OK. Getting a little silly with the title... but I can only take myself so seriously for so long. Still, this is a continuation of the last two posts.
We All Have Our Reasons
Part of the shame and humiliation of 12-year-old memories is the way they force my to view myself and the way my identity is constructed. I felt weak and powerless and ugly and worthless.
And telling the story with me in the role of victim validates that.
So when my teeth aren't falling out of my head and when I'm not in the dentist chair and when I'm not crying about how we can't replace our 15-year-old minivan because our savings just went into my mouth and when I'm not avoiding smiling or talking due to self-consciousness about my appearance... I'm OK. The story is different.
When I'm not dealing directly with any of those other things I rarely think about that night at all. And when I do there's a little balance. On the one hand, I know what I did that contributed to that awful dynamic - this isn't victim-blaming - because the dynamic that made it all possible had plenty of my personal construction holding it in place. And I also have that little shot of pride that I am still here. I am proud that I got out of that relationship and didn't go back. I'm proud that for all the trainwreck my life became for a few years after, I've now pretty much pulled myself together.
I have a loving and supportive husband with whom I've had three beautiful daughters who are growing up with an amazing father who loves and respects them and me. We have a home in which the overwhelming feeling is calm and peace. As much as I contributed to the misery of that previous life, I now contribute to this happiness and contentment. Is my current life easy? No. But it's good. I didn't have to go through what I did to have the life I have now; but if I did, I would.
There will always be things that bother me about the night I left my ex-husband. One of those things is wondering about the time. I don't know where it all went. It was evening, not very late, when I sat on the back of that black leather sofa and told him that I thought it was time to end it and that I was leaving. I didn't think he would be surprised. He'd already packed a suitcase and thrown it at me the night before. It was still packed by the door. So I thought we were done and I leaned down to grab my backpack and keys, which were sitting on the sofa. He slapped me. I don't remember my exact reply, but I remember laughing when he said he hit me because he thought I was leaning over to hit him. The next thing I remember was hitting the back of my head on that tile floor when he knocked me off the back of the sofa.
The rest of the night is only remembered it small, slow-motion bits. The attempted force-feeding. In one room, where my things were thrown and broken. In the hallway, with him blocking the path to the door... The anticlimax where I threatened to destroy his computer unless he gave me the keys. He did. I grabbed the suitcase by the door as I ran to the car and drove away.
Somehow that took hours. I don't know how or why. I don't know why it was evening when it started and 2 or 3 A.M. when I knocked on my friend's door and finally slept on the futon in her guest room. But I remember the moment when I saw something in his eyes that made me think, Oh God. He will kill me. And I remember the shock I felt as I drove away, that I was alive. I was out. It was over and all the things over the past few years that bothered me - things that could have been read off a list of warnings signs for an abusive partner - were done.
Looking back - would he have killed me? I like to think not. That as murderous as his rage appeared at the time, it went as far as it could have. Now, in the safety and comfort of my home, I look back and offer myself the possibility that I overreacted. That it wasn't as bad as my narrative makes it out to be. I remind myself of all the ways I was a horrible partner and how I can not blame him for being angry and hurt. And if I overreacted then, maybe my flashbacks are just symptoms of a melodramatic way of thinking.
If I belittle myself and my experience - if I invalidate it - that means the problem was really just me and that's not as scary. I have more control. I'm not a victim.
But then something happens. A broken tooth. A gappy smile in a photograph. Loud noises. Flashes of light. And I'm right there again. That heel of the hand and the realization of what was happening.
When the PTSD loop winds down - as it is doing right now - I am left sad. Sad at the poor decisions I made and that there's another year ahead saving for a car and, after that, for the money to replace my missing teeth. Sad that so much of our resources still go to repairing the aftermath of one night.
But wind down it does. And I am still here.