I’m working on the e-book version of my story (planned for February 2015 release) and like anyone who embarks on the serious endeavor of putting their story into words, the writing involves re-living.
Like every survivor, I have lived through moments of choice. The longer a victim stays in an abusive situation, the more familiar she is with these moments. They are those frozen moments of time that cannot be erased, although years pass. They are the moments when, bound between reason and
incomprehensible emotional pressure to believe in the power of love to overcome, the will to survive gives in to hope against hope. For love. And the choice to stay alters the course of life forever.
I say forever because I am looking at a choice I made at the age of 23. It was a choice that directed my life for the next 13 years. It was a choice whose effects continue to live in me even though time has left that choice far behind me.
As I read over the words that describe the thoughts, feelings and impossible choices I wrestled with as a young woman, I am struck with clarity that can only be offered by looking back with compassionate eyes of my more mature self toward that young woman who I was in the late 1980’s.
I was broken. I tried to navigate the world of love and relationships with only those tools available to someone who had spent her youth and adolescence protecting herself.
I knew nothing of vulnerability except that vulnerability led to disaster. The only way I knew to confront conflict was to avoid it and pretend everything was okay when it wasn’t.
I had come through to young adulthood with a protective shell meant to insure my survival in what I had come to know as a hostile world of close relationships.
But I wasn’t stupid. I realized that when I was confronted with a fear or a shortcoming in myself, that I should do the work to heal that fear or shortcoming. I knew fears were overcome by directly confronting them.
And that’s what I did. I directly confronted my fear of men by finding a man who could use my fear of speaking up for myself to his advantage. If I gave no resistance to anything he said, he would get his way. Indefinitely.
This made me afraid. So I decided that marriage to this man that caused me fear was the cause I would sustain until I overcame my fear. Looking back, I think I should have taken my mom’s advice when I cried on her shoulder after a month of marriage and divorced him.
But I was so broken. I didn’t have the tools for making a relationship work with a person who didn’t want intimacy with me. Nobody has those tools. Nor did I have the tools for soothing myself through what I thought was personal failure that I associated with divorce. I was stuck. And I stayed stuck for a very long time. All the while, changing and struggling and trying to heal. Without ever moving.
Often, people on the outside looking in ask why a woman stays or why she got into an abusive situation in the first place. The answers to these questions are as deeply personal and individual as any given woman you ask.
Mental health workers, family members and casual observers would like the explanation to be neatly wrapped up in a pretty box. Then the cure can be accurately imposed and the problem resolved.
It ain’t that pretty. Take it from someone who’s been there. The way into an abusive relationship isn’t a garden path. Neither is the exit.
What is required? Compassion, patience, education.
From whom? The most important person who can give these things to a victim is the victim herself. But first, she must have the tools. She must be aware of her brokenness and be ready to seek answers.
I was broken and so afraid to see it that I pretended I had everything together. With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight I can see there were no other choices available to me. I did the best I could with what I knew.
And so, I continue with the self-confrontation that is the work of laying my life bare on paper. With more compassion toward myself and toward those I serve.
I invite you to listen to Part 4 of my four part series on Healthy vs Addictive Love where I explore how jealousy, anxiety, anger and depression are expressed and managed in both Healthy Love relationships as well as in Addictive Love.
© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2015 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.