Nothing enormously wrong but my mental wellbeing has taken a knock. I got frustrated with family life and juggling unwilling home learners which meant I was irritable with my children and I felt bad for that. I’ve cried more in this week than the whole month (or several) before it.
Initially I told anyone who asked that I was fine, no problems “I’m fine.” The smallest glimpse of how I’m really feeling is to make lighthearted humorous reference to missing silence or not winning home-school teacher of the year awards.
In reality, I felt frazzled to the very end of my tether this week. I began to lose hope that this lockdown and the pandemic situation is ever going to end. I’m tired, and I’ve been low level unwell in undulating waves for 11 months now. I needed help. Nothing drastic, no huge intervention. Some moral support would go a long way.
I called my sister in tears three times in one day. I hiccuped my way through the issues and struggles. She empathised and gave me space and then we laughed. We laughed about the ridiculousness of it all, about the inner reactions we all have which are totally normal but rarely talked about.
Talking about it was just what I needed. After that if someone asked how I am I told a brief version of the truth for example “I’ve had a tough week, I’m doing a bit better now.” Rather than “I’m fine, thanks.” I felt better for being honest with myself and others.
My self worth took a nose dive though. Suddenly I felt I was being a burden. I was so embarrassed for needing support. Anxiety around making it all about me, like I think I’m more important surfaced. If I’m being logical then my concerns about being less worthy because I needed help are completely disproportionate. Feelings aren’t logical though.
My sister reassured me and in that she reminded me that I’m still worthy and loveable even if I need help rather than give it out. I don’t lose my worth when I’m struggling just as I have never thought less of anyone in my life who needed support. strength doesn’t mean never admitting to struggling.
Strength is in seeking support when things are too hard alone. Relationships need honesty and the opportunity for mutual support strengthens this.
“Skipping a song because it reminded you is a new kind of hurt.”
I read this on social media recently. To be reminded is so painful and so raw that we pass by on the songs that make our heart sing or our bodies move. I’ve been there too, frantically pressing skip, skip skip before the tears fall. It’s too late but we do it anyway. Instead we sit, hurt swelling often weeping against the melody of a song which jars and jangles, bum notes and bad angles.
It’s too late, it was too late from the opening chord, from the intro. Too late already when the radio DJ smoothed dulcet over the name.
In reeling emotional turmoil it’s too traumatic to sit with the beat, each note strikes hurt deeper until it becomes a part of the person. Embedded, woven into the fabric of your favourite shirt, of the shoes he gifted for your birthday. The garden grass long and untended holding ghostly shapes of that water fight, sipping coffee admiring the last of the autumn leaves, still dishevelled.
It’s difficult to admit that it’s different when the beat drowns us in fear. When the pain induced is not mourning a relationship we cannot bear to lose with each painful note of memory. What the opening bars of the song we couldn’t skip transport us to was unadulterated, life threatening pain, it’s torture every day. It’s being fully under the control of the person you’re scared to leave.
Answerable in every trivial moment to the whims of a sadistic person who holds your pain as his pleasure. When we, free from domestic violence and abuse, gaze out of the kitchen window, the mid morning air takes on the hue of suffocation just by looking into our gardens.
The bathroom at 1am, bleary eyes yearning to go back to sleep jolted bodily awake, alert. Watching in mounting horror as the blood snakes heavily down your bruised thighs, hand flies to pregnant belly. When your anxious hand finds no swelling, no kicking baby the image fades into the half light and you’re slow to realise that’s in the past. The only bruises you hold now are the accidental knock, hands full, into the coffee table. The proud mark from attempting DIY.
The sound of glass breaking in a restaurant sends us tumbling to apology, to grovelling. To our knees, accept the punishment for flinching.
The song waits cheerfully, unaware, next on the playlist in my sister’s car. It holds more than aching pain and more than the heart wrenching fervent wish to be back together. Missing your former partner with every piece of your skin. You miss the way they made you feel safe as they held you on the darkest type of night but, I, I feel his hands pinning me still, gag tightening to crush my teeth bloodily into my lips, anything but safe.
