Every day you walk by or speak with someone who is or has been a victim of domestic violence. One in three women, one in four men — the statistics of those who’ve suffered at the hands of an intimate partner are shocking, but we’re probably used to hearing about it, right?
We’ve been desensitized to the violence. It breaks our hearts, but we keep scrolling down our Facebook feeds. Rarely, do we stop to think about the one in three or one in four in our lives. I am the one in three. I experienced emotional and physical abuse by an ex-boyfriend from age 22 to 23.
It took me six months and three escape attempts to finally be free of the disgusting man who did this to me. It’s so easy to judge and say, “Why haven’t you left yet?” or “Why did it take so long?” The truth is you’ve been conditioned over time to believe you deserve it because you watched that episode of How I Met Your Mother without them or because you didn’t text back right away. It’s a gradual process that’s been written about extensively. “Gaslighting” was how my ex got me to believe so many lies. I started to believe everything he said because my memory was somehow wrong — he didn’t really say that. It didn’t really happen.
I’ve been free from his abuse for more than four years, but I still have triggers that make me flashback to the times he grabbed me and blocked the doorway so I couldn’t leave. Or, that time I had to lock myself in the bathroom. I’m now engaged to an amazing man who I trust, who’s honest with me, and who has the kindest heart. Still, there are small things such as dropping a frying pan on the floor that send me reeling back to my darkest days.
I don’t think these triggers will ever go away, but I’ve slowly learned how to cope with them.
1. Identify Your Triggers
At first, I didn’t understand why the panic attacks and fear were spiking on random occasions, but slowly I realized certain sounds coming from the kitchen or a graze of the arm would bring on the flashbacks. I tried to fight them, and that just made it worse. I found myself weirdly cowering in the bedroom for what I thought was a silly reason. Your reasons are not silly. It’s PTSD. Once I identified what triggered me, I was able to discuss it with my fiancé and it opened up a line of communication we’d never had before.
2. Fight the Urge to Flee
When those memories flare up, it’s natural for your first instinct to be to get away from the situation, but from what I’ve experienced, that only fuels the power of the trigger. I may still jump when a pan hits the floor, but I know it’s an accident and not the start of something terrifying. When you run away, you miss the opportunity to overcome it.
3. “Check in” with Your Partner
I try to “check in” as much as possible when something triggers a flashback and say, “Hey, are we good?” That way I’m not fussing over it for an hour, which forces me into a memory loop. My fiancé has an uncanny ability to calm my nerves with a kiss or a simple “I love you”; even an emoji works. One of the reasons I know he’s the one I want to be with for the rest of my life is that he understands me.
He may not get why making dinner can be so scary for me, but he understands that I can’t help my past. Sharing the awful parts of your life before you met is part of any healthy relationship, and checking in with each other on a regular basis can help your relationship grow while your fears dissipate.
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. These tricks have helped me cope with the things that trigger memories of the domestic violence I’ve endured. I hope they can help the other one in three women or one in four men overcome their past and discover how much strength and courage lives in their hearts.