Here is what I know about abusive marriages: we are not survivors, we are endurers.
The object of the game is not to self-help yourself and proudly announce what you have survived; it is more to simply get through the days and weeks and hours until you are safe and the fear and danger are so remote that you begin to forget – very slowly – what fear and danger felt like. When your new life has so thoroughly embraced you that the old one happened to some other creature, pitiful and small, who couldn’t occupy even a tenth of the space that you take up now.
Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, a common condition among abused women, isn’t something one recovers from like chicken pox. It’s more like the way some one who used to weigh 600 pounds feels about cake. It’s always something you have to think about, plan around, speak to in your soul.
Abused wives (girlfriends, partners, whatever) are not so much victims once they escape. Be clear: not every abused woman escapes. Many of them do not. But those of us who do carry some scars.
The pain and the fear subside, and are no longer a part of your daily life. The memories are thankfully blocked. I have very few memories of my first marriage, but the ones I do have are sharp. If I allow myself to think about them, I am there again – it is as if it is happening all over again. I can feel the fear, the panic, the sadness.
The anxiety part is relatively easy to cope with. After a time, especially if you are on God’s team, you start to trust again – usually Him first ,and then later your family and friends and sometime after that men. You stop believing that your children are going to perish horribly any second (I slept next to my daughter’s crib for a year, petrified he would suffocate or strangle her in her sleep and that habit took several years to break). You stop wincing or curling into a ball at every harsh word. My husband can even yell at me now – and I yell BACK. This is tremendous victory for a formerly abused wife. I don’t run, hide, go into my closet and sit quietly rocking – I don’t down half a bottle of pinot and cry – I YELL BACK. Dude, you totally SUCK for talking to me that way! Oh wow, does that give me a rush of power…then I remember how cute my husband is and I forget all about the yelling part because he’s adorable and he’s just a Yankee and that’s how they talk and then only later do I realize…my heart wasn’t pounding, and I wasn’t blocking the thoughts, and I stayed in the moment and wow, am I tough these days.
I have my fragile spots, like mended china. Threaten my children – even jokingly – and you will get a disproportionate response. Yelling used to make me cry (poor boss, poor boss, who tends to rant when he’s stressed) but now I realize not everyone who yells is going to hurt me. Sometimes men yell because they’re big babies. I realize not every fight is going to wind up with me hurt, or dealing with another mistress. I have stopped blaming myself for…everything…if I was skinnier/smarter/earned more…he wouldn’t be mad. No, that’s not going to fly in the post-abuse world of me.
The weight thing is still funny. I still fight feeling like I only deserve the best treatment when I look fabulous by our current standards of fabulous. That I have to accept whatever I get when I’m a little plump. This from a PhD who speaks five languages, has a great job, has brought four beautiful children into the world and is actually a pretty nice person when you know me.
I still don’t like to be in the same room with my ex. I see his mouth go into a straight line, and the finger starts jabbing and I remember. That hurts.
I remember being dragged down the long concrete stairs backwards by my hair out of a theater because a lesbian was flirting with me.
I remember being told no one wanted me because I’d had children, and that I wore heels to work because I was a slut and wanted to sleep with people I worked with and that I should earn my keep and no be a burden on people.
But a lot of the rest of it is foggy. That’s an odd blessing of PTSD, you really don’t remember. When the abuse is happening, you are somewhere….else. The dreading it is the hardest part. The cleaning the entire house, crying the whole time, because you can’t face a fight; asking the guy colleague who has just seen you safely home to circle the block a few times to make sure you don’t get beaten up for coming home after your “curfew” of 10:00. Waiting for the next drunken arrival at a work party to embarrass you, or the next angry phone call that all your colleagues can hear.
Well, that was ten years ago. I have a beautiful daughter to show for my time in that marriage.
He can’t hurt me anymore. I feel sorry for him. If you know some one in that situation, or who is escaping, or who has just escaped know this: be there, don’t ask questions, be the safe house or the safe car or the place she can turn and one day, she will be just fine.
These are the scars I am learning to show, the ones I hid for years because I thought only a certain kind of dumb female got herself into that kind of relationship. Now I know, it’s just a female in the wrong relationship with the wrong guy and it can be anyone. It’s subtle and slow and the descent is so gradual that even a PhD who speaks five languages was fooled (and her family, who is considerably smarter).
Selah. It too shall pass. Every day, the scars fade and the fears retreat and my power is coming back. Every day is a blessing that I live without fear.