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Things You Can’t Control

I hide in the corner of my bathroom every single time I brush my teeth.

It sounds crazy right? What an odd thing to do; physically move away from the sink the moment the toothbrush hits your mouth and seek out the nearest corner to stand in while you scrub away.  It seems like something fairly easy to stop doing if you really wanted to; I mean, how hard is it to just stay in front of the sink while you brush your teeth every day?

Harder than you think.

I don’t even realize that I’m standing in the corner 90% of the time until I have turned around to rinse my mouth out. I’m so accustomed to doing it that it is as normal to me as blinking and although it might seem absolutely weird to most people; it is a completely normal act to me. I brush my hair in front of the bathroom mirror, put on my mascara and lipstick in front of the mirror; but the moment I hold that toothbrush, I automatically go to my corner, put my head down, and scrub away.

I have no idea why I do this.

I have racked my brain and tried so hard to remember a time during my childhood where Mom made me stand in a corner to brush my teeth and I can’t remember a single time when that could have occurred. I remember plenty of abuse in the bathroom; I remember being made to brush my teeth with Comet, I remember having my head smashed into the tub faucet; I remember a lot of things; but I don’t remember her making me stand in the corner to brush my teeth.

When I catch myself going to the corner; when I make a conscious to remember what I do while I brush my teeth and I try to stop it, I almost burst into tears. Tears of shame well up in my eyes; shame because I’m a woman in my mid-30’s reacting like a child to something I can’t even remember.  I’m embarrassed that I do something so juvenile and that I lack the willpower to stop it.

I don’t know what happened to me when I was younger that has made me react this way to a simple morning and evening routine, but I believe it must have been very, very bad. I believe that Mom punished me in the bathroom one day in a way that was so hurtful and so traumatic that I continue to try and protect myself from it to this day.  I believe that I can’t remember what she did because I blocked it out; as so many victims of abuse do.  I believe I blocked it because it hurt too much to remember what she did to me.

Hurts too much to remember; but I still react to it as though it just happened yesterday.

I’ve given up trying to control where I stand when I take the toothbrush out of the bathroom cabinet. I find that if I try and force myself to do something that I don’t want to do, regardless of the reason, it just makes things worse on me.  If I stand there and beat myself up and feel ashamed of something I can’t even control; how is that helping me move on from my abusive past?  How is that helping me accept what happened to me?  It’s not.

If I’m still standing in the corner, almost two decades after I moved out of my abusive household, then that tells me that I’m not healed from whatever Mom did to me. For some reason, I’m still holding onto that pain, that shame and refusing to let go because it doesn’t feel safe for me to let go yet.

What is it going to take for me to feel safe, to be able to stand in front of the mirror and brush my teeth like millions of other people? I don’t know, but I’m not going to beat myself up about it anymore.  I am not going to sit for hours and try to remember what event led to a lifetime of standing in the corner.  I’m not going to yell silently to myself and tell myself to grow up and get over it.

What I am going to do is take a deep breath and go with the flow. If I happen to turn around and stand in the corner when I hold that toothbrush in my hand, then so be it.  I’m not going to fight it anymore; I’m going to accept it and hope that one day, my brain feels safe enough to let me stand in front of the mirror when I brush my teeth.

Love yourself and the rest will follow.

Things You Can’t Control

Sarah Burleton NY Times bestselling author

Victoria Gigante Writes For Psych CentralSarah Burleton was born in a little town in Illinois to a very emotionally disturbed woman. Her first book, her child abuse memoir "Why Me," spent 26 weeks on the New York Times and the print version is endorsed by David Pelzer, author of "A Child Called It." Sarah is now realizing her goal in becoming an ambassador for abused children and adult survivors and is currently conducting workshops and seminars throughout the state. Her message of strength over adversity and her story will help counselors, teachers, and other professionals identify signs of abuse and learn ways to establish trust with an abused child.

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APA Reference
, . (2017). Things You Can’t Control. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 9, 2020, from


Last updated: 3 Oct 2017
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