Bodies in the Basement Blog Series: Deliverance

If you have been reading my essays for a while, you know that a year ago this month I had my name legally changed back to the original issue. I thought about it for a long time and struggled with the typical question of having a different last name than my children, but finally decided that if I were to ever get remarried, it would be different anyway. I had my married last name for almost 27 years and my entire professional life was connected to it, as well as my personal identity. Interestingly enough, I was not the least bit uneasy about changing it once I finally made the decision and when the judge granted my petition, I felt almost reborn. The more C.C. continued to push, control, threaten, intimidate and otherwise detract from my life, the easier it got to de-identify with that name. Not only was I removing myself from him, I was removing myself from being correlated to his father’s family… a joy in itself, I assure you.

We begin to find and become ourselves when we notice how we are already found, already truly, entirely, wildly, messily, marvelously who we were born to be.
The only problem is that there is so much other stuff, typically fixations with how people perceive us, how to get more of the things that we think will make us happy, and with keeping our weight down. So the real issue is, how do we gently stop being who we aren’t?
-Anne Lamott

The divorce and name change were only the beginning of finding my identity. For my entire adult life, I had been ‘his’ wife and then my daughters’ mother. More than just the typical identity crisis experienced when overwhelmed by motherhood, the abused partner spends so much time living for the abuser, trying to anticipate his or her every need and whim, that the core of who you are becomes deeply hidden. I know that over the years my dreams and desires became completely voided by the need to put his first… not out of a sense of martyrdom or love, mind you, but out of a need for survival. If he wasn’t “happy” then the abuse increased.

My Identity Became Completely And Inextricably Linked To His

In reality, my identity is extremely different from what I put on as the front for my life. I became very serious and somewhat hardened, while still friendly and typically of good humor. I lived on the defensive all the time, and took many things personally that were not meant that way. I am naturally outgoing and generous, but I sometimes overcompensated for my situation by being overtalkative or too generous, wanting someone to reinforce me as a human. On the rare occasion when I would open up to friends about the reality of my life, such as in my Emmaus Reunion Group, I quickly became ashamed of my emotional honesty, and felt as though I was burdening them. I worried constantly about what other people thought of me, not because I have a big ego, but because I wanted someone, anyone(!), to value and approve of me.

The horrible dance of abuse with a malignant narcissist and sociopath meant that anytime I received acknowledgement or accolades or achieved something in my life, it was immediately dismantled by him then forgotten. How in the world do you not remember when your spouse has received the distinction of being an invited trainer for a regional convention, speaking to over 700 people? Is it really forgettable when your spouse is profiled in a major market newspaper for running an excellent assisted living facility for the elderly, and is interviewed on local radio because of it? Isn’t it supposed to be part of the deal to cheer for your partner when they are up and console them when they are down? Not for the narcissistic abuser! Nothing I ever did was “good enough” and anything I did “wrong” was treated like the book of Revelation had come to pass.
 
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The Perfect Mask

It’s also very hard to deal with the pretty front the abuser puts on for others in order to hide their real identity. People think they know who he/she is, when in reality, they don’t have a clue. C.C.’s co-workers and “friends” see a guy who volunteers for things and seems to have a good sense of humor. They never see his darkness or the terror he can wield over those he controls. They have never seen him throw a large power tool across the yard because he made a mistake while building the children’s playhouse or seen him put his fist through a wall in the garage. They have never had to sit with their infant wondering if he will actually come home after getting angry about something minor and squealing out of the driveway for the 20th time like a rebellious teenager. They have never been belittled or mocked by him, or had him tell them how horrible they make his life. They have never suffered the embarrassment of having to make excuses to leave a much-anticipated party because he was too angry and selfish to be there. In fact, many people who think they know him have likely never heard him say a cross word to anyone.

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Aubrey Cole

Aubrey Cole

I survived a quarter century of psychological, emotional, economic and sexual abuse. When I got out, I vowed to help others do the same and founded the Emotional Abuse Survivors Network project in 2012. Now, I offer hope and healing to others on their journey as they rediscover themselves. My forthcoming books, Bodies in the Basement and Define Winning, chronicle my experiences, escape, and recovery. There is nothing so special about me that others can't emerge and thrive.

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