Emotional abuse

Repercussions of my ugly reality

I smoked my first cigarette when I was 15.

I had this friend, her parents smoked and she would sneak a few away and hide what became a habit for her, and as it would turn out, for me as well.

When I was fifteen, I went to this high school football game to see the guy I was starting to date, it was a small town in the deep recesses of Georgia and high school football was where everyone gathered on a Friday night.

The popular kids, who were my friends from church, invited me up to their section in the stands. My smoker friend was excited for this, getting an invitation was the first step, so I went.

In the stands on that football field, the guy I was dating, and the girls I was friends with from church seemed thrilled to have me with them, I had this warmth in my heart that I was being accepted, when only moments before I had been scared that the guy I was seeing wouldn’t want to see me since I had confessed to him that I had been raped, but everything seemed so good in those first few moments.

Knowing what I know today, I should have known that they weren’t thrilled, the smile that Lizzy had on her face wasn’t excitement, it was treacherous and manipulative, but I was young and naive. I wasn’t prepared for her to come at me with a full blast of accusatory statements, there was no time for me to get a word out of my mouth. I was embarrassed, humiliated, horrified that everyone knew now and then they all turned their heads away from me. I reached my hand out to touch the arm of the guy I was seeing and he jerked it away, not even looking at me. I burst into tears and he moved past everyone to get away from me.

In shock, I walked down the stairs to leave. I found my smoker friend, she asked me what was wrong but I had already pulled back deep into myself to keep the wounds I felt inside from bleeding any further.

I was broken, she took me to her house, we sat on her bed and she lit a cigarette. I didn’t say anything, I just took it from her, I coughed, choked, but the pain that it caused made me feel better. It took my mind off of the destructive abuse of rape, the searing pain in my lungs momentarily made me forget the humiliation of being shunned by my peers, the high of it – that sharp pain it causes in my brain – filled the void that had been left behind when I felt like I had been stripped and beaten from the inside out.

Today

More than fifteen years have come and gone as a painful blur. I dissociated to save my thoughts from the pain that my body went through, even though the emotions live inside like a black mold eating my body from the inside out. I blocked and blacked out in order to try and survive just one more day.

The healthier the people I surround myself with and the healthier my life gets because of therapy, the more it hurts and the more I hurt myself.

When I would dissociate, I could have an argument and I wouldn’t be present for it, I would go to an inner place in my head while my mouth spewed words that I would later be sorry for. When I am present and I have an argument, the adrenaline spikes and the trigger that it is, causes my face and body to ache in the locations where I have been hit. These areas on my face, my neck, my back, my stomach, my arms, they ache with the hurt of the past.

The monsters of my past haunt me every day and without realizing it, I’ve been helping them.

I felt like I was the worst kind of garbage after years of rape and abuse. I became so broken that deep down I believed I deserved to be treated this way, even though outwardly I was smiling and telling people that I was strong enough to stand.

The repercussion of the physical and psychological monstrosities is that I treat myself like garbage.

I hide from people I love in order to sneak cigarettes because the pain I feel when I smoke fills an ache of pain from my past and I think I deserve that. I drink too much at night in order to make sure that I won’t lie awake in bed terrorized by memories of my past, the headache the next morning … I think I deserve that.

I have stomach issues, lactose intolerance, GERD, and an ulcer, but I don’t stop eating food that is bad for me, because the pain it causes affirms that emotional feeling that I deserve to feel bad.

As it is every day, my vision isn’t clear because I have headaches that build into migraines. My stomach is burning with pain from eating. My neck tension is so severe that when I turn my head I hear cracking noises and pain reverberates, shuddering through my brain.

I panic that every day will be my last because of the amount of stress and pain I feel. I used to think that I was going to die from this pain, suddenly and swiftly.

I think about stopping all of these vices. These vices which have not helped me, but have only monumentally added to the pain I feel. My inner struggle is worry, that without these vices and bad habits – I am afraid I will feel everything. Is the pain from these vices really worse than the ugly reality of what happened?

