A thousand years ago, even before Farrah Fawcett starred in the movie “The Burning Bed,” women who had been involved in relationships of domestic violence were deemed to be suffering from “battered women’s syndrome.” They had to call it something, after all, some of these women were murdering their husbands and lovers. (Their captors and jailers, if you want their truth.) These women were not punished severely, at that time, because of the history of violence against them. Their violence was explained as “self-defense” in the sense that they lived with ongoing violence, and feared for their safety. They became so frightened at the “next episode of violence” that they began to “return fire” whenever the opportunity presented itself (even when not being fired upon).
Today, these women have a new designation: PTSD. This ugly title reeks of brain injury, of incapacity, of an inability to function on a basic level. Excuse me, but battered women function at a very high level. They manage to dance between death and its expectation every day of their lives. They shop, cook, clean, and clean, and clean, do laundry, take the kids to school and back, and humbly serve their “master” while planning, privately, to open the earth under him, or some other especially violent retribution for their pain and humiliation.
The children are afraid as well. They may act stupid. They may pretend to be deaf. But they are neither. They are living through early-competency trials in self-preservation. Most manage to play the game successfully. Neither the battered nor the batterer may know that the kids know exactly what is happening. If they are old enough to think that they can run away and survive, they might try. If they are too young to believe that, they might approach the battered and (as my daughters did) ask to be removed from the situation before something more permanent (like death) happens to one of them.
PTSD is not a life sentence. It is a temporary problem. (Temporary being determined, most likely, upon how long one has lived in the war zone.) As a survivor of domestic violence and whichever “syndrome” you wish to apply to the problem, I can promise that it does have an ending.
I finally learned to respect myself. To be proud of the effort I put into raising my daughters and earning a living. Learning to love myself was much more difficult. It started from that little spark of pride, from just believing that I could, because I had already. I am a complete person. I not defective. I am not damaged. I am compassionate. I work to help others. I give of myself. Is that worth a little self-love? Yes, I think it is. Because I can not give to you what I do not have within myself. I refuse to be a “victim” of PTSD. I remember, I share, but I no longer feel that burden of self-loathing, that heartbreaking uselessness. I believe that I have left that pain in the dust . . . and I will not go back looking for it.