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Something about finding a partner with whom you feel safe — especially after being abused — can be entrancing. With Dawn and I, and the life we are trying to build together, it is something like dancing to slow classical music through a minefield. Both of our hearts are entwined in one another and the cute, happy light of it permeates the room whenever we are together; but behind the scenes of this happy gleam is a war neither one of us is allowed to walk away from.
For Dawn, the mines we must avoid are glaringly obvious. Her scars are fresh and raw from seven years of abuse, and only a few months of recovery. Each time my tone goes dark, or I say something negative, or something not quite right happens — whenever her ex would have hurt — she folds into herself and the bold, fearless creature that takes on the world every single day becomes a terrified bird, wrapped in her own wings for shelter from a storm that is no longer raging around her. Milestones are harder to reach, and time is only somewhat on my side in helping her to heal. Right now, I am focusing on the little victories; things like seeing the day she doesn't flinch when my hand cups her face, and when she feels safe telling me she doesn't want to be intimate when I am clearly in the mood for it. These are things I will have to work on slowly, and consistently. Lucky for us, I love holding her face and watching her slowly melt into my touch; and being told 'no' in bed has never bothered me. No means no in both our books and we stick to Consent is Sexy.
Beyond the little victories, I am up against the shadow of her ex in bigger ways. She is still waiting for me to be just like the others, to take advantage of her, to force her to carry me like a dead weight in the water, and to be of little use to her financially, emotionally, or mentally. Her mind tells her it is only a matter of time before her quirks start pissing me off, then I'll show the colors she's familiar with and I will hurt her. I can only combat this through consistently being who I am already, and staying soft and supportive of her. My job here is to really love her, to let my heart be weak before her at each opportunity so she knows that I am here for the dark times as much as I am for the brighter days.
For me, the mines are further under ground now. They are the Mad-At-Me-Complex, where I still struggle to determine if she's simply not enthusiastically pleased with me, or if she is actively mad at me; or they are the moments when I am waiting for her to tell me to leave like everyone else eventually does. My litany of medical issues are reason enough to leave me, in my book. She could take Tawnie and run, and I would never blame her for it. But those mines are harder to trip now, because I have had plenty of time to turn open wounds into thick-skinned scar tissue. However, the times that these triggers are hit, they go off hard and deep into my emotional self — and can take days to recover from. Recently, something that happened in our home had her disappointed in me, and I spent the next three days flinching every time she entered the room, and unknowingly looking at her like I was ready for her to beat me. When she pointed it out a few times, I knew something more long-term in my recovery had been hit and I needed to confront and remedy the issue.
There are a lot of points where we can reassure one another, too. Whenever we get scared and uncertain of our footing, the other can step in and offer reinforcement and support. It can be as simple as saying "no worries, babe, you got this" or leaving notes for one another before they go to work "Today will be a great day!" and "Fart Rainbows Baby!" in sticky notes on each other's steering wheels, and on the mirror, or on the door. We take the time to nurture healing in each other's journeys. It is one of the building blocks we agreed we wanted to work on right off the bat - helping one another be better than we were before.
This is always step one in developing a beneficial relationship after escaping abuse — establishing a foundation of recovery, trust, and healing. With those cornerstones in place, you can really help one another to grow and to become stronger, happier, healthier people than you were before the abuse took place. It takes time, and it takes commitment — it is always worth it, though.