Almost 7 years have passed since my children and I fled an extremely abusive situation. In the few years before our escape, we lived in complete isolation as veritable hostages. We crash landed in a domestic violence shelter and for 3 months we had a place where we were safe while we received some help for our extremely severe issues, including depression, PTSD, and anxiety.
Currently, three of my kids are adults living on their own or with a spouse. Four of my children are still minors. Over the past few months a new problem has developed in our home, but it has arisen out of issues from the past. In speaking with my oldest child, Melody, about the present dilemma, she said shelters and therapists don’t tell you that you’ll be dealing seriously with the fallout from being a victim for the rest of your life. And she is correct. They help you deal with your current issues, equip you with better ways to communicate, teach you better coping skills, but they don’t warn you about the future.
So let’s be honest. Let’s really talk about being a survivor.
They don’t tell you that there will be new experiences that will bring the horrors of the past crashing over you faster than you can take a breath. You believe you’ve healed and your scars are a badge of courage — proof that you were stronger than your circumstances. Then something completely new comes along that maybe isn’t even directly related to your past, but it brings feelings that you haven’t experienced yet, or emotions that you stuffed deep inside and haven’t dealt with yet. All of a sudden you’re lost in a sea of all kinds of memory and sensation, trying to tread water, gasping for breath, and all the while the past is weighing down on you so intensely that you don’t know how long you can stay afloat. In a haze, your completely ambushed mind is racing, trying to figure out what the heck just happened.
They don’t think to tell you that you’re going to have to watch your children struggle through certain points in their lives, not with the ‘normal’ angst of every person, but with the demons that refuse to be buried, with the memories that will not allow them to forget, with the fallout from torment that their minds should never have to carry. They don’t tell you how it will rip you completely to shreds, and break you into a million pieces because there’s nothing you can do to fix it.
They don’t mention that there will be times when everything is good, everyone is progressing, so you will become complacent and won’t recognize the signs of depression until it’s too late.
They don’t disclose that sometimes children who have witnessed domestic violence will eventually become so focused on who they don’t want to become that they can’t figure out who they are.
Mostly, they don’t let you know that you aren’t a failure because 7 years out you’re still struggling to keep your family together, on track, and moving forward, while at the same time trying to ward off the evil that wants to destroy all of you and how far you’ve progressed.
Victims can leave the violence, but don’t be fooled into believing that the memory of the violence will completely leave you. Don’t let yourself believe you’re weak because you’re still fighting with the past and you think you should be ‘over’ that by now. Surviving doesn’t work that way.
There’s no timeline for healing. Know that.
There’s no permanence to your progression or momentum. Sometimes you’ll have setbacks, even years later. Accept that.
It does get better, but it doesn’t always stay better. Overcoming a violent past is a journey. You carry a pack and within that pack you’ll find burdens that you can take out, set down, and leave behind. You’ll also find memories that will always be carried with you. The greatest thing about this pack are the tools you will gather along the way. You can remove them and use them as you need, but you will also be able to lend them to others in need of help. The longer you travel, the more you will know how to give from your pack.
Don’t give up. Keep moving forward. There are lots of things you weren’t told, but there’s one thing you need to hear:
You can do it.