As human beings we go through phases of change throughout our lives.
When I left school aged 17 I had a blue print of who I thought I was. When I left University aged 22 I believed I knew who I was. When I got married at age 32 I had very much lost who I was.
By the first attempt at ending my marriage aged 41 …. I had no self identity left at all.
When I actually left the marriage by age 48, I had finally clawed back certain aspects of the blue print of my youth. I was coming full circle. In the three years since that momentous event I’ve been experiencing all the highs and lows of striking out on my own. Like a pseudo teenager with an adult bank account (albeit somewhat depleted).
The highs are pretty dizzying. The biggest one is simple, uncomplicated freedom. Things people who have not lived within the confines of coercive control take for granted.
The freedom to wear what I like, speak with whom I like, go to bed when I like, sleep unafraid, eat what I like, watch what I like, care for my pets and myself as I like … the freedom of living an unwatched life. The freedom to text friends late at night, chat on the phone without being listened to, send unmonitored communications, have unguarded conversations, waste time on facebook, cut my hair shorter, read in bed, tell my dogs how much I love them minus consequence.
Every day brings a teenage joy as I experience all of these things.
The lows are all chained to one key problem. Editing the script in my head to now say I am entitled to do all the things I have described… and more. Rewinding an extensive history of coercive control is a big undertaking. A long engrained mental tablet says I will pay a price for these freedoms and it is hard to rewrite that text.
I remember a few days after I had fled my marriage and was settling into my little rental place, I awoke in the night. I turned over and saw a shape next to me asleep in the darkness. An electric shock of fear shot up from the soles of my feet as my brain failed to swiftly process where I actually was. That I was safe in my new home. I screamed and scrambled away until consciousness kicked in – and I realised it was the slumbering form of my little boy Pomeranian dog, Bear. My heart was pounding as I woke up fully and absorbed how deep seated the fear was of lying next to my husband of so many years. For one horrible second I had believed I had never left and was back in my former home.
I awoke this way several times more over the next few months, but never with the utter terror of that first occasion. Bear remained unimpressed with the circumstance, as he was always joyfully asleep next to his human mama and my nocturnal panic woke him up.
The experience hasn’t stopped him kipping on the pillow next to me with his butt in my ear however. Bless his hairy little socks.
Trauma is a fascinating beast. People all cope differently. For me, I have a very calm exterior and quite a developed sense of humour which shields me from various things. Whilst not going into specific detail, I can cite here that one of my coping mechanisms is avoidance. I avoid certain places, people or things which will make me flash back to particular incidents. Some of those actions are quite instinctive and I’m not aware I am doing it.
Some two years after leaving I was searching for something in a cupboard.. when I came across the above photograph underneath some other items. As I looked at my bridal photo in its blue and gold frame, my mind raced back to where that photograph had sat in my old home on a glass bookcase. How I had felt over the years as I had dusted it and carefully put it back in its spot. I was gripped with an irrational anxiety and nausea that took several hours to dissipate. Why I brought the photo into my new home puzzles me slightly. I am guessing I chucked it in a box on that frantic last night because I had bought and chosen the frame myself. I was far too pressed for time to fiddle about removing a picture. I still don’t use the frame. For some reason it disturbs my sense of peace.
Only a few weeks ago I had an exchange with an old friend from years ago who was in my marital home at a time of extreme crisis. I unexpectedly came to a realisation that I had avoided them for many years, not because of who they were. Instead, I found they represented things that were painful and I could block those memories more successfully if I did not see that person or actively remember them. They did not realise why I had evaporated or think less of me, but I felt I owed them a kind of apology. It does not help lessen the pain of that time or the gravity of what took place. It lessens my sense of being dominated by it and gives me some of my own power back.
I have a sense of unease if I happen to be driven past my old home.
I choke up in the street when I pass by a dog that looks like one I once adored and tried to protect.
I have sold jewellery and given away clothes that I wore on certain occasions that represent grief.
Trauma is indeed a fascinating beast.
I suspect one of the keys to closing the door on trauma is time. Time to realise it was not your doing. Time to realise you can rewrite your mental script. Time to discover who you really are. Most importantly, time to plan who you now want to be as you heal. The process echoes that of a teenager on the cusp of their adult journey (whatever age you may be in real terms). For me, I have found it is time to work through my experiences and embrace my desire to write.
The past rushes back to be acknowledged because avoidance can only take us so far. Whether our past has been a fairytale or a nightmare, it’s all part of the script.
For anyone who does not currently have their freedom – I sincerely hope you find safe passage to the unfettered life you deserve. You are worth everything you are being denied and more. The demon that is coercive control is an insidious force and it will enslave whoever it can. None of us are lesser beings for being held prisoner by it. The lowly beings are those who choose to enact it under the guise of love.
Whatever the future holds and however long it takes to rewrite the script nothing can erase the simple joy of personal freedom. None of us should have it denied to us however cunningly the deal is initially packaged. You deserve dinner with friends who care deeply for you , late night phone chats to pals, sleeping unafraid, internet privacy, personal privacy, the unfettered joy of smothering your pet or child in kisses.
It is not you and it’s never your doing. You are worth all the simple things you wish for. xox