I’ve learned that a woman with a tough past needs to be treated with patience. She needs time to breathe, to heal, to rediscover herself. A mistreated woman will reject love countless amounts of times before she gives in because she has lost the sense of what it is like to be treated right. But the beautiful thing about her is the wisdom she gained from her past and the endless capacity of love she has to offer.
Like many young adults my age, I have struggled my entire life to discover who I really am. We get it set in our young minds that we have to discover exactly who we want to be before we are ready to be adults. Once I began college, I felt like it was finally my time to be whoever I wanted to be. I didn’t have to be the “quiet girl” anymore. I could be the studious science major, the crazy sorority girl, the perfect balance of smart and crazy sorority girl, and everything in-between. I was many different variations of myself throughout college. At first I was inexperienced and shy, then I was wild and outgoing. All of the variations of Sydney that I became, began to add together to form the Sydney that I wanted to be. These variations of who I was becoming was the last time in my life that I could experiment with who I was. It was still okay for me to test the waters of my life. It was okay for me to go to Taco Bell at 2 am with my best friends. It was okay for me to finish an entire bottle of wine in one weekend. It was okay for me to miss class once and a while because I wanted to. These things were okay. Because it was the last time in my life that I didn’t have to be an adult yet. It was the final time in my life where I could learn about being responsible, but not have to dedicate my entire life to being a picture-perfect human being. In the end of my college career, the Sydney I wanted to be was finally becoming a real image. I was happy with myself, who I surrounded myself with and the decisions that I made with my future life. When I finally felt that the many colors of Sydney that I had added along the way of my life, was finally becoming the final painting of who I wanted to be, my life came crashing down around me.
When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person that walked in. That’s what the storm is all about.
I wasn’t ready to be an adult. I wasn’t done having fun. I wasn’t done being young and the perfect amount of crazy. I was happy with who I was. I was happy with all of the experiences in my life that had created someone I was happy to look back at in the mirror. But what happens when you’re abused, is that who we are, gets taken away. I was suddenly forced to enter a world that I had no choice on entering. I didn’t get to chose my path this time. My abuser chose it for me.
Victims of abuse are forced to change who they are when we are least expecting it. I am not the same Sydney you met in high school. I am not the same Sydney you met in college. I am not the same Sydney you called your best friend for three years in college. I am not the same Sydney you’ve had a crush on. I will always have those tiny pieces of my past that added to the painting of my future self, but I will never be the Sydney that you knew. I became a part of a world that not many people belong to. That’s why I’m here to tell you what you have to know about that someone in your life who has been a victim of domestic violence, abuse, or trauma. Our minds are forever affected by what we’ve experienced, and the person you once knew will forever be altered. This isn’t our choice. We did not become this way on purpose. We long for the person we used to be. But one day in our lives post abuse, we begin to realize that this is who we now are. We are not bad, mean or psycho, or overly-emotional, or manipulating. We are us. We are still your daughter, sister, niece, granddaughter, best friend, crush, wife, girlfriend, neighbor, loved one. We are just being forced to enter a new world that will forever have an impact on our personalities. Our abusers have left scars on the puzzle pieces of our life that created who we were as individuals.
When I look in the mirror I do not see the same Sydney that I saw before. I do see someone stronger. I see someone that’s sad, but someone who has grown up to be more mature than most people my age. I see a girl who has quickly learned what’s important to her in life. A girl that knows what’s worth fighting over and what’s not. A girl that wants nothing but to be happy from here on out. The only thing holding me back is the people in my life that don’t understand what I’ve been through. The people that cannot seem to understand that some of my actions have something to do with the year of my life that I was abused by the one person I thought I loved most. My mind and perception of myself has been forever altered. I didn’t choose to be abused and I didn’t choose to become a different person because of it. But you can choose to learn to love the new Sydney. You can choose to understand the person in your life who has been through this tragedy because I bet they want you there as much as I want everyone to stick around in my new life.
