I hit my teenage years, my backpack had reached its max. Memories from my past broke through the zipper and began flooding my mind. It was around this time that I started having flashbacks about what happened to me when I was young.
I went to therapy for a while, but talking about what happened only made the flashbacks more frequent and more intense. I didn’t want to remember anything else, so I zipped my backpack up, hurled it up onto my shoulders, and carried on.
I moved to Arizona thinking that I was going to get a much-needed fresh start. I was finally going to leave my past behind and begin living the life I’d always imagined for myself. Unfortunately, that’s not how our backpacks work. Our backpacks travel with us everywhere we go — near, far, through all the highs and lows, our backpacks remain.
I started a Master’s program, and within a couple of months, started having flashbacks again. I wasn’t sleeping through the night, I wasn’t able to focus in class, and I wasn’t even able to get through a workout without being reminded of what was lurking in the shadows of my mind.
I knew that I had to do something — anything — to get this to stop. Enough was enough. I was tired of walking around with someone else’s decisions adding weight to my backpack — at times, nearly pulling me to my knees. I was tired of working so hard to achieve physical strength, yet feeling weaker internally than I’d ever felt before.
I came to the conclusion that in order to lessen the load in my backpack, I was going to have to unzip it myself, and remove some of the weight.
On November 29, 2012, I got up in front of over 100 of my classmates and colleagues, and I released a weight that I had been carrying on my shoulders for over 7,000 days. I launched a campaign for the local Boise nonprofit foundation Speak Your Silence, a company whose main focus is to remove the stigma associated with talking about sexual abuse. They believe that talking is the answer, that by speaking up about something that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys experiences, we can help all kinds of people unzip their backpacks and lose some of the weight from their past.
I’m not exactly sure what I expected to happen that day, but what ended up happening exceeded my expectations by a landslide. The minute I said those words aloud, the minute I took back the power from something that used to have total control over me, the minute I looked my demons in the face, called them by name, and realized that I was not at fault was the minute that my entire life changed.
I never could have believed that something that used to weigh me down so heavily had the potential to lift me higher than I’d ever been before.
Throughout the next week, I had 11 different people speak their own silence to me. I was overwhelmed with so much love and support from friends, family and even complete strangers. For the first time in a long time, I didn’t feel like I was alone.
I’ll admit that when I first decided to speak my silence, it was for completely selfish reasons. I was tired of carrying around someone else’s mistakes, I was tired of feeling haunted by memories from my childhood, and I was tired of feeling so chained to my past that my future didn’t stand a chance.
Once I saw the impact that it had on those around me, however, my attention shifted and I started focusing on turning something that used to be one of the most negative aspects of my life into something positive. I made a promise to myself that I would never feel ashamed for talking about what happened to me, and that I would take any chance I could get in helping someone else know that they are not alone.
You. Are. Not. Alone. Four of the most powerful words when put together. A phrase that can change your day, change your mindset, change your life. A phrase that I try to remind myself no matter what situation I am in.
It’s so easy sometimes to get caught up in our own little worlds and forget about the giant world that surrounds us. It’s easy to think “Why me?” or “I must be the only one” when you hit a dead end or a fork in the road, or you face a setback when reaching your goals.
This is where inner strength becomes much more important than outer strength.
There is a big difference between being strong and looking strong, and in order to really reach your fullest potential, I believe you must have both. There will be days where you feel like you are on top of the world, unstoppable, and on-track. There will be days where you feel passionate and whole and ready to take on anything life throws your way. And then there will be days where it seems like nothing is on your side. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t seem to reach you destination, and you feel as though your efforts will never be enough.
These are the times we must remember that we are not alone. That we have the strength within us to get through even the darkest days, and that we are all in this together. Some of the hardest fights end up yielding the best results, and oftentimes if we would have just hung on for a few more moments, we would have reached the finish line.
Don’t give up. No matter what mountains you’re facing, challenges you’ve reached, or roadblocks you’ve encountered, remind yourself that you have an inner strength that is a force to be reckoned with. You have all the tools inside of you to be anything you want to be. It might not be easy, but it will always be worth it.
Thanks to the shadows of my past, I have learned that life is really as dark or as light as we want to make it. We can allow our setbacks to define us, or we can define our setbacks. If you spend your whole life looking through your rear-view mirror, you’ll miss all of the beauty that resides right outside your front window.
Believe in the beauty of your dreams and believe that you have what it takes to get there. No matter how many mistakes you’ve made or failures you’ve faced, your future is at your fingertips and you have the ability to make it into anything you’d like.
We’ve all messed up. We’ve all failed. We may not all have the same stories, but we all have backpacks. This journey has helped me to be thankful for my backpack. To be thankful for the tears and the hardships and the challenges.
It’s a pretty amazing feeling to look into your backpack and realize that you’ve made it so far in spite of the weight that you have carried on your back. That you are not broken, you are not defeated, and that you have the choice to empty the weight of your backpack any time you choose.
I have not been ruined by my past and I have taken total control of my future.
I am a survivor, not a victim.
My name is Macaile Hutt and I am the hero of this story.
Macaile Hutt is an occupational therapist in Boise, as well as a writer and contributor for The Sensory Project. Her therapy style takes a holistic and child-directed approach, with the goal of children succeeding across multiple environments. She holds a master’s degree in occupational therapy from A.T. Still University and has received continuing education in Handwriting Without Tears, pediatric kinesiotaping, Interactive Metronome, and Beckman Oral Motor. She is co-owner of the company Human Code, a candle and retail company with a larger purpose of promoting kindness and generosity. In her free time, she enjoys creative writing, backpacking, and traveling.