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On grief after abuse

September 7, 2019

Originally written July 29, 2018. I found this draft in some old notes and decided it was time to publish it.

I don’t know if I’m allowed to use the word abuse, because I don’t feel like a survivor. I read the work of people who call themselves survivors, and it sounds like what I went through. I write about my experiences, and others tell me, “Me too. It was like that.”

But if the survivors I know are grieving, they don’t write about it. They write about anger, and PTSD, and finding each other, and surviving. But they don’t write about the grief.

And I wonder, is it because they don’t feel it? Have they moved on past it? Is their anger stronger than their grief?

Or are they, like me, ashamed to grieve? Do they feel that if they grieve, or grieve openly, they won’t be believed?

How can I  miss someone so much who did what he did to me?

I am grieving. Sometimes I cry for days on end. There is a deep well of sadness inside me that feels like it will never, ever run dry.

We were together for six years. His cycles are slow. It was the last three years that broke me down, bit by bit, until I was a shell, filled with self-loathing, convinced I was worthless, dissociated and broken, my body covered in scars from self-harming, wanting to die.

My friends tell me now they were worrying about me then, three years ago. 

His cycles are slow, and so there is time to bond deeply. To plan, hope, dream, and build on those dreams. To share rich experiences together, share so many things, go so many places—so now, there are few places, few things, not coloured by the memory of him.

It was worst at the end. When his narrative turned on a dime. When he decided I deserved anything he wanted to do to me, because I was a monster.

This is what I grieve. My mind and heart cannot hold this. It cannot hold these two realities together, of what he told me we were then, and what he says now that we were. What he told me I was, and what he says now that I am.

I let him define me. I trusted him to tell me who I was, what I wanted, what I felt—and what we were. Who wouldn’t want to live within that image that he’d created of me? Who wouldn’t want to live within the fairy-tale romance he said we were in?

I let him define me, and then in an instant his image of me fractured into something horrible and evil. I still remember the moment it happened. The moment he cast his new narrative. He had a tiny smile on his face. I still feel that smile in my skin, in my blood.

I am ashamed for grieving. I am ashamed of crying. I am ashamed of missing him. I am ashamed that I still pity him, still see and feel his pain and want to stop it. I am ashamed for still carrying a tiny glimmer of hope, of faith in him, that someday he can see, that he can stop.

I read other women’s work and I know that part of the recovery process is giving up hope of change, of accountability. That I still have this hope tells me I still have so far to go. And yet…and yet…I do not want to live in a world where I cannot have that hope.

The thing that happened to me fits a pattern that others call abuse. But this phrase feels alien to me. I do not like this word. I cannot hold that word together with the knowledge of what is inside the man I loved. Is he damaged? Yes. Has he damaged others? Absolutely. Is that excusable? No.

A dark-coloured tree sits by a red-coloured pond and drops red heart-shaped leaves into the water.

Broken heart © 2017 by Adam Santana, used with permission

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