I have always been that person that loves wildly, full heartedly, and sometimes blindly. When I love, I love without limits, without caution, without wondering if the grass really is greener on the other side. And never once, when I thought about love, the first decade and a half of my life, did I ever think that it would be anything but brilliant and soul satisfying. Never once did I think I would become the 1 in 4 that would experience violence by an intimate partner in my life time. But love for me wasn’t brilliant, and it was soul crushing, and I did become that statistic.
At first, I didn’t even see it as abuse. In my mind, it was mean things said in the heat of the moment, or mistakes made due to a lack of good judgement or significant thinking. And then it slowly turned, in my mind, to what I was doing wrong. Was I really disgusting? Was I really dumb? Was I really something to just set aside or pass around? Why were all those other women more important than me? I would listen to him tell stories to his friends about how he would sleep with other women and then force them to sleep on the floor afterwards and I would feel so sorry for them, I would feel so compassionate towards them, and forget that I was also that woman. I would beg and cry because I didn’t understand what I did wrong to make him so angry.
Eventually words meant to break my spirit turned into situations to keep me away from my friends and isolate me. Eventually threats turned into actions. And eventually I turned into someone I couldn’t even recognize when I looked in the mirror. After several years, the relationship ended, and I felt this overwhelming sense of relief. That I was free of those chains that were weighing me down and I would go back to the life I once had; carefree, hopefully.
Weeks passed, and the freedom I was hoping for never came. I became depressed, I lived on friends couches and turned to drugs to avoid facing real life and my family. A few months later I was sexually assaulted by a co-worker, which was covered up by fellow department members, and I was once again in a mindset that I was just a body, nothing more than an object to be passed around and treated however someone else wanted.
Fast forward years later and I am clean and sober and have rebuilt relationships with my family and friends. But I have also learned that taking that first step away from an abusive relationship is not the only hard step there is to take. That being a survivor of violence and sexual assault doesn’t make the pain of the events any less traumatic. I now live in a world inside my own head that is filled with paranoia, night terrors, and anxiety. I am forgetful when I use to remember everything. Where memories of my childhood use to live is now a void space as my mind copes.
To be completely honest, until a few years ago, I thought PTSD was something that only veterans were diagnosed with and that anxiety and OCD were something I would never be living with myself. I was too happy and carefree in life to ever feel the grip of depression. But here I am telling you that what your life was yesterday isn’t always what your life will be tomorrow, and that’s ok. Seeking help doesn’t make you weak, it doesn’t make you “weird” or “strange”, it doesn’t make you less of a person, it just makes you human. As Glennon Doyle Melton would say: “People who need help sometimes look a whole lot like people who don’t need help.”
I was very silent for a long time about the abuse I endured so many years ago, and for the sake of honesty, this is the first time I’ve ever publicly written anything in much detail beyond “I was abuse and I survived.” It’s not an easy feat, to out yourself, especially in a public forum where people who don’t know you can judge you as they see fit. I kept most my story secret, even from my closest family and friends, even from my now husband, because reflecting on that part of my life with my abuser always makes me feel unsafe again and because I don’t want people to look at me with sympathy in their eyes that is like a punch to my heart.
I wrote this now though, because I think it’s important to remember that one bad apple doesn’t spoil the bunch. One horrific relationship doesn’t set the stage for all the relationships to follow. One assault doesn’t make you “tainted” or “unworthy”. I am happily in love now. I’m married to a wonderful man who is the father to my wonderful son. I am worthy of love, compassion, happiness. We are ALL worthy of those things.