Tag Archives: Emotional Abuse

Ever Present Exhaustion

When will the fatigue end?

The ever present exhaustion has been in existence for so long that I can’t remember when it started. I have been in various levels of Autistic Burnout for what feels like years and years.  I have written about being exhausted multiple times.

Here is just a taste of some of these posts over the years:

Being Emotionally Exhausted – posted on February 27, 2014

Exhausted All The Time – posted on March 16, 2014

Here I am Again – The Long Road of Living Exhausted  – posted on January 8, 2015

The Hidden Meaning Behind “I’m Tired” – posted August 24, 2016

Autistic Energy – A Depletion of a Person – Posted on January 19, 2020

The exhaustion I experience never seems to end, not fully. It seems to come in waves of intensity, but never fully ebbs away. I give myself recovery days, but it is not enough. My counselor even told me that I need a good month of not having to worry about anything, but resting with people bringing me food and drink. That sounds great and all, but not realistic. I am a single mom with disabilities and Complex –PTSD of two older teens who have multiple disabilities and PTSD who are entering online college in the fall while living at home. I am in graduate school again seeking my second Master’s degree.  We are in the middle of a pandemic and my abusive ex-husband has taken away the kids’ primary medical insurance for a second time. Ya, taking a month to recover is a luxury that I can’t afford. 

My ex-husband seems to be incapable of seeing beyond his own self interests. Everything is about him and it has only gotten worse with age. He is a covert narcissist. Much of my Complex-PTSD is due to his treatment of me. What is astonishing is that he doesn’t see it as abuse. He has this notion that everyone thinks like he does and that you need to hurt others before they can hurt you. He plays this push/pull game lashing out before anyone can do anything leaving trauma in his wake.   

The kids haven’t seen their father in three years. This is not the first time that this has happened. The first time lasted about two and a half years, and then he popped back in their lives for about 18 months before pulling away again.

He is very good at charming people and playing the quiet, country boy who is the victim in all that he does. He surrounds himself with enablers, and I will admit I was once his enabler before I realized what was really happening. He is an emotional vampire, feeding off of his various supplies and then discarding them. He is on his sixth girlfriend in less than eight years since he decided he didn’t want the responsibility of a family anymore. The first three were during our last two years of marriage. The current girlfriend is living with him and is signing the child support checks using their joint account.  This really hurts the kids. He has shown them that they are not even worth less than a minute of his time to sign those checks and fill out an envelope.  The kids have never met this newest girlfriend. A stranger is sending their child support checks.

You know it is serious when each of the counselors who are working with my children and I separately explain that, in order to heal, we must cut all contact with their father, including financial support. Unfortunately, that is not fully possible yet due to still being stuck in a financial abuse cycle with him. He keeps hurting the kids and projects blames on to them as to why he does what he does. A plan is in place to help us escape.

What do you think of when you hear the term “domestic violence” or “domestic abuse”?

What images come to mind? Do you only see a battered woman or a battered child?  Domestic violence/abuse comes in many forms. Physical abuse is only one of those forms, but it seems to be the only one that people think about. “At least he doesn’t hit you!” – like that is supposed to be a good thing? No! That kind of rhetoric keeps people trapped in abusive situations.

What about all the other forms of abuse – emotional, mental, financial, sexual, medical, educational, etc.?

More about abuse:

Abuse and Its Many Forms – posted on October 29, 2018

Studies have shown that emotional abuse is as bad as or worse than physical abuse. With physical abuse, people see it, they believe it, you can get help for it, and your physical wounds tend to heal faster than emotional wounds. The physical abuse doesn’t just start out of nothing. Other types of abuse start first. The manipulation, the gaslighting, the invalidation, the projection, the denial, the blaming, the lies, the threats  . . . and then the calm. Eventually, the cycle starts again and again and again no matter what the abuser says during the calm.

cycle-of-abuse

The cycle of abuse is very, very hard to get out once you are in it. I didn’t understand what was happening until it was too late. I was an undiagnosed, developmentally delayed, autistic person. I didn’t have the language to describe or the knowledge of what to look for as warning signs. I was taught to comply and that everyone else came first before me. Growing up, I had been conditioned to be a co-dependent. I had no idea what this was until after my marriage failed, but this conditioning lead me to be a prime target for a narcissist. I married what I knew and I knew how to survive it, but at a great cost to myself and to my kids.

I know better now, but the damage was done.

I am here today learning how to live rather than just survive. This is a long, painful process. It took years to accumulate the all layers of trauma that I have, it is going to take years to unravel is all so that I can heal.  I made a promise years ago that the generational trauma that I am a product of stops with me.

Here are some of my posts about being a domestic abuse survivor and healing:

Moving from Surviving to Healing – posted on June 30, 2019

Midnight Thoughts – posted on April 28, 2020

“The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma. [ . . . ] When the truth is finally recognized, survivors can begin their recovery. But far too often secrecy prevails, and the story of the traumatic event surfaces not as a verbal narrative but as a symptom.”

― Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror

Burying trauma or trying to ignore it and refusing to talk about it only leads to the trauma festering and turning into resentment, fear, and anger which can lead to unhealthy coping methods and passing trauma onto the next generation. Trauma needs to be talked about in a healthy way, but it can’t be rushed. Rushing can lead to more injury and adding to the trauma.

 “Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams healing can begin.”

― Danielle Bernock, Emerging With Wings: A True Story of Lies, Pain, And The LOVE that Heals

Trauma not only needs to be talked about, but it also needs to be listened to and validated.  Healing is a personal journey and it can take a long time. Telling someone to just let go of it and move on is harmful and invalidating. People can only move on when they are ready.

I have worked very hard to get where I am today.  As I discussed in Midnight Thoughts, I am ready to fly!!

“Taking care of myself doesn’t mean ‘me first’, it means ‘me, too’.”

I do not own any of the images. Images are linked to sources.

Abuse and Its Many Forms

(Content Warning:  Discussion about the different forms of abuse and a personal story.)

Abuse can come in many forms. Some forms are so imbedded into society that they are often overlooked, ignored, and/or dismissed. So, what constitutes being abused?  According to the Lanark County, Ont. Coalition against Family Violence, a single act may not constitute abuse, but if someone is doing something to harm or control you then you are being abused. You have the right to be treated with respect and to feel safe in your home.  Abuse is a violation of an individual’s human and civil rights and in the worst cases can result in death.

The East Riding Safeguarding Adults Board has compiled a list of ten types of abuse:

  • Discriminatory
    • race
    • gender
    • gender identity
    • age
    • disability
    • sexual orientation
    • religion
  • Psychological
    • emotional abuse
    • threats of harm or abandonment
    • deprivation of contact
    • humiliation
    • blaming
    • controlling
    • intimidation
    • coercion
    • harassment
    • verbal abuse
    • cyber bullying
    • isolation
    • unreasonable and unjustified withdrawal of services or supportive networks
  • Financial or material
    • theft
    • fraud
    • internet scamming
    • coercion in relation to an adult’s financial affairs or arrangements, including in connection with wills, property, inheritance or financial transactions
    • the misuse or misappropriation of property, possessions or benefits
  • Organizational
    • neglect
    • poor care practice within an institution or specific care setting such as a hospital or care home
    • poor practice in relation to care provided in one’s own home
  • Neglect and acts of omission
    • ignoring medical, emotional or physical care needs
    • failure to provide access to appropriate health, care and support or educational services,
    • the withholding of the necessities of life, such as medication, adequate nutrition and heating
  • Physical
    • assault
    • hitting
    • slapping
    • pushing
    • misuse of medication
    • restraint or inappropriate physical sanctions
  • Sexual
    • rape
    • indecent exposure
    • sexual harassment
    • inappropriate looking or touching
    • sexual teasing or innuendo
    • sexual photography
    • subjection to pornography or witnessing sexual acts
    • indecent exposure and sexual assault or sexual acts to which the adult has not consented or was pressured into
  • Domestic
    • psychological abuse
    • physical abuse
    • sexual abuse
    • financial abuse
    • emotional abuse
    • so called ‘honour’ based violence
  • Modern slavery
    • slavery
    • human trafficking
    • forced labour and domestic servitude

Traffickers and slave masters use whatever means they have at their disposal to coerce, deceive and force individuals into a life of abuse, servitude and inhumane treatment.

