He's Still Here.




I dreamt about my abuser two nights ago. I wish they didn't still happen -- the dreams, but they do. And often.

The abuse ended 12 years ago and not a day goes by that I do not think of him. It's like he imprinted himself on my soul or in my psyche somehow. Maybe it's because of my age at the time of the abuse, 13-16 years old; such a formative time in my development. Or maybe it's because I was so deeply infatuated with him. He was my whole world, he held my heart and my trust in his hand and he broke me again and again. He poisoned me against myself, destroyed my sense of worth, demeaned me, controlled me, used me, and left me with little hope that my world could ever be whole again.

He inflicted so much pain on me and yet when it was over I missed him and wanted him back. The relationship between an abuser and his victim is a complex, beastly thing. There's a reason some women never leave and if they do, they often go right back. 

I've wondered a lot if it's "normal" to think about your abuser regularly and to feel as if he's still a part of you even once he's no longer in your life, and because not many people talk about this aspect of survivorhood I thought I'd write about some of my own experience with it. We need more candid talk about surviving abuse, and I know I can't be the only one who feels that way. So whether you're a survivor yourself, or currently a victim, or just someone who cares about these issues, I hope this post helps you to understand a little more about this complicated and shame-inducing corner of being a survivor.

What do I mean when I say my abuser is still a part of me? Let me tell you a little about it.  


  • I see his face in the face of strangers. On a regular basis I catch myself doing a double-take at complete strangers because something in his face reminds me of my abuser. Maybe it's his facial hair, the way he smiles, or his build. It used to catch me off guard, but anymore it almost seems routine -- just a part of life. 

  • I think of his name often. Since I began dating my husband, I've been terrified that I'm going to accidentally call him by my abuser's name, not because my husband reminds me of my abuser but perhaps because the only other person in my life that I was incredibly close with was my abuser. My husband seared himself on my heart through love and sacrifice and my abuser did the same, only through trauma and hateful words. 

  • I dream about him. Sometimes it's once a week, sometimes every night of the week. The dreams usually end with me waking up hyperventilating, shaking and sweating. Between flashbacks and the fear of him re-entering my life or me encountering him, my brain seems to have plenty of dream material. In most of my dreams, he acts as though he never did anything to harm me. He smiles and warmly greets me and doesn't seem to grasp how much he hurt me. Maybe the dreams will stop someday and maybe they won't. 

  • I'm reminded of him in every day experiences. He loved oldies. He loved Chet Baker. He loved hiking, Chacos, and anything from the Patagonia clothing company. He loved Spain. He added honey to recipes when he cooked and he preferred goat's milk. He's a person, after all, with likes and dislikes and I took stock of those. One day I'd be his wife, or so I thought. For years I was fixated on him and I'm still reminded of him in a dozen ways throughout any given day. Every time I hear The Beach Boys, he's standing beside me again. 

  • Sometimes I remember the things I liked about him. With abuse comes so much scarring. I battled hating him and being angry with him for years, and that comes back on occasion. For the most part when my abuser comes into my mind it stings. It's ugly and unwanted, but not always. What he did to me was criminal and sick but in my memory it wasn't all bad. He was tender and kind to me sometimes. I no longer use that to justify the abuse, as I once did, but it's still there and I still say that to myself sometimes, "it wasn't all bad." I think maybe this helps me to have compassion on him, to forgive him so I am not poisoned with hatred. 

There's more, of course, but I'll likely do this in stages. 

The abuse I experienced was more than just "a thing that happened." In many ways it shaped me. A huge piece of my story, it nearly killed me and then somewhere along the way I stopped letting it kill me and I started to heal. The abuse isn't where my journey ended but in a big way it is where my journey began. I left so many pieces of me in those years of my life and now I am reclaiming them, little by little. 

As I heal from every forced sexual favor, from every firm and controlling grip on my arm, from every time he told me I was unworthy of love, I take another step toward being the woman that little girl wanted to be before he tried to destroy her.  

Is he still here with me? Yes. 

Will he be with me forever? I don't know. 

Sometimes we survivors are powerful. We roar and howl and hold our heads high, eyes shining, hearts glowing, exuberant and moving forward at practically the speed of light. Other times, we wake up from a nightmare, shaking and crying and acutely aware of the fact that this process of healing really is a lifelong, painstaking one. 

But that doesn't mean we are not courageous. 



Comments

  1. Thank you for this!!! So many times I think victims can feel guilt over these feelings and experiences but unfortunately, the abuse becomes part of who one is, so it's actually normal and expected to have conflicting emotions with the whole situation.

    This will be helpful to so many--thank you Natalie :)

    -Mary

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for offering your input here, Mary, I really appreciate it! You're right, abuse becomes a part of us and there are SO many conflicting emotions. Feeling as though we must hide those emotions just compounds the effects of the trauma itself. It's time to break free of that.

