Seventeen years ago today, my first husband died. Seventeen years. The same number of years we were married. We were together twenty-one years, one third of my life. One third of my life hearing what a disaster I was. One third of my life filled with physical, mental and emotional abuse. After he died, I spent a long time overcoming the damage he did. I went to grief counseling because, believe it nor not, you grieve a bad relationship as well as a good relationship. I went to therapy, where I was diagnosed with PTSD. I worked at rebuilding my self-confidence, my ability to control my own life. It took a lot of hard work and the love and support of the man I now call husband. Eventually, I learned to believe in myself. I regained the belief that I had when I was younger that I could do anything I put my mind to. I learned to appreciate talents that I buried because I was told I couldnt do it. I truly thought that I had repaired what had been broken.
There are a lot of ways that abusers maintain control: physical threats, taking away access to money and freedom, isolation from friends and family, constant belittlement. All these things work to make you believe you are nothing; to make you believe you are lucky to have this man (or woman) want you.
For my part, I have come to understand that the isolation is the hardest part for me to overcome. As an only child, being solitary is not an un-natural state for me. But before I met my late husband, I had friends, good friends. I had no doubt they liked, even loved me. After all, I believed I was worth another’s love. But he convinced me otherwise. He made me believe that people were just being nice to me or that they were using me or felt sorry for me. Anything but that they genuinely cared. It made it hurt less when I stopped connecting with others.
But recently, I have come to accept that I am likable, even lovable. I have a group of friends in a creative group I belong to who recently reminded me of what friendship means. When you offer friendship to someone, it means you support them and are loyal to them. I had forgotten that because I believed that no one was really my friend. Now I see that I have been blessed with many people who see me as I am and still care.
I’m sure as the years go by, I’ll find more damage that was done. It may take my whole life to clear all the dirt that was thrown on my soul. But I know now that these are all paper demons and I can shred each one that appears.