Ask Me Anything is a collaborative series featuring individuals and families that are facing challenges or are unique in some way. People can ask them anything they’d like to know about their story as long as it’s respectful.
The goal of this series is for people to gain a better understanding of those in unique situations. Open communication is key to understanding one another. If you would like to be featured in a future post, email me at [email protected]
How did you find yourself in an abusive relationship?
Looking back, I was clearly groomed. My abuser was seven years older than me, which is a lot when you’re a teenager. I was experimenting with drugs and knew him from that world. He was a meth addict and for a while I just thought of him that way: as this eccentric tweaker that I found interesting and I remember wanting to interview him to write a play about him or something. But he pressured me into trying meth when I was fifteen and then just totally messed with my mind until I thought I was in love with him. There were a lot of warning signs. He actually once admitted to raping a woman, but I was so naive I thought he was telling an odd joke I didn’t get.
By the time we started dating, there were a lot of indicators of abuse. He’d say really cruel things. He would disappear for days; I would hear rumors that he was cheating on me, once with a thirteen year old girl. I would hear rumors that he had done really terrible things to other girls and women, but I was so in love with him, I just couldn’t believe it. When he pushed me, I rationalized it. When he finally started hitting me and strangling me, I was too in shock. I had never been treated that way before and I didn’t know what to do. So I just…stayed. I mean I would leave him, but then he would beg me to come back and all I wanted, at that time, was for him to change and accept my love and love me back. So I followed my hope instead of what reality was actually showing me.
What factor finally influenced your decision that you had to escape the toxic relationship? How were you finally able to get out?
I actually wrote an entire blog post that goes into the details of this, but the short answer is: my son. My son was born after I had been with this guy for four years. We stayed together for a few months, but when my son was a couple months old, his father randomly flew to Japan-without telling me-to visit his 5 year old daughter for the first time. He tried to say he was just being a good dad, but what about the newborn infant he abandoned without a word? Anyway, when he got back he relapsed and became really violent again. On one occasion, he almost killed both my son and I, and it made me realize that there was no way out. My son was going to end up dead or harmed unless I got this guy out of our lives. I turned my ex in, and he was sentenced to five years in prison.
What did you learn about yourself from this situation?
Well, I suppose in terms of positive attributes I have gained, empathy for others is the biggest one. I used to be really judgmental of people who did things differently than I thought I would. But the truth is, you never know what you would do in a given situation unless you’re in it, and the truth will often surprise you. I also learned that I am stronger and more resilient than I thought. I can sure take a beating. And I have a hard skull. Literally. I have had my head repeatedly punched in to pavement and turned out okay.
In all honesty, this experience left me really damaged. I have PTSD from this, and every day I have to combat feelings of deep hopelessness and depression. I have survived more than one suicide attempt, and I struggle almost daily to remind myself that I do have a reason to live. Trauma like this gets trapped in the body, so it’s really sad to know that I will, for the rest of my life, live in a body that has been brutally abused. There are some abuse survivors who say that even though their abuse was terrible, they wouldn’t change anything about their past because it helped shape them and they love themselves. I don’t feel that way. There are some days when I suppose I do, but I really hate having PTSD. I really hate living in this body, and it’s nothing to do with how it looks, but how it feels.
How do you feel your situation affected your children? Do you fear they might repeat the cycle of being in abusive relationship themselves?
Only my eldest child, my son, was fathered by my abuser. My daughters are both my husband’s and never witnessed any of that stuff. My son was so young, 8 months old, when his father got out of his life, that I’m sure he doesn’t remember any of it. Last year, my abuser re-entered my life by first establishing paternity and then filing a custody suit, but last week he dropped it. I hope that’s permanent. I think that yes, he could influence my son to be an abusive person, if he were allowed back into his life.
My son, however, has severe autism. He is totally non-verbal, still in diapers at age 9, and has developmental and cognitive delays. The cause of autism is still unknown, but new science is pretty certain it’s a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Now, which environmental factors caused my son’s autism is impossible to know. I was on anti-depressants for the first month or so of my pregnancy, and those have been potentially tied to autism. I was prescribed them to combat the depression I was feeling due to being abused. My ex also abused me while I was pregnant, pretty viciously. Prenatal trauma has been hypothesized to be a factor in the development of autism. He also physically and sexually abused me in front of our infant son. There’s not a whole lot known about the effects of trauma during early infancy, but childhood trauma can have some devastating side-effects. I do believe that the things my ex did at least contributed to the severity of my son’s autism, if they didn’t cause it altogether.
How has PTSD influenced the way you raise your children?
PTSD made me incapable of raising my son. I was diagnosed with PTSD around the same time he was diagnosed with autism. I had already been struggling and needing a lot of help before then, but it became clear that we both needed a lot of care and support and I wasn’t going to be able to give him his best chance at life so I put him in the care of family. He’s been in my custody legally, but due to my ex’s recent custody suit, my mom is now filing for third party custody. My husband and I do hope to take him to live with us one day, but it’s a really complicated situation and this custody suit made it a lot worse.
I was addicted to drugs for a while, before I got pregnant with my older daughter. I had a lot of guilt and shame about that, but have since learned it was an instinctual way of self-medicating my hyperaroused nervous system, which was that way because of PTSD. Even though I am clean now, I am still struggling to fix my financial situation and learn healthy ways to relax and deal with triggers.
