When Your Abuser Walks Into Starbucks

Strung through my past is a history of events where men with more power than I chose to use my body as a battleground for violence.

I spent 4 whole years thinking about what would ever happen if I ever had the misfortune of running into the man who decided my body was more his property than it was my own.

I spent 4 years contemplating whether I would yell at him and publicly shame and embarrass him in front of whoever would listen. Or, if I would simply walk up to him, give a damn good shot to the left side of his face and walk away, allowing him to explain to his coworkers and friends — twice my senior — how a young lady sucker punched his sorry ass because she thought God’s green earth didn’t deserve his sludge of an existence.

I ran away from Ottawa and moved to Alberta in part so all of these made up case scenarios would only ever be that. So they would never have to be real life circumstances where I would find out, what does this girl do, after 4 years of hurt and anger and slowly but surely restored power.

Until last night. When I found myself sitting in a coffee shop that I would never, ever normally find myself in, as my gaze left my girl friend in front of me as he opened the door and walked in.

It wasn’t anything I anticipated. There was no mental thought process — emotions ran the show and my body went into full on anxiety mode. I looked at my friend, told her we needed to leave right now, and we ran out as I promptly had a break down in the heart of downtown Ottawa. There was no rage, no physical harm to enforce. Just a reminder of a broken heart and a renewed feeling of powerlessness. I walked away feeling small, vulnerable and weak.

I walked away feeling like I lost, again.

Like that small, confused 15 year old girl.

But the thing is, I haven’t lost, and I’m not that 15 year old girl.

I’m a full grown, powerful, independant, strong adult woman who has been through honest to god hell. Someone who has made the conscious choice to not be broken down, but to stand up taller and stronger than before.

These moments that feel like setbacks, the moments where we think, “I was making so much progress, and now this is sending me three steps back.” They’re imperative moments to take hold of, to gain control over, and to use as reminders of how far we have truly come. To actually acknowledge specific growth points in your journey and to be proud of yourself for them. Praise yourself. Praise yourself the way you would your best and closest friend.

For me, this means praising myself for my growth in processing. My ability to communicate how I feel and why I feel the way I feel, something I’ve only gained over the last year or so, through intentional nurturing and doing things that are hard and don’t feel good.

Realizing that though last night sent me into a temporary hole, I’ve gotten to a place where what happened is mostly in the past and rarely ever crosses my mind. Recognizing that it infiltrates my relationships significantly less than it used to, and my trust in people is consistently being strengthened after being battered and bruised for so long.

There are always, always going to be setbacks. The song on the radio and the church across the city and the person in the black jacket are going to trigger you when you’re not expecting it and they are going to remind you of all of it.

You’re going to be faced with a choice on whether or not you’re going to let it bring you backwards. Honour the pain, honour your feelings. Rest in the hurt for a few days. Let yourself. Just don’t stay stuck.

Love yourself enough to feel the pain and then love yourself enough to pull yourself out and continue on with your ever-growing and ever-softening heart.

You’re a fighter. Keep on fighting.

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