Have you ever wondered how long the effects of an abusive relationship last? Are you one of those people who think, 'It's over, you're not suffering anymore, snap out of it," and believe a survivor's fears and trauma should remain in the past? I can tell you it doesn't work that way. Every mark left on an abused person, whether physical or emotional, scars them, and it's probably forever. A person who has their life back under their control, who goes to work, visits with friends, smiles, and laughs; they can still be suffering from the wounds inflicted by an abuser. One second, one sound, one smell, one thought can trigger an emotional avalanche that overwhelms the person and sends them to a place they have already left behind but feel they can't truly escape.
I decided to end my abusive relationship in 2001 when my life was threatened with violence and a screwdriver. However, it was a marital home, and when I packed all his stuff and put it outside, it did little to end the torment. I installed new locks, more locks, and pushed the sofa against the double-dead-bolted front door each night to go to"sleep" with a baseball bat in my hand. He tore the yard apart, ripped the phone lines from the house so I couldn't call for help, and banged on the outer walls and windows for hours screaming obscenities, insults, and threats while my two young children were sleeping. That scenario may sound mild, but it escalated to removing AC units and attempting to enter, prying the back door open to ransack the house, driving by twenty times a day, parking near the house at 2:30 AM, and watching us for hours, calling and leaving fifty "threatening" voicemails a day if the phone was connected, and finally holding my children hostage in an apartment. I've heard that immediately after a victim leaves their abuser is the most dangerous time for them. That's probably true.
Eventually, I gave up the house, abandoned it. It was the only way to remove myself from his grip. When I rented a place of my own, I kept all the windows closed and locked on all floors. I checked and rechecked all the doors and windows several times each night before going to bed. I never went outside alone. I regularly lectured my kids to keep doors locked.
After the court finalized our divorce, and long after I bought a house, the sparks still lingered, waiting to ignite. My oldest, a teenager at the time, left to go to work. I entered the bathroom. I was home alone in a quiet house. A suncatcher dangles on our storm door leading into the garage from the kitchen. Every time that door opens or closes, the suncatcher bounces off the glass, making a distinct noise. While I was in the bathroom, I heard that noise and called out, 'What did you forget?' No reply. I called his name. Nothing.
Immediately, I broke into a sweat, my heart pounded. I didn't dare unlock the bathroom door. The window is much too small to climb out. Yes, I considered it- any way out besides opening the door and facing what may be on the other side. I scanned the bathroom. Nothing much for defense. A can of Lysol spray? A small pair of scissors? I pressed my ear against the door, desperately trying to hear any noise, and thought the floor creaked.
I sprawled out, face pressed against the linoleum, struggling to view the floor outside that room searching for feet, afraid somebody would be looking back at me. Nothing- the absence of noise, feet, and eyes should have reassured me that I was okay; it was safe to open the door. Instead, it caused hyperventilating, and I huddled against the bathroom cabinet for an hour. What finally snapped me out of it? The time. My younger kids would get off the school bus within minutes, and I couldn't let them walk into the house and find me cowering in the bathroom. At that point, I still worried they'd walk in and find an intruder. It wasn't until I'd come out, searched the entire house, and checked all the locks that I believed it had been my imagination. Or maybe it hadn't. My teenager had left the door unlocked when he'd exited. Logic says I didn't hear anything to begin with, but logic doesn't stand a chance when you've been through the things I have.
This melt-down occurred in 2016, fifteen years after I "ended" the abusive relationship. To this day, I suffer the effects of long-term abuse. No, it doesn't get lost in the past where you don't have to remember. As I did, you learn techniques to deal with it; you may need medication, therapy, and prayer to ease the symptoms, but the darkness lingers in the corners of your mind waiting for the unsuspecting moment it can wreak havoc on your system.
If I wake up with a nightmare or anxiety strikes, I repeat this phrase until I can go back to sleep or calm down:
"Lord, restore my soul and break the chains of anxiety and panic that bind me."
The most crucial action is to get help, to find a way out of the abusive situation. No matter how many bad moments you face after you leave, the consequences of staying could be deadly.
If you need help, contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline today.