Are You Angry? That's Okay.

I used to hate hearing stories of my husband's teenaged years. I wanted to know about his past but hearing stories of high school, prom, dating, and all the other young adult experiences I had never known left me feeling empty and angry. 

Those years were taken from me, and even after the sexual abuse ended I'd still spend years being consumed by guilt, shame, secrecy, and trauma aftermath. 

When I was in my early twenties, newly married and pregnant with our first child, the weight of the abuse began to truly set in. I had finally turned to face some of my suffering instead of perpetually burying it and the result was a tidal wave of anger. I was angry with my abuser -- how dare he think my youth and my innocence were his for the taking? How dare he use me that way, with no regard for my own well-being and future? I would sit and think of all the terrible things I wanted to happen to him and all the awful things I would do to him if I had the opportunity; the ways I would make him suffer. I was soothed by thinking of him burning with pain.     

More than anything in the world, though, I wanted those years back that he took from me. I wanted to know who I would be if he hadn't destroyed me and poisoned me to the world. What would I would be like without this clawing, hissing anger inside me? Who would I be without crippling anxiety and depression? 

I wanted to sleep with the lights off and not have a panic attack. I wanted to look at myself in the mirror and not be consumed with self hatred. I wanted to stop the flashbacks and nightmares. I wanted to breathe deeply and love freely and slow my mind that couldn't ever seem to stop racing. I had been altered by him and it felt horribly unfair. No one asked my permission to harm me. My voice was taken away before I had even learned how to really use it and I was left with a silent scream that only I could hear. 

As I began to work through my PTSD and depression, I realized the anger I was consumed by was actually a healthy, normal part of healing from abuse. My kind therapist told me I was allowed to be angry. That in fact the anger I was feeling was an integral part of my grief process, and the sooner I recognized and embraced that, the sooner I'd be able to cope with its intensity and function through it. And yes, that's a lot harder than it sounds.

Another emotion that arrived early on in the abuse and settled in to stay was guilt. Victims find every possible reason in the world to feel guilty. During and after abuse, guilt becomes like a siamese twin. It takes serious, careful work to detach from it. Guilt became such a familiar part of me that it felt more comfortable than almost any other emotion. It ate away at me like an acid and I was addicted to its destruction. 

After the abuse ended, I felt guilty about everything. Guilty for being sad, guilty for being secretive, and later, guilty for being angry about it all...So naturally, when I finally came out about my abuse and was told by my church leaders that I was at least partially guilty for what happened, it fit me like a glove. Only this time, I didn't want to wear it. I knew enough to realize that shame and guilt were destroying me and keeping from being able to heal. I saw those accusations for what they were, secondary abuse, and I wasn't going to let myself be robbed of my voice another time. 

I should mention, I do think there are appropriate times to feel guilt and that it's not an emotion that should be entirely done away with. The problem with abuse, though, is that guilt is used as a tool by the abuser to continually disempower and dehumanize the victim. When you're made to believe that everything is your fault, you accept the abuse you're being subjected to because you don't think you deserve anything better. It's a cruel game and one not easily overcome. 

When we begin to understand abuse, it's easy to see why victims often experience extreme anger in the aftermath. In the same sense that we can't tell a victim the pace at which they should heal, we also can't condemn the wide range of emotions they'll experience in the process of healing. They all serve a purpose. 

Supporting victims of abuse as they heal takes great care and patience -- it's not an easy journey for anyone involved. At its highest points it's hopeful and rewarding, and at its lowest points it's heartbreaking and feels fruitless. It's not any wonder most people would prefer to look the other way and keep from getting their hands dirty, but the truth is there's profound beauty and connection in helping others, and it goes both ways. 

Victims cannot simply forget their suffering. When those around them forget, it feels like abandonment. It feels like we don't matter all over again.  

It's so important for victims of abuse to understand that the suffering they have experienced does not determine their worth. When someone chose to harm them, use them, abuse them, and discard them, it did not diminish their value and it didn't change the fact that they deserve love and healing the same as anyone else. 

