(She walked away – Barlow Girl)
So yeah, I am now officially allowed to say whatever I want. That is something to which I have looked forward for a long time. I didn’t really care anymore when I didn’t have a job and graduation just seemed like a mocking of my previous dreams…but at graduation, when the freedom became real, it became exciting and amazing again. I still certainly am grieving, but I am able to be super excited about my freedom…
So now that I am free there are so many things that will be so much easier to talk about. No more talking around the point or alluding to things I can’t say. I don’t have to walk the line anymore trying to be honest without breaking rules. I have always been a rules-follower…and especially the last few weeks I have wanted to desperately to be able to talk about my failure in job hunting, but some of the pain and shame was tied too closely to the abuse. Talking about it was dangerous because if I slipped and if anyone found out I could lose graduation. That was terrifying. So I was stuck. I needed help, but I couldn’t afford to let anyone in. I had a few friends with whom I felt safe, but they were all busy, and some of them always wanted a group meeting which further decreased availability…and probably also decreased the amount I was able to say. I do still have some elements of social anxiety when stress is very high. I love people and I often value other people above myself, so despite my thoughts that separately I could have almost twice as much support, I wasn’t going to complain. They already were giving me far more than I felt like I deserved. I super appreciated so much what they did give me. I am so amazed at how awesome these people are. I don’t know how I found such awesome friends.
So anyway, it might seem weird knowing that I was in counseling with my abuser for a year, why I stayed so long. There were a couple people who tried to get me out sooner and I refused. There are a variety of reasons I stayed…and as much as I retrospectively want to hate myself for it, at the same time, I know that in the moment these decisions made a lot of sense.
In some ways, I felt like I had no other option. I knew I needed support, and didn’t really know yet that sometimes something isn’t better than nothing. I didn’t yet understand the importance of being selective in choosing whom to use for support. At the end of second year my counselor tried to warn me about my abuser and dissuade me from further engagement with her. First, once I have made up my mind it is hard to change, but more than that, the option she suggested was going to her school to continue to see her. She did her best to persuade me and even endorsed willingness to sometimes meet at my apartment, but I was scared, and my fear kept me from making the decision that could have put me on a better life path. New things are not my favorite. I didn’t know how to get to this place. I didn’t know where it was. I wasn’t sure about the parking situation. I didn’t know about the waiting situation. There would be lots of people around that I didn’t know. It was a social anxiety and OCD nightmare. On top of that, school remained my primary concern. I didn’t feel like I had the luxury of time to devote to driving somewhere else. That was probably a very real concern since that next semester I was sometimes hoping to fit counseling into a 70 minute break in my schedule. That semester there were days that my day started at 7am and didn’t end until 7pm with only ten-minute breaks most of the day before you even add in student organization and social events. In reality, the amount of time I was losing was greater than the amount of time I thought I was saving. And academically, the abuse probably caused more issues than less time would have caused. I certainly could have done better academically if I hadn’t had to deal with my abuser at the same time. I can think of a few times when one of the worse problems with my abuser coincided pretty well with my exams. That made it super challenging to study and to think well enough to do well on the exams. Considering despite the circumstances I was never more than like a point away from the next grade up, there could have been a real impact on my gpa. Hindsight is 20/20. I was very protective of my study time and I wanted to hold on to that time. Someone else tried to help me get out when she saw how bad it was by the end of August my first year (As in I had barely started and it was super obvious to this person that I was in a bad relationship). The alternative she suggested cost money though, and I could do it for free at school, and I never would have even started counseling if it hadn’t been free. I don’t know how much the option she suggested would have cost, but I can almost guarantee it wouldn’t have cost anywhere close to as much as the fallout of the abuse cost…not to mention there was also the time factor…Yeah, so short-sighted former me made some mistakes.
If you couldn’t figure it out from that previous paragraph, I am pretty change-averse. Structure and routine makes me feel safe. Expectation management is very important. (Lol, my parents warned me on the way home on Sunday that there is a graduation gift in my room that I was probably not going to like. With that warning I didn’t freak out when I saw it in my room). I don’t do change well. Even positive changes are really hard for me and I will at first probably seem just as upset about a positive change as a negative one because change is so hard for me (the difference being that a negative change will continue to feel bad whereas a positive change will switch over to excitement soon). I knew my counselor second year was not planning on having hours on my campus after that year, and I knew that going into it, so I had been planning all year what I was going to do next, and the fact that my abuser was the only one I knew for sure was going to be there again the next year, that was what I centered my plans around. Was it a good choice? No, but with my social skills the way they were, a known person who was not kind was still someone with whom I was a lot more able to communicate than with someone I had never before met. And in my head, she couldn’t be THAT bad, because she did let me play with her child for like 5 minutes during winter break second year…so yeah, my baby love and my lack of social skills made that decision. Even as evidence built up over the year that this was a bad choice, I was still afraid of change and didn’t feel like I had any other options. Then when I started with her, that became the routine. I got used to being hurt. I got used to being torn down. I got used to being yelled at to go away and banned from telling anyone and then going back a week or two later. I got used to being told verbally I might need a hug while she was physically creating more distance and her expression was one of disgust. I got used to assuming my opinion was wrong and shouldn’t be shared. Don’t worry, I wasn’t grieving after my classmate died. She told me so. Unfortunate that I started learning this, because one of my goals first year was to recognize that I have opinions that matter and I was pretty much there when she took that away. As much as I hated it, change was going to be really hard. That’s how my week was supposed to be set up with getting hurt one day a week and using the rest of the week to try to calm down and then to try to catch up on homework once I was calm enough to even start with the homework. That year was the first time I ever missed a deadline…the first week of school I forgot to take an online quiz. Luckily so many other students also forgot that the quiz was re-opened for us, but that is just one more piece of evidence that I want to say I should have picked up on sooner that there was a serious problem. I had previously been a student who had everything done early, did all readings twice, was very prepared for everything. It was easy enough to blame being in classes that weren’t just repeats of high school and that I was no longer living on campus and things like that…but in reality, I should have known that such a huge change in how I responded to school was not a normal reaction. I wish someone had been able to see the problems and make me see what a big problem it was. There certainly were people who noticed, but no one was able to provide me the evidence strongly enough or in a way that connected with me well enough to make the change…besides, there were also people telling me it was normal in college to start doing less well.
