How Do I Find The Person I Was Before The Abuse?

One of the saddest things about abuse is that even after you get out of the abusive situation, or away from your abuser–if you are lucky enough to do so– life doesn’t just go back to the way it was beforehand. It’s not like waiting out a thunderstorm so that you can play outside again…even when the clouds move on and the sun shines, life doesn’t continue the way it did before the storm. Instead, surviving abuse is like getting through a storm, only to find that the dark clouds move from the sky around you, to form a squall within your own head.
For me, through the worst parts of the abuse, I simply prayed to stay alive. I prayed to live through the day, through the night, through another week until I could make it to the day when I got my life back. I was one of the fortunate ones. I did get out. I got away from my abuser. And I got back to my life, only to find that when I did, I was no longer in it.
The person I had been before; the happy kid, the carefree and wild and innocent girl who wore bright orange spandex to field hockey practice the first day the temperature dropped below 30 degrees and pretended to fall flat on her face while walking in the middle of a crowded mall because her best friend bet she wouldn’t; the girl with that huge, ridiculous smile on her face that radiated from her fingers to her toes…..she was gone. Looking back, I watch the process: the slow stripping of confidence, the way my abuser etched away at the strong personality I was unaware anyone could touch, piece by piece, combined with my own desperate attempt to rid my body of any semblance of feeling, all burying me as far away as possible and leaving nothing more than an empty shell to take my place.
I’m not sure, really, where the weight of the destruction lies for each individual victim. For me it was shame. Shame; that shut me up, that kept me smiling just the way I had always smiled, and forbid me from ever trusting myself again. The type of shame that clouded me from seeing anything beyond the distorted view of what had happened. The type of shame that never let things be anyone else’s fault other than mine. The type of shame that made me hate the sound of my own voice, the glimpse of my own reflection, and made the thought of letting the girl I was close enough to see the girl I had become, unbearable.
It took me years to realize that the shame I felt, was given to me– wrapped nicely in a pretty package that looked a lot like love, and even after I broke myself from my abuser’s hold, I still held the shame he left behind and thought it was my own.
So….how do we get our lives back? How do we find our way back to the person we were before the abuse and merge the pieces of ourselves together? I’ve spent most of the past few years since becoming a victim, convinced that I am serving a life sentence while my abuser walks free; wishing for some outline of steps to follow to get back to the person I lost and to figure out who I am now, but willing to settle for knowing that any of this is even possible; all of which leaves me wanting to scream out to someone, anyone: Am I even heading in the right direction? Will I ever get to the end of all of this….will I ever be ok again???!?!

And then, ever so slowly, it begins to come back; tiny flecks of me that force their way through the numbness and the fear.  For me, this process started by chipping away at the shame the same way my abuser chipped away at me. Piece by piece. So slowly that I’m sometimes not aware that I am making any change, but as I look back I can see how far I have come. I don’t have to be the abuse. I am not the crazy jealous rage. I am not the assault. I am not a lie. 

And I realize, that although I prayed for my innocence and naivety back, I now have a deeper awareness in my own ability to make an educated decision based on what I want; although I wished to disappear from it all, I now see the strength I earn from fighting through; although I swore that no one would ever understand, I now have a better understanding for other victims; although I cursed the years I lost because of abuse, I now appreciate every moment of my life I have; although I wanted to hate a world with so much pain, I am surprised by how much love surrounds me.

I am more than what someone tried to make me. I am more than just a girl left alone on her floor. I am more than an empty shell, a sleepless night, a silenced voice. I am more than what has happened to me.

20 Comments

  1. I am a grown woman of 45…..I was married to my abuser for three years, and put him in prison for the physical and psychological abuse he perpetrated on me. Your article here rings true for EVERY woman of EVERY age. Recovery for each person is different, albeit slow. I truly appreciate reading this because it gives us all the absolute knowledge that we will indeed get our TRUE selves back. And, that who we are inside…that which makes us and defines our own personality…unique and special….can NEVER be taken away from us. God Bless you. It's been 2 1/2 years out of the relationship for me, personally. And I am doing fine. 🙂

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  2. Hi Lynne. I'm so sorry that you have been a victim and I'm so glad to hear that you have gotten your life back. I'm glad that you can relate to this post. It's nice to know that we are not alone, and that we can find ourselves again. Thanks for commenting. You are an inspiration. <3

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  3. You are a wonderful soul, thank you for writing this. I couldn’t have said it better and am so glad you have!