  • Self-neglect
    • a wide range of behaviour neglecting to care one one’s personal hygiene, health or surroundings and includes behaviour such as hoarding

NO ONE DESERVES TO BE TREATED LIKE THIS!!! NO ONE DESERVES TO BE ABUSED!!!

GrieveThis is a very difficult topic to be writing about. I grew up in an emotionally and verbally  abusive home. I was in an abusive marriage for 15 years.  I married want I knew.  That was my “normal”.  Everyone who has survived an abusive situation has a story as to why they stayed.  Everyone does.  I am no different.

Growing up, I didn’t feel safe and I felt there was something wrong, but I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know the language.  All I knew was that I felt safer staying in my room by myself and listening to my music.  It wasn’t until I become a teacher and took classes on abuse that I started to learn the language.  Even then it took my years to finally break free of the situation I had found myself in.  I was taught to just deal with the verbal abuse.  I was taught that the worse thing I could do was disappoint my family.  I had to comply with whatever I was told.  I was conditioned to be a codependent and it was my job to keep everyone else happy.  I learned at a young age that my needs didn’t matter, that my voice didn’t matter.  This continued way into adulthood and into my marriage.

A part of me wants to write about all the different things that were done to me in the name of love, or at least, that was what I was told. It was for my protection, it was because a person cared, it was because I needed to be a better daughter or a better sister or a better wife or a better mother.  That I couldn’t be trusted in making decisions for my children or that I was broken or that I was just a bad person.  The list goes on.

My ex-husband has admitted that he was trying to contain me, to keep me in a box. Letting me spread my wings was frightening to him.  In his mind, by keeping me in a box, he was protecting me.  I know my mother thinks in those same terms.  In her mind, I  needed to be protected.  In order to do that, in her mind, I needed to be controlled and contained.  I was not allowed to be me.  I feel like a shadow around my parents. Something that just stands in the corner until requested.  I feel the most disabled when I am with them.

Remember, you have the right to be treated with respect and to feel safe in your home.

I have a parent who attacks my neurology. This parent is very ableist and doesn’t even know or wants to know what ableism is. This parent is about control and will manipulate (covertly and overtly) to get it. This parent has problems, but is in full denial.  My ex-husband has untreated mental health problems and a destructive personality disorder. He did get a full psychological evaluation, but refuses to get professional help. My ex-husband and this parent are both passive aggressive, manipulative, and emotionally abusive. My other parent is verbally abusive.  This parent’s anger management problem is right out there in the open.  My ex-husband also has anger management problems, but his is silent and terrifying.  As I said before, I married what I knew.  This was the world that I grew up in and remained in it as an adult.

Four and a half years ago I had had enough. My marriage had already ended.  I had learned that I was stronger and more resilient than I even realized.  I drew a line with my parents, a healthy boundary. I would no longer tolerate the ongoing abuse. I cut off contact to my parents.  Not completely, though, we still email every so often, but I don’t feel safe with them.  I have tried multiple times to reason with them, but was told they are not going to change.  I had to think about myself and my children.  It all really hit me when my children began asking each of their counselors why their grandparents treated me the way they did.  I had to make a change for my own welfare and for my children’s future.

AbusersSomewhere in the back of my mind I knew growing up there was a problem with my family. The cycle of abuse goes back several generations on both sides. I had promised myself that the abuse stopped with me. I was not going to allow the cycle of abuse to continue with my children.  Unfortunately, their father had other ideas. He emotionally abused and neglected them.  The good news is that his cycle of abuse was caught earlier.  My children have been in counseling since they were little learning to cope with the cards life has dealt them.  They are stronger and more resilient for that earlier intervention.  I am still determined to make sure the cycle of abuse in my family stops with me.  I will not allow the abuse to continue.

What can you do?

  • Educate yourself.
  • Believe when someone tells you something is wrong. I tried to reach out for help many times, but no one would believe me.
  • Listen with compassion.
  • Don’t be judgmental.
  • Encouragement is key.

Here is some helpful information about stopping abuse:

Here are some additional blogs that I wrote about trauma and abuse:

 

Trauma Does Not Define You

In Greek, trauma means “wound”. Originally trauma referred to physical wounds, but nowadays trauma also refers to emotional wounds. The psychological reaction to emotional trauma also has a name.  It is more often referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.  I am very familiar with PTSD.  I was diagnosed with it about 14 years ago. This original diagnosis arose from a horrible medical trauma that I endured and also from the behavior of those closest to me at the time.  Since then, my diagnosis has changed to Complex-PTSD due to what I have come to realize were years of emotional and mental abuse at the hands of my ex-husband and what I endured as a child growing up.  I married what I knew. 

Growing up in a household where verbal and emotional abuses were tolerated really confused my autistic brain. I was told I was loved, and I believed it, but the behavior was not what you do to people you love. As a teacher, I learned the phrase, “at least he is not hitting me”, is a red flag that something is very wrong.  I heard that phrase over and over again growing up.  I was taught to comply, to make excuses.  I was conditioned to be a codependent.  Talking about any of this outside and inside the family was and still is discouraged.  I knew something was off with my family, but I didn’t know what it was.  It just felt uncomfortable.  Yet, I still married what I knew.   

Emotional abuse is insidious. It starts slow and under the radar.  You have no idea what is really happening, only that something doesn’t feel quite right.  The perpetrator may even pull back and be charming again when you call them out on something.  Everything might seem perfectly fine again, but over time that uncomfortable feeling starts up again and it gets worse and worse each time.  It is incredibly confusing.  Before you know it, you find yourself trapped telling yourself that you just have to wait for him to cycle back to being the man you married.  This is what is called the cycle of abuse.  You find yourself holding out for the good times to come back, and that is the perpetrator’s biggest weapon, playing on your hope. You find yourself holding on for something that will never come, real peace and real love.   

As a child, I would wait out the aggressive verbal outbursts and the passive aggressive manipulation until we could feel like a family again.  While growing up, I had no idea I was in this perpetual state of fight or flight. I was always on edge and preferred to be in my bedroom.  Now I understand why I did isolated myself, but back then, that was my “normal” and it was exhausting and frightening.  As a spouse, I did the same thing. I waited out the passive aggressive emotional abuse until the good times returned.  I married what I knew.

According to SAMHSA, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are stressful or traumatic events, including abuse and neglect. These experiences may also include household dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence or growing up with family members who have substance use disorders. Having your ACEs score is like having your cholesterol score.  The score is a guideline to help you learn your risk factors for particular things. 

How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime | Nadine Burke Harris (TEDtalk – video)

Childhood trauma isn’t something you just get over as you grow up. Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain. This unfolds across a lifetime, to the point where those who’ve experienced high levels of trauma are at triple the risk for heart disease and lung cancer. An impassioned plea for pediatric medicine to confront the prevention and treatment of trauma, head-on.ACEs Impact

The Impact

ACEs scores are strongly related to the development and prevalence of a wide range of health problems throughout a person’s lifespan, including those associated with substance abuse.

ACEs include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Mother treated violently
  • Substance misuse within household
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental separation or divorce
  • Incarcerated household member

The ACEs study used the top ten reported adverse childhood experiences when designing the questionnaire, which consists of ten questions and involves your life prior to 18 years old.  Five questions are personal — physical abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, physical neglect, and emotional neglect. Five questions are related to other family members: a parent who’s an alcoholic, a mother who’s a victim of domestic violence, a family member in jail, a family member diagnosed with a mental illness, and the disappearance of a parent through divorce, death or abandonment. Each type of trauma counts as one.

