Who Am I When I No Longer Identify as a Victim of My Abuser?

Finding yourself after abuse and trauma

Zita Fontaine
Mar 4 · 8 min read
Photo by Nathan McBride on Unsplash

Time is always passing in a weird way. It’s the most constant thing we have in our lives yet it’s the most uncertain and the less measurable, regardless of the availabilities of clocks, calendars and 5-year plans. When you want it to pass quickly, it seems to slow down to the point of insanity; other times, you wish it stopped or slowed down yet it disappears like sand between your fingers, dripping away second after second.

I used to be in love — that crazy, all-consuming, insane love that you know from movies and literature. The kind that stops time for long instances. The kind that makes days go by in a split second. The one that makes your heart skip several beats, leading you to a near-death-and-not-real-life experience while you are alive and breathing someone else’s breath in. I lived off his breath, his life was flowing through my veins and my thoughts were all his. It was stupid. But it was beautifully frightening.

At the time, I never had enough time. We never had. It always felt like no matter how much time we spent together that there are not enough minutes in the whole existence that could make me feel satiated. It was never enough. Time stopped only for milliseconds and then it was running away, leaving me breathless and constantly grieving something I haven’t even lost.

Then I lost it. And that’s when time stopped.

All those rushing minutes that evaporated in front of me when we were together came back to mock me and stay.

The nights were the longest, the infinity of the empty ceiling, the tedious crawling of the hand of the clock on my bedside table, cold and strange sheets embracing me — like a veil, keeping me from sleeping. Time seemed eternal, slow and cruel. I was dragging myself through my days, every day the same, no change, no relief, just pain through the seasons. Autumn went by and I didn’t notice. Winter came and went and I didn’t see or feel it. The cold didn’t hurt — nothing could hurt more than the ache I already felt. And spring came and went and it didn’t change a thing.

Day after day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different.

I didn’t wake up one day to a new me, I slowly morphed into someone else. I passed the time with art and music and words and tears. I urged time to pass me by but it clung to me like a menacing cloud, looming above me, threatening to wash me away.

I didn’t know it but I was healing. Time, tears and sleepless nights. Slowly bubbling laughter, relieving anger, hatred bursting through the indifference, curiosity… they brought me back to life. It took me too long, I thought. I should have been already over it, I thought. I was scolding myself for not going out, for not smiling more, for not wanting more. I hated myself for the fog that surrounded me, for the grief that was eating me alive for someone who didn’t deserve my love, for the wasted years that I would never get back, for the years that I felt like a burden on my shoulders.

And then I was breathing again — it felt as if I was breathing through water, desperately clutching onto morsels of oxygen, going through the pain of growing fins and gills, knowing that I would be drowning again when the tide passes.

I shielded myself with words, built castles and cities out of metaphors and analogies, defended myself with stolen passages from those who knew better than me. I crafted my own fortress of a book that I wrote to be able close it — I put the lid back onto the box full of darkness that almost consumed me before I escaped to survive. Words helped me to survive and then to thrive and word after word, phrase after phrase I was becoming something else, someone else.

I used to be in love. And I lost the love I had, the time that stopped when I was in pain started to flow again, the feelings that used to hurt left my body, and I was alive again. I used to be in a relationship that I didn’t deserve, with someone that didn’t deserve my love. I used to be used and abused, I used to cry and I was used to crying inwards — saltwater burning me up from the inside, for I had to hide it, not to provoke a fight. I was supposed to be happy yet I have never been so lonely and abandoned.

Life is different now.

I no longer belong to that time of my past. I no longer identify as a victim of my abuser. I don’t think of myself as someone damaged. I changed.

I never noticed the change, all I noticed that I was laughing a little more, that my face had a little more expression, that my colours were slowly creeping back. I noticed that I was suddenly different, less pliable, less demanding, less hopeful. I was me again. After years of trying to be someone else, faking through days without ever making it, I was me again.

But I don’t know myself anymore.

I don’t know who am I. I don’t know what exactly changed. I don’t know who I am supposed to be without the trauma that I left behind, without the tears that I was keeping inside, without the feelings that used to burn inside me.

