“Everyone talks about what you do when you’re in an abusive relationship. They tell you what to do to get out of it. But no one talks about what happens after you leave an abuser. And this, is the hardest part. My whole relationship I heard the term “stockholm syndrome” thrown around, and I never truly understood it until now. I thought that the hardest part would be cutting ties, getting away with my life, my sanity, all bones in tact. The hardest part about all of this, is the voice in my head telling me to go back. That this is what I deserve. That I spent such a bulk of my life living like this, not having to think, not making decisions for myself, constantly apologizing, being pulled on a string for years;
You forget yourself. Your mannerisms become theirs. Your favorite movie becomes theirs. You stop singing in the car. You check the locks ten times before bed. You set aside extra money at the end of each shift in secret. You stop talking to your friends. You don’t answer your mother when she asks what’s wrong. You lie to your coworkers about the bruises. You delete your social media accounts. You look behind you everywhere you go. Every noise is a threat. You swallow your opinions, your abrasiveness. You crawl into a shell and forget your way out.
You become so accustomed to these things, that when you’re finally able to make your own decisions, you have no idea where to go from here. No one talks about this. No one talks about being thrown back into a society that we were so harshly taken from. No one tells you what’s okay to talk about and what isn’t. Is this okay? Three years in silence and I’m finally learning how to speak. Three years in silence and I don’t want to ask “is this okay?” anymore.
“We accept the love we think we deserve.” Is bullshit. No one deserves this. No one deserves to think they deserve this. If your significant other controls you, physically hurts you, verbally belittles you, isolates you from your friends and family, and makes you believe that this is your fault; You drove them to hurt you. It’s a lie. It’s not your fault. You do not deserve this. There is a way out. And even when you finally get out and you’re lost like me, know that this pain is okay because you chose it. You walked away. You’re in control from here on out. And even when no one wants to acknowledge that this happens to so many women and even men, know that you are important. Make it known. Make people aware that this happens in our society. We keep silent. We keep small.
As hard as it may be to speak,
Don’t let anyone take your voice away.”
A few months ago, I wrote this piece in a rational state as a reminder to myself when I’m in an emotional state. It’s easy to write in a way that projects yourself as someone who is strong, collected and assured…much easier than to actually be assured with yourself.
I can admit, that months later, I still haven’t recovered. It’s difficult being okay with how slow progress is coming, and on some days, it feels like I’m going backward. I guess a part of me anticipated a shorter recovery span. Now a part of me is wondering if someone ever really recovers from something like this.
This is the first time I’ve sat down and tried to write about this. Not necessarily him, but the aftermath. It’s hard to write about the remnants when rubble is nowhere close to beauty…but that’s one thing I’m learning; Not everything I write is going to be beautiful. Not everything I write is going to be a beautiful process to write. Not this one, this one is red, raw and dripping with emotions that I tried throwing back to God years ago.
The hardest part about this wasn’t losing him, but myself. The hardest part isn’t learning to live without him, it’s learning to live with myself; Someone who is entirely foreign to me. I have no clue who I am, because when I left, I carried away all the pieces of myself that he created. And then, I was alone with this monster of myself that he created, which I only truly saw when I was alone with myself. So perhaps, that is the hardest part. I revel in solitude, although when it seems you’re forced into it, it’s harder to welcome. And this may be the strangest fight, internally. The constant longing, necessity to be alone, yet at the same time this gripping fear of being alone was fervently battling this.
Over time, it’s become clear that the list of battles that follows leaving a life like this are ever-changing. I’ve lost some of his mannerisms, but his favorite color is still my favorite color. I don’t flinch every time someone touches me but I still avoid certain streets of this city, certain parking lots. I drive around Memphis and can mentally make a map of all the places he publicly hurt me; These places are easier to avoid than the home it happened in. I’ve rearranged my room three times but I haven’t done anything about the holes in the the wall or his posters. I still check the locks, I still leave the volume on increments of five, I still take note of every car that passes me on the street, I still take note of every man in a gas station with a knife in his pocket, I still lie to my mom but about different bruises than the ones he left me.
I thought recovery would happen all at once. Foolishly, I keep hoping to wake up one morning without memory of the past years, to suddenly not feel bitter or resentment about all that has happened. I keep praying that I’ll refer to the present as the present instead of the aftermath of what he did to me, but I’m realizing that maybe my whole life will be one long aftermath. That maybe I won’t really recover, just change. It’s coming in pieces. I gain parts of myself and lose parts of myself. It’s ever-changing, constant, but one thing it hasn’t done is leave.
Being thrown back into society was hard for me, but not as hard as being thrown back at myself. Society doesn’t know the story like I do. All society sees is a woman, who is sometimes quiet and sometimes too loud. A woman who is terrified when there is nothing to be terrified about. A woman who flinches at affection yet longs for it. A woman who leaves the table when her coworkers talk about women who deserve what they tolerate.
So, maybe this was supposed to be a post about recovery…or the lack of it. Maybe this is the only way for me to really assess myself at this point in time, and maybe in doing so, it can bring comfort to others. I wish I could say that I am as strong as the woman who originally wrote this post seemed, and sometimes, I feel like her. But most days, I am lost and sad and still figuring it out. Some days, I still tell myself that a life like that was something I deserved. Some days, I still look in the mirror and see him.