This Is My Life
I appreciate the glorious normalcy of my life these days. Sometimes my friends think my optimism, energy and drive verge on the ridiculous. I can’t really help it. I still feel lucky, more than six years after the last time I saw my ex-husband, that I can do regular things like have friends and hang out without getting trouble or being accused of . . . anything.
I don’t want to paint an unrealistic picture here. I spent the first few of these last six years not believing this shift would happen, but now the scales are tipping. I am coming up on having been out of my abusive relationship for as long as I was in it.
Back then, I felt like my life just wasn’t real— like I wasn’t real. (This had started even before I met my ex-husband. My therapist tells me this sort of denial is a common way for people to cope with trauma.) The thought, “this is not my life,” played on loop in my mind for decades. I clung to that idea.
Now, I don’t take for granted the realness I feel in every bit of my life. The new thought, “this is my life,” has fully replaced my old desperation.
Gratitude Gets To Me
I don’t actively compare things now to my old day-to-day because they differ so much. Every once in awhile, though, realization of the contrast smacks me in the face. This weekend was one of those times.
I went camping for a couple nights with a group of friends. At a few different points, around the campfire and traipsing around the woods, it hit me hard enough to bring tears to my eyes. I act goofy. I have friends. I do things that are important to me and not some violent manipulator. These normal things feel extraordinary to me — I can’t help but feel happy and excited. I look around, and everything in my life has surpassed my wildest dreams.
I Live A Full Life
Recovering from domestic violence isn’t the only thing I’ve done over the past few years. I’ve forged many meaningful relationships. I’ve gotten through some heartbreak. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve gotten to know myself. I’ve run and closed a few businesses. I’ve had countless new and wonderful experiences. Did I mentions I’ve made friends? (Maybe this isn’t a huge deal for some of you reading, but for those like me, who have been severely isolated, this is mega.)
I went from being so debilitated by PTSD that I couldn’t leave my house, to this person who lives her life according to her own terms. I went from being so unsure of myself that I needed help with every decision to being a person friends come to for advice, understanding, inspiration, and motivation. They know that if they want an honest, caring, thoughtful response, I’m a good person to see.
Years might seem like a long time to wait to be happy, but for me it almost felt short because I never expected it to actually happen. I can tell you, five or six years is a whole lot sooner than never. My life is full and rich and shows no signs of stopping. If I can come this far in the last six years, I am excited to see where I go in the rest of this decade.
When was the last time your new life felt overwhelmingly awesome? Have you gotten there, or are you still working on it?
Enjoy the rest of your Memorial Day Weekend.
“You Do Enough.”
This is my therapist’s message in our recent sessions. On one hand, I see where she’s coming from. On the other hand , I don’t get it.
I have such a strong desire to always do, see, know, and understand “more” that I can’t imagine ever doing “enough.” I have a go-to method I have always thought would get me to balance in my life: addition.
When I wanted direction, I added meditation and self-reflection to my routine. When I realized I had too much work and not enough play, I simply added in play. Then I wanted to improve my physical health, so I added exercise, research, and lots of time for food shopping and cooking. I wanted to improve my mental and emotional health, so I added in therapy. I wanted to go back to school, so I added in classes. I wanted to meet more people, so I added dozens of groups. I wanted to get past my trauma, so I added writing my story of closure and healing.
Then I had so much going on, I just “had” to add in time hyper-organizing and keeping my home clean. (What can I say? Files make me happy.) I felt disconnected from my family, so I added time dedicated to developing those relationships with phone conversations, travel and written correspondence.
How much can I really add into the right hand side of the equation? I’ve thought of the equation in terms of the limits to what I can add, and I decided I didn’t want any limits. Life = work + play +introspection + meditation + exercise + therapy + school + writing + publishing + family + hyper-organizing + + +
Even though I love, love, love everything I do, I have apparently taken for granted two important components of the life equation: rest and sleep. (Yes, I even love the homework, especially when my teachers gush over the meticulous presentation of my assignments.) I guess I shouldn’t have focused solely on the limits, but should have considered the global minimums.
I know what sleep is, and honestly I have avoided it as much as I could in the past six years. Before that, while I was married, I slept as much as I could. It was my safest escape. I had shut down any dreaming and just experienced nothing between bedtime and morning. (I know there’s a lot of science around whether or not I was actually not dreaming, or if I was just not “remembering” my dreams, but as far as my awareness is concerned, I had dreamless sleep.)
I developed frequent night terrors when the PTSD set in after I left my ex-husband, and that helps me downplay my need for sleep still. I hardly have the night terrors any more. They come mainly in clusters after a triggering event.
