In 2014, seven years after leaving my abuser, I still believed my abuser’s lie that I was a terrible mom. This lie was so ingrained in my thought process that it influenced almost everything that I did and made me feel extremely guilty for the things that I didn’t do. My sense of guilt greatly increased when my oldest son didn’t have the high school grades to get into a four-year college, and he had no particular direction. “I told you so,” the voice in my head would say, “terrible mom.”
Triggers are Painful Memories
I continue to be overwhelmed by thoughts and feelings that bring me back to my abusive past. Daily, I struggle to keep these domestic violence triggers of my past under control. I have learned that minimizing triggers from my domestic violence abuse lessens my anxiety and safety concerns.
It seems unfair that my abuse was so horrendous that the memories are deeply ingrained in my head. After being removed from my abuser, I still experience anxiety attacks or overwhelming feeling of being unsafe coming out of nowhere. Deep in my subconscious, where I am or what I am doing strongly triggers a painful piece of my past. I feel like I am reliving the event again. My abuser isn’t around anymore, but my reaction to triggers makes me feel like I am reliving the event all over again.
Late last month I spent a weekend with an awesome group of domestic violence survivors; we were getting away at an extremely powerful retreat put together by Called to Peace Ministries. What a lovely group of women!
During the weekend, while I was talking to a small group of women, I mentioned I was a retired Lieutenant Colonel who spent 21 years on active duty. Having left active duty 12 years ago, my hair is now considerably longer and my frame has added a few extra pounds. I am definitely softly spoken now and prefer to stay in the back ground.
So many non-victims that I share my abusive background with can’t believe the horrific things my abuser did to me. But what I don’t believe I do a good job at describing is that my life continued on as I was being victimized.
During the five years we were challenged with our daughter’s cancer, and subsequent bone marrow transplant, the abuse increased 100%. Literally, I remained bruised from her diagnosis at two years old until I separated from my abuser five years later. My abuser couldn’t handle the pain, suffering, and possible loss of our daughter so he took it all out on me. Deep down, not unlike the increased abuse I suffered with the birth of our first child, my abuser definitely didn’t like my being distracted and not completely focused on his wants and needs. I specifically remember one extremely painful beating I received due to my being more focused on our daughter and ignoring his needs. Those of us who suffer abuse know exactly what I am talking about.
Flowers are blooming. Baby birds are chirping. Weeds are making yards look like full blown flower gardens. Pollen is making people who have allergies miserable. All indications in my world that spring is here.
I am fortunate to be able to feel the breeze as I walk outside. For so many years I never realized the wind blowing around was even a thing. But, being able to stop, face the sun and feel the wind blowing against my face, awakens a sense within me that laid sleeping for so many years.
Words can’t describe the how horrible the first Christmas was for me without my children. Even though this was 10 years ago, I remember the stinging pain as if it had occurred yesterday. As I ponder writing about suggestions on strategies to get through this type of event easier, I am left with very little to suggest that is different that the other strategies I have written about before.
What I do know is that it took me years to find happiness during the Christmas holiday season. If you are where I was 10 years ago, please don’t be to hard on yourself. I have concluded there are just some things in my past that are going to take longer to heal than others.
Going Through the Motions
Instead of living for the moment, I spent the first few years of being a single mom hoping and praying that I could get through the day. There was always so much to be done while raising my three little children. My head was constantly racing prioritizing what needed to be done versus what was going to be put off till tomorrow. Driving my children to their events, homework, dinner routine, laundry, and cleaning the kitchen often sent me into a spiral of tears.
I remember wishing the hours and days away. My days seemed to follow the same routine. Waking up, I dreaded getting everyone out of the house in the morning. I fretted knowing that at any moment one bad comment would send the children into a stubborn, I am not moving stance. As soon as I arrived at work, I was wishing my work day would end as soon as possible as there was so much to do. Our dinner and evening routine almost always overwhelmed me as there was never enough time to do it all.
Denial is a Powerful Tool
For many of us, it’s being brought to the brink of death that provides the strength for us to leave our abuser. For others, we remain in our situations, wishing for the happier days to return, until the children start sounding like our abuser’s and question why we are not doing what we are being told to do. Regardless of what our reason(s) are for leaving our abuser, the significance of the decision is monumental. It signifies that the door to our denial surrounding domestic violence is about to be opened, and the journey to domestic violence survivor has “officially” begun.
With denial, I knew in my heart what was truly going on, yet in my head, I could suppress these horrible feelings and believe them not to be true. Denial allowed me to reject the truth of what was going on in my marriage. My realization that my world was not going to change was a pivotal point in starting my recovery. At these moments, I had to realize that whether I wanted to or not, I must now make drastic changes in my world. I had to start accepting the reality that I could no longer remain in my current situation anymore. The changes had to start now or I would die.
A domestic violence survivor is not someone who is separated from their abuser.
I think there is a general misconception that we become a domestic violence survivor once we are safely removed from our abuser’s controlled environment. Speaking from my experience and watching other victims who have left their abuser, we are not even remotely close to becoming survivors during the months following when we leave our abuser’s. When my abuser physically moved out, the eighteen years of emotional abuse lingered in my head for years. My abuser’s control over my thoughts and actions weren’t automatically removed just because he wasn’t in close proximity to me. All of my abuser’s punishments, threats, physical attacks, and degrading comments remained with me as he left to start the next chapter in his life. Since we have three children, I still needed to communicate with him.
Another 4th of July. Another painful weekend.
For me, in addition to July 4th, I find Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays equally as painful. And yet, probably due to the lack of traditions I’ve had on other long weekends throughout the year, I am sure other victims have other weekends that instantly flood them with painful reminders of the past.
It has now been ten years since I separated from my abuser. It occurs to me that he’s not bothered by the painful memories at all. Nope. Chances are if he does think about July 4th holidays that we were together, he probably remembers them as great times.
Hi, I'm Sue
Welcome to my blog! I served twenty-one honorable years on active duty, living a double life of capability and accomplishment in the service while enduring brutality and abusiveness in my twenty-one year oppressive marriage. Today I'm happily married and have three children who are my inspiration and motivation.
My goal is to help combat the lies of abusers with the truth of God. I hope you find my words to be healing and helpful through your own life experiences.
Being separated from my abusive husband didn't make me a domestic violence survivor. It surely didn't release me from the grip of his brainwashing control and the innate power he had on me.
Read the full raw story in my new book, Rock Bottom and Faithless.