Even then, it took me a long time to figure out what the hell was wrong with me.
I spent a lot of time wondering why I was unhappy when I was married. I had everything I'd wanted... I was a mommy, didn't have to work outside the home, got to write in my spare time, published a book at 19, and had a very intelligent and attractive husband. So what was wrong with the picture? Was I just so immature that I couldn't be in a real relationship? Was I bored? The mistake I was making every time I thought like this was that I was looking for ways that I could fix it... it didn't occur to me until later that the problem wasn't me.... It was him.
Luckily, I had my parents. They are and always have been my support system. I know a lot of DV victims don't have a strong family support system like that, especially when an abuser tries everything in their power to isolate the victim and alienate them from friends and family (it's pretty sad when your husband pitches a fit because you called your mother on Mother's Day). However, there are a growing number of non-profit organizations and groups to help in situations like that, too.
Once I left, escaping in the night with my two little girls in the car like some fugitive from the law, I thought it was over and I could begin my life again. There was just one problem.... I was completely unprepared for the emotional fallout that I was about to survive for the next several years.
Anxiety, paranoia, worry that he'd hunt me down and kill me like he said he would, worry that he'd kidnap the kids, panic attacks, difficulty sleeping, weird teetering between numbness and depression, and a general lack of knowing what to do or how to feel better were common. I lucked out and didn't have nightmares. The whole thing was still horrible for everyone involved, though: me, my kids, my parents, the rest of my family, my friends... everyone. People were literally watching me fall apart and self-destruct without knowing how to help.
Journaling was one of the things that helped me the most. I wrote almost constantly after I left, working through what was happening and hoping to write my way to a solution... or at least to feeling better. It helped, but it still took a long time.
One of the biggest hurtles I had to overcome was a crippling fear of guns. I delivered pizza to the Army base and on several occasions, I'd be waiting for the customer to come get his food in the barracks at the CQ desk and they'd be doing some sort of training or something and everyone had guns. My first urge was to drop the pizza and run away, but I needed that job and forced myself to stay put, usually backing into a corner and trying to concentrate on not falling over because my knees were all shaky and my heart was about to pound its way out of my chest.
Stress and anxiety are exhausting, let me just say that right now. They are absolutely exhausting. After about two years and another brief four-month relationship with a control freak (emotional abuser), I came to the realization that the only reason anyone could ever have control over me or my life is if I let them.
Then I made a decision.
I was sick of feeling anxious, tired of being exhausted, and fed up with feeling insecure and fearful. I was tired of looking over my shoulder and freaking out over stupid little things that shouldn't have been bothering me. I decided to let go of fear and take my life back, because really, he still had control over me through this fear that remained after psychological warfare and I had left to LIVE, not to stay stuck in the same place in my mind.
Just so this is a useful post instead of me just complaining and rehashing the past, here are some of the main things that helped me:
- Watching The Secret
- Enrolling in college
- Becoming aware of my own power in life (my life & my happiness were my responsibility; no one else's)
- Shifting from blaming him for my issues to deciding to heal
Since then, there have still been struggles, of course. Many of those struggles are within my relationships with people other than my family. However, when it comes to being happy, my best and most comfortable place is with my children and around my family. My relationships with my kids are wonderful, and so are my relationships with my parents. I also have some very solid friendships that have lasted for years, sometimes decades. So really... it can't be that bad =).
People say that PTSD never fully goes away, but I'm okay with that. I've learned to let go of things and people that bring negativity into my life. I've also learned that just because my ex-husband used to scream at me if dinner wasn't made and the laundry wasn't folded doesn't make those things the most important parts of living. The most important parts of living are happiness, learning, and growth, and a major contributor to those aspects for me is my family.
I hope that you, too, can find your happiness, no matter where you are on your journey. Persevere.... There comes a point where the only direction left to go is up.