I was alive — but only surviving. Now I am alive and I don’t have to survive, there is no threat anymore, no danger, no hurt. It’s all gone, it’s all in the past. The adrenaline of survival left my body, leaving an emptiness that I know I should fill. Traces of my trauma still come back every now and then — catching me off guard, taking my breath away, only to remember that it’s all in my head. Sometimes there are images coming up — some of them are real, some I conjure — throwing me back towards the abyss, into free falling towards a destiny I am never to meet. Sometimes there is a face on the street that stops me dead in my tracks, make me want to run away and never come back. Sometimes there is a voice I hear that sounds like his voice and I can’t make the difference between the sweet words that seduced me from the threats that destroyed me. Sometimes I get a message that reminds me of something in the past that I want to forget — only to let me know that no matter how much we want to forget, there are things we always remember. And sometimes, just sometimes, someone makes me feel… and it freaks me out.

If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

If no one is around to hear, is there even a sound? If there are no ears to turn it into sound, is there even anything? Is it the one who is there that defines reality?

If he is not here anymore to love me or hurt me, do I even exist? What is reality without the one who made sense of all of it? Who am I without the love and abuse that used to define me?

All I ever wanted was to be his — how stupid of me. All I ever wanted was to belong — to the extent that I stopped belonging to myself and I got detached from my reality. I opened up myself so completely that no wonder he came and took it all — twisting and distorting everything. I made myself a victim — in the name of love. I trusted he would never hurt me, even after he did. I was hoping for something better even when nothing was tolerable anymore. I let him abuse me so that we could go back once again to the start where he made me feel alive. I made myself believe he was good for me and this way I became an accomplice for my hurt.

I didn’t know I was letting him hurt me. I didn’t know how to stop it. I didn’t know how to leave. I didn’t know — because I refused to admit that I was wrong too. I was arrogant about it.

I used to write about him. I used to write about my trauma and hurt. I used to live and relive it all over again — recreating and explaining it away with words. I wanted to change it, but I could only change how I feel about it. The reality of it remained.

I don’t need to write about it anymore. I don’t need to try to make sense of it — I accepted that it didn’t happen for a reason, at least not a reason that will ever make sense to me. I relearnt to trust myself without his voice in the back of my head questioning my every thought. I reinvented myself in ways he would have never allowed me to while he was around.

I unloved him. I didn’t just get over him, I went through the reverse process of falling in love and getting familiar with someone. Taking the whole journey backwards, I unloved bits and pieces of him, I unmissed his presence, I unfelt his touch on my skin, I took back my emotions one after the other, until there was nothing left in me for him. We became strangers again — without the option of bumping into each other with fresh eyes ever again.

And now, here I am. Empty and anticipating. Ready to be filled with new feelings, ready for new touches, ready for missing someone again. That journey ended. All I have is the memories and the learnings — the blessings I never wanted. All I have is a better pair of eyes to spot a lie, to recognise fairness, to notice boundaries to be violated. All I have is some remnants of fear and terror, tucked into the wrinkles of my soul, under layers of calmness and hope. All I have is the wish to get to know myself again, accepting that I will never go back to where I was.

I used to be in love.

I used to be hurting from love.

Now it’s time I learnt how not to fear love but to let it in, in the hope it won’t break anything. Now it’s time to recognise the kind of love that is not here to destruct but to build. Now it’s time to be whoever I want to be, the one I have always been supposed to be. Now it’s time that I trust myself again, no matter how difficult it might be. Now it’s time to go and look for and find myself. Now it’s time to become the person who loves me the most. It was supposed to be me — always.

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Zita Fontaine

Written by

Writer. Dreamer. Hopeless romantic. Newsletter: zita.substack.com Email me: zitafontaine (at) gmail

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

Zita Fontaine

Written by

Writer. Dreamer. Hopeless romantic. Newsletter: zita.substack.com Email me: zitafontaine (at) gmail

Curious

Curious

A community of people who are curious to find out what others have already figured out // Curious is a new personal growth publication by The Startup (https://medium.com/swlh).

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