From ages 17-18 I was in a very bad relationship. The red flags began to fly instantly but I thought that I could help. I thought that if I supported him, he would get better. I thought that the drug use was "just for fun". I thought that his fits of anger were from stress or lack of sleep. I thought that putting holes in the wall every time he got upset was just how he dealt with his emotions. I thought that beating his dog with the end of a pistol for chewing up the blinds was something that I could eventually forget and forgive him for. I thought that isolating me from my loved ones was normal behavior for a boyfriend. My feelings for him began to die very quickly, but I thought that maybe they would come back. I thought that if I left him, he would harm himself and I didn't want to live with that guilt. I thought "well...he doesn't actually hit me in the face or anything, so maybe I'm overreacting". I thought "things aren't always bad. When he's sober and in a good mood, we get along really well".
One night shortly after we moved into an apartment together we got into a little argument. He put a hole in the wall, threw the dinner that I made all over the kitchen, threw whatever he could get his hands on at me, and then decided to grab his shot gun. He said that he was going to kill me then himself. He quickly changed his mind and said something along the lines of "actually, I'm going to kill myself right here in front of you so that you'll have to live with that for the rest of your life". After he said that, he shoved the barrel of the shotgun in his mouth and prepared to pull the trigger. I knew that if he followed through, my life would never be the same. I knew that I would be completely traumatized. I knew that image would never leave my mind. Thankfully, he didn't follow through. Shortly after that incident, I told my parents what was going on and they helped me move back home.
It wasn't an easy transition. I thought that breaking up with him and moving would be the end of it. I didn't think that I would have to hide from him because he was showing up at my parents’ house threatening to kill me. I changed my phone number and moved to a different city. I never talked about it. For a long time, I didn't even think about it. I acted like all those terrible things never happened. Not talking about it and not taking it seriously meant that I didn't have to face it. I didn't have to recognize those things as a form of trauma. I didn't have to talk about having a gun pointed in my face or watching someone do the same to themselves. For me, the easiest thing to do was act like it didn't happen. It was easy to say that it didn't bother me. That was my way of dealing... Ignoring.
Writing my book and planning the retreat has made me think a lot about all our stories. It seems like we are so quick to undermine the things that we have been through. Not because they don't bother us, but because it's easier to sweep it under the rug. We use that as a tactic to avoid addressing the situation. When we say things like "someone always has it worse" or "I'm just being dramatic, it wasn't that bad" we are trying to end the conversation. We are hoping that the person that we are talking to buys what we are saying and stops bringing it up. I know that's not the case for everyone, but it was for me. Sure, there is always someone that is going through much more difficult things than we are, but that doesn't make your situation any less difficult for you. That doesn't mean that what you are dealing with doesn't matter. That doesn't mean that the hurt you are feeling is wrong.
I have realized that it is very hard to heal when you think that the thing you need healing from isn't a big deal. After that relationship ended, I spent almost three years acting like it never happened. Finally, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I began asking myself why I was so angry and careless. I prayed about it and realized that I had a lot of hate in my heart. I needed to forgive him so that I could deal with my own emotions. I needed to forgive him not because I wanted to, but because I absolutely had to for my own healing. I had to accept the fact that it happened, I couldn't change it, and I couldn't ignore it any longer. I forgave him. I of course didn't reach out to him to let him know that I did, but in my heart, I began the process. I sat and thought about all the things that I witnessed. I replayed all the terrible incidents in my head. I envisioned the gun in my face. I remembered all the hurtful things that he said to me. I replayed the conversation with his mom when I told her that he needed help. I dealt with the guilt of feeling like I should have done more to get him professional help. I let all the tears out. I let all the anger out. I tackled all the hurtful memories and emotions head on. It wasn't easy, but it was so worth it. I am no longer angry about it, I can openly talk about it, and I let go of the guilt. It wasn't my fault. I had to realize that what I went through was extremely difficult. I had to stop acting like it didn't bother me. I had to have a little bit of compassion for myself. I had to allow myself to be in that tender place.
"Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate, rather than ignoring our pain or flagellating ourselves with self-criticism. Self-compassionate people recognize that being imperfect, failing, and experiencing life difficulties is inevitable, so they tend to be gentle with themselves when confronted with painful experiences rather than getting angry when life falls short of set ideals." - self-compassion.org
I had to stop blaming myself. I had to stop beating myself up for not calling 911 on several different occasions. I had to stop wondering how I got myself into that situation. I just had to stop. I had to come to terms with it. I had to even become thankful that it was part of my story. I was telling my husband that I wanted to write about it on my blog this week because I always make sure he's comfortable with something before I share it. He said, "I hate that you ever had to go through that" and I responded with "yeah, but it turned out to be pretty good writing material because it will hopefully help someone that is or has been in a similar situation". I truly mean that. I'm okay with what happened. I know how traumatic it was for me and I want to help other women heal from traumatic things in their life. Whatever you are going through right now, please be gentle with yourself. Don't waste time beating yourself up. We don't heal under insensitive criticism. We begin to heal when we accept that what we're dealing with is tough and it's going to be a process. Love on yourself. Allow yourself to cry rather than your throat hurting from trying to hold it in. Tell yourself "I'm so sorry that I'm going through this but I'm going to come out on the other side and I'm going to be at peace". Feel all the emotions. Don't feel like you're being dramatic, or emotional, or whatever the case may be. Your feelings are your feelings, and no one gets to control those or take those away from you. What you're going through is tough but you're tough, too.
As you're reading this, I'm sure that there are some memories coming to mind. There's plenty for me. The story above is just the one that I felt led to write about in this post. Pause on that memory/situation that you're thinking of. Now, think of your best friend. If they were going through the exact same thing that you're thinking of, how would you react to them? In the story that I just shared, I would probably respond with lots of worry, lots of tears, lots of "it's not your fault", lots of "I’m so glad that you got out of that situation", lots of thankfulness that they're okay, and a whole lot of compassion. That is how I would respond to myself now, but at the time it was almost the exact opposite. In a nutshell, self-compassion is responding to yourself how you would typically respond to others.
"Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment?" - self-compassion.org
Just remember: don't confuse self-compassion with self-pity! We tend to lose sight of reality when we pity ourselves and forget that we have many people that care for us and want to help us. Trust me, I’ve been there. It is a very dangerous place to be. Dr. Kristin Neff spent many years studying self-compassion. Her website has some amazing research/resources and she breaks down what self-compassion is not. It's definitely worth the read!
I believe that self-compassion can be used in many different situations. On Dr. Neff's website, she talks a lot about beating ourselves up over mistakes which is super important to not do! But I think it's even more important to use self-compassion in difficult situations to prevent ourselves from downplaying and ignoring it. To heal, we must face what we need healing from. Healing is hard. I'm not here to say that it is easy because it's not, but it's so necessary. There are things that have taken me years to heal from but the peace that comes along with it is like no other! Healing looks different for everyone. Make sure that you don't get stuck in a place of comparison because we all heal differently. To me, healing doesn't mean that the thing that you are healing from goes away, but that you are at peace with it. I'm not a professional and I definitely don’t know it all. I'm just writing from my heart with hopes that someone relates! These are things that have been helpful to me and I'm very passionate about helping women heal, not be ashamed, and see the beauty on the other side of their hurt. This was just a couple paragraphs of my story, and I can't wait for you guys to read more in my book "Jail, Hurt, and Healing".
Domestic violence, self-harm, and addiction is not something to be taken lightly. I know that it's not easy to ask for help, but I pray that if you need to, you will take that courageous step for you or your loved one. Whatever you do, please don't blame yourself. These things are not easy to talk about. They will never be easy to talk about, but it is unfortunately happening all over the world. I am not equipped to educate anyone on these things. I simply know how to offer love, prayers, and resources. As I prepare to publish this, I have spent hours scrolling through these resources and it is heartbreaking that this is reality for so many women. I am incredibly thankful that I had a safety plan when leaving the abusive relationship that I was in and that I got out safely. It breaks my heart to know that is not always the case, but in honor of the beautiful women that didn't make it out, let's continue pushing these resources. Also, I am 100% aware that some situations we are not able to heal from on our own and professional help is necessary. Never feel ashamed of seeking someone to talk to. It will be so beneficial to your growth, healing, and peace.