Shaking the shackles of abuse
Being in an abusive relationship is like being outside and alone in a hurricane. The insults, criticism and threats whip the tears straight from your eyes. Your worst fears and memories used against you, leaving you feeling raw and exposed. You're exhausted from all the fighting and chaos, but you just have to keep dodging obstacles.
God knows how many bruises and cuts I sustained during the dark days, some of which were self inflicted. God knows how many batterings my soul took, luckily a lot of the worst of it is blocked; kept safely at bay by my protective mind.
And I survived. All my future achievements will be overshadowed somewhat by the fact that I survived. In many ways, I couldn't be prouder of myself. There's no more hate in my life, and that makes me feel more alive than watching a thousand sunsets.
The end of the relationship hurtled towards me, and my whole being feared the prospect and fought against it. I ached all over, I felt abandoned and lost. Locked out in the dark in the cold, sometimes literally. The me that was broken, couldn't imagine a future free of the little crumbs of kindness sometimes left out on the carpet. Broken, I could not picture a world in which I didn't get to pick up these fucked up fragments of love every day. But long before I thought I was ready, it was over.
And far more suddenly than it had begun, the wind stopped. The air was still. I desperately looked around for signs of danger, but there was nothing but silence. There were no more slamming doors. There was no more risk of being dragged out of bed. There was no more screaming. Just the sound of the tap, or my dog, or the toilet flushing or the padding of my own feet on the floor, as I moved around my flat.
Within days, I had shaken free of some of the chains. I learned to open up, just a little at first and then more. Within weeks, I was laughing; true belly laughs that were so alien it was almost painful.
Over the last year, it feels like I have been flying. Or dreaming. Or living. I don't even think there is a word strong enough for the feelings I have felt, but they were real.
I love my friends and family harder than I have ever loved anyone. I have seen the lengths they are willing to go, just to make me feel happy or safe or appreciated or important, and it has taught me to love without fear again and I feel connected to them in a way that makes me feel like I am almost breathing in the freedom they have given me.
I am the luckiest girl in the whole world.
There is one thing that I am truly worried I will never properly be able to do though and that is: I cannot imagine ever being able to commit to a romantic partner.
It's not that I think I should be ready, because I don't. I know that it's slow and that I am both stronger and more fragile than I was before the abuse. Maybe that's why I don't want to confront this part of my future, why I ultimately can't even face up to starting the process of becoming comfortable around men.
My life has become about strength, about resilience. It has become about solidarity, independence and empowerement. I have become confident in my own abilities, sure of my own opinions and I am trusting and trusted once more. My life no longer has room for the kind of vulnerability that you succumb to when you open your heart to a new relationship.
I don't want someone to hold my heart. I don't want to start to rely on someone being there to give me comfort. I don't want to let anyone into the safety and healing that I have so carefully constructed. Worse still, I don't want to start to let someone into my stronghold, only to shut them out at the first sign of healthy conflict. Or to let someone truly special (which he would have to be) go, because of something as natural and expected as a white lie or disagreement.
My fortress has so many walls and moats and mountain ranges around it, that I honestly can't imagine the kind of superhuman it would take to break in. And even if they somehow made it past all the obstacles, would I even want them to be there?
It's an issue that I rarely let myself think about, because when I do it is heartbreakingly bleak. Things I once assumed would be a part of my future, like children and marriage, now seem as impossible and distant as becoming a millionaire.
It isn't that there's any more risk for me than for anyone else embarking on a new and loving relationship, it's just that I know exactly what I'm gambling with. A barrier, that I had only ever considered in abstract before, has been smashed apart and I can see into the danger beyond it far too clearly.
I never wanted to know what it would feel like to feel real physical danger. I wish I didn't know that.
To the people who have found love after abuse, I truly can't express how in awe I am of the bravery you shown. You are amazing. You are leaders. You have set out on a journey that takes so much courage and faith. I thank you, for giving hope to the people that follow behind.
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