Bodies in the Basement Blog Series: Recovery

I’ve written about this topic before (see Crazy is as Crazy Does) but I have some more insights to share about the physical and psychological effects of abuse over time. I have been reading Dr. Bob Gordon’s book about emotional abuse and he goes into more detail about how living in a constant state of anxiety keeps the human brain overstimulated… and not in a good way.

Be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars. In the noisy confusion of life, keep peace in your soul.
– Max Ehrman

When living with an abusive partner, your “fight or flight” response is always at a heightened state, keeping your brain in a constant mode of anxiety. So it’s no wonder we get sick more often, don’t sleep well, develop depression, illnesses and panic attacks, and have digestive problems like crazy. It also means you spend an extraordinary amount of your life feeling tired and physically weak. Unfortunately, this adds fuel to the abuser’s fire many times as he or she delights in calling you “lazy” or “boring”. In addition to that, I was also called a “hermit” several times, but that was partly due to physical issues and partly due to the fact that it was so much darn work to put on a good face in front of other people that I didn’t have the energy. More than that, anytime I tried to do something with C.C. that he liked or wanted to do, I knew I was risking being criticized and picked on for doing it “wrong”. It’s not fun to be embarrassed in front of your friends when your husband decides he’s going to “coach” you on how you should have hit that volleyball shot.

Once in a great while, C.C. would sit me down and, under the guise of being “concerned”, tell me how anti-social I was being and how he wasn’t having any fun. “Our life is boring” was one of his favorites, always because of me, of course. I have many interests and enjoy a huge variety of things. I could never understand why the fact that I don’t like most roller coasters, or skydiving, would make me a ‘boring’ person. Motorcycling scares the stuffing out of me, because I don’t trust other drivers, but because it was something he loved to do I rode with him. I like rock climbing, kayaking, hiking, and target shooting, all of which I’m really good at. The thing is, I stopped doing these things with him because it was so much work to just keep him appeased and foster a calm atmosphere (i.e., feed his ego) that I didn’t have the energy to enjoy myself. I was also constantly critiqued and my performance measured such that I had absolutely no fun. What’s interesting is that my kids always hated hiking… I mean absolutely despised going and complained the whole time. Now that we don’t have him along, we hike and have loads of fun. We look at interesting things and talk and enjoy the sights and sounds. It’s not a race to see who can get to the top the fastest and we don’t have the ‘drill sergeant’ pushing us along. We got to hike in the Puerto Rican rainforest together last month and it was spectacular.
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I Blamed Myself for Being Sick

I suffered from a variety of illnesses while under the control of C.C. and the worst part is, I was always berating myself for feeling bad or questioning whether I really was just a lazy loser. In fact, I was having a discussion with someone in which I said that I spent so much time being sick and tired that I missed out on a lot of life, especially with my kids. The tragedy of that is I can look back at it now and know that none of that was my fault, nor could I have ‘fixed’ it. I tried, that’s for sure. Now I’m healthy as a horse and, aside from the traumatic stress disorder symptoms which crop up, I have no significant energy drains. In fact, I am performing everything better than I ever have. I’m mentally sharp, energetic the vast majority of the time, happy, upbeat, relaxed and focused. I don’t remember feeling this way before, ever. That final act of blocking C.C. from contacting me by any other means than postal mail was the opportunity to set the ultimate boundary. Because he is no longer allowed to be part of my life at all, I have eliminated the drain his abuse put on my life even many months after I had filed for divorce.

My traumatic stress has been active a lot this week, causing me to lose a whole lot of sleep. It’s hard to say what triggers it, but once it gets going, it’s hard to turn it off. I don’t need medication of any sort and usually one night with a Benadryl will get me rested. It has kept me from doing a couple of things I wanted to, such as writing on my usual schedule, but it did not diminish my life. I still had the excitement of having an esteemed professor call my research angle “brilliant”. I had the joy of helping my younger daughter learn her lines and watch her perform as the lead character in her first play, ever. I played with my 3 crazy dogs and giggled at them. I even had fun talking with my older daughter about the “scary” presentation they gave in her health class about STDs! I laughed more times this week than I could count, despite being exhausted, having a huge workload and a few things on my mind.

Brain Overload

My message to you today is this: if you are in an abusive relationship and find yourself always tired, sick, frustrated, or berating yourself for being any of those things (“Geez, Aubrey, maybe he’s right and you’re just lazy!), know that it is simply a symptom of brain overload. You cannot physiologically fend off abuse forever! Your brain and body can only take so much before they are weakened. Please give yourself plenty of rest time and understanding. Treat yourself as you would treat a good friend who was going through a rough time. Science has shown that abuse creates the same physical and mental reactions as grief from the death of a close loved one, yet the way abuse functions creates distorted thinking that tells us we are weak or lazy. Don’t buy it! Could you experience the death of someone close to you over and over without suffering emotionally and physically? Once you have liberated yourself from the abuse, you will begin to feel lighter and freer. You will have more energy, at least mentally if not physically at first. You will be able to enjoy things you used to like to do. Most importantly, you will be able to take care of yourself better. If you have children depending on you, that’s huge!

Please be good to yourself. Rest. Relax. Breathe. Read. Sing in the shower. Take a long bath! These are not signs of laziness, they are the practice of good self-care. Surely you understand by now: if you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will.
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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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