When my 19 year marriage ended in 2016 I found myself in new territory. The secrets that I’d worked for almost twenty years to keep hidden, came pouring out at a tremendous rate. The list of shocked loved ones grew. The list of those that were on a similar journey began to surface. I was forced to take stock in what I had been through, how I had survived, and why I had stayed. In talking to those in similar situations, I noticed a common mindset that led me to explain domestic abuse as surviving an undertow.
When you enter into a relationship with an abuser, it is like a beautiful beach. If there is a cloud in the sky, you ignore it and bask in the glow of all of the wonderful things being presented. The abuser knows the right things to say to get you into the water. He will keep you safe, you’re an incredible swimmer, he loves you like no one has ever loved you before. Look at this beautiful place that he’s brought you to. After you have let yourself trust him completely, you find yourself in water over your head with the beach in the distance. You aren’t worried. After all, he loves you and will keep you safe. Unfortunately, one day he playfully dunks you under only to pull you back up and calm your fears. He has you. It was just in the name of fun. Lighten up. He won’t do it again. The problem is, over time, he does it again and again. He spaces it out so that you have a false sense of security. It might be a little scary, but he will protect you. You just need to learn how to have fun and trust him.
One day, you come to the realization that you are drowning. No longer are the moments of not being able to breathe spaced out, you are by yourself with your abuser and you are drowning. Your entire day is spent looking for that next rock or place you can get your footing so that you can push your head above water. Just one breath, you just need one breath and then you can figure out what to do next. How to get out of the situation. Before you can come up with a plan, you are under again and again and again. It is all encompassing.
After a period of time, there comes a day that you realize you can no longer sustain this way of living anymore. You decide to gather all of the strength you can and head toward the beach. The issue is, in this next phase you find yourself stuck in the undertow. You can’t breathe at all. Everything is intense and seems insurmountable. You have no idea how long this will last; how much worse it will get. Water surrounds you and to make matters worse your abuser is trying to get you back into the deep water. He lures you with promises of safety or maybe threats that you will be dragged back out. This is where so many of us run into problems. The undertow phase seems impossible, so we take our chances back in the deep.
What we fail to realize in heading back to what we know is that we rob ourselves of what we deserve: safety, security and happiness. The undertow is brutal. It takes more strength and determination than you think you can manage. However, on the other side of that undertow is the most beautiful and peaceful beach that you’ve ever seen. Regardless of the promises you are being told about the deep water, the beach is the reward. You can survive the undertow. You do not deserve to drown or even to be dunked under. The beach is what you deserve. Happiness.
This is my journey in surviving the undertow.