I haven’t been ‘me’ for years. That may sound like a bizarre statement, so please, let me explain.
I was stuck in an emotionally and verbally abusive relationship for 5 years. Stuck because I was committed to the relationship. Stuck because we have children. Stuck because I’d worked so hard for our children and I didn’t want to let it go. Stuck because I believed some of the things he had said about me and to me, that I was incapable, stupid and nothing without him.
Stuck because I was afraid to leave.
The immense pressure of being in an abusive relationship isn’t always tangible. It’s the kind of thing you get used to slowly, over time. Abuse isn’t thrown upon you all in one go. No one would get stuck in a relationship like that. Abuse creeps up and let’s you settle at each level, normalising before you progress to the next.
Like a computer game, the first level is tough until you’ve completed it, you learn all the tricks and strategies. You get the rules and what to do and what not to do as you go along. By the time you’re on level 10, level 1 seems easy peasy. You can complete it with your eyes shut. As you progress to each level it increases in difficulty and, as you work through each one, you learn more and more about how the game works.
Abuse works like in a similar way… Little rules, little compromises until they become second nature. As you progress the rules and compromises become bigger and more important. And you’ve forgotten the previous ones because you’ve assimilated them into your vision of ‘who you are’. It’s easier that way. You progress to another level and so you forget the previous one. By the time you’re on level 10 you’re so preoccupied with keeping up with the rules and the expectations, you’re so anxious, you’re so fearful of what is coming next, you don’t have time to worry about what has happened before.
So you behave in ways that aren’t really a part of who you are. The constant treading on eggshells. The permanent feeling of vague unsettlement. The waiting for the other shoe to drop or the volcano to erupt. You’re so sure you’ve got it wrong again. You feel frustrated with yourself…
Why can’t I get it right?
You backtrack, you redo, you rethink. You’re exhausted. Your stress levels are through the roof.
Through the roof.
But you feel ok. Because you’ve been acclimatised. And, in all fairness, no one is shouting at you/hitting you/crazymaking you right now. This is as good as it gets. So that’s good right? Right?
You become a being of survival. Lapping up the relative good times, and protecting yourself from the bad. Up and down on the roller-coaster ride of abuse. You do things you wouldn’t do if you could only think straight. You overreact, you get angry with the wrong people, you cry for no reason, feel depressed, lethargic and lack a real feeling of fun in your soul. Of course, all of this behaviour makes you feel guilty, you know it isn’t like you… And then it is callously used by your abuser to ‘prove’ their point.
This is not me.
Say it out loud.
THIS IS NOT ME!
This was never me, this is who I became under your relentless torrent of abusive behaviour.
I have learned much about myself since I have been free of constant abuse. I have remembered who I am again. I have regained a sense of joy in the simple things in life. I can enjoy things without feeling as if it won’t last long. I am active. I can now enjoy my life, my hobbies, my responsibilities. I sing, I dance, I joke, I giggle. I can feel real happiness. Deep inside my soul.
This is me.
This is who you made me forget while trying to mould me into your vision of me. And almost destroyed me.
But I’m back.
And the good news is, with the support of family, friends and support services you can be you again too. There is hope. There is a way.
Get the support. Reach out. Be safe again. It is so worth it in the end, as each brave and wonderful contributor to Many Small Voices is testament to.
Don’t let guilt stand in your way, you were not behaving as yourself.
You were in survival mode, and the effects ran deeper than you could begin to imagine. Forgive yourself.
Don’t let them dim your light any longer.
Find a fantastically written follow up post here …another abuse survivor talking about how abuse sneaks into your life.
We are looking for your stories of abuse to feature. Many small voices make one LOUD voice.
Domestic abuse damages in whatever form and here at Many Small Voices we hope to gather the stories of those who have survived abuse into one resource to help and support those who are still victims. We also hope to support survivors through recovery once the abuse has stopped because the scars are still there and will remain forever. Support after abuse is just as important.
We are not experts, just people who are passionate that domestic abuse, in whatever form it takes, must be stopped.
If you think you or someone you know needs help please take a look in our links page to find a list of organisations that strive to help support victims of abuse.