Learning to Feel
By Minerva Sue
My life seems so surreal right now. I spent so many years living on edge, that I don’t quite know how to handle normalcy. Sometimes it feels like I’m coasting downhill and reality is awaiting me around the bend. I’ll be going about my everyday life and all of a sudden the absence of fear is overwhelming. Growing up, I don’t think that fear was constant. But, those moments of violence and dread are what I remember most. The worst part of the abuse was that after it was over, my dad would make me hug him and tell him that I loved him. Fearful of making him angry all over again, I would comply. But, I didn’t mean it at that moment. At that moment, I hated him. I hated him for screaming at me, for whipping me with the belt, for making me admit to things that I hadn’t done, for robbing me of a sense of safety. So, I learned to say one thing convincingly while my heart was screaming out something entirely different. My outward contrition masked an inner loathing. It was, I suppose, practice for what I would later face in my marriage.
Growing up, I was excruciatingly shy. I had a difficult time talking to others, was painfully unathletic and preferred books to people. Frankly, school was somewhat of a torturous experience. At home I would mostly spend my time reading books. My parents were strict and I just concentrated on not making my dad angry. When I think back, I remember times when I begged God to take my life because I didn’t want to feel pain or sorrow anymore. I had almost forgotten that deep, all-consuming despondency. Until I met my husband. He swooped in and immediately embraced me and my kids. My daughter was in elementary school and my twins were barely out of the baby stage. Everyone told me how great he was because he was “willing to take on” my kids. Even I felt grateful. I didn’t occur to me that I deserved more than someone who was only willing to “settle” for my kids. He was kind to my kids and me while we were dating. He became unbelievably emotionally and verbally abusive very shortly after we were married. It was a dream turned nightmare. I rack my brains, trying to remember the signs that I didn’t catch before we were married. There were signs of immaturity and financial irresponsibility. But, I did not equate those with a potential abuser.
One of the earliest memories of my marriage I have was a particular scene that set the stage for what I was to endure. I don’t remember what it was about. I only remember sobbing uncontrollably on the floor of the kitchen while my husband stood over me demanding that I stop crying. “I own this house and everything it!” he screamed as he stood over me. I believe that was one of the last times that I cried like that. Every so often after that, my eyes would well up with tears, despite my best attempt at control. But, I refused to give him the satisfaction of seeing me cry. He used to tell me that I was a “hard woman”. He bitterly resented that he could not bring me to the breaking point. But, my outer control masked an inner despair. Often, he would scream obscenities and say things about me or my kids that were hateful and cruel. He always knew exactly what to say to drive the knife deep into my soul. And I would stand there, my heart pounding and not say a word back. The feeling of being disconnected from what was going on around me was familiar.
As I continue to forge ahead, rebuilding my life little by little, I fight against that feeling of detachment. I didn’t realize how second nature it had become until I didn’t need it anymore. The necessity of appearing unaffected by life is moot. However, I struggle to allow myself to experience emotion. I find that it is taking time to overcome the practice of holding down those emotions that should come naturally. Over the weekend, I sat and watched a TV show. And I cried. As I cried, it became less about the show and more about release. It was good to feel. It felt good, scary and vulnerable all at the same time. I’m not quite sure what I was feeling. But, I know that I was feeling. And that’s infinitely better than just existing.