A #SurvivorStory by Katie
It’s been nearly a decade since I last laid eyes on the man that was my first love. We married quickly the month after I graduated high school, and we were supposed to live happily every after. A little history about me: I grew up surrounded by amazing men. My father was hard working and present even if he was more often quiet than engaged. My brothers defended me and supported me with understanding at the drop of a hat, even when I got upset for losing Chutes and Ladders and knocked over the game pieces. I think that might have partly played into my naïve understanding that good men were everywhere, but I am thankful for what they have been and continue to be in my life. Just a few months into my marriage, though, I began to learn a new reality that was quite different. Not every man was good, and there could be a darkness lurking beneath the appealing exterior.
The control, the yelling, the physical outbursts—they changed me. Like many women, I stayed much longer than I should have. When I finally did gather the courage to leave, the damage had been done, and after I went into a cycle of unhealthy actions and relationships looking for some semblance of my own control and identity again. I could elaborate on these actions, consequences, and lessons learned for pages and pages, but that’s not what this is about. For anyone reading with still-fresh wounds, please hear that there is hope and a better life coming. Don’t quit, even though I know it is harder than you feel anyone else could possibly know. For those like me, though, where the wounds are mostly scars, this one is for you. This story is about how even nine years out, after doing all the work to heal and recover and move on, the memories still exist, and the past can still sneak in.
It has been years since I have had a panic attack. If there was ever a time to think I was “over it,” it was now! I am engaged to be remarried to a wonderful man—trust me, I have vetted him for years now to be certain. I have the job of my dreams. I hadn’t even thought about the previous him or what happened in detail in a long time. Why would I need to? I am now a strong, independent woman, as cliché as it sounds. I had my victory and resilience! It only took one minute at a water park where I angered a man for taking his table to send me into a spiral I never saw coming. His loud, derogatory remarks toward me didn’t even filter through my brain—they instantly struck my heart which quickened to the point of dizziness. Everything got incredibly loud so I couldn’t make out much else but his hatred. I focused on the ground. I sat. I took deep breaths. Thankfully, there was another adult present that could smooth over the tension with him, but his unexpectedly strong anger had already gripped my innermost being. One moment undid years of work. Suddenly, that strong, independent woman was gone. Once again, I was the feeble, powerless woman that had no words, no defense. After an hour or so of just trying to maintain my faculties so no one would visibly see my inner shattering, the worst part really started to sink in: I had failed. My own perception of myself was once again demolished to bits. I didn’t stand up for myself. I wasn’t strong. The things I had put so much effort in to healing, moving on, and finding myself outside of the terror…where did it go? I have come to know a term that I honestly hate: revictimization. That’s when everything that was so awful once comes back in full light and is in many ways reexperienced. I was back on the kitchen floor crying in my head as I desperately tried to sit on that water park bench stone-faced so no one would know. How could I possibly have let myself feel this way again? How could I let a man affect me this way again? What I hated most was when I realized I was going to see my fiancé the next day, and the idea of hugging him sickened me. Want to know what it feels like to be a failure beyond failure? Recognize your own feelings don’t match reality and feel yourself push away from the only man that’s made you feel real, unconditional love to zero fault of his own.
I feared bringing up what I was really feeling to anyone. The worst had happened so long ago. I feared the reaction, “Wait, why aren’t you over this?” Wasn’t I supposed to be better than this? How could I possible let one angry jerk take away my own self-worth like this? I was able to fake it through one day of being okay—just one. Eye contact was brief. Hugging was painful. Kissing made me want to shrink into the darkness. All the while I knew my feelings were illogical and misplaced, but I had no power to stop them.
I am still working through the residual feelings of finding myself knocked back down, but I am writing this because I know that somewhere out there another woman is fighting this same battle. You feel like you should be over this. You should be stronger than this. You think this or any other relapse is your fault. I need you to know, because I need to know: those statements are lies. None of this is your fault. There was an evil presence in your life that changed it, and just like deep wounds of flesh remain present through scars, the heart and mind bear scars, too. Those wounds, even when they tingle or still hurt are not something to be hidden and repressed. They are to be viewed with the understanding that when they could have broken you, you persisted. Phantom pains are not failure, they are an opportunity for you to remember that you are worth the grace you need to give yourself. Success is not perfection, it is continuing.
Finally, know that you are strong enough to talk about it. Keeping it hidden is easier on the surface, but it will poison you. When I finally took the chance on expressing my feelings, the light started to break through the darkness that once again tried to consume me. There is power in words. My own navigation through this time is also being helped by writing this, recounting what happened, and reminding myself of truth. I am not a failure. Wisdom in who to share with is important, and you are right to be cautious. At no fault of their own, some people do not understand and will say those things you fear and hurt through their own naivete. However, it only takes one person to listen to help you find freedom. I encourage you to find that person, be it a relative, a friend, a pastor, or a professional. You don’t have to be alone, and the act of reaching out is an act of strength. If you are reading this and do not have such an experience, I encourage you to be that person. You are not expected to fix anything. You are not expected to have the answers. Please, just be there. This can be a terrifying road to face alone and a presence and an ear is all we, the hurting and re-hurting, need to keep going.