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  4. Please be aware that this article rings true for EVERY man of EVERY age as well. My wife was exactly the same typer of person as the men who raged their mental bruising. We are all at risk of being caught up in the torture of a relationship with a person who has such a disorder. This site has been helpful to clarify such problems and I truly thank you for making this available to us.

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  5. Hi, I know exactly what you are feeling its almost been a year…I have nightmares ,I blackout, and I have PTSD moments.My most important advice to you is that your never going to be there girl you were before him.You will be STRONGER AND SMATER THAN BEFORE!Good luck

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  6. I was with my ex for 6 1/2 yrs…He was a complete n utter phyco! He did every last trick in the book to me (Verbal abuse, physical abuse, cheating and constant lies)…and like a fool I always went back! Getting more and more damaged every time!

    Thank god that he let me down for the final time and I came to my senses…That he would never be there for me and only ever take!
    We split up on boxing day 2007, after he wasnt there for me, with my personal problem and now we had split up! (A double whamy)
    I had a break down! (I honestly do feel stronger for it! I feel like if I survived that and I can survive anything! Almost untouchable like!)

    I lost all my conifdence and my bubbley personality dulled, I felt like I had lost my sparkle….I was angry at 1st, him walking around all fine and me broken n hurt. He had copied my personality traits, he was saying, acting and doing things like I would! But there is nothing worse than a fake person…I then got stalked for 6 months to maybe a year. Police called on a regular bassis. I got prank calls for about a year and a half as well.
    Anyway the police were wonderful, although I dont think he was ever charged with anything sadly. I went travelling and changed my number. I loved that number!…Sad as it sounds!!! But it was the best choice ever! I had had it since I was 15! Im really bad a remembering numbers and I still dont know my new one! But at least I am free!!!

    I still get weird things happen, strange post cards arrive, requests on facebook, messages on dating sites (I think from him) I ignore, block or delete! If I do hear a noise outside at night, sometimes I still get scared- But I just get on with it!

    But i am over him…Yay! and I am more than happy to say I HAVE MY SPARKLE BACK!!! 🙂 Its been back for a few yrs now! But still til this day I have to be careful and smarter to make sure I dont fool for a way of him to contact me!!! I know it sounds silly its just not worth the risk!!! So I just have to run a tight ship!!!
    Im not angry, I dont hate, I feel nothing anymore about it really! Sometimes I wish i hadnt waisted 6 1/2 yrs on it…But even then…I am strong and very tough!

    Im not going to lie, I find relationships hard and the longest one I have been in since is maybe a month! Partly because I dont like being trapped and also I just dont think I have met the right one yet…Im holding out for something muchh better this time around…I am sure I deserve it!!! 🙂

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  7. I have been in an abusive relationship for 6 years. Before him I was such a caring person who really liked myself. I am trying to get that person back. Im a professional with a very successful career and two healthy educated young adult children. In the beginning he was so charismatic. He did things for me I dreamed of. Gifts, travel, great sex. He has an IQ over 140 and brags about it. After the “honeymoon” phase he would tell me what to wear, who to speak to and what to say. He hacked my computers, phones. Humiliated me in public. He was physically abusive but stopped that after the police and neighbors got involved, yet he remained emotionally and physiologically abusive . He would have to know my wear a bouts 24/7. (you get the picture) Toward the end (which took 2 years to break out of) I would tell him things I did and if he didn’t know about them he would actually look confused.
    Anyhow, he recently got a very high paying job and of course with that he started dating a woman 18 years younger than himself and 23 years younger than me. He called to tell me he took her to Miami for 4 days, bought her new clothes, gifts and how beautiful and sexy she is. He also said he would now consider having more children (he’s 47) ALL THIS AFTER 5 WEEKS OF DATING HER FOR 5 WEEKS! And of course he had to point out how old and wrinkly I am compared to her and you know what?! I can’t shake it! Im getting better , baby steps, like Im here writing. But all I want is to A: run out and get plastic surgery and B: let this woman know he’s dangerous, (but I don’t know if thats more revenge or sincerity) I am shocked! I knew he was abusive but it looks like he is a real psychopath and sociopath. Like for real. ALL of his interests are changed for this poor woman, like he did with me. I’m scratching my head. Im confused. I have no motivation. I tried dating and that makes it worse. He convinced me he was perfect. Oh and he is the biggest hater . I need help. This is all new. Thanks for reading .

