My thinking has been completely reframed as the day progressed. I woke up already entrenched in my trauma responses, choking on anxiety and this enduring feeling of unworthiness.
The pattern of abuse that I have previously been exposed to doesn’t exist anymore. This post tracks my thought processes, and my awakening as I stepped out of those trauma responses and into the space of safety that I have carved out in this new life of mine.
I decided to write this account in stages as the day wore on, more for therapeutic reasons than for blogging. I knew it was going to be a hard day, and I wasn’t sure if I would even publish this post once it was finished, but I have shared so much here in this space already that it feels right to keep going.
Today is my birthday.
Can I hide until it’s over?
Well wishes and messages start coming in early.
I feel small, like a deflated balloon. I am all used up.
My self awareness is greater than it was this time last year, but I am still struggling to understand why I feel so low.
Each message that comes through, I recoil. I have to summon the strength to reply and it is so draining.
I’m so used to having to pretend. I don’t know how to be genuine today of all days.
Even though it’s different now.
I know that if I called up my therapist right now, she would tell me that these feelings are my “old back brain.” She would say that while my rational, front brain knows that I am safe and it is safe to be happy, my old back brain is being triggered by the conditioning of my abuse. My back brain refuses to let me get excited, or be happy, or accept genuine well wishes on this day because it is protecting me from the disappointment and the betrayal that I have experienced year after year until this point.
Things I must remember:
It is okay NOT to be instantly healed by my freedom. It’s okay that even after sixteen months I am still triggered by my past.
It’s okay if I struggle to enjoy my birthday today.
I get home and he is there, his eyes are bright and his smile is glowing. He doesn’t see the trepidation within me because I mask it expertly. He hugs me. The familiar weight of his arms around me, his scent, and his nearness all serve to drain the first drops of toxicity from me.
I am home.
He leads me though and I can see the pile of gifts he has neatly lined up. A card and a present from each of the children, planned and actioned with each of them individually.
It isn’t the gifts themselves that have warmed me, even though they are wonderful. It’s that he thought of me, and he thought of them. He has brought my children the gift of giving and they are so excited that it melts me.
We spend the day doing odd tasks and driving around, having McDonald’s for lunch. It’s perfect. He knows everything about my past of course, every horrific detail. But he isn’t trying to overdo it. His kindness is genuine, it feels exquisitely unique to me in a life where people have only ever given to take from me.
We are sitting in the garden sipping tea, watering the grass and watching the kids play.
He wanted to take me out for dinner, but the urge to spend this evening with the children instead was gnawing me, and I worried over it for days leading up.
They are my safe space, you see. They always have been. When things were at their worst I always had a small person to clutch in my arms and direct energy into when I needed a lifeline, when I needed to feel something other than the crippling anxiety and the agony of being abused.
I looked at him across the table, and I asked him softly if we could stay in and share a takeaway with the kids instead tonight.
Instinct had me watching for the signs, the sigh, the temper rising, the sullen strop, and the whining that my abuser would have reacted with. Watching his hands for the curl of a fist.
But he didn’t even hesitate, he nodded and asked what kind of takeaway I wanted.
It was like up until then I had a whole person kneeling on my chest and pinning me on the ground but suddenly they released me and I could breathe again.
It was followed swiftly by the flood of warm peace and safety that his presence brings me.
So here we sit, simply being together and laughing. Playing with the children, eating cake and good food.
This is what it feels like to be loved and valued.
This is what it feels like to heal.
For some background context to this post, please read below…