We hope you enjoyed the holiday and are looking forward to 2016! As part of our continued outreach for our films about men and women healing from childhood sexual abuse, we welcome our regular contributor, Stephanie March, as she shares the valuable insights about a difficult subject faced by many survivors– being re-victimized. This can happen in a relationship, in the workplace by an acquaintance, or in an unexpected, troublesome situation to both men and women abuse and trauma survivors.
Stephanie is a writer, survivor, and advocate. Her articles have been featured on XOJane, Kindness Blog, and The Huffington Post. She is a regular contributor to Big Voice Pictures’ blog – and such a blessing to our team as the demands on our time have grown. Welcome Stephanie once again!
Once you make the decision that you will no longer allow abuse of any kind in your life and walk away it changes something in you and nothing will ever allow you to go back to the way things were. Sure, you might meet abusive people. You might even end up in relationships with those people. It happens. You will be tempted to entertain those relationships because, well, you are human. But I guarantee that your tolerance level for that kind of mistreatment will no longer be what it once was. And you will walk away from those people at a speed that surprises even you. Your family and friends will think you aren’t walking away fast enough, and of course the goal is to never get in those situations, but the key is that you keep walking.
The Abuse and Domestic Violence Epidemic
Really it shouldn’t be so surprising that so many people find themselves in relationships that involve domestic violence. It is an epidemic in America with an estimated 7 million incidents occurring each year among women 18 years of age and older. Intimate partner violence is also the leading cause of injury for women 18-44 years old. So the question isn’t how women end up in violent relationships but rather how those that don’t manage to avoid the epidemic.
It is no secret among survivors of any form of abuse (domestic, childhood, etc) that we often are not victims just once. Re-victimization of domestic violence victims is a common occurrence according to this article by the National Institutes of Health. The same applies to childhood sexual abuse survivors- numerous studies show that abuse in childhood correlates with an increased likelihood for trauma, sexual or physical, to occur in adulthood. Those abused as children sometimes unknowingly place themselves in harm’s way, re-enacting the abuse they experienced as children. Or they place themselves in harm’s way because it is familiar and possibly what they think they deserve. Hence the popular phrase “breaking the cycle” applying to more than just abusive trends within families… it applies to trends within our own lives as survivors. This isn’t something easy for survivors to admit and it is something we don’t like to admit. Even to each other.
Why? Because we are survivors. We are strong, capable, intelligent women and men that walked away from abuse and said we would no longer allow that in our lives. And yet somehow we let another abuser into our lives. Or perhaps, to be more accurate, they manipulated their way into our lives by being the master manipulators abusers often are.
Survivors Are Allowed To Make Mistakes
Regardless, the last thing we want to do is admit that we ignored the red flags we are able to see in our sleep. It’s embarrassing, isn’t it? We know better. But the very fact that we know better is what keeps us from staying. So we lace up our shoes and keep walking.
That is what makes us who we are. No matter how bad the road conditions have been in our lives, we have always managed somehow to keep walking. I have met quite a few abusive people since I left my ex. I have cared about abusive people since I left my ex. Again, the end goal is to never end up in those situations.
You need to give yourself a break if you’ve relapsed a time or two (or ten) as well. Be proud of the fact that you walked away, alive, from abuse in your past. Period. Know that a lot of other people wearing very similar shoes that you have on were not able to keep walking.
One thing that surprises me is how much easier walking is now that I’ve gotten used to it. The initial turning point for me was putting one foot on the pavement after a relationship that lasted over a decade. Walking away from that was truly one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. But it made it easier to walk away from new and toxic encounters and made it literally impossible for me to tolerate abusive behavior.
Pause For Self-Care But Always Keep Walking
What was crucial for me was to take a break from dating completely. To spend time focusing on grieving and healing from my past trauma. To put myself and my mental health first. In the past, I was often ashamed of my struggles with mental health. I tried not to be but the stigma surrounding it truly made it difficult for me to admit I battle PTSD, depression, and anxiety.
But I could no longer ignore that better mental health includes benefits such as: “a longer life expectancy, increased productivity, improved financial stability, and happier personal lives”. I found all of this to be true and I continue to try and keep self-care a priority.
I have been anything but a fortress of survival perfection. I spent a few months with someone that was abusive shortly after leaving my ex and declaring I would never be a victim again. But a few months is a lot better than a few years. With the passing of time, and more miles walked, I have maintained an abuse free life for several years. This may not seem like an accomplishment to the average reader, but to me it is a victory.
So if you find yourself relapsing and falling back into old patterns with abusive personalities, be kind to yourself. Recognize your situation and remind yourself that you left once and you can leave again. You are no longer that helpless child. You can protect yourself and stand up for your boundaries. And you deserve someone that stands beside you, making you stronger, and helping you to heal from all of your past trauma. Not someone that causes the trauma to be compounded by more abuse.
Congratulate yourself for being aware of the warning signs of abuse that you perhaps ignored in past relationships. And instead of settling, instead of feeling guilty, instead of thinking that you are anything but the strong survivor that you always have been… just keep walking.
If you or anyone you know is involved in a domestic abuse relationship please contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. For those healing from sexual assault or abuse visit https://rainn.org/https://rainn.org/ for valuable resources.