“I should have left sooner”
My experience with domestic violence has spanned most of my life. I had a narcissistic parent who groomed me to tolerate abuse which perpetuated my continued victimization in abusive intimate relationships.
Regardless, I was finally able to break free for good and live a mentally healthier life. I’ve never been happier. However, I have some deep-seated flaws. I hate to admit it, but a history of abuse lasts a lifetime, even beyond a lifetime; it can go on for generations. With that fact, I’ve been fundamentally altered because of my past. I keep dark skeletons in my closet. These are the things I live with as a former victim of domestic violence.
I have trouble sleeping.
I had to raise two children, work full-time, and was used as the scapegoat because of my husband’s inflated ego and fragile self-esteem. Through trial and error, I learned to be on my guard 24/7. I got used to being sleep-deprived.
I had to stay on alert, even while I slept. If I needed to run out the door with the kids, it most likely happened at nighttime.
I conditioned myself to be a light sleeper.
Now I sleep better, with the help of prescription sleep aids for my anxiety, a mouth guard for my jaw clenching, and in a dark, quiet room. But I still have nightmares. They take me back to my abuser, living life with him again, confused about how I got there. It’s part of my CPTSD. I’ve had this scenario in my dreams for decades; I’m used to it.
I can handle a crisis, but I get easily stressed out with chronic problems.
I have mad skills when it comes to an emergency. I’m a strategic problem-solver, so anything that needs quick thinking and action, I’m your gal. In my previous job, I was a nurse on a crisis line. I loved having the phone ring, not knowing what was waiting for me on the other end. Yeah, I know. Weird.
However, if there’s a chronic problem that doesn’t go away no matter how much I try to resolve it, it makes me mentally crazy. I don’t sit well with something where all the parts aren’t moving together well. And I don’t like waiting to “see what happens.” I’ll keep chipping away at it and stress myself out until I’m emotionally spent.
I’m easily overwhelmed with heartbreak and tragedy, especially if there’s nothing I can do about it. As I’ve grown older, I’ve conditioned myself to “live and let live,” but I still carry the stress of all of life.
I have body dysmorphia and eating disorders.
As a child, my mother was morbidly obese. I, on the other hand, was a skinny beanpole of a girl. My mom would make derogatory comments being too thin. Once, she took me to the doctor and tried to convince him something was wrong with me. I sat on the exam table, humiliated. She huffed me out of there when he told her I was a physically healthy child.
As an adult, my husband controlled me by telling me how ugly and fat I was. He made derogatory comments that I was fat and lazy whenever I put food in my mouth. I believed him too. The truth is, I was lean and athletic with a beautiful body. I loved exercise, and my body showed it. The reality is that he was afraid of any other man being attracted to me, so he killed my self-esteen.
I’ll never feel normal about my body. I don’t look or move like when I was younger. My body dysmorphia frequently rears its ugly head. I try to stay positive. I work on being kind to myself. But there is always that little voice in the back of my head I constantly fighting me, telling me to hate my body.
I know those are the demons I battle. I do love how my body has stood up for me when I needed her. She’s been through so much. I try very hard to nurture her and be kind.
I should have left sooner.
It is never too soon to leave an abusive relationship. My problem was I didn’t know how to read the signs. My abusers groomed me well. My parent taught me how to carry guilt and shame instead of loving myself, so I accepted the lack of love. My partner took over and kept the abuse going. Except, he first disguised it as love and adoration.
I got duped. When that first inkling something wasn’t right crept up on me, I quickly swept it under the rug. I just wanted someone to love me, so I looked away as the domestic abuse started happening. By the time he physically abused me, I’d been with him for three years and was pregnant with our first child. I felt trapped.
If only I’d been taught it was okay to leave a partner who didn’t treat me with kindness, respect, or honor my boundaries, before the physical abuse started. Then maybe I would have left sooner.
Many women of domestic violence wish we’d left sooner after the fact. But we had to figure out life on our own, and that takes time. When we finally leave, we will always wish we’d left sooner.
Because it’s never too soon to leave an abuser.
I live with my abuse every day.
I wish I could say I’ve gotten over my past abuse, but I haven’t. I’ve carried my abuse with me every day of my life. I bear the weight of my foremothers, who were also abused. Abuse is embedded in my DNA; it’s on my children’s faces and in my eyes when I look in the mirror. I see it everywhere.