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    • THIS is very interesting to me. My ex would not only tell me they were younger, smarter & hotter than me, he would send me pictures of a beautiful woman at some of the places I always wanted to go with him. COME TO FIND OUT, he stole the pictures of this model chick off facebook. I then laughed. He would always do things like this. Since I had no seen him I thought it was true this time. He knew I was moving on and reasonably happier without him…and abused CANNOT STAND THAT. Everything he said about her was a lie. HE ONLY NEEDED ME TO THINK THAT.

      HE NEEDED ME TO HAYE MYSELF SO HE COULD BE HAPPY.

      That’s how they work. I laughed when I saw the pic & just pity him for being so pathetic. He did this to his ex. He sent her photos from Paris…he was in Arizona.

      He finally got a Gf months later… She is younger….because any normal smart woman would run fro him, she’s uglier & dumber. So that’s funny

      Anyway. I bet 80% of the stuff he’s saying is not true & he’s just pressing your deepest buttons in order to make you want him. I bet my life you need no surgery. If there’s an 18 year old he’s a creepy pedophile & she’s using him for money. Do NOT FEEL BAD. HE IS THE EMPTY ONE THAT HAS NO CHANCE AT LOVE- in reality- he’s got no chance. You do. That’s why he’s trying to stop you.

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    • I am still in an emotionally abusive relationship (he has only been physical twice). We have four great kids and he is a good dad. I am responding to this post because I dream that he will cheat on me. I pray to god he will find someone younger and sweep her off her feet to some exotic location to make me jealous. Then he wont bother me anymore. That is the most pathetic fantasy but I know that is what it is going to take for me to get rid of him!

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  8. Wow thank you for writing this. It actually made me whell up with tears. Keep up the amazing work you are doing. <3