Shaming victims must end. We must stop blaming, devaluing, abandoning, and judging those among us who have suffered so much. 

When victims take the risk of sharing their stories and revealing their pain, the only message they should be met with is this:

Do you need me? I am here. Do you feel guilty? You are not. Are you angry? That's okay. Are you breathing? Then you are worthy. 


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  2. You know, this is why I hate lists like "7 Habits of Mentally Strong People" and "Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do". They say things like don't blame others and don't feel sorry for yourself, which hold abuse victims from healing from the effects of their abuse. Apparently, it never occurs to the people who write these lists to seek the perspective of abuse survivors or, heaven forbid, WRITE AN EFFING DISCLAIMER saying not only that if you have been abused, this list may not apply to you as you may need to do these things, but also listing normal feelings for abuse victims, such as the following from my experience as an autistic who had been abused by teachers:
    1) always either feeling guilty or else wondering at and fearing the possibility that they carry some trait(s) that makes them a horrible human being (i.e. selfishness or narcissism)
    2) feeling that if you make the slightest error, the "real world" will gobble you alive; i.e. if you go to jury duty your main worry is that the ax will fall at any time, not whether it takes time away from work/school
    3) feeling that either you can't trust at least some of your memories or perceptions or both, constantly, even if some of those perceptions are undoubtedly opinion (i.e. that "heartwarming" movie doesn't warm my heart), or, in some cases, only being able to trust your perceptions when couched in a delusional fantasy that you allow yourself to believe - that delusion item may be truer of neurodivergent people (i.e. autistic) than neurotypical, I'm not sure.
    4) feeling that, if a person expresses the slightest negative or possibly even neutral emotion towards you, either they will punish you at any second or oh my god, I must have hurt them so terribly how can I even BEGIN to fix the damage I caused with that mistake. This is especially an abuse sign if you did nothing you can put your finger on; that is, you are constantly making multiple guesses as to what you might have done wrong, or else you did something minor like forgetting to say "please" or "thank you" or "excuse me" or petting a golden retriever from behind.
    5) having "Dobby syndrome" - in other words, self-injury as a form of self-administered corporal punishment.


  3. It isn't simple. Recovery never is. The people giving simplistic solutions do a lot of damage.

    I know what you feel. I've been there. It does get better, but damn, it takes a lot of time. And a lot of help from those we love.


  4. I stumbled across your blog today as a friend posted one of your blog posts on Facebook. I am so sorry for the suffering you have endured. I am just grieved by it yet also grateful for your courage to speak out and tell the truth.

    I am walking a friend through the dissolution of her 38- year marriage. Well, legally it was a marriage! He is one of those husbands who thinks of his wife as his slave, slanders her to anyone who will listen, and wants complete power over her. So many church people kept telling her to be a better wife, which only crushed her spirit and in the end made her beg God to let her die because she couldn't live in this abusive marriage anymore. Of course, she thought it was her fault, she was displeasing to God, she was a bad wife. All of that is bunk!

    Now she's near the end of the divorce process. I will be eternally grateful to have been the one who said, no, this is wrong. You are being abused. It's not your fault. He is narcissistic. These church folk are also wrong. You are an incredible wife to a horrible person. Over and over again until she heard me. And now she is thriving, stronger, able to speak for herself. And her faith in God in intense and wonderful. I cannot wait for Emancipation Day when her divorce is final.

    Our church has had such a hard time with this, but it is getting better. They have primarily stopped blaming her and telling her to suffer silently, maybe God will save her husband through her (this after years of thinking he was a Christian man), and are now trying to figure out how to support her. But I feel the damage is done-how ,not will it take before she really feels part of the church and safe? And damage to me and my family as I argued with them to change and see the truth for a long time, to get them to support her. Even though they are trying, I am weary, so weary.

    Your blog encourages me incredibly to keep on speaking out, to support women in abusive marriages, to speak truth even when the cost is high. I can no longer be silent. Boy does that make me unpopular! Oh well, too bad.

    Blessings on you.


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