I went through the questionnaire  and had a score of 3/10. I had both my children take the questionnaire as well.  Their scores varied.  My daughter had a score of 8/10.  My son first had a score of 4/10, but then he adjusted some of the questions to reflect one parent, his father, and he ended up with a score of 6/10.  I knew their scored would be higher than mine.  They have dealt with a divorce and a father who emotionally neglected them and emotionally abused their mother.  Even with that, learning their scores punched me in the gut. 

I reminded them that their trauma does not define them. Trauma can affect yourself-definition either consciously or unconsciously. Trauma hurts, and as hard as it is to grieve, trauma is not who you are. Your ACEs score is not what is wrong with you; rather it reflects what has happened to you. Just as trauma does not define you, your ACEs score does not define you.  What makes the difference is getting help and developing resilience. 

Prevent ACEs

We Can Prevent ACEs – Video by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a tremendous impact on future violence victimization and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity. As such, adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are an important public health issue. Learn how everyone can help prevent ACEs by using strategies to create safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments for all children.

Part of healing from trauma is stating what happened. It is important to share your story in whatever way you are able to, but being able to takes time.

A few days ago in the car, one of my children stated, “Dad committed acts of domestic violence.”

This was the first time either one of them has used the term “domestic violence” in connection with their father. My marriage ended six years ago.

Finally being able to share this information out loud with me meant one step farther away from the trauma and one step closer to healing.

Where do we go from here?

  • There is no time limit on grief.
  • Everyone grieves differently.
  • Don’t let trauma consume you. Don’t live there.
  • No wallowing!
  • Get help!
  • Strive to heal.
  • Obtain and utilize healthy coping skills.
  • Do what makes you feel good in a healthy way.
  • Reduce risk factors.
  • Increase protective factors
  • Get involved in community.
  • Talk to someone.
  • Educate yourself.
  • Find what makes you feel your true self.
  • Most of all – Be gentle to yourself!!!

 

I Hate Complex-PTSD

(Trigger Warning – Discussion about Trauma)

I hate Complex-PTSD. There is no way around it, I hate it.  I got triggered today.  All it took was for me to be sent spiraling was for me to notice that a relative of mine had changed their profile picture on Facebook.  It was a completely innocent thing for them to do.  There was nothing wrong with the picture that my relative chose, but for me, it was enough to trigger a cascading effect of interacting layers of trauma that I have accumulated over the years.

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) is a condition that results from chronic or long-term exposure to emotional trauma over which a victim has little or no control and from which there is little or no hope of escape.”

C-PSTD can occur in such cases of:

  • domestic emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • childhood emotional, physical or sexual abuse
  • entrapment or kidnapping.
  • slavery or enforced labor.
  • long term imprisonment and torture
  • repeated violations of personal boundaries.
  • long-term objectification.
  • exposure to gaslighting & false accusations
  • long-term exposure to inconsistent, push-pull, splitting or alternating raging & hoovering behaviors.
  • long-term taking care of mentally ill or chronically sick family members.
  • long term exposure to crisis conditions.

How did I get to this point? I grew up in an emotionally neglectful and abusive household.  I married what I knew and the covert emotional manipulation and emotional abuse only got worse.  I have also been taking care of mentally ill family members for over 16 years now.  Then there is the medical trauma I endured 15 years ago that resulted in my initial diagnosis of PTSD which eventually grew to C-PTSD when more and more layers of trauma were exposed.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and C-PTSD are similar, but they do differ in causes and symptoms. C-PTSD results more from chronic repetitive stress from which there is little to no chance of escape. PTSD can result from single events or short term exposure to extreme stress or trauma.

***Remember, C-PTSD is a stress disorder, not a weakness or defect of character nor is it a personality disorder although it is often misdiagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder.

From The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders:

CPTSD Symptoms

People who have gone through a long-standing, extremely traumatic situation may exhibit both physical and emotional symptoms related to their ordeal.

Emotional symptoms may include:

  • Rage displayed through violence, destruction of property, or theft
  • Depression, denial, fear of abandonment, thoughts of suicide, anger issues
  • Low self-esteem, panic attacks, self-loathing
  • Perfectionism, blaming others instead of dealing with a situation, selective memory
  • Loss of faith in humanity, distrust, isolation, inability to form close personal relationships
  • Shame, guilt, focusing on wanting revenge
  • Flashbacks, memory repression, dissociation

Victims of C-PTSD may also have physical symptoms, such as:

  • Eating disorders, substance abuse, alcoholism, promiscuity
  • Chronic pain
  • Cardiovascular problems
  • Gastrointestinal problems.
  • Migraines

From Out of the Storm:

Symptoms Shared by CPTSD and PTSD

According to Cloitre et al (2016), CPTSD shares three main symptoms with PTSD which include:

  • Re-experiencing the past – in the form of nightmares and flashbacks.  While in PTSD flashbacks tend to be visual, in CPTSD they are often emotional.  That is,  a sudden, overwhelming rush of emotions such as anger, shame, humiliation, abandonment, and of being small and powerless much like a child would feel when abused.  These are referred to as Emotional Flashbacks (EFs). and can last for minutes, hours or even days (Walker, 2013) . 
  • Sense of threat – constantly on guard or hypervigilant, strong startle reaction
  • Avoidance – of thoughts, feelings, people, places, activities relating to the trauma (e.g., dissociation, derealization)

Symptoms of CPTSD Only

Cloitre et al (2014) suggest that CPTSD differs from PTSD in that it has three additional symptoms:

  • Emotion regulation – Emotional sensitivity; reduced ability to respond to situations in an emotionally appropriate and flexible manner  
  • Negative self-concept – Feeling of worthlessness and defectiveness. Walker suggests that those with CPTSD suffer from toxic shame and have a virulent Inner and Outer Critic.
  • Interpersonal problems – Difficulty feeling close to another person; feeling disconnected, distant or cut off from other people (depersonalization, social anxiety). 

Everyone is unique and the above list of symptoms is not complete and not everyone with C-PTSD will exhibit all the symptoms listed. I, for one, do not have the physical symptoms of “Eating disorders, substance abuse, alcoholism, promiscuity”. There was a time I wanted revenge, but I couldn’t stand that feeling and fought hard against it. Revenge never solves anything and can ultimately destroy the person seeking revenge. I have wanted to die, but I have never had suicidal thoughts.  I also have never been violent, destroyed property, nor committed theft. I do not have cardiovascular problems, but I do experience chest pain during anxiety and panic attacks. I have had to establish healthy boundaries and am no longer in contact with certain family members beyond an occasional email.  I also never lost my ability to form close personal relationships with others.

What makes experiencing all this worse for me is that things that trigger me are typically seen as happy moments by most people, so there is little to no understanding as to why I cut myself off from exposure to reminders and why an unexpected exposure to a photograph of my happy sister, her happy husband, and her new baby affected me so badly.  I didn’t experience anger seeing that photo.  I was terrified!  Pregnancy and children birth reminders are horrible, panic inducing triggers for me. The reason for this is my medical trauma resulted from me being pregnant and giving birth.  I am not going to go into detail, but more information can be found here and here.

I got triggered this morning by a reminder of that horrific time in my life that was my medical trauma, the lack of emotional support I experienced from my family and continue to experience, and all the loss I experienced and continue to experience.  That one trigger not only triggered me regarding my medical trauma, but every  emotional trauma after it. There is a lot.  As I stated before, I was in an emotionally abusive marriage and came from an emotionally manipulative and neglectful home life that followed me into adulthood.    

It is 11:31PM now. I am still struggling. I have been crying off and on all day, but most of my crying was this morning.  How have I coped?  I used music and running.  I let myself ride the melody and lyrics of specifically chosen songs and played them over and over again.  I let the music flow through me and let the emotion flow with it.  I had to.  No more pretending.  I am safe now.  I don’t have to hide my anguish anymore. I have to let my pain out, but I have to do it in a health way.  I have been a runner for 24 years.  Running helps me regulate my anxiety and helps me control my meltdowns.  Running is not for everyone, but it is a way for me to help ground myself when the whole world feels like it is collapsing all around me like it did today.

