How do you grieve for something that's not a physical being? You haven't lost a relative or friend, or your dog that you've had in the family since you were small. You don't get the usual 'I'm sorry for your loss', because have you actually lost anything? For anyone who's been through or going through this then of course the answer is yes.
The loss of self during and after an abusive relationship is probably one of the hardest things to deal with. How can this one person cause me to completely lose who I was? The honest truth is that right now I feel like I'm floating in the present, not wanting to go back to the past because it is so painful, and scared of the future because what if I can't regain what I lost? What if this haunts me for the rest of my life? Of course I have the determination to beat this but I'm sure that is a feeling that hangs over us all from time to time. I have good days and bad days, some days I feel so positive about getting on with life I think I can do pretty much anything, other days I feel like I could just sit and cry, I guess those are the days when I'm 'grieving'. I suppose I should explain what it is that I lost. I was once a care free 21 year old, at university in a vibrant city. I graduated in a subject that I love, but somehow I slowly got trapped inside, what I have often referred to as, 'the box'.
It's difficult to describe the feelings and emotions behind this 'loss of self', but at the time I know I felt nothing, I was numb. Only recently have I started to look deeper into what happened and realised all I did was patch myself up afterwards and never grieved for what I had lost. It wasn't a permanent solution. I lost all confidence, my self belief, my zest and excitement for life. I may not have physical scars or bruises, but over 2 years of destruction on my personality I was a different person. When someone wears you down every single day for so long it's hard to have any energy to feel anything.
So how do you regain what you lost and be back to the person you once were? Honestly I don't think you ever can. This is something that will stay with you forever, you just have to learn to let it shape the new you.
It's hard to think that I'm now rebuilding my confidence and self esteem, from a period of my life that I had no control over. I sometimes feel angry about this, usually towards myself. Why me? Why didn't I get myself out of that situation? Why am I still dealing with this years later? I shouldn't beat myself up, because it's not my fault, but that is one of the traits I now have as a result of that 'loss of self'. I lost confidence and gained self doubt.
Since escaping from the relationship, after 2 years of being controlled and having no control over who I was, I think for a long time afterwards I was overcompensating. I threw myself into being busy constantly, I acted like I was ok. If I put on this front of confidence and control and people believed it then that was all I needed. During the relationship the thought of anyone finding out what was going on, that I was stuck in a cycle of controlling behaviour, was crippling. I felt weak, but didn't want anyone to see me that way. When I got out, I immediately acted like everything was ok.
This worked for me for a time, until I really started to think about what I'd lost. Yes I'd lost a relationship, but that was what I wanted, what I'd planned and what I'd ultimately expected. There was no love there any more, I was just stuck in a loveless abusive situation. The fact is I knew for a long time that this was obviously not something I could be in forever. I couldn't see a way out at the time but knew it had to end someday. The loss of the 'relationship' I can deal with.
What I hadn't prepared for is dealing with what I lost as a person, the comparison of before and after.
For anyone in this situation I think it's important to remember that for anyone, things that have happened in your life will shape who you are, it's inevitable, but it's not a bad thing. Focus on what you have achieved and how you have grown. Even though I lost a lot of confidence and self belief, I am building that back up, and I do feel stronger than I was. Take the mini victories in life and build yourself back up bit by bit. It's never quite the same when you rebuild something, but it's always even stronger than before.
- If anyone reading this has any similar experience, direct or indirect, I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Particularly how this kind of abuse looks from the outside, can you tell what is happening? How can you tell? Have you ever told anyone to leave? I plan to continue this blog in stages of the relationship and recovery, and welcome opinions -