Is the pain worse than finding out I’m a terrible at keeping a clean house and it isn’t just laziness?

Is the pain and fear worse than tossing and turning for hours, trying to shut out the monsters that haunt me in the dark of night, when the world is silent, but my mind is screaming?

Is it worth the pain and fear of dying sooner in life due to my vices and habits, because they help me dissociate from the agonizing terror of dying at the hands of someone else?

With these vices of mine, I have perpetuated and continued the feeling that I deserve to be in pain and that I deserve to feel bad. As the black tar of cigarettes coats my lungs with every inhale and the bottle of wine half finished is poured into another glass, I tell myself that I will get better, that I will do better, ironically, that is the same thing I used to say when I was being abused.

It is stunningly clear to me today, that the monsters of my past have evolved into new monsters in my present, in the form of things that I can become addicted to.

My addiction is clear for me, I am addicted to not wanting to feel, not wanting to remember, not wanting to look at myself in a mirror and seeing who I have become.

I did not want to acknowledge how I felt about myself, my face, or my body. So I embraced vices and habits that made me numb to everything but the pain that they themselves cause.

I have come to a place in the last few weeks where the vices and habits are making life harder, the purpose they served in the past is missing.

I have nothing to give this world but who I am, if I am numb and my eyes are vacant, I am not living. If I am in pain from a hangover and smoking, giving my body and mind less oxygen than it needs to function, I am only hurting myself.

There is a great quote, unknown to me who said it first, but it goes … I will remember and recover, not forgive and forget.

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I miss the person I once was, I sometimes dream of the person I had hoped to become. This life, with all of the good, the bad, and the ugly, is my reality and I think it is time that I confronted it.

I think it is time I fight for me, for who I want to be, and for what I want out of this life.

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He traumatized the mundane.

I walked into therapy today not knowing what was on my mind, but when I sat down and opened my mouth there was a flood of words describing this feeling of hopelessness that I’ve been noticing, and sometimes, regretfully, am overwhelmed by. The feeling isn’t with me most of the time, but when it happens, I am undone by panic attacks and I feel depressed about it.

Through the intensive process today, it became stunningly clear where and when I started feeling hopeless about the mundane. You see, my ex, he liked things done a specific way and when I moved in with him he assigned me tasks around the house that were to be done before I left for work for the day. The reason for every day……… “Don’t you care about our home? Don’t you want to take care of our home to make it nice to come home to every day?” I said yes but I felt every day was excessive but since I was 20 I thought that maybe, possibly I didn’t know right from wrong. There was a list for me on the counter when I would wake up in the morning, my tasks for that day. Vacuuming, Clean the mirrors, Dust the insides of CD cases (which were never used), Dishes, and Floors. I would run around like a mad dog trying to get everything done before going to my job. I always felt like I accomplished what was on the list when I left the house, it was spotless, but when I came home, even that first day, there was a note of how I had failed at my chores.

I took the note to him and was laughing about it because I thought it was a joke .. until I saw the vacuum cleaner sitting out in the middle of his office. He told me to pay attention, that this was to help me .. and showed me how to wind the chord for the vacuum in a certain way so that the end with the plug was at the top – for easy access. Then he showed me how I had barely any lines in the carpeting, explaining that he wanted to see clean, straight lines in the carpet. The dishes I had left to dry in the drain, but that was wrong because of water spots, they have to be dried immediately and put away, did I think he would want to see my dishes when he came home? At least I did ok on the mirrors, that was my thought as I went to bed and resolved that I would be better, do better. It never got better, the notes became more aggressive, I was yelled at over lines in the carpet, and physically assaulted over crumbs on the kitchen counter.

At the beginning of therapy I felt awful, that the little things I do around the house have been making me panic and feel hopeless. I didn’t realize how much he traumatized the mundane for me until today. These little chores, these simple activities …. they have been devastating me because he abused me over them, emotionally and physically. Vacuuming wasn’t to clean the floors, it was to avoid being called a failure. Dishes done perfectly … to avoid physical abuse. At the end of therapy, I felt mad, it’s fucking bullshit that he destroyed me over mundane tasks. MUNDANE tasks.

