I Became The Walking Dead To Survive Abuse

Healing from abuse is a journey. Everyone who escapes abuse looks back on the road they traveled and, unless they have the support of a compassionate other to help them keep perspective, they often criticize themselves heavily for where they have been. You must remember that what you did to survive abuse was successful. You survived!

Healing comes from identifying choice-points and really understanding the available choices and having a sense of forgiveness for ourselves for the decisions made. Healing begins with deep understanding.

I am in the process of deep exploration of my own abuse history. Along the way, I am discovering truths about what that experience was for me. I am sharing a little piece of what I discovered with you today because when we can see into each others’ journeys and find commonality we feel just a bit less alone with where we have been.

All along the way in my journey to freedom from abuse in my life, I shut myself down the way you do when you decide to swim across a pool on just one breath. You decide to give up oxygen in trade for the accomplishment of being able to say you can do it and you take one big breath and start swimming as hard as you can after a forceful push off the wall. Under water, moments of truth confront you as your lungs scream for air and your initial momentum from pushing off the wall has given way to your power to use your arms and legs to save your life. You feel the pain in your lungs and you have the choice to give up your goal or to move forward with your decision that breath and life are less important than this one goal. You risk in favor of victory over your life and your need for survival and you strain against the growing pressure and pain in your lungs to be able to say that you made it to the other side without breathing. There is an end and, victoriously, you take in a great gasp of air on the other side. Breathing in life, you revel in your victory.

How much are you willing to give up as you struggle to survive abuse?

How much are you willing to give up as you struggle to survive abuse?

Abusive relationships are like that because pushing against our lungs is the pressure to continue to hold our breath just a minute longer in hopes that holding our breath will change how another person treats us. For me, living with my first husband (13 years) and the next man (5 years) and in the Mormon Church (40 years) was a marathon of holding my breath long enough to swim to the other side of the pool of being pleasing enough to others. The problem was that the other side of the pool – reaching the goal and filling my lungs with air and then relaxing and being myself – kept being extended. And I continued to make the choice to hold my breath. The wall at the other end of the pool: love and acceptance and self-esteem and confidence and freedom from anxiety. But I never reached the other side while I was still in the pool.Every time a choice point came for me, I chose to strain against the pressure to take a breath and continued moving forward, trying to reach the other side of the pool. I did this for a long, long time.

When you hold your breath long enough, you become the walking dead.

Becoming the walking dead to survive abuse is too high a cost

Becoming the walking dead to survive abuse is too high a cost

I took my first steps out of my Walking Dead status when I realized that trying to please this man or that man or the Church were never going to bring me the relief, acceptance, self-esteem and love that I so desperately needed. No. Those things had to come from me. I had to stop looking outside of me to fix what was broken. I started with me.

I had to stop running away from what was inside of me. Once I began moving toward me, healing began. Healing continues.


© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2015 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited. Tamara’s website where she provides podcasts and posts dealing with all aspects of healing from domestic violence can be found at http://www.2btru2you.com.


Support: Dating After A Traumatic Relationship

Am I in a safe relationship? Can I trust this person? Can I trust myself not to repeat the past?

Click here to listen to be redirected to corresponding podcast

Click here to listen to be redirected to corresponding podcast

These are just a few of the questions that have plagued me over the last few years while trying to find a place where I would feel comfortable “dating”. What is that anyway? Using the term “dating” for me felt like the equivalent of getting on dating sites. It just felt like an invitation for disaster. I have perused a few in the past. I could feel my stomach turn at my personal opinion that dating sites were a bunch of cyber bars good for a “hook up”. Ya, I’m good.

From that point on I adopted the mantra, “I don’t date.” Often times the response has been, “How do I date you if you don’t date?” To which I have often replied, “If you have to ask me that question, you probably won’t be able to keep up with me anyway.”

To many that may seem like a harsh anti-social response. But, for me, it weeds out the most likely incompatible from the jump. A man who would be suitable for me would see that as welcome challenge and come back with something to the effect of, “I was enjoying our conversation so much, I was wondering if we couldn’t pick it up at another time?” Ah, there we go. That is a start.

Amorous couple on romantic date or celebrating together at restaTo say I am cautious after two failed marriages and a violent relationship would be an understatement. I am more inclined to engage with someone who shows some patience in the face of a perceived rejection. I am concerned by the man who gets indignantly offended by a denial of ritual which may or may not be a rejection of him personally. I know myself well enough to know, at this phase in healing, there are still fears and “PTSD moments” still lurking about. To have them come up unexpectedly with someone who doesn’t handle rejection well, or sees events as personal assaults, seems like a recipe for disaster.

