Guilty and Shameless

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I am blessed with so many very wonderful friends. They are loving and supportive while adding such perspective to my life. Last night I had dinner with two girlfriends who both have their own personal story of surviving domestic violence. I was asked, “How do I feel about my time navigating alone? Having the freedom to make my choices for myself?”  At first, I was unsure of how to respond.

I explained I felt comfortable with navigating my path alone and have been for quite some time, many years for a matter of fact.  I am financially secure, with a good job and the understanding of how most things in my life function so I can maintain and repair as needed. I explained I am lucky to be able to manage the household financially and physically.  I did explain that it was nice to be able to make decisions without have the open defiance I had dealt with for so many years. I went on to explain that it is nice to know that there was no longer someone actively working to undermine my success.  I am very relieved to no longer be hyper-vigilant; I have returned to living mindfully enjoying as many moment as possible.

I could openly talk about how there were times I miss having someone to share my fear with although I have never had that so maybe I was idealizing it. I have never had that “soft place to land”. I do not know what it is like to have the person who has chosen to “love you for better or worse, in sickness….” to hold out a hand to help you up when you stumble. I am aware that I have taken care of myself, solely for more than a quarter century. Saying that aloud makes me feel a bit old and exhausted. I am so fortunate to have friends who have supported me along my recent journey.

After everyone said their goodnights, I considered some of our conversation and came to the realization that not once was I asked why I stayed. Why I made the choices I did including standing firmly in a home, where I was resented and hated more than I would have ever been loved. That question tends to blame the victim.  There is a shame that I fight when others ask that question. I have struggled with being a survivor of domestic violence at times finding myself in a battle between shame and guilt. Guilt are the feelings that result when your reality do not align with what you want or believe.  Guilt is where one acknowledges their mistakes focusing on their action or relationship to the situation. Guilt affords us a way to learn and release the burden.  Shame is when one blames oneself for the situation we choose to internalize and carry the burden.  While I take full responsibility , I am embarrassed by my choices, I chose to stay in a situation that was not healthy for me, for choosing to not love myself enough to remove myself from that situation. I am riddled with guilt over this but I cannot feel ashamed. If I were ashamed, I would internalize his actions and accept all responsibility for the abuse. I would openly acknowledge I have learned nothing from this experience, which is not true. I would blame myself, which would greatly affect my self-worth.  Processing the guilt and learning to forgive myself has allowed me to heal.

The greatest healing therapy is friendship and love.

-Hubert H. Humphrey

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