It’s starting to feel like I’m hitting the denouement of my story. At least, it feels like I’m hitting it for this part of my story…
I’ve been living in the climax of a stressful, traumatic, gritty, exhausting story for the last four years or so. Unlike the climax in a short story, my life story climax plateaued and stayed climactic for a really long fucking time.
But I can feel myself progressing. I can see it and this week in particular, I’m having an upswing, which is a very welcome change after months and months of being depressed.
But it’s all starting to change and, to be honest, that scares me a little bit.
Okay, it scares me quite a bit. Because I harbour a deep sense of fear that healing means my past doesn’t matter or is no longer true.
I’m often scared that if I stop being an outright champion and reiterating the facts of my past loudly and consistently, then people will think (and I will feel) like they didn’t happen. That me growing and moving forward isn’t a positive thing; that it’s an obliteration of all that came before and as such, leaves no room for relapse, triggers, memories, or scars.
I’m scared of getting better, which sounds ridiculous, but letting go of the fierceness that’s kept me safe and strong is incredibly uncomfortable.
Why do I sabotage myself like this? Why stymie the progress in my life for the sake of holding onto a broken and battered story? Why not celebrate the fact that I’m safe and have moments of joy and can relax sometimes and have goals and achievements that I’ve accomplished as an individual? What the hell is wrong with me??
Well, we all know that the answer to that question—nothing at all, and a whole helluva lot.
I think I’m scared because I learned to not trust good things. I learned that setting expectations guarantees disappointment and that making goals or changes results in failure. These are some of the strongest lessons I carry with me from my past as a codependent and I resent them as much as I recognize them. I hate their potency as I begin to notice all the good shit that’s going on in my life again. I give space to my fear and allow it to bring me back to a state of helplessness, which on an intellectual level I recognize is bullshit, but on an emotional level, feels (strangely) comfortable and normal.
So how to avoid giving up? How to stop the self-sabotage? How to savour the good stuff and build my confidence while recognizing that moving forward absolutely does NOT mean that my past doesn’t matter?
My first instinct is to answer that with a “hell if I know!”, but I DO actually know! The answer lies in the capacity I developed during my trauma to survive…I can’t quit. I just don’t give up. I allow myself to feel my fear and to acknowledge it while also seeing the positive things that are happening at the same time. I get uncomfortable and then push through those feelings and keep trying. I embrace the upswing and the denouement; the falling action in the climactic journey I’ve had these last few years. I remember that every story remains for as long as we exist and that mine is still true even if I’m smiling and even if I move on.
I will always be a person with mental illness. I will always be an abuse survivor. But more importantly, I will always be myself. And being me is a nuanced, changing, shifting, growing, colourful experience; I can’t cling to one version or one time and say that it’s the only truth in my life!
I’m feeling ready to embrace more of who I am and give space to the things that come from this new acknowledgement. Maybe that sounds new-agey and super corny? Fuck it.
Yes, I’m still scared. I still worry (thanks anxiety) that I’ll fail at trying something new or that I’ll push myself too far and have to pull back from the goals I want to achieve. These are very real, very tangible fears that I’m not working at surpassing. I tell myself that being happier is something I deserve and that it’s possible, with love and support around me, to do more than just survive. It’s time to start thriving.
I’ve been posting some pretty heavy stuff lately, so think it’s time to lighten things up and bring back some sarcasm. Adding humour to conversations about emotional abuse and mental health is something that’s always kind of “funny-not-funny” but I think we can laugh every now and then and not hurt our cause.
So today I would like to present to you, complete with the witty and charming commentary you’ve all come to love hearing from me,
Number 10: “Well, it takes two…”
Um, excuse me?
Whoever says this manages to both undermine the legitimacy of your experience and place responsibility for that experience on you, the victim. OBVIOUSLY relationships involve more than one person BUT only the abuser is responsible for their abusive actions. I’ve said it before and I will keep saying it: you are only responsible for yourself, no one else! You are not responsible for anyone else’s feelings, behaviour, or choices. Emotional abusers use tactics like gaslighting and playing the victim to convince you that everything is your fault and not theirs. There may be two of you in your relationship, and neither of you are perfect, but when you are being abused emotionally, you cannot be blamed for it.
Number 9: “No one’s life is perfect, so why are you complaining?”
Ugh. This one. The worst! Okay, well, one of the worst.
Saying this to someone is like when you were 6-years-old and refusing to eat your Brussels sprouts and your parents said, “There are starving children in Africa who would love to eat those” in an effort to guilt you into consuming what you’ve come to understand is a vile vegetable. (My adult-self now loves Brussels sprouts, for the record.)
Actually, it’s worse than that. Clearly anyone who says this has no understanding of what it feels like to be abused emotionally. When you come to someone and confide in them that you are experiencing abuse, there is no place for shaming. Yes, we all experience stress and hardship in our lives, but ABUSE IS NOT NORMAL STRESS OR HARDSHIP and therefore, it can’t be treated as such.
