My parents were massive Stephen King fans. When I was a kid I had a high reading level, and it only made sense to give me books that they enjoyed, and so I was reading Stand by Me at 12. Carrie at 12. It at 13. Tommyknockers at 14. I grew up loving horror stories of all kinds, and since that's what I knew, that's what I wrote. But compared to what was to come, Stephen King is something out of a Mother Goose story.
My first night sleeping on the floor in my little Boston attic apartment, safe and free and ready to start my new life, I fell asleep happy, secure and warm for the first time in years. I remember I actually fell asleep with a smile on my face.
Two hours later I awoke breathless, sweating and panicking. Visions of zombies, mutilated body parts, and other images that I can't even write about now, were flashing through my mind from having the most realistic, gory nightmare of my life.
Nightmares are fleeting, though. I knew that. So I read a little of my book, settled my mind back down and fell back asleep.
An hour later I woke up in another panic. This time the images were worse. The same zombie was eating me alive. The dream was so real that I had to check each of my limbs to make sure that I was still in tact.
A little more disturbed than before, it took a bit longer to calm myself back down. But still I fell asleep.
Again, one hour later I woke with even more bloody images, more gore, more violence.
From that night on, this was to become a nightly ritual until soon I would panic just at the thought of having to fall asleep.
I was actually relieved when insomnia became the norm. Every night I would stay awake working on my M.F.A., reading, cleaning, painting. As I started to accumulate little pieces of furniture for the apartment, I would spend my nights sanding and staining and painting them, often at three o'clock in the morning in the middle of winter with the windows wide open.
Besides the nightmares, other strange things started to happen.
One day I was standing in my kitchen staring at bags of groceries without having a memory of going to the grocery store. Sometimes I would forget how I got home from work. I was losing whole chunks of time.
Starting to fear my sanity and safety, I became more agoraphobic, hating to leave the house, and hating even more leaving my little neighborhood.
But the day I realized I needed to get help and get it fast was the day of the great mouse hunt. I had never had any experiences with mice before, and now I had the cutest little gray rodent living inside of my wall, scurrying around and causing trouble.
For weeks I had set out traps, but she was just too freaking smart for me!
Then one day I heard it rummaging around in the cupboard - the same place as my high-value cookie stash. I was still struggling financially, so whatever food I had in the house was a precious commodity. So, entirely frustrated with her stealing my food, I snuck up to the cupboard, stealth as a ninja. I'm pretty sure she heard me as she stopped the food thieving for a moment, but after a few minutes of stillness, she started up again, getting her fill. My plan was to open the cupboard quickly, catch her with a plastic baggie and release her to the wild Boston streets.
But when I opened the cupboard, the little tart scurried back into the wall!
No problem, I thought. At least she's out of my food. So I blocked the little hole in the wall, cleared out the eaten cookies, and put my new stash of snacks in the cupboard.
Two minutes later I heard the rummaging in my new food!
That's when it happened, quick as can be. With three quick, sharp movements, my fist came up to my temple whack, whack, whack. I had hit myself hard in the exact same place that my abuser would often hit me.
I had fought through the escape, given up everything that I had earned, gotten myself a job and an apartment deep in an unfamiliar city, kept my door locked tight, and here he was - my abuser was living inside of me, haunting my sleep, stealing my time, and directing my own fist.
Often we think the end of the story is when the survivor is out of an abusive situation, but unfortunately this is when the real work needs to begin. They need as many tools as possible to eradicate every trace of the damage the abuser has caused to their psyche, to their body, to their minds and to their very spirit. Unfortunately, these therapies can be expensive, so we need to make sure that we offer affordable services to survivors.
Some symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder related to domestic violence include:
Frequent nightmares, flashbacks, or intrusive memories about the abuse or violence
Physical illnesses such as headaches, stomach aches, ulcers or pains
Avoidance of situations that bring back memories of the violence
A tendency for domestic violence victims to become violent, erratic or irrational themselves
Constantly feeling jumpy, on high alert, or constantly anxious or angry
Drug or alcohol use to try and numb painful feelings
Outbursts of anger
Overwhelming feelings of sadness, fear, despair, guilt or self-hatred
Physical pain that migrates throughout the body
An inability to imagine a positive future