So, I thought I was completely over my abuse; then an acquaintance posted the definition of the manipulative tactic called Gaslighting, and it all came flooding back. I had experienced this toy of abuse at the hands of my abuser for years before I ever knew it was a thing. After reading one little post and that old would was opened right back up again.
I am a survivor of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse. I’ve done a lot of work over the past 3 years to heal. I found my way, learned to accept what happened, and even learned to be grateful for the lessons.
Here are the 5 things I wish I had known when I set out on my journey of recovery.
Admit to yourself that this happened.
This sounds easier that it actually is. There is a tendency to avoid or deny our past trauma. If we can convince ourselves that it didn’t happen then we don’t have to deal with it. But until we admit, and accept it there’s no moving forward. As a man I was particularly reluctant to face my reality. For me, being a victim was perhaps the most emasculating thing I could imagine. If I could just keep this a secret and live in denial then it would go away. It didn’t. It was exhausting to live in denial and this kept me trapped.
Understand that it’s not your fault.
One of the reasons admitting the abuse was so hard for me is that I somehow thought it was my fault. Many abusers shift the focus and blame you. I was repeatedly told that everything was my fault. It took some time to understand that while none of us is perfect, there is nothing I could have done that would justify abuse.
Be gentle with yourself.
You need time to heal. You have endured and survived a traumatic event. Sometimes emotional abuse can take longer to heal. Physical wounds heal in a predictable way over time. Emotional wounds are more complex and not visible. Get in touch with your feelings rather than running from them. Practice self care, and be compassionate with yourself. Just understanding that this is a process that will take time is comforting.
Find the right people to share your story
It’s critical that you find the right people to talk to. So many friends are well intentioned and quick with advice but it’s unlikely they will give you what you need. I finally got the courage to share my story with a few very close friends and a couple family members. I was told things that actually made me feel worse. “Is he bigger than you?” “What did you do?” “Why didn’t you stand up for yourself?”, “Are you sure you’re not overreacting?”, “Oh honey, you’re pitiful” My friends were also quick to share what THEY would have done if they had been in my situation. All of this only made me feel worse.
Find a professional, a coach, a counselor, or a therapist who can help you understand your feelings and get you pointed in the right direction. While I have a therapist, I hired a Spiritual Life Coach shortly after ending the relationship with my abuser. She listened and asked questions that helped me process what had happened and identify tools that would work for me. I finally understood that I had the courage and strength to overcome what had happened.
Finally, my abuser was an alcoholic and addict. I knew that was part of the problem and found my way to the rooms of Al-Anon. Al-Anon is a 12 step program for friends and family members of alcoholics who have been affected by the disease. I still attend meetings as part of my recovery. This program gave me a safe place to tell my story to people who understand. I highly recommend this program if your abuser had a substance abuse problem. It helped me to put things in perspective and allowed me to shift the focus to myself rather than trying to fix other people.
Pause and Practice Gratitude
Just hearing that there is a clinical term for the type of abuse I endured brought back many emotions. Anger, shame, resentment, loss. I was able to draw on my resources and what I’ve learned to bring me back to reality. Rather than being swept away by those familiar emotions I hit my internal pause button. I have found meditation to be a great way to find my center when I get derailed. If I can be still and give my racing mind a single point of focus I can later see things how they really are. I also practice gratitude. Sadly, my worst abuser wasn’t my first. I have learned to be grateful for this very difficult lesson. If I hadn’t experienced such a clear and acute form of abuse I probably would have just found another. As a result of my experience, I am quick to spot an abuser. With kindness I can set boundaries or walk the other way.
Finally, as I only just recently noticed, these scars never completely go away. They are another part of me that makes me the unique and wonderful person I am.