On Having PTSD After Domestic Violence

I never expected to develop PTSD after I found my freedom. I always believed that since I understood that what was happening to me, to my life, was not right, that I could protect myself from the damage. I thought that since I realized that his problems were never truly because of me, that I could stop myself from taking them personally.

Once, when I was working and actually had some money on me, I bought a magazine. People magazine’s Country Music Issue or something like that. When he found it, he became so enraged you’d have thought I stashed hardcore porn. He called me a whore, said I was disgusting, disgraceful, all his typical insults. I knew, though, that he didn’t honestly believe I was getting off to a story about Big & Rich. He was angry because I had an interest in something he didn’t approve of. We were to only love metal, all metal, for the rest of our days, so help me Slayer. That didn’t work for me. I had a passion for music. It was in my blood. My father was a musician and through him I learned to love all genres. I did love metal, but I also loved country, classic rock, blues, Native American flutes and drums. G never could tolerate me having any interests that he didn’t share. He seemed to believe that anything he didn’t personally enjoy was bad. I don’t know if that was arrogance or insanity, honestly. Also, I spent money on something not strictly necessary to my survival, what kind of wretched, selfish woman was I? Frivolous spending was his department.

Through all of the similar torments, I reminded myself that it wasn’t really about me. I reminded myself that he was damaged, unstable, misdirecting his anger. I thought I could shake it off. I thought I’d leave all the insults behind when I finally got away.

I was never the woman who became diminished by her abuser. I never heard him call me fat and started an extreme diet the next day. I never endured his rage over dishes in the sink and believed that if I could be the perfect, efficient wife everything would be ok. I knew there would be something else to anger him after my body was perfect, my house was spotless, I followed all the rules. There would be something, always something, even if he had to make it up. I felt like I was so strong. I could endure his raging tirades, cruelty, intimidation, without being phased. I don’t know if that was arrogance or insanity, either.

Oddly, he was proud of me when I didn’t flinch. In his weird way, he respected that I stood up for myself. He hated it, but he couldn’t help respecting it. He would look at me and say “You’re growing up, kid. I’m teaching you to be hard,” and in my twisted mindset, I believed him. I believed that, in some way, he truly and honestly thought he was helping me. It took a long time to realize that he completely manufactured that mindset in me. When the hell did I ever decide I wanted to be hardened and heartless? I didn’t. But that’s exactly what I became, and I saw it as strength.

When I finally accepted the fact that he was doing everything to me on purpose, that he wasn’t insane as much as personality disordered, I also had to accept that he’d molded me into someone I didn’t like. This realization took years. I held adamantly to the idea that I chose to react the way I did. That I became cold because I wanted to. Who wants to admit that their mind is not their own? That every feeling, every emotion, every decision, was manufactured by someone else? It’s not an easy thing to come to terms with. I remember picking up one of my favorite books by Thich Naht Hahn and scoffing at the words I used to love. It was too soft, and I was too hard. And I mourned. I mourned for that bubbly 19 year old girl who saw so much beauty in the world it practically shimmered before her eyes. I mourned for the mindset of peacefulness I’d once had. Eventually I realized that I hadn’t chosen to change that, I’d had it battered out of me. I realized that I hadn’t actually been immune from the hurt and chaos around me, my brain just tucked it away.

I was in a constant state of fight-or-flight for years. My brain simply couldn’t process the daily emotions I encountered while in that adrenaline-fueled state. The human body just isn’t designed to live every day in fight-or-flight. Or maybe it once was, millennia ago, and that’s why we can do it for years on end without our poor overworked hearts just exploding. It takes us back to a primitive nature, but I think we lose a bit of our humanity. At least I did.

When I finally got away, my brain didn’t remember how to be calm. Sometimes it still doesn’t, 4 years later. But it knew what needed to be done, and it started unpacking all those boxes of emotions it had stored up over the years. It had no idea how to actually deal with them, so it just replayed them over and over and forced me to feel, now, what I’d told myself I didn’t feel then. That’s PTSD. That’s what I’ve dealt with for the past 4 years. It’s taken me that long just to try to understand how the hell to deal with it. Writing has helped. Putting the memory into a tangible form helps stem the constant replay in my mind. But I have eight years of memories to deal with, and it’s not an overnight process. I only hope that as much as writing helps me, maybe telling my story can help someone else. And maybe, perhaps, one day the world will shimmer with beauty for me again. I know it’s still beautiful, I just have to remember how to see it.

I am a survivor of eight years of domestic violence, trying to find my voice through writing in the hopes that my story may help someone else. For now, I’m publishing my memoirs as stand-alone stories. If this post resonated with you, please give it a 💚 so that others may have the chance to see it.