I’ve been trying to find a good metaphor for abuse for a few years now. At first I thought abuse was like a mosquito. Mosquitoes are tiny little creatures, not very easy to detect. They suck your blood and then leave a mark that itches for a while that seems like an eternity. Then I realized this doesn’t quite describe it. Abuse doesn’t need to bite more than one person to suck the blood out of multiple.
Survivors of domestic violence are living proof. The itches don’t really go away either. Perhaps, they shrink or they don’t itch like they used to… Or at least that’s what everyone wants to pretend to happen. I figured abuse could be more of a rose. Classic beauty, that has visible thorns, everyone chooses to ignore. Even though, there are clearly better options for flowers, people do tend to go for what they know best and choose the ‘safest’ option. However, I realized that there is no metaphor good enough to capture every shade of darkness that takes ahold of the survivor’s mind. They say every experience of today shapes you into the person of tomorrow. That is valid, assuming you still have control over the helm. So, what truly happens when you fall off your own ship?
Throughout my life, I’ve encountered all sorts of forms that abuse can take and how it can knit itself unto a person. Children, in particular, who watched one of their parents crumble in front of such violence can grow up to have a lot of baggage as adults. For some people, it’s all they’ve ever known and for others it became a funny ordinary anecdote, but most of them still carry that heaviness in their minds, and it breaks them into smithereens.
No matter how each person copes, everyone seems to share a mutual feeling. It’s like being the slowest runner in a marathon. The last person to hand in their test. That kid whose parents forgot to pick up from school. It eats away at you. While others are busy reaching the peak, the climax of their story, you are stuck in moments you had no control over, trying and over and over again to look at life with the same angle you had before. That spark and vigor for life that could once set ablaze the steps you left behind is now overshadowed. Gravity is against you and it seems to want the same thing as you. To fall in a hole and disappear. Only it feels like there is no hole you can fall harder than you already have.
There is also anger. Rage. Towards the person that made you see life through their lenses. That made you question your own truth. That made you feel things so intense, you could see fire in front of you but also feel it on your skin. There is also emptiness. Darkness. All the cliche feelings you only read in books.
Nevertheless, what people seem to leave unmentioned is that in the aftermath, there is also grief. I would argue, it is the worst feeling after such an experience. In your healing journey, you must also learn to grief the person you used to be and the person you could have become. While it may not feel like it at first, regardless of the abuse you went through (domestic violence, online harassment, sexual violence, stalking, cyberbullying etc), you’ve suffered a great loss. Questions arise daily in your mind. How can you continue with your goals after your existence has been depraved in such a vile way? How can one stop feeling so behind with their lives? How can you accept what happened and finally move on? This journey differs for everyone.
The hardest thing to digest is that you finally regained control and that itself can also be scary. It’s not scary because you can’t or don’t know how to handle control but scary in a”you can lose it again” kind of way. So you try to be unhinged, try to identify the smallest signs in each person. Questioning your own sanity and overreacting nature in the process. Until you finally reached that cathartic point where you figured out your boundaries just enough to respect them yourself.
In the beginning, healing seems like an empty promise. Wishful thinking from people that do not have even the tiniest glimpse on your thoughts. Later, with every small achievement and scream along with your favorite heart break song, being strong feels possible. While you’re in the middle of grasping the sight of your hotel room or playing UNO with your new road trip partners, a pleasant adrenaline rush thrills you as you remain flabbergasted at the simple thought you just had.
“Wow… I’m alive.”
If you or someone you know are experiencing violence, please the UNHCR Help site for resources you can contact for assistance.