The concept of rest still trips me up. My internal dialogue goes in circles something like this: “You mean rest my math brain by writing? I could, I suppose, also rest my writing brain with some math homework. How about resting my social brain by staying in and doing solo work? Can I rest my alone-time brain by going out? I’ll rest my school brain with work and my work brain with school.” I’ve basically convinced myself that everything I do is some form of rest. Rest, in my mind, is doing something.
Help a Lady Out
Do you get enough sleep and enough rest? Do you know how to rest, or are you driven to constant action? Teach me! I’d love to hear below what rest means to you. It’s an important lesson, and I want to learn.
I promised last month that I would write about my love of therapy. Since today is my birthday, I’m celebrating by making good on that promise and talking about the absolute greatest gift I’ve ever given myself.
I Heart Therapy, But. . .
I started as a skeptic.In high school, friends outed me as bulimic, so my parents sent me to weekly one-on-one counseling for a while. The doctor stayed patient through weeks of silence from me. When I finally spoke to her, we made some progress. She taught me how to question my life in a productive way. I went from only asking myself how I could insulate myself from my life, to asking myself questions with meaningful answers.
--Why was I doing what I was doing?
--What did I really want?
--Would the choices I was making help me achieve what I really wanted?
Around the 6-month mark, the therapist updated my parents. She included a suggestion my father reconsider his controlling, judgemental approach to childrearing. He immediately put a stop to my therapy appointments. He would not stand to have his infallibility as head of his family questioned by anyone.I went back to dealing with things on my own.
6 Years Later
My next therapist came when my then-mother-in-law mother scheduled appointments with a marriage counselor. The therapist, a friend of Dick’s* mother, held to naive notions that every relationship problem had its root in a loss of connection between the partners. — This is not the case in domestic violence! — My ex-husband and I saw her a handful of times over a couple months, missing about half our sessions because Dick was drunk, and we hardly got past the point of orientation with her before Dick refused to continue counseling.
Another Let Down
In early 2009, Dick realized I had access to support to leave him. We were living closer to my Mom than we had in years, and I had met some amazing women through my brother. Dick requested another round of marriage counseling, but this time a Catholic priest my father had recommended. I had known the priest throughout my childhood. He proved entirely incompetent. Before asking any questions, he had made up his mind that Dick loved me and I could be happy in the marriage if I could just remember that.
A few months later Dick was sent to prison for a domestic violence conviction. As a result, the California Victim Compensation Program awarded me 40 counseling sessions.
I Have Seen the Light
My whole world changed for the better, though, during treatment with a therapist paid for by California’s Victim Compensation Fund. My new therapist specialized in dealing with patients who had endured trauma and abuse. She knew how to help me. During the time I worked with her, I learned about the dynamics of my PTSD. I also learned a lot of invaluable tools for dealing with PTSD, many of which I still use today.
2 New Therapists
I have moved to another area, and sought out a new therapist. I spent months researching counselors in my new town. I looked for practitioners who stated specialties in helping people with PTSD from abuse. I narrowed my list of therapist candidates to two and started seeing each. At the time, I had no health insurance, but the big out-of-pocket expense didn’t hold me back. I hadn’t been to therapy in over a year (since my move), was away from the support network that had gotten me through leaving Dick, and desperate for help.
While both therapists provided good care, I chose one over the other because she (my current therapist) has a group therapy option as a companion to one-on-one sessions. I now meet with her about every other week, and the therapy group meets every week.
A Happy Struggler
I still have symptoms of PTSD. I also get let down by plenty of realities that don’t match my expectations, but these things don’t completely define my life. They used to. I don’t need to be perpetually happy to be a happy person. Every day I face my life, with all its baggage, just like everyone else. Now, though, I have so much understanding of myself and know so many tactics for caring for myself and living the life that I want. Therapy has allowed me to transform my hatred for waking up and my fear of going to sleep into love of opening my eyes each morning and a sense of real safety in my home.
I’ll Say It Again
Getting a therapist who specializes in treatment for survivors of abuse stands as the hands-down, absolute greatest thing I have ever done for myself.
I’d Love to Hear from You
Do you struggle with PTSD or other anxiety in the wake of your abuse? Have you tried therapy as a part of your recovery? If so, what experiences have you had?
*Names with stars have been changed.
Today, hundreds of millions of people are proclaiming “Happy Mothers’ Day to all mothers.” Despite this verbal and written outpouring of appreciation, many mothers are marginalized and disrespected every day. These women deserve and need the same level of love and respect that their mainstream counterparts receive.
The status quo and the state are not the only perpetrators when it comes to disproportionate victimization of certain women. The anti-domestic violence movement is not without its own contributions to oppressing mothers based on color, sexuality, documentation status, disability, and more. Anti-domestic violence campaigns have largely been developed as resources based on needs and situations of white women in this country.
