From The Inside...

Well this blog has been on my heart for awhile now and I've been putting it off since I've been "busy."  Which I really have, but I'm sure on some level, I probably wasn't all too thrilled to write it.  It's kind of a mixed emotion... I am very motivated to write this because I think it is SO important for people to hear this stuff, both for those who are in a similar situation to know that they aren't alone and for those that know someone in a similar situation so they can maybe understand something they may not have otherwise.  But it's also not the most fun thing in the world to go back to a place you had to fight to get out of.  With that said, here is the view of an abusive relationship FROM THE INSIDE.

For those of you reading this that don't know me well, I'll give you just a little background first.  I have never been a "casual dater."  I never really had a serious relationship before him (I'll refrain from using his name) and it was completely by choice.  I dated guys sure but if I knew after one or two dates that it wasn't really going to go anywhere, that was it.  I never had really been in love and was again, quite alright with that.  I had a great single life and enjoyed my time with my friends and the few dates that I did go out on.  So when I met him at the age of 30, I thought he was the "one."  Everything that I had avoided before... meeting the parents, meeting the friends, staying over, letting him see me without makeup, saying "I love you"... it all came so easily and we had so many "signs" constantly from the universe around us that it seemed obvious that we were meant to be.  And just like anyone else this happens to, I was ecstatically happy.  The world seemed more colorful, every song on the radio seemed it was written just for us and I envisioned a happy life with marriage, children and growing old together.

Now here's the first thing I want to "explain" (if that is even possible) about being in an abusive relationship.  The abusive person is not abusive in the beginning.  Obviously.  They're not even a glimpse of that person.  For all intensive purposes, they seem wonderful and perfectly normal.  More importantly, it's not like one day they just haul off and hit you (or call you something horrible in the case of verbal abuse).  It is a slow and gradual change that sometimes is so drawn out, the person involved doesn't even realize it is happening.  I can honestly say to this day, I don't understand how I got from time A (normal, happy relationship) to time B (nightmare life).  Everyone thinks "I'd never end up in a situation like that!" or "The first time someone hit (or verbally abused) me, I'd be out of there!" or something very similar.  But the truth is, YOU DO NOT KNOW UNTIL YOU ARE IN THAT SITUATION.  I certainly never thought "yea, I might end up in an abusive relationship one day!"  If anything, having grown up in a verbally abusive home, I surely thought I would be extra-careful not to end up in a similar situation.  But this is not like you go out with someone and on the first date, he calls you a name or shoves you across the room.  You'd surely run out of that restaurant and never look back, right?  This is months (sometimes years) into a committed, serious relationship with someone you love and adore.  Many people still at this point may have trouble understanding this and I completely get that.  That is exactly the problem with the situation... IT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE.

     Often times, the first time something happens, you are left confused and hurt, but your automatic reaction is to, in the end, forgive.  Now here is where I have to stress that I can only speak from MY experience, at the level which I experienced abuse, with the dynamics in MY relationship.  Women (and men) experience all different levels of abuse, many of which are ten times more violent and frightening then what I experienced.  In that way, I was lucky.  So for those people, there is probably a huge element of FEAR keeping them in their situations.  For me, the dynamic was always one where it was made known that it was NOT okay, there were apologies and forgiveness and promises of change.  That is another common thread in abusive relationships, the abuser feels bad for what they have done (and I do believe the feelings can be genuine) and wants to change so they beg for forgiveness and even take steps toward getting better - counseling, medications, etc.  If you are a codependent (which many people in abusive relationships are), this is exactly what you need and want to hear.  You want to help this person because you love them and you genuinely believe they are suffering and need to get help (which they do).  So you work extra hard to help them get better.  If you have been or are in this situation and have done this, YOU ARE NOT A BAD PERSON, STUPID OR GULLIBLE.  Do not believe this from other people and do not tell yourself this.  You are a very caring person and you just are hoping to get the person back that you love and that usually, you have when things aren't "bad."

