“SHE HAD NOT KNOWN THE WEIGHT, UNTIL SHE FELT THE FREEDOM!”

abuse survivor story

If you ask people who know me to describe me, words that would likely come up: independent, stubborn, smart, strong. Words that one typically does not associate with the stereotype of an abused woman. A woman with those qualities “should know better.” I debated sharing this story with the world, but it’s important for people to understand that abuse (in any and many forms) can happen to anyone.

It’s also important for others in situations like mine to know that they deserve better, and–while never easy–they can get out of the dangerous cycle holding them hostage.

signs of an abusive relationship or domestic violence and abuse

Abuse comes in a variety of forms.

Looking back, all the warning signs were there. Immediate talk of “I can’t live without you” and moving way too fast. Explosive arguments. Confinement. A complete lack of personal space. Jealousy. The frightening lows were offset by highs of intense passion. That’s what makes abusive relationships hard to see for what they really are: I rationalized that I had never been loved like this, and, hey, everyone comes with baggage, right?

Relatively early on, he confessed to me that he and his ex used to get into these horrible, physically violent shouting matches. I should have known then, but my compassion and sympathy won out. After all, I am not the kicking, lamp-throwing, shouting kind. How could our disagreements ever escalate to that level?

We argued from day one (see “stubborn” in the first paragraph). I come from a home colored by the love of a single mother who didn’t yell much. I certainly was not accustomed to shouting men, and being around that kind of behavior just makes me shut down. This only elicited more rage from him. Each fight was worse than the last, no matter what I tried to do. It was like walking on eggshells. And it was exhausting.

signs of an emotionally abusive relationship

Just because it isn’t physical doesn’t mean it isn’t abuse.

There was much talk about how “we” needed to find “middle ground,” which I always felt like translated into “you need to conform to how I want you to be.” But, in hindsight, I don’t think anything I could have done would have been good enough. It was like he would gather all the materials to make a bomb, and I was just the excuse for him to light it–whether or not that bomb had anything to do with me. I was the outlet for some deeply rooted anger inside him.

But he loved me, so there was hope, right? Hindsight causes me to question. I’ve read a lot of articles–many of them written by mental health professionals and abuse counselors–to try to make sense of what happened and prevent it from happening again (click here for some good ones). Some of them indicate his “love” may have been just a show. Narcissists and sociopaths are extremely charismatic, especially when it comes to influencing others to get what they want. I was a moth trapped in his web, slowly being poisoned to death.

See, the thing about abuse is that it causes you doubt. After a while, you come to believe you are doing something to deserve that treatment: some remark you made, something you did, or the way you behave (or just who you are). It becomes a vehicle for self-punishment, even if you can’t see it at the time. More on that in a bit.

The fights were boiling over to a dangerous level. The last one we had was him shouting at me for three hours while I was curled up in a tear-soaked ball on the bed, frozen with fear. I had bruises from where he had grabbed and shaken me, where he had flung my arms back. I had invisible bruises from where he had demeaned and belittled me. Some of these bruises may never heal.

My psyche trembles and shrinks at the thought of what would have happened if that had not been the last fight we ever had. I couldn’t live like that. I retreated to my mother’s–my safe place–to sort it all out. He followed me. I told him to go home, and that night, I slept with a hammer under my pillow.

My mom (and some close friends and ex-husband) helped me see that I didn’t deserve this treatment. No one does. And I had given more than a fair share of forgiveness, patience, and compassion. Mom shared that she had suffered with abuse like this in her past–a side of her I had never really seen before. “I don’t want that life for you. I don’t want you to live in fear, second-guessing your every move or word,” she said softly, clearly hurting for her only daughter. That was the moment of my resolve: I had to get out of this poisonous relationship.

The worst part? The part I’m most ashamed of? Part of me still loved him. Despite all of the emotional, mental, and physical abuse, like a fool, I still cared about him. But I had to choose myself–my safety, health, and happiness–over him. I had to choose me. Even if my self-esteem had bottomed out and I felt pretty worthless, I had to practice self-compassion. When things got murky in my head, I’d ask myself, “If your best friend was in this situation, what would you tell her to do?” That’s how I found my way out.

abuse survivor quote

You have a choice.

And that way out was anything but easy. If he was so volatile in everyday life, how would he react when I told him we were done? I was terrified. My friends and I came up with safe words. I had standing offers from several people to stay at their houses, even without warning, if I needed a safe place to go. I had no idea what would happen.

