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The Ghosts of Abuse: What We Don’t Talk About After Leaving Abusers

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Editor's Note

If you have experienced abuse, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

Whether on a school trip, at a dinner party, or getting to know a colleague, one question always gets asked: Do you believe in ghosts?

• What is PTSD?

At sleepovers, stories of Bloody Mary are told in hushed tones, preteens are dared to summon the legends. Through old buildings, ghostly events, and the power of marketing — we are constantly surrounded by the ghosts.

Is there an afterlife? Who knows? What have we or the ghosts done to deserve haunting or having to haunt? Are ghosts dangerous? Have you had ghostly experiences?

I used to find it super bizarre when people laughed when I would tell them the disturbing ghostly experiences that had happened. They were half-joking and half-believing. There was something that constantly confused me. The ghosts I had weren’t all dead.

Sure, some of them were and I didn’t question that. But sometimes they would be people I knew, acting out something that had already happened. Other times they would be strangers doing something totally mundane. But of course, there would be times when they would do something terrifying. Terror and anxiety stalked me.  When I confided in people, they would tell me I had a very active imagination. Others would tell me I was sleeping. No one believed me.

I spent many years believing I was in fact dead or a conduit. I would have a menagerie of animals following me throughout the day — every day. I thought this was normal. Some of them would be exotic animals such as lions, tigers, bears… and of course unicorns. There would also be the pedestrian animals such as cats; in truth, they have been the most faithful and still make an occasional appearance. Sure, I was lonely they gave me someone to talk to, play with, read with — I’m dyslexic and dyspraxic so this was very important for me and my development.

The people were much more distracting and troubling. Whispering and telling me things. What is an isolated individual supposed to think? That I’m “crazy?” That I’m haunted? Am I scared of dead people? No. I am haunted more by the things that had happened to me.

I was abused from an early age by family members and then an ex-boyfriend. Isolation was a huge part of me. The very first crisis point where I acted in a destructive way, it was driven by the only way I could see to escape the ghosts. Ghosts came and went, but after I went no-contact with my prime abuser, some disappeared forever. Relief is what I expected, but wasn’t what I experienced: loss and grief hit me. To this day, I miss those ghosts. Although they were terrifying, they were familiar.

After I had been injured by a previous partner, which in turn ended the relationship, more left me. I had been isolated by all the abusers:  I didn’t have many people or ghosts left. That silence. The emptiness was horrific.

As I slowly tried to pull my life back together, different ghosts appeared. The abusers, the fear of what I had done. What I was going to be. Alone. Am I scared of dead people? No. I am haunted more by the things that have happened to me. I have begun to heal and started to talk about the hallucinations that have plagued me. Slowly, I am learning to live with them — some major sacrifices had to happen. My ghosts are not the dead. My ghosts are a subconscious development of abuse.

Getty image by FOTOKITA

Originally published: March 29, 2022
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