I am not sure exactly what the catalyst was for finally seeking counselling from JWA.

Maybe it was the endless sleepless nights and night terrors – relentless and exhausting.

Maybe it was the constant swinging between a state of hypervigilance, paralysing and raw, and then the total numbness that would creep in and shut me down to the point that I could not even hold my own heat.

Maybe it was the overwhelming feeling of despair that created a reluctance to carry on living a life so defined and governed by fear.

Maybe it was all these factors, and the stark reality that they had become my everyday norm. I was becoming more and more detached from those around me and I felt like I was drowning.

I think I had considered that my divorce would herald the beginning of a bright new future – a future of freedom and possibilities. It did not occur to me that once I was out of the battlefield and not living on my adrenaline and wits that slowly, slowly my world would begin to implode. 

My first appointment with a JWA counsellor made me realise just how bad things had become.  I was paranoid that my ex-husband had followed me there and would then be able to use the fact that I was seeking help as ‘evidence of my inability to care for our children’ and somehow have them removed from my care (a regular threat of his). 

I filtered every word before I spoke; his regular taunt that I lied and tricked people with my ‘stories and lies’ ringing in my ears. I was terrified of being disloyal or painting him in a bad light in case it got back to him. So complete was his control still over me, it was as if he was physically in the room with us.

I oscillated between telling myself I didn’t need help, that I didn’t deserve help, that I was beyond help, that I wouldn’t be believed.

I turned up late for appointments and really tested my wonderful, wonderful counsellor.  I think I was pushing her for a reaction. And then finally, after I had exhausted every avenue and satisfied myself that this was indeed a safe space, I started to begin to trust. 

I learned to speak and to cry.  My counsellor described the process as ‘deprogramming’ and looking back, this is exactly what it was – and still is. I don’t think I can adequately describe the respect and gratitude I have towards my counsellor who steadfastly stood by my side and at times led me by the hand back to life. She held hope when I had none, and her warmth, wisdom and encouragement have enabled me to begin the journey home; home to the bits of me that still exist from before the tsunami of domestic abuse hit.  I accept now that I will never be quite the same person. That was a hugely painful reality to acknowledge. But it is a reality that is not without the hope of some future, at least.

Months on, the counselling is still having a huge positive impact on my life and helping me unravel the past. The symptoms I started with are still present but are milder and do not have the same deep impact anymore. Understanding that domestic abuse is traumatic, and that trauma leaves a very distinct set of footprints helped me to step away from feeling ‘weak’. I can see these feelings for what they are and do not feel ‘victim’ to them.

In fact, I do not feel like a victim at all anymore. I am a survivor.  And that acknowledgement alone is hugely liberating and empowering, not only for me, but for my children too.

Orli (not her real name)

(Orli is amongst other things a writer and a poet.  She writes because she can. And because she believes that this is how light is created. And this is how we heal.)