This blog post will give an insight of what it's like to live life after being in a DV relationship. This is my experience, everyone reacts differently. There are no rule books, so please don't compare your path of recovery to anyone else. This is 'You Changed Me - Part 1'
You wouldn't be the only one to think that being in a domestically violent relationship is harder than the fallout of it afterwards, but this isn't always the case, it certainly wasn't for me. Although these two stages of my life were vastly different, I'm still able to see the similarities between them and how they are linked.
Cause and Effect
Understandably, after escaping the relationship, my mental health took a severe hit. It was already in bad shape to begin with from childhood trauma and abuse, as well as what 'M' had subjected me to. But being out of that volatile environment didn't necessarily mean I was safer. The most prominent effect of being in the relationship was the eating disorder that had developed over the four years. This isn't as uncommon as you may think. Usually, people who are in a controlling relationship develop an eating disorder as a way to have an aspect of control over their life. It isn't a choice, and eating disorders are something which should be taken very seriously. I developed Bulimia. For those who don't know, Bulimia is an eating disorder where you force yourself to be sick, usually by sticking your fingers down your throat. It's usually caused by something called 'Bingeing and Purging'. Bingeing means eating an excessive amount of food in a short period of time, for me it would be junk food, usually chocolate and crisps. I'd eat so much to the point I felt sick. I'd then force myself to be sick straight after I'd finished. Purging would happen after I'd thrown up, this means drastically limiting what I ate, not getting the daily nutritional intake I should have been. What I did eat was limited and usually extremely healthy. This would happen randomly to begin with but it didn't take long for it to become a daily occurrence.
Having every aspect of my life controlled was difficult to deal with but it was something I had experienced all my life, my father was exactly the same, just not to the same severity. I managed to hide my eating disorder from 'M'. It was a skill to slink off into the bathroom and quietly throw up without him suspecting anything. Bulimia, along with every eating disorder, is extremely bad and dangerous for your health. I didn't realise to what extent until I finally opened up to my GP and Psychiatrist. Not only is Bulimia bad for your stomach, throat and mouth, causing damage from your stomach acid. But it can also cause ruptures of the stomach due to it contracting so hard. It also puts unnecessary pressure on the heart with every stomach convulsion. There is also an increased risk of stomach and throat cancer due to the damage Bulimia causes in relation to your stomach acid. I was shocked when the GP told me, I had no idea just how dangerous it was. But unfortunately, it didn't cure the eating disorder, it was just something that was in the back of my mind every time I forced myself to be sick. As I've discovered, over time, there is no cure for a eating disorder. It isn't about getting rid of it, it's always with you. Ironically, it's all about having control over it.
I've been Bulimic from the age of 18, thankfully now I have it under control. But it isn't easy. It's been around 8 months since I last forced myself to be sick, that is such a big milestone for me. I still have the intrusive thoughts and guilt associated with my eating disorder, but I'm in a more stable place mentally to be able to acknowledge but ignore them thoughts. The only way I've found to control my eating disorder is with strict exercise and training. I lift weights heavier than my own body weight, I run and push my body past its limit. But not only does it keep my Bulimia under control, it helps me mentally. Exercise has such a positive impact on my mental health. So much so that I don't see it as a chore, I enjoy it. I look forward to training, seeing the improvements in my strength and speed and my muscle size and weight gain. It's become my passion and without it I wouldn't be where I am today. I exercise safely, I take the necessary rest that my body needs and most importantly, I give my body all the nutrition it craves for my muscles to grow. I've never been as fit and strong as I am now, in a way I'm grateful for my eating disorder. It's a background reminder if my motivation slips. I don't want to go back to the way I was, it was negatively impacting my physical and mental health. I want to keep moving forward and making progress. I have targets and goals that I repeatedly set myself, I always have something positive to focus on. This might not work for everyone, this is just what I found that works for me. But by all means, please give it a try. Of course, it doesn't get to the route cause of the eating disorder, but for me, it's a way to manage it. Ensuring I stay healthy, physically and mentally.