Another issue is that one of my strengthsfinders strengths is Developer. That means that I see ways that people could improve and what is probably holding them back, and I deeply desire to help them improve. I am a caretaker. I want everyone to be the best they can be. So, even when someone is hurting me, I can identify reasons why they might be doing it, and I can identify areas that they need help, and I feel like I need to hold on so that I can help them. I let myself get hurt so that I can stay in the circle to help them change and improve. In this person, I saw a lot of things. A few examples, someone who didn’t believe in herself. Someone who had experienced failure…some other things I noticed that she probably would prefer weren’t shared even though from my eyes it was super obvious…I wanted to help her. I wanted to encourage her. I guess I wasn’t ready to understand that some people are not interested in changing. They are happy staying stuck. I think she tore people down because she didn’t know how to not do that. She hurt me because when I started anyway I was a threat because I believed in myself. She made sure I felt like a failure and she taught me shame because she saw I had potential. She made sure I was going to fail so that I wouldn’t be more successful than her. She was hurting so she used her power to make other people hurt more than she did. She felt like the world revolved around her. I mean, I totally have at other times worked with people who were hurtful, but this is the first time that the hurt went beyond at least marginally acceptable to the level of definite abuse.
I know she was being disrespectful to other students. I do not know if her actions towards them rose to the level of abuse, but I really want to believe for their sakes that it only got that bad for me. I was an easy target. I am a protector, so I won’t usually tattle on people. This is probably part of why the fall out was so bad. No one knew why I acted out because I was still protecting my abuser. As far as they knew it was totally unprovoked because they were only hearing the other side. It took months before I was willing to share what was going on behind closed doors, because I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble…and I have now learned my lesson that there are some times when watching out for people isn’t the best option. Also, I was a lot more talkative than when I started college, but I still came to her a girl of few words. All she had to do was make sure I stayed that way and it would be virtually impossible for me to come up with a coherent enough message to let anyone know what was going on. I think that is also why she continued to be abusive after that year and brought her husband into it. She could see I wasn’t a quiet little lemming anymore and that I was going to be talking with the one person with whom it was allowed. She needed to assert her power and make sure the power differential was strongly enough in her favor to keep me trapped and preferentially to also keep me alone. She taught me during my time with her that I should feel shame…yeah, most mental health practitioners argue that we should not feel shame, but she taught shame. That served a couple purposes. First, it made it easier to teach me that I don’t matter and I am not good enough and no one will like me and I am never going to make it and I am a failure. Second, it stops people from tattling on her, because to do so would be to let people in that you were in counseling which she had taught you was shameful. I know for sure there were other people with whom she used this tactic. She used gaslighting and so many other things to make sure if we (I?) did say anything that it would be easy to make it seem like I didn’t know what I was talking about and make even me question what really happened…now I have learned enough about that to know that what I remember happening is really what happened despite the constantly changing stories she weaved to the contrary. Anyway, because of the shame and learning I wasn’t good enough, I felt trapped. I couldn’t go to anyone else, because they wouldn’t want me. No one else would accept me. She would ban me from talking to anyone else, but explain that was because no one else would be willing to talk to me anyway…so I couldn’t escape because I needed support that I as believing no one else would provide…in reality she wasn’t providing support either, but the limited knowledge I had said that if X then Y, if you have anxiety find a counselor. I did, so I did, not understanding that what this person was doing was unacceptable.
So yeah…kinda convoluted…but that is a picture of some of the reasons why I stayed so long in a relationship that was so obviously hurtful…but I am not going to sit in the corner feeling sorry for myself. I escaped, and now I am free. Abuse hurts, but freedom helps to heal the wounds. Now that I am not bound by so many rules, the power differential is gone and I don’t have to live in fear of what is coming next. Before all this happened, I had child-like trust. In the middle of it, my trust was shattered and I trusted almost no one outside of myself. Now I have been re-learning trust. I want to be able to trust people, but after what I have experienced, I jump to false negative conclusions. When being nice used to mean making sure that the next attack would hurt that much worse, I sometimes have struggled with learning how to be in a positive supportive relationship. Similar to what the CSO guy said in his speech at graduation, we don’t go through Trauma without being changed on the other side. Some of those changes are good – I learned that I need to stand up for myself and my rights, but some of the changed are less positive – I had a strongly negative visceral reaction for a long time to finding out someone was in any way related to the mental health professions, and I still am cautiously guarded when I meet new people in that area. Luckily I know so many amazing people that I am learning how to more correctly put people in boxes realizing that some people in every job are just not good at their job or choosing to not do a good job and that not everyone is like that, but it is a slow learning process when the pain has gone so deep for so long.
…and there is so much more I want to write, but I don’t even have time to edit what I already wrote, because my mom is going to kill me if there isn’t some significant progress made in putting away the piles of clean sheets, clothes, and towel in the entrance of my room before I go to work…