Supporting a Survivor

Supporting a Survivor

I have recently thought about how different my outcome may have been had my family turned away from me. I remember feeling so isolated and alienated during my marriage. Not only did I live 2.5 hours away from my family during my darkest moments, I often felt emotionally distant as well. I felt like a burden. I would bring them into my pain without any reprieve in sight. It would have been substantially easier for them to cut ties with me or exponentially distance themselves – and some of them did. The ones who didn’t endured a special kind of hell by association. There will be more on this in future survivor supporter posts.

I cannot recall how many times I called my family crying so hard I could hardly talk and was gasping for air. At first, they devoted much time and effort to their interventions. They told me I didn’t deserve to be treated that way. They told me to leave. They told me he was destroying me. While on the phone with them I felt strong. I was prepared to stand up for myself. Once I hung up the phone however, his guilt and manipulation consumed me. I was trapped. After enough of these phone calls my family ceased the intervention attempts. They did however, continue to pick up each and every phone call even though it pained them to know they couldn’t do anything to alleviate my pain.

I cannot recall how many times I told my family I was going to leave. Several times I had packed a bag and started to drive home. I’d only get so far. It was as if he had built an invisible fence around me. Part of me was hoping he’d show he still cared enough to talk me into staying. I knew deep down I should never have to do something so drastic to obtain care and concern, but at the time I was consumed with convincing him I was worthy. I don’t recall how many times my mom was on her way to help me pack up and move out before he turned everything around on me and had me pleading with my mom to turn around. Each time my family felt powerless as I slipped back into his grasp. Each time I told them I was leaving, they believed me a little less.

I cannot imagine how difficult it is to watch someone you love so intensely fade away into nothingness, unable to do anything to stop it. But that’s what they did. They shielded their hearts to reduce the impact, but they never did waiver in their love. They stopped telling me to leave and attempting to rescue me, but they never left my side. They handled things in such a way that I knew at the end I had to stand on my own two feet and actively make changes on my own. This was monumental for me. They did not enable me, but they supported me mentally and emotionally. They knew I needed to find my voice again. Once I did, they immediately surrounded me with the love and support they so desperately wanted to provide all along.

I guess the purpose of this post is twofold. One, is to let other survivors know that this is an incredibly difficult journey for family as well. Some might be able to protect their well-being and still be there, but some might not. Whatever they choose has less to do with us and is more about where they are in their own lives and minds. We should still reach out. We should still seek their support. We are not burdens. We are humans going through an incredibly difficult time doing what we are wired to do – seeking connection. Not everyone is going to be in a place to provide support. That’s okay. It is not a reflection of our worth. We need to remind ourselves of the supports we do have – even if it is one person (and even if that one person is not family), especially during our darkest moments. While our relationship might be smothering out our light, know that one person is still standing there, waiting with a match to relight us.

Two, is to do a shout-out to family and friends who never waiver in their love and support of us. This love and support is crucial. If you can provide it without sacrificing your own well-being, please, please do. Sometimes it is the only thing that keeps us here, continuing to fight a battle we always seem to be losing. The reasons we choose to stay are not a result of any of your perceived inadequacies. They are the result of power, control and manipulation on a level most can never begin to understand. Oftentimes, you cannot reason us out of it. You cannot take measures into your own hands in hopes that will be our wake-up call. We just need to know you are there – that we aren’t alone – and that you will love us through to the other side – whatever that love looks like for you. Model the love and compassion we are worthy of. That’s the only way out for us – knowing we are worthy and deserve to be loved in healthy ways. After all…….

Together, we are stronger. Connected, we are braver. United, we are Survivorhood.

Photo: Flickr – Les Chatfield

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