(JUST STICK THROUGH TO THE END, I PROMISE IT’S GOOD!)
We’re not all blessed enough to reconnect with that one person we wished never got away. Some who do learn the unfortunate truth that life didn’t stop for them with good-bye. That they moved on and continued to change with each cycle of day shifting to night and then back again and became a different person in their absence, perhaps almost to the point of being unrecognizable. This is an unavoidable fact of life, that we are constantly undergoing change, adaptation, and find ourselves caught in an incessant metamorphosis into the person we wish to be. Some of us are carried into our circumstances by a gently drifting tide that caresses the shores with subtle grace as we are left behind on the warm sands in the sun, and some of us are chaotically thrown about and heaved onto a destroyed landscape by a massive tidal wave that churns us into a shell of ourselves resigned on figuring out how to survive.
During the days, weeks, months, and years we are trapped as victims in abusive relationships, we ourselves undergo unavoidable and drastic amounts of change. Not only do we become in many cases unrecognizable to ourselves, those who we were forced to leave behind through imposed isolation and dictatorial control over who we are allowed to see and communicate with would face the same obstacles. Once we are able to leave, we are no longer the same person we were before the abusive relationship began. Even the smallest things, down to music we listen to, books we read, movies we watch, and foods we eat can be starkly opposed to our tastes before we were changed into carbon copies of our abusers. Many of us, habitually trapped with the switch on autopilot have not even the capability to make the smallest of decisions.
Combined with the shame and stigma we carry when we first leave, trying to identify with others from the past when we no longer even have the slightest idea of who we were, because we no longer have someone standing over us telling us who we are, becomes frustrating and tedious. What do we talk about once leaving? How do we answer the “how have you beens” or respond to “Oh, I haven’t heard from you in forever, I thought you fell off the face of the earth!” or “What have you been doing with yourself?” “When’s the last time you did XXXX? Remember we used to go all the time? What kinds of things are you into now?” Even worse, “What are your plans for this weekend, next month, or next year?”
How then do you reconnect with these people from your past? Where do you find common ground and repair the bonds that were torn apart against your will? How can you pick up where you left off when that version of you no longer exists and you have no idea how to get any of your old self back again? Many of us have found that rift in some cases is impossible to bridge, and others, even if we manage to MacGuyer some semblance of connection back together soon feel the discomfort as misunderstandings and failed communication threaten to break the fragile threads holding it together.
The lack of those in our past being able to fully grasp the amount of chaos and change we were subjected to may begin to respond with impatience and indifference to our metamorphosis. Further, because who we are is so new, different, and distinct from the person they once knew, they may actually dread reviving that connection out of fear they no longer can understand or like the person we are. Some are even more unsettled by the fact that from that point we attempt to bring the relationship back to the forefront, we still continue to undergo change. This is unavoidable, because as the person they knew us as no longer exists, and we lost ourselves on the battlegrounds, we must begin the arduous and initially tedious process of figuring out who we are. That instability causes fear in many who prefer the old standby when given a choice of something markedly new.
My fear? What if their responses go beyond the initial impatience or indifference, to the point of shunning and criticism? This is a very real fear that many survivors share. Some of us, maybe more than I would expect, worry that we would face cruelty, judgment, overwhelming shock, and a pulling away followed by silence. For me, repairing severed connections is panic-inducing trigger. The fact that they remember how carefree I once was, how fearless I appeared, how strong and able to withstand bullying and the push and pull of ridiculous demands and expectations became a thought that would bury me in shame and lead me to pelt and punish myself with the questions and statements we cringe upon hearing:
“I never thought anyone like you would be a victim of domestic violence!” Define “someone like me.” I take this as an insult, a judgmental way to say that I was stubborn, bullish, and obstinate without really having the pair to come out and just say it to my face. The simple fact is that I am woman who used to always first look for the good in others, a woman who, when she loved, gave herself unconditionally. A woman willing to look past some things, because sometimes things happen in our lives. We all make mistakes. We are all imperfect.