But once he saw that I was no longer willing to play the role he had designed for me in his rage-filled drama, just as quickly as he dashed into my life, he was gone. There were the usual “we’ll still be friends” talks, but he changed. He became cold, distant, and eventually just disappeared without warning. We have not spoken since.

In the months that followed, I had PTSD to keep me company. I was drowning in anxiety, depression, and self-injury behaviors. I had become so accustomed to the self-punishment, I struggled with the void of it once the relationship was terminated.

Fortunately, I met a man who saw all the good in me that I could not see in myself. A man who was patient, tender, and kind. A man who understood what I was going through and how to deal with my triggers. A man who stayed my hand and quieted my uneasy mind. He was a good man who did not yell at me and would never raise a hand to me.

With his help and the help from friends and my mom, I began the healing process. I’m not sure I could have done it alone. And I don’t like thinking about how life would be with the alternative. How far it would have escalated… the damage that would have been done…

I still stumble. I still struggle with triggers. But several months later when I look back at it all, it’s like a nightmare. I fell asleep in someone else’s life, uncertain of how to make sense of it or escape, and then I woke up alone in my own bed, shaking in the darkness. But morning is coming. The birds are waking up, and warm light has started to kiss the earth.

I will be ok. But many other people continue to live in abusive situations every day. And abuse can start at any time in a relationship. If you find yourself in an abusive relationship, please know that you are worth more than that. Your life is worth more than shouting matches, punches, and angry words that tear you down. That isn’t love, and you deserve to be loved. If you’re ready to begin your own journey of healing, this resource will connect you with hotlines and shelters in your area that specialize in domestic abuse. Odds are if you reach out for help, you’ll save your life. And your life, no matter what you’ve been made to believe, is worth saving. You can heal. You matter in this world. Choose you.

abusive relationship quote

You are stronger than you realize. Prove it to yourself.

HAIKU: HOMESICK

Homesick: longing not
for a place on a map but
in your lover’s arms.

BUOYANCY IS OVER-RATED

Art by Toni Frissell

Art by Toni Frissell

“Can you imagine your life without him? Do you want to?” Mom softly prodded.

“My life is not defined by who I am with; it is simply enhanced by that person,” my well-rehearsed response rolled off my tongue.

She pursed her lips with dissatisfaction at my answer. Despite her decades of wisdom and several broken relationships, at her core, Mom was still a romantic. She believed in a plan for everyone–a path intended for us. That’s not to say work–real, hard work–isn’t involved to stay on that path. No, Mom believed in a special mix of elbow grease and destiny to make a forever love possible.

“I want you to find someone you can’t imagine living without. Someone who makes your heart feel so full and complete, you want to hold onto him with everything you’ve got,” she said with motherly tenderness. “You deserve an all-encompassing, uplifting love.”

I didn’t believe such a thing existed. Moreover, if it did, I didn’t believe I deserved it. And we accept the love we think we deserve, right? Man, I must have some really fucked up self-esteem issues…

My heart felt like a fishing bobber, the line cast out and left adrift to catch what it may in open water. Something heavy tugged from below, threatening to pull it under. Part of me wanted to silently watch it drown, succumbing to the cold, dark peace of seaweed and sand. Buoyancy is over-rated and exhausting.

“Maybe one day, Momma,” I murmured after a long pause. “Maybe one day…”

THE CASE FOR LIST-ENING ON TWITTER

grass-is-greener-where-you-water-itFirst, let me open by saying, on the whole, there is no right or wrong way to use social media. Anyone pounding their fist on the keyboard, harping that you’re doing it wrong simply means you’re doing it wrong for them. You have to find what works for you, your resources, and what you want to get out of social media. What’s more, with the ever-changing landscape of tools, apps, and features, what works for you today may not work for you tomorrow.

Maybe it’s the time of year–a period of reflection over the last 365 days while renewing a focus on what’s important–that has many people re-examining how social media is working for them. The fall guy du jour is Twitter. “It’s too noisy!” “The conversations just move so fast, I can’t keep up!” “Facebook is better because it doesn’t limit me to 140 characters.” Some have concluded that the only solution is a mass exodus-style unfollow. While mindful pruning of your connections (on any social network) is a good idea, a large-scale purge may not be.