So, if skipping the song is a new kind of hurt then avoid it, skip until you need skip no more. Until you find yourself dancing to a new song, the lyrics tripping from your tongue as you half learn the words, making up what you’ve yet to know. Skip the song if skipping it feels better.
I’m playing it loudly though. the song I mean. I will cry fat, heaving sobs which turn my voice to gravel catching at the words I know better than my middle name. I refuse to stay confined to the triggers he laid in wait. I’m not tip-toeing, muscles screaming in tension to avoid triggering his alarm. I sought therapy and I am strong enough to know my limits. On the good and stable days, I’m not skipping the song. I’m claiming it back as my own.
Faith in myself feels good. I’m not concerned about falling backwards anymore. My self worth ebbs and flows but doesn’t leak away. Not a disheartening vessel emptying fast as I can fill.
My recovery seems more solid now, I’ve banked the momentum. Saved the ground I’ve covered. I know I’ll meet further challenges, I believe I will cope. I still need to open myself back up to life.
I haven’t been vulnerable yet. Haven’t let anyone else in. I’m not sustainable as an island. I’m not yet ready to bridge the gap. Future like a chrysalis? Something beautiful waiting. Or more like an apple rotting from within? Time limit ticking. Does recovery mean letting others in?
Taking risks and being free? Taking time to build up trust. Reaching for achievements greater than just ‘safe’. Do I have to bare my soul or just enough?
I’m happy on my own. My island is secure. But one day maybe, If I dare, I may invite myself ashore.
I’m safe but closed to deep connections. I’m myself but I am not. I haven’t ventured far, I haven’t let myself be lost. So far I hold myself tightly, keep myself within. Sky high walls in my fortress.
Sometimes I feel myself wake a little, I feel slow-burn heat. But always thoughts of them drain the rising warmth. Maybe I’m returning, something of myself. Not time yet but a request give myself my passion back? Trust that I won’t lead blindly into danger. The way I did before. The need is different now. Distraction is not my king.
Not chrysalis, not as glamorous as that. Maybe just awakening, learn to know myself without scorching in self sabotage.
My home isn’t the last place I want to be anymore. I’m pleased to close the front door these days and relax into the security of my family.
It’s so different. I remember ludicrously being grateful to be sitting in a doctors office waiting for my contraceptive coil to be removed after he forced it out of place, alone for the few minutes before my name was called. I took myself, he was still in bed. The agonising pain didn’t dull my reprieve.
Each morning after I hug my children at the school gates, I walk back to my car in mounting dread. He’ll be angry and aggressive if I’m not home, even though he will still be asleep until around midday.
Occasionally I walk around a shop trying to find something we really needed me to buy before I come back, easing open the door so quietly so maybe he won’t know how long I’ve been. I risk it to talk to a friend for ten minutes. Many times I let long, dangerous minutes pass before I open my car door to my front door. Even as I feel the mounting consequences I cannot face walking in, yet.
I never know if I will choose the wrong thing, I’m either supposed to join him, though I have to swallow my revulsion, to have sex until it’s time to collect the children again. Or, I’m supposed to be quiet and not disturb him, getting any part wrong causes days of abuse and will come back to haunt me again and again no matter how illogical it is. Or conversely occasionally it’s my fault because I didn’t wake him up, he doesn’t want to use an alarm. I should have known he wanted to be up that day.
I love the days I work the best, though he usually keeps me awake until at least dawn, shaking and sobbing every work day night. It’s a relief to be there, I work supporting others with their mental health. Often I know my week will have been one of the most traumatic in the room but I love diverting my attentions towards helping others feel better. I can hide a surprising amount for those precious professional hours. Join in the gentle jokes, bring warmth and empathy. I’d fall apart if they knew.
In the relationship before afternoons and weekends made my heart hurt. I’d try to keep my children occupied and quiet so they didn’t set him off again. He began coming home earlier and earlier demanding I be there too, he began to walk through the door at 2pm instead of 5:30pm. He didn’t want me to make friends, go to toddler groups.
I’d pour myself into the shape of whatever he wanted me to be. Desperate to try to keep the calm. He inflicted so much pain, he forced the course of my life to alter forever in revenge and control. Home was isolated. A cage under the weight of his anger. I dare not speak out, I learned how to be nothing. For almost a decade I was a functioning echo of a woman treading carefully around bear traps, ever watchful. Nothing.
