Monday, July 30, 2012

A Long Way to Go

It is hard to believe that I have completed another trip around the sun, but here I am - forty-one years old, give or take a few days. It feels almost eerie to be this old. OK, I know - forty-one isn't exactly ancient. But bear with me; I'm making a point here. Survivors of violence often feel a sense of a foreshortened future. Since I was a teenager, I have expected to die young. I really never thought I'd get to be twenty, much less thirty. And when thirty-five came around, I was pretty shocked. So shocked, in fact, that I aged myself another two years! I went around for a couple of years telling people I was thirty-seven. It wasn't that I meant to lie about my age, I just lost track of where I was. The year I turned thirty-eight I was not surprised to find myself in a life-threatening situation. After all, I never imagined I'd live to see forty.

It was the night of November 14th, 2009, when I stood in my abuser's kitchen after he had just tossed a plate at me, thrown his glass across the room, and ripped the silverware drawer out of the cabinet. He grabbed my left shoulder with one hand and held a knife in his other fist. A six-inch long blade might not sound like much, but when you expect it to plunge into your throat any minute, it looks pretty impressive. I'm not sure what stopped him from stabbing me at that moment; it certainly wasn't me. I didn't fight with him, didn't struggle, didn't try to take away the knife. All I did was look him in the eyes and say, "I'm not afraid of you." And strangely enough, I wasn't. Fear came later - the next desperate month was spent in a welter of fear. But in that threatening moment, I didn't feel anything at all.

Of course, this is not healthy in any way. I should have been afraid. Any sane person probably would have been. By the time this happened, he had already sexually assaulted me and had been verbally and emotionally abusing me for months. I knew he had a terrible temper. I had seen him destroy my belongings and throw pots and pans and books across the house. I had heard him threaten to rape other women, kill me, and then commit suicide. I had seen the hole in the wall by the front door where he had put a glass through the sheet-rock because he was angry at me for dating someone else after we broke up. I think I wasn't afraid because I honestly believed that I was meant to die young. A violent death seemed like the strange fulfillment of some long unspoken prophecy.

All this disclosure begs the question of why - why I believed I would die young, and why I am still surprised that I'm here today. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder seems to be the most logical answer. It is a feature of PTSD for survivors of violence to have a sense of a foreshortened future - Criterion C7 states that the surviving individual may not expect to have a marriage, a career, children, or to live a normal life-span. (DSM IV Diagnosis and Criteria: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, 2012).

So here I am, forty-one years old, and feeling like I am very far behind on my life's goals. I think time got away from me because I kept expecting to die young. Sometimes it seemed like making efforts to accomplish things just wasn't worthwhile, because I wouldn't live to reap the rewards anyway. Logically, I know that this is a ridiculous mindset. No one knows when or how they will die. I certainly don't want to die - I am not suicidal and I do not take unnecessary risks with my life. About five years ago, I started making plans for a longer life than I used to anticipate, even though the incident I mentioned above only happened about three years ago. I often still experience disbelief that I am alive at this point, but have begun to live my life in a more forward-thinking way. I will graduate college with my BS in Human Resources this coming January, for example. Sure, it took twenty years longer than I originally thought it would, but I'm getting there. I'm also figuring out how to be a healthier person, one who is PTSD free, who is healed of codependency, and who truly believes that she deserves to have a happy life with good, solid relationships. And I'm looking at ways to give back to other survivors - ways to bring light out of the darkness of my own past. As one of my friends used to say, "It's all good!" - at least, it can be, if you live purposefully and work to make it good.

So I am celebrating myself this month. I made it to forty-one! How cool is that? I've come a long way and have accomplished a lot - even though I get frustrated at the pace sometimes - and I hope I still have a long way to go.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder DSM-IV Diagnosis and Criteria. Retrieved July 30, 2012 from