The following reflection comes from Joanna, a survivor:
I saw my abuser for the first time since ending the relationship two years after our final break-up. I had moved across the country, and was back in town visiting family. The two years I had spent away had allowed me time to heal, to process, to recognize how much the abuse had impacted me. From a distance, I was able to finally see my ex for what he really was- an abusive partner. When I was in the relationship, I focused on the positive and tried to ignore or minimize the negative; in my time away from him I only allowed myself to remember how awful he was to me. I allowed myself to finally feel anger, a feeling I was never safe to express while I was in the relationship. I mourned the loss of everything he took me from me, how he isolated me from friends and family, ruined birthdays and special events and put me down so often that by the time I got away from him my self esteem was shredded into pieces.
By the time I ran into him years later, I had convinced myself that he was a reprehensible monster, someone who had never deserved my time or my forgiveness. So when I saw him I was shocked by the emotions that washed over me. I looked at him, and every tender moment I had pushed out of my memory came running back. I found myself wanting to be near him, the same person I had only recently recognized had once tried to destroy me. I couldn’t understand it.
That night was a similar rollercoaster I had experienced in the years we had been a couple. He immediately rushed to my side, and told me how good it was to see me, how much he had missed me. As the hours wore on, he showed himself to be just as volatile as he had been before- in one moment telling me how much he still loved me, how he didn’t want to be with anyone else, and in the next moment he called me a b*tch and told me to stop overreacting when I told him to stop. As his behavior swung between charming and hurtful, a strange sensation came over me. I could feel my former self, the person I had become during our relationship.
During our relationship he had knocked me down so often I literally felt smaller. He had torn into my inner most sense of myself, putting down my intelligence, my self worth, my very identity, that I began to feel hollow. You’ll hear people talk about “walking on eggshells” during an abusive relationship- in our relationship I became the eggshell.
As I stood there listening to him hurl insults and declarations of love in my direction, I felt like I was holding this eggshell of a girl I once was in my hands. I could see her, I could feel her, but I no longer was her. I couldn’t deny that my feelings about him were more complicated than just outright hatred, but I could also feel the strength I had gained during my healing process. This strength allowed me to hold my former self with compassion and forgiveness, and to show her that neither of us deserved to be treated that way. This strength I was cultivating each day, the strength I continue to build, allowed me to calmly and firmly walk away from him and step with grace into my future.
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