Number 8: “Couldn’t you just try harder?”
Wow. Okay, again, what a shitty thing to say to someone! When I was in abusive relationships, I worked my ass off to change them into healthy ones. I sacrificed and struggled and exhausted myself putting effort into making things work.
If your abuser isn’t putting equal effort in, or, if the effort they are putting in is narcissistic and hurtful, then it won’t matter how hard you try; your relationship will still remain abusive.
I think it is safe to assume that anyone who comes forward and says that they are being abused has spent an incredible amount of time and energy trying to avoid coming to that conclusion. So don’t say shit like this to them.
Number 7: “But how can you leave them? You have children together.”
There are probably lots of people who will disagree with me on this one and I’m betting some of those people have made the decision to “work through things” with their partner “for the sake of the children.”
I’m calling bullshit on that.
Who in their right mind thinks it’s better for kids to live in a dysfunctional home where one parent is being abused? What kind of model is this setting for those children? And why is it considered selfish to try to stop being abused?
Leaving an abusive partner when you share children is incredibly difficult; I know that firsthand. It’s not the kids’ fault and yet they have to endure the struggles of managing the breakup of their family. Some days I feel insanely guilty about putting my kids through a divorce, but then I return to the little mantra I made for myself: I would always rather explain why I left, than why I didn’t.
Number 6: “But if you leave [insert name here], you’ll be all alone. Do you really want to be [insert age] years old and single??”
Fuck, it sucks to be a single divorcée! It especially sucks to be a single parent! Do you know what sucks worse, though? Being in an emotionally abusive relationship. As hard as it is to be alone, I would never EVER go back to my previous partners.
As if being single is someone’s primary concern when they come to you and admit that they are being abused! Please don’t say this to someone who comes to you looking for support. Just don’t.
Number 5: “Well, there are plenty of other fish in the sea…”
This one’s kind of the opposite of Number 6, isn’t it?
So someone’s just come and told you that they think they are being abused. Now is not the time to offer clichéd dating adages. Also, if someone has experienced emotional abuse with a partner, there is so, so much that they need to work through before they can feel safe and secure enough to trust somebody new. I’m not saying survivors don’t get into rebound relationships or go looking for another “fish” too quickly (yep, guilty of that!); I’m saying that to suggest that there are other, better fish out there in the sea, at a time when the fish this person had chosen has let them down and fucked them up monumentally, is completely inappropriate.
Number 4: “Suck it up; just get over it.”
In the most significant relationship of my life so far, I spent the majority of my time “sucking it up” and since ending that relationship, I’ve done everything in my power to “just get over it.” There is no magic way to recover from emotional abuse. There may not be physical reminders of a survivor’s experience, but emotional scars run incredibly deep and they have their own timeline for healing. Advising someone to “suck it up” is a callous and insensitive thing to say, no matter what they’re telling you about.
Number 3: “They didn’t actually hurt you, so it’s not abuse.”
Oh my goodness, this one drives me absolutely crazy! People don’t usually put it to words so clearly, but often there is a strong implication that emotional abuse doesn’t count because it wasn’t physical (something I argue against here).
If you tell an emotional abuse survivor that their experience wasn’t real, you continue the cycle of abuse by gaslighting them into believing your own misinformed perspective. I still struggle with accepting the legitimacy of my experience because I assume that since a) my former partners don’t recognize the abuse, and b) I have no police report, hospital stay, or physical reminders to show that I was abused, it must not count.
How messed up is that? I am literally writing a blog about my experience of emotional abuse and I continue to question my experience! No one who has gone through something like what I did should have to justify it with corporeal proof.
Number 2: “But he/she/they seem like such a nice person…”
Wow, gee, yeah…I guess since you think he’s such a nice guy, I must be totally wrong! Thanks so much for helping me see that!
I have heard this so many times in the last few years and it is infuriating.
Do you think an emotional abuser isn’t capable of “playing nice” outside of the home or wherever they proliferate their abuse? In my experience, emotional abusers are exceedingly talented at manipulating others, so they can seem “nice” when it serves them to do so. I was once told that my story couldn’t be true because my former partner was “so handsome and charming.” I think I threw up a little in my mouth when I heard that and it definitely set me back a few counselling sessions too.
Ugh. Let’s move on to number 1…
Number 1: “I don’t care. I don’t believe you.”
Clearly, this is the WORST thing you could ever say to a survivor of emotional abuse. I don’t think I need to say much more about it; survivors need to know that we have the love and support from the people we confide in. A much better response when someone tells you that they are being abused is to say, “How can I help and what do you need right now?”
Helpful? Not helpful? Fuck, I don’t know all the shitty things people say to each other! But I do know that there are lots of ways to mess up supporting someone who needs loving kindness after recognizing a pattern of abuse in their life. (If you think you need a better understanding of what emotional abuse looks like, check out my post “Looks Like/Sounds Like/Feels Like”.)
