Bodies in the Basement Blog Series: Recovery

It was a bright, clear afternoon and my mother was visiting my house. We were chatting about the latest movie she had taken my younger daughter to see. I had just let the dogs out the back door when the doorbell rang. My mother said she’d get it, as we expected a neighbor child to be coming to play with my younger daughter. I don’t know why, but I had a bad feeling and grabbed my gun. Walking through the family room to the front door, I heard my mother say, “What are you doing here?” She stepped forward onto the porch and, in slow motion, I saw the hand raise the gun and fire point-blank at my mother’s chest. She fell backward as the front door swung open wider. I saw the gun raised up, pointed at me, in the hand of my ex-husband. Before I could get full aim with my gun, a shot rang out and things went black. The last thought I had was of my children. I screamed and woke up, heart racing and pounding, sweating, breathing so hard that I could have just run 20 flights of stairs. It took a long time to go back to sleep after that and even then, sleep was restless.

Fear is a worse disease than malaria or kalaazar; these diseases kill the body,
fear kills the soul.

You can analyze that dream all you want to, but this is just one example of what it’s like to be a survivor/escapee of an abusive relationship. It was my dream last night.

PTDS and Spousal Abuse

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is commonly associated with war veterans and violent crime victims, but is very common in abused spouses/domestic partners. Several recent studies have demonstrated a clear link between being an abused spouse/partner and developing PTSD, which may not become obvious until the relationship is over and the abuser is out of the house. Since approximately 75% of all reported incidents of domestic violence happen after the abused partner leaves, it is not in any way abnormal to think you will still be at risk for emotional, economic or physical “payback” once you finally leave your abuser.

As an abused partner, you spend your life trying to behave the “right” way, the way that will keep the peace or not anger your partner. If you have lived this you know quite well that this is entirely impossible. This is because you are not the cause of your abuser’s bad behavior. There is nothing you can do that justifies being abused in any way. Meanwhile, once you finally have the nerve and resources to escape your abuser, you will still have to contend with his or her bad behavior while trying to heal and grow your life (and likely that of your children).

I have known for several months that this is what my recovery has evolved into, but it was really hammered home to me the other day as I changed the sheets on my bed. I suddenly noticed the condition of my mattress pad and I was stunned. The side that I sleep on most is shredded, with yellowed stains where I have sweated so heavily in my sleep that it soaked the sheets and pad. The part of the pad that covers the other half of the bed is pristine… white, whole, free of stains… the way I wish my memory was.

The Continued Abuse

One thing you know for sure if you are a survivor of any kind of domestic abuse, there is damage that will never, ever go away. It can be dealt with and managed but you can’t ever make it disappear. The best you can hope for is to reach a point of peace where you accept what happened, you forgive yourself for your part in “allowing” it and you reorganize your life into a new way of thinking.
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Here’s the kicker for survivors of abuse: the abuse will continue long after the relationship is over and, unless you are physically attacked by your abuser in the open before witnesses, it is extremely difficult to put the brakes on that. The good news is that, if you will think these episodes through carefully when they happen and be your own analyst, you can begin to desensitize yourself to the repeat episodes of abuse that will continue to come your way. Say to yourself, “Okay, I’m reacting this way because of something that happened in the past, not something that’s happening right now. I am okay now.” Then breathe in the reality that you are indeed free.

Your reactions are normal. The fight or flight response that is triggered by your abuser’s behavior is one that may have been heightened after you left the relationship and got a better sense of what’s real and what isn’t. No matter what, please give yourself the space and understanding to work through these times when you begin to wonder if you actually are “crazy”.

God did not create you this way. Fear is an emotion of negative influence and the sooner you learn to push past the fear and recognize it for what it is, you will find new peace and have a more beautiful outlook.

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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.
Aubrey Cole

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Fear is an emotion of negative influence and the sooner you learn to push past the fear and recognize it for what it is, you will find new peace.

Fear is an emotion of negative influence and the sooner you learn to push past the fear and recognize it for what it is, you will find new peace.

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