Annihilation: the legacy of domestic abuse

Annihilation

noun

1. an act or instance of annihilating, or of completely destroying or defeating someone or something: the brutal annihilation of millions of people.

2. the state of being annihilated; total destruction; extinction: fear of nuclear annihilation.

3. Physics.

a) Also called pair annihilation. the process in which a particle and antiparticle unite, annihilate each other, and produce one or more photons. Compare positronium.

b) the conversion of rest mass into energy in the form of electromagnetic radiation.

The disintegration of the self can be so extreme after long term domestic abuse that when you try to properly explain to someone how totally empty and lost you are, you can only sound melodramatic to those who haven’t experienced it for themselves. You get told a lot of things by well-meaning people: to just move on, to get a job, be grateful for the life lessons. You got out, it’s behind you now. Move on!

But you can’t move on. Your abuser has systematically destroyed who you are piece by piece. They do it in a such a way that you think you deserve it, that they’re performing necessary amputations of rotting sections of your personality, your habits, your beliefs to save your life. Or, like what was often the case with my abuser, because they’re covert and manipulative and far too clever, they trick you into amputating those things yourself, making you complicit in your abuse, distancing themselves so they can look innocent down the track if you call them out for what they’ve done. Because they never specifically told you you were stupid and fat and that your friends were dumb feminists who really just wanted a man and money but were bitter so better not to have them around. No, they never said those things, they never outright told you not to see your friends anymore, you made that decision yourself for whatever reason. They never played games with your mental health to push you over the edge so they could justify the way they treated you. They never trained you to speak a certain way, dress and look a certain way, have a certain job. They encouraged you to be your best self! That’s all. They’re a good guy. They loved you.

I keep thinking things will get better. My support group has stayed in contact after our group officially wrapped up. It’s been great in lots of ways: you have people who automatically get it when you’re struggling, who affirm your abuse did occur when his voice has gotten back inside your head after a horrible nightmare and your PTSD has flared and you can’t leave your bedroom. But you’re also witness to their ongoing destruction. You’re there as atom after atom is ripped from their already weak bodies. It also means I can’t hide when I’m being ripped apart and can feel my skin flaking off and becoming dust in the breeze. I can’t pretend with them, they know, they can recognise the decay in that they know it in themselves, and I recognise it in them because I know the feeling in myself.

You see, you thought it was over. When you get out, when you realise that you have been abused it should be the start of your recovery. But some things actually get worse. For many different reasons. There’s the period where you start to understand exactly what your abuser was doing, how malicious they were. How dangerous they were. And it feels brutal. You feel the fear and the terror you shoved down when you thought it was your fault and he was just being supportive. No, you were being torn apart. He was terrible. He was cruel, in ways you can’t fathom. The man you married and you loved and thought loved you was draining you to feed himself then complaining that you were tired all the time. It hits you and suddenly it’s like you’re back. You have nightmares. You’re terrified all the time, jumpy, hyper vigilant. You feel him everywhere. And that’s just the mind coming to terms with what you let into your heart and bed. Many women have to coparent and actively still see the man regularly while they’re coming to terms with what he is and how he was slowly killing them, whether overtly or covertly.

These last few weeks have seen many women in my group struggling in ways I can’t comprehend. Some fear for their lives: their exes are escalating in their viciousness and we don’t know if they or their families will be safe. Others are breaking apart under the emotional stress of coparenting with men who seek to destroy them psychologically by abusing their children. There will be no physical harm done to the kids so they can’t get a VRO or get the courts interested, but the man is psychologically seeking to systematically diminish the children just to punish the woman for daring to leave. One has left the country, gone home, feeling like she is unable to cope. We won’t see her again because she won’t risk coming back and having to deal with her ex. She’s left everything behind, all she’s worked for, all she’s built, just so she can survive one more day. She’s breaking apart. Atom by atom. It feels like many of us are.

I know I’m struggling. I had a week and half where I could barely leave my bedroom. It felt like the air was too heavy, the light was toxic, the world was dangerous and I needed to fade away. I’m really struggling. I don’t have kids thus don’t have to coparent so I hate on myself for being weak when I don’t have to actually deal with my abuser regularly. But in reality I do have to deal with him. In court, for our financials. In my nightmares. In my every second because I still feel his presence in my head. He was so clever at replacing my inner voice with his that he has become a parasite. He still feeds off me. I want to move on, but I was in my early twenties when I met him, he was my first real relationship, I was naive and emotionally a little younger than my actual age. It’s over ten years now. He ate my youth. He sucked away the lessons I should have been learning about myself as I went from teenager to adult. He robbed me of my healthiest years leaving me physically incapacitated with no money, reliant on my parents and the government.

This is my annihilation. Because recovery is the wrong word to use for the process of dealing with the aftermath of domestic abuse. Recovery suggests you will recover what has been lost, you will return to yourself. But I don’t think many people return or recover. They hopefully become independent again, self reliant. Hopefully they get purpose back. Hopefully some happiness. But it is a new type of life, a new you, and you can’t scrub the poison from your eyes. You see the world in a new way, you see the darkness in humanity laid bare and all around you when before you sensed it but didn’t understand how sick our society actually is. If you have to deal with the court system you see justice as a flawed and broken beast often trampling over the vulnerable needing its help. If you have kids you have years of mind games and court appearances ahead, finding psychologists and specialists for them, dealing with their behavioural problems and praying they won’t turn into their father.

I want to see my group and myself rise like phoenixes, like pop songs and movies tell us we should do when we have suffered. We should find our best selves, one day be grateful for our tests and difficulties because they showed us who we really were. But I don’t see it right now. I see women and children suffering without relief in sight. I see myself fading under the enormity of what I will need to do to overcome psychologically, emotionally and physically before I can be independent again. It’s been a bad few weeks, maybe I’ll be more optimistic later, but I think it’s important to put it on the record that not everyone comes out of abuse better people. Some are destroyed by the experience, they never really recover. There will be women in my group who may not survive. This isn’t Eat, Pray, Love or some other First World, Westernised and romanticised picture of suffering. This is war, and not everyone survives a war, even if the good guys eventually win.

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