My theme song today was “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler.  I felt this song fit with how I was feeling and how I wanted to express myself, because I had no words, just tears and pain.  (Lyrics) 

After my run tonight I found myself still feeling lost. The song I needed to listen to was “Send me an Angel” by Real Life.  (Lyrics)

I have been waking up lately with this song playing in my head. I wouldn’t mind at all having an angel sent to me right now with some guidance and emotional support. Days like this are so hard, but they do eventually get better.  I just have to keep moving forward.  A better day will come.  

 

 

Dealing With Emotional Abuse in Families

(Trigger Warning: Personal Experiences Discussed)

Families.  What makes a family?  What does it mean to be a family?  What does it mean to be emotionally supportive? At what point do you say that you have had enough? At which point do you have to walk away for your own protection?

These are loaded questions and not something that can be easily answered.  These are questions that I have been grappling with lately.  Well, to be honest, I have been grappling with these questions for some time now.

What brought me to this place, a place where I am finding I am at a loss as to how to even address these questions?  It first started when I realized I had been in emotionally abusive situation for some time and it had been coming from several directions.  One direction had been from my husband who was crumbling from a lifetime of untreated mental illness.  The situation he was in is not an excuse for his behavior, but it is a fact that his refusal to acknowledge that he was mentally ill contributed greatly to his inevitable decline and eventual self-destructive behavior.  He had to lose everything and stay there for a while before he realized what was really important to him, me and our two children.  The ordeal that led up to a three year nightmare eventually had a happy ending.  He finally got help and eventually came home.  He moved back in five months ago.

We are a family again. During that three year-long nightmare, I questioned if he really was part of the family anymore.  He didn’t want to be, or it appeared that he didn’t want to be, but he was still genetically connected to our children and we had 15 years of marriage together.  You also don’t have to be genetically linked to be family.  Was he still considered family?  In the end, the answer to that question was a resounding “Yes!”  Surprisingly, our bond survived all that destruction that had taken place over those three years.  The love was still there.

In many other cases, the situation is so bad that there is no more love, only abuse and pain.  I don’t know why I held on to hope that my ex-husband would eventually have an epiphany and would find his way home.  You could say we got lucky, but there was more to it than that.  We are determined to make this work.  We are taking the necessary steps with family counseling and working on our communication skills.  We are still going through the healing process, still figuring our roles as a family of four. It is going to take time, but we are on a positive path to recovery.

My daughter asked recently what love was.  I told her love is when you don’t give up on someone. For us, this statement is true.   I never gave up on the man that I married even when he had given up on himself.  Please understand, not giving up on someone is not the same as walking away. I had to walk away and give the man I loved the time and space he needed to figure things out.  You can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.  Sometimes you have to walk away.  In our case, it worked out.  Unfortunately, much of the time it does not.  You have to move on; otherwise an emotionally abusive situation could potentially destroy you.

I wrote more about emotional abuse —> Invisible Scars – A Tale of Emotional Abuse

I am facing the question of walking away again.  I had to put up a healthy boundary in regards to three family members in my life.  This occurred almost a year ago.  I had to do this for my own mental wellbeing, for my own protection.  I have Complex-PTSD and last June I had the worst trigger I have ever had apart from a medical trauma that led to my diagnosis of PTSD in the first place twelve years ago. I know they didn’t mean to cause me such harm, but it was through their lack of understanding that led me to being is so much pain.  I couldn’t stop the flashbacks.  I was back in that hell again.  I could hardly function for days.  It was a horrid experience.  You can find more about that experience here —> The Volcano is Awake

For more information on my experience with Complex-PTSD —> The Hell that is Spring

When I tried to explain to these families members what had happened and why I had to have the healthy boundary, I was met with “I thought you were over this.” and “I am so angry at you right now!” and “Don’t you care how your sister feels? You hurt her feelings.”  Ya, it wasn’t pleasant. I was so full of guilt and pain, but it didn’t seem to matter to this person. They just dumped more guilt and pain on to me.  These comments were made by one person out of the three.  One of the others hasn’t communicated with me for a year now and the third is keeping a respectful distance.

It hurts to even discuss this.  How can person get mad at another for having an excruciating panic attack that lasted for days?  How can a person who claims that they have unconditional love for another end up throwing guilt on to them during their most vulnerable moments? I was told that I was wrong to feel the way I did. A person has no right to tell another how they are supposed to feel.  I don’t understand it.  I don’t understand the behavior and this has been happening to me for as long as I can remember.

This week I was told I had a fevered brain by this same person.  When I asked for clarification, I did not receive any.  I have been told I am full of anger, hatred, and disdain.  I have been told that my words are full of vitriol and that there is a disconnect between what I write and how I perceive it.  I don’t understand where this is coming from.  I am not full of anger or hatred or disdain.  What I do feel is sadness, frustration, and fear.

My blogs reflect my journey through loss, grief, healing, and self-discovery. It is natural to experience anger as you go through a grief cycle and everyone is different when it comes to grief. Working through grief is really a big ball of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff. Any reflection of anger would have been expressed in my blogs at the time I was experiencing it.  As you continue to read through my blogs, you see a definite change.  I have changed.  This is why I do not understand where these accusations of anger, hatred, and disdain are coming from are coming from.

For more about my journey through grief, click on the following links:

—> Autism, Empathy, and Grief – A Personal Story (Dec 16, 2013)

—> Grieving (Mar 30, 2015)

—> Sadness – Moving Through Grief and Finding Understanding (Aug 22, 2015)

My relationship with this person is not healthy, but this person seems to think that I am at fault for the situation that we are currently in. I suppose in some respect I am at fault.  I chose to put up a healthy boundary, but then was accused of pushing the family away. Growing up, I was never taught about healthy boundaries or how to say “no”.  I was taught to comply. I had to comply or face the wrath of yelling, crushing disappointment of a parent, or a major guilt trip. I had no defense against guilt being place upon me.  I was basically taught to be a co-dependent, which is not healthy at all.  I only learned how to overcome my co-dependency these last few years since my diagnosis. I didn’t even know about co-dependency until my marriage failed, and that co-dependency, that extreme feeling of wanting to help people that I have always carried contributed to my marriage failing.  I learned how to say “no” as an adult in my 30s. This is why I have been teaching my children the power of “no”. I want them to understand that they can say “no”, too.

This same person said I was “a fairly happy child despite of the problems autism put upon you”.  I wasn’t diagnosed with autism until I was 36 years old and I have a real problem with the wording of this comment.  Did I struggle growing up? Yes.  Did this person try to get me help? No.  Was there any discussion about my struggles?  Only that I needed to “come out of my shell” or questioned why I wasn’t more like my sister.  I was labeled shy and quiet and left to be.

To be clear, autism didn’t put problems upon me. Autism is not some separate entity that squishes people and holds them down.  My autism is not separate from me.  I am Autistic. The problems I faced growing up were a direct result of me not having the type of supports that I needed to be successful. I had to struggle on my own, because my autism was not recognized.  I was a girl, after all, born in the mid-70s and growing up in the 80s and early 90s.  There wasn’t a whole lot known about autism then, definitely not Asperger Syndrome, which is what I was originally diagnosed with in late 2011.

Okay, I am starting to rant now, back to the topic of families.

What does it mean to grow up in an emotionally abusive home and not realize it?  It took me a long time to accept what my home life was like even though as a child I felt something was off.  I didn’t understand what was happening to me, because it was all I knew.  How do you know that there is something wrong if a certain environment is all you know? I always had food to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof over my head.  I was always told that I was loved, but something wasn’t right and I never understood what it was until after I became a parent. Why didn’t I feel comfortable at home?  Why was I always so tense?  Why did I spend so much time alone in my room?

Facing the truth of one’s emotional child abuse takes a special kind of courage. But to be an emotionally healthy adult, the truth must be known, so that healing can begin, and the pattern doesn’t repeat.

An emotionally abused child who does not, as an adult, face the truth of their childhood is in great danger of repeating the cycle of emotional abuse with his or her own children.

