Making Plans Instead of Having Nightmares

Yesterday was Father’s Day and it’s the second one since visitations were suspended. Since ending it with x, and seeing the damage he is not only capable of, but thrives on, Father’s Day is a day of guilt for me. Or, more accurately, a day of me battling mama-guilt that isn’t really mine to carry (something I spend this day reminding myself each year).

Guilt over what my daughter deals with because of who helped create her. Guilt over choosing to have a child with someone I believe is a sociopath and what that means for her. Guilt for having to protect her from someone she should just be able to freely love, trauma-free. Guilt for giving her a father who would rather go a year without seeing her than attend anger management courses.

Four days before this Father’s Day, my daughter and I went for a long walk around our little town after work. It was a lovely long loop on a warm, breezy night. She took her pink scooter and handed it over to me in a hurry when we got to the park so she could sprint to the swings – her favorite – and pump her legs over and over to see how high she could get.

School had just gotten out and V had to come to work with me for a few days. She loves it – tv and junk food and sometimes, if someone brings them, donuts and donuts and more donuts. By the end of the day, though, we both crave some movement and sun and air. Being with each other inside that long, even when I take lunch at a nearby park, gives us both a little cabin fever.

On the walk, I was keenly aware of two things: how good it felt to move my legs and how good the sun and breeze felt on my arms.

At some time before the halfway point of our walk, I had the thought that x could drive by and see us at any point.

It’s not unusual at all for me to worry about running into him or his sister on one of our walks around town. When someone has spent years trying to control and hurt you, you don’t ever forget that they could be around the corner.

As we were walking and I thought of him pulling up next to us, at the curb, I wondered what he would do if he did show up. I thought of the possibility that he would convince her to get in the car with him and he would take her away somewhere, even if only temporarily.

I felt fear.

But it was an intellectual kind of fear.

This was new. Well, newish.

Being forced to be in regular contact with an abuser makes it impossible to break free, completely, from the fear of what will he do next.

Even if you don’t let yourself be ruled by the fear, it is always there waiting to activate every primal cell in your body.

The one unequivocally positive thing about no contact is that you can choose to work through that fear and move into a more thought out, less visceral way of dealing with those fears.

Instead of Fear, they can morph into fear – that one lower case letter meaning something you plan and prepare for instead of something that makes you lose hours of your life to panic and adrenaline.

I still don’t ever know what he will do next.

I only know it will be something. Someday.

But that knowledge – knowledge – almost always lives in my brain now instead of my whole body.

I started to run scenarios in my head.

How I would gently usher her away from the car. How, if that failed, I would stand tall and hold her hand and try to get to the corner market or near other pedestrians.

How, if that failed, I would call the police and pull up my custody order in my phone to show that he is court ordered to have no access – and even if granted later, no un-supervised access – to V.

{I still keep at least four copies of my order handy: one in my phone (downloaded so I don’t have to search for it), one in my car’s glovebox, one in the dining room hutch and one filed with all the other court documents in a closet.}

No visitation doesn’t mean no need to show this (sometimes it means having to provide it for even more people to prove that what you say about access is true). Moms (& dads) like me keep multiple copies of our orders, even when given sole custody, so when we have to prove what the orders say, we aren’t panicking and lost.

Walking down that sidewalk while she pushed off, over and over, with her left foot to propel her forward, I told myself that I had the order, I knew the police department number – have it stored in my contacts, in fact – and that I knew what to do.

So the fear stayed in my brain and didn’t overtake my body.

The lightness in that is nearly indescribable.

A year of not just healing, but healing while being able to keep my body so much more free of adrenaline and cortisol – that panic cocktail of having to have any kind of close relationship with x – has made it possible for me to think through the fear and not have to feel it and calm myself before I could think through it.

My brain was on-deck immediately.

Let me tell you, having your brain right there at the moment you need it is something a long term abuse survivor will not ever take for granted.

I didn’t need my plan. I probably never will. I hope I never do.

We walked to the park. I sat and read while she played at the park. We walked home.

It was a lovely mile or so loop that we both needed that day.

All weekend I thought of how hard this all is for my daughter even though it’s what is best for her. I thought of the past and what I had hoped for us all as a family and, again, mourned the life I thought we had, let alone the one I thought we would have.

This holiday will probably always have a little sadness mixed in with whatever else it becomes for V and me in the future.

I also realized this morning that I haven’t had a nightmare about x in almost a year.

That made me think of that walk and really put together that I had been afraid, but not in my body. I had not been terrified. I had not been scared.

Because both V and I aren’t being terrorized anymore.

At least not where we can see or feel it.

We can have a walk and I can know that things could turn at any moment – the reality for people like me is that we can never assume that our abuser will not try something someday again. When you succeed at breaking free, you are never forgiven and you are never forgotten.

But I know what to do if things turn, suddenly, and I can handle it rationally and calmly.

I’m not in that fog anymore. I’m not fending off trauma – for me and V – weekly anymore.

Our trauma isn’t gone. And it’s not healed completely.

But we have space to stretch out and put salve on all the wounds.

Space to name what we have and also what we miss.

Space to grow – whole and healthy.

Space for safety plans instead of nightmares.

I wish this for more parents and children. I wish it with all of my might.

Published by UnGastheLight

I write to be able to live and live because I can write to make sense of it all.

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