November is a month of contradictions. We in the Western Hemisphere enter it in a glorious blaze of autumn gold and we leave it grey and dreary. Somewhere between Indian Summer and Pre-Winter, the trees release their last pretense of modesty and stand, starkly naked and shivering, to face the cold. The world turns toward the death that must come before renewal. But, being human, we don't long tolerate the bleakness of impending winter and dying autumn. We dress November in trappings of Thanksgiving and Christmas-to-come. We engage in a frenzied whirl of activity. We celebrate with friends, co-workers, and family and we make the gaiety last as long as we can because behind the carnival masks, we recognize the skeletal trees and grey skies for what they are: heralds of winter's little death.
A few years ago, I lived through a November bereft of celebrations and joy. Cold terror and desperation threaded through the days which seemed to drag on endlessly. There were days that should have been wonderful - my daughter's thirteenth birthday, Thanksgiving with my family. All the good those times should have brought was sacrificed on the altar of surviving an abusive relationship. Daily assurances of his love were punctuated with nights of threats, physical violence, and sexual coercion. I believed in his love for a short while, but the words of adoration became meaningless lies in the face of his actions, which spoke nothing but hatred. What lay between those two extremes was a decimated battlefield that was my life.
People ask why victims of violent relationships stay, why we don't escape. I answer that chains aren't always visible. Violence creates fear and fear exerts a powerful amount of control. When someone shows you by his actions that there is nothing he won't do, no line he won't cross, there is no reason to hope that you will somehow escape unscathed, or even alive. Finally there comes a time of understanding that you don't really have a choice anymore. You could die if you stay. You could die if you leave. Do you risk your life for freedom or for continued bondage?
I chose to be free. A difficult year followed; there was stalking, damage to my property, and constant fear of reprisal. I began to rebuild myself and my life, but I did not understand how deep the devastation had gone, how damaged I really was. It has only been the in the past few months that I have learned how desolate my inner landscape had become. Without knowing how it came to be, I found myself again in the ruin that exists between the two extremes of words of love, and actions of disrespect, indifference, and careless self-gratification. This time, I didn't need to escape; I needed to purge. I needed to learn a lesson about my own self-worth and how to claim my life and my heart for myself instead of giving them away. I needed to heal.
Learning who I was became the goal. I had to learn how to value myself before I could allow myself to be valued by others. Always before I felt that any praise or happiness in my life was a cheat; I felt unworthy and was always afraid that others would see and exploit my flaws. In acknowledging the way I had given up my personal power and the poor choices I made, I regained my ability to discern what is good and right for me, and to believe that I deserve happiness, kindness, and respect. Slowly but surely, I let truth replace the lies, and I began to reclaim myself.
I stand now on the edge of what used to be a wasteland. It is November - the trees are bare and the wind is cold. Drifts of fading leaves litter the ground. But there is beauty in the barren trees and brittle, frosted grass. There is the promise of life in the naked limbs. Standing stones may be battered by the wind but they welcome and radiate the sun's warmth. The shards and ruins have been cleared away and this place - my life - has been reclaimed. It is mine. I may choose to share it at some point in the future, but I will never again give it away or fragment it for someone who cannot be trusted to speak the truth, and act upon it. I did not risk my life to stay in bondage - I risked it to be free.