“As long as [the experience of cruelty] remains hidden behind their idealized picture of a happy childhood, they will have no awareness of it and will therefore be unable to avoid passing it on. It is absolutely urgent that people become aware of the degree to which this disrespect of children is persistently transmitted from one generation to the next, perpetuating destructive behavior.” (Alice Miller, “The Drama of the Gifted Child: The Search for Self”)

Unfortunately, because emotional abuse is often tolerated or because the abusive parents are very secretive in their abuse (hiding their true selves when in public), emotionally abused children will assume that how they were treated at home was natural. They have no frame of reference. And so, the child will develop a skewed sense of what a healthy relationship is.

Emotionally abused children become adults with little or no self-esteem; a deep, pervasive sadness; problems bonding with others; and a tendency towards self-destruction.

For me, I never have had a tendency towards self-destruction, but more towards survival and always feeling that I had to move forward in life. I have to keep going no matter what.  I have had quite a bit of trouble with self-esteem and pervasive sadness, though. I also form very strong bonds.

An emotionally abused child usually continues being emotionally abused by the parents long into adulthood. The patterns have already been established since the child’s earliest years. The dynamics of the family have been set into place. Nothing is to drastically change it—unless the child grown up awakens.

Some adults experience a jolt, a sudden flash of memory, that is triggered by an event, a song, a movie scene, anything, really. Others remain asleep until the abusive parents become abusive grandparents—continuing the cycle of emotional abuse to the adult survivor’s children. Others will just reach the point where they cannot take it anymore; enough is enough.

And the abused child-turned-adult awakens, slowly realizing that not everything is as it has seemed. Everything is different now.

Taking the red pill regarding your emotionally abusive childhood leads to a very difficult path—but the important thing is that it is a path. You no longer remain stuck, wondering about the pervasive depression or sorrow.

I started fighting back after my children were born. Something inside insisted that I had to raise my children differently than the way I was raised.  They were going to get the emotional support I never got.  I was going to be their advocate, because I never had one.  I have been a parent now for fifteen years.  I tolerated much of my parents’ behavior over the years.  I tried to ignore it, tried to make excuses, tried to tell myself that it was just how they were and I had to accept it.  The finally straw came last June when I was slammed with the trigger.  There was absolutely no emotional support provided.  I was dying all over again and absolutely no shit was given.  Enough was enough.  I feel the most disabled when I am with my parents.  I am also always on guard.  I can’t relax.  There is something wrong, something very wrong, but whenever I have tried to discuss the matter I get nowhere.

Here I am again, asking those questions about family.  They are my parents.  There is a genetic link.  The love is still there, but this time it is different.  There seems to be no sense of responsibility on the part of my parents. No sense that there is something wrong with the situation.  Maybe I am being naive, but I want to make it right.  I want to feel safe with my family members.  My sister has kept a respectful distance, but she doesn’t feel there is a problem. She makes the same excuses I once did.  She also seems to have trouble seeing me as disabled.  I am her big sister.  I am not supposed to be disabled, or at least that is the impression I get.  She seems to want her idea of how the family is supposed to be to be true.  She did express some understanding of why I couldn’t talk on the phone, because many weeks after my trigger occurred she miscarried at 14 weeks. She found herself not able to talk on the phone either.  I really appreciate it that my sister contacted me to let me know what had happened.  I was able to give her words of comfort which she in turn greatly appreciated.

Families can make amends, it takes time, but healing can happen if both parties are willing to work with each other.  The healing might not look like the way you want it to or go as fast as you want it to.  It most likely will never be like it once was, but the important part to remember is that you don’t give up on each other.  You might have to walk away, but you don’t give up.

As for my situation with my parents, at this point in time I need to keep my healthy boundary up for my own protection.

“Adult children who have never spiritually and emotionally separated from their parents often need time away. They have spent their whole lives embracing and keeping and have been afraid to refrain from embracing and to throw away from of their outgrown ways of relating. They need to spend some time building boundaries against the old ways and creating new ways of relating that for a while may feel alienating to their parents.” (“Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No and Take Control of Your Life”, pg. 38)

Here are some suggestions from For Adult Survivors of Emotional Child Abuse that will help you to begin your path to healing:

  1. Seek professional help from someone who understands emotional child abuse. 
  2. Create some distance between you and your abusive parent.

You will find it difficult to put your new thoughts in perspective if you are still immersed into your parents’ lives. So, you need to create some space. Let them know that you need time to think about things.  In some cases, adult children will find healing, and they will eventually find new ways of communicating with their parents that is healthy.

  1. Don’t give up! Stay awake, stay vigilant.
  2. Take your time.
  3. Educate yourself about emotional child abuse.

You’ll be going through myriad emotions, so you should read to better understand how healing is a process and will not happen overnight. You can find a starter’s recommended readings here.  In the book “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No and Take Control of Your Life” by Dr. Henry Cloud and John Townsend, the clinical psychologists discuss the severe impact of being raised without boundaries and its affects into adulthood. Also, look at the various sites here for information about emotional child abuse and healing.

  1. Be patient and loving with yourself. 
  2. Surround yourself with good, supportive friends.
  3. Understand you may lose friends and family members—but let them go.
  4. Keep a journal.
  5. Be mindful of your relationships.
  6. Pray or meditate.
  7. Let yourself receive love.
  8. Accept change.
  9. Find a creative outlet.
  10. Don’t give up.

Don’t give up. Don’t quit. Rest, sure. Take a little time to just lose yourself in music or TV or books for a little while… then continue on. DON’T QUIT. Don’t stop on your path to healing. Sometimes, the sorrow will be biting and cold—but don’t quit.

Know you are worthy of love, of respect, of kindness, of happiness, of dignity.

Know you matter.

Know that your life does make a difference.

**All quotes are from For Adult Survivors of Emotional Child Abuse.

Sadness – Moving Through Grief and Finding Understanding

i__m_pleading_for_a_second_chance_by_lalita17-d5b6v1eSadness. It can be crippling. Anger is different. Your body can feed off the energy of anger as you try to keep yourself from being ripped apart by it at the same time. You busy yourself with activity trying to suppress the anger raging inside you, that monster that is just below the surface. Sadness, on the other hand, drains you. There is nothing to feed on, because there is just nothing there but emptiness and loss. That is where I am now, feeling that emptiness.

What makes it worse is when anxiety is mixed in with that emptiness. It makes you sick to your stomach and all your energy is drained from you. Lifting your arms is a challenge. Speaking hurts. Your heart feels like it is sinking into your stomach, but the anxiety is making your heart feel like it is being squeezed and trying to explode out of your chest all at the same time. Your head is just a clouded mess. Functioning? Not even going to happen. There is not enough “spoons” for that.

Beyond_griefGrief is unique to each individual. There is no one way and no right way to go through grief. It has been just over a year since my divorce finalized. It has taken me this long to get to this point in my grieving. I was in an emotionally abusive marriage for 15 years, yet I didn’t realize it until fairly recently. That is the problem when you are subjected to emotional abuse that is insidious, silent, and passive aggressive. It creeps up on you slowly and wears you down. You don’t even know what is happening to you until it is too late. Recently I have learned that my ex-husband fits the “Peter Pan Syndrome” profile.

He is the type that, for the lack of a better term, goes after things that are shiny, and it doesn’t seem to even occur to him the pain he causes other people by doing so. He gets bored or lonely, and then sees a new shiny thing that catches his attention and goes after it not even contemplating the destruction he is leaving behind. To the kids, they feel abandoned by their father. To him, he only went after something shiny. In this particular case, the shiny things were new women, a new job, and the prospect of getting away from having to make choices and having to have responsibilities he didn’t want. The kids have not seen their father is over a year. They don’t trust him. My son wants nothing to do with his father. My daughter is scared of him. He became a stranger to her even before he moved out.

