According to him I always took too long in any store, especially the grocery store. He would fuss and say he was going off to pick up other things on the list so we could get out quicker. When it was time to check out I wouldn’t be able to find him. The conversation in my head would be something like: “Do I try to find him or do I wait in line and see if he’ll meet me here? I’m next in line, I don’t have enough money for all these groceries because I pay other household bills and our agreement is he pays for groceries. Do I just walk away?”
Finally I pay and hope he will put money in my checking account to cover it (he insists on separate accounts because I am ‘bad with money’). All the while I am wondering will he once again tell me that I never have funds in my checking account, use this as an opportunity to emotionally beat me up, or say we didn’t need the items I’ve purchased and refuse to pay me back for them knowing another bill will go unpaid to cover the unexpected expense. At which time he will tell me how irresponsible I am that I can’t pay my bills and why should he ‘help’ someone who is so careless and irresponsible with their finances.
Many times I would get to the car and he would already be there, furious he had to wait, with none of the items he said he went off to get. Each time I’d try to be quicker and quicker so I could make it to the checkout line before he did. Sometimes I would be the one to run and get items while he got the produce. When our daughter was a few months old I went off to grab a few things across the store and came back to find her in the cart and him nowhere in sight. I was frightened and angry he had left her unaccompanied. For years he’d ridicule me for being afraid someone would take her from the grocery store – ‘watch out, somebody’s going to steal your baby’ as though I was somehow wrong to be concerned.
I eventually convinced him of the benefit of my going to the store alone by reminding him how slow I was. I was not really alone as most times he would refuse to ‘babysit’ and I took the children with me. It was still far more peaceful with just the three of us.
That was years ago. I am now visiting a friend. When he picks me up from the airport he has an errand in town to run. Tired from travel, in an unfamiliar place I am caught off guard and I panic at the prospect of going into a store with him so I wait in the car.
Later in the visit he makes plans to cook dinner and I realize we are going to the grocery store together. Nervous about it, I want to decline going. Intellectually I understand it is a grocery store and even if I am left I can find my way. I always have. But there is a pull stronger than my intellect and I have a difficult time staying in the present moment as we drive through the little town where he lives and I see the store. It is not huge like ours. As though to reassure myself I will be okay I say aloud ‘it is so small!’ which seems odd to both of us.
It is the first time I have been in a store with a man for many years and my anxiety level is high. My heart races as we approach and by the time we enter and are in the produce section I realize I am having a panic attack. I want to leave immediately but I am more afraid to be separated from my friend. I don’t want him to know how I’m feeling because I am embarrassed and who could possibly understand this? On the verge of tears I soldier through like glue on his heels with his every step. I try to be casual and browse but I continually look over my shoulder to gauge where he is and move quickly to rejoin him. I tell myself over and over this man would not leave me in a store in a town I am unfamiliar with, and has no reason to find fault with me. I am relieved to finally get outside. Though I am adept at appearing very composed, I want to collapse.
This experience bothers me. I think that I am healing and doing so well, and then in the most mundane of experiences I fall apart. I feel like it is hopeless, fear I will continue to have these insane experiences which almost paralyze me emotionally when I never reacted those years ago; didn’t skip a beat and certainly didn’t shed a tear over nor process it with anything more lingering than annoyance at the time.
It makes sense I am still spooked by loud noises, guns, sirens, and being surprised by someone. I will likely always avoid being in a room without clear access to an exit and be uncomfortable in a room with a closed door. I don’t know how to explain the challenges these seeming everyday things are for me which to someone else are inconsequential. To experience everyday tasks on such high emotional alert is very difficult. My confidence is shattered and in that, I am also disheartened. My ‘I can do this’ turns to doubt and my fighting spirit surrenders to darker thoughts as I question this newest chapter in my experience.
One thing that is clear is those who have lived with the daily barrage of crazy making thinking in abusive relationships will have to work a little harder at things than someone who hasn’t experienced what we’ve been through. The ordinary, the mundane that most take for granted has to be relearned, and our minds and bodies reprogrammed to not react in anticipation of a pending attack. It is true…“Ongoing survival requires relentless attention.” Laurence Gonzales