The word survivor represents different things to different people based on their individual experiences. It represents strength for me. Life gave me things meant to break me and instead I learned to bend. I’m the survivor of an abuser and control freak. Nothing was ever enough or measured up in his standards,but this isn’t about him. He will always be what he chooses. This is about me and learning to fully accept myself. It took forty years for me to understand that I am allowed to be human. Being perfect is not required. Much of my life I worked towards a perfection that doesn’t even exist in movies. Surviving becomes thriving,even on the roughest of days. If you are reading this and can relate then be assured that you are not alone. By society standards,I am pretty. The problem with that is that for years I lacked the self-confidence to embrace my own standard of beauty.I’ve been a blonde,a red-head and even a raven haired woman.None of it stopped the storm within.Nothing stopped the self-doubt or the belief that I was unworthy. When the voice of another person’s cruelty becomes your inner voice then you get all kinds of twisted up inside. Surviving and eventually thriving comes in the form of allowing your own inner voice to define you. Learning to listen to and trust this voice is a process. The words of abuse can often ring in your ears for many years. Those words can become our inner voice and thoughts about our authentic self.I use the term authentic self,because it represents who we are when we choose to look at ourselves with compassion and then what we do about the things revealed to us.
It can take many rounds with the same lesson to fully embrace what it is teaching without judgement. I’ve chosen the easy and the hard way,each came with distinct wisdom. The healthier a survivor becomes then the less inclined they are to put themselves through a harder way of learning. Imagine knowing only unhealthy boundaries and new concepts are foreign. It may feel at times that the world speaks German and you speak French. That is only an example of how things get lost in translation for the trauma brain. Many factors play in this as well as types of defense and coping mechanisms. I have a powerful ability to dissociate from pain. I had done it so many times that it created a condition known as psychogenic amnesia or dissociative amnesia.I spent eighteen months in that place. It was hell. It scared me. It also motivated me to learn and to understand when and how I “check out”. Children that witness or experience abuse commonly learn to become dissociative as a coping mechanism and by adulthood they are deeply engrained behaviors. Surviving is about learning the ways trauma has impacted our lives and then learning our coping mechanisms for survival. As we become aware then we learn which behaviors are healthy versus unhealthy. This is where the magic of survival becomes thriving. Yes, survival is magic to me. The mind creates a barrier between you and what is intending to break you. When we start to observe may then be understood and eventually changed. I’m not an expert. I’m a survivor. My process is not the same as your process.
Survival is survival. My traumas were lifelong and ranged in variety. My healing is lifelong and ranges in variety. My perspective of the world may often be from a survivor’s stand point. The world looks a little different to us. We know that we are capable of surviving pain. It may not always be easy to understand the world,but we must never stop trying. First, we must learn to understand our authentic self and love that version of who we choose to be.Yes, choose. Believe it or not,survival is a choice. Thriving is a choice.We didn’t choose to experience trauma,but we fully get to choose the next chapter.
I’m angry. Actually, I’m mad as hell. It is the healing process of leaving an abusive relationship. Mine was a marriage that lasted twenty years and was part of my life for twenty-five. I met him when I was fourteen. Being a child of dysfunction,he was a means of escape. I traded one chaos for another. His was predictable. Unlike the turbulence of my mother. There is no blame. I’ve found that blaming only feeds anger. In my experience, surviving is the realization that there may never be a clear answer about why things happen as they do. I think about the moments alone in my own head and I am taking an inventory of what survival feels like. The transition from surviving to thriving is bitter-sweet. My behaviors are becoming healthier as are my experiences. It is difficult to accept that you were worth loving the entire time. Once that realization hits then the realization that you were used to buffer between someone else and their insecurities is painful.If that doesn’t piss you off then you may not be paying attention. Abuse is about control. Nothing more and nothing less. When a person feels they have no control over their own lives then they take that from others.
That statement alone makes me angry. The words and insults that still pop in my head remind me that I’m not ready to make nice.I have moments when I long for my youth to be returned to me. Twenty-five years is a long time to know nothing else of love. Dating is extremely difficult. Old triggers reappear and I remember what brought me to this point. Nothing can change what was done. He left me in a state of amnesia from not receiving proper treatment for PTSD.I lost cognitive functioning and fine motor skills. I equate it to being locked in a walking coma. Each day that I get up and cook for myself or can manage small amounts of time ,I am reminded that someone I loved brought me to this point. My family wants me to make nice. It makes me angry. I don’t want to make nice with the man who abused and manipulated my children and I . The same man who is so much legal trouble for his continued abuse that we may be unhappily married for six more months. Doesn’t that make sense? The court is aware that he has made numerous threats. He even tried to silence my writing. According to him,my writing is third party harassment. I’ve even been threatened with a law suit if I continue to write about my abuse documented by medical records. He even threatened me in front of the head of my trauma team last June. He was barred from the office and to retaliate refused to pay the bill for my treatment.
Yes,I’m angry. I am not ready to forgive him. It is a choice that I will make for myself when I feel ready. Forgiveness isn’t for his benefit. It is something that I choose to gradually give to myself a piece at a time.The healthiest thing that we can do is allow our emotions to surface and not judge ourselves for them. We then learn to allow healing in the areas that our attention is being directed back towards. Healing is a journey,not a destination. May we be gentle with ourselves during the process.
Some place deep within me I firmly believed that staying with my husband would end my life. The years of stress had impacted my health in such a profound way that I almost lost my life. The beauty of that is that it showed me that things had to change. Deciding to leave would take two years.When I look back at the journey it blows my mind. The fear was and at times and on occasion is very real. The impact of the fear is minimal compared to the days of psychogenic seizures and bouts of amnesia related to stress.
People often feel that leaving is the end, but it is truly the beginning. You build your self-esteem in baby steps. It takes time to learn to trust yourself. The guilt is immense. My guilt came,because I felt that I had let myself down by staying with my abuser for twenty years. I’ve learned that is not the case. We make choices based on the information that we have at the time and denial is powerful. Denial is what convinces a person that their abuser will change. The brain uses denial as a defense mechanism to protect from things that are too painful to accept. Accepting the betrayal that comes with abuse is very painful. Love isn’t supposed to hurt and when it does, we search for the answer to explain why this person that we love is hurting us.
My path to peace comes from understanding that a person that does not love themselves has no chance of loving me in a healthy manner. I still have moments when his words are loud in my thoughts ,but I no longer give them power. Those thoughts are quickly dismissed. My abuser remains in conflict with the world around him and I have accepted that we are on different paths. When my former(and I stress “former”) abuser finds bizarre ways to hold on, I just shake my head. How empty his life must be to keep the fight going. A fight that I left a year and a half ago. I’ve been blessed with a beautiful life in another state and I honor it by releasing the past. It wasn’t an instant process. New wounds from the past still surface, but their power has been revoked.
In the end it was never really about me. I was always worthy of healthy love. My love was just given to a man who was not capable of healthy love. I choose to let us both off of the hook . He never had the right to abuse me or take parts of me,but I have those parts back. I’ve walked through fire and come out of the other side. My strength,courage and beauty belong to me and me alone. In my mind that is karmic balance.