When I drive down that one street, take a sip of that one beer, I mean, if we're being completely and fully honest here, I can't even feel like I can step foot into the one house that for three years became my home because the memories, though faded, come bursting back in high definition. I long to make new memories with new people, or maybe the old people that I have just re-learned how to love without him involved. But the memories are there. I don't know if they'll ever fully go away.
I still have dreams. Sometimes nightmares, sometimes just memories, but still, when I wake up, I feel guilty for having dreamed of him.
My psychological testing for Seminary provided me with conflicting information about who I am as a person, as a leader, and confused me at first. The testing came out that I am both a strong leader and not much of a leader; I am collaborative to a fault. I lack confidence but show it outwardly, fooling the people around me. And somehow, that makes sense.
I've spent my entire life double, triple, quadruple checking that the words that I say come out right and can't be refuted so I can't be told that I'm stupid, I'm wrong - translated, I'm worthless, unlovable, unable to be the person that I was created to be because I don't even know who I am. And that's the reason why it's taken six months to be able to sit down and write this out. Only he knew who I was and he molded and shaped, for himself, the perfect enabler. I became the one who said, "Yes" to anything he wanted and, "No," to anything he didn't want.
I've been told, for most of my life, that my dominant personality trait is my adaptability. Throw me in any waters and I'll figure out how to swim. I can be comfortable anywhere at any time. And that gift that I've been given was used against me in so many ways. He broke me with it. Completely shattered me. For a while, I was fine being who he needed me to be. The most heartbreaking example of this is when he told me, after he had been out all night satisfying his addictions, that he had slept with someone else.
My outward response was exactly what he expected. Me, curled up on the floor, crying, wailing, recoiling at his attempt to try and soothe me, refusing to let him sleep next to me or to touch me.
But for as good of an actor as he was, he couldn't see that inside, I had already died. This admission of guilt, just one more thing for me to adapt to, and I was already adapting. I had already known, without him even telling me, that he had slept with another woman, with other women, and thought that I could change him, and this was far before that hell of a night where he wouldn't return my calls and his friends didn't know where he was. I knew. And I had adapted. I became a shell of myself, unwilling to be hurt, unable to be touched. And I didn't care about this admission. I didn't care at all.
All I knew now was that I was unable to tell my family anything; his family had to be left in the dark. It became our secret. Sundays, we would go from "church" (that place where I'd ask him if he wanted to go to church with me, he wouldn't want to go, I'd be terrified of going alone, so I'd stay at home playing games on my computer) to his family's house and we would not speak at all on the 40 minute ride there and back, but as soon as we got in the door of his parent's house, I felt like I could breathe because it was big enough that I knew I only had to deal with him over dinner. And when we got back, he'd go out with his friends, I would go back to Netflix, and I'd make sure to get out of the living room before he got home. I was isolated from my family, my friends. I had no one.
Growing up and then being with him shattered my confidence. The only way I knew how to rebuild it was by faking it. By spending more time at work than anywhere else, learning as much as I could, teaching myself as much as I could about business and energy and processes and system functions and coding. My boss was my confidant and biggest supporter. He listened to me, cried with me, and challenged me beyond my experience level. He encouraged me every single day, debated theology with me, and continued to make sure I was doing OK. He offered me time off the day that I finally mustered up the courage to leave, and then understood when I told him that working allowed me a portal to the only shred of sanity I had left.
I remember that day all too clearly. It was my 24th birthday. My best friend in Michigan sent me flowers to my workplace, bringing me to openly weep in the workplace. My coworkers, without any knowledge of what was happening, tried to plan a potluck (without my knowledge, and I was the potluck planner) and inadvertently they all made desserts with the exception of one person who brought chips and salsa. We laughed that day, our bodies trembling with the highs that come with eating too much sugar. My mentor, the only other person I really honestly trusted at that time, took me out for lunch where we had vietnamese pho and sandwiches and, with that savory food, I wept and she offered to let me stay at her place. I booked a conference room to myself that day, working on a database in solitude. I worked while weeping; I had no idea what I was going to do, but I knew that I couldn't be numb anymore.
I just couldn't be numb anymore.
I knew that being numb was part of his appeal of being with me. I just didn't care and so he could do as he pleased. But in my very first sermon, just a few weeks ago, words that I put down on paper and the words that I spoke have come back to haunt my memory over and over:
"When you numb pain, you numb joy. And let me tell you from experience that living a numb life feels a lot like death."
And so, even after years of growth and years of therapy and years of tears, I still feel the twinges of the past. And I think that's ok, as long as I don't let them be the only thing taking up my mind and heart-space. If I don't re-visit some of that pain, I can't be as compassionate with people experiencing it now. I have to let myself feel it, to dig deep into the uncomfortable abyss that is the remnants of PTSD that, as much as I hate to admit it, still keep coming to me in the most inopportune, impractical, and unpredictable times.
I'll forever be a bit broken because of what I've lived through. The scars of emotional and psychological abuse never fully go away. And maybe somebody will tell me that I'm being too compassionate in certain situations where abuse is happening, or even just starting; maybe that I'm too quick to say, "That's abusive." But when I look back, I wish someone would have just flat out told me, "What he's doing is abusive," even if I didn't believe them. Because maybe, just maybe, I would have been able to put words to what I was going through, what I was experiencing, with a bit of proof to back me up so that when I said those words and he responded with, "How am I abusing you," I would have had something to say.
And maybe I wouldn't have said anything, but I would have known, even if for a brief second, for the first time, really known I wasn't wrong.
And I would much rather be too compassionate than allow another human being to experience emotional, psychological, and spiritual abuse at the hands of the person who has promised to spend their whole lives loving you, supporting you, and being faithful to you.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse of any kind - sexual, physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, etc. - please let them know that they're not crazy and they're not alone.
If you're not sure whether you're dealing with an abusive situation, here are some questions to answer:
Is your partner:
AND: If your partner is doing any of those things claiming religious reasons:
- Put downs: "You're supposed to be the man of the family, the head of the spiritual life! You are nothing but weak!" or "You're the woman of the family and you will do what I say because the Bible tells you to be obedient!"
- Controlling who you see/Where you go - "You can't hang out with those people anymore because they're not true Christians."
- Pressuring you to have sex - "the Bible tells you not to refuse me, so you don't get to say, 'No'"
And many more.
If you have a friend or a family member who is dealing with an abusive situation or recovering from one, allow them space to heal, give them the encouragement and support to be who they are, not who they were or who you'd like them to be. Encourage new hobbies and interests, even if you don't understand it. As they redefine who they are, get to know and love that person.
And if nothing else, provide, for them, a safe space to grow, to be, and to breathe.