It’s tough out there, so please support Survivors

Often, as I work with Survivors of Domestic Abuse, I hear how the life after abuse is much harder than living with the abuse. It’s sort of ironic to say that, but as a Survivor myself I do agree with that statement. For someone who has never lived with abuse you may ask, “How is that possible?” “Wouldn’t a life free of abuse be easier as you wouldn’t be abused?” Good question and you would think that would be the case, but in many ways it is not. Let me explain.

When you are in an abusive relationship, over time the abuse becomes familiar. Yes it is horrible but it is what you know. When I was in my abusive marriage the abuse was a terrible thing to endure, but it had become my normal. When someone would suggest leaving I became scared. I had lived so long in an abusive world that the healthy world outside of that was scary and unknown. Would I have financial security if I left? Would my kids be ok without their father? Would I lose the family home? Could I be a single mom? So many questions like that flooded my mind and after years of being told by my ex, through actions and words, that I was worthless I truly believed I could not achieve a good life if I left my marriage. I believed everything would fall completely apart.

There is a line that I have heard that is true; “A victim of domestic abuse will not leave until the idea of staying is scarier than the idea of leaving.” That is exactly how it was for me. It was not until that fateful night when my ex admitted to me that he knew he was raping me and hurting me (up to that point I had lived in a world of denial to survive, thinking that he must not realize what he was doing because how could my husband consciously hurt me this way?) that I fully realized who I was dealing with. I was dealing with a dangerous man who was ok brutally hurting me and I knew at that moment that if I did not figure a way out of my marriage I may not survive it. Suddenly I no longer cared what my obstacles to leaving would be I wanted to live and I was going to figure out how to do just that.

For every Survivor their moment is different. For some it is being brutally attacked that ends everything for them, for others it may be seeing their children get hurt, for each one it is different and it is powerful. They will reach that moment where suddenly they are done and they have nothing left to give and they will decide to leave no matter what it costs them. It becomes a matter of life or death spiritually, emotionally, mentally and for many physically.

It is at the point of leaving, and the time following leaving, that a Survivor needs the most support. This is the time when new and often difficult obstacles come their way. For many they are unsure how to make decisions on their own. They have lived a life where every thought, every move has revolved around their abuser. As a result the Survivor has lost their internal compass. The simplest task can be confusing and overwhelming.  It is then that family and friends need to be with the Survivor. To listen to them, to hear their stories, to be there when they cry, help them with errands as focusing on day to day can be overwhelming. I, thankfully, had a great support system including family and friends. Once I realized that I needed to leave my abusive marriage I knew I could not do it on my own. I knew I needed support. Most of it was emotional support and some financial. I created a network involving friends, family and professionals. I reached out to whatever support I could get to help myself and my kids through this transition. That support system helped me during my weak times. The times when the obstacles became too much; paying my mortgage on my own, dealing with a child’s meltdown on my own or even dealing with my own pain, I thought it would be easier to return to my marriage. My support system was key to keeping me going. They listened, they encouraged and they consoled me. They reminded me how strong I am and that I could do this journey on my own without returning to abuse.

For many life following abuse is an up and down journey. After living in trauma many struggle to sleep, have night mares, struggle to eat healthy, suffer a lack of focus and for a child their grades may drop. Often both the Survivor and their children battle with depression and PTSD. There abuser may stalk or harass them. It is a hard road. Counselling is always a good option during this time and or connecting with other Survivors in support groups can help. Knowing there are others out there facing the same battle can help a Survivor realize that they are not alone.

There will probably be times on that road where the Survivor may think it is just easier to go back to what they know and they may return to their abuser. Please do not give up on the Survivor during those times. On average a Survivor will leave 7 times before the relationship is truly over. For me it was four times. For others it could be ten. It’s during those times though that they need your support, your voice of reason to remind them what they are worth and to not give up on them. They already have an abuser telling them that they are worthless so it is important to still be there for them, if even at a distance, so they know that someone out there does believe they are worth it. I know for friends and family it can be extremely hard to see your loved one return, but try to hold on, they do need you.

Leaving an abusive relationship is often noted as one of the harder cycles in life to break. It is so intricately tied to a person’s self worth, self esteem, how they think and feel that it feels like you have to break through a 1000 spider webs. It can be done though. It has been six and a half years since I left and I am finally feeling like I am over the worst of it. My life is feeling more balanced from day to day. The night terrors have diminished, the flashbacks have mostly drifted away and I feel a sense of peace. I know that what happened is always going to be a part of me but it no longer dominates my day to day. I feel blessed to be where I am. It took a lot of hard work and perseverance to get where I am. There were times where I wanted to throw in the towel and just crawl under my blankets and disappear, but deep down I refused to let him win. I refused to let his abuse destroy my life. I relearned and accepted that I am worth more than his abuse and once I accepted that there seemed to be no turning back.

If you are a Survivor of abuse please know that you are not alone and you are so worth a life free of abuse. I know that the idea of leaving is daunting, but please know there are supports out there waiting to help you. Check your phone book for local supports or Google on line, reach out to a friend or loved one and know that there is a better life out there just waiting for you to grab it.