I have so many friends, both male and female, talk about having trust issues. They have been “burned” before, so many times, their skin should be fire retardant. They dread going into relationships so much so that many of them condemn them before the first date is over. Dating is no longer an optimistic journey of discovering what they enjoy about this new connection. It becomes a fear based quest to discover why this new connection should be terminated, ASAP. They bring their past trauma into a new, potentially healthy relationship, and kill it before it has a chance to “come in peace”.

I am no different.

I have experienced an inordinate amount of cheating, lying, neglect, and abuse in my past relationships.  Sometimes I missed the early warning signs out of ignorance other times out of being naive.

me-self-defenseRecently, I had been in my first long term romantic relationship since I left my abuser. While my partner was patient and understanding as he could be about my healing process, it was a challenge at times. He had no frame of reference to draw from and would often feel accused of being looked at for committing the same crimes I had experienced in the past. Other times my insecurities would feed his insecurities and I would be a tearful mess for days. I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into. Then, I would feel guilty for bringing my past into the present. Maybe I was accusing him of behaving in the same way my past partners had. Maybe I was just reading his insecurities incorrectly because I didn’t understand how my actions or insecurities were triggering his. It was all so confusing. But there is hope.

There is a ton of material to sift through regarding how to date after trauma or bad relationships. There seems to be this study or that study to point fingers at who is healthy and who is not. There is even more advice on what to do about it.

I have to say, I appreciate Tamara Bess’ non blaming or accusatory approach to dating after trauma (click to listen). She comes from an observational and common sense perspective that includes her professional wisdom. She explains that even in the healthiest relationships we all have a past that we bring into the present. Tamara provides a script to help engage in thoughtful conversation that diminishes blame and accusation in favor of healthy understanding. If you come across a partner who is willing to be patient and open to alternative communication the fear of being burned stays in the past…where it belongs.


Live your life, don’t just survive it.

A Single Floating Feather

This morning as I walk alone in the cool breeze of the morning, I see a single. floating. feather.  It seems to be resting on the air in the morning silence. A smile reflexively takes me over and I say out loud to no one: “I love when I see that!”

Floating Feather

My statement makes me reflect on the one time I saw it before: as a much younger woman during at a time in my life when I grappled with the grief, confusion, frustration and fear associated with making the decision to leave my abusive marriage.  In the moment when I saw the feather floating down right before me, peace, calm and hope replaced my discomfort. The feather felt like a personal message to me: that everything was going to work out just fine. In that very moment I felt the strong sensation of confidence and order – that if I was walking in exactly the right place to witness that single feather falling from a bird making her winter journey to warmer weather and it could bring such peace, then I could make sense and order out of the confusion and heartache in my life. I knew I would get through my struggle with confusion and pain. And I did.

Today’s morning feather bringing me back to that winter day so long ago is a special kind of memory. An isolated event (seeing the feather this morning) brought back mental, emotional and physical memories of a similar event (the winter feather) and all of the other circumstances which were surrounding the similar event in the past. There was nothing else about the two events that were the same except that I saw both of the feathers while I walked alone. The weather was different. All of the circumstances of my life were different. One feather fell in the country air, the other fell in the city. But today’s feather brought back vivid memories of the specific struggles which were happening in my life when the first feather fell. Today’s feather brings me to reflect on the roads I have traveled in a way that brings me confidence and peace. I look back on my path and see personal growth and development from the seeds of struggle, circumstance and hardship.

My floating feathers represent a similar kind of experience that everyone has had. As I help victims break free from abuse, I often illustrate something similar by asking my client to close his or her eyes and remember a favorite childhood food. Often, the memory brings not only clear memories of the way the dessert looked, but the smell and taste as well as the circumstances of life during that time. These are memories we all enjoy and it is such a common experience that real estate agents will bake cookies to bring potential buyers back to the positive sensations of the comforts of a childhood home. These memories bring warmth, a sense of connection and the opportunity to build relationships with others.

Trauma memories work in exactly the same way as my feathers or childhood food memories except that no one enjoys the sensations brought on by trauma memories. In fact, trauma memories which bring a flood of negative and re-traumatizing sensations are so harmful that there is a word for the “floating feather” that brings the flood of pain. We call it a trigger.

The good news is that you can keep your happy memories and neutralize the triggers to your trauma memories. It can be difficulty to navigate alone, but once you understand how triggers are neutralized you can learn how to stop them from disrupting your life. Healing from abuse is well within your reach when you have the right tools in your hands.

© Tamara Bess, LMFT 2014 All Rights Reserved. Any use of this article without Tamara’s express written permission is prohibited.

In cooperation with 2bsisters, 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. 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 visit http://www.2btru2you.com.