“Hey babe, I uhhh…I think I have PTSD,” I stammered out quickly over the phone to my husband. This sudden revelation came after I had been in a library working, and someone sat down behind me, and I had become so anxious that I had to get up and leave the library completely. I couldn’t handle someone sitting behind me reading a book because I couldn’t see that person. My brain couldn’t stop telling me to be fearful, and I didn’t know why. All I knew was I had to get out. Immediately.
I could hear my husband smile through the phone at me when I told him this, and he then said, “Yes, honey, I know.”
I was so frustrated at this response. He knew? How could he know? I didn’t even know until today, and I am a therapist!
He knew because I had been exhibiting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) since we met all the way back in high school. I had never acknowledged this, and neither had he, but we both knew on some level that it was happening, and I think we both also silently hoped it would all just stop.
My PTSD didn’t stem from any combat but instead happened after I was in a toxic and abusive relationship for two years. A completely different kind of battle – a verbal and psychological warfare. A war that is much less well-known but that entirely too many people experience.
Even though the controlling relationship had ended long ago, the psychological impact it had on me did not.
One in five women and one in seven men report experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV). For most of those, the first incident occurred between 11 and 17 years of age (National Domestic Violence Hotline). Please read that again: between 11 and 17 years of age, our children are already being sent into a domestic war zone.
Intimate partner violence includes stalking, physical, sexual, verbal, and psychological abuse, and any other harm inflicted by a current or former partner (Center for Disease Control, 2018). All of these types of abuse and violence are valid and are unacceptable. Yet, we hear so many times, “They didn’t hit me, but….” to justify a partner’s abusive behavior in a relationship.
Those exact words left my mouth many times.
And do you know what I was doing?
I was minimizing my trauma and the impact that it had on me. As a consequence of this denial and stigma and minimizing, I needed double the time to seek help and heal.
No one ever told me that PTSD could stem from intimate partner violence.
I didn’t even know the term intimate partner violence when it was happening to me every single day for two whole years. Even now, typing this, I feel the fears of vulnerability creeping up on me, and I want to say, “it really wasn’t all that bad.”
That is stigma, and this is me crushing that stigma and continuing!
PTSD can show its ugly head in many different ways. Some symptoms include nightmares, flashbacks, avoiding reminders of the trauma, and various others that can be talked about with your therapist (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). From my own experience, it can also look like not wanting to be left alone or having separation anxiety from your partner, not wanting to be touched in a certain way, having trigger words or phrases, blaming yourself and feeling shameful, and having a distorted sense of your self and your own identity. PTSD can feel like constantly living in your brain stem, in survival mode, being ready to fight, flight, or freeze at any moment (mostly flight for me – hence the running out of the library from earlier).
No one deserves to feel this way, yet so many people still do.
Someone once told me that one day my battles would be someone else’s map to guide them through tough times and that I would know when I had the audience that needed to hear it.
So here it is – my own story, battle wounds and all. I hope, if anything, these words reach out of your computer screen and shake you awake to the possibilities of what our teenagers could be dealing with – of what anyone could be dealing with – and the intense need for more education about IPV and mental health starting at an early age (11-17 to be exact).
There was a brief time when I was a teenager that the empowerment and strength within me were stolen through corrupt maneuvers disguised as “love.” I had no identity for many years because I had someone telling me what I could and could not do and who I could and could not be. This was all masked as jealousy, love, and protection. This person made me feel so unworthy of being loved, and he took any shred of self-esteem I had and absolutely destroyed it.
If I thought an outfit looked nice – he made sure to tell me all the ways it didn’t.
If I wanted to hang out with friends – he wanted to know every detail of who was there, what we were doing, and would call me or drive by to make sure I wasn’t lying.
When I had male friends, I was automatically cheating.
And when others showed any interest in me at all, he was quick to tell me they were lying and I wasn’t smart enough, pretty enough, or good enough.
When I expressed dreams, he told me they were empty and hopeless.
I was going nowhere, and I was no one.
When I look back at the dark shell of a person I was during that toxic relationship, I am very happy to say that I don’t even know who that woman is. I am in a very healthy and happy marriage now, and I am 10 years removed from this trauma. I work every day to be sure that I know my trauma is not my identity; it is merely what happened to me. I have an amazing husband who quiets those old voices and reminds me I am loved, and I am enough. I have interests and passions. I am fierce, a little sassy, I have a quirky sense of humor, and I know what kinds of books and music I really like and enjoy. I love rainy days and coffee and yoga, and cats. I know that I have endless possibilities in front of me, and I know I am just the right woman to tackle them head-on.
I am more than enough.
I have an identity separate from my trauma again.
I felt so alone for so long in this dark place, this war zone, but as I grew and learned, I realized that so many people face these same dark challenges and come out on the other side healed and stronger than ever. I am here to assure you there is so much hope in the healing, and there is so much more out there waiting for the new, healthier version of you.
We have to speak up and educate others so that our children do not think this is what love looks like. So that anyone experiencing PTSD from IPV, current or past, knows they are not alone and there is a bright future ahead. So that they all know they deserve more.
They are worth so much more.
Sometimes you don’t realize you’re being controlled and manipulated, and – dare I say it out loud – abused until you meet someone who shows you otherwise. Someone who gives you back your voice and the strength you need to use it.
And sometimes – that person is you.
“Some people believe holding on and hanging in there are signs of great strength. However, there are times when it takes much more strength to know when to let go – and then do it.”– Ann Landers
Find help, you are not alone:
Text LOVEIS to 1-866-331-9474 if you are unable to speak safely
About the Author: Ashley Cory is a licensed social worker and specializes in working with teenagers with anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, and self-esteem struggles in an ever-changing world of comparison. Ashley loves reading, writing, yoga, cats, rainy days, and believes coffee with a friend can solve any problem. Ashley grew up in the mountains of Southeastern Kentucky and now resides in Indiana with her husband and daughter.
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.
- Center for Disease Control. (2018) Intimate partner violence. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/intimatepartnerviolence/index.html#:~:text=Intimate%20partner%20violence%20(IPV)%20is,or%20former%20partner%20or%20spouse.
- National Domestic Violence Hotline. (n.d.) Statistics. https://www.thehotline.org/resources/statistics/
The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios only.
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