Due to the sensitive nature of some of the content of this post, and specifically relating to individuals whose consent wasn't obtained in the matter of addressing the issue of relationship abuse, identifying details have been omitted.
From the beginning, the Amaithi brand has been about courage. This courage may not be what comes to mind when the word courage appears in other contexts, but we believe that this courage is perhaps more important than any other kind. This is the courage to speak of and about uncomfortable truths. This is the courage to know that speaking of these things makes us stronger, not weaker. This is the courage that admits its own shortcomings, knowing that it doesn't make us less.
So what is the most courageous thing that I, Owner/Operator Sarita Venkatapathy, could (and desperately need to) speak about at this time? A story that needs telling. This story has to do with one of the most important topics Amaithi deals with - mental health - and one of the aspects of life that I have personally experienced that catapulted me into the world of mental illness - trauma.
This weekend I experienced something that triggered my Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Before moving into this subject, I think it's important we do the due diligence of speaking about what this disorder is. The Department of Veterans Affairs is a great source on PTSD, and has a great site with many and varied resources on the topic. They define PTSD as, "a mental health problem that some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a life-threatening event, like combat, a natural disaster, a car accident, or sexual assault," characterized by four categories of symptoms:
- Re-living or Re-experiencing symptoms - you may have heard the terms "flashback" or "trigger" in reference to this category
- Avoidance - it only makes sense that sufferers will avoid things that remind them of their trauma
- Increase in Negative Beliefs and Feelings - your friends that have experienced trauma may seem different than before, rant, seem excessively cynical, angry or depressed
- Hyperarousal - people with trauma in their life may become paranoid or jumpy, keyed up, suffer insomnia and not be able to relax in general
So what was it that triggered a flashback to feelings of insecurity and fear? An instance that reminded me of the isolation and doubt associated with relationship abuse. Without going into too much detail, I had a nasty phone call that showed me someone in my life was being treated the way I remember being treated four years ago...
It was one of those rare moments when we weren't fighting. I knew it was a troubled relationship, but I'd always had a weakness for men who would validate that my previous abuse experiences were real and that I was being abused. Perhaps that's what made it so easy for him to isolate me. Perhaps I'd done that work before he even came into my life. Regardless, he listened when no one else did, and so I listened when I certainly shouldn't have.
"What would you say if I dated someone else and you? What if the polygamy were re-instated? Could you share me?" he whispered, careful not to alert his parents in the other room. Not realizing he was purposely goading me, I seriously consider his words. With so much invested in the people I love, and so many tender moments invested in this relationship, I am ill prepared for someone who would consciously do things to hurt me at times. I am dumbstruck, but it isn't long before quick and passionate words leave my mouth. I am honest. I do not beat around the bush, and the hurt in my voice is apparent. Before the words become sharp, he pulls me into the basement, where I am subjected to the condescension and vicious anger that only he can display. It's unlike anything else - when I try to be reasonable and state my feelings, I am interrupted with the eerily quiet and measured words that can only belong to deep fury. It is with fear I try to reason, and with anger he controls. I never thought that words could give me such a crushing feeling in my chest - and yet, he doesn't need any blows to make me believe it is I who is difficult and world crushing.
It was so far - such a long time ago, and yet the memory leaps to my mind with the feelings of inadequacy as I hear the words over the phone of the ultimatum my friend has been subjected to. Every piece of my instinct and my experience screams with the inadequacy of what I can say, because this time intuition and flashback are the same. What my intuition and logic tell me as I speak to my friend about his relationship is the same as my ever-so-fresh memory, flooding back with the ache of heart and crushing sensation. I know what's going on, and my measured breaths and attempt and calm demeanor dissolve into tears before I can hit the "end" button, but I manage to pull it together before the trigger gets me too far.
I will cry once the phone is down. Big, sloppy tears. Desperate calls to friends. Validate me. I'm not crazy, am I? This is wrong. Right? Is he back? Will I always be haunted by him?
Relationship abuse is not limited to physical assault, sexual assault and verbal abuse. Emotional abuse is very real and very intimidating. The warning signs of abusive behavior - quick involvement, controlling behavior, intimidation and more - can sometimes leave deeper and more lasting scars than any inflicted by hand or knife or gun. Fear is a powerful tool and a huge motivator of behavioral change, to an extent. As was the case with my relationship, I see the jealousy, the manipulation, the gaslighting and more. And I can't fix it. I can't change it. I'm as powerless now as I was then, and I'm spiraling, spiraling, spiraling...
Beware the signs of what could become a traumatic experience. If you or a loved one is showing signs of being in an abusive relationship (no matter their gender, affiliation, their partner(s) gender(s) or affiliation(s), gender identity, culture, marital status), use the resources at love is respect and the online counseling there to avail yourself of the possible solutions and helps you can provide, what obstacles you can learn to avoid and more. Click here or use the following resources on your phone: Call: 1.866.331.9474 | TTY: 1.866.331.8453 | Text: loveis to 22522.
For what it's worth, I've taken appropriate and necessary steps to help my friend. For more information on me and to continue to learn about mental health and mental wellness in action, follow Amaithi Yoga on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube; and don't forget to keep an eye on the Amaithi Blog for more!
Sources (for more information, click the links in the article above!):
PTSD Basics. (2016, January 5). Retrieved October 31, 2016, from http://www.ptsd.va.gov/index.asp
Emotional/Verbal Abuse. (2013, January 1). Retrieved October 31, 2016, from http://www.loveisrespect.org/is-this-abuse/types-of-abuse/#tab-id-2