As a form of honoring all the marginalized mothers enduring and recovering from domestic violence today’s blog post aims to:
Though the United States’ national anti-domestic violence movement has come a long way since it started in the 1970s, it has a long, long way to go. Factors such as color, sexuality, and immigration status create a disparate level of challenges for women.
The patriarchal culture that created The United States of America has long used violence, and specifically sexual violence against women, as a key tool of oppression. INCITE!’s page Dangerous Intersections provides a clear breakdown of how “issues of colonial, race, and gender oppression”* intricately intertwine to result in “quantitatively more issues when [women of color] suffer violence [which means] their experience is qualitatively different from that of white women.”*
“It is problematic for women of color to go to the state for the solution to the problems it has had a large part in creating. Consider these examples from reports from rape crisis centers from around the United States: An undocumented woman calls the police because of domestic violence. Under current mandatory arrest laws, the police must arrest someone on domestic violence calls. Because the police cannot find the batterer, they arrest her and have her deported (Tucson). An African American homeless woman calls the police because she has been the victim of group rape. The police arrest her for prostitution (Chicago).”* The examples go on, but isn’t even one enough?
The Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness
The Center for Relationship Abuse Awareness site is an incredible resource for finding organized links to research specific topics like intersectionality and violence against women of color, methods used to abuse immigrant women, educational links regarding same gender and LGBTQ+ relationships, and tactics used against women with disabilities.
The Mama’s Day Project from Strong Families knows that “All mamas deserve to be seen and honored in cards that reflect all the ways our families look.” The mamasday.org site guides you through a three step process to make a card that reflects your relationship with mamas not recognized in mainstream Mothers’ Day. The organization also runs the Trans Day of Resilience site where you can find more than information on the oppression of the trans community. You can discover ways to take action, and you can donate to their projects.
Tell Me More
I hope you're making meaningful connections with the mothers and mother-figures in your life on this Mothers' Day.
I'd love to learn about any resources you recommend for learning about and supporting organizations and campaigns that work to change oppressive forces that impact so many women so horribly.
*All quotes marked with * are from http://www.incite-national.org/page/dangerous-intersections#sthash.9RQi4mvh.dpuf
Today I’m talking a little bit about how emotional abuse affected my relationship with my mom.
Emotional abuse got skimpy treatment on my About page in comparison to the other four types of domestic violence abuse. This sneaky kind of abuse is no less harmful. It undermines the victim’s ability to have good relationships with family members, friends, potential friends, and coworkers.
While not the first person to put her down, my father criticized my mom from every angle. He championed the notion that she was intellectually deficient. I grew up thinking my mom didn’t know anything.
She believed the digs at her mental ability, too. I can’t even count how many times she has said, “you know your mommy’s not smart, Rebecca.”
I’ve come a long way in my recovery from domestic violence, and want to share some of what I learned from my supposedly dumb mom.
"Thirty Days Hath September. . .”
When my Mom helped me with homework, she still undercut her smarts. “I’m not smart, so I have to think about it like this,” she’d say. She’d go on to teach me acronyms and other mnemonics. Those techniques got me through a school where the teachers emphasized rote memorization.
Not only have those skills helped me personally, but I now work as a tutor to university students with learning disabilities/differences and teach the same “brain tricks” to my clients.
Relax Big Toe
My mom taught me another one of her “tricks” to help me get to sleep, a meditation I could use to soothe my anxiety. I needed it because I hated sleeping. I had night terrors, and I feared closing my eyes for the night. As a kid, then as the wife of an abuser, I used her “Relax Big Toe” meditation to bring myself a little bit of peace when nothing else helped me calm down.
The last thing I’ll mention today, but certainly not the only other thing I learned from my mom, is what she taught me about having a job. “Don’t take a job you don’t like, Rebecca. You’ll spend too much time working to make a boring or bad job worth the money.” That wisdom has guided many of my decisions about where to apply and when to leave a given job.
When I didn’t recognize how much I had learned from my mom, I never went to her for help and rarely talked to her about my worries. Now that I see how much wisdom she has brought to my life, I remember to ask her for some advice. Even when she doesn’t have any advice to give, she can let me know I’m not going through a tough time on my own. Our relationship has become so much more than I ever would have expected.
Back To You
What realizations, or changes in your life, have helped you get over some of the wrong things you learned because of emotional abuse?
Share your epiphanies and insights below. Maybe they’ll spark a little light of truth for someone else!
Rebecca encourages survivors of domestic to speak about their experiences and to lean on each other for support.