What You Need to Know About The Person In Your Life Who Has Been Affected By Domestic Violence:
1. We are never going to love the same way:
So here’s the thing with broken hearts. No matter how hard you try, the pieces never fit the way they did before.
Our perception of love was shattered. The fairy-tale love stories we have grown up imagining in our minds has become a figment of our imagination. The one person we gave everything to, turned around and stabbed us in the back. The one person we trusted with our whole heart, that we claimed to love more than ourselves, hurt us. They convinced us that love was this abuse. How they treated us was love. This is what abusers do. They manipulate people. They chose women who they know love with their whole heart. They chose a certain kind of woman who they know will give their everything to anyone they love. They seek out a woman who they know will try to save them. They love to be saved. They love to play the victim and trick you into staying. They made us forget what real love is. They made us forget what it is like to be treated right. They made us believe that they loved us and that this was all okay. Altering our perception of love was their way of keeping us reeled in. It is not until months or even years after we escape the abuse that we realize that it, in fact, was not love. I still struggle to believe that he didn’t love me. So no matter how hard you try to convince us that you care about us, we are not going to believe you. He fooled me into thinking that he loved me with his whole heart, that he would die for me. He then fractured my face in two places. So now that is what love is to me. Love is hitting your girlfriend in the face. So no, I’m not pushing you away on purpose. I’m not acting crazy because I’m crazy. He was crazy. He did a damn good job at making me think that abuse was love. I don’t know what love is anymore. I don’t trust anyone to love me anymore. He has taken over my mind with a plague of distorted thoughts. We need to learn how to love again. Give us time to do so.
2. We are never going to trust anyone as much as we used to:
He told me he loved me. He told me he would do anything for me. He told me he was nothing without me. He told me without me, he would not be okay. He told me I was the only thing holding him together anymore. He told me we were going to have an amazing future. He told me that him hitting me was not abuse. I believed everything he said. Victims are not stupid for believing their abuser’s words. No, victims are trusting someone that they love. Victims are people who would do anything for someone they love. And we do everything for that person. The person who has promised us so many broken promises, but we continue to put our faith in them. So what happens when this trust is broken? It becomes nearly impossible to trust again. We aren’t going to be able to trust people for a long time. This isn’t your fault. This isn’t our fault. This is his fault. No matter how many times you tell a victim of domestic violence that you care about them, they are not going to believe you. We’ve heard that someone cares about us before, but it turned out to be a lie. So it is going to take time to learn to trust someone again. It is going to take a long time to put our faith into someone once again. This doesn’t just go for love interests. This goes for friends and family as well. I have found that even my friends telling me they love and care about me makes me skeptical now. I’ve begun to not trust even my best friends. It’s not that I don’t want to trust them, but I physically cannot. Even small phrases such as “I’m proud of you” or “I miss you”, I begin to not believe. Because my abuser made me believe that I was not worthy of this love. He made me lose my trust in anyone. The only thing that will bring back this trust, is time.
3. We may freak out over small things, but most of us have some form of PTSD:
Trigger: A trigger is anything that sets you off emotionally and activates memories of your trauma. It’s particular to you and what your experience has been. Triggered, we revert to the feelings and behaviors we had in the traumatizing situation.
Someone reaches out to hug me. I lean in to accept the harmless act, but something inside me twitches. A part of me goes black. I am back again. This hand reaching out towards me no longer belongs to the person reaching out towards me at the moment. It belongs to him. And I flinch. My world comes back into focus and I remember once again I am safe. This hand is not him. I am able to sink into the arms, but still a part deep inside of me, is quivering.
I’m laughing with someone. I say something funny. Their hand comes up to high five me. And again, I sink back into my dark place. I am there yet again. The hand is his. And I duck again. My body is bracing for impact. But again, I am pulled out of my dark place and realize I am safe. But yet again, a part inside of me is still shaking. Still fearful that this hand will turn around and make impact with my face. Much like his did so many times.