Again, I will stress that this is what I experienced in my relationship but many times (especially in verbally abusive relationships), the dynamic is the same.  The abuser is not abusive all the time.  In fact, it's probably not even 50% of the time.  Obviously if they were, it'd be a lot easier to leave them.  Instead, in a lot of relationships (like mine), the person you first fell in love with is still there.  You still enjoy talking to them, going places with them and being affectionate with them.  The abusiveness seems to occur in isolated incidents, which makes it all that much easier to believe that it's not who they really are.  You truly believe that the person you see before and after an "incident" is the real person and for whatever reason, something else takes over during the abuse.  In my situation, it was something he held dealt with most of his life.  He ended up confessing later that his "temper" was something that had affected his relationships before ours and he wanted help.  Another factor that played into our situation was the fact that he (like I) had grown up in a verbally abusive home as well (never underestimate the power of underlying childhood experiences).  Now, although I do still believe to this day that he was genuinely sorry and genuinely wanted to be different and not hurt me, it is important to point out that you can't separate the abusiveness from the abuser.  Whether or not they want to be like they are, the abuser IS who they really are.  This IS the person you fell in love with and that is probably the hardest thing you have to try to comprehend.  It's probably a defense mechanism on some level, but I cannot explain how difficult it is to not separate the two in your mind.  To give you an idea, think about your spouse or significant other right now.  It doesn't matter if you've been with them a year or 30 years.  Try to imagine that person that you love and share life with, suddenly pushing you just a little too hard or saying something nasty to you.  Does it seem utterly impossible?  Or confusing even to think about?  Exactly.

The other main thing that plays into the longevity of an abusive relationship is the breakdown that takes place in your spirit.  The biggest change that takes place in this kind of relationship is the personality of the abused person.  There is not a "type" of person that can be or will allow themselves to be abused.  ANYONE can end up in an abusive relationship.  In fact, probably every person reading this knows someone whose life has been touched somehow by abuse.  The abused can be poor or rich, all races, all ages, a waitress or a CEO, a college graduate or a high school dropout.  What happens for all of them though is a gradual wearing down that eventually leads to a mode best described as "survival."  For me, I was a super-independent person that had always lived on my own, had good jobs, was pretty financially responsible, was spiritual, had a lot of friends and quite a spunky attitude if I do say so myself.  But with months or years of growing stress and endless amounts of energy being spent of trying to "save" the relationship, your spirit gradually gets beaten down until all you want to do is get through the day without anything bad happening.

Now having just said that last sentence, I know there are still many people out there that "don't get it."  I don't blame you.  The problem is you're trying to make sense of something that's senseless.  You're trying to see something as black and white that is anything but.  Even having been through an abusive relationship, it's still hard for me to really understand parts of it.  But as I did tell a family member once during a brief moment of awareness while I was in the thick of it, "you are trying to talk to the rational Jenn that you know and I am not her right now."  That is one of the most important things I could say to someone whose friend or family member is in an abusive relationship... do not try to make sense for, rationalize with, argue with or patronize the person you love.  They are in a terribly emotional, complicated, painful and confusing situation and having someone make them feel stupid is the last thing they need.  Of course you can (and should) still stress how wrong it is and how much they deserve better.  Just have patience if you find yourself saying it over and over.  Your loved one may indeed be making no sense to you, telling you things that are painful to hear or telling you the same things for what seems like the 400th time, but the best thing you can do is just BE THERE.  This is probably the most important thing I can tell anyone who knows someone in an abusive relationship... DON'T LEAVE.  I remember being on speakerphone with someone from a women's shelter/support group while my mom was listening.  It was about 2-2 1/2 years into my relationship and I was still talking to him and my mother was at her wit's end.  For whatever reason, I had called their hotline for some sort of help and I remember the woman saying to my mom (with me listening) "Don't drop out of the picture.  Everyone else will so it's critical that you don't."  I don't think it even registered to me at the time, but she was exactly right.  I lost some of the most significant relationships in my life.  I will say, being "out of the fog" now... I can understand why people may leave.  I'm sure it is impossibly frustrating to hear someone you care about stay in a bad situation.  Maybe it hurts, maybe it stresses you out, maybe it frustrates you, or a combination of them all.  I have been in support groups and heard others' stories and can acknowledge how draining they sometimes sound.  But, I will repeat what that woman said to my mom on the phone way back when... DON'T LEAVE.  You don't have to agree with what they're doing or even like it, just support them.  However you can.