In the beginning, he wasn’t actively abusing, because he was in the wooing phase setting his trap. And when things started to change, it was almost entirely imperceptible. We ALL have bad days from time to time. We ALL say stupid things out of hurt, frustration, stress, and anger that we wish we could take back. And in the beginning this is how it is offered up to us. It usually (for me it wasn’t initially) isn’t an immediate tirade. No one in the their right mind would stick around for that. So they sugar-coat the lie to be sweet when it’s really filled with arsenic. We only know something’s wrong when the candy coating is gone and along with an odd, bitter aftertaste, we begin to feel ill in our heart and in our mind.
“How could you let a man hit on you like that?” Well, you know, I figured being treated in a loving way wasn’t what I really wanted in my life. I thought long and hard about it, and I just made up my mind one morning to just push him until he snapped and threw my ungrateful, nasty, selfish body against the wall and choked me. It’s every girl’s dream. Seriously? What really happened is he took me by surprise, threw me against the wall when he knew I was distracted from getting ready for work and KNEW I wouldn’t see it coming, and choked me, and then for added effect, for emphasis, he punched me in the chest for my transgression.
“The Amy I knew would never put up with that!” Yeah, I decided that I wanted to try on the role of punching bag for a few years and see how it fit. You know, give it a go. I had nothing better to do with my life. What I hear when you say this to me is that I am a pushover, weak, inferior, and stupid. And I totally NOT ANY OF THOSE THINGS. I was over-powered by force by a man who has far more physical strength than I could ever have. But thank for you acknowledging the fact that I held my own and fought back. And that was not without consequence.
“It must not have been all that bad if you took it for four years.” Yeah, you’re right! I adored being abused. It was the best time of my life, and looking in the mirror and seeing the bruises, red marks, swelling…. gosh it made my heart melt! The reality is simple. When he DID work, he worked from home. He was always there, and he had me on lock down. He had people watching the house, watching me if I was out, and he monitored all email, texts, and phone usage, and kept me away from everyone I knew before I met him. I was a prisoner of his, and when I left, it was because he left me a small two-minute window of opportunity, and I took that and R-A-N. With nothing but what I was wearing and my purse.
“Maybe you did something for him to act like that.” Well, you know how women be, always talking back, running our mouths, burning your dinner because we sit on the couch all day watching soaps and devouring bonbons by the barrel! When I put that makeup on, I was just asking for it. You’re right. I deserved it with every fiber of my being. Really, there is NOTHING ON THIS EARTH I could have said that would deserved the abuse I suffered and endured. NOTHING justifies living in that kind of terror. I don’t care if the punishment is an angry word, a shove, a finger in the face, being dragged out into the woods and being lunged at with a tire iron. No act or word justifies it. Ever. EVER.
“Stop feeling sorry for yourself and get over it!” Well, you know, I just gush at the attention I get from recounting the terror I lived through. It makes me feel important and cared for. Just because there are no longer bruises and cuts and welts polluting the integrity and beauty of my skin, it does not mean there is not still damage lingering behind that you cannot see. Damage of the most heinous kind. Insults. Obscenities. Threats. Dehumanizing, hateful, cruel, demeaning, dignity-robbing, soul-crushing words stabbing my heart. Scars from emotional abuse endure for months and years after we leave and take tremendous amounts of work to reverse. So I will get over it… when I have been able to reverse the hateful garbage I spew at myself when I make a mistake, drop something, trip…. When I can stop that, I will be over it. Until then, why don’t YOU get over it? It’s there, and there isn’t a thing you can do about it, unless you’d like to try some compassion and kindness.
“I don’t want to hear it!” Interesting, because when he was saying all those hateful things to me, I didn’t want to hear it either, but I did. Day in and day out, until it wore me out and emptied me, making him free to fill the void with whatever hateful thing he desired. What you really say to me when you tell me this is that hearing about something so hateful, dangerous, and prominent being reality causes you to have to acknowledge that this hateful thing happened to someone you know. As though you are somehow marred by its stigma. What you are saying to me is that you want me to be quiet, because if I’m quiet, then it didn’t happen to me, and if it didn’t happen to me, then really can it happen to anyone? Then it moves to the realm of the improbable, if non-existent, and allows you to forever live the rest of your life with your head stuck in the sand and ignoring the angry camel kicking you in the butt. And this girl cannot comply, and I am not sorry.
