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LOVE AFTER ABUSE by Nathalie Guilbeault

After the blows, all forms of them, you decide to go.
To get the fuck out.
Then, hell unfolds—c-ptsd, weight loss, depression—but you have a plan, don’t you?
You seek therapy, as you now understand what trauma is; bonding; Stockholm syndrome; cognitive dissonance. You’ve swallowed somehow, that you are a victim.
You take your medications—try so many of them—until you find your own brand of molecular strength, one that treats this new form of pain you have never felt before.
You weed your environment of all forms of toxicity. Friends and family members are gently removed from an existence that can no longer sustain the Us you used to form with them. 
You establish clear boundaries—you choose yourself, and it feels so damn good.
You learn to make of time an ally because that’s what they all say, that time is an ally to be relied upon, that the past will become but an opaque fog.
You do it all, right?

I am strong. I am healed. I am good to go.
Yes, that’s what I told myself.
What I told him. 
When I replay this conversation inside my head, I can’t help but laugh. After all, naivety was the culprit, naivety had almost gotten me killed, sort of speak.
But I am here, stretched on our bed, wondering what to do with this doubt that creeps up when the sun’s warmth is there, and promises to caress me forever. 
I oscillate between optimism and denial, in the night, feeling alone when I am not.
My hand squeezes his as I stare at this real man, there, by my side, hugging the contour of my body, piercing the core of me.

By. My. Side.

Love after abuse.
It is lonely.
It is cruel.
Love after abuse makes your brain spin its synapses into the deepest gray of our minds, always probing, always asking, always doubting.
Rarely does the brain answer, and when it does, the answer feels like a wet slap to the face. It tells you that, somehow, the hole is still there. Yes, you feel it. The proverbial pit in the stomach. The one that never leaves, really. At times you think it has, but it’s simply sleeping. 
Not like a dragon, no. 
More like a bush viper. 

I know I love him.
So much.
I know he loves me.
Of this type of love I have wanted all my life.
Yet.

At first, I felt in control, moved by the certainty I was on a new level of being. 
I believed in my capacity to discern.
To deal with social media, the stealth tool meant to fool—Satan now, to me.
To trust others.
To trust myself.

But words of all kind are barely believed, intents become suspicious—all inside me is wobbly, unsure. It is not as if I am about to fall. No, I would love to fall, because to fall means to have arrived somewhere, establishing a better sense of my destination. Instead, I feel as though I float and hover above life, so very afraid.
To discover that I am not worth it. 
That I am damaged goods.
That he will be like the other one, and betray me, in all ways possible.
Duplicity, the threat of it, I always see, lurking, looking for me, fucking with my mind.
My life.
Simply because.
When loving words you have heard before from the dark well of a narcissist’s mouth now emerge from your new love, what do you do? 
Yes, you try to see the behavior, dissect and analyze the gestures. You have been taught that words must match their actions, and that then, you will know. That all is sincere and true, that they are real. 
But what happens when the actions match the words and you still don’t believe them—him? 
It is here, I think, that healing can unfold, in that space where two souls meet with honesty, and aim to be understood, pressed by the only possible remedy to it all: full sight.
Just be you, he tells me when I succumb to the fear of losing him—us.
But I’m so complicated now, I say.
Then be complicated, he says. I will still be here.
Healing words, the only ones that hold you.
I ask, can this be?
Yes, he tells me. 
Yes.

What I have learned is that deciding not to move into a relationship, to not seek one, makes you believe that you are healed. You feel solid on your own—it’s so easy, is it not? To navigate life the solitary way, untouched by the world’s gaze, feeling unthreatened by the weight of its judgment—feeling as though you have landed inside a new mind. And it is true, you have. You have landed on an emotional oasis. Aloneness is so easy to tame in the end, or at least, the possibility of it, wouldn’t you say? 
But the only way to measure healing is to allow yourself to feel what emerges as you dive into a new relationship.  
Two—my magic number. Debris surface and pool, there, on earth made of rocks for the both of you to feel.
Small shifts, so very small.
You can’t go at it alone, no. And if you do go at it alone, it is because you are alone, alone with nothing to test of yourself, nothing to measure.
So go fish for those debris.
Triage the good.
Burn the foul.

