frosted window glass with iron bars that resemble a cage
frosted window glass with iron bars that resemble a cage
Photo by Barthelemy de Mazenod on Unsplash

Here’s the thing they don’t tell you about being a victim of physical or emotional abuse. Even when you think you’ve been set free, you’re still trapped. Even though you no longer have to face your abuser on a daily basis, their presence lingers like an odor that just won’t go away.

I still have to coparent with the man that physically abused my daughter three and a half years ago. Because of the fact that he tried so hard to make it seem like I was overreacting to his method of “discipline,” the courts have protected her, for which I am unendingly thankful. Without his belligerent push to make me the bad guy, she would have been sent back to his care years ago, because our state favors parental rights over the rights of a child to live without fear.

Even though we no longer share parenting time, I’m still obliged to notify him of major events that happen with her. He’s allowed to voice his opinion, but I have final say. I don’t really see the point when he doesn’t know my daughter at all. He was barely a father in the five years he was involved in her life; he’s not allowed to engage with her now. How could he possibly form a meaningful opinion of what’s best for her without this vital connection?

He revels in the abuse he sets upon me. Anything I do or say could trigger microaggression, like fulfilling an agreement without abiding by the terms set forth. Or it could trigger all out aggression like calling for a court hearing, demanding that the restraints set upon him be lifted—all without him doing any of the work that would release them in the first place. Both ends of the spectrum leave me sleepless and unfocused for days.

Every time I have to say anything, I mind my words. I step cautiously so that I don’t awaken the beast. I expect backlash from everything I say or do, so I avoid saying anything more often than not. I wait anxiously for a response, while my mind spins scenarios so my body can prepare to protect itself. His response always triggers my PTSD, no matter how big or small it is.

I live in fear that our latest interaction will explode into major drama and I wonder how much I will end up owing my attorney this month. I worry that I will show up in court, and the protections we have will be erased in moments.

I consider every possible outcome before I speak and then I prepare to put my words out into the world on a secure platform where my words can never be changed. I know they will always be there to be used against me in some way, so I write, edit, read, edit, sometimes for an hour (or more) before I press send. Once I do that, I can never take them back.

He never tries to understand me. I am only the enemy and I will never be understood. My ability to set and hold boundaries are considered “controlling” and “manipulative.” My intentions are misconstrued and twisted to fit the narrative that suits my abuser. My actions become stories that are used to alienate me from others who used to value my presence. Now they are his allies.

Rather than seeking to understand the root of why I’m upset in any given exchange, I’m told that I’m blowing things out of proportion. He says I should be happy that I’m getting what I expect to get. He doesn’t see the principle of the matter is where my concern lies. But it’s tough arguing principles with a man who has none. His unspoken words are that it shouldn’t matter that things didn’t go the way that we agreed to, they got done, didn’t they? Gaslighting is his specialty.

He fails to recognize that it’s not that he’s reaching the bare minimum of the expectations set upon him, but that he actively works to do it in a way that will upset me. He thrives on my reaction, and I’ve learned to make it as small as possible, while still holding my boundary and show him that I won’t be bullied.

I count the days to when I will finally be free, but I worry about how much damage will have been done by then. Some scars will never leave you.

tales of a girl trying to make sense of it all.

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