There are days when I can’t tell where I end and my trauma begins. But what I do know is that my trauma doesn’t define me, and neither does yours.
I once thought that PTSD was an emotional response to a single, visibly distressing event. However, I now realize it’s so much more. In fact, navigating my life as a domestic violence survivor is like walking through a physical and psychological landmine. My abusive ex has caused me to suffer a variety of difficult psychological and emotional responses.
Although stalking is considered a crime everywhere in the United States, many women like me still suffer its effects. Despite what people may think, stalking can take many forms and may include assault, threats, vandalism, trespassing, harassing communication, and unwanted gifts. Furthermore, stalkers come from every socio-economic background, which makes profiling them next to impossible.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, an estimated 14 out of every 1,000 people over the age of 18 are stalked every year. Unfortunately, I was no exception. Even after I fled my abusive relationship, my ex-fiancé stalked and hunted me down like a wild animal. I constantly feared for my safety. My ex-boyfriend’s scarring actions have caused me to experience more abstract forms of trauma.
Post-traumatic stress disorder makes both my waking and sleeping hours a constant nightmare.
When I’m awake, everything that I see, hear, feel, touch, and smell triggers the trauma that lives within me. Once my senses activate, I enter “fight, flight or freeze” mode. When I sleep, intrusive thoughts that peppered my day bleed into the night. Flashbacks and nightmares stun me awake. No matter how hard I squeeze my eyes shut and try to fall back asleep, I can’t rest.
Because the months of stalking I experienced, I also grapple with the dichotomy of agoraphobia.
I often barricade myself in my home for days at a time because I simply can’t walk out the door. Fear paralyzes me as I worry that he’s lurking in the bushes. At night, I still see him standing under a street lamp and visualize every detail of his face, even when I can only make out a vague silhouette of a person across the street.
When cabin fever takes over, I make a pact with the Universe: “Please let me get through this without completely decompensating in public.” I arm myself with pepper spray, a bright orange pocket whistle, and a military-grade tactical flashlight before I venture outside the house. I obsessively look for parking spaces as close to my destination as possible. With military precision, I calculate the threat level I may face and all possible elements of danger in my path. On many occasions, I’ve left store parking lots because I can’t park within view of the entrance. I also rarely enter the grocery store without friends in tow, and I purchase in bulk to minimize trips.
I know that my fear isn’t always rational, but my brain can’t override my body’s reaction to the trauma I faced. Essentially, my trauma is neurobiologically wired into my body. In other words, my reptilian brain lights up in the moments when I enter “fight, flight, or freeze” mode. As much as I try to put the entire sordid affair behind me, I simply can’t escape it.
That’s because the PTSD recovery journey is long and painful.
Post-traumatic stress disorder has woven itself into my life and will forever be part of my story. But instead of allowing it to paralyze me, I’ve chosen to stand my ground, manage my symptoms, and not let it ruin my life.
If you are currently leaving an abusive relationship, knowing your rights and learning how to manage your triggers will become the first steps in your recovery process. Remember that healing from trauma is not a linear process. Know that you will have good days and bad, just like the ebb and flow of the tides.
Mostly, though, know that your journey will take time, and that’s OK.
Personally, I’ve found that being patient, kind, and gentle with myself has helped me move forward in my recovery. Also, surrounding myself with those who truly understand my situation has helped me tremendously.
I hope that others will find strength, courage, and comfort in my story and discover helpful ways to combat their PTSD. If you’ve suffered just as I have, know that you are not alone, and that you will rediscover your power and strength of spirit!
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, help is out there. You can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the Suicide Prevention Hotline, or the Crisis Text Line 24/7.
Author’s Note — To Skye, Cooper, Dixon, Tyler, Shmoo, ErinM, PeterB, MikeleR, JodiD, ChrisP, JackieQ, Al-G, MollyB, LundyB, Patrice, Jeannie, SonnyW, JakeK, Max, KBPT staff, and LaurenB: Thank you for opening your hearts and homes to shelter me.