A couple of months ago, I finished up my individual counseling sessions, and started going to group sessions. I had been doing so well, with my triggers and panic attacks generally being few and far between in the past couple of months. Even when they did present themselves, they would quickly be over. Whats more is that I am prepared for them. Sure, they can and do still sneak up on me, but I know what was happening. And often, I know why. Mostly, I know that I am safe and that the panic will be gone in just a few minutes. This is a skill I never knew I would have, and am so incredibly amazed every time I conquer another trigger.
But I knew that there would be times when life would get the best of me, as it always does. That happened today.
When I wrapped my counseling a few months ago, I had just briefly spoken to a small group of members at the United Way to share my story and how I would not have been able to be where I am if I had not received the help I had gotten through counseling. Essentially, showing a positive case study to them so they would continue to fund this service for the hundreds of women in South Dakota who could benefit from it. With that going so well, I was then asked me to share my story as the Keynote Speaker at the “Take Back the Night” event to increase awareness of domestic abuse this fall.
Don’t get me wrong. I want to do this with my whole heart. It is something that is so incredibly needed, and valuable. It is a cause I 100% support. But sharing my story makes me extremely nervous. I could do the old trick and imagine everyone in their underwear, but really, nothing I do is going to take away the feeling that by sharing my story I am exposing myself in a far deeper and more personal way than simply standing in front of a crowd undressed. Because I know that there are nightmares that are far worse than being nude in public, and these, unfortunately, are not always actual dreams but real life.
Plus… I survived. I escaped. Telling my story… what if it gets out? Even though I wouldn’t ever put faces or names to the evils within… what if they somehow find my story? Find me? Hear what I have shared? What if they realize I am talking about them? What if I wake a sleeping dragon? So many “what ifs”… it’s terrifying. I have finally started to heal, and pull my life together. To accomplish things I never thought I could do again. Like work full time. Be successful in my career. Be in a healthy relationship. Fall in love. Have the possibility of someday starting a family.
It was after hearing a another woman’s story in group that I realized that this is something I had to do. Because I heard stories that were just like mine. All this time, I had felt so alone. As if I was something wrong and defective, and that I wasn’t “normal”. But sharing in this safe space, I realized what I have experienced and how I reacted to these experiences is actually “normal”. And that there are too many women that have these stories. Stories that are locked up inside, tearing them apart. Women drowning in the loneliness and weight of these stories.
And by sharing, I recognized a common theme. We all felt like we were somehow weak because we had been affected by abuse that wasn’t the stereotypical movie assault. We weren’t kidnapped, or mugged in some back ally. We weren’t held down and violated behind a dumpster or in an empty parking lot. We didn’t have a knife or gun to our heads. Sometimes, this abuse didn’t even leave a visible mark. So we feel like it wasn’t “really” abuse. There are women who face this terrifying violence, and my heart goes out to them. But there are so many of us who experience the similar terror and mental scars, even when the aggressors don’t leave a physical mark.
This is when I realized that I needed to tell my story. Sexual and Domestic abuse is not just flying fists, or violent rape as depicted in the movies, and it is time we start to change this perspective. By telling our stories, we can help others realize the true face of abuse. And maybe, we can start to make a difference. So, regardless of how much I want to curl in a ball and hide, I am going to share my story. If this can help just one woman find solace, find strength, find peace, or find help… that will be enough for me.
There’s the shot!
I called and confirmed I would speak at the Take Back the Night event. Then proceeded to get hit with one of the biggest panic attacks I have had in months. At work. When there were emails demanding my attention. When all I wanted to do was crawl into the deepest, darkest hole. But this time, I knew what was up. All of the flight symptoms were there. Bile rising in my throat, hands as nervous as jello. The inability to focus on anything longer than a goldfish. But I know that it will pass. This trigger is a strong one, for sure. I might end up crashing out like a log as soon as I get off of work. But I will be just fine. Because I know that no matter what, this is what I want to do. I just posted how everything you want is on the other side of fear, and Good God, am I testing that theory today. But I know in my heart, amidst the terror and anxiety, that this is the right thing to do.
The Next Step
So, yes, I have escaped. I have accomplished amazing things. And I have also learned that even as terrified as I am of the unknown consequences of sharing my story, that there could be just as much good that comes from it as bad. I feel that I can be strong enough to weather any bad there may be.
This blog is intended to be a place where I share my journey in moving on. In living. And in healing. Sharing, I realized, is part of the healing process. I have decided to share my story, and speak at the event. Also, I have decided to share it with all of you. This may take awhile for me to get out, and it is probably going to reveal some old wounds and additional triggers in the process. But I can rip off these bandages, and finally, let these wounds heal. And hopefully, this reaches someone else that needs to know that they are not alone.