Several years ago, my children and I went on vacation to Lake Mead in Nevada with my extended family. We vacationed on a houseboat that slept eight adults and we enjoyed a speedboat and two jet skis during the day. At the cove we selected as our campsite, the children were excited about playing on the shore where we, as a family, would be able to enjoy each other’s company completely unbothered by any other vacationers. As my children and I rode in the speedboat approaching the shore, they excitedly petitioned me to get off the boat. I saw it as my responsibility, as their mother, to get off the boat before my children so I could help them through the shallow water to the beach.
I jumped from the bough of the boat to what looked like solid ground under waist deep water. As soon as my feet hit, I sank into thick, slushy mud. Hidden under the surface of the mud: sharp stones. I found myself stuck, knee deep in mud that was most surely more like quick sand than anything I had ever encountered. The sharp stones mixed into the mud hurt my feet. I attempted to pull one foot out, only to find that as I pulled one foot out, the other foot was driven deeper into the mud and stones. I was in pain, and I was stuck. I wanted nothing more than to get myself unstuck, but with my own strength and the resources I had within me, I could not do it.
About eight feet away, the anchor ropes that secured the houseboat to the shore offered me hope even though it was far away. Eight feet may seem like a short distance, but the journey might as well have been a half-mile because each step in my struggle to reach for that rope meant voluntarily pressing my foot again deep into the stone-laden quicksand. Finally, I reached the rope. It was quite a relief to grab that rope and pull myself out because I no longer had to endure the pain that began when I jumped off the boat.
My only hope for escaping this painful experience was in reaching for something higher than myself. Then, after finding the safest route to the beach, I instructed my daughters to grasp the rope as they got out of the boat, so that their exit toward the beach was not painful or difficult, as mine had been.
This painful experience of extracting myself from the mud on the shores of that lake is much like the process of freeing yourself from domestic abuse: you will need help. The process can be painful and difficult, but it is well worth the effort. Participating in relationships with others that require you to ignore your own needs is like walking on sharp rocks in quicksand. It hurts. When your feet are stuck and you are in pain, you are unable to create your own healthier patterns of interaction based on reason and self-respect. Your focus is only on stopping the pain. The circumstances you are in, like the mud on that shore, discourage you from experimenting with your actions because being stuck in the mud forces you to focus only on survival. You are not interested in thriving, but rather in coming out of your situation alive. So you react in automatic, unconscious ways that have historically worked to ensure your basic survival, but which prevent you from thinking and acting for yourself in present time. You may find yourself stuck due to the attitudes and behaviors of those around you and due to your fear of confronting those attitudes and behaviors within your own reactions.
The good news is that just as I had a rope to help me to shore and avoid pain, you have resources available to you through sites such as this one and supportive family and friends to reduce the amount of harm you endure until you can ultimately escape abuse all together.
One of the first ways that you can begin to “grab the rope” is by recognizing those thought patterns that keep you stuck. Next, you need to replace unhealthy thought patterns with healthy ones. For example, if you think you are a competent, beautiful woman, you are likely to feel good; to feel happy about yourself. On the other hand, if you think you are incompetent and repulsive to look at, you will most surely be depressed and discouraged. To successfully escape abuse, you must change those thoughts that make you vulnerable to your abuser. Please click here to sign up for a 10 part e-mail course that will help you identify and correct thoughts that keep you stuck.
© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2014 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.
In cooperation with the Fly Free Organization, Tamara is in the process of making her recovery curriculum for domestic violence survivors available via a protected online format. This curriculum is for victims who have not yet been able to escape, those who have recently escaped and those who have been independent for a time but still need to strengthen themselves as survivors. The next level of learning begins with e-mail courses that will provide you with practical steps to follow as well as specific important things you need to know as a survivor. By staying connected via e-mail, you will also be among the first to know about exciting new developments that are coming shortly as part of this growing project dedicated to empowering you to take back your life. To stay connected with Tamara, including access to more in-depth information about domestic violence and how to apply that information to your situation, please click here.