It's been a really busy last few weeks for me. Arranging my home, getting settled. There is so much to do. With my new surroundings, I have been pondering, Asking myself some really serious questions. I feel I have reached a pivot point in my life. I have the sense of control, that I can make choices and choose my own direction. I finally have got to a place where I can really examine, what is it that I really want. And actually be able to identify my wants for myself. That's not as easy as it sounds. I find myself in almost a twilight zone. Is this really happening? Am I really seeing this? Is this a dream? Was it really that easy. In a sense, vestiges of the old me still tenuously cling to my being, but I no longer identify with that person. That was never me, it was just my soul doing what ever it had to do, to survive.
It's surreal, because not long ago, I couldn't even imagine having this type of freedom and control of my own life. I can do what I want when I want. My emotions are not the swirling vortex of confusion, self doubt and agony. Just how dysfunctional my marriage was continues to hit me. Smiling is easy now, talking to strangers not only possible but absolutely enjoyable. Did I really live in so much fear? The answer is, yes, I really did. And I had lived that way so long, fear and anxiety became my state of homeostasis.
That's when the grief hits. When you realize how many years you spent in turmoil that was not only unnecessary, but was by design. To realize you were systematically undermined and your sense of self worth constantly attacked, only so he could maintain control. Why did he feel he had to do that. Was it worth it to him to watch me in constant emotional pain. What kind of person does that to their partner. Life could have been so much different for us. I am actually a very caring loving giving person. Why couldn't he just enjoy what I brought to the table. Why did he choose misery.
While we were making the decision to split up, in a moment of weakness he admitted to me that he knew the emotional toll he had put me through. That's one of the hardest things to cope with now. He knew exactly what he was doing. He was proud of the way he "managed" me. At the end he bragged about it. I saw him smile with pride when he told me he managed my feelings. Looking back, to recognize we lived a life of lies. I never questioned him, I always believed every word he said. But the reality was, he was an extreme liar. To him it was a means to an end. It got him what he wanted, and that was all he cared about. (if you want to learn the hard truth about abusers knowing exactly what they are doing, read Lundy Bancroft's book, "Why does he do that? Inside the mind of Angry and Controlling Men"
I read somewhere not long ago, "On-going trauma responses can be mistaken for personality traits" This definitely happened to me. I used to go everywhere staring at the ground, avoiding eye contact and afraid of speaking to strangers. I didn't answer the door or the phone. I didn't talk to sales people, I wouldn't even order pizza. I thought that is who I was, a extremely shy reclusive girl. My former husband would step in and shield me from people. Interacting with the outside world was uncomfortable and scary for me. I saw his behaviour as protecting me, taking care of me. Really it was more of Stockholm syndrome. And it increased my level of isolation, the distorted my sense of reality. I began to see the the world through his lens. I was always anxious, sure that I was going to screw up, positive I was being judged negatively. I felt like I didn't have the right to take up space in the world. I couldn't ask for the things I wanted. I just accepted and was grateful for whatever little crumb I could get. I had an underlying belief "You don't deserve it" That emotion is slowly melting away. In my marriage, I was always telling my husband fruitlessly, you are wrong about me, desperately wanting him to see I wasn't the horrible obnoxious, odious person he portrayed me to be. But the fact is, he knew. He knew it wasn't true. The person that needed to be convinced was me. The fact is, deep down I believed it. For some reason, I needed him to acknowledge me as a good person, to approve of me in order for me to be ok. But, he would never do that, of course not, he wanted me to feel desperate and destabilized, that made me easy to control and manipulate.
It's painful now, to look back on that girl. I remember her constant struggle to improve her life, and her pain when she failed. Knowing now, she could never ever succeed in the environment she was in, she was set up to fail. If only I would have known, all I had to do was leave.
I have learned physically leaving is only the first step. Breaking the psychological bonds is the much more treacherous journey. Over the last three years, one of thing things I have learned is distance alone will not erase the memories. You cannot outrun them. I have tried. Though not as frequent, I still have flashbacks. I will be sitting there enjoying a beautiful view, and suddenly my ears are pounding with his voice screaming "WARDEN! WARDEN!" and I can see his face filled with rage. I still feel the helplessness while he screams at me telling me what I am thinking and feeling. I remember no matter what I said, I was wrong. It was all my fault. I remember that feeling, I have not been able to fully let that go yet. I remember always trying to show him he was wrong, trying to prove myself and deep down wondering if he was right. At the time, I lived in the denial that any of it affected me. I thought I was more than capable of handling it. I really didn't understand how abnormal and dysfunctional that relationship had become. One of the visions I have had the hardest time erasing is his silver back gorilla performance. When he would puff up and stomp around the room, making a show of barely able to control his rage, acting like it took everything in him not to hit me. His face, inches from mine, gritting his teeth and literally growling, his eyes filled with hatred and anger. I used to stare back defiantly denying it affected me. I was delusional. It most definitely did affect me. I was constantly terrified, afraid of setting him off. To placate him, I pretty much just went along with whatever he said.
Sitting here now, it hits me, OMG did that really happen. OMG, yes it did. Many times. My case was such a textbook case of emotional abuse it stuns me now that I can see it with clear eyes. Back then, I really had no idea what was happening. Now I do understand, and it shocks me. I lived in that for almost 30 years. You can move on to bigger and better things, I sure have. But somehow, I still have to find a way to heal those wounds. I do not want to live with that anger forever. That's his anger, he can keep it. I have often been told "You forget that type of thing overnight". It's true you really don't.
But it's gotten to the point I have to figure out how to deal with those thoughts and emotions when they come up. I don't want those horrible memories to rob me of any more years. I don't want him in my mind. I dream of the day when I never think of him. Some different ideas have come up as I have struggled with these emotions.
One is the Buddhist method. Just acceptance. Acknowledge the pain, and just let it sit, it will float away on its own. This has been my primary coping method so far, and it does work quite well. I am also getting better at it. Another method I have been thinking about but have not implemented with to much success so far, is one I learned in trauma therapy. And the core this approach is to integrate the idea, that those thoughts are no longer my reality. To differentiate between my past experience and today. Asking myself, what did it feel like then, and then following that with the question "how is that different than today" Start thinking about the good things, how things have changed. My trauma therapist has given me several exercises to do, so it's time to put them into practice. I am going to have to actively work at restructuring the thoughts and the trauma reactions. I cannot stop the thoughts from bubbling up, but I can stop them from upsetting me. I can stop them from causing me to relive those moment as if it was happening today. (which is what happens)
So, that's about it for today. I am going to sit here enjoy the view from my living room, tomorrow walk along the seawall in the morning, visit that fantastic Omelettery that is my new favorite. Then maybe I will go to the market and visit a few fruit stands, or enjoy some gelato. It's time make new memories. Let's go