      Delete
  2. I know that you are courageous! Only warriors of spirit can speak the truth in its full horror and not lose the precious wonder of true love and caring in their present life. You dream the nightmares out of you and make them known to us and that makes you stronger and stronger. It also strengthens me, the reader. I know it can be done. You have done it. Can we be betrayed by our own bodies? Sure we can... Can we honor ourselves as mortal and human, as not exactly perfect? Sure we can. Thank-you, Natalie.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh Brian, your words were really beautiful for me to read. Thank you so much for taking the time to write this. I used to hate sharing because I knew it meant I'd *feel* so much and I was terrified of that. If I'd known the connection, support, and healing I'd find through reaching out to others and sharing my story I'd have started doing it much sooner. I'm thankful for you.

      Delete
  3. Natalie - yet again you inspire and speak true words. Abuse is such a complicated thing bringing so much pain and leaving such deep scares. I'm so thankful for you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Osanna. I'm thankful for your support. So much of understanding the complicated mess of abuse is being able to connect with others, to openly share, and to heal together. I'm thankful for you as well.

      Delete
  4. God bless you, Natalie! You inspire me and give me courage.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank YOU, Kimberly, for reaching out and connecting, for your kinds words and encouragement.

      Delete
  5. You are so inspiring Natalie. You continue to bless me. You continue to blossom. Please don't let the bumps along the way discourage you. It really is a long, complicated process but you are growing and doing real good in the world through this blog and elsewhere. I feel privileged to know you (and Wesley!) even just a little bit through your writing and speaking. - DataLor

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and your support! It means so much to me...truly.

      Delete
  6. You've probably heard this from your therapist, but much of what you're describing is simply neurological. Your abuse occurred at a time when your brain itself was still maturing. Parts of it literally formed around your abuser and the experience of the abuse. They are neurological scars in a way, and your brain continues to 'notice' them just as you would 'notice' a physical scar on some part of your body. I haven't had the same trauma as you, so I don't pretend to give advice, just to say that it helps me to see some of my thought patterns as purely biological manifestations. At the best of times I can let the 'noticing' of old scars pass without feeling conflicted that they have yet again risen to the top of my consciousness. As always, Natalie, you are a woman of courage and inspiration!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for weighing in here! And yes, you're right about the neurological scars. Those behaviors and thoughts become habits, and we all know habits die hard. I do agree that recognizing something as a biological functioning can help us make a little more sense of it. Understanding abuse and its effects lends itself to healing, for sure.

      Thank you for your insight and your kind words.

      Delete
  7. It took me awhile to formulate a response to this, because it makes me so incredibly sad and angry to know that the abuse you suffered has left such deep and lasting scars.

    I don't have any answers for you, because I am struggling with many of the same issues myself. All I can say is that you are not alone, and your voice is helping many people, more than you know. You are a blessing. Keep up the fight.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Dash. Answers are nice, but sometimes just the words "you are not alone" are enough to comfort and soothe until answers are found. I value you.

      Delete
  8. I sent this to my friend who has been struggling with how to feel about still having a deep connection to her abuser and she identified so strongly with it and felt relief that she was not the only one. Thank you for putting your heart out there for others.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for telling me this. It's really meaningful for me to hear that someone experienced relief through connecting with my story. That's healing for me, too.

      Delete
  9. Thank you for writing this. I was in a controlling, abusive courtship 25 years ago, as a young woman, and the extent that it is still with me has frustrated me. During my relationship with this man, I think as a result of the intense and constant focus on what I was wearing/ what other women were wearing/ the necessity of policing my body, I remembered being molested as a preschooler. Then I felt so much guilt over not being a virgin for the man I was courting, that the awful memories and the guilt nearly pushed me into a breakdown. I 'confessed' about not being a virgin, expecting that he couldn't possibly hold it against me considering my being only 4 when it happened. I was wrong: he was disappointed, and offered me no compassion. In spite of his callous treatment of me, I believed I loved him. When he broke up with me I was heartbroken. I married a wonderful man within a year of the break up with the abuser, and we have had a long and happy marriage and two wonderful children.

    Reading your blog has been a comfort to me, because I have mostly kept my feelings and internal experiences to myself. Everyone seemed to think it was just an ex-boyfriend like any other, and I should just forget about it. I didn't talk about it out of embarrassment. I've berated myself for feeling as though I cared for him, for the intensity of my feelings, for putting up with so much demeaning behavior and feeling romantic love for someone who used and mistreated me to such an extent. Thank you for helping me see that my feelings are a normal part of the trauma, and not some kind of personal flaw.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you so much for sharing this here. I'm so glad my words have been a source of comfort for you -- that really means the world to me. I also want to express how sorry I am that you endured the pain of abuse in your past, on more than one occasion. When we make ourselves vulnerable and are met with rejection or condemnation, our weak places are exposed and the potential for deep wounding is very real. I'm so happy that you are in a good relationship now! We cannot blame ourselves for the injuries inflicted by others. That just makes coping and healing harder.

      You are not alone, Kathleen.

      Delete

Post a Comment

Popular Posts