Because I am a former victim of abuse, I’m hyper-alert to unfairness. I can see a narcissist a mile away. I know their language. I understand why they behave the way they do. I even consider myself a narcissist-whisperer. I’m not necessarily proud of that title, but I’ve earned it anyway.
Because of my past, I don’t have on rose-colored glasses. I wear jaded green ones instead. I’m skilled at protecting myself from others taking advantage of me. I’ve been through the school of Hard Knocks and have a Ph.D. in no-nonsense.
I’m also overly practical about life. I walk the path in my mind before I take the first step in real life. I take risks, sure. But they are calculated risks where the odds are on my side, and I have an exit strategy if things go sideways.
I plan. I have to because I don’t like surprises when it comes to my life.
I do try to give everyone the benefit of the doubt because nobody is perfect. But an assault on me means a hard cut-off, and that means not returning and not forgiving anyone who betrays me.
I still get triggered, even after years of therapy.
After I left my abusive relationship, I didn’t gain trust overnight. It took me many years to develop self-confidence. Then it took more time to learn how to make healthy decisions.
I can handle most personal conflicts. However, I can still get painfully triggered every once in a while.
The only thing I have learned to do with this is to remove myself from the trigger as much as possible and give myself a lot of self-care.
I have trouble keeping friends.
Because of my abuse, I’m quite aware that I easily connect with other abused people. But I don’t want to trauma bond with them. I want normal friendships.
Because of this dilemma, I have precisely three friends in my life. I’ve known one of them since childhood. Another I’ve known since my twenties. The third is a man I consider my much younger brother, and we have a cohesive, sibling-like relationship.
I didn’t create trauma-bonded relationships with these friends. I think that’s why they remain my friends.
All other women I’ve been in friendships with have always been short-lived. And I mean less than seven years of knowing each other. With my last girlfriend, our friendship only lasted three years. We got along well until she started dating a married man who’s a raging narcissist. Her codependent behavior triggered my PTSD so severely; I had to cut off our friendship. It’s not the first time I’ve had to break off a friendship. I’m hoping it’s the last time.
My dysfunction is having a deep fault line of believing most people will eventually let me down or betray me, and that limits my ability to keep friends. So, I keep my guard up. I have an extremely low tolerance for bad behavior. I’m not proud of this; I wish I could forgive a person’s discrepancies and stay loyal to friends regardless.
I’m an introvert, so I’m comfortable with being alone. However, there are times where I’d really like a group of girlfriends to hang out with and be myself. Instead, I worry about meeting someone, wanting to become friends with them, but knowing that something will eventually drive me away. That’s my fundamental flaw when it comes to friendships and I live with it.
I work every moment to keep myself mentally healthy.
I don’t have the false idea that I’ll someday “get over” my abuse. Instead of trying and failing to get rid of my past, I’ve accepted it. I carry my abuse with me, like anyone else who carries their life baggage.
If it seems like I’m mentally healthy, it’s because I’ve learned to manage my life in the best way I know how, regardless of my past.
However, it’s a fine line. I can still sink into depression. I still get anxiety attacks. I become physically incapacitated. I take days where I do nothing but sleep and eat and binge on Netflix.
I want to be light and bright. Most days, I am. But when the darkness comes over me, I sit in it for a while. I don’t know why; I just do. Then I kick myself into gear and give my brain a pep talk. I’ve learned to be a good cheerleader for myself.
“You can do this, Michelle! You ROCK! Now get out there! GO!” It goes something like that. Those pep talks haven’t failed me yet.
Sometimes I’m amazed I’m still alive.
I’ve been in too many unsafe situations. I can’t count how many times I’ve been threatened, physically hit, had something heavy whizzing past my head, or otherwise feared for my life. All I have to say is I’m in awe that I’m still walking on this earth.
I don’t know if it’s guardian angels protecting me, if I’m unusually lucky, or that I’m so stubborn I refuse to let death get the better of me. Whatever the reason, here I am.
But, I did more than survive. I went to college and got my degree, worked in the same career for thirty years, and have a wonderful husband and three awesome grown kids.
That’s better than being “still alive.” That’s thriving.
I’m still amazed to this day.