I was driving home and was sifting through why I have panic attacks sitting in the car at a red light. The stillness of the car, but motion of others, the waiting for the green light to happen, waiting, waiting, I always panic, I feel faint, and I’m terrified that I will die. Still, to this day. So I thought I would put it to the test, what happens if I don’t use the avoidance measures that help me and just embrace the panic at a light – see what happens. I did and I panicked hard. I was dizzy and I could barely keep my eyes open from the pressure that comes on so suddenly, but then it passed and I was fine. 20 seconds later my heartbeat was starting to get back to normal. 60 seconds later my breathing starts to come back to normal.

It’s the waiting for the green light, not knowing when I can expect it. I have the same terrorized feeling that I did when I would be on my way back to that house. Not knowing what to expect but waiting for what would happen.

I need to get to know you

It’s been a while. I stopped writing because I felt like I was feeding anger instead of moving forward with hope and I needed to get my head straight on that point.

The husband and I moved to a new apartment, it’s newer, spacious, and peaceful. I’ve been running myself ragged the last two weeks for this move and trying to do more than I think my body could undertake. I started having massive panic attacks again this last week and yesterday I couldn’t get my heart to steady after one panic attack in the morning. I spent the whole day trying to breathe but labored with each breath, I could feel my lungs aching from the strain.

Because panic attacks are what they are, I of course think that I must be dying. This sounds like it’s funny, but it isn’t. It’s terrifying. This impending sense of dread and death is a stealthy stalker and when you’re having a panic attack, it can be crippling.

Before we went to bed last night, I told my husband what I was feeling and he did his utmost to comfort me and assuage my fears. As he rubbed my back in this steady motion that he’s learned calms me, I wondered how he knows just what to do.  It was at that moment that I realized how I am literally uncomfortable with myself. I wrote myself a quick email last night detailing all that I am uncomfortable with, like my appearance, my smile, the way I talk, the way I walk… the list was endless.

I went to sleep, trying to relax and breathe, thinking to myself and telling myself “I need to get to know you.” I need to listen to my body and take care of it, not hate it for what happened. I need to look at my face in the mirror and not imagine the bruises that aren’t there anymore. I need to let myself start to feel happy again without guilt. Neither my body or my mind has relaxed in the last seven years and in the last six months I’ve known that this needs to change, I can’t live like this anymore.

I have this recurring dream where I see myself, barely in my 20’s and the shower can’t clean enough off. I’m mute, paralyzed, and scared. There’s a party going on outside the bathroom and I just see the dirt trails going down the drain. Every time I have this dream I feel like fighting. Fighting for life, fighting for myself, fighting for happiness, fighting for this to end. All of it.

I need to get to know myself again.

The incredible shrinking woman

Ever wish you could hit a refresh button and start anew? I do. All the time.

Sometimes in therapy, we do a little exercise where I think back to a trauma and imagine myself now, standing there, watching it – what do I know now as an adult that i didn’t know then. Truth be told, most of the time with this exercise, I mostly want to bitch slap my abusers, kick them in the junk, and take the child that I was away to safety. There are no words. Just bitch slap, kick in the junk, and walk away.

I watched the movie The General’s Daughter the other night and when she recreates the scene of what happened to her and screams, Look at me! This happened to me! This did happen!  I completely understood why she would do it.

“You need to get over it.”

When people that I consider friends and my extended family say “You need to get over it.” I struggle to breathe.

I don’t disagree in this idea of getting over it, I would love to get over it, but when the perpetrators did not, will not, and won’t ever admit what they did or that it did happen – I am the one left standing degraded and traduced.

One fateful summer was the first time I ever experienced cruelty, deception, and some slight physical abuse, and it was almost 20 years ago at the hand of my grandmother, cousin (female), and aunt. With the little exercise I mentioned earlier, I’ve come to a new understanding:

  • I know now that I don’t need to get out a soapbox and proclaim my innocence.