Right or wrong, many people take social media personally. Especially when they know the person on the other side of the username in a face-to-face manner. And why can’t it be personal? For some, social media is their telephone, water cooler, and text messaging system all in one; it’s their lifeline connection to the world. A mass unfollow risks hurt feelings and/or confusion–perhaps doubly so if you use Twitter for personal and business connection.

“Oh, please. Hurt feelings over the internet?! They’ll get over it,” you say? Alright, consider this point from my insightful friend Kevin Mullett (whom I likely would not know if it weren’t for Twitter, by the way): “The more people of quality, or potential quality, that leave [a social network], the more the feeling, or perhaps reality, of it being a channel where less value can be had is perpetuated. (i.e., I hate to see good people give up, because it incrementally becomes less valuable for all.)”

Social media is, at its very core, an input/output machine. If you want quality and value, you have to be willing to roll up your sleeves, apply a bit of elbow grease, and make it happen. Otherwise, you’re quitting. But you’re not just quitting a social network: you’re quitting the potential it holds, the connections you’ve built, and the opportunities you may not find anywhere else.

If the real issue isn’t a lack of interest or commitment–if it really comes down to just time and clutter in your feed–there’s an easy solution. Think back to when you first joined Twitter. You probably followed your favorite bands, athletes, entertainment stars, products, and more, right? “Man, this is great! I’m following Justin Bieber! It’s like we’re buddies now!” (Oh c’mon, I know that wasn’t just me.) Suddenly, your Twitter feed is full of people you’ve never met and likely never will meet yammering on about what they ate for lunch at some swanky cafe, taking selfies with more people you’ve never met, and promoting their latest and greatest. If that’s what interests you then Twitter is working for you. But if you’re seeking connections with everyday folks in the city you just moved to, feedback on that creative project you’ve been pouring yourself into for weeks, or just want to talk about some of the little, dumb shit that fills our lives, well, those connections might get lost in the shuffle of BeyoncĂ©, Taco Bell, and Google.

Enter one of the most underutilized Twitter features: lists. They take minutes to set up, are a breeze to manage, and help cut through the clutter in your Twitter feed. All the big name brands and celebrities that don’t even know I exist? They all go on a Twitter list called “entertainment,” and I don’t outright follow those accounts. (Except you, Charmin and MelloYello. You’ve been generous with the Twitter love.) I can check in with these accounts any time via this list without them flooding my feed. This allows me to focus on what’s really important (to me) when I pick up my phone or log in from my computer: engaging connections. I’m on Twitter for the conversation, to feel connected to the world, and to help others. To that end, lists can help again.

“If you aren’t ready to change your habits [on Twitter], double down and try to make it work–which is certainly understandable, as we all have to choose where to invest our time–then unfollowing everyone isn’t really going to matter. I would segment people with lists and just pay attention to a list,” advised Kevin. Lists work both ways: they can segment distractions from your feed or they can hyper-focus your attention on a select group of accounts. Perhaps these are your VIPs, must-read tweets, or morning news while you’re waiting in the carpool line. The beauty of Twitter lists is that they can be used in a variety of ways to optimize your experience.

Even with the vast spectrum of features and tools at our fingertips, some may still feel it necessary to purge their Twitter (or quit all together). And that’s OK. As much as I love Twitter, I recognize that it isn’t right for every person, organization, or goal. But if your chief argument is the clutter or lack of value, invest some time in resolving the issue before throwing in the towel. If you’re not willing to put in the effort, don’t complain about a lack of results.

HAIKU: SYNAPTEIN

medium_11841180046

photo credit: Birth Into Being via photopin cc

To connect makes us
human, with our lives entwined
and not ours alone.

We become neurons
as we spark and stretch the gap,
searching for meaning:

the flash of exchange
a dizzy entanglement
of selves and of truths.

We reach endlessly,
Some seeking fidelity
and homophily;

others simply want
to be reminded that they
exist here at all.

And then the spark dies–
a sudden disconnect from
the frenzied coupling

as if the neurons
became aware all at once
of their exposure.

To connect makes us
naked and vulnerable.
It’s not for the weak.

As we take pieces
of others, we risk losing
pieces of ourselves.

Every transmission
seeks a nerve, laden with the
threat of contusion.

Yet we give off sparks
in the hope of connecting
and reconnecting,

part of the system,
the keepers of memories,
stokers of the fire.

To connect makes us
warm, hungry, hurt, and question.
It makes us human.