Being a survivor of mental, emotional, and manipulative abuse is no easy thing to shoulder. It is the most exhausting, confusing, and exasperating thing that I will ever experience. And it really does seem never-ending. I can be fine for months at a time and then one morning have a panic attack for seemingly no reason or go to work and someone will say something that objectively is casual but throws me into a flashback that leaves me shaking. And if you’re an over-thinker like me, an experience like this can lead into a downward spiral leading to months of whiplash.

There are so many different things we could talk about regarding abuse. So many nooks and crannies. But nobody has that lengthy of an attention span so right now I will focus on the couple of things that have been at the front of the line for me the last couple months, and if you are a survivor or current victim of domestic abuse, I hope this can help.

1. I have multiple realities in my head.

The man who abused me had me convinced that I was a very specific type of person. A very negative person, in fact, the exact opposite of everything I want to be, believed myself to be, and have been raised to be. No human is perfect. Everyone has various moments of weakness from time to time, but that is not the core of who we are. They do not define us.  Sorting out what is true versus what he had me believing is true has been one of the hardest parts of my recovery. I still have different voices in my head trying to tell me what is what, and silencing them once they’ve gotten going feels nearly impossible.

Remember this: Nobody can give you a definition.

In fact, not a single person has one definition.

To prove it, I looked up the definition of “definition.”

  1. The act of making something definite, distinct, or clear.
  2. The formal statement of the meaning or significance of a word, phrase, idiom, etc.
  3. The condition of being definite, distinct, or clearly outlined.
  4. Other definitions that have nothing to do with this.

Nowhere in there does it say anything about people or a person’s state of being.

Because people aren’t definite.

You can’t clearly outline something that’s volatile and ever-changing, which is exactly what we all are. A person may be more this than that but nobody is solely one thing, no one can be given a singular definition. We are ever-changing. We are indefinable.

So it’s not even possible for me to be exactly what he said I was. What a beautiful thing that is.

2. I have a hard time recognizing myself.

This is a direct result of the aforementioned voices. I will never be the same person I was before the relationship. I am so much more than who I was during the relationship. I have yet to come to terms with who I am after the relationship. Trying to find the parts of me that haven’t died and recognizing the parts of me that have been born can be confusing and discouraging. I often feel like I’m three steps behind myself, making decisions that I don’t fully realize or understand until after I’ve made them and am dealing with the repercussions, be they positive or negative. I particularly find this to be an issue when I’m cultivating new friendships.

The best way to return to myself is to be around those who know me best. A strong support system is vital. For me it’s my roommate of 6 years and my stage combat family. They’re my soul mates; I never have any doubts about who I am when I am with them. I was with them in the days immediately following the end of the relationship and simply being around people who my soul recognized and understood, reached out to and connected to helped me remember who I am. And whenever I have doubts I just have to give them a call, simply sit in their presence, and I feel Home. I feel pure and true.

Others would tell you to meditate. Meditation is grand. But sometimes the thought of meditating can be a turnoff or make you restless just at the thought of it. So I will give my personal example:

The weather in Chicago has been extremely bipolar lately. We just had a couple days where it was 60 degrees and sunny. On one of these days it was too nice to be indoors so while I was walking home from a coffee shop I took a detour to the park near my apartment. After a wonderful phone call with my mom I proceeded to sit on a bench in the sun, put on a random spotify playlist, and just sit there for over an hour. I people watched, I contemplated. I let thoughts come and go, I thought about nothing and everything, I listened to how the music affected me, I made a point of feeling the warm breeze on my face. It was the most effective meditation I’ve ever had because I didn’t focus on meditating. I didn’t really focus on anything but if I had to label it I would say I focused on existing and enjoying. I had nowhere to be, and the only human interaction I had was a brief exultation of the wonderful weather with a very kindly gentleman who works with heat and ac and had the day off because nobody needed either. And in that moment I returned to who I used to be. I recognized a piece of myself I thought had died, but it had been merely hiding, protecting itself. It’s nothing I can put into words; it’s more like a feeling that manifests itself in a certain state of existence. And it still hides from me most of the time. But now I know it’s there, and that that represents my core. I’m crying at the memory as I write this because that day was the happiest I’ve been since Christmas. That is the tiny flame that got me through the relationship, that helped me find my soulmates, that will quietly remind me to love myself, that will never abandon me. And that is a piece of comfort I can always call upon.

A couple things I have to keep reminding myself when I’m at my lowest:

1. It’s ok to be selfish.

If you’re like me you are a compulsive people pleaser. You don’t want to inconvenience anybody. You want everyone to be happy and content, even if it means compromising your own state of being. Deep down you might even feel, not necessarily that your needs and desires aren’t important, but that everyone else’s are more so. This is untrue. I still fall into this trap on a semi-regular basis, but after being in a relationship where the other person had become more important to me than I had been to myself, I’ve realized that it is entirely within your right to put what you need first. You may find that it is INCREDIBLY UNCOMFORTABLE to assert yourself in this fashion, and it may take IMMENSE effort to resist apologizing for it, but you can do it, and you don’t have to feel guilty for it.

You matter. Your mental, emotional, and physical state of being matter and if anyone makes you apologize for asserting that then you don’t need them in your life.

2. There was nothing I could have done.

One trap I was caught in during this relationship is my belief that you don’t give up on the ones you love. You don’t abandon them. If you are caught in this cycle you need to realize that the way they treat you stems from something within themselves that you can’t touch. There is nothing you can do, no amount of time spent trying, that can change it. They will not wake up and have some magical epiphany that will change their perspective, and thus, their behavior. You sit there and say, “it could happen, it could happen,” but you have to stop it. I said the same thing and have since realized that it is not my responsibility to take care of people who don’t want to be taken care of and will never want to take care of me. I believed he could be a better man, even when everyone else was telling me otherwise. I fell in love with the man I thought he was and wanted to stay for the man I believed he could be. It is ok to continue believing in miracles and to hope for the best for him, but don’t sit around and wait for it to happen. Put it in your prayer box and then expel it from your mind and your priorities. Someone who makes you blame yourself for their problems should not be your priority.

3. Celebrate every victory, no matter how tiny it may seem.

Initially after the separation we used Hello Poetry to talk to each other without really talking to each other – posting poems about how we felt, what we had hoped for and what we missed. Not exactly a clean break, there may be some of that back and forth. It makes it harder, but don’t feel bad about it. It didn’t happen for too long. I eventually stopped posting and stopped looking at his page to see if any of his latest posts were about me. I stopped going on the site altogether. But it still took two years before I was able to delete my account. And when I finally did, it was surprisingly easy. I didn’t feel much at the time that I did it, but now looking back I feel such relief, and I applaud myself whenever it comes to mind.

4. Talk to someone.

Talking to your support system is great, but there comes a time where it’s probably best to seek professional help. In the first year I had my support system and it was all new and fresh and whilst talking to them I felt strong and resilient and knew I could get through it. But it is no longer new and fresh and feels like it’s becoming babble. And it is babble. It is having to talk through the same things over and over again that just won’t leave you alone. Even after you feel like you’ve gotten a hold on them, a trigger or a subtle whisper could be waiting just around the corner. After we graduated and I’m not around that support system all day every day I’ve noticed that everything is starting to snowball. And that is the point I am at right now.

Most importantly:

Don’t be ashamed. Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t feel guilty for anything. You matter. You are not definable. You are more than you believe and you can fight through this. And it will take time, but it will be ok. The road may seem never-ending but we are resilient. We are survivors.