love after abuse.

Y’all I am drained. I am sitting in the deepest depths of the ocean of sorrow tonight. Even though I know the anchor will pull me back up, it doesn’t seem like I’ll breathe again. The nightmares are back and worse than ever. Stalking. Murder. Survival. The way trauma seeps into your subconscious and thrives is something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to fully comprehend. I’ve done my healing. But healing isn’t linear. Healing doesn’t follow the timeline you’d like it to. You can’t sit down with your pain and tell it your plans. Tell it how it doesn’t deserve a place in your present or your future. Tell it where it belongs – in the past with the person who gave it to you. You can’t tie your pain up in a nicely done bow and gift it back. And it’s unfair. It. Is. Not. Fair.

I’ve been struggling lately with receiving love in a healthy relationship. My partner is wonderful. He is everything I have prayed for and could honestly dream of. He’s kind, caring, compassionate. He extends grace in how he reacts to my past and in how he interacts with me each day. Even when he doesn’t understand or can’t comprehend something I share, he sits with it and doesn’t hurry it away. He allows space for my pain and validates those experiences without tying them to who I am as a person – something I have been terrified about since I began dating. He is playful and funny. Passionate and calm at the same time. Incredibly loving towards me. And in the same breath, I still struggle with accepting it. 

My brain has been hardwired to believe I deserved what happened to me time and time again in my past marriage. That I only deserved breadcrumbs. That who I was at the core was so flawed that I didn’t deserve a faithful or kind husband. So that portion pops up every now and then. It says you couldn’t possibly deserve this person. You couldn’t possibly deserve someone who is well adjusted. Who is happy with themselves. Who tells the truth and wants to know you in your rawest form. Someone who doesn’t just roll over and ignore you when you cry. Who only wants to bring sunshine into your life, rather than stifling yours. And that is the voice that trauma survivors live with every single day. Not just the voice of ‘you’re not good enough.’ But the voice of you don’t deserve basic decency and here is the proof, over and over again. The proof of the memories of someone else’s body in your bed. Someone else’s self-hatred internalized in your idea of what a relationship looks like. Someone else’s pain and selfishness. The selfishness of not doing their own hard work. Of not looking themselves in the mirror and being honest about who they were and what they felt. Instead, opting for another mask to place over themselves. To fill up their cup for that day, with no regard to who or what they destroyed in their paths. That is what survivors of domestic abuse live with. 

I cannot tell you the amount of work I have done in counseling. Week after week, I show up. Whether I want to or not. Because at the end of the day, my abuser does not deserve an ounce of memory in my present or my future. And most importantly, because at the end of the day, my partner does not deserve an ounce of my trauma response to someone else’s pain and shame in themselves. 

Experiencing what someone can offer you in a loving and healthy relationship has been a journey in itself. I never thought it would be so hard to sit with it. To have a conversation with another man and have them return your concerns with respect and self awareness. To have that fear of bringing up something that has been worrying you, and to be greeted with love and understanding. My trauma response says, “where is the punishment? when is it coming? will it be him stonewalling today and me finding an affair tomorrow? what pain is on its way that will ultimately be blamed on my behavior?” 

The work necessary to heal your brain and heart from this kind of thinking and these experiences is hard. There is no sugarcoating that for you as a survivor, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry you are left dealing with the experiences someone else put on you with no regard to your feelings or the future it meant for you on your own. I was in a place where I have objectively felt I had done the hardest of the hard work. I had my sleepless nights in the past, my PTSD nightmares were fewer and far in between. I had not ‘missed’ my previous husband in almost a year. I accepted the loss of the home and life I created, as well as the people I had lost. I was checking off all the boxes that come with healing. But nothing can prepare you for putting those learned experiences into life practice.

I’ve been so surprised by what relationships after trauma look like, and what it means to actually thrive in them. I have had to actively put my walls down. Knowing this wonderful man in front of me is nothing of my past. He has never hurt me, or given me a reason to not trust him. I have had to scroll through his background and the choices he made before meeting me. I have to comb through the rolodex of experiences I have had with him and analyze if they match with my current thoughts. And 10/10 times they do not. Because he is not my ex. And while I may have to take these extra steps now and analyze any correlation, it will not last forever. I have power over my thoughts. I can name them for what they are. I can move forward. I have the power to rewrite my story and that includes rewiring these trauma responses with healthy experiences rather than running from them. Because, my God would it be easy to build up a wall, rip the band-aid of pain off and run in the other direction. It’d be easy to tell myself the possible loss that comes with being vulnerable in a relationship wouldn’t be painful, that I am in control of how I feel and I have the power over the pain I feel going forward. But when you are a survivor, it is so important to override this. It’s not easy, but every time I make new memories with my partner, every time he tells me and shows me how he feels, every time we talk about a future together, my heart breathes a sigh of relief. 

There is so much pride that comes from having put the time in and the work to come out the other side of abuse. To know that even though you know your abuser will always be the same person, you can be free from them. To know that they don’t get to have a seat at your table if you choose to heal. That even though their new life may look perfect from the outside, you know what happens when the door closes and everyone leaves. You know who they are and what mask they show the outside world.  And you know because of your actions, you never have to experience that heartache again. It is possible to love more than you ever have. It is possible to have a healthy, wonderful relationship. And it is possible to accept it for the love it is, and not the pain you’ve been told for so long you deserve. 

So even though you might be in the thick of it, you might have lost all hope of what a future looks like, I will light that candle and hold the hope for you. Just as those closest to me did when I was sitting  where you are right now. It will get better. I promise that much. You will love again, and maybe even stronger this time, beautiful survivor. You’ve got this.

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