My parents believed me, my sisters believed me, my brothers believed me. My true character should withstand annihilation and defamation to those that know me. This pain I’ve carried, the need to somehow prove myself to be true to my accusers/abusers has no merit because they don’t want to know me for who I am, they don’t want to know me at all.

  • I don’t need them to love me, I don’t need their approval.

Why, why, would I want their love? Why would I want their approval? I was a happy, enthusiastic, eager-to-please child when my grandmother accused me of being a liar, a thief, and told me that I was ugly and worthless. I have no need for the love and approval of someone who would treat a child as she treated my mother and myself.

  • When I see what happened through the eyes of an adult, I can honestly say that I wholly disapprove of the actions of my grandmother, aunts, and uncles.

There was no love, no apology, only silence when it was found that the accusations against me were false. Denial of the entirety occurring has been the mantra for my grandmother, aunt, and cousin. There were other aunts and uncles around, they saw what was happening and they did nothing to stop it. In fact, they took my sister 75 miles away from me and left me alone with the grandmother and the cousin.

That summer, what happened in it, has haunted me and made me conscious of my every move in life and in my career. It changed the course my life was set on because I felt I always had to have witnesses, proof that can hold up to support me.

What I know is true today is that I had support, I just didn’t know to reach for it. When I told my parents the truth, they believed me. My brothers and sisters stood beside me, believing me, supporting me.

I used to want to write a letter to my grandmother and aunt, asking for an answer as to how they could have treated a child like they did, but I know it is worthless.

I used to close my eyes really tightly, practically clicking my heels together like Dorothy and wish that I could wipe my slate clean, clear my name, rebuild my character… but that is where I went wrong. I held onto wanting to change my past so badly that my present and future suffered for it for the last 20 years.

I can no longer stay quiet in this world, I have a voice and I feel it reverberate off my internal walls, making its slow climb upward until its melody can be heard all around.

Elin Stebbins Waldal

When I revisit the trauma, as I mentioned earlier, I can see the whole scene playing out, but as an adult, I see my father, I see my mother, I see my husband, I see my brothers, I see my sisters, and I see the overwhelming wealth of love and support that I had, still have, and will always have from them. That love and support, far outweighs the cruelty that my grandmother, aunt, and cousin inflicted. It’s well past time to refocus the lens I’ve been looking through.

I will not be the incredible shrinking woman anymore.

Stronger

Oh, and Grandma, get bent.

Sigh.

Short and quick. Today is rough.

People can’t live with change if there’s not a changeless core inside them. The key to the ability to change is a changeless sense of who you, what you are about and what you value. – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

A changeless sense of who you are, what you are about, and what you value. I feel a little shell shocked thinking about this.

I really lost who I was/am through a series of bad relationships.

What am I about? I know I used to be about being happy, doing something, moving along in life, going somewhere, having goals for my career… but I’ve lost that too.

I threw my values away because I couldn’t stay in an abusive relationship if I kept them. If I had valued myself even, I could not have stayed, but for whatever reason I traded my values of caring.. compassion… dedication… devotion… honesty… hope… integrity… optimism… respect… unity… and love for a man who valued only himself. The default of giving up your core values for a person who won’t share them, is that the only thing left to value is that person and if their core values are me, myself, and I, there isn’t any room for you.

So, who the hell am I?

We need to think of ourselves as gifts to be given and to think of others as gifts offered to us. – John Powell

My twinsie and I both have a problem of considering ourselves a burden. It happened because of emotionally destructive people in our lives, as in, the man I dated, and the man she married. If we take these two destructive people out of the picture and focus instead on say, the family we know, we would see ourselves as loved, precious, and in no way a burden, but a blessing.

I try to focus on that in therapy and I’m getting a lot closer, but once someone has made you feel and enforced in your mind that you are a burden, it is a 25′ grave that you are struggling to get out of, if you struggle at all.

Today is hard. It is worse to watch someone you love be disrespected and disappear in front of you from the constant haranguing of the emotionally destructive spouse than to be the one it happens to.

It is like screaming to an empty room.

Why can’t they see it?

Why couldn’t I see it when I was in it?