I never wanted to be “battered.” Instead, I became a survivor. But in doing this, I lost my connection to what had happened.
For the duration of the time in which I was abused I was living and reacting on a primal level. I learned never to trust and everything was off kilter. Reality was always changing because I never knew what I was going to get. At that point in time I was not only controlled but I also tried to control things in order to feel safe. I did not realize that love and control are near opposites. The more we engaged in a game of control, the more the resentment grew. We exchanged pain as real life and opportunities passed us by. We were stuck in a cycle. Players in a game that started in each of our childhoods.
After the relationship ended, I remember feeling terrified to leave my apartment for fear of getting jostled in crowds or simply being seen by others. Old reactions had settled into my psyche. At times, they necessitated acts of superhuman strength to remain calm, dignified or respectful. Triggers were everywhere. Loud noises, people pretending to play fight with me, joking around using physical play, violent films, or invasions of personal space could send me into a tailspin. Some of these are still very triggering. In the past I had isolated from friends so they could not see my suffering. Or I had kept up appearances, laying low when things were bad. Some were shocked to find out the details of the hell I had been through. I realized I had kept my secret too well and that I was lucky that I had the will to survive. At the same time, in living with my secret I had compartmentalized what had happened to me.
In order to give back, and perhaps to find myself, I started volunteering at an agency that assists survivors of domestic violence. In fact, it was the very same agency that assisted me 12 years ago when I was being abused. As I began working with the women and children there, I finally realized that I was one of them and not “other.” Prior to that point in time, this part of my life had only been a narrative–something I could only see from outside of myself. But as I helped others, I realized that it was okay to identify with them. I learned that while fear, control and isolation were a common thread in all of our stories they could be overcome. While these survivors across the counter from me did not know my personal story, just being around them helped me internalize what had happened. Without knowing it, they helped me heal a place within that had long called out for understanding. For that I will always be grateful.