I hope you laughed a little; I hope you thought more about what you could say to someone in need. I mean, no one’s perfect (see number 10) but we can all try to show compassion to those who come looking for support.
It wasn’t therapy. It wasn’t psychiatric medication. It wasn’t my divorce. It wasn’t moving to the country… Authenticity is what saved me.
I’m betting we’ve all met some truly authentic people. You know, those people whose self-awareness and confidence is palpable. They always seem grounded and honest—they carry themselves with an assurance that belies a solid understanding of who they are and what they’re doing. They’re the people who start movements, who pursue their passions, who have a glowing energy, and who seem legitimately happy in their lives, despite their struggles and stresses. They are the people we want to be around and the people we want to emulate.
I think deep down we all know who our authentic self is. Deep down, we know what’s true about ourselves. And deep down, we’re aware of what we need and what we want and why, but we rarely act on this knowledge or understanding.
Why do so many of us sacrifice our authentic selves? Why do we hide our authenticity and keep our needs and wants private? Why have so many of us lost the ability to recognize and act on what we really need in order to be fulfilled?
I can’t speak for other people. I mean, I can guess at things, but really I have no idea how other people think and what they need in order to be happy; those things are going to be different for everybody.
I can tell you this, though: speaking my truth absolutely saved me.
My parents tell stories of me as a toddler where it’s clear that in my youngest years I had no problem communicating what I wanted. I’m pretty sure I just bit whoever wouldn’t listen and smacked other kids if I didn’t get my way. I was an adorable child, to be sure.
Something changed as I got older, though—I learned to turn that energy inward. I learned that it was unacceptable to lose my temper, or to bite and hit (kudos Mom and Dad!).
Unfortunately, my self-regulation skills morphed into a practice of self-sacrifice and passivity. I learned to deny my needs for the sake of keeping the peace and to focus solely on making sure that the other people around me were happy instead of myself. This skill for self-deprecation, that I honed in my childhood and my youth, led me into some really damaging relationships. In not speaking up, in not having the language or the tools to make my authentic-self known, I lost touch with my needs and I let other people take advantage of me. I developed a deep sense of insecurity, anxiety, depression, self-hatred, and despair.
This blog is the product of my experience of emotional abuse and me coming to terms with the unhealthy habits I formed that led to the unhealthy relationships I experienced. A few years ago, my life felt like a prison. I remember resolving myself to face at least 40 more years of unhappiness because of the commitment I felt to my partner and the life we had together. I remember wanting to completely disappear; to evaporate, to dissolve, to press my body up against a wall and seep into the paint and become nothing.
It was a very dark time in my life.
And then something changed: my marriage hit a breaking point and I saw an opportunity for escape. Something happened that made me feel justified in leaving my life as I knew it and moving on, despite how scary and foreign the future looked. I finally spoke up and it saved me.
Authenticity saved my sanity. It gave me strength and courage; it bolstered support from the people around me who cared to listen. It got me medical help. It brought me to my counsellors. It secured a healthier future for me and my children. It saved me from other harmful relationships. It allowed me to find meaningful, engaging work. It got my creative juices flowing again, it led me to make more music, to write this blog, and to self-publish my poetry!
Authenticity saved my life!
It was a catalyst for all the positive changes I’ve experienced these last two years. Sure, I’ve had an intense amount of counselling and therapy. I’ve started and followed a strict mental health treatment plan that includes mood-stabilizing drugs. I’ve moved to a beautiful, rural home, I’ve been exercising and eating better, I’ve got a dog and some cats, and my kids are a couple of years older and more independent now… Sure, all of those things have happened! But they wouldn’t have happened if I wasn’t being authentic.
So I want to ask you, what do you need? What do you want? Who the hell are you and what does your authenticity look like?
I can pretty much guarantee that you will feel happier and healthier living authentically. Although, I can also guarantee that it’s not a magic cure for what ails you. There’s no lifestyle change, no medicine, no treatment, no herbal beverage, mantra, yoga flow, detox diet, religion, or amount of money that will stop stress from being in your life. But you will feel better and everyone around you will notice when you start to live your truth. Even the most selfish of us should want that!
Authenticity doesn’t have to be poetic. It doesn’t need to be earth-shattering or beautiful or eloquent: it just needs to be real. That’s the key.
And now I’m done sounding like a cheesy motivational article from a teen magazine…“10 Steps to Finding the REAL you! Plus, 10 Cool Outfits to Let Your Personality Shine!” Ugh, gag me! Bleh.
I just want to tell you that authenticity is the key to life, and I’ll swear by that. Literally: it’s the fucking bomb. Authenticity is where it is AT and you can fucking quote me on that. It saved my life. It can save yours. And then we can meet up and have a delicious fucking potluck and bask in the authentic glow of our gorgeous, real selves being exactly who we need to be and doing exactly what we need to do.
I’ll bring the casserole, you just bring an appetite for authenticity.