Learning the Purpose of My Story

 

I was raised in a family that had struggled with abusive people in their lives. Yet, I was taught — perhaps unintentionally — that abuse was a shameful thing for the victim to talk about.

“Don’t tell anyone what so-and-so went through — it’s embarrassing.”

“Keep the negative stuff off the internet. You’ll put other people down.”

“No one ever knew that person was having such a hard time. They have such a good spirit for never saying anything. God doesn’t want us to complain.”

Blah. Blah. Blah.

Does anyone see what’s wrong with this concept?

I don’t have this plan of writing this great self-help book or anything like that. I’m not even 100% sure why I let everything out at once when I finally broke up with my ex. Mostly it was my word versus his, I’m not good at talking, and I am definitely the less dangerous person. So, I did the only thing I could to protect myself and just laid pretty much everything out there for everyone I knew to see. And that’s when I learned an important lesson:

DON’T BE AFRAID TO TELL YOUR STORY.

You wouldn’t believe the number of people who came to me in those weeks and months just to say that they’ve been through similar things with an abusive partner or relative. Some of them knew each other for years and never knew that they had this in common. It was shocking really. All because I had done something “embarrassing” by revealing a secret I kept for years.

No wonder the trend of abuse continues the way it has. If you bought a drink that was tainted and made you sick, would you hide it from everyone else? Or would you make sure that everyone knew it was poisoned so that they didn’t drink it themselves?

Why don’t we do the same thing for something that is so deadly? “1 in 3 female murder victims and 1 in 20 male murder victims are killed by intimate partners.”*

Yes there are movements to stop abuse — that’s wonderful — but it doesn’t really seem to hit home until someone you know goes through something awful. And if they keep it a secret, how would you know?

(This was supposed to be a short “aha” moment. So let’s stop the tangent.)

Anyways, one thing I was taught in youth group that stuck with me is that sometimes bad things happen to us so that we can help others who go through the same difficulty.  And the more I heard stories from friends and coworkers and their friends and family, the more I realized that something good can come from the bad by putting my story out there. It had the plus of keeping me sane when I couldn’t tell the difference between my thoughts and his voice in my head.

And guess what? I had a good friend approach me this week because she realized she was in a toxic relationship. Apparently, I was the only person she knew who had gone through something similar. (I’m sure she knows more, but once again, people don’t like to talk about it.) We were able to get together tonight and talk things out. She just needed someone to not judge and validate the decisions she was having to make.

There was a lot of prayer going on the last couple of days! It’s easy for me to talk about what I went through (mostly — there are still things most people will never need to know, and those tend to be triggers anyway), but I’m no counselor! However, I can do my best to be there for my friends. We aren’t all called to be counselors; however we are called to lift each other up (I Thess. 5:11). We at least had a good time of catching up and venting. If anything, those 5 years of pain were worth it if they keep someone else from going through the same — and I truly believe that this is what God wants me to do with my experience.

So tell your story. Don’t be ashamed that you were once a victim. It may be difficult at first. Will it scare some people? Yes. Will some people be offended? Of course. Will it be embarrassing? It can be at times. If you need to do so anonymously, that’s perfectly fine. You should make sure to stay safe. But doing so will do two things — it will help others, and it will help you heal. And those aren’t bad goals at all. 🙂

Story

 

*Bridges, F.S., Tatum, K. M., & Kunselman, J.C. (2008). Domestic violence statutes and rates of intimate partner and family homicide: A research note. Criminal Justice Policy Review, 19(1), 117-130.  http://ncadv.org/images/Domestic%20Violence.pdf

 

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Rebuilding after Losing Myself

 

One of my biggest fears was that in getting away from him, I would lose too much. But eventually, I realized that I had pretty much lost everything because of him. The longer I stayed, the more I lost. I left when there was almost nothing left of me.

It’s terrifying to realize you have to start from scratch. But after a while, I realized that it can also be a good thing.