 

Peace,

Janet

 

If you are thinking of leaving your abusive relationship I encourage you to create a Safety Plan.  Like a how a fire drill helps you safely escape a fire, a Safety Plan helps you safely leave an abusive relationship.  Please check out this link;  http://verbalabusejournals.com/how-stop-abuse/safety-planning/  Scroll down the page it opens to download it for free.

Are you a Survivor needing  support? You can sign up for a Mentor, someone who has been there, and receive free support and guidance all via email, at :http://verbalabusejournals.com/mentoring-program-for-domestic-violence-survivors/mentor-request/

I love writing for free, but with three kids it can get tight.  So if you like what I write feel free to make a donation towards my work.  Please click on this Paypal link; PayPal.Me/JanetBrownlee to make your donation. Thanks!

Holidays, PTSD & …….tears?

It’s Boxing Day and I don’t know about you, but I am Exhausted. Another Christmas Day has come and gone.  For me the day was a busy  and overall a good day.  It was the first year that my 7am alarm was what woke my family up! I was surprised, but then again my youngest is now 10 years old so perhaps the 4 am – creeping –  into – my -room -to -see -if -I -am -awake -and -can -we -open -presents moments have  come to an end. Sigh.  Anyways my day started with our little family opening our gifts, followed by prepping for Christmas supper, a nap, feeding my horse and then supper with my fiancé’s sister and family.  It sounds pretty nice doesn’t it?  It was, but then why did I end the day quietly crying in the dark in the quiet of my living room?

 Recovery from abuse sucks and it’s suckiness can creep up on you at the most inopportune times.  For me it was late on Christmas Day night.  I find when holidays come memories of the past creep into my mind.   This year they were not as powerful as they had been in the past.  I did not have any full blown flashbacks or panic attacks.  They were more like an annoying tap on my shoulder saying, “hey do you remember me?” My response was, “yes I remember, but you will not have a hold on me today” and I just kept swatting them away.  I was pretty proud of myself, yet still I ended up in tears.

  PTSD is not an easy road.  You are constantly on high alert.  Adrenaline is pumping through your body as your whole being prepares to fight or flee.  Your heart is always racing, as are your thoughts and it is bloody exhausting. You are constantly on the lookout for danger.  I need to remember that all of that was happening to me underneath the Christmas supper prepping and present opening.  I often forget that in my recovery.  I carry forward like I do not have PTSD and think that I should be able to function like I don’t have any disabilities, but I do have them.  They are often unseen to the outside world but they are there.  So really, is it any surprise that before my guests had left I had collapsed on my couch and was later crying in the dark?  I think not.  My nervous system had a lot to process yesterday; extra people in my house which would result in my whole being subconsciously assessing whether I was safe.  I also had those annoying memories tapping me on the shoulder.  I will be honest I was also trying really hard not to let anyone know I was going through all of this.  So yes I do understand why in the end I ended up in tears.

  I love my family, both extended and non extended.  They are a huge part of my life and I would not change having these gatherings.  I am glad I was able to see everyone yesterday.  Upon reflection I just have to be mindful of my disabilities and perhaps be more open with my family as to what I am going through. Save myself from collapsing at the end of the night.      Communication with loved ones is key as you recover from abuse and battle PTSD.  You need a good support system to make it through the good and bad times.  At the end of the night, as I cried,  I was grateful for two people in my support system; my fiancé and my oldest daughter.  My daughter heard me crying and came into the living room to see if I was ok. At that point I could not put it into words so we just sat together and then my fiancé joined us.  They both held my hands and we chatted about everything and nothing all in one.  It was a blessed moment.  My fiancé reminded me that in this family we always have each others backs and that I am loved.  I will get through this battle and my friends so will you.

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  Peace and Blessings to all of you during this Holiday Season.

 

Janet

 

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To the Man I love; I am sorry I have PTSD

Today has been rough. Who am I kidding; the last six years have been rough. I am sure none of it is what you expected. Sure you thought there would be rough spots, but I don’t think you banked on days, weeks and months.

We reconnected six years ago, you and I. We were high school sweethearts who drifted apart only to reconnect 20 years later. I had called you for help. I was in a horrible marriage and he was abusing me. I asked you to help me get out and you did just that. You stood by me and supported me while I safely got away. You listened and held me while I cried. You were amazing.11863435_462333397281293_2724322980692880015_n.jpg

Then one day we realized we were in love again and our love flourished!! We were so happy. Life was wonderful!

Then…..

Strange things started to happen. You know what I mean. I couldn’t sleep through the night. I had horrible night terrors and woke screaming with tears running down my face. I was scared to leave my house. I couldn’t work. I had flashbacks that made me yell. I couldn’t seem to get away from the memories of what my ex had done. I could no longer function. We went to the doctor and found out I had PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) with Deep Depressive Disorder.

