Saturday, April 25, 2015
When I was nineteen years old, I didn't know that I had Bipolar Disorder, so I didn't recognize what was happening when I came out of a deep depression and went into the most extreme manic state I have ever experienced. I simply thought I was finally "finding my happiness".
It really only lasted a summer but from the beginning I abandoned or simply neglected my relationships with anyone who truly cared about me. I surrounded myself with people who not only did not object to my reckless and dangerous behavior, but who supported it. Looking back, I don't know how I made it out of that summer alive.
My behavior ranged from blowing my paychecks every other week on things I didn't need for no reason to riding in a car with a drunk driver where I had not only no seat belt but no seat. But perhaps the most devastating thing I did was flirt with a handsome co-worker. I had started the job just as the mania started and I was hooked on him by my second day. He made my heart race and he always had the sweetest things to say. On our first date we went to Publix and got what we needed to make dinner at his place. We ate and laughed and watched game shows on TV. Then he drove me home and I remember feeling like I was walking on clouds. I had no idea what was about to hit me.
Our relationship lasted for the summer but the romance died by the end of the first week. Those few months he found ways to hurt me that I didn't know existed. He verbally, emotionally, physically, and sexually abused me and I internalized all of it. I told no one. I was simultaneously making excuses for him in my head and feeling ashamed for what I had let him do to me. He was smart, never left a bruise. He slept with a knife by the side of the bed and he made sure I knew it. He knew what to say to pull me back in when I tried to get away. Some days he would pull the car into oncoming traffic, threatening to kill us both. Death got too many good looks at me that summer.
My memories from that time are fuzzy. I think I blocked a lot of it out and I know that I blocked the end out. I couldn't tell you how I got out if you held a gun to my head. I'm pretty sure Michael had something to do with it. But I do know that when I got out, the harassment continued at work. He would pin me against a wall in the back and whisper threatening things in my ear. He would grope me any chance he got and one time cornered me in the walk-in freezer, turning the light out when my back was turned and attacking me. And when I finally found the courage, through a friend, to bring it to the manager's attention, I was told there was nothing they could do because we had been "in a relationship". I was too weak at the time to fight it and I ended up leaving the job because of a health issue.
He still haunted me. I saw him many times in the time right after I left the job because I still had to go there for unrelated meetings and we lived not far a part and frequented the same grocery stores and restaurants. He always had a snide or threatening comment to make when he saw me. I began to fear he was going to come to my home in the middle of the night and attack me or maybe kill me. Multiple times, when I was alone in the house, a noise would send me into a complete panic, he was in the house and he was coming for me. I locked myself in the bathroom and hid behind the shower curtain until Michael came home. I would sit for hours afraid to breathe. Moving houses didn't ease my fears.
At first, not even Michael knew the extent of the abuse. But slowly I opened up to him and slowly I told others, not the details, but that something happened. I opened up to one close friend and then another and every time it feels like I'm taking a little bit of the control back from him. I'm not going into the gory details but I just want to put it out there so now everybody knows. I am a survivor of an abusive relationship. I'm not ashamed anymore.
My first step that summer was to break up with Michael, who is now my husband. We don't factor that break when we tell people how long we've been together because I know now that Michael stood by my side the entire time, he never left, I just didn't see it. He didn't give up on me and he wasn't just there to catch me, he's the one who pulled me out of the fire.
I am now honored to know many others who have unfortunately had to survive abuse of all kinds. I'm honored to know them because they are some of the strongest people on earth. When you've been abused, it can sometimes feel like your abuser stole a piece of you. If they aren't in your life anymore they can hide in your nightmares. It sometimes feels like an unending battle to feel safe and secure again. It takes real strength to rise from the ashes of who you were, before the abuse, to thrive.
I know that my recovery is still going on and for all I know it will be a lifelong struggle but I know that I will always keep fighting to take back my life, all of it. And by sharing my story, instead of hiding in shame, I feel like I'm getting another piece back.
My prayers and love are with anyone who has experienced any kind of abuse. I strongly encourage you to find an outlet to tell your story whether it's a friend, a therapist, a support group, or even a blog. Your story is important and you are not alone.