Today marks ten years since I made a final escape from my abusive family of origin. To do that, I took extreme measures that placed huge limits on my daily life, I literally fell off the map and lived in hiding. At the time I was backed into a corner and could see no other option. And, it worked; I was successful, the relatives who spent two decades physically, sexually, and emotionally abusing me have not tracked me down or gotten a single direct communication through in all these years (and not for lack of trying on their part!) They’ve been unable to touch me.
But I haven’t enjoyed my freedom, I was unable to celebrate or even acknowledge this reality for almost this entire decade of my life. Because on a daily basis I felt that they were always just about to show up at my doorstep to make violent scenes, call me on the phone to harass me with threats, or send malicious hate mail via any number of avenues. I would imagine detailed scenarios where I would randomly run into them in public even though I chose to move to and remain living in a very remote place where this was extremely unlikely if not outright impossible.
Of course these were valid, rational expectations based on my experiences at the hands of my parents and older siblings. But that feeling of impending fear and doom was not rational, it was a part of the trauma itself, a component to the many flashbacks I was also experiencing on a daily basis. And thus no amount of rationalization could alter my fears or make me feel any more safe.
Over the past five years since safely/anonymously sending letters confronting my ex-family, I gradually started to relax the measures I took to hide myself, though most of the real changes were forced upon me by the death of my partner in 2014. Regardless, I was still hiding inside and went about my daily life expecting d-day to happen at any time.
Until recently with the help of over a year of intense EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) therapy I was able to realize and feel with my entire being that it really was over. The abuse is over, I just don’t face the kind of daily threats in my current life that I did in my family home.
Of course it’s still true that hypothetically if I took certain actions I may get a response from my ex-family members. But I’m not living in a hypothetical world, at least not anymore; the fact is right now, with the actions and decisions I’m taking on a daily basis, they are not doing anything to me and they have no access. I can finally see that. This is a big shift, as living with post traumatic stress disorder for my entire life, I am used to existing largely in hypothetical space, primed for ever-present dangers and worst-case hostilities that could happen; to living as if they are in fact happening, constantly and forever.
I don’t need to come up with countless detailed scenarios for what I will do if unwanted contact comes up anymore. It seems very simple now; refuse to engage, and take care of my security be that via blocking, returning to sender, walking away or calling the police if need be. This is the same that I would do if a malicious stranger were to cause problems in my life, and I feel no need to spend long hours anticipating that happening either. While it’s true that I can’t control what my ex-family do, that also means they have no control over me.
The fact is, I’m not afraid of them anymore; I know they have no power and what they do doesn’t really matter that much to me! This is ok because I see now that I don’t have to be afraid or hyper-vigilant to protect myself from them. I really don’t. I’m not living in a warzone anymore. That cloud of tension following me around throughout my days isn’t necessary to keep them out of my personal space, and it’s dispersed.
This doesn’t mean that I’ve suddenly become naive or have no boundaries, it means that in fact my boundaries are stronger then ever, because they come from a place of my own exuberant freedom, not from the abuse.
I never expected to feel this way; I had no framework from which to create such an expectation. I spent seven years of the past decade living in isolation in an emotionally abusive relationship feeling so much guilt and thinking that I was trapped; that staying was the only way to escape being abused by family. When that was ripped away from me in yet another series of traumatic events, I spent the next three years desperately trying to recover. I’ve come out of that crisis now and my survival is assured; and perhaps I can look forward to even more then just that.
Ten years is a long time; I know that I’ve outlasted my ex-family’s attempts to reach me, I’ve won, and nothing they can do could change that now. It was a shock to my entire unconscious belief system when I finally realized, finally felt and now know that I have permission to move out of hiding, to live wherever I want to, to live my life as I so choose it. I won’t be moving down the street from my ex-parents, but I don’t want to anyway, its not my scene. In the decisions I’m making for my future, avoiding them no longer takes precedence over meeting my own needs and goals in life.
It really is possible to move through a state of chronic post-traumatic stress to a place of “lol, who cares?” when it comes to our former abusers. It is possible to heal. I still have a great deal of trauma to process, that will take time, but as I do it I’m starting to feel a whole world of difference.