As PTSD and Depression took over I lived in a fog of terrible memories, a lack of focus and fear. Deep shadows formed under my eyes, I was edgy. Every sound made me jump. We vowed to stay by each other’s side. We would get through this. We knew what it was like to live without each other, we did not want to let go now.

So I saw more doctors and was put on medication to help me cope. They were the wrong ones at first so we suffered through the side effects and kept marching on. We were a team.

I know you were scared; scared to leave me alone so you started to miss work. You said that I came first. My health needed to be number one. I told you that I would be fine, go to work, I will make it through. So you did, only to come to see me still in my pajamas, the dishes weren’t done and the laundry was piling up. I told you I was sorry and you told me not to worry.

I am sorry though.

I am sorry that you have to deal with my anxiety and how irrational it can be.

I am sorry you hear me yell in fear.

I am sorry you have had to pull double duty; run the house plus your job. Please know that I see how burnt out you are. Please know how much I love you.

I never know what each day will bring. If I will get triggered by a smell or sound and end up hiding in our room or perhaps that day it will be like old days. I will get out for a walk and we will smile and laugh. I do not know and neither do you, for that I am sorry.

Thank you for riding this journey with me. Thank you for holding me when I cry or wake at night in fear. Thank you for pushing me to try new therapies and to never give up. PTSD and Depression may be debilitating, but with you by my side I can fight this battle. I thank you from the bottom of my heart.

 

I am only Human

Recently I was thinking about the many roles a person plays in their day to day life.  Myself I am a Christian, a partner, a mom, an advocate, a Mentor, a Supervisor, a friend, a sister, an aunt and a cousin to name a few roles.  I have to admit though,  the hardest role I have ever had to play is being my exes wife.

I went into my marriage naively.  I believed that if I loved him enough it would all be ok.  One day he would heal and he wouldn’t get so angry.  He wouldn’t throw things, or scream at me, or call me names.  I truly believed that if I was the best wife in the world he would one day see the error of his ways and it would all change. Thinking that way resulted in me taking on a number of additional roles.  I was a protector to my children,  a mediator between my ex and my kids, the perfect wife when all I wanted to do was cry. I would go into family gatherings, after being screamed at the whole drive there, with a smile on my face.   I learned how to be fake in order to survive. I became a robot.

As a result my feelings were buried deep down within me.  You see a robot does not have emotions.  A robot just needs to make sure it can function and do the jobs that are asked of it.   Day after day, year after year. Until the robot breaks.

  One day I did break.  I could no longer pretend. I could no longer paste that smile on my face and act like all was ok.  I could no longer ignore what was happening right in front of me.  I had to see my exes abuse for what it was and start over. When that happened all of the emotions came, the endless tears. I was devastated.  A human again who  needed support to rebuild. thOP3RNWEW

  Survivors of abuse will do what they have to do in order to survive.  As a bystander you may think “well I would never do that” or you may say “what you did was wrong.” It’s important to not to be that way.  It’s important to remember that your loved one did what they had to, to stay alive.  It’s important not to judge them.  Unless you have been there you really do not know what you would do in order to survive.  Fully escaping an abusive relationship is like breaking free from a spiders web.  You are entangled by the love you feel for that person (yes a victim of domestic violence did fall in love with their abuser at one point. People aren’t bad all the time.) or perhaps you feel obligated to stay for your kids sake, you have no money to leave, you have been shamed by family or friends to stay, or perhaps you are simply terrified to take the next step, not sure if you will make it out alive. You too are a robot and are not quite ready to breakdown and see things for what they are because it just would be too damn painful.

Survivors need understanding.   They need positive reinforcement and guidance. They need to be given God’s grace as they untangle their web. As they become alive again there are ways you can help;

– Tell them that you are sorry this happened to them.
– It wasn’t their fault.
– Remind them that they survived; obviously they did the right things.
– Thank them for telling you. .
– Tell them that you are here if they want to talk.
– Ask if there is anything you can do for them?
– Listen

Please, please, PLEASE do not say;

– It is their fault.
– You could have avoided it had you ____________.
– It’s been so long! Get over it!
– It’s not that big of a deal; it happens to lots of people.
– I don’t believe you. (that’s the very worst thing to say)

Be there for the Survivor in your life. Rebuilding oneself is hard work.   A kind word or listening ear can do wonders.  After being told by your abuser that you are worthless and no one will ever believe you,  your support can do wonders in them rebuilding themselves.  You do not have to solve all of their problems, you can refer them to professionals for things that are beyond what you can do. No one expects you to solve their problems. Extra support can be found at:

In USA and Canada you can call the National Domestic Hotline at 1 800 799-7233 (SAFE) for shelters visit  www.domesticshelters.org

For Men 1 888 7HELPLINE (1 888-743-5754)

In the UK call Women’s Aid at 0808 2000 247

For Men ManKind Initiative 01823 334244

In Australia you can call the National Domestic Hotline 1800 200 526  and

One in Three Campaign has help for Male Survivors

Or visit www.hotpeachpages.net/a/countries.html to find help numbers for any other country.