It has been a little over three years since I left an abusive marriage. I always thought that leaving would be the hardest thing that I would ever have to do – yet now, three years later, I am at the conclusion that recovering from the years of abuse trauma is significantly more difficult.
During the relationship(s) it was easy to know what was coming next -I knew exactly what to expect as I when through the various stages in the cycle of abuse. I became a cliche, but the thing about a cliche is that cliches are predictable by nature.
He would become upset. Usually, it was my fault. Maybe that I night I burned dinner, or did not load the dishwasher, or rolled my eyes, or spoke out of line – it did not matter what it was, just that it was something I did. That is when the rage would come. Most of the time it did not get physical. Moreover, of course, there was the following morning, either flowing apologies or complete denial.
I still don’t understand the denial. I could not understand how he did not see that waking up our toddler at midnight to teach her to say, “Mommy is a giant bitch” was wrong. He could not see that forcing me to sleep in the corner of the living room floor was wrong. He could not see that breaking my only pair of eyeglasses; or taking the keys to my car; or hiding my cell phone; or the constant name-calling; or the sexual demands. The list goes on and one – he never saw any of it as wrong, and many times he was in complete denial that it even happened in the first place.
The gaslighting and crazy making became part of my expected weekly, or even sometimes daily routine…
However, now I am free of him.
The abuse has fundamentally changed me as a person.
I left him over three years ago – and it has been a little over two years since my most significant (physical) assault. However, the memories are still there. The PTSD still keeps me up at night. I have a hard time connecting with anyone who knew me as my previous self. It is pretty obvious that they barely recognize me anymore.
It became much easier to cope, once I figured out that recovery is a process and hard. I am relearning basic self-care – self-care that had never previously existed. The abuse was my normal, even though, for years, friends pleaded with me “to just leave” because his behavior was not normal.
It is a hard thing to reconcile, I am a survivor in recovery – and triggers are everywhere. I am finding myself filled with anger – a passional social rage – every time I hear another survivor’s story, every time I witness any social injustice. I am drawing parallels from different facets of life to the abuse that I “put up with” at just about every corner.
Recovery after survival is hard – during the abuse your body adapts; your sleeping habits, your adrenaline response, your emotional response. When I was in my marriage, I learned how to sleep lightly, just in case my drunk husband decided to have a fit. At the beginning of the relationship, adrenaline would course through my veins, and I was always ready for fight or flight. That fight/flight response changed over time – as my personality changed. I learned how just to accept what was happening If I could accept the pain it was easier to cope.
Now I am a survivor; often I do not sleep. I do not know how to handle flight or fight response. I do not know if I am overreacting because someone or some situation has triggered me or if that situation is a problem. I have forgotten how to set boundaries. I am learning when to stand up for myself – and when I am just creating drama in my head.
… Moreover, all of that is just the emotional/mental part of survival. Before, and during the abuse, I held a steady income. I was self-employed, and I was able to provide sufficiently for myself, my daughter, and my husband, despite the ongoing abuse to which I had adapted. Similar to a chemical addiction, I had built up a tolerance, and I was functional.
Financial disaster did not occur until about six months after I left. I suspect it was because I was going through a type of withdrawal. I was no longer able to predict things. I did not know how to react to everyday life situations. I had a full-time client who had ‘laid’ me off, so I went from a very blessed and healthy income to no income whatsoever. I became a ‘welfare mom’. I was more of a stereotype than ever before.
I struggled with job searching, I “knew” I was talented, so why didn’t anyone want to hire me. I was a smart, educated white woman who grew up with the privilege of middle class. Nature and evolution of societal constructs dictated that it should be easier for me than my welfare-mom peers. I felt the shame of using an EBT card while checking out at the grocery store. The stigma of “putting up with abuse” wasn’t enough. I became one of “those people”. I was one of the people that you see ridiculed in social media memes. I had a fancy smartphone AND and food stamps. However, I learned how to cope. I learned how to laugh at my continuously overdrawn bank account.
Eventually, though, after a series of now-comically bad job interviews, I found new employment. I resumed a life of income.
Even with the new job, it is hard, this is my first traditional employee role in over ten years of self-employment. I am back to the emotional and mental rollercoaster of triggers everywhere. A battle of learning how to set healthy boundaries. I still juggle rage and anger.
I try to comfort myself with the idea that I am still learning. I am learning who I am. I am discovering the world around me. I am learning that part of the recovery process is learning how to learn a new normal.