Signs and Symptoms

October is a month of many celebrations of remembrances. There’s a Jewish holiday – Sukkot, Halloween, Leif Erikson day for my Spongebob fans, and of course the whole month gives special honor to Breast Cancer Awareness, Infant loss and Infertility, Hispanic Heritage, and one that I hold close: Domestic Violence Awareness.

In 1981, October became a month for battered women across America to come together in solidarity to face their abusers, tell their stories, and show the world that abuse comes in many forms. Victims come in all colors, sizes, shapes, races, religions, and statuses. We all look different, but we all are experiencing the same hell. It’s not always black eyes and hidden bruises – it’s stolen money, keeping tabs off and online, checking car mileage, using the silent treatment, and name calling.

In my last post, Heading East, I told a small portion of my story. My story is one that millions of women and men across America can tell themselves as well. I guarantee there are several people that you know who have suffered at the hand of their partner, spouse, parent, or friend.

To give homage to this month, I am going to give you a list of warning signs that are found in abuse victims. If you find yourself reading this and thinking of someone you love, reach out to them. Be a resource to them – whether they want you to be or not. Sometimes all a victim needs is someone there when they are ready to climb out of the dark hole their abuser has trapped them in.

Quickly getting involved: If you notice your loved one moving fast with their new partner – check in. All of a sudden they’re moving in, joining bank accounts, and becoming totally dependent. This one hits close to home for me. I was moving to Tulsa in two weeks when my abuser and I began dating. Within that time I spent hardly anytime saying goodbye to my friends and family and instead devoting all my hours to him. I spent Christmas Eve with him – this is when he told me he loved me – after TWO weeks! I still moved, but I spent every weekend I had driving 5 hours to see him and no one else. Five months later when I moved back, I took all my boxes to his house. We moved in immediately, but get this – I only had 2 drawers to put my things into. I paid all the utilities while having no job (he did), taking care of his son, and dealing with his bat shit crazy mother living next door. I stayed for 2-3 months before having my first mental breakdown due to this relationship. He moved into my life quickly, gripped me by my insecurities, and bled me dry. If this story seems familiar, this is your first warning sign.

Hypersensitive: When I was living in my hell, everything came at an offense. I was always on defense when it came to protecting my abuser from the stories people would tell me. Mind you – I was not his only victim. He had two wives before me among many, many girlfriends. I was warned time and time again by them, their mothers, and our mutual friends. Every single time I would get so angry, so upset. I was always on edge. I was easily insulted and easily setback by the smallest inconveniences. In fact, this is a lasting effect. Sometimes I still feel this way and this is the PTSD of being in an abusive relationship for so long. If your current partner, daughter, or friend seems to be triggered by small inconveniences, be patient with them. They’re reliving their trauma and may not be realizing it. Having someone who is patient and can work through these anxieties is vital in during healing.

Isolation: This is a well known sign of abuse. Your friends suddenly can’t come out anymore or your daughter never wants to be home for dinner. I promise, they want to be with you. They want to come out and have drinks or spend quality time, but they can’t. They’re abuser has threatened them with punishment – either physical or mental. “You’re always with them. You never have time for me. You just saw them!” Sound familiar? They’re abuser has turned family members and friends into the enemy so that they can be the hero. Closing every door and every form of communication is how the abuser keeps their victims under their thumb.

Change of appearance: When I was living in Orlando I really was on my own for the first time. I was dressing the way I wanted, wearing fun make up, and doing things for me. It was liberating! I kept this same attitude moving home and also when moving to Tulsa – for a little while. After some time my abuser coerced me into dress differently, tone down my make-up, not go to the gym, stop tanning – pretty much stop taking care of myself. I gained weight, dressed boring, had flat hair – I was a total dud! This tactic was so no other person would want me. When I was on the up and up of getting out of my relationship, this all changed again. I got my hair back, my fun clothes, and before you knew it I was on a plane to Florida. This is a subtle change and won’t always be apparent for sometime, but it is something to be aware of. Keep in mind when you’re out shopping with your friend what clothes they linger by, but don’t pick up or what make-up they’ve put away or how they’re weight could be fluctuating.

Calling themselves the abuser: This can be a hard pill to swallow. When we’re in an abusive relationship and we’re finally becoming brave enough to tell others of our turmoils or other people find out on their own due to seeing it themselves – we often take the blame for everything. We don’t want our abuser to get hurt because in some sick, twisted way – we love them. Once, after an event my abuser had completley lost it on me while out with friends. He kept squeezing the back of my leg, hurting me so I would stop crying in front of everyone. Another friend had to take me to my car and force my abuser inside his home to leave me alone. When my parents came and picked me up – I took the blame for everything. This was a weak moment in my life that I regret constantly. Not saying anything and hiding the purple and yellow bruises on the backs on my legs for weeks. We love them and we don’t want to see them hurt, so we hurt ourselves. When there is yelling, pushing, and hitting in an argument the bodies natural defense is to fight back. You are acting in self-defense or you’re in such an intense emotional distress your brain has given you no other option.

Signs of abuse in others and in ourselves can be hard to identify. Take a step back and take the whole picture into consideration. From the moment or moments before you met, to the first fight to the second, all the way until you can finally see that you are a victim – but that does not make you powerless. Technically – you have all the power and your abuser knows it. That’s why they’ve manipulated you into another version of yourself. Become your truth, reach out and liberate yourself.

If you or someone you know is suffering at the hands of an abuser please reach out. There are many sources available to you:

National Hotline: 800-799-SAFE (800-799-7233)

Someone you trust

Healthcare provider or therapist

A local women’s or crisis center