“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ― Maya Angelou
Lately I have been telling many untold stories
The heaviness of shame
I grew up believing that it was somehow wrong or weak to share personal stories. My childhood was one of repression. Strong feelings had to be held in tightly. I learnt how to become a compulsive people-pleaser. Always smiling, being polite and not wanting to inconvenience anyone with wild displays of emotion.
I buried things that should have been told and by doing this, swallowed all the hurt, anger, confusion and sadness that I felt. These feelings mutated over time and became shame. I carried this shame around with me for a long time like a second skin. It tainted my perspective, my thoughts, my social interactions and it led me into a very unhealthy co-dependent relationship with my husband.
The Trigger that shifted everything
But something changed very recently and this shift has unleashed a chain of events that has brought me to this point. My husband became physically abusive with me for the first time in our marriage.
I was able to see and touch the bruises from the physical aggression unlike the emotional abuse. They were something concrete that I could point to, they demonstrated how bad the relationship was; in a way that my own bad feelings and misgivings about the relationship couldn’t. I had always ignored the alarm bells that went off from the onset of the marriage but I was used to being that girl who holds it all in.
The world outside my marriage made me feel good about myself triggering an instinct that I had been ignoring for too long. I enrolled for a postgraduate course at university and was blossoming with the relationships I formed with fellow students. It was the first time in my marriage that I had friends other than my husband.
Inside the marriage, things were very different; conversations were so toxic that words had lost their meaning and it was like a perpetual battlefield.
It was at this very time that the universe intervened and created circumstances which made it impossible for my husband to stay. He had been unemployed for over three years and was so fed up that he decided to take his old job back abroad. So he left the family home.
The power of therapy
I didn’t waste any time. A week after he left, I found a psychodynamic counselor in my area and started counseling sessions. It was something that I knew deep down I had to do. I needed help to get the strength to leave. You might think that it would be a simple decision to leave a relationship that sapped the joy out of your life and left you drained both emotionally and physically. It wasn’t!
My therapy sessions at first looked at the damaging effects of my long marriage. It showed me how the domestic violence was only a fraction of the abuse I suffered. The emotional and verbal abuses that were stitched into the dysfunctional relationship from the start had even more profound and damaging effects to my self-esteem. Prolonged abuse causes a state of learned helplessness and that is why I was still so stuck and indecisive.
Through my therapy and extensive research I discovered more and more about the dynamics of abusive relationships. It was mind-blowing for me that the relationship I had always thought of as both unique and intense was in fact a replica of every other abusive relationship. It followed the typical stages of the cycles of abuse word for word. I recognized the honeymoon phase followed by the tension building, the acting out and then the resultant calm.
It was like I had been trapped in an orb that was hurtling through the years at top speed without even being aware of it. Through my counseling, I was able to start naming the feelings and identifying for example; that the anxiety that had made a home for itself in the pit of my stomach was ‘the walking on eggshells’ feeling. It was a feeling of fear mixed with anxiety in anticipation of his next verbal or physically abusive episode.
The therapy sessions then delved deeper into my past to explore why and how I had found such a controlling and manipulative man and why I had stayed so long and not been able to recognize the abuse.
Unravelling the past
Layer after sick layer was unwrapped to reveal that I was sexually abused as a very young girl by my own father. The memories were so painful and had occurred at an age where I could hardly verbalise what was happening to me. For this reason I buried them deep inside my psyche as a protective mechanism for my own survival.
Because they are what is known as preverbal memories, and have been stored in a very different way to other life experiences, I can remember only the reactions to the abuse and in other instances, the memories are so fragmented and seem almost dream-like. Even though I don’t remember everything, my body still remembers. My body is telling me that story now with dizziness, fatigue and nausea rather than words.
I had always had a sense that something was very different about me but I have never been able to fully and confidently name that sense of ‘something being amiss’. I used to wet the bed until I was almost 12 years. I have also always had problems with physical intimacy; I struggled with milestones that my peers had no problems with. I had also never understood why I never felt comfortable in my father’s presence. I blamed myself thinking that I must be very bad to feel repulsed by his ‘fatherly’ kisses on my cheek or hugs.
I have learnt that finding an abusive man was an inevitable stage of my journey as I was able to re-enact the abuse scenario psychologically. This is unfortunately so typical of adult survivors as they are able to maintain the victim status and continue being blamed and shamed by a controlling and manipulative partner. The combination of love and pain that is part of any abusive relationship was familiar to my unhealed inner child. Meeting a man like my husband was like ‘going home’.
The path that I am taking now is one where I am breaking free from the chains of abuse that have tied me subconsciously to destructive people and situations. I want to live and thrive and that instinct to heal is so magnificently strong. It’s a burning flame in all the darkness that tries to envelop me.
It is incredibly hard work, trying to change old habits and correct the cognitive distortions that were created by my trauma. I have to reprogramme my neural pathways to think, feel and act differently. For so long I believed and behaved as if I was bad and shameful; thinking that I was never good enough and keeping people at a safe distance always.
Some days I feel paralysed by heavy, dark feelings. These are my body memories. The body always remembers what the mind refuses to believe.
“Just when the caterpillar thought it was the end of the world, it became a butterfly.”
I have to catch myself every time I fall back into my smaller self because that is when I start feeling that I am inadequate or unloved or not enough. I remind my body in those moments that I am safe now, that I am not going to be hurt again and that I survived it!
I have contacted a family lawyer about a petition for a divorce and I keep working on that burning flame, allowing it to burn brighter and brighter to unclench the tightness. I want to live and make noise and laugh and cry loudly!
I am positive that I will emerge from my cocoon as a magnificent butterfly one day soon. I know that I have many struggles ahead; but for the first time I trust and love myself and believe in my ability to heal and rise above everything bad.
If you are on this journey or one similar, I send you the heat of my burning flame.