Now, it’s glorious to feel the completeness of home. I like it best when my children all tumble through the door and we cuddle, chat. Complete homework or enjoy ourselves too much and forget. I like the mundanity. The peaceful boredom of it. When a child behaves badly, I don’t panic, damage limitation on all sides. Instead I handle it with guidance and compassion in our own time, however long it needs.
In the evening I go to bed with no demands on my body. If I’m tired, I sleep. Or try to. I can read again if I want to. I rarely find the time but I could. Honestly, the worst thing in my day is attempting to motivate a tidy up effort. It’s a beautifully long way away from my life before.
“I don’t know how you do it!” I’m often told, but this, this is easier. It’s so much easier than before. This is all the responsibility and care I already shouldered minus carefully managing irrational outbursts and upsets, minus trying to get it all right, minus anticipating their needs and balancing with my children’s. It’s minus the exhausting demands physically and emotionally because refusal is too dangerous. Minus pain and threats. It’s minus my home being my biggest fear. This, this is free.
I’ve lived a year of gratitude infused domesticity. It’s been more wonderful than I have expression for in so many ways. Listening to the radio whilst I clean the kitchen. Zoning out in the evening. Playing noisily with my children. I’ve been noticing lately, there’s this optimistic feeling that this is just the beginning.
What’s next? I’ve lived the last year and a half free and learned in the last year how contentment feels. There’s more to me than just surviving domestic violence and abuse. Now, I want to flourish.
It’s time to forge forward. It’s not scary exactly but I am nose to nose in a showdown with my shaking self esteem. The voices of the abusers in my life join forces to shout me down. Push my under. To shut me up. Quietly, I stand.
I’m ready to begin to step away. Let their venom cloud the air blue around them, I am leaving this behind. I will put one foot in front of the other until I drown the storm of their malevolence in birdsong whilst humming along to a tune I like.
I’m feeling better today. I’ve connected with people around me and I’m enjoying the gentle happiness of family life without the suspension of mental anguish or physical torture crashing into me at any given moment.
I’m grateful for the security but I confess I still pendulum swing into anxiety that it will all be swept out from underneath me. I worry if or when the abusive men will renew their fervour in the campaign of destruction towards me.
I am the enemy for eventually pushing free, I am a target for as long as I strive for happiness. Walking through life with a ready smile, complimenting an acquaintance; crouching to pat a dog, glancing up in small talk with his owner; it puts crosshairs over my heart. How dare I be disinterested in him now, who the hell do I think I am to be walking around nodding a greeting to the passerby? The bare cheek of me showing my face.
It’s a strange way to live. Overflowing gratitude in the ease to lie in my own bed, eyes open in the dark, smiling into the safety of single life. Relief in my autonomy. There’s deep contentment in my children’s happy mischief. This is the best I have ever known life and I know it’s on an upward trend as time moves on. Balanced with a fear of the shadows.
Pulling me forward, my determination in trauma therapy, my absolute dedication to my children. I try to squeeze an hour’s study before sleep overrides me, often I have to arch over my sleeping little one who won’t be put down. I’m grateful to be able to, I was not allowed to devote time for study, or ‘indulging’ my children. I had to be fully and completely available to his every whim and desire for hour on interminable hour.
This time I will not allow my boundaries to be crossed. I made a vow to protect my family from harm. They, and I, have been through enough.
Will I stop flashbacks? Living in fear? Can I put an end to looking over my shoulder? Will I ever stop my blood running cold at unknown attention? Will the nightmares stop? What about the damage to my self worth, can I hoist it up for good or am I permanently fixing the rigging without end?
Domestic violence and emotional abuse will leave a full mind and body scar I know, I’m ok with that. It’s my lived experience and I’m stronger now, I cannot erase so many years of my life. But will I ever find a vantage point to look back at whatever the definable end of the abuser’s rein over me was in the knowledge that they have no hold now?
I’ve heard other survivors of abuse and violence say the same but I want to echo it, the violence to my body is hard to come to terms with but the violence to my sense of self, the twisting of my essence has been more traumatic still to confront.