I believe that my ex-husband does feel guilty for what he did, but only to a point. There is this vagueness that I sense. He doesn’t seem to fully understand what he did and the level of pain he caused. During our marriage, he never wanted to talk maskanything out. He would never express his own needs. He always had to be the hero to anyone else, but when it came to his own family, he would stall out. He is also emotionally unavailable and has always had trouble being honest with himself and others. His freedom seemed to be more important to him then what he felt was the monotony of family life. I have mentioned in past blogs about the masks he would wear. These masks changed based on who he was with. Toward the end of our marriage, he seemed to forget who he was with and a stranger would emerge. He told me that he pretended to be someone else to get me to marry him. Why would someone do that to another?

He actually told me the other day that he hadn’t realized how much he missed talking to someone with what he referred to as “intelligence in science”. I had only called him, because the wildfires had gotten very close to where he and other family members live. I wanted to make sure everyone was alright. He told me he really enjoyed our conversation and wanted to have more of them. I felt his pull and I missed his voice, but I said it was not a good idea. I realized that he was using the same tactics and speech patterns he had used all those years ago to get my attention. I knew that I was just something shiny that he had forgotten about. I knew it wouldn’t take long until he would get bored again or saw something else shiny that would take his attentions away. I know I am still vulnerable even after all this time and I need to still protect myself.

A_Silhouette_of_SadnessThe sadness hurts. I was just something shiny to acquire, something to play with. Then real life set in and I wasn’t worth his time or effort anymore. I represented something that impeded his freedom. I have come to understand that there is a pattern about myself. I seem to have a habit of attracting “Lost Boys”. I don’t have the full-on version of the “Wendy Dilemma”, but there is definitely a problem there. I struggle with codependency issues. I was conditioned to be codependent from childhood. The problem was that I didn’t even know what a codependent was until after my marriage failed. I was the overly emotional, loyal, trusting, and honest partner. I am not saying this is a good thing. I am developmentally delayed and my naïve tendencies have been taken advantage of on more than one occasion.

My ex-husband, on the other hand, lacked emotional reciprocity and the ability to be truthful. He preferred to lie by omission and speak with vagueness. He mistakenly felt he was somehow protecting us by lying. He also seemed to think he didn’t have to deal with anything if the issues were never out in the open. He could deny and pretend that everything was alright. Our relationship was really one sided and out of balance. We were a codependent couple and it wasn’t healthy.

I re-read a long letter my ex-husband had written to the kids a while back. It was his attempt to explain why he left. As I have stated before, I am developmentally delayed, but that does not mean that I am developmentally stopped. I started really growing as a person once I reached my mid-30s. I started learning about healthy boundaries and advocating for myself. I was essentially growing up.

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What was really a life changing moment for me was when I was officially diagnosed with Autism, a diagnosis my ex-husband could never accept. Everything started making sense for me after my diagnosis. All the struggles and confusion I had had all my life up until then finally made sense. In that letter that my ex-husband wrote, he talks about how I was developing and it wasn’t working for him. Basically, I wasn’t playing my part in our codependent relationship anymore. I was setting boundaries; I was seeing each of us as individuals with individual needs and wants. I began developing friendships outside of my marriage with people who shared my passions. I had been isolated up until that point.

My ex-husband told me once that I was too passionate about things and it made him uncomfortable. He also didn’t like how I hyper focused on things nor did he like the time and energy I devoted to my job as a teacher. All of this was expressed in that letter he wrote to the kids, but it was done in a vague way. No specifics were included other than the fact I was developing and growing as a person and he felt so lonely as a result. He states he was losing his identity. I get the impression that instead of establishing himself as an individual, he needed me to maintain his identity. He was codependent on me defining him as a person and I had been codependent on him to make me feel safe in a world I didn’t understand. That is not healthy at all.

Codependency-500

(Image found at Codependency)

“What makes interconnections healthy is interdependency, not codependency. Paradoxically, interdependency requires two people capable of autonomy (the ability to function independently). When couples love each other, it’s normal to feel attached, to desire closeness, to be concerned for each another, and to depend upon each other. Their lives are intertwined, and they’re affected by and need each other. However, they share power equally and take responsibility for their own feelings, actions, and contributions to the relationship. Because they have self-esteem, they can manage their thoughts and feelings on their own and don’t have to control someone else to feel okay. They can allow for each other’s differences and honor each another’s separateness. Thus, they’re not afraid to be honest. They can listen to their partner’s feelings and needs without feeling guilty or becoming defensive. Since their self-esteem doesn’t depend upon their partner, they don’t fear intimacy, and independence doesn’t threaten the relationship. In fact, the relationship gives them each more freedom. There’s mutual respect and support for each other’s personal goals, but both are committed to the relationship.”  

Source – Codependency vs. Interdependency  

Where do I go from here? There is no going back; the past can’t be changed, so I just have to keep moving forward. Grieving – denial, bargaining, anger, sadness, and then finally acceptance. I am not there yet, that point where I have found acceptance, but I am moving toward it and getting closer every day. For me, it is all about resilience. I have to keep going, but as for today, the sadness is winning. I will try again tomorrow.

**All images were licensed for reuse with modifications unless credited.

The Volcano is Awake

(Trigger Warning: Emotional Abuse, Medical Trauma, PTSD, Reference to Rape, Reference to Suicide)

Why am I still awake?  It is almost midnight.  Seriously, this is getting old.  I know what needs to come out; I just don’t know how to get it out.  Time to start writing.  No thinking; just let my fingers be my conduit, silently screaming through the keyboard.  The volcano is awake and wants to be heard.

Volcano

I hate myself.

I have hated myself for eleven years.  I have tried to ignore it.  I have tried to rationalize it.  I have tried to convince myself that what I did was necessary, that it was my only option.  Nothing is working.

I have been raging war with myself for eleven years.  This is what PTSD does to you.  It tears you apart, bit by bit.  Some people with PTSD are lucky enough to have memory problems regarding their trauma.  Not me.  I remember everything, where the sun was hitting the carpet, the color and design of the carpet, the arrangement of the chairs, and the way the receptionist looked and what the nurse look like who attended to me.  I remember the hospital room layout.  I was there for four days and I can tell you what each nurse looked like and the questions they asked me.  I was supposed get better.  My family expected it.  I couldn’t disappoint them even though my soul was screaming, telling me to run.  Why didn’t I run?  The desire to not disappoint my family was stronger than my soul screaming to run.  I am now scarred for life.

They wouldn’t help me.  I told her I felt like I was dying.  Why didn’t they help me?  Why was I left alone with a baby and a toddler?  They expected me to get better and when I didn’t they left me.  He hurt me.  He kept hurting me and no one would listen to me.  I was supposed to be a good little wife.  I was told he was under stress and I had to give him what he wanted.  She told me I was selfish for not wanting to go through with it.  I had to think of the family.  I couldn’t put them through another pregnancy again.  I had to think of my children.    My son and my daughter came first.  Guilt and shame.  I had no defense against it and they knew how to use it on me.

I also was entering Autistic Burnout and it would only get worse after my surgery.  When I was three years post-opt, I had lost so much of my ability to function that it took everything I had to remember to breathe, all I knew was that I had two little people that depended on me.  I made sure that I provided for their needs no matter what.  At this time I had no idea that I was autistic.  It would be years later that I would finally find out why I was the way I was.  It would even be longer when I learned about Autistic Burnout and how bad it really can be.

Autistic Burnout is also known as Autistic Regression.  Musings of an Aspie states, “A better analogy than regression is that of the demands of life exceeding a person’s resources.”  You simply do not have the personal resources to cope with what life is dumping on you.  I wrote several blogs about my experience with Autistic Burnout.  You can find them here – My reaction to Musings of an Aspie’s post “Autistic Regression and Fluid Adaptation” and Here I am Again – The Long Road of Living Exhausted.

AUtistic burnout (Image found at invisibleaspie.blogspot.com)   

Why did I give up the fight?  I didn’t want the surgery.  I kept telling them that.  It was my damn body after all, but they kept silencing me.  They wore me down and went after me when I was most vulnerable.  They used my responsibility to my kids against me.

