One of the most healing opportunities I have been blessed with on this journey has been to connect with other survivors. There are intimate partner/domestic violence survivors. There are intimate homicide survivors. The former could have easily been the latter, and with every news report of those whose lives were ripped away by a partner or ex who killed them, all of us have a profound sense that we narrowly escaped.
Survivors are pulled back under by events hauntingly familiar to our own. With every report of another episode of lethal gun violence, those of us who survived are keenly brought into the moment we experienced bullets. Logic would say it is over. But is it ever really over when it is repeated on front pages daily?
Part of connecting with other intimate partner violence survivors has been the affinity of ‘me, too!’ We experienced many of the same abuses, most of which have been so consistent in abusive relationships they have been documented in the Duluth Power and Control Wheel which was created based on the similarities of virtually all those in violent relationships. Violence is (simply) the tool used to perpetuate the control.
We share residual after-effects as survivors too. PTSD, hyper vigilance, complex trauma responses and emotional liability, physical reminders such as scars, nerve damage, leaking brain fluid, compromised mobility, traumatic brain injury and impaired cognition from extreme blood loss or strangulation; all go with the territory of being a survivor. Perhaps the most unsettling after affect for me is that of recurring depressive moods, a pervasive sadness at an unrecoverable loss of myself as I once knew me within a larger profound indescribable loss.
Different than a classic depression, which is continuous over a period of time, these depressive moods can come after periods of happiness, joy, peace and contentment. Much like the abuse that created the syndrome, the moods hit us from behind like a rogue wave, just when we are feeling peaceful, comfortable. When we feel like we’re improving, on solid emotional ground and our lives are starting to come back together, these waves knock us down and draw us backward into the abyss of hopelessness, feeling overwhelmed, with a sense of both inescapability and inevitability, as though we’ll never get free. The same dark thoughts pervaded our relationships.
Where others cycle up and down over a steady midline base, it feels like our baseline has been reset well below the norm. One seemingly small event is emotionally interpreted as catastrophic. Our logic tells us one thing, yet the mood is reactive, like an autonomic response. If you have ever been pulled under and away by a wave in the ocean, or struggled in a riptide, you have the sense of what it feels like. Naturally occurring diurnal rhythms, monthly cycles and seasonal changes tend to send our low phases particularly far down. The key, then, seems to be trying to get closer to ‘normal’ baseline once again.
The moods pass sometimes in the same day, sometimes over several days, but it is extremely difficult to sit with because it is extremely difficult to function during. It helps to remember we are free and it will pass, that it’s just going to feel yukky for as long as it feels yukky. Being kind to ourselves during these periods is helpful. We’ve been through things most people cannot imagine and we’ve experienced them repeatedly.
As the days shorten, the angle of the sun is noticeably lower and the moon rises from behind the trees; a snapshot my mind seems to have embedded as dangerous. No reassurance I am safe can override the foreboding sense of impending danger as the weeks lead up to the anniversary of that day, which this year falls on a Sunday again.
I’m heading back for more EMDR therapy in the hopes of regaining some degree of coping. I don’t feel I have the luxury of time to waste immobilized for a morning, let alone a day, especially on what were once my favorite fall days. It is a gift to be here. The days are numbered. I am desperate to live the life I missed.