It started subtly: a push here, a push there. It has evolved rapidly. The second time he hit me was just a few months after the first one. I had a bloody nose and a black eye. And although I should have recognized the signs of abuse because all sign was there – he was manipulative and controlling, he punched me and knocked me down – I couldn’t see the train wreck coming. I didn’t see the headlights even when they were shining directly in my face because I was blinded by them and him. My vision has darkened. My eyes were (literally) closed swollen. And they stayed that way for years.
I have been in an abusive relationship for years.
I wish I could say the opposite. I wish I could tell you I left after he dragged me, half-naked and screaming, to a suburb of Philadelphia. My hair was in knots. My buttocks, thighs and underwear were bloody and bruised. They creaked on the rough ground. I wish I could tell you that I left after we had a drunken brawl over a banana, which left me with many facial wounds. There was a gash on my nose. Bruises covered my cheeks and my eyes. And I wish I could tell you that I left after he held me (and my head) under 12 inches of standing water. After he strangled me and almost drowned me in the bath, but I didn’t. I stayed.
For years, I stayed.
And while there were many reasons to stay, I stayed because I was scared and lonely, because I found it hard to let go. I stayed because I believed things could get better. They would be better. I could change it. And I stayed because I was ashamed. I felt his actions were my fault – it didn’t matter why. What matters now is what I do today. And today, I am evolving, growing, loving and thriving, not just surviving. These days I don’t live in fear or crisis management mode.
I wake up without a bandage.
There are no broken bones to heal. No wounds, no scars.
Of course, I would be lying if I said this change happened quickly. He does not have. Getting away from an abusive relationship is an important step, but it is the first of many steps one must take to heal – and no one is telling you that. No one tells you that recovery is difficult.
There is pain and sadness, shame and sorrow. I mourn the loss of who I was – and the relationship that should has been. He was my friend, after all. My partner, future, present and past. There is anger. I hate the idea that my attacker still has power over me, or that he never had. I am disappointed with both him and myself. There is a feeling of failure and frustration. I am furious, and at the same time I feel a sense of defeat. Why? Because after my departure, I was able to see my situation in a new light, and that forced me to admit a difficult “truth”: I stayed. For years I have stayed. I didn’t value myself or my life. Plus, the trauma does things to the body – and the mind – and it took me years to recover.
I am still recovering.
Living in violence puts you on edge. Every time I hear someone scream, I curl up. I’m shivering. I’m shaking. A slammed door or a broken glass can make me turn off. The tension in my house freezes me. I don’t handle the confrontation well. I also struggle with my self-esteem. It’s been seven years since my last stroke, and I’m still struggling with my self-esteem.
But I am rebuilding myself little by little. I see a trauma specialist every week, a mental health professional who helps me find my identity and move on from my past. I see my psychiatrist once or twice a month and he has been an integral part of my recovery. He doesn’t just hand out drugs. He supports me and advises me. And I have a few friends I confide in. I tell them how I feel – and when I’m not well.
Are things perfect or great? Absolutely not. I’m still struggling. Life after abuse is tough. But it’s exponentially better than the alternative. Even with PTSD, I’m happier now than I’ve ever been, and that’s because I’m free. I live life on my terms, and for myself.
If you are a victim of abuse and / or domestic violence and need help, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or speak with an advocate. website. If you are in imminent danger, call 911.