Rebuilding 101: How I Made Myself after Losing Myself

  • I changed my hair. He liked long, blonde hair, so I had long, blonde hair. One of the first things I did after getting out of the relationship was chop off my hair. Not only is that the classic thing for girls to do during a nervous breakdown, but it was my first rebellion against letting someone dictate my life. Now, it’s short and a dark color. I’m probably going to change it again soon. Because I CAN and I WANT TO. So refreshing!
  • I changed my clothes. During the relationship, I was told what I could and couldn’t wear. Nothing short when he wasn’t around. He didn’t like dark colors on me. If I wore something he didn’t approve of, a fight would inevitably start. Now, I wear whatever I feel like. Sometimes my choices don’t make sense to others, but for me, it’s just my way of proving that I can make decisions for myself.
  • I cleaned house. You should have seen how much crap I threw away after the breakup. I didn’t want anything that reminded me of those years. I’m typically a sentimental hoarder, but I must have taken more than two trunkloads to Goodwill. One time, the donation guy laughed at me because it was so much stuff. I even got rid of stuff I liked. I’ll probably always miss that hoodie I picked out for myself but wasn’t allowed to buy for myself.
  • I got second holes in my ears. Anything more than the single set of piercings was not allowed. Let me rephrase that. It was allowed — unless I had gone out and gotten a new piercing. Then all hell would have broken loose.
  • I got tested. Most of the time in the relationship, he was doing drugs of some kind. He is a pathological liar, so I really had no idea what he was doing at any time. Thank God, I’m perfectly clean. It was such a weight off my shoulders after I got the results back.
  • I went on vacation and enjoyed myself. The weekend before I got away, I ran away to Disney with one of my friends. I was allowed to go for the first 10 hours or so after I told him. But then, suddenly, it wasn’t ok. Because he wasn’t going. Because I was going to cheat on him. Because I’m a crappy girlfriend. After being yelled at and my crying for hours…He f-ed me off and drove away. I went to Florida. This was not the best trip in the world. My friend knew there was something wrong, but she was nice enough not to ask. We went the next year and had a much better time. Disney is my happy place still.
  • I made new friends. I had a lot of wonderful friends who were there for me after everything fell apart. They were just sitting on the sidelines until I needed them. However, I did learn that there were a lot of people who weren’t really my friends. I come from a conservative background, but was not really in it at all toward the end of the relationship. You would think that coming back from the dead, people would be glad to see you back. But nope. She has drama. Unfriended. Thankfully not everyone was like that, and I’ve found my weirdos all over the place. The ones who turned their backs on me don’t matter anymore.
  • I got my family back. As with everything else, any time away from him was not approved of. Eventually, I rarely saw my family. If I visited them, a fight would start. On top of which, my mom’s idea of making me see what was going on was to push every  button I have and then some. But now, I can see them whenever I want. I think my grandma and I became even closer due to similar experiences.
  • I have my own place. He was desperate to own me. I was desperate to be like everyone else and have my own family. So, he constantly dangled marriage in front of me. Of course, I fell for it and continued to live with my parents until “one day” came. It never did. I never moved. Finally, I was able to move out on my own last year. Let me tell you, I LOVE living alone.
  • I paid down my debt. Between paying for his life and compulsive shopping to try to forget my problems, I ran up a TON of debt. Now, it’s mostly paid down. It’s a little higher than it was last year, but life/rent/bills ya’know?
  • I’m learning to have confidence in myself. I ordered Pizza Hut to be delivered to my apartment last week. Just saying.
  • I buy things because I like them. I don’t make my purchasing decisions based on what another person likes. Which means I have a LOT more Disney stuff and NOTHING frilly.
  • I swear, like a lot. Eight years ago, I said ZERO bad words. And then I was expected to be the perfect angel. Now, my vocabulary is much more colorful. Not necessarily a positive change. But science says it helps with pain, so there.
  • I’m much more open. I honestly believe that fewer of us would fall for the shitheads if the truth weren’t so readily swept under the rug by society. I was raised to not mention that my grandfather was abusive because it was “embarrassing.” What the hell?! When I realized that I was in a dangerous relationship, I felt trapped because one side was hurting me and the other side — the side I should have been able to run to — was judging me. We need to be unashamed to take our masks off and be able to tell someone our story. To be able to say, these are the signs, this is what I fell for, he is the bad person. Most people think I’m crazy for showing the not-so-beautiful parts of my life — for being vulnerable. But you know what? I don’t care. This is me. Get over it.
  • I allowed myself to be loved. This is probably the biggest thing that has helped me in the last few years. I went from a fake love that constantly told me that no one else could ever love me, to feeling more love than I even realized existed. And not just romantic love. My coworkers looked out for me when I was being stalked. My bosses let me cry and loaned me a phone when he took over my phone number. My friends listened to me vent or let me just be quiet. They got me away. My boyfriend showed me that I was beautiful, that I was worth something, that I was worth time/love/effort, that I have a mind of my own and can make my own choices. He never asked for anything back. He still doesn’t. He has been so patient with me. There is still a part of me that thinks I don’t deserve it, but I am oh-so-thankful that my walls haven’t dissuaded the people who really just wanted to give to me and show love to me.