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  9. This is going to be long and rambling…
    I am in the eye of the storm in the same situation. My belief in people is broken. This site describes the current attitude http://www.lifeafterdatingapsycho.com/blog/2011/03/signs-you-might-be-dating-a-psychopath.html all but the stalking, that was my part.
    I related so strongly to “I simply prayed to stay alive. I prayed to live through the day, through the night, through another week until I could make it to the day when I got my life back. I was one of the fortunate ones. I did get out. I got away from my abuser.” and I wonder if I will make it.
    In all fairness (lets call him William for giggles) I hurt Willam first, you see I was a party girl. We got together in 1998 after I split from my husband and his girlfriend ran off with child.
    He smelled atrocious, was horrid to look at and kissing was like having a catfish coming at ya in more ways than one.
    I knew him most of my childhood, insanely handsome in youth gone terribly wrong, all that attitude in the grossest package with the most fun charismatic personality ever.
    Why could I not feel fire & passion for him? I was gonna love him and be soooo good to him.He has premature ejac so I never get mine but after years of being a sex toy it was a relief.
    5 years later and guess what..I’m partying like hell..drinking bar tending popular but everyone thinks I’m gay (short hair, no tits, professional and never with anyone) cold rebuffs..ice princess. Enter the gay men. Safety, not interested and will flirt with him b4 me.
    His mom had asked if ever hit me & was mean to me because his ex said blah blah blah, nope not William I say.
    I chased him endlessly always pawin and sexin and never enjoying it, was exhausting. Was hard physical work. Enter the jealousy, checking mileage accusing affairs.
    After a few months of this a “friend” offered to help me build my own life. I did and left, after a few months my “friend” was in complete control and breaking bones to keep it.
    I had been such a fool. I had given up the best man ever. Through it all he was only a call away. Time and again he came to aid me.
    I ended up in prison over mutual warfare with my “friend”. (Lots of elaboration skipped here)
    I paroled to my mothers moved to a cottage then an apartment and to my cousins got off parole and by them Willam had asked me to come back home.
    I felt so unworthy of such kindness of such love.
    something in me changed in me and I learned to enjoy sex, to make love. I researched body odors and changed his diet, the smell got better.I sold my car to pay the three years back taxes and gave him the rest and he got a sexy new red phone.
    If I couldn’t find it I grew it wove it or made it. If I got a twenty dollar bill for my birthday I chipped it in. His clothes were pressed and creased, I made elaborate meals and snack on schedule but it was not enough. I started cutting the grass so he could rest on the weekends.I drew his bath and tried to fulfill his wildest fantasies with lingerie, I studied how I could spend hours to prime him so he could last longer and we got up to 7 minutes one time!
    His brother had moved in when I was gone and his resentment was all encompassing, he destroyed my property and smiled to face while wondering what happened to it.He made a point of walking around with his dick hard staring from it to me and commenting about men not caring enough to please their women, all the while hinting he had fucked his best friends wife mere weeks after he died.
    All of this I tried to protect Willam from but my pressures were getting worse. There were always late notices in the mail and Willam’s parents paid our house note which I felt was unnecessary since his brother paid 400 of the 612 a month.Something was always getting cut off.
    Enter the sister married best friend Willam told me when it happened,I was living in the cottage. I told him he’d regret sleeping with her but little did I know it would involve me.We joked over the next few months about him hiding his vehicle and walking to the house so she wouldn’t know he was there.
    After I saw her make an inappropriate gesture and his brother rubbed it in we came to the agreement that he would not be around her unless I was there, after a lie over this I shut down and slaved our home life and made him promise he would leave when she was around. He seemed to have kept this agreement but a lie there would not surprise me in the least.
    This became a workable agreement and he went to visit while I stayed home. I was becoming weak and knew something was seriously wrong health wise.
    I grew to love and trust Willam as I never knew possible, I was a princess staying in his home making gourmet meals and living for his company. I thanked him every day for working to provide for us, remorse for what I had done to him ate my soul. He deserved so much better than me.
    Never would have to lift a finger but to do his job outside our home. I would show him how much he meant to me. I took on all chores and tasks I graded earth for drainage and hung in trees cutting them down limb by limb over the next 3 years.If he liked to fish I would learn to love it.My life was built around him and my guilt.
    Then Willam got laid off, that was a hard 16 months, (three as he tells it)his brother had used up his unemployment and left stiffing us over a month and a half rent due to “old debts”, we struggled. We had 40$ two times a month for groceries. I started gardens for herbs and vegetables and planned a chicken coop. The meals were still elaborate but took much more work. My work day became 10-15 hours outside without laundry and dinner and vacuuming…ect… I saw great worth in this. When we recovered I would be able to grow food still and all the money could pay our home off. I became less needy of modern conveniences. I used toilet paper for my period and boned and ground leg quarters for lunch meat so Willam could carry lunches to save even more money.My gardens became extensive.
    I made everything homemade,there was fresh breakfast every morning and lunches of sandwiches and cured jerky, homemade chips ect… I left outside for my labors before or with him and came in to give him a snack before more work. I felt great, I worked harder then I ever had for our future.
    Willam was getting into the act too, the counter worker at the convenience store was saving lotto people had discarded so we could enter the sweepstakes drawings since he couldn’t use then ( conflict of interest being an employee at retail location) I am a fairly fast 10 key and I spent hours entering the tickets. There were hundreds of them.
    Then a house tax came that was in the second year one day while he was visiting his parents. surely this was a mistake. I called to straighten it out only to learn that not once had thy ever been paid on time & it was no mistake. An over site I said.
    Over the next few months things started getting cut off. I knew his unemployment was enough to pay the bills so I asked what was going on.I started looking at our bank account (his bank account, I just thought it was ours, more on that later)He was taking 60 and 20 and 40 and 100 here and there often. We fiught over this for a couple of months before I insisted we pay the bills first and that I do it. Now mind you Im makin lye from ash from trees I cut for laundry soap so we can get ahead.(and shaving bar soap cause Im still new at it and alot of fails)
    Well this was a struggle now we fight constant over he has no gas money to look for a job (while leaving the house every day)

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  10. I come back later I am tierd

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  11. This is the fear that keeps me stuck firmly in place – that I’ll never find that happy version of myself again.
    I’m 30 and I’ve been stuck on this roller coaster for 14 years, many offs and ons but I always come/take him back. I lost it at Mr. Knowitall like, REALLY lost it in a pretty psycho way yesterday.

