Bodies in the Basement Blog Series: Recovery

It’s an amazing feeling to finally be free of the daily pain of an abusive relationship. Be prepared, though… once you have become liberated from the day-to-day trauma of abuse, the real work begins in earnest. To be sure, getting out of the relationship itself is a huge step requiring emotional, psychological and financial resources that will stretch you to your very limits. However, you must look at the dissolution of the relationship as the beginning of a journey, not a destination. It’s impossible to move forward to healing and happiness if you continue to get sucked into the same patterns of abuse and torment that ruled your daily life. The great news is, you can learn the skills to avoid that and to stand up for yourself. One of the first skills to learn is the “gut check”.

The Gut Check

The gut check is not a concept that is unique to any one group of people, yet it is a foreign skill to most abused partners. The pathology of abuse leaves the abused partner unable to trust her or his own judgment in even the simplest of matters. In fact, when you are first liberated from abuse and someone asks “Well, what does your gut tell you?”, you want to respond with, “My gut doesn’t have a clue”. You are trained by the abuse to question your every move, to think it through to all potential endings and be fearful of every possible outcome. “If I do this then any of these things could happen.” Most people know what the gut check feels like… the little twinge in the pit of your stomach that tells you when you are off course (straying from your own values and ethics) or if you are absolutely doing the right thing. Here’s the toughest part of the abuse dynamic: your abuser has a skewed compass and therefore thinks he or she is in line with whatever his or her stated “values” are, and they see themselves as perfect and faultless. Their gut check, almost without exception, continuously tells them they’re right. The great news is that, once you have chosen to be a survivor of abuse, you can learn fairly quickly to trust your gut. The challenge is then to follow it!

Courage is knowing what not to fear.

I was served with a Contempt Action by C.C.’s new attorney, alleging all sorts of easily disproven misconduct. Fortunately, I am highly skilled at documentation and have hundreds upon hundreds of pages of records to quickly dispense with this nonsense. The challenge now is that I will have to pay legal fees to deal with answering this retaliatory legal maneuver and the avalanche of counterclaims and petitions I will be filing. Is it necessary? Absolutely, because if I don’t stop this now, I will be at the mercy of C.C. for 8 more years and I am officially, completely finished living my life in fear and sorrow. So the only way to pay for my freedom without amassing even more debt (on top of the marital debt I took and $35,000 in graduate school tuition) is to stop paying on the mortgage. I will not take money away from my children’s plans, activities or needs any more to pay for this kind of intervention. Here’s the strange, surprising part of the gut check that went along with this decision: I am NOT afraid. Not of “losing” my house or having to sell it, not of having to move my kids from the only home they have ever known, not of facing C.C. in court, not of making tough choices, and I am not one tiny bit afraid of the future. That’s quite an evolution.

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The Outwardly Face of an Abuser

From my many illustrative stories you will understand just how relentless and punishing C.C. can be. He is also very, very skilled at fooling people and putting on a great face, as are the vast majority of abusers. From an article on the Safe Haven Shelter website, by Dr. Camella Serum:

“One major characteristic of abusers is their ability to fool themselves and others. They are artists in their ability to find ways to blame other people or events for their inappropriate behavior. A life-long pattern of avoiding taking the blame for their own behavior makes it very difficult for them to accept any responsibility for their own actions and limits their willingness to change. While some abusers appear to have some good social relationships in which they are polite and charming, these relationships are maintained with distance and control. Some abusers are violent outside their homes; others assault only their wives and appear well adjusted to casual observers. Their main (maybe their only) emotional involvement is with their wife.”

I would add to this based on my own experience and the research I have done on the psychology of abuse: the worse the abuser’s behavior is toward his family, the better he becomes at looking like a great guy to the outside world. C.C. is a perfect example of that. Twenty or so years ago, he had almost no friends to socialize with, only those he met through me. As the abuse escalated and things got worse, especially after our first daughter was born, he magically became better and better at covering his tracks with outsiders.

When this happens, the abused spouse becomes even more confused and unable to connect with her natural “gut check”. The thought process is, “If he seems so happy when he’s around people from work, but comes home and is horrible to me and the children, then I guess he’s right: I’m the problem.” NO, NO, NO, a thousand times, NO! As it turns out, now his two closest friends are just as functionally skewed as he is, but view him as some sort of demi-god because of his “achievements” in life. The reality is, they are simply buying the emotional snake oil that he sells, but that’s to be expected because they don’t know any better. The “distance and control” Dr. Serum mentions in the article means being able to keep an emotional distance and controlling what the minions (also called Flying Monkeys) see and believe. However, it turns out that he wasn’t fooling as many people as I thought, but we’ll get back to that another day.

What I Learned From My Gut Check

So as I pondered my current situation, stood in my truth, examined my motivations, considered my drivers and entertained the two or three possible outcomes, I found that my gut was pretty darn happy. In fact, it is almost giddy knowing that no matter how things turn out, I have won the most important thing of all, which is something the abuser can’t begin to grasp. Complete and utter peace.

I’m not eager to relocate, but I’m certainly not afraid of it. Will there be sadness? Of course… both of my kids were brought home to this house from birth, took their first steps here, celebrated birthdays and made many memories within these walls. But this structure has also represented my prison for many years and harbors ghosts and demons from my past. Now, I just put my trust in God’s plan for my girls and me and know that my gut is telling me everything will be okay. If I have to trade my house in exchange for freeing my children and myself from continued abuse, I’m okay with that.

There is nothing C.C. can do to me, ever, to take away my joy again.

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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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