What the Future Feels Like For an Abuse Survivor

It’s been years since I endured daily abuse. Six years, in fact.

Sometimes, I’m still not okay.

I’ve written about my healing, my education, my mission to help other women in abusive situations. What I now want to tell you is how things are many years later. True, I want you to know what to expect, but I also want you to understand that I still don’t really know how long it takes to heal. My abuser is no longer in the picture, but having to endure daily abuse eventually led to post-traumatic stress disorder.

Dealing with the aftermath of abuse is a long-term, experience-driven education; no two experiences are ever the same due to the severity of abuse, the length of one’s abusive period, the effectiveness of counseling/support network, and the absence/presence of triggers or reminders. Survivors of abuse can’t just “get over it”. There’s no magic on/off switch that makes us forget what happened. It’s unfair to expect an abuse survivor to put on a smile and “be okay” merely because s/he is out of the situation or because a certain amount of time has passed.

Survivors of abuse display unimaginable strength throughout such an ordeal. Although it might not seem like strength, it is. We learn survival methods based on abuse patterns and types. We do what it takes to maintain peace, even if it means bending over backward to do so. We second-guess, over-think, consider “best/worst case scenario” with every word/action. We do what it takes to protect ourselves and our children. We have to display our strength for so long that we are left exhausted in every aspect. After surviving and reaching safety, we have to maintain our guard and continue to be strong. However tempted we are to relax, we resist because we have to rebuild trust. Keeping our guard up is a hard habit to break because we would rather die than to endure any more pain.

Surviving abuse is a complex process. Because there is an element of grief involved {which is normal because we are grieving the end of a relationship regardless of the dynamic}, there may be many unexpected triggers that make us feel as though we’re taking steps back instead of moving forward.

In my case, 6 years later, I find myself suffering from panic attacks. I now realize that I’d had them before without understanding what was happening then. I’m not in an abusive relationship at the moment…quite the opposite, in fact. I feel fortunate enough to be with someone who understands and offers me comfort {which makes all the difference in the world}. What I would like to illustrate is this: the after-effects of abuse do not subside simply because one is in a healthy relationship. External triggers are to blame for my current panic attacks. Whenever a bad situation “feels” familiar, I experience the same desperation to flee to safety no matter where I am. Survivors of abuse have an immense need to make their environment as safe as possible and I take my feeling of sanctuary very seriously. Self-care {read: doing things that make me feel content and happy} is a must, as is accepting that the healing process will take as long as it takes. I believe that resisting panic attacks is counter-productive; learning how to overcome them is part of the healing. There’s no point in beating myself up for feeling what I feel; what I must remember is what I have been through and exercise patience without imposing a time limit or deadline. There is no such thing.

In closing, I offer you a piece of advice: If you are entering into a new relationship, I implore you to pay attention to red flags, if there are any. Don’t dismiss your intuition because bad vibes are almost always accurate. It’s far easier to walk away from a potentially abusive relationship with your spirit in one piece; a spirit shattered by years of abuse is far more difficult to make whole again.

As always, we’re here to help.

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