I fought them for nearly a year after my son was born.  I had nearly lost my son at 21 weeks of his pregnancy.  My pelvic floor had collapsed taking my lower spine and pelvic organs with it.  My pelvis twisted like a pretzel.  My doctor told me that she didn’t think I would make it to 29 weeks.  She was sure I would lose the baby.  After five months of bed rest, multiple urinary tract inflections, and not being able to really walk, my son was allowed to be born at 38 weeks.  He was healthy and alive.  I had given up my body to protect his life.  I was told the only reason we hadn’t lost him that day when my pelvic floor collapsed was that his head was already below my cervix.  To be born, my son had to be pulled up and then pushed out.  He came out screaming.  All my labor pain was in my sacrum and tail bone.  My tail bone actually broke in three places during the ordeal.  He was born in less than three hours.  It happened so fast that I didn’t even break a sweat.  The pain was unbelievable even with Lamaze, but I knew it would end.  All I could think of was why was I going through this again?  How do women do this multiple times?  My labor and delivery of my daughter was painful, but not this painful.  She was to term and was born in less than ten hours.  I was on bed rest for her pregnancy for two months due to preeclampsia.

After my son was born, I wasn’t rebounding.  Something was very wrong.  I was in so much pain.  I could barely walk.  My right leg felt like there was a chunk of wood attached to my hip.  My back was like one of those Hawaiian dancing dolls.  No support.  I was terrified I was going to drop my baby every time I changed his diaper.  I had to brace him to me to bend down and brace him to me again as I forced myself back up.  After four months of physical therapy three times a week, my bones weren’t staying in place.  My bladder and rectum were not where they were supposed to be.  My period never returned.  I couldn’t have bowel movements normally and had urinary incontinence.  I couldn’t make love.  Physical pain, mobility issues, and bathroom problems were all I knew.

My doctor couldn’t believe that I wasn’t in a ball on the floor weeping.  She told me I was the most stoic person she had ever known.  I hate my stoicism.  I can’t turn it off.  I cry alone, in private.  My doctors don’t believe me when I describe my pain.  My family doesn’t understand.

Why did I succumb to the bullying and pressure to have the surgery?  I wasn’t ready.  I was 28 years old and still nursing my son.  I was 28 years old and my life as I knew it was taken away from me, because I let it happen.

A counselor suspects that I was not fully unconscious during the surgery.  It takes more anesthesia to put me to sleep.  Based on my hallucinations I was having months after the surgery, the counselor suspected I was conscious enough to know something bad was happening to me, but I couldn’t move to stop it.  The surgery was done through my vagina to minimize having to cut through the abdominal wall.  Honestly, the only descriptive word I have after the surgery is that I was raped. That is what my brain was telling me.  I felt such shame from the ordeal.

I spent four days in the hospital.  My uterus was removed.  It wasn’t damaged.  The surgeon felt I would blow out all the repair work if I got pregnant again.  A hysterectomy was part of the procedure.  I had two inches of my rectum removed due to prolapse.  I had a bladder neck sling inserted and my bladder moved back in place.  My large intestine now sits in a jumble on my bladder. It was not stapled back into place, because sections would have had to be removed and my doctor could not determine which the healthy sections were and which the damaged sections were.  I have extensive nerve damage on the right of my body.  I do not have access to the muscles on the outside of my thigh, but I have managed to keep my muscle size in each of my legs equal.  My right leg gets tired faster than my left leg.  My piriformis muscle is also damaged as well as my sciatic nerve. Both get pitched from time to time due to my bones still moving.  At the time, eleven years ago, I was told the only things holding my body together anymore were my muscles and my bones.  My ligaments and tendons were shot.

I had lived a healthy lifestyle all my life.  Currently, I have been a runner for over 20 years. Eleven years ago, I felt my body had betrayed me.  My urologist told me that what happened to me only happens to 60 year olds.  How could it have fallen apart like it did?  It would be years later that I realized it was my body that kept my son alive despite the damage.  It held on for as long as it took.  My body was not my enemy.  It had saved my son’s life.  It was because I had lived a healthy life style that made my body strong enough to hold together when everything was falling apart.

The L4, L5, and S1 segments of my back were also tightened, but the doctors did not tell me that they had operated on my back until after I got home.  The pain from my back was what made me feel like I was dying.  It is an awful thing to find out you can’t tolerate narcotics after you have had a major surgery.  Anything with Codeine, such as Vicodin, causes the muscles in my lungs to spasm and I can’t breathe. Percocet does nothing for the pain, does not make me sleepy, and causes hallucinations.  My doctor’s solution to the pain medicine problem?  I was to take Tylenol.  Tylenol doesn’t work at all.

I was so angry all the time.  I didn’t want to be touched.  I was hallucinating.  Something was wrong.  I knew I needed help.  Six months after my surgery I was diagnosed with PTSD.

He wanted me back to normal, at least pre-pregnancy normal.  I wasn’t well physically or mentally.  He didn’t seem to care.  It would take me three days to clean our 940 square foot apartment, because I hurt so much.  It wasn’t good enough.  Him: “Why weren’t the clothes put away?”  Me: “But they are folded, can’t you put them away?”  Him: Shakes his head in disappointment.  I was expected to maintain my wifely duties.  It didn’t seem to matter how much I hurt.  I was scared of him, but I wouldn’t realize how scared I was until years later.  Emotional abuse is hidden in plain sight.  The target may not even know what is happening to them, especially if the abuser is passive aggressive about it.

Confusion, gaslighting, lies, putdowns, coercion, silencing, and isolating their target, this is what emotional abusers do.  He told me that he was going to leave me if I didn’t have the surgery.  He told me I was broken years after the surgery. I felt I was damaged goods, no use to anyone.  I was trapped and no one was hearing me.  They would tell me how great he was, such a hard worker, that I needed to give him a break because he was so stressed and tired.  What about me?  My “voice” was being disregarded and ignored.  I was expected to take care of the kids, so I did.  I had to be the responsible parent.  They are the reason I didn’t give up.  I was never suicidal, but I did want to die.  I wanted the physical and emotional pain to end, but I was not going to leave my children without a mother.

I clawed my way out of that pit of hell.  I started to rebuild myself.  The person I had been died on that operating table.  I had to start over.  I was in my early 30s.  Being developmentally delayed, I didn’t reach my teenage years until this time.  I started fighting back.  I was not going to be silenced anymore.  A few years later I would be diagnosed with Autism.  He could never accept my diagnosis.  The abuse got worse and he left three years later.  The kids have no contact with him.  It has been a year.

Emotional abuse is a horrid thing, but people don’t see it, because the scars are on the inside.  You can read more about my experience with emotional abuse here – Invisible Scars – A Tale of Emotional Abuse and with grief here – Grieving.

I cried the whole time I have been writing this.  It is almost 1AM and my fingers are still moving across the keyboard, being my conduit where my own voice has failed me.  The volcano has awoken and it wants to be heard.  I need to tell my story, but I don’t know if my words convey the pain I feel.

My condition has continued to deteriorate.  I have never fully recovered from my son’s pregnancy. Three years ago it was determined that my large intestine was shutting down.  I faced the real possibility of having to have my entire colon removed.  Luckily a new medication had come out that has enabled me to continue to go to the bathroom.  The tendons holding the right side of my diaphragm has deteriorated and two years ago I was told that my muscles were the only thing holding my body together any more.  My bones are essentially floating around in my body.  Pain lives with me.  I don’t know what it feels like not to have pain.

I am haunted.  Haunted

He hurt me.  They hurt me.  They are still hurting me and they don’t even know it.  They wouldn’t let me grieve after my surgery.  She told me it was just an organ, what was the big deal?  I was more than an organ.  I was more than a baby maker.  I already had two beautiful kids, what was a matter with me?  Get over it.  Did you ever think that this was something that was supposed to happen?  These are all things she told me.