I am laying down. Leaning on someone I trust. We are laughing. He is telling a story. I begin to poke fun at his tale, a common trait of mine. His hand comes up to grab me, in a joking manner. Yet again, I am back to my dark place. Shaking. But this is deep inside. I show no sign of it on the outside. He probably has no idea. But for a minute I am struggling to catch my breath again. He’s not going to hit you. He’s not going to hit you.
Someone’s telling a story. I’m sitting in the passengers seat of the car, listening intently to them describe this moment of their life. The story is building up. They’re getting excited. Their arms begin to flail in the air, expressing their excitement. Yet again, I flinch. For a moment my heart freezes. I try to laugh at their words. But I’m still frozen for a second. I have to tell myself again. I’m okay. I am safe. They’re not going to hurt me.
We are laying on his bed. I feel safe in his arms. I don’t question my safety when I am around him. I’ll spare you the details and let you use your imagination. His hand comes to my face, once again, I flinch. My insides tense up and I forget to breathe. But I’m okay. He’s not the one who’s hurt me. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
Whether it’s a song he danced to, a place we ate at, a word he used a lot, even his name, anything can trigger me. It suddenly sends my body into a state of shock. You would never know from the outside unless you know me well enough. But deep somewhere inside, hidden within the deepest walls and darkest corners of my being, I fear for my life again. I remember him. His face. His emotionless eyes. He looked like a zombie, hungry for more power, for more blood. But his own being was no longer there. They were crazy, hungry eyes. They haunt my dreams and my every day life. He will always haunt me. I will always be triggered. Something inside of me has changed. I do not feel safe. I cannot trust anyone.
We were victims of a form of trauma. We experience flashbacks and nightmares much like many other victims of trauma. At first, I didn’t even think it was possible for me to experience PTSD. I didn’t think that what I had endured was intense enough to experience something that others experience after enduring such terrible distress in their life. However, studies show that 88% of women who survived domestic violence live with PTSD. I began to realize that I wasn’t the only one who could be experiencing something so intense. I’m not the only one who experiences:
- Intrusive memories of abuse
- Loss of interest in other people and the outside world
- Outbursts of anger
- Overwhelming feelings of sadness, fear, despair, guilt or self-hatred
- An inability to imagine a positive future
- (domestic shelters.org) Find Domestic Violence and Abuse Help, Information and Stats. (n.d.). Retrieved July 04, 2017, from https://www.domesticshelters.org/
PTSD for victims of abuse is not a joke. It is not casual, or nonexistent. We think of veterans when we think of PTSD. Their PTSD is real. I can’t imagine what they must experience, seeing all of the hurt they’ve seen in their lives. But it does not mean that our PTSD and our triggers are not as grave. It is very real. We have nightmares and bad memories and triggers. We were hurt and we have scars. Some physical scars, but some on our hearts. These are still real scars. So no, we may not have been at war, we may not have been in the twin towers when a plane hit, but what we fear is still real, rational, and out right scary.
4. Putting us down for little things can destroy us in an instant:
We are used to abusive words. We are used to not only physical abuse, but emotional and verbal abuse. These usually go hand in hand. Our abusers convince us that we don’t deserve anyone else, anyone better. They convince us that we are so worthless that no one is going to want us besides them. That’s how they rope us in and keep us trapped. Of course, I didn’t notice this until after the relationship. Looking back on it, I think about how much he made me feel so worthless. He made me feel battered, stupid, ugly and unlovable. He jabbed words at me to put me down, to make me feel like I would never be enough for anyone. Not only in relationships, but between friends and family. Abusers are masters at isolating you from friends and family and trapping you in a bubble filled with their toxic presence.
The biggest trigger I have had of these feelings recently has been with friends. Before, petty fights with friends were something to brush off. I was upset for a few days and got over it, knowing their words were only spoken in the heat of the moment, they could never mean it. But now, now is different. Maybe he was right. Maybe I am shitty. Maybe I am a terrible person. Maybe I only think about myself. Maybe I’m selfish. Maybe I’m just downright scum of the earth. Once you hear something enough, especially from the people you love, you start to really believe it.
