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.