Pregnancy scares the shit out of me now.  It is a huge trigger for me, as well as everything about it, but people don’t seem to understand.  I am supposed to show happiness when someone announces a pregnancy, but I can’t. I begin to panic instead.  I can’t shop for baby things, I can’t attend baby showers, and it is a big struggle for me to talk about baby things.  I am told I am being ridiculous, rude, and cold, but that is not true at all.

The problem is, even though pregnancy terrifies me, it also was something I can’t really explain.  It was something wonderful.  How can something so wonderful terrify me so much?  Another thought that I can’t shake is that I felt I wasn’t alone when I was pregnant.  I don’t understand this thought, but it has stayed with me all this time. The only reason I can think for this thought is it is a result of the abuse I sustained.

I endured 15 years of an emotionally abusive marriage and didn’t realize what was happening to me.  I knew something was wrong, but the abuse was committed in a way that left me feeling lost and confused, and I couldn’t get people to believe me when I tried to talk about it. He wore masks.  He had his public persona and his family persona.  He could be very charming one moment and the next it seemed like there was a stranger standing in my living room.  He might as well have been punching me daily, because that is how it felt, but I could never pin point exactly what was wrong.  He used this against me.  He said everything was fine and said it was in my head.  He would give me the silent treatment and refuse to want to try to resolve any dispute. He would brag about how we never fought, but all couples fight.  It wasn’t healthy.  Our marriage was toxic.  The pressure would build and I would have a normal reaction to an abnormal situation.  It was always my fault, at least to him.  Everything wrong in his life was my fault.  Nothing I did was ever right in his eyes and he kept changing the rules.

Then the cheating started, this was after I was diagnosed with Autism.  My Autism became an easy scape goat for him.  He used it to explain away his erratic behavior.  It was because I was such and such and it was because I needed such and such.  After my diagnosis I began to learn to create healthy boundaries.  I was advocating for myself and the kids.  I had started to overcome my codependency, he did not like that.  He told me I was being belligerent.  I could never understand what he meant by that, and when I would ask, he said I would get loud.  I don’t remember that.  If I did get loud, it was out of exasperation, not out of anger.  He never was able to read me correctly, always misinterpreting my emotional states.  You were not permitted to express emotional states in front of him, unless it was calm, happy feelings, because all other emotional states made him uncomfortable.  My son’s counselor once described my ex-husband as emotionally flat lined.

I had married a man that was emotional unavailable, but it wasn’t like that in the beginning.  He told me he pretended to be someone else to get me to marry him.  When the mask came off, he acted like he was the center of the world and I had to honor anything he wished.  I tend to be overly trusting and he took advantage of that fact.  He liked that I was loyal to him, maintained the house, took care of the kids, and I always waited for him to come home.  I had to let him do what he wanted when he wanted to.  I was not supposed to put any request on him, no matter how benign, because it would be an assault on his freedom.  At the time I did not understand any of this, because he was passive aggressive about it.  This came out after he was required to have a full psychological evaluation by the kids’ counselor.

I felt utterly stupid for staying with him for as long as I did, but I had a trauma bond with him.  Trauma bonds are very difficult to break.  The reason he gave me for why he didn’t want to be married anymore was because he didn’t want the responsibility of a family anymore.  He didn’t want to have to make choices.  It was after this that I discovered the other women.  I understand now that he never really loved me, though, I think he thought what he felt was love.  I don’t think he ever really knew who I was.  He was too busy projecting himself on to me and punishing me for things I never did.  He is a very sick person, I feel bad for him, and I wish I could say he was completely out of my life.  Unfortunately, you don’t always get what you want.  He is still triggering me through emails and letters.  I am still scared of him.  There are definitely PTSD symptoms when dealing with my ex-husband.

PTSD

I was conditioned to marry a man like him.  I was an easy target for him.  I was 23 years old when we met.  I was young, naïve, and unbeknownst to me, also a codependent.  I learned to be a codependent from childhood, but I am breaking free of that.  Looking back at the ones who raised me, she always made excuses for him and we were to not upset him. You learned really fast never to show pain or cry in front of him, because he would yell.  He yelled all the time and was emotionally distant. We were scared of him.  She was passive aggressive and emotionally abusive, but she didn’t realize it.  She still is that way.

She kept expecting me to be like her, a mini-me version of her, but I am not.  I am me and no one else.  I have my own passions, fears, and desires.  I am uniquely me.  She once told me, after I found out I was autistic, that she thought I would never be able to live independently, but she never said anything.  She just pushed me on to men and wanted me married off.  It didn’t matter how hard I had worked to gain my independence (which I did, by the way).  I had to be married off.  She never did that with my younger sister nor did she push my younger sister to have kids like she did me.

She wanted grandkids, and when I was engaged, she started pushing us to have kids before we were ever married.  We waited, though.  After my divorce, she told me she did not trust my ability to make good decisions regarding the kids.  She demanded that I move into a camper trailer on their property that was three hours away so she could look after the kids.  I fought back this time.  I was not going to let her use guilt and shame on me again.  I was stronger this time.  I was not going to tuck my tail between my legs and run away.  She had expected me to do that, because that was what she would have done.  She got mad at me when I refused.  She told me this herself.  Again, she is still thinking I am like her when I am most definitely not.

I had been the primary caregiver of my children since they were born.  I was the only reason my children were getting the medical care and educational assistance they needed.  The kids’ counselors told me that they wished more parents were like me, informed, involved, and I didn’t keep my children in the dark as to why they were receiving the care they were.  My children have been an active member in their own care for some time now, because I understood and accepted them for who they were early on and I helped them understand and accept themselves as individuals. Yet, I wasn’t trusted by the one who raised me to know how to care for my own children.

When I was little, it was drilled into my head that I had to be responsible and had to protect my younger sibling.  I was only two years older, but I did my job, because rules are rules.  I had to be the responsible one.  I was the one who told them she needed to be on birth control.  I was the one who discovered she was skipping school.  Why was all this my job?  Isn’t this a parent’s job to be aware of these things?  No one made sure I had access to birth control.  I had to ask when I knew it was time for me to be put on them.

There is a reason I felt I had known him all my life when I had only just met him.  I grew up surrounded by his type of behavior.  It was all I knew, so I tolerated it, made excuses for it like I had learned growing up, and it ended up destroying me.

I know I should feel very fortunate to have what I have and I do.  I have two amazing children.  Both my kids survived being born and I am not in a wheel chair.  I know if I had gotten pregnant again, and if I was able to make it to term (and that is a big “if”), I would most likely have been paralyzed.  I should be grateful, and I am, but I can’t shake these awful feelings.  The feelings of guilt, shame, regret, the feelings of betrayal, jealously, anger, and fear, oh, the terrifying, debilitating fear. It won’t go away and I have tried so damn hard to get through it, to process it, to let it go.  It won’t let go of me.  What is wrong with me?

A few weeks ago, my sister announced that she is pregnant with her first child.  The announcement triggered me so badly that I essentially went into hiding.  The announcement sent me into a terrible flashback.  I was back at the hospital.  It was happening all over again and I couldn’t stop it. The panic attack over whelmed me and I kept having panic attacks for days afterwards.  I can’t talk to any of my family members out of fear.  My younger sister is having baby, the sister I was always supposed to protect growing up.  I should be happy for her, but I can’t be.  I need to be there for her, but I can’t be.   I am going to be an aunt, but I can’t be involved no matter how much I want to.  How frigging screwed up is that?  It makes no sense at all.  Not. One. Bit.

I don’t want to hate myself anymore.  I am tired of it.  I want to live my life without feeling haunted.  I want to be free.  I just want to be free.

My fingers have slowed down now.  I think I am coming to the end.  I started writing when it was almost midnight, because I couldn’t sleep and the words were clawing to get out.  It is now 1:30AM.  I feel some relief now, perhaps I can finally sleep.  Perhaps the volcano has finally made itself heard.   I know I still have a long way to go, but perhaps my spirit can be free after all.

Can you hear me? I am here and I will not be silenced! I will be free!

Spirit

(Original art work from fantasy artist Josephine Wall )

**Note:  All images not given credit were licensed for reuse with modification.