The beginning of my healing journey started with removing myself from an abusive situation and cutting off contact with the person creating it. The one time I sought help while still in a controlling, abusive relationship I faced fierce retaliation leading me to fear ever seeking help again. Towards the end of that relationship couples therapy was recommended by the family physician, but as some of you may know, a narcissist does not seek therapy except to prove themselves right and attempt to prove the instability of their partner. Fortunately, our therapist was very intuitive and experienced with narcissistic behaviors which threw my ex into a furious rage and a near assault on the aging therapist. This experience crystallized my resolve to escape and pursue a new life.
The realization and acceptance of my role in past experiences is a driving force for the fear I struggle with daily. The belief that pure chance had brought unhappiness and strife to me was blissfully ignorant. After all, the odds were in my favor that all the bad hands had already been dealt to me and the future held good luck. There may be a small nugget of truth to chance or luck but the bulls-eye painted on my back is made highly visible to those seeking to harm by my tolerance and lack of self-confidence. The fear of repeating the past is exacerbated by the knowledge that I am not entirely healed, so I reinforce my walls to rest in the safety of solitude, for now.
The damage from abuse is like a slow acting poison requiring a painful antidote. Sometimes I find it hard to remember what it felt like to be trapped in an abusive relationship and then a trigger brings a flashback encompassing every sensory detail. Numbing the pain and emotions allowed me to stumble through life for a few years, but eventually, my deteriorating condition forced me to confront the trauma. Chronic, debilitating migraines were the primary physical manifestation of my unprocessed trauma. These migraines significantly interfered with my ability to work and care for my children, but if it was not for this physical ailment, I might have delayed my search for help even longer. In working towards reducing the migraines, I met several wonderful and caring doctors, physical therapists, counselors and everyday people who helped me get back on my feet. There are so many things I would do to keep from ever having another migraine, but I acknowledge they are the proverbial straw that broke the camels back and started my healing journey. The process has been excruciatingly slow at times, but I am much stronger now and have a great deal more patience. The poison is still leaving me, and the antidote is unpleasant, but in the end I will be free.
As much as I cringe at the memory of some of my life experiences, time has proven them a potent learning tool. Reading a book, attending a lecture, listening to my parents or friends could never teach me life’s lessons so clearly. People who dole out hurt and manipulation exist in this world in higher numbers than I care to acknowledge. The role these people in our lives is painful but incredibly wisdom forming for those who survive. There was a time when I wished for a different life where bad things never happened, and people never hurt or mistreated me. Without those bad experiences, I would not be the same person. Yes, many broken pieces of me still need mending but once healed those pieces will be stronger than ever before.
The term “healthy boundaries” is a relatively new addition to my vocabulary. I realize now that my lack of boundaries left me open to abuse and manipulation. It is not easy to define one’s boundaries, but it is entirely necessary for self-preservation. There are things in this life I am not willing to accept any longer, and I am better off alone than in another boundary-lacking relationship. The thought of another person entering my life and wreaking havoc and constant chaos where there is relative peace is unacceptable. The truth is, there may not be room in my life for any more people right now, and I am okay with that. For the time being, I plan to define my boundaries clearly and maybe even write them in stone.
I love this diagram explaining the layers of healing. My knowledge of the healing process was almost non-existent when my journey began. In fact, just getting to the first layer “Naming Abuse” was a marathon in itself. I naively believed that removing myself and my children from the abusive situation and finding safety would fix everything. In reality, we were all in the beginning stages of healing, and all of us are in different layers now. I am happy to say we all understand and can name the abuse we endured. We are all safe now and have resources to help us continue our journey on a different path. The final six layers are different and very personal to each of us. A handbook, instruction manual, and a map would have been very helpful in the beginning. We are here to support each other no matter how damaged we may still be. The collective knowledge we have of shared traumatic experiences and our need for healing is invaluable as the journey continues.