So, you spend the next several days, weeks or months gathering as many of the pieces of your bowl you can find. Just when you think you’ve found all the pieces, you look behind the bookcase and find more. You know that you’ll never actually find every little shard but you know if you have enough of them you can start trying to put your bowl back together.
The next several years, when you have the spare energy and time, are spent attempting to glue the pieces back together. You slip, slice open a wound (usually the same one over and over) and spend time trying to heal. You lose pieces. You drop pieces and they break even smaller. Pieces stop fitting together perfectly. Some pieces are missing all together. When you finally finish (or you’re as close to finished as you’re ever going to be), you have something that at least resembles the bowl with which you started.
The ‘new’ bowl is made of the same material, it’s about the same size and weight, but it can never be used in the same way it was before. You can still use it for things like chips, dry fruit, vegetables and the like. But you can forget about ice cream, soup, or cereal; with all the cracks and missing pieces anything less solid is going to slide right through the cracks and holes.
Welcome to the emotional grid of the abused. When someone is abused (physically, emotionally, or mentally) their emotional structure becomes as broken and cracked as the ill-fated bowl. It doesn’t seem to matter how many years of work is put into fixing the breaks, sealing the cracks and becoming whole again. There will always be lasting damage. Always. Sometimes we (yes, I am included in this group) do a really superb job at hiding our damage, and other times it’s so overwhelming we can barely function.
I’ll let you in on a little secret, dearest reader, I’m a survivor of abuse. My second husband was emotionally and mentally (and towards the end, physically) abusive towards me. He mentally and emotionally abused my daughter. We finally got out, we survived, but we’ll never really be the same.
The way he treated me, the little actions he used to control and manipulate me, stay with me to this very day. If he didn’t like something (a type of music, a tv show, a specific food, etc) I didn’t have it in my life. I refused to provide any ammunition that would trigger him into anger; that anger turned into a verbal or emotional assault…and sometimes violence. I walked on egg shells and bent over backwards to ensure he was always happy and got what he wanted. I didn’t want his disapproval blossoming on my body in small blue and green flowers. Moreover, I didn’t want to be told ONE MORE TIME how stupid, worthless, annoying, helpless or ugly I was. There were times (sometimes weeks at a time) that I would pray he would just ignore me, pretend I wasn’t there instead of showing any kind of interest in me; because I knew eventually I would do something to trigger him into anger. I refused to ask for anything I wanted, agreed with absolutely everything he said or suggested, and usually completely avoided eye contact.
You know me, beloved reader, I’m always completely honest with you. So I’ll tell you this. I’m still (more than 8 years later) prone to these behaviors. If I know someone doesn’t like something, or they show ANY indication that they aren’t interested – I won’t bring it up a second time. If I ask someone to do something and they say no; I accept it and move on. I’m scared to death to make a choice or a decision and have someone else unhappy with the results. Even if it’s something I really want to do. I’ve learned (technically I was ‘trained’) not to outright ask for something. I’d put something out as a suggestion; “this sounds good” …but I wouldn’t actually say I WANTED to do it. Any decision was an automatic NO if I wanted to do it; but if it was his idea then I could do it. Screwed up? Yes. Reality? Absolutely and that line of thinking still impacts me to this day. It is still a daily struggle.
There’s a quote / meme going around the Facebook (though I do believe it started on Tumblr) world that states it so perfectly that I was literally stopped in my tracks when I first read it. It’s more accurate than anything I can state myself:
“Being abused can seriously affect your ability to distinguish between “obviously not pleased” and “obviously displeased” because abusers can go from Neutral to Hostile for absolutely no discernable reason, and eventually you start worrying (or in my case expecting) everyone is going to be like that and you start feeling this urge to make absolutely sure that the people you actually care about are not mad or upset, because to you “there’s no evidence that they are not angry is the same as “there’s evidence that they are angry”.
One more time for the kids in the back: “THERE IS NO EVIDENCE THAT THEY ARE NOT ANGRY IS THE SAME AS THERE IS EVIDENCE THAT THEY ARE ANGRY”. Let that sink in for a moment. In the mind of the abused, if you don’t show that you are HAPPY than you are obviously PISSED OFF. We know, logically, that the statement is not a reality. But seriously…when have you known emotions and self-protective reaction to be logical?
So, that’s pretty much where I am right now, trying to balance an emotionally healthy relationship (and the happiest I’ve been in a relationship since my very first “love” all those years ago in Brook Park) and my emotionally unbalanced abusive past. It’s a terrifying feeling; wondering when you’re going to do that ONE thing that flips the switch. Even when, intellectually, you know that switch doesn’t exist.
I’m working on it, I’m trying to come up with healthier ways of thinking and behaving. When I find them, you know you’ll be the first I tell.
In the meantime, just keep loving me for the broken bowl I am. <3