Monday, July 4, 2011

A Lesson Well-Learned

On May 28th 2010, I filed for an order of protection against the man who had abused me. The day of the hearing was July 13th, about six weeks after the date of file. My ex-boyfriend hired a private detective to dig into my past and a cut-throat lawyer to “tear me apart” on the witness stand – the attorney’s words when he spoke with my legal-aid representative. I blogged about the process last year, and anyone who is interested can go to those entries and read them for more details – there’s no reason to repeat them here.

Earlier today, I was looking back through my personal journal and reading what I wrote during the months of June and July. During the time preceding the hearing, I was in constant fear. Every day was spent looking over my shoulder, watching –waiting – wondering what was going to happen next. During the time between when I filed for the order of protection from my abuser and the hearing date I had five nails removed from my tires, the flowerpots on my porch were kicked around and overturned, my front door locks were tampered with and damaged, and my mailbox was destroyed. I spent my days in a state of heightened vigilance. My heart raced every time I saw a black car or a dark-haired man. I had a hard time sleeping and when I slept I had nightmares. I was afraid to go forward with the hearing and I was afraid to let the matter drop. If I lost, I knew his anger would be profound. And if I won, I believed he wouldn’t have anything left to lose in coming after me.

I went through with the hearing, and I won. About a month afterward, I ended up needing treatment for my PTSD, and I chose to go into counseling. It was a good choice. Being able to talk to someone made my feelings and the stress easier to deal with. I began to practice exposure therapy to get past my triggers, and that made the general act of living much easier, though I do still have trouble sometimes. After I left my abuser, I wasted five months trying to decide whether I should take action against him. Honestly, if he had just stayed away instead of continually coming around I probably would have let the matter drop. I did not want to take action, but he left me with no choice. On May 28th last year, it took all my strength to walk into the courthouse and describe what had happened to me. It took all my courage to sign those papers, knowing that he would read them and that I would again be the target of his rage. I was caught between two terrible fears – what would he do to me if I went through with it? What would he do to me if I didn’t? It was torture. For a long time after I won, I still looked over my shoulder, watching - waiting - wondering. Then I realized that the only thing that can ensure my protection is me.

The protective order runs out in nine days, but it doesn't really matter. It is only a piece of paper anyway, not some magic shield that means the difference between security and danger. Its best function was to help me understand that I deserve to be safe and that it was okay for me to take steps to ensure my own protection. Today, I am much stronger. It wouldn’t take me five months to decide if I was worth defending. It is a lesson well-learned, and I won't forget it, no matter what the future brings.

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