So yes, when your petty words hit my brain, they not only trigger me to this dark place in my life, but they only sink deeper into the cuts that he dug in my heart. Your words only make me believe that what he was telling me, was right all along. What everyone is telling me was lies from his mouth, is now coming from your mouths. So it must be true. So be gentle with your words. Watch what you say to survivors of DV. Small insults that may not seem like much to you, reach down to a deep dark place in our heart that once only our abuser could access. You may not know it, but you just may be someone’s trigger into the realm of self doubt and sadness we experienced when we heard his same words.
5. NO, we do not overreact and we are not seeking attention:
Dont worry, our abuser has told us many times how much we overreact. How much we are blowing the situation out of proportion.
“It’s not abuse”. “I’m not abusing you”. “You’re overreacting”.
It took me months to even accept that what I had experienced was domestic violence. Still to this day, I have doubts that maybe I just overreacted. Maybe I did blow it out of proportion. I try to attend group, but I sit there and think “I don’t belong, I am not damaged, I am not a victim of abuse”. But as I sit there even longer I begin to realize that yes, I was abused. Yes, what happened to me was terrible. It’s even hard for me to type that. I don’t want to admit that it is true. To me, others have been through way worse. But he just trained me to believe that I am overreacting. I am blowing this out of proportion. His voice still echoes in my head.
So when I hear someone say “you’re seeking attention”, “you’re overreacting”. It sinks into my skin like warm water rushing over my skin, but instead, it is sharp words. What we all experienced is different. All varying levels of verbal, emotional and physical abuse. However, how we continue to live with our scars is our choice. We need to find ways to heal. But we cannot heal if we do not speak out. We cannot heal if we do not begin to accept that what happened to us was real. Our abusers mastered making us feel like our feelings were not reasonable. Our fear was not real. We are not overreacting. We are not seeking attention. We are simply trying to accept what happened to us so that we can heal our wounds.
6. We are going to have different priorities in our lives:
Abusers seek out victims who dedicate their everything to making someone happy. They find people who they know are going to give up everything for someone. They know that we love deeply and unforgivingly. They know that someone like this will stay around. Abusers are weak. They feed off of our strength. They know that we will always come back. We will always put them first. We will always try to save them.
I stayed with you for so long throughout the bullshit because I was torn between not giving up on the person that I loved, and coming to terms with the fact that the person that I loved no longer existed inside of the body that I stared at everyday…it takes a while to believe it.
So after time and time again of saving this person who cannot be saved, this person who played the victim, who cried wolf to keep us tied up in their tangle of narcissism, we need to put ourselves first. I never put myself first before in my life. I am just bay type of person. And I am not unlike many other woman who are abused. Many of us have this similar trait. This is why we stay. Because we want to save everyone. We want to take care of everyone else.
Once we escape from this trap, this life of not caring about ourselves, we finally get to put ourselves first. Our priority is now our own happiness. It is one of the only ways to finally heal.
This means that our priorities in life will change. I am sure you are used to us being selfless and completely devoted to theirs happiness. But now we must do a major shift. We need to protect ourselves. We need to protect our own happiness. We almost completely lost sight of it once.
Not only will we begin to put other people on the back burner for our own safety, but we will begin to prioritize different things in life. I realized what really is important. This dark experience was a flame inside of me that suddenly sparked, lighting up corners of my life that I had forgotten, that had began to grow eerie, silky cobwebs. I realized that life is short. Fights are not worth it. Family is most important. Girl friends are more important than cute guys. Hard work is going to be what drives you to success. Every small moment counts. Being sad is no longer worth it. Happiness. This is what matters.
