Words and images by Kara V. Leinfelder Meyer
Women are under constant pressure to be perfect. I realized that I had been holding my feet to this fire to such a robotic extent, that I had been suppressing real trauma. I finally have the courage to say I was in a relationship with an abusive addict. Saying it is one of the hardest things I've ever done.
I was 27. I had just come back from school abroad. From the moment I stepped off the plane, my world began to unravel at lightning speed. I suffered three “losses,” one right after the other, and then the entire world slammed into the existence that was post-9/11 life.
I became a shell of a person. I don’t remember what I did or who I was friends with. I wasn’t myself— I wasn’t anybody.
I saw the red flags when I met him. He was young, full of energy, and liked to live life on the edge. I’d already fallen off the edge so what did I care? Little did I know, all that abundant energy came from a deeply-rooted addiction issue.
Fast forward to me holding a positive pregnancy test result. I felt the ice that had taken up residence in my bloodstream start to thaw. Looking back, I know that feeling now as hope. I saw my salvation. This child was going to save my life, I just didn’t know it yet.
Over the course of my pregnancy, I kept giving him ways out. I didn’t know how to make it happen on my own. The vulnerability of pregnancy had left me feeling defenseless and as if life was just happening to me. I wasn’t just in the backseat while someone else was driving, I was tethered to the bumper and the car was going 100 miles an hour.
I felt addiction start to attack me and I held on to my growing belly in hopes it would protect me. I locked myself in the nursery. I crawled into the closet. I hid.
I tried to shove the pain down—that’s what women do isn’t it? Not deal with it. Because society tells us: “Chin up, lipstick on, no one likes a victim”. I didn’t like myself, clearly. I looked in the mirror and all I saw was a ghost. If I could maintain this hollow persona, shut off feeling altogether, it wouldn’t hurt. I wouldn’t have to say to myself, or anyone, “I’m being abused.”
I don’t know what it is that makes abuse, hidden in the dark and covered in shame, a dirty word. I do know that I tried everything I could to not look directly at what was happening. I knew it would come to end. I knew that one day either I’d have the strength to change the locks or this would kill me.
The last time he threatened me, I looked down and saw my son—his big brown eyes trying to process what was happening. There I was, at the very bottom of bottom.
I changed the locks the next day. I slept on the couch for a year. I kept a knife under my pillow. It wasn’t existence. It was the closest thing to a slow death I have ever known. I was suffocating from fear.
Years later, hundreds of therapy hours completed, countless nights have been lost in the residual echo of trauma.
I left for five years before I came back to the place that had turned me inside out. Being away had given me a false sense of surviving. But being back was like being smacked in the face with a cast iron skillet. The universe was very intent on letting me know there was work still to be done.
I found a new therapist and within ten minutes of being on her couch, I fell apart. Something I had never done in therapy. You go to therapy to get all of those feelings out of your head so they don’t take over your soul, but I had never cried before.
I had to come undone to be rebuilt. There was no more putting this in a box and shoving it to the back of the closet. Trauma isn’t like that. Trauma is a jagged razor scar that runs the entire length of your body. And abuse... well, abuse is like someone trying to put their hands inside of you and pull out your soul.
Abuse and trauma change your internal landscape forever. It’s OK to fall apart and it’s OK to ask for help. It’s OK to say “this is happening to me.” I wish I had done those things, I wish I had thought I was worthy of help. No one deserves abuse; and the abuser does not deserve to be given a pass because of addiction, anger, or their own inner turmoil.
I have now created a space where I can look at myself and see a person I love; a space where I remind myself daily to be gentle with my own soul; to tend to the scars as a part of who I am but not as if they are everything I am. I give daily reverence to who I was, who I am, and who I have yet to become.
And I get up every time I’m knocked down because I believe in myself—and I believe we are all deserving.
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Kara is a freelance designer and writer by night and a museum professional by day. She believes in the power of creative outlets to heal and also uses photography and music as healthy escapes. She lives in Raleigh, NC with her two boys and husband.