I would like to tell you that it’s not there anymore. 
The traces of abuse.
Minute and invisible fears that add up inside of your guts, signing it with ever flowing acid.
No.
The lure of perfection, to try and brush the unattainable in order to satisfy someone who will never be satisfied.
And why me? The woman who had never questioned her mind; her looks; her being. Why did I fall into the narcissistic trap? 
I don’t know. But fall I did. 

Learning to accept my faults; my flaws, with this new him—through us, while reaching for my own forgiveness, is the hill I must climb.
Snail pace is my speed. 
So now, from that place that intermittently bleeds inside my mind, making me drift into spaces that are cold and dry like the universe’s eternal night, I understand that nothing will be normal again, because normalcy—most of it, has left most of me.
The genesis of me is gone. In its place, another one, one that tells me that humanity is still alive inside humans. One that tells me, I need that one human to be more than any previous love I have ever had.
Everything the narcissist wasn’t.
Calm.
Patient.
Loving.
Truthful.
I deserve it, I tell myself.
Like I deserve warm rain and moonlit breezes and quiet silences.
And I will need to believe him—in him.
I owe him that much. 
To me, as well.
And yes, it is challenging.
Because I see the hazel of his eyes waver a little more when he hears my doubts. 
Each time I see these eyes, I want to dig to that place where chaos makes me less than I am—that place where I sometimes live, so unknowing of myself.

I need faith.
I need trust.

The solace is far, but it is there. I know that abuse made me stronger than I was—stronger than ever. So no, I am not the weakest link here. I am a link, yes, but a strong, and so very unique one at that.
One that questions, hesitates, and sometimes eschews.
I like to think that such a link, held by well-meaning hands—soft, supple, and firm, will help the chain steel itself even more.
No gloves please.

There is no right or wrong way to experience trauma.
There is no recovery blue print to follow, either. You make your own along the way.
Search for it, find it, and define it.
He is part of mine.
In his name, the name of God flies.
Inside men like him, who see the fullness of us, there is a deity—a form of divinity. 
Wait for it, this music that you will recognize when you hear it, a rhythm that will solidify the quick sands that have stalked your mind’s emotions. 
My music is him.

Never settle for less.

And so, make peace with this—celebrate it, even. You are not the same, and you never will be.
Own it and move forward with its promises.
They are real.
This motion is now me, slowly evolving, but evolving, letting go of stagnation, embracing the wonders of change.
I do stumble; yes I do—so mindfully.
Every fucking day.
But with each fall, with each hit to the ground, as I climb back up, I understand more of myself, and more of others as well.
Because of them, I have learned to love—the right way. Welcomed these vulnerabilities I had shun for so long.
Through abuse, authenticity made its nest, inside me, and now, inside of us.
What now—now that this gateway has been crossed and pulled me into some new shaky puzzle; now that I have shared on a subject the world wants to hear me and others only whisper about, these whispers like emotional hiccups, uncontrolled and wished away because of the suffocating reminder living in its core: I am here and represent a section of the living that could have stopped being. Breathing. 
But I am here.
Still.
And breathing, I do, not alone anymore, most of the time, but not when, in the middle of the night, feeling assaulted by a panic that is so difficult to tame and see coming, a panic that rises somewhere in the gut and moves to the throat and stretches to the eye, where red rims are born to stay days on end, I crash into myself, incapable of moving, paralysed by a pain I cannot explain.
Sleep, so very far from me.
Tears, like scars that decide to ooze, on their own.
A spirit filled with—what? Puss? 
I seem to have no say.
To survive the moment, I touch his large and wide hand, a hand that softly sways along the side of his torso,  to the beat of his breath. I try to synchronise my being to his—a quietness that leads me to where I should be going. 
He wakes up, says nothing and just holds me.
Sometimes it works.
Sometimes it doesn’t.
But tomorrow, I promise myself, I will do better, 
alone and ... not.

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A professional coach, a writer, and a mother of two young adults, Nathalie Guilbeault has always been a curious and an arduous student of human behaviour. She has spent most of the last years as an expatriate both in Taiwan and the United States, returning to the western world transformed by life’s hurdles and blessings. Nathalie is the author of the novel, Inhaled, which Midwest Book Review called, "A rollicking good thriller read!"

The sequel to Inhaled, When I Became Never, is scheduled to be released, February 2023, Montreal Publishing Company.