I have scars, mostly intimate ones, though also a visible, three inch healed burn to my forearm, scars across my hips, wrists and scars inside my lower lip, so deep the pigment drained. Far more cutting are the emotional wounds, I fear that I might never find the way to knit them closed on a healthy foundation.
I’m still determined, still proud of the progress. Still hopeful. The what if lingers, what if this is as good as recover gets?
I’m heading into another EMDR session soon. The question I’m anticipating is: “How was this week for you?”
I minimise it usually. I’ll skim across with an answer about some nightmares or flashbacks but assure the psychologist I’m coping. So why don’t I want to answer it more authentically?
How was my week?
Hard. I’ve struggled. I’m fending off dreams and memories, I’m preoccupied with the trauma. My mind is listing and swirling with example after example. This week particularly has been barely living. It’s been rough. So it’s taking serious, concentrated determination to push myself to that room again, to task myself with delving into the most painful miseries. I know I’m going to do it, I don’t know how yet.
What a process EMDR is. It’s so valuable but so monumentally difficult to pull myself through the wall to keep my feet on the floor, I glue myself to my chair and refuse to allow myself to shirk and derail instead of opening Pandora’s box.
I’m busy (and tired), the week ahead is full of commitments and I need to fit studying around caring for my children, a deadline is looming. This week I’m doubting if I have what it takes to push through.
I heard a cheerful quip this week; You have a 100% success rate in survival so far no matter what.
This session was really tough. I’m so glad I’m doing this, I have confidence that it will work but the process is one of the more difficult things I’ve done. Reliving the most painful of my experiences in depth and detail to order and process them takes every bit of determination to do. I’m grateful for the chance to do this, I can’t imagine life no longer dominated by PTSD.
I haven’t been terribly insightful today, I don’t have enough left but I’ll try to revisit this.
I’m still having a difficult time. I’ve tried running from my thoughts all day. I do not stop from the early hours until I’m back into the hollow small hours again. I can’t outrun it. I’m tearful in the moments I stopped however briefly.
Tears pricked in the window of the moment it took the kettle to boil. Spilled over when I stopped to feed my little one. I dashed them away and steadfastly began to study. With that done I searched for something else. I tried to lose myself in domesticity. I held the chasm closed with nothing but my will today.
I’m reminded though, of the kindness in the world. Over the last two weeks or so I’ve been so lifted by people around me. Do they know how grateful I am for the friendship and support? I tried to explain but my words fell short even as I babbled on. I still struggle to feel worthy of the efforts of others but I’m trying to let the compassion from them in. I’m so touched by the care and love around me. I don’t know if I can chase shadows with it but I feel it’s warmth.
This time I’m trying to balance my sadness with the warmth. I’ll try to correct the voice telling me I’m not worth these peoples attention each time it surfaces. I may not believe it yet but I will keep trying. They can’t all be wrong.
It’s insidious, the voice of domestic abuse, violence, of rape. To achieve full healing I need to try to find my worth. Easier said than done. I am determined still.
Thank you for the support, In every way. I am so glad I am not alone.
I’m tired, I felt the pull to bed at 8pm but I was still busy even if I’d wanted to go up so early.
It’s past 1:30am but I’m running traumatic events thrown up in EMDR back-to-back, wall-to-wall, showreel. Memories searing into my consciousness. This week I began to delve into my deepest pain, my children’s emotional scars – the moments I did not keep them safe enough. I don’t know why I keep replaying and adding more evidence to the heap. If holding their hurts would heal the wounds I’ll willingly shoulder them all. What tears me apart is that I’m unable to carry their distress for them, I settle for duplicating the load, multiplying it as much as I can, to carry it too. It doesn’t feel enough.
I tried exercising to wear myself out, I hoped the effort would narrow my mind into just counting the seconds until the end of the plank or the burpees but it didn’t. I raised my arms feeling a deepening, long, burning squat on autopilot. My body shook holding for 3, 2, 1, release. My mind insisted on remaining heavily involved in selling my soul to my personal devil in exchange for the fleeting safety of my children again, this time only a few minutes granted.
