Hello From The Other Side
Walls. They were my best friends in those early days. I had a favorite wall in my dark apartment. It was the one closest to the front door, and it saved me. I managed to get through my days without falling apart, but when I got home from work I raced up the stairs to that apartment, locked the door behind me and grabbed that wall. Because getting through my day with the pain was exhausting, and the pain was so deep that it literally took my breath away. That wall held me up many times. I stood there and wept wondering if it would ever change. It felt like it would never be over. I was also an award winning construction worker building walls around my heart that only those that dared stay with me could penetrate. And I had plenty of stubborn people who did.
Those early days are distant memories now. But, when I am purposeful in remembering them, my body still reacts the same way it did then, and I go searching for a wall somewhere in my brand new house. But those days are few and far between and these days I am using walls to hang pictures of happy times and I find myself staring at the pictures of smiling faces because they all mean one thing: I survived, I survived it all.
Sometimes I find myself standing at any given picture filled wall in my house in awe of the light in my eyes that I didn’t even know existed. The pictures tell the story of a decade of healing from domestic violence. The people in them, some of them brand new friends and others friendships that span decades, were instrumental in helping me cross that abyss, the one that you think you will never cross. But you will and it won’t always feel like it does right now. I promise.
I hope you are realizing how much people hate domestic violence and that you have a community of people that know that feeling that can only be explained as a 500-pound elephant sitting on your chest. Many of you may be like I was, and you continue to be under threat of your abuser. This was true for me for 9 out of the 10 years that have elapsed since I left. Then he died, and that was a whole new kind of pain and confusion. It was another abyss that I didn’t think I could cross. But the walls, the walls of my new house, the ones that are filled with people that love me; the walls get me through the hard days. And now I may throw up a mesh fence to others and those that decide to stay around get through, those that don’t want to stay around, never get to the real me. And I am ok with that.
So, I would like to speak to you, those of you on the other side of what must feel like an abyss that you will never cross. You will. It won’t always feel like this. Eventually, there will be more days than not where you have “good days” versus days you don’t feel like you can breathe another breath. You will look for walls like I did, just to lean on because you literally can’t breathe. All of the “firsts” will go away, the first birthdays, holidays and traditions. Your lungs will stop emptying every time you come across a trigger. Triggers take form in the way of tastes, smells and places that you both loved. It takes time, and I think looking back on it now that was the best advice I got, was to give it time. I wanted it to go away faster than it did, but he made that impossible because it didn’t stop when I left. But, as years go by it gets a little easier, the pain is removed from the most tender part of my heart. And those walls, the ones that represent a home I will always have and friends that will always be there get me through a lot of hard days. They save me; just like that wall did at the beginning, just in a very different way. Find your people. Fill up the walls of your house with pictures of those people. Give yourself time; you probably don’t realize how bad it really was; and the day that you are healthy enough to realize that will be one of the most liberating days of your life because you will have then crossed from a victim to a survivor. Then one day you will cross another bridge from survivor to a thriving survivor. You will get text messages like I do from somebody who needs you as one of their friends because they are deep in a domestic violence situation. They are looking to you for one thing: Hope. And you will have it to give.
Because you see, we are all members of an exclusive club. It’s not a club any of us joined. It joined us, and our hearts, souls, minds and bodies know this all too well. There is no one else in the world that can understand the pain, the betrayal or even how much work it is to heal. So, as you are standing on the other side, understand that you have people. Use those people. Use the people like me who are vocal about wanting to help you. Use organizations like Break The Silence that want to help you. These are the days where you need somebody to carry you. And there are plenty of people who are willing to do that for you. Remember, you will survive. You may have some unhealthy coping mechanisms to get you through your days—I certainly did. Recovering from my unhealthy coping mechanism (self-medicating) was almost as hard as recovering from the abuse itself. Guilt about my chosen coping mechanism threated to overtake me until finally somebody told me there were other ways to get through my days, and more importantly, the horrific nights where every memory came rushing through the darkness of my bedroom; it could be cut with a knife it was so heavy at night. You know exactly what I mean. It may not feel like that will ever go away, but it will.
I get asked a lot how I survived and everybody’s story is different. Certainly, a village of people was instrumental in my healing and even staying alive if I am honest. None of them placed expectations on me but rather just stayed with me. One of them, under the guise of “saving money” asked me to live with her for a “few months” (turned out to be 6 years) spent countless nights pacing around my bedroom door at night while she heard me wake up to horrible flashbacks. It didn’t matter what time it was, she was there-I still don’t know when she actually slept. So my first answer to that question is people, but those people were given to me by a God Who was and still does weep when His children are in pain. While I certainly had a crisis of faith in the middle of all of this, I simply would not be breathing air if it weren’t for Jesus, who calls me His own. Many years later I would have a speaking opportunity and when I was asked “who are you?” the words that came out of my mouth were not my own:
“My name is Amy and I am the precious daughter of the most high God”
It was then that I began to realize that I had value and my behaviors (self-medicating) began to change and I actually started going to counseling. I would say to you that counseling is vital, and available across all kinds of organizations.
If you haven’t heard anything I have attempted to say to you here, please stop and hear this:
You will get to the other side. I promise. Until then, hello from the other side, we are waiting for you; come at your pace but remember you are so loved, and you too can fill walls of pictures of people that love you—let them love you.
That abyss, it doesn’t hold a candle to the strength you have within you. When you get here, please introduce yourself, because I want to know when another person has moved from victim to survivor. And remember, no matter what your abuser took from you, he did not take away how precious and valuable you are. The nights may be long and the days hard, and you may have a wall that holds you up when you can’t breathe because the pain is that bad—but every day you wake up and get up you are one day closer to my side of this horrific epidemic we call domestic violence.
Until then, may you have may walls that hold you up and may you build mesh fences around your heart so that those that love you can help you, because the pictures of the people on my walls are the reason I can write this today.
Hello, from the other side. I can’t wait to meet you.