I also suffer greatly with PTSD. For those who don't know PTSD stands for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. This is a disorder commonly associated with soldiers, but anyone who has been through a traumatic event can be affected by it. Common symptoms of PTSD include anxiety, flashbacks, nightmares, depression, anger issues, negative mood and negative thinking. These are just a few of the extensive list, all of which have affected me. It is something I struggle with on a daily basis but being aware of it makes it a little easier to cope with. A symptom of PTSD that affects me most is nightmares. I've always had them from a child, but as I got older and experienced the trauma that I did, the nightmares worsened and became more frequent. It's now normal for me to wake up screaming in the middle of the night, in a cold sweat. Gasping for breath and looking around to see if I'm safe. The nightmares are so vivid and realistic that sometimes I honestly can't tell what's real and what isn't. Every time I close my eyes, I hear the voices of my past that haunt me. My abuse and trauma are relived every time I go to sleep. I tell myself that is isn't real but it feels so real when I'm in it. The things I can smell, see, hear and touch. Little details that you thought you'd forgot about are brought back to life again. It's hard to recover when you're reliving it, day and night. It's your brain trying to process what you went through, but it can't. It's too much.
Every night when I close my eyes, I mentally prepare myself for what I'm about to experience. Reminding myself that nothing can really hurt me and that I will wake up from it. Convincing myself, as I close my eyes, that it won't be as bad, maybe tonight I'll have a normal dream, like normal people. In the first year after escaping the DV relationship, the nightmares got so severe that they caused Insomnia. I was too scared to go to sleep, so I wouldn't. Of course, knowing what I know now, that wasn't a great idea. Sleep deprivation on an extreme level doesn't just affect your mood and your physical health, but your mental health. It can trigger Psychosis.
Imagine every night when you sleep, you lose your baby again, you're stabbed again, you're locked away for four days chained to a radiator again. The trauma you experienced, that broke you in the past, the mental and physical pain you once endured must be relived night after night. Now, to a certain extent, I've become numb to the trauma that I am forced to relive day and night. When you experience it as much as I have, although it's still very traumatic, you also get used to it. Now, it takes a lot to shock me or scare me. It's changed me in ways that I never thought were possible, but not all were necessarily negative. What I went through made me brave, it taught me what bravery really is.
Being brave doesn't mean you're not scared. Bravery is when you're scared, but you do it anyway. - Noisy
It made me resilient and taught me perseverance. I was taught patience and how to plan. When I was chained to a radiator, I learned how to survive. How your body can do extraordinary things on willpower alone. I learned the true meaning of pain, agonising pain. I discovered a lot about myself, I would love too deeply and forgive too easily. I'd follow blindly because I didn't know which way to go. I depended on people far too much. I would settle for second best because that's all I thought I was worth. Of course, there are easier ways to learn these life lessons but I'm still grateful for the opportunity that arose to learn and understand so much as a result of the trauma I went through. It's taken years to get to the point where I can look back on the most horrific times of my life and see them as an opportunity for growth. To learn from them, take positivity away from them and become a better version of myself.
My very dark sense of humour now causes me to smile and say my life experiences were 'Character Building'.
When I escaped from the four year DV relationship I struggled to cope with what I'd been through. Accepting what was and admitting what I'd experienced was probably the hardest thing of all. Denial was my blanket of protection. My self harm spiralled out of control. I was cutting myself with blades hourly, I would drink straight from the bottle, anything, I didn't care what. I'd take whatever drugs I could get my hands on. All of this was to numb my reality. Of course, it was only a temporary fix to a permanent problem. Once the wounds healed, the hangover passed and the drugs were out my system, I'd do it all again. Each time would be worse than the last. I was killing myself. I knew what I was doing, I just didn't care enough about myself to stop. I'd been through unimaginable things, the worst life had to throw at me, nothing scared me anymore. Death surely didn't. Simple self care was no longer a priority for me, getting my next high was all I cared about. It was my only focus. Maybe, if I'd have put as much focus into recovery as I did into destroying my body, my life would have turned out differently. But isn't hindsight a wonderful thing. I caused irreversible damage to not only my body but my mind due to my alcohol and drug use. Paranoia was at a level I had never experienced before, I wouldn't answer the phone or the door. I'd stay locked away in my room, only going out when my supplies diminished. This behaviour is extremely damaging, I had limited contact with others, I had no friends or family to help me. After weeks of this continuous self destructive cycle my mind gave up.
I plummeted into Psychosis.