Let me just start by saying this post is a deeply emotional one for me. I've started it 1,000 times and closed it 999. The purpose is to show you some real-life examples of injustices I have personally faced and the lessons learned as a result.
14 years ago, I went with my friend to a bar so she didn't have to go alone since she was meeting a guy from some online dating site. Nobody is going to mess with 2 horse girls- Nobody with a brain anyway. I'll never forget the first words I said to him. "I don't date military guys." I meant it with every fiber of my being. Somehow, we kept talking despite my incredibly rude and off-putting greeting. He seemed different and eventually, I agreed to give him a chance. If I could go back in time, I'd prod myself to hold firm to my initial sentiments. What seemed like a match made by destiny turned into a multi-decade nightmare that I will continue to face for quite some time.
I will spare most of the gory details because today, that's not what matters. Lessons learned are beyond valuable and that is the purpose of this post. Years of abuse will make you stronger than a hurricane or they will break you- either way, the trauma will incite change in you. I haven't ever seen the middle ground in this type of situation. What is interesting is that all along the way, before it was too late, the warning bells were going off. My intuition was telling me to run. My spidey-sense was trying to save me. I chose the rocky road anyway. So the first lesson learned, always, ALWAYS trust your gut. You may not know why you feel the way you do or what exactly you're being saved from, but listen to it. Start small if you've shoved your instincts so deep inside that you don't hear them anymore. Listen for your gut response about purchases or meal choices, what song to play, or which shoes to wear today. Don't overthink it.
By the time it was too late (or so I thought), we were married, had a baby and he had moved me 3,600 miles from my family, my home, my comfort zone. He had systematically begun trying to disconnect me from my friends and shamed me for making friends who weren't somehow connected to him (and the world would literally come to a halt if I made friends with any man, friends of his or not, married or not). I had never felt so alone in my whole life. Fortunately, I had a job that took me back home several times a year and so the bond with my lifelong friends was impossible for him to break. They repeatedly told me I needed to get out, how scared they were for me because they could see that he was dangerous. They rolled their eyes when I made excuses for his behavior but no matter what, they continued to love me with all their hearts. Through the restraining orders and attempts to leave, they never faltered. Lesson two: Never ever give up the people in your life who deeply care about you and are your healthy support system. Listen to them when they are all trying to warn you of the dangers they see. Be that person if you have a friend or family member in that position. Support their mental and physical health. The hidden lesson here is to listen to the people who may be far enough removed that they see reality even when you are too close to acknowledge the truth, especially when they are chanting the same message your intuition has been screaming at you.
I left 6 times before the final time. 6 times I packed myself a go bag and left, taking the things I would not let him destroy. Each time, he begged. He promised to be better. I was tired and I wanted desperately to believe him. Turns out, he lied. A lot. Things were better for a few days. A couple of weeks maybe. But then they got worse. It always got worse, no matter how many times I left or how far I went. And yet, I kept going back. I kept making excuses for his horrid behavior and mistreatment of us. (I know now, this is called a trauma bond.) Until a total stranger (to me) watched him screaming profanity and horrible names at me while I was holding our infant in one arm and the hand of our oldest daughter for what felt like an hour, though in reality, was likely less than 5 minutes total. It's a scene that I will likely never forget. He lost it. Let his rage take him over and couldn't stop himself or calm down at all. The funny part? He was angry about something HE chose not to do. When that stranger said that I needed to get out for my own safety, I finally heard it. I felt like a ton of bricks dropped right on my head. I couldn't breathe. It's like all of the years of abuse finally shone through all the apologies and love bombing. His charm stopped working on me in an instant. And then came sheer terror. I began to panic trying to figure out how was I going to get out with the girls safely? Friends to the rescue, once again. One night, while he was at work, I watched in a daze as my life was hurriedly packed and loaded into a couple of truck beds. Friends scurried around the house asking if this or that was important to me as I barely moved. The hurricane of commotion surrounded me completely as I realized this was it- the last time I was leaving him. I left everything but my clothes, some of the clothes for the kids and some things from the kitchen. I didn't care that I would have to start over. I didn't want the memories associated with the things in that house. It wasn't until we were safely at my friend's house that the full reality of the situation finally caught up to me. He had friends everywhere in the area and because of his job, he thought he was invincible (he still does, honestly). In those moments of vulnerability, I allowed my friends to be my strength so I could just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Lesson three: trust those friends who would show up in the middle of the night for you, especially if they've been through something similar. Lean hard on them.
Time went on and I had a new place to live, filed for divorce, and thought that horrible chapter of my life was closed. Still, everything triggered me into trembling fear related to the kids with my ex. Every text message, accusation, lie and manipulative behavior sent me spinning. Until I decided to figure out how to heal. Therapists told me I was fully aware of what was going on and didn't have any offers of how to move past it. I was told I had cPTSD and as far as they knew, there was no cure. "Super" I thought to myself.... This forced me to lean on God. To search my soul and find myself. To release the traumas of the past decade of my life. To trust that the universe was FOR me and not against me. What was my take away from all that I had been through? I am still learning that answer, but in the very least, I have gained strength I never imagined I could possess, patience and peace. Lesson four: find your spirituality, whatever that may be. The more I learn, the more I realize that there is to know. I'm not even saying your spirituality has to be religious. Find your truth. Your inner being. Your purpose. Find You.
How does my story resonate with yours? Are there aspects that you relate to or are you now sitting in disbelief? Where does Wonder Woman come in? Lesson 5 is this- when you choose the right responses, protection, positivity, growth, and so on, your strength shines on whether that is your intent or not. When you can live outside of a victim mindset and instead choose to thrive, to forgive, to move forward, you become a superhero. This specific lesson did not sink in until one night, 6 years after divorce and years deep into an emotionally taxing custody case, when I was talking to my youngest and she asked if I knew what my teenager had for my contact name in her phone? I asked what it was and was told she called me "Wonder Woman." Let those happy tears flow, my friends. What a moment to revel in the hard work toward recovery and the witnesses I had in my children. Today, there is very little that triggers the cPTSD and I spend most of my days as the light in this world that I was created to be, assisting in healing with others whether they are human or animal. You too can be the light.