I speak of the preceding, because I have had to cut out a lot of people from my past. Repeatedly hearing things like this being said itself is cruel, but when it’s being uttered by those who claim to care about you… it is absolutely inexcusable. So I needed to act with kindness and love for myself and choose to let them go. Did I really hear things like this from people I used to know? Yes, and far worse. It follows, then, that you can clearly see where my hesitation from letting those in my past back in lies. Where it begins and festers. And surely you can also acknowledge the courage I must muster to put those nagging fears away long enough to open the door to let people back in.
Alas, a curse of mine is that I am a sentimental fool of the sickly sweet kind. Once someone has worked their way in (which is not an easy task at all), getting them out is not possible. Not if all the pieces were in the right place. Some of you may recall the anniversary posts I wrote beginning on December 14, 2013. One in particular came to mind as I wrote the early paragraphs, and I apologize for taking the long way around, but in my mind it was necessary. In Finding Friendship and Love: Overcoming Lack of Faith and Trust After Domestic Violence, I let you all in on a very important someone in my past. Someone who was not even really aware of how much he meant to me or the obstacles I was able to overcome as a result of the changes I underwent during the time I was with him.
I was extremely fearful to make that call to Kerwyn, but as the story goes, I needed who I needed. And it was him. A number of things could have happened as a result of that call. He could have told me he never wanted to hear from me again, he could have been with someone, or he could have been indifferent. Any of the preceding would have spelled disaster for me in those early days. It probably wasn’t a logical idea to act on, but if I had the choice again, I would do it in an instant. Still, knowing his personality and character from before didn’t do much to soothe my fears that I would hear the above statements fly out of his mouth. I also worried to the point of obsession that maybe once he learned who I was, or worse, who I wasn’t any longer, he wouldn’t be interested in talking to me anymore.
We had become different people in the several years we were apart, me far more so than he. Kerwyn’s never been what I would call inconsistent or flighty in his character, so on his end, most of the differences lie in the circumstances he could be in when I made the initial call that upended everything and turned life upside down on him. Again. (I’m a woman, I do these things.)
Once I revealed my set of circumstances to him, his view of me could have changed. Drastically so. Taking on a relationship of any sort with someone who had that much baggage dragging behind them can be daunting and threatening. At best considering my initial emotional state, it was a challenge. Would he judge me? Criticize how I handled things? Would he perhaps lower his view of my character, feel pity, loathing, annoyance, impatience? By my estimation, the possibility of any of these things happening filled me with terror. How would I navigate these conversations or mitigate and soften the images he may conjure up in his mind of as he pictured things I endured? Would he see me as a shadow of myself, my worth now belittled and destroyed?
I knew in my heart none of these things would happen, but who wants someone from their past seeing them in the shape I found myself? Less than? I have read over the past several months pieces written by survivors in various points in their lives, some only a few years out, single, navigating their first relationship since their abuse, married with family, a few decades out. Quite a few them mentioned relief at the fact that those they dated before they were abused could not see them in their new form, because they wouldn’t want to see or feel their disappoint at how low they fell. But what I see when I read those words is that hateful self-criticism, judgment, and under-estimation rearing its ugly head. I see lack of confidence in who they are now simply because they are not an inferior version of themselves, just a different one. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with being who we are now after the abuse. Imagine all we have overcome to get back to where we are now, wherever we find ourselves at the time you read this!
For myself, knowing that Kerwyn saw me both before and after Kevin’s horrendous acts of abuse gives me some peace. Why could this be when I am so different? When even the smallest things like music and hobbies have changed? My friends, he may see the things that I have lost, things that have changed about me. But the most wonderful thing about the before and after in this case is that he can look at me and see how I have grown. He can see the strength and courage it took not only for me to get through everything Kevin put me though for so long, but also the bravery and boldness it took for me to pick myself back up and find stability, face the aftermath, roll up my sleeves and work my way through. He can see my resilience, fortitude, and my amazing ability to have faith after a situation that threatened to take that faith and trust away. And that is a blessing no one should be without. The before and after.