I’m preparing too for legal battle. I wish I weren’t. He’s gearing to fight too, his callous intelligence and twisted logic primed to argue even the most obvious facts into submission. I have all the evidence on my side. It promises to be harrowing but I grimly draw the ring with measured determination, The stakes are the highest: protecting my children from him, again. This time I will not yield any part of myself to him in the process. I am scared but I will fight with maternal ferocity to secure their future.
I want to sleep but I know this will be a long night, behind my eyelids puppets play out moments I scrabble to avoid in daylight. I am the stage. I’m so tired but…I dread sleep.
Pissing him off by thinking only about my selfish plans. Studying again? Not clever enough, I’d only quit. It’s too much money, already wasted enough. Expect him to look after the children. Fucking hell, had I even considered the impact on him? Unbelievable.
**** **** **** ****
A career or hobbies, friends and interests. Why would I even want all that shallow crap when I’ve got him. All they’re always doing is bitching about their partners. Slagging them off.
I’ve watched them, women who could be me, in Lycra in the park or cosy in a coffee shop window lit to the winter gloom outside. They’re laughing at book club. In a small group at the car park can’t finish the conversation, still hovering by someone’s car.
Total envy. He’d never allow it. Even if he didn’t outright say no he’d make me pay hard for even the suggestion.
So I don’t. Suggest things that is, or have any hobbies, or meet with friends. I greedily snatch conversation at the school gates, fast at the shop when my trolley passes someone I know. Can’t be longer than I should be. Funny how there’s only ever traffic for me, right?
I can’t wear make up, I’m not allowed. He’s already told me he likes it better without it so who the fuck do I think I’m putting it on for?
Who am I sleeping with now? Trying to impress? Flirting like a whore. That man I smiled at yesterday?
“Which man? What smile?”
“In the car, you c***. I saw you. Filthy bitch.”
“Please don’t. That’s illogical, I don’t even know who you’re talking about. I didn’t.”
“If you don’t remember then you can’t say you didn’t do it can you? Which one is it you lying little Bitch? Tripped yourself up again there haven’t you?”
“But, I didn’t with anyone. Please listen, I wasn’t flirting, I didn’t smile. I was just driving, listening to you.”
“Oh right, now I get it. I know what this is about. You’re at it again. ‘Listening to you, I was just listening to you.’ Coz I go on and on, right? Never shut up. I bore you and you thought you’d find someone else yeah?”
“Fucking backfired. You look like a tramp. You’re pig ugly. Lipstick on a pig. Think you’re impressing men. They pity you, haven’t got a clue have you. I don’t know why I put up with you.
Exactly why you keep harping on about work, flirt behind my back then. Fuck every man in the place, get your kicks. You’re disgusting.”
The look crosses his face and my heart slides slick and cold to the floor.
“Look like a hooker, c’mon bitch, I paid you. Get on your knees.”
* I have toned down the language a little to avoid offence where I can but left enough to be representative of this true example. I wanted to illustrate the way my abuser controlled without expressly forbidding at times.
Friday – EMDR again, it rolls around so quickly. I barely see off Tuesday before I’m groaning into midnight, 1… 2am on Friday morning. But, I had another brutal session resulting in a seismic shift in my perspective. It unnerved me a little.
I focused on wrists ties, weight bearing down as my starting point – No exaggeration when I used the word brutal. The intrinsic feeling was overwhelmingly still “I have no value in my own right.”
I followed the light and allowed my mind to link and leap across my life’s trauma. I fell upon moments I’ve described here alongside others I haven’t portrayed in words even in my head. By the end of the session I felt anger and defiance when I took myself to my starting image. I’ve never experienced this before, it sounds bizarre but I’ve been so caught in the fear of the here and now as I relive it over and over that I’ve never found anger, only sheer survival.
Speaking of bizarre: It can only have been a minute or so but in it I imagined myself implausibly splitting the bed frame, still tied, in Herculean strength and raining it down onto my rapist’s cowering head even as he was crushing over me. His hot breath in my face or ear as I contorted away no more. In real life I aimed my knee too weakly into his groin earning a slap solidly across the left side of my face. In the imaginary scene a kick made contact with his head sending it spinning like a football to the ceiling and bouncing across the floor.
