Fight or flight: the ongoing trauma of domestic abuse
I lived in an abusive relationship, which was characterised by coercive control and all types of abuse. I was isolated and depressed, trying desperately to maintain an outward veneer of respectability.
The abuse I suffered exacerbated my mental health. I had frequent episodes of depression. I experienced visual and audio hallucinations where I saw my late father’s face on the ceiling and voices telling me to harm myself. It was at this time I started self-medicating with alcohol and prescription sleeping pills – the severity, duration and frequency of the abuse became so unbearable and was having a significant impact on my mental health, which had deteriorated significantly.
It was around this time that I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and the abuse escalated to a whole different level to the point where I saw no way out. I thought the only alternative was to take my own life. I did not actually want to die; I just wanted the abuse to stop.
I finally found the strength to leave but I did not know how much the aftermath of leaving would affect me. After spending many years imprisoned by Trauma bonding, I continued to experience a range of mental health conditions including complex PTSD, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts. The trauma manifested itself; the symptoms were complex and layered, including flashbacks, emotional numbness, trouble focusing, and emotional distress.
My sanity, well-being and mental health had been actively undermined by my abuser. The effects of gaslighting were psychologically disorienting. But when compounded, it destabilised my understanding of reality and of everything I knew about myself, which created negative thoughts which are a PTSD hallmark. Triggers persisted and I struggled to mentally reorient myself after my abuser tilted my world on its axis. Hardwired to safeguard myself from danger, the fight or flight response lingered after the danger had gone.
I have come a long way in my journey of recovery. But to this day, a dry heave will rise in my throat due to the triggers that I still have.
[Image description: White writing on a dark background reads: ‘I thought the only alternative was to take my own life. I did not actually want to die, I just wanted the abuse to stop.’]