My current (non-abusive) musician husband was struggling over new ways to be inspired. He asked to see my old poetry, and I said yes without much thought. So he got up on the step stool and unearthed my archives from the storage closets in our bedroom, and I thumbed through a folder from the years I was married to Jerkface.
I hadn’t read those poems in quite some time, and quickly remembered why. They were difficult to read. So full of pain and confusion. Through my decades-old writing, I could discern the timeline of that abusive relationship – from obsessive intoxication, to bewilderment and panic, and finally to the part where I had helped him nearly kill my spirit and my unique self.
Even though it has been just about 20 years since I saw my ex-husband’s smug face or heard his cruel, condescending voice, I was rattled.
Shaken, it took me a moment to catch my breath and remember where – and who – I was now. Truth is, even though I intellectually know what happened to me in that relationship, I had forgotten to a large degree how it FELT.
I have a good career now, a kind, loving husband, and many friends. Most days, I don’t think of my ex anymore. Sometimes I get calls from friends stuck in abusive relationships, or see posts from the recovery community, and I am frustrated that not everyone sees that they have the power to free themselves. But reading my own writing transported me back to the time when I couldn’t do that either. When I was in Jerkface’s clutches, I simply could not understand.
I had grown up with abuse. How would I know that my ex’s treatment of me was something I could choose to completely refuse to accept?
I thought my job in a relationship was to “help” someone who needed my love and forgiveness. I thought I could love them to wholeness. I thought I was made to do that.
25 years ago, I chose a man who saw me as prey, as disposable, as less than him. Yet I chose to stay with him for almost six years. I gave him my money, my time, my body, and my soul. I had friends who judged me back then. I know I frustrated them. I was stuck.
No matter where you are in the recovery process, we have all been in your shoes. We’ve lost friendships and jobs. We’ve changed the way we dress, the foods we eat. We’ve fled from our homes crying, only to return hours, days, or months later and lie next to the person who treats us like garbage.
You can only recover on your own timeline, in your own way. Your recovery is yours.
I hope it helps to know that even those who seem to have moved on were once exactly where you are. We were stuck. We felt powerless, penniless, and trapped. We still have scars, but we don’t let them stop us, even if some days they do slow us down.