This sounds ridiculous and it was but something in the slapstick clownishness released his power. I gained my control back. I diminished him to a pathetic, immoral man.
I linked my self worth, serious again, to my resilience and strength in overcoming my experiences. Back in reality I recognised the times I’ve escaped violence and threat were mostly for the protection of someone else. My children usually. My own worth not enough to take perilous action. When I’d tried to seek help for myself in this instance it had been dismissed. Towards the end of an hour resolutely forcing myself to focus on memories I endlessly avoid I concluded that I didn’t deserve the dismissal, I was worth protecting.
It’s so easy to get lost in thinking I’m stagnant. For anyone locked in the slow battle towards recovery the struggle hour by hour, minute by minute can drown out the cheering for the progress already made.
I can’t pinpoint where I am when I’m this close, I don’t think many people could. Is there value in finding out? I don’t know the answers.
What I am noticing consistently is my stability. It isn’t true to say I’m not meeting setbacks. In previous times my world would rock and I would fall, stumbling to find the footing to begin the climb again, always wounded. Often desperately so. For some time now I’ve not fallen so far, I’m up and proactively finding my new path before I hit despair.
I never thought I’d get to this, it tastes of hope and a future I thought was lost before it began.
I wanted to share this, if someone stumbles across my words feeling the futility of dredging their strength up again and again for what feels like treading water to survive, I hope this small moment of clarity restores purpose and determination. It has for me, my instincts tell me this moment will not coast me to the end but crash and rise, tide to the shore.
I wasn’t ready to write about the EMDR session for a couple of days but I will try now.
I’m getting to know what to expect. We begin with a fast grounding exercise. Rate the trauma in intensity. Focus on an image to represent the specific experience alongside an incorrect deeply held belief. “I have no value in my own right.” in this case. It’s quite difficult to even type this. I feel exposed in doing so.
The light bar releases the light, blue-white for me, on a fast paced journey and my eyes find the rhythm. My head stays still. The psychologist asks me to hold the image and belief as a starting point and see where it takes me. He pauses to ask “What came up?” I force myself to tell him, it’s often difficult and occasionally I’ve had to climb my silence and shame to blurt it out.
Then again the light oscillates and we begin from the last point. In some cases I follow my previous thought, in others I bounce to an entirely different period of my life, seemingly veering out of control into a separate event. I’m beginning to understand the randomness is anything but. I’m linking patterns and pathways, the map of my traumatic veins which underpin my whole experience to date.
It’s fascinating and terrifying. This weekend I’ve had several moments of a few brief seconds at a time suspended in the moment before the tears fall before I am distracted and I move on. I feel grief, a sadness I’ve never felt towards myself before. The loss of the person I would have been. I’m not unhappy with who I am now but I should never have needed to grow against such adversity, nobody should.
I’ve never had enough distance between this incident, a series of rapes held overnight, to feel the sadness that it happened to me. It has felt like my present day for so long, unseen, the cold permeating my every pathetic attempt at protective layers. I experience this night in flashback after flashback, in nightmares and terrors, every time I’m triggered and never more than a hairs breadth away in my hypervigilance.
My hope to be free from this one day is too good to be true, I’m scared to trust that I may release the restraints the rapist tied around my wrists all those years ago. So much lost time. I can feel the bonds loosening already.
The third session on this incident is due next, I don’t know how many more it will take but I will bring my determination to this week on week.
This will have no more power than any other bad memory.
EMDR was brutal today. We delved back into ‘The Worst’ trauma, or at least, the first of the worst. Unfortunately there are a couple of ‘worst’ cases impossible to choose.
My mind skipped from one thing to another faster than I could keep up with reasoning.
I struggled to stay focused a couple of times. But pulled it together.
I’m feeling a little too raw and fragile to detail a great deal today but I did manage to make myself say some deeply shameful experiences which reaffirm my lack of value to myself. The psychologist managed to help me look at it differently, putting the shame for the atrocities back with the perpetrators. I’m trying to hold that though even as I feel myself attempting to push it away again and shoulder the weight as I always have.
To see internal value would, I hope, underpin my recovery.