The other thing that I experienced myself that I have also since learned is very common in these situations is for 1) the abused person to be called selfish and 2) the abused person to want desperately to meet everyone's approval.  It pains me now to discuss these types of things with my counselor (who I still see 4 years later).  I know how utterly hopeless, helpless and desperate someone can feel in these situations.  I know how badly you just want your relationship to be normal and how hard you work for that to happen.  And I know how deeply you can care about people - both the person you're in the relationship with and the other people in your life, your friends and family.  So I know how painful it is in the midst of all of that to be called selfish.  Again, I am not placing blame, as I can say I can probably understand where that comes from too.  If you are talking to your loved one and all they are doing constantly is talking about their relationship, their struggles and their issues, it can seem like they are very self-centered.  But the best way I can explain it is, the relationship DOES become your life.  It is a 24/7 stressor that you never get a break from.  And for some people, the short amount of time they get to talk to a family member or friend (because usually these relationships become very isolating over time as a result of trying to keep the peace and not "rock the boat") is the only break they get in a whole day.  The time they have on the phone or in person with you may be the only chance they have to decompress and vent all of the insanity they have to try to hold in on a daily basis.  Yes, this is often focused just on them and it may be frustrating especially if you haven't even seen or heard from your loved one in weeks or months (again with the isolation).  BUT, it is NOT coming from a place of intentional selfishness.  The person who is talking this way is usually not even aware they are doing it.  I know this both as the person who's done it, and since then, who has listened to others in the same situation.  All you can do is ramble on, sometimes desperately for hours, trying to get some sort of understanding, advice, or even just a listening ear.  And if you are the one in this situation right now, please know that it is not just you.  There are endless numbers of support groups, online message boards and counseling offices full of women saying the same things and sounding the same way.  It is another part of the dynamic that goes on in these situations.  And the up side is, IT WON'T LAST!  Once you really end the relationship, you will stop dwelling on it, you will stop needing to rehash it in an effort to make sense of it and hopefully if you're lucky, you will be able to reach out to others later and help them realize the same thing!  :)

The other part is that often the abused person is desperate to meet everyone's approval, even in the midst of a nightmare.  Right after having been through the worst night of my life, where the abuse reached an all-time high and ended with him in jail, part of my thoughts were consumed with whether or not people were mad at me for calling the police.  I never doubted whether or not calling the police was the right thing.  I knew it was but I was very concerned with how everyone else felt about it.  This seems absolutely ludicrous to me now that I even had to worry about that, but unfortunately it is also very common.  Just as I experienced first-hand, there will always be some people (in my case, his family members and friends) that will make themselves completely blind to the actual severity of the abuse and blame the victim for "overreacting" or in my case, calling the police just to be "vengeful."  It is another part of domestic violence that angers and sickens me.  So to all of you that are in this type of situation, PLEASE know that you are NOT to blame for your abuser's behavior and you are NOT wrong for protecting yourself.  There is always going to be someone unfortunately that will try to make you question this or hurt you by acting blind to the truth, but PLEASE do not doubt yourself.  Stand strong.

Abusive relationships will always hurt.  Physically, verbally, emotionally.  Once the relationship ends and the wounds begin to heal, there will be a grieving process that has to take place.  For the abused person and their family and friends, there has to be a realization that a great loss has occurred.  The grieving is similar to a divorce or even a death and it has to be allowed to properly run its course.  Don't try to rush it or "snap out of it."  I was not even aware until recently that often people coming out of abused relationships experience PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).  I always associated PTSD with soldiers coming home from war and never even thought about it in relation to myself but have found out that it is common and can manifest itself in many ways.  That is why it is so important to take the time and make the effort to let yourself heal properly.  And those of you on the outside, please don't downplay your loved one's experience.  Realize it for the traumatic experience that it is.

I was "lucky" (if you can call it that) that my experience with domestic abuse wasn't as bad as it could've been.  I did a fundraising walk for domestic violence last year and just in that one day, heard stories that are absolutely devastating.  It still is hard for me to even use the words "abusive relationship" because I can still feel that natural tendency sometimes to want to downplay things or just talk about all the "good times."  But I do feel like it is my duty and responsibility, having come through such a situation, to reach out to others that are in a similar situation or knows someone who is.  If I can help even one person not to feel alone or one person to understand their loved one just a little, I will have done my job.  It is an exposing thing to write a blog like this, but too often the issue is hidden and not talked about and that needs to change.  The fundraising walk that I spoke of isn't happening this year since they're large corporate sponsor (who I won't name) backed out and the shelter I still go to for counseling struggles every day for funding.  Unfortunately, the issue often gets overlooked but there are always small ways to help.  Donate some time, money or supplies to a local shelter or safehouse.  Raise funds.  Offer support.

And for those of you still "on the inside"... hang in there.  Be strong.  Breathe.  Pray every day.  Take small steps.  YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU REALIZE.  Remember who you are and what you deserve.  Keep going.

You will get to the outside.