And so I begun my journey into mindfulness. Into the idea that being aware of everything in the present moment and being aware and accepting of ones feelings is what can lead you to a certain peace that most people never achieve in a lifetime. What interested me in this state of being was the idea that you are being completely aware of your own feelings and accepting them. Mindfulness can make us happier, healthier and more stress free. It connects us to our own selves as well as the world around us on a deeper level. Throughout this journey I have learned that my main priority is ME. My second is family. My third is friends. My fourth is being accepting and nonjudgmental. My fifth is making sure that small things in life do not lead to huge negative impacts. My sixth, which is so much like my old self, is putting a smile on other faces, which will in turn, put a smile in my soul. My priority is no longer anyone else before me. One day it may be again, but for now my own happiness has taken the front seat.
7. We need time and patience, we cannot just “let it go”:
Someone not many people can say they have met
They think it
But they have not met the hurt I have met
Not the hurt who shakes me to my core
Not the hurt who rained down on my life like the embers of a wildfire
Not the hurt who left cracks in my soul deep enough to bury any happiness that ever existed inside my soul
I have been through something traumatic. I need time. I need patience. I need to heal. It is not easy. Nor do I think it will ever be. But healing does not work that way. Healing cannot knock down the door and kick hurts butt. Healing is slow and steady. No I cannot just “get over it”. It is going to follow me for the rest of my life. It is going to impact the way I view myself, the way I feel about myself. It is going to impact the relationships I have with men. It is going to impact the way I trust. It is going to impact the relationships I have with friends. But healing will not come fast. It’s not meant to be that easy. Hurt is meant to shake us to our core and make us feel like we can never move on. But it builds a strength so deep inside of us that not many other people have. If we “just let it go”, we will not heal properly. We will fall into the same patterns. We will fall into a deep dark hole of despair and depression. Yes, we know other people have experienced hurt. We are not trying to take that away from you. But this is a hurt that has thrown us into a new world. We see the world with new eyes. We see humans with new eyes. We are different and our bodies and souls need time to catch up with us. Give us time.
8. We have a hard time loving ourselves, and are going to continue to have a hard time loving ourselves, but someday we are going to love someone again and we have a lot of amazing love to offer:
Is a talent
We thought we mastered
Until we realized we were no good at such a fragile thing anymore
Hearts ripped from our chests
And stomped into the ground like a threatening bee
How can one expect us to love the same
When the love we gave
Was never handed back to us in quite the same state it was given
Like I’ve said many times before in this post, we are going to be terrible at love. Once it was something that we were so good at. We gave our everything to it. And it came back and smacked us across the face, literally in my case. Even loving ourselves is extremely difficult after being shamed and put down. Our abusers crippled our ability to love ourselves and anyone in the future. That’s their way of staying in control. Their way of being able to manipulate us until the end of time. Long after we have began to forget their face or the sound of their voice, when we attempt to love again, our doubt will surface. The doubt that they planted there.
So love. Well it’s always going to be damn hard for us. We thought we knew how to love. We thought we gave it everything. And it got thrown back into our faces. Our trust has completely vanished into a dark abyss. We no longer have love for ourselves. He ruined that. Crushed that. Made it seem like we are it worthy of love. Not even our own. And made us think we are not worthy of anyone else’s love. So loving is going to be hard. Really fucking hard.
But I’ll tell you one thing. Once we love again, we are going to be able to offer so much endless love. Because that’s who we are. That’s what go us in trouble in the first place. But that’s always going to be who we are. Our scars and battles are going to turn into strength. And one day we are going to love full heartedly again.
9. If you decide to hurt me after knowing what I’ve been through, I’m probably not going to be too fond of you, a fair warning:
If you’re someone who has been around for all of the hurt that I’ve endured, and seen me at my lowest low, but still decide to treat me like shit. Well, we’re gonna have a problem. To know that someone has endured something so mentally battering, but to still continue to beat me down, you have no room in my life. I am not sure what kind of people think it’s okay to continue to beat down on someone so scarred. But I’m going to end on the note that no one of such sort is a priority in my life. We have already been beat down. No one deserves to do it again.
Not sure how it works
Or if there is a right way to do it
But I do know I have to try
Because if not
I am going to continue to evaporate
Into thin air like the fog surrounding me by the river
Slowly but surely until I am no longer real
No longer existing
So I must find a way
To stitch myself back together