    I guess I just snapped – I’m so tired of hearing that I CAN’T do something or that I don’t KNOW what I’m doing/saying, or that I’m just plain WRONG all the time, then to be told I don’t even understand my own feelings and the reasons WHY I’m so upset and angry!!

    So anyway, I reminded him he was free to use the door and that’s what he did.. and now I’m a mess and don’t know what the hell to do with myself or my life without him.

    I feel horrible and disappointed I lowered myself to that level and became aggressive and let the anger control me, or maybe because I feel like he was manipulating me into being angry, except then that’s like saying “it’s your fault I hit you” (I didn’t hit him but DAMN I wanted to – there was some shoving involved as he dragged the leaving process out).
    But maybe he’s right, maybe I do have an anger problem just like him and maybe I am violent like he keeps saying – surely WANTING to smash my coffee cup in his face as he’s lecturing me yet again is just as bad as actually doing it.
    And maybe me feeling that way is all part of the game… I really don’t know anymore.

    I feel stupid for knowing that ending this is the right thing to do, but being too scared to want to LET it end :/

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    • I wonder how you are now, three years later. My abusive relationship ended 20 years ago and I still have a lot of self-loathing and even some self-harm when I have a normal “healthy argument with my husband. I was searching for a solution when I found this blog and then read your reply. You stood out to me. I think because you blamed yourself like I always have.

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  12. Its pretty much thanksgiving and I want to say, that I am thankful that I got away from my mentally abusive ex. It’s taken about 3 years to get over the “I can’t ” mentality I was left with, and I’ve realized that I am and can do all the things he said I wasn’t or couldn’t do. I hope everyone else that has been through or are currently going through any type of abuse can find peace with themselves, and understand that they are more than “good enough” to be treated with respect.

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  13. My X would hurt me this very second if h e could. We broke up a year ago. I finally told him to get help and that I was no longer going to allow him to mentally torture me . My x was a mamas boy. Each and ever day the two of them would rip me apart. He said him and mommy talked bad about me every day. He sent me flowers in October and then told me the breakup was my fault and he reminded me of all the things he felt I did wrong. His case against me was built in his imagination. I stayed with him even after he gained 90 pounds. I wasted 5 years of my life. He grew to hate me when I would not give him the equity in my house. He is wealthy but I have never seen a more greedy person in my life. I am still suffering, It has been a year and I am still struggling with the healing process. My identity is lost. Thanks for the great article, I don’t feel so al one any more.

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  14. i need somebody to talk to, who has been through emotional abuse. please help me,. I got out of an abusive relationship of almost 6 months and I have been suicidal and depressed and I feel lost from all my friends I can’t relate to anybody. I just need some advice from somebody with experience, my friends don’t help out much and it’s not their fault. please. with nothing but hope for a better world for all of us <3 women and men who have been abused in all forms stand strong.

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  15. I’m going on 20 years old, & I had spent the best times of my life with a man who almost killed me. This hits very close to home, & is bookmarked for when I get down and think that there is something wrong with me. God bless you, survivors are the biggest hearted people.

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  16. I left him at almost 6 months pregnant with his child. I had to stay in a hotel with my dogs because he put a tenant in my house and he was banging her sister therefore he told the tenant how to screw me/us over and she owes about 3+ months of rent. When I gave birth, I had complications and was homeless basically living with relatives and a newborn baby. I SURVIVED and you will survive if you just keep the faith. Keep on keep’n on. It was never easy and it is still not easy. (I have since got the tenants out and I am back in my house). Baby is beautiful, safe and most of all happy! He will have to answer one day for what he did to me and his child. God help me – he’s going to need it !

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  17. In tears. Thank you for sharing. I’m not alone.

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