As a survivor of domestic violence and emotional abuse, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that not everyone is going to treat me now the way I was treated in my past. Sure, there are times when there is something said that triggers a memory and makes me anxious and I may have to explain to someone why it made me react the way I did. Perhaps I recoiled, flinched, teared up or reacted strangely and you wondered why something so innocuous could elicit such a reaction. Not everyone understands but that’s okay. The people in your life who want to understand will listen AND hear.
It’s during those moments that I want to retreat and not continue to explain myself. Revealing those wounds and asking for understanding can be a stressful process and not everyone will want to be understanding. Still, I persevere and try to remind myself that it’s OK to tell people that what they’ve said to me wasn’t taken to heart, but that I need to explain why it might be hurtful and help someone get to know you better.
One thing that I’ve had to do to move on is to voluntarily remove myself from the lives of those who no longer or who never did support my growth and healing (which can include “moving on” in many areas of life). Oftentimes, the family of the abuser is one removal that may need to occur; for others, that connection can strengthen healing. In my case, total and permanent separation was necessary, as they supported my abuser’s actions and opposed any and all growth in me. How this plays out in your situation might be completely different than it did for me. The relief is palpable and I don’t regret how things are now. The disconnect brought me a peace I never thought possible.
One of the very last things to return is a semblance of self-esteem. It’s almost as if the systematic tearing down of all your defenses, that feeling of helplessness and fear that leaves you so raw and believing you are nothing can cause very deep and lasting wounds. Maybe that feeling of self-worth comes back in tiny pieces: A compliment here, a comment on your hair, an invitation out, buying a new outfit and liking how it looks on you…the possibilities are endless. The timing can be swift, which would be nice, but in most cases it’s a process that evolves over time.
For me, professional therapy, along with anxiety medication and a LOT of mistakes over time was how it played out for me. I made a lot of bad choices in friends, relationships and how I allowed myself to approach healing. I learned a lot of lessons and although sometimes I feel melancholy about the “wasted” time, I can look back on a lot of it now and feel stronger for all of it.
I used to believe that talking about my abuse shed a poor light upon myself. I saw it as exposing my weakness, a lack of strength or ability to stand up for myself and/or my children. That is what abuse does to you. When you are living it, there is an indescribable feeling that is akin to helplessness, defeat and trying to live devoid of any power over your happiness, or even the events over the next minute. Over time after your escape, by whatever means it comes to you (in my case, being widowed) you will eventually start to heal. There are so many directions that healing can begin, get delayed, stall, grow by leaps and bounds; there is simply no way to quantify it by time. It’s as individual as you are, as I am.
One day, you wake up and realize that the silence around you is where you grow your power, where your healing resides. It might take an army of your friends, your therapist, a whole lot from you (in fact, that will be required!), medication, meditation, exercise and in my case all of the above, but one day you WILL emerge stronger and better. Power and control are what your former abuser had over you. How they retained that power and control was through fear. You never knew when the next hit would come or the next damaged item, the next verbal tirade. Now, in that silence you rediscover yourself and find out just how amazing you are and what you can do when you find yourself.
I don’t believe I would have had the strength or wherewithal to write anything even remotely close to this five years ago, let alone while trying to survive just after being widowed. I most certainly would have never gotten here alone nor without a tremendous amount of work on myself. Looking back at my former self, I don’t even recognize her anymore. She’s long gone, replaced with someone who is determined to rise above and never allow anyone to ever hold that level of power over her again.
Now I reside in a world of growing love, emerging peace and a path towards tranquility and enjoyment of life. I deserve it. So do you whether you realize yet or not. Just give it time.