PTSD After Domestic Violence

TRIGGER WARNING: Domestic Violence

Being in two different relationships where I experienced domestic violence has been traumatizing. It completely changed the way I viewed myself as well as the way I viewed men. The first time I was physically abused I was 18. I’d been seeing him for a few months and there were so many red flags leading up to this encounter that I either ignored or wasn’t aware of. He was extremely charming in the beginning and helped me walk away from a toxic situation I’d been in. I really wanted to believe he was a good guy so when I discovered he was cheating on me, I was crushed. We had an argument and I remember us yelling back and forth in his car and him hitting me in my face twice. I was stunned. All I could do was sit there with tears streaming down my bruised face. This was only the first time. The last time he put his hands on me and what led to us breaking up for good, I again caught him being inappropriate with another girl and an argument ensued. He attacked me and this time I was so fed up that I fought him back as he punched me multiple times in my face. I’ll never forget the feeling of the person who was supposed to love me abusing me. 

After our relationship ended, I vowed to never let anyone else put their hands on me. I got into my next relationship months later and it was completely different from anything I’d ever experienced. I’d found my soulmate and we went on to spend the next 2 years together. We shared many great memories but the relationship wasn’t without pain or flaws. In March of 2020, my worst nightmare came true. The man I’d devoted my entire life to turned into a monster. It started with a heated argument and ended with me pinned against the wall and him choking the life out of me. I couldn’t breathe and as I stared into his eyes, I didn’t recognize the person staring back at me. Everything I’d known for the last 2 years, everything we’d built, came crashing down. I was broken. How could he listen to me tell him about the person before him abusing me and turn around and do the same thing? After our relationship ended, I spent months crying and using sex and alcohol to cope with losing who I thought was the love of my life as well as the trauma I now lived with. 

I dealt with my depression, vivid flashbacks, and unwanted memories of this event in secrecy. I didn’t tell my friends, my mom, or even my therapist. I began to suspect I was dealing with some PTSD but I ignored it until it was no longer avoidable. I finally discussed it with my therapist and she confirmed it sounded like I was struggling with PTSD. 

PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder is a mental health condition that can occur when someone experiences something traumatic. 

Domestic violence is the act of violence that occurs between people who have or had an intimate relationship. This includes physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse. It affects about 10 million people every year. According to the CDC, about 1 in 5 women and 1 in 7 men have reported experiencing severe domestic violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. Experiencing domestic violence can be extremely traumatic and in some instances leave a person with PTSD. 

Symptoms of PTSD

  • Vivid flashbacks
  • Intrusive thoughts or images
  • Nightmares
  • Avoiding reminders of the traumatic event
  • Changes in mood
  • Physical sensations such as pain, sweating, nausea, and trembling
  • Distress over real or symbolic reminders of the trauma
  • Feeling tense or on edge
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Having angry outbursts

For me, the first signs that I may have PTSD were flashbacks, intrusive thoughts, being on edge, avoiding reminders, difficulty sleeping, changes in mood, and distress over reminders of the trauma. It didn’t happen instantly but my symptoms progressed over time after the situation that occurred in 2020. There were moments I could still feel my ex’s hands wrapped around my throat and times where I relived the trauma. I’d have unwanted thoughts and become extremely tense. I couldn’t close my eyes at night without envisioning being pinned against the wall and the cold look in his eyes as he choked me. I didn’t want to believe I could have PTSD and I also felt like my situation wasn’t as severe as other people who have experienced domestic violence. In a way, this was part of my denial.

As of now, I’m doing a lot better and my symptoms have drastically improved. Treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder looks like medication or therapy and sometimes both. Aside from professional treatment, there are things you can do to take care of yourself if you’re living with PTSD. 

Self-care

  • Meditation. I can’t talk enough about how meditation has transformed my life. Research suggests that meditation can be useful for PTSD. Guided meditations centered around healing from trauma have been especially helpful for me.
  • Journaling. Keeping a journal allows you to express yourself. You can use it to write about what happens when you have a flashback or when you’re triggered and just to have a safe space to talk about your feelings. Journaling can also help you identify your triggers. 
  • Grounding techniques. Grounding techniques can help keep you connected to the present moment when you’re struggling with flashbacks or intrusive thoughts. 
  • Have a trusted support system. This is just as important as seeking professional help. Having friends or loved ones you can confide in can help you work through the trauma. 
  • Find a creative outlet. Having a creative outlet can have a positive effect on PTSD symptoms. Find a hobby you enjoy such as painting, cooking, or writing. 
  • Exercise. Staying active can help with symptoms of PTSD like anxiety and irritability. It can also be a source of happiness or enjoyment for some. 
  • Comfort yourself. During moments of distress, try comforting yourself. You could curl up in a blanket and listen to soothing music or watch your favorite show. 

Experiencing domestic violence definitely changed my life but I refuse to stay stuck in a place of depression and anxiety. I know how lonely it can feel to be abused behind closed doors and have to put on a smile like everything is ok. I know how it feels to have the person who claims to love you be cold and violent. I know what it’s like to feel your heart race and the walls closing in on you as you experience a flashback. 

If you’re in a situation where you’re experiencing domestic violence or have been in the past, you’re not alone. Please reach out for help if you’re able to.

Resources

National Domestic Violence Hotline – 1-800-799-7233

thehotline.org – Get support and chat with an advocate

I’ve personally used the chat on thehotline.org. It’s safe and can be extremely helpful.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash 

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