the “PTSD” of verbal and emotional abuse
Using the word “recovering” when talking about drugs or alcohol makes sense to me. There’s an addiction, a habit, and a lifestyle that has to be broken. Life has to be re-built and dramatically changed to avoid relapse. What I hadn’t considered was the lingering effects of verbal and emotional abuse after the abuser is gone, and the need to treat the healing process like active, purposeful recovery. While I didn’t inflict the abuse on myself (like drugs or alcohol), I was the recipient of a deeply twisted and damaging “injury” that if ignored will fester forever. Time doesn’t magically heal all wounds. To be broken-down by the person who’s supposed to love, support, and care for you more than anyone else in the world is crushing. In my case, it happened slowly, over enough years that I didn’t realize what was happening until one day I didn’t recognize my reflection in the mirror anymore. When had I become this miserable shell of a person? When did I stop hoping, dreaming, and trying?
A little soul searching revealed some ugly, sad truths. While I remembered the light-hearted dreamer of my youth, she was gone. I didn’t have the strength or passion to believe in happiness anymore.
I actually believed what had been whispered, hissed, and yelled at me for years: I was valueless and unloveable. He told me I wasn’t a good parent, that my family and the world wouldn’t miss me if I disappeared, that I was a bad friend, and that I was worthless. I started to wonder if he was right. He mocked my opinions and hated my personality. I was a mess, and I fought like hell to prove him wrong! I’d convinced myself that if I could change his mind then life would be happy, with a home full of laughter and love instead of tension, anger, yelling and tears. When that didn’t work I quit. I literally checked-out, isolated myself as much as possible, and mourned the life I was living and the happy life I’d never have. I was broken without hope or a light at the end of the tunnel. My Christian upbringing and previously failed marriage were powerful motivators to stay married. My pride and reputation were on the line, plus I made a commitment, and based on the nature of my situation, “for better or worse” meant I needed to hold on, even if the valley that had turned into a canyon eventually swallowed me whole. As a fighter and survivor, I refused to quit.
When I was suffering he seemed pleased, and when I was happy, successful, strong, or had an opinion other than his, he was furious. So I lived two lives (home and professional), and I did everything in my power to hide the fact that my life was falling apart. I pretended I was happy. I shared photos on social media that made it look like everything was great. I planned family vacations and pushed to do things together even knowing the outcome would be more conflict. I lied to myself to make the pain and disappointment more digestible.
I had the support of a few very dear friends who knew the truth, and they patiently waited for me to walk away. But I was afraid of “quitting” and admitting “failure”. Pride mixed with hopelessness and a shattered spirit is a very paralyzing combination. While I knew what was best for me and my children, I felt guilty. SERIOUSLY, THE ABUSED FEELING GUILTY??? I finally understood why people stay in abusive relationships. It’s not love, dedication, hope, or weakness… it’s fear, brokenness, and a lack of self worth. We don’t know the “why” until we’re facing the trial for ourselves. Anytime I’d heard a story of someone being abused within a relationship, I always wondered why they didn’t just walk away. Obviously being alone is better than being mistreated, so just walk away. Shit, I was so naive! If it was that easy, abusers wouldn’t get away with their actions because the recipient wouldn’t stay and allow it.
My family stepped in like an army of angels, physically and emotionally held my hands through the separation and divorce process, and I felt like the weight of a thousand buildings were lifted off my shoulders in an instant. I started writing in a journal, looking for daily happiness, and hope started showing up again.
Everyday I feel grateful for the life I now live. Somedays I feel unstoppable: light, happy, so alive, full of hope, and believe I can achieve anything I set my mind to. And somedays I feel so broken, lost, and unworthy of my new hopes and dreams. THIS IS RECOVERY. It’s a journey of average, wonderful, and difficult days all wrapped into one story. I’m a survivor of significant trauma, and with that comes a process of healing, choosing to have faith in life and love after cruelty taught me to be afraid, and being patient with myself.
As it turns out, there’s a huge difference between surviving and getting better! While I was living in the abuse, I was a survivor. Now I’m living in gratitude, so thankful for the opportunity to redesign my life and choose better for myself, and sometimes the demons of the past show-up as a reminder that life is a journey, I’ve been to hell-and-back, and I’m still recovering.