“Why don’t you leave him? Why are you staying?” they always would ask me as I clung to the barely visible fragments of dignity I had left in me. Still, to this day, I must admit, when I rewind and replay these questions in my head, anger resurfaces, fuelled by their lack of understanding and their emotional absence. If only they had known how I hungered for human connection, how helpless I felt, how my soul was being destroyed, how I needed to be held. Really held. Rocked, even. My anger, I now see, was wasted energy, energy directed at the ones whose ignorance almost buried me with shame…More of it.
I was marked by the weight these questions carried with them. I was stunned by the heaviness seeping from the absence of support—a loud void felt upon waking up each morning from a never-ending string of sleepless nights. The loneliness was unbearable, barely manageable, suffocating. It brought with it constant flashes of being abandoned… the fear of it never very far—too far. Sometimes, when I travel back to these moments of despair, I am convinced that within the core of the human, humanity has left, that compassion is no longer existent. How can a well-meant intention placed at the heart of those seemingly innocent questions be so poisonous? Couldn’t they see I had been trapped in a strange world, that my will was stolen, that I had lost my way, my destination, that despair was my only ally to rely upon? Couldn’t they see, that I was dying? Couldn’t they hear it in my voice, feel it in their bones?
No. No, they couldn’t. For all of them, logic dictated I remove myself from a harmful situation. Period. How could I blame them for thinking I could function still as the intelligent, cerebral and logical woman they had always known? No. This is how powerful and lethal the trauma bond is: from the outside looking in, it defies our understanding of what normal and functional human behaviours ought to be; from the inside looking out, there is nowhere to escape to.
Why did I stay? Simple: because it was physical, in all sense of the word. I was addicted to the adrenaline, the dopamine, the serotonin and the oxytocin I had been fed. The ability for me to detoxify from such a potent cocktail, one carefully designed, measured and administered by an unscrupulous individual, was crippled by the creation of a monumental emotional mindfuck. And so I became addicted to the toxic tides of the relationship, to the lulls that were laced with paralyzing uncertainty, to the promises that held me chained to the magician’s masterful illusions. Weaning oneself from this emotional and chemical rollercoaster is as agonizing as weaning oneself from heroin. So yea, that it was difficult to leave is an understatement.
Many excellent articles and stories on the subject of trauma bonding/betrayal bonding exist. Of course, the content of the actual experiences obviously vary, but the pattern remains, unfortunately, the same for all. At the heart of it for me was the unpredictability of my abuser’s demeanour, keeping me in a constant state of fight, flight or fuck mode, assuring the adrenaline was constantly pumping into my veins. My quest had been to please him at all costs in order to regain the sensations that had marked the beginning of our relationship. Central to the abuse were the random and rare acts of kindness, crumbs of attention, thrown at me in order to confuse and pacify the occasional rebel that would defy the lies—his distorted views of reality. Little things, really. A million of them. A sweet word well placed, a timely kiss, a stronger embrace. Anything to hold on to, all dispensed with minute calculation. These moments redefined my perceptions of us.
They made me believe. He knew it.
Each time I had gathered the courage to leave, the hoovering, the stalking and the love bombing started. The intensity of it all, the feeling of being that desired, created a form of hypnotic amnesia that would cloud my rational mind, annihilating the truths I had momentarily perceived, until eventually, I had to face them. When I decided to see them, those truths, to fuse myself to the facts, then, my bond to the abuser and the addiction to the abuse weakened enough for me to flee, safely. The antidote to the trauma bond is to ground yourself in reality, its ugly and painful truths the only lifelines. And so I did.
Escaping the physical relationship is one thing; escaping the damage that has reshaped your brain is another. In my case, complex-post traumatic disorder followed my departure from the relationship. Recurring nightmares, repeated flashes of tolerated mistreatment, obsessive reconfiguration of reality plagued my days, leaving me drained, apathetic and completely depressed. I had navigated my escape alone without support; I would also navigate the recovery, unaccompanied. I did seek the help of a trauma specialist, but still felt the sting of my friends’ and family’s incomprehension, lack of understanding and acceptance. They thought that because I had left, I was safe, secure, and functional. They were wrong, and to this day, I think, are still unaware, unaware that the capacity to trust myself had disappeared, that the capacity to trust others had vanished, that the belief that I could be heard had gone. More importantly, they failed to see that their absence had configured a deeper sense of isolation…and that isolation can kill the strongest of souls.
Against this backdrop, I still made it to the other side.
In the process, I forgave myself.
And I forgave them.