 

Life isn’t always sunshine and roses. Today was a low day. I still have regrets. Memories come back at the worst times (dissociation much?). I still feel vulnerable. I still feel fear sometimes. I still don’t sleep. I still have nightmares. I still have panic attacks. I still have this ridiculous need to apologize constantly. I have a hard time committing to anything.

But, slowly sometimes, I’m rebuilding myself from the ground up. I’m growing. I’m healing. I’m learning. I’m sharing my story. I’m finding others who have been through the same thing. I’m 5 billion times happier than I was just 3 short years ago. And one day, I’ll get there. Wherever there is.

 

Rebuild

Flashbacks and Reminders, part 2

(I meant to write part 2 right away, but life got busy… So here you go.)

When my ex accidentally sent me a friend request on Facebook, I sort of freaked out. It’s been 3 years since I broke up with him, yet he will never get the point. So, I’ve given up and just ignore when he tries to shove himself into my life.

This time, though, I don’t know, I got so angry. And then my mom found out and started messaging me all about him and his continuously expanding arrest record. She was trying to help, but she doesn’t understand. I NEED TO KEEP THAT PART OF MY LIFE AS FAR AWAY AS POSSIBLE.

It’s kind of embarrassing to admit weakness, but even after all this time,  there are parts of me that I struggle to regain control of. Recently,  that’s been my guilt. And the sudden reminders of the past brought it on strong.

I grew up with the guilty treatment being used against me. I was never the most rebellious or independent-acting person because I would inevitably end up feeling guilty about it. By the time I met my ex, I was just used to it.

He used this tactic on me so many times, I just started accepting the blame for everything. He was tired? My fault for running late at work. He stood me up?  My fault for assuming that, after checking 3 times, we were still going out. He got hooked on drugs?  My fault for stressing him out/not telling him not to/being a snob/insert more ridiculous reasons here.

Anyways, I eventually learned that nothing that was happening was really my fault at all. They were HIS decisions and HIS actions. That was a big weight off of me that helped me leave. It’s not something I learned from society… They tend to think differently. Blame-shifting runs just as rampant as always.

Fast forward to this year. Somehow, my guilt complex decided it wanted to come out and play. After hearing about all of his arrests, my guilt started saying, “Maybe he was right. Maybe you gave up on him too quickly. Maybe he wouldn’t be where he is if you had stayed. Maybe he is only doing this cause he has nothing to live for anymore.”

I really had no answer to this. I’m very good at torturing myself with maybes. It wasn’t that I wanted to go back to that at all. It was just me wanting to prevent bad things from happening.

Then I realized… Every single one of these doubts was a condemnation he had used against me when we were still together. These weren’t creations of my over-active imagination; these were inventions of someone who wanted nothing more than to own me.

I can’t feel guilty because I didn’t cause any of this. In fact, I was pretty darn close to the perfect girlfriend. I NEVER said no.

So, I’ve taken ownership of my guilt again. It’s freeing really. No more what-ifs. No more allowing others to control me through guilt. No one is allowed to have that kind of power over me. I’m not perfect, and I’m not really good at not feeling guilty about everything, but I’m trying. And sometimes, that’s all any of us can do.

A Pigeon Story

The strangest things can help you in ways you’d never realize. If someone had told me before last night that a pigeon would help me face my fears, I would have laughed. But knowing my life, I should just expect these things.

You see, last week I started following a wildlife rescue called Izzie’s Pond (they do great work. Check them out!). Last night, they reached out to see if anyone could transport a pigeon to their home. Long story short, I didn’t have too much to do anyways and ended up volunteering.

Here’s where it gets interesting. The town where the pigeon was is the very same place I avoid like the plague because that’s where my ex lives. And I do whatever it takes to avoid him even realizing I still exist. This made me a little nervous. But I had that picture of that sad little hungry bird, and I just had to go anyways. But who knew that the pigeon would be located off the same road I drove almost daily for over 4 years to get to that same ex’s house. And I did this ALONE! In the DARK!

Granted, I did play it as safe as I possibly could. But I was afraid to get out of my car, not because I was meeting a stranger to pick up a bird in a box, but because of where I was. I DID get out of my car though (pretty sure pigeons can’t open doors by themselves, lol). And then I high-tailed it out of there 20 mph above the speed limit. But still, I did it. By myself. I needed that. I’ve gotten so tired of anxiety. It will probably always be there. But I do not have to live my life in fear.

And you know what? That pigeon will never have to live in fear again either. What I didn’t tell you was that he is a racing pigeon. Like me, he was “owned” and controlled by someone who didn’t really care about him. The poor thing is emaciated. But somehow, he got free, found some people with half a heart, and will live out the rest of his life fat and happy. And that’s a great ending, don’t you think?

In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35