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The Moment I Stopped My Destructive Thought Process In Its Tracks

I was victim to a decade of emotional, psychological, verbal and sexual abuse at the hands of my ex-partner. It’s taken so much for me to be able to freely write that sentence. During, and for a long time after my abuse, I pushed all of my feelings, emotions and memories deep, deep down.

I recently read a story by Alyssa, a fellow Mighty Contributor, where she spoke about the brain’s response to trauma in a way that really impacted on me. She said repressed memories have been repressed for a reason;

“…when a person goes through significant trauma, the brain shuts down, dissociation takes over and as a survival technique, the trauma(s) get unconsciously blocked and tucked away from you and stored into disorganized files in your brain due to a high level of stress, or you were in a situation where you felt threatened and it was a matter of life or death — so your mind did what it had to in order to keep you safe, and therefore you could go on and have the ability to live your life and function in society.”

I am finally confronting and trying to deal with all of this suppressed stuff. I am cleaning out the disorganized files in my brain.

I am doing all I can to help myself. I take my medication, I see a therapist and I go to group therapy, I research and try different coping and grounding strategies recommended to help people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Sometimes though, on dark days, anxiety and depression reek havoc on my mind. I become trapped in a destructive cycle where I feel like I am drowning in feelings of guilt and shame.

Why do I continuously make excuses and justifying the horrendous way I was treated?

Why do I feel like it’s all my fault?

Why did I stay after the first time he cheated on me?

Why did I go back with him those nights after he had already told me what he was going to do to me as soon as we were alone?

Why did I tolerate constantly being spoken to horrendously when not in public? 

Why didn’t I just leave?

Why did I stay?

My journey to recovery is helping me answer these questions. Learning to talk about how I am feeling is a major part of this process for me. For years no respect was given to my thoughts and feelings. I learned to not show how I felt and to not respond or react to how I was treated. I learned that no matter what, I would always do the wrong thing, I would always make it worse. I was useless. Eventually, I wasn’t just hiding them, I stopped having any emotions or responses altogether. I believed everything I was told I was. To be truly honest I still believe these things…

In my last therapy session, I had what can only be described as a pivotal moment. After talking through my first memory of feeling scared of my abuser, I began my usual tirade of self-abuse and blame. Except this time it was not internal and I was sharing.

“Why didn’t I stand up for myself when he was verbally abusing me and screaming in my face? Why did I go upstairs when I knew what was coming next? Why did I let him do that to me? Why did I stay?”

I never expected the response I received —

“You made the right decision. You were doing everything you could to protect yourself.”

She challenged my self-blame and my guilt.

“What would have happened if you had stood up for yourself? What would have happened if you had refused to go upstairs?”

I sat there, in that cozy room, in that huge soft chair, my normal destructive thought process stopped dead in its tracks. I knew the answer to these questions. It’s the reason why I never did those things. I knew my experiences would have been much worse, much more violent.

Since that appointment I have tried to be much kinder to myself.

It wasn’t a choice to stay. It was a fight to leave, a fight to survive. I didn’t choose the way I was treated and it is certainly not my fault. I know that no matter how somebody treated me, I would never treat them the way I was treated. Nothing I could have done would have deserved that treatment. I am not to blame for the choices of others.

Physically freeing myself from my abuser was so hard, it was a battle I withstood for years. But now the war is underway — now I have to free myself from my abuse emotionally and mentally. Being able to see my relationship for what is truly was and accepting how trapped I was for such a long time — not just physically but emotionally and mentally — continues to be devastating. Over time I remember more and more about what happened to me. The gradual drip of memories and realization leaves me feeling so empty. So damaged. I am haunted by nightmares and intrusive thoughts. I regularly experience flashbacks of my abuse where I relive those traumatizing moments and feel like I am back there no matter how much I reassure myself.

But some days, I get this feeling, it’s almost like I feel a little free… and I realize where I am heading. Sometimes, I feel a little warmth inside again when I do little things that used to bring me happiness. Simple things like having a coffee in the sunshine. Every now and then I notice the outside world and sometimes I even feel brave enough to explore it.

I am not at the end of my journey, but I am on it. I may have stayed. But I also survived. That’s what matters.

Getty Image by a_Taiga