My PTSD symptoms mean I get depressed often and anger easily. Having my abuser come back into my life caused a resurgence in a lot of the symptoms I had thought resolved. I am now on medication to prevent myself from having PTSD nightmares, which are far worse and scarier than regular nightmares. Sometimes it’s hard for me to focus because I dissociate. I am often afraid to go outside, which affects my kids sometimes. Making phone calls induces a lot of anxiety within me, which is problematic if I need to set an appointment or something. I have to really prioritize self-care. My daughters don’t always understand why my “me time” is important, but if I didn’t take it, I would have a break down and probably end up attempting suicide. I did attempt suicide last year, on my birthday, which is also the anniversary of an especially bad assault. I was away in a psych ward for a few days afterward. My daughters show concern now when they hear sirens; the older one asks sometimes if they are going to come take me away. I am sorry for that, though I try my best not to blame myself because it’s not my fault that I have PTSD. I think I am going to have my older daughter go to some kind of therapy soon so that it hopefully doesn’t affect her later in life.
On the plus side, I am more caring and empathetic. Although I have to fight the urge to snap, I understand that place of deep rage and disappointment that causes them to throw fits, and when you understand something, you are better able to help ease it. I also display strength and courage daily, and I know how important it is to promote my daughters’ self-esteem. Honestly, I think the positives will manifest more when they are teenagers, because I’ll be (hopefully) better able to deal with the catastrophes that teenage girls get into.
How does your past relationship and your PTSD affect your everyday life?
I am less trusting. It is hard for me to get close to people. My husband often complains that I’m not affectionate enough, but it just doesn’t come naturally to me anymore. I am anxious often; I can’t work a conventional job. My self-esteem is terrible, which affects everything. Sex does nothing for me, which my husband hates. When we first met, I was still using, and the drugs helped fix whatever is wrong with my system so that I really did enjoy sex. Now he blames himself, and I have to keep reminding him that my body is numb. I am dissociated; I can’t feel anything. My ex raped me on numerous occasions, so sex often causes mild flashbacks. I love my husband and I want to make him happy. But I just can’t get into it anymore. I’m hoping therapy will eventually fix that.
My friendships have suffered. I can be quick to anger and quick to take offense, and if the other person doesn’t actively try to repair the friendship after a fight, then the friendship ends. My self-esteem is so terrible that I feel like everyone is better off without me. Honestly, I feel subhuman on a regular basis. PTSD is a lonely, shaken existence.
How are you planning to move on/move forward in life?
I go to regular therapy: weekly individual counseling and a weekly peer support group. Blogging about my trauma and experiences with PTSD has also helped me get some of it out of my body and head, and also to connect with others. Writing has always been a big part of my life. It is my big dream, and what I got my education in. I still hope to become a successful, published author. I’ve been trying to write a fantasy trilogy for close to a decade, but recently realized that maybe I need to get a trauma narrative out of me first. Maybe that’s the blockage that is preventing me from writing this thing, and if I write a memoir or some kind of trauma narrative first, even if I never publish it, maybe then I will be able to write my novels.
Also, I recently started writing a play and that has brought a feeling of life back to me that I had actually forgotten was possible. I love the theatre; I recently got to see my favorite play again (Sam Mendes’ production of Cabaret) and it sparked me in a way nothing has in a while.
What would you like people who don’t have any understanding of what you went through to know?
Domestic violence is incredibly complex. Nobody expects it, and facing it is harder than you will ever imagine. Leaving your abuser means facing what happened to you. It means potentially developing PTSD, which you only get once the trauma ends. There are often other factors as well. Don’t judge people for staying, and if you know someone who is being abused, don’t try to shame or guilt her into leaving because it will have the opposite effect. Negative reinforcement does not work; she’s already getting that from her abuser.
As for PTSD: it never goes away. Never. It can be treated; symptoms can be reduced, but it will never be cured. A person who has PTSD will always be traumatized so please don’t tell or expect her to “get over it.” If you “detox” someone for being negative due to PTSD, you are committing a cruelty that will harm her more than you will ever know.
What advice would you give to someone in the same situation?
If you are being abused, you need to first leave. As scary a prospect as it is, it really is the best and most important thing.
There is an app called “Aspire News” that disguises as a regular news site but has DV resources: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.collectiveray.aspire&hl=enYou can also call 211 or visit their website to find local shelters and resources if you are in the United States. 211.org If you follow @PixelProject on Twitter (or just check out their page) they tweet worldwide DV and sexual assault survivor resources every day. You can also tell your doctor and he or she should be able to help you.
It is scary as hell- there’s no doubt about that. But you cannot start healing until you leave.
Once you have left, you need to reach out for support. Professional support, like therapy, but also the support of family and friends. Even if you’ve been estranged due to abuse, if you explain what was happening, there are people who will help. If you truly have no one, then please go to a peer support group and therapy.
I wrote a guest post about self-care specifically targeted for abuse survivors, which you can read here: https://www.makeit218.com/blog/2017/4/26/8-self-care-techniques-to-heal-after-abuse. It is really, really important that you get professional AND personal support. PTSD develops when a person experiences trauma and does not get enough support afterward. You can prevent it by accessing support. If you do get it, aversion to therapy is a symptom- but fight it. Fight it and go to therapy because symptomatic remission is possible.
About the guest blogger
Elizabeth Brico is a freelance writer, playwright, poet, blogger, and DV survivor who writes about living and parenting with PTSD on her blog Betty’s Battleground. She hosts a mental health link library on her blog, which opens for new links with a new theme biweekly, so if check out “Off-Fridays” if you write about topics related to mental health and mental illness. When she’s not actively momming or blogging, Elizabeth can usually be found writing, reading, or watching speculative fiction. You can follow her on Twitter: @bettymama206 and Facebook: facebook.com/bettysbattleground