What Happened to Me

by Kim Hoertz

“There is nothing stronger than a broken woman that has rebuilt herself.” – Hannah Gadsby

I am Powerless 

I am a victim, a martyr, weak, timid, afraid and powerless.  These are all the adjectives that I once thought of myself because of what I had been conditioned to believe over the past fifteen years of my life.  However, post divorce (four years later), I have come to realize what has happened to me.

Peeling Back the Layers 

Over the past four years I have spent a significant amount of time educating myself through reading, listening, therapy and doctors appointments trying to begin to understand what has happened to me.  When I started to peel back the layers of my past years of marriage and divorce, I soon realized that what I lived through was extreme.  

However, from the outside looking in no one could understand what I was going through and what I had lived through.  This was in part due to how much I kept secret and how I learned to become numb to most everything.  My family and close friends had no idea what I lived through. A secret I kept because of the conditioning of my ex-spouse, the fear of harm, and the feeling of failure.  

The Perfect Image

I wanted that perfect image of success as much as he did.  I didn’t want others to know, especially those close to me, how much emotional, physical or mental pain I was living in.  I wanted a fairytale marriage, healthy children and a successful career.  After all, I had worked so damn hard to create all of this. 

I lied as much as he did.  My friends often said it was like having a ten foot fence around me at all times.  I didn’t want my family and friends to find out the pain I was living in.  We physically lived far away from my support system so I was able to protect the image of a perfect life, until I couldn’t.  

“And perhaps one of the most puzzling dynamics of a toxic relationship is the lengths that the victim will go to in order to keep what they knew, what they see, what they experience from being known.  

It’s exactly what it seems.  Protecting the name of the monster.  Although it doesn’t feel like that at the moment.  It’s keeping a secret until the day the narcissist wakes up and changes.  But that day never happens and once the victim figures that out, it turns into buying time until they find the courage to leave.  That’s why everyone is shocked,  they hid it so damn well.”  – J.M. Storm

At What Cost

However, all of this came with such a cost.  A cost that I did not recognize while I was in the trenches of it all.  A pain that I now have to try to overcome and heal from on a daily basis.  

“No animal deserves to be treated like this, let alone you.”

These were the words that a gentleman told me at the time I confided in him when I was contemplating divorce.  That sentence still gives me heartache when I think about what I actually endured. 

Numbing was my Armor

I became numb to everything in life.  I could no longer feel happiness, joy, pain or suffering.  I had to shut off all emotions just to survive on a daily basis.  After all, I was the breadwinner, the mother of four young children and the “perfect wife” – I had to do it all.  I was in survival mode and becoming numb was my armor.

Many traumatized individuals are too hypervigilant to enjoy the ordinary pleasures that life has to offer, while others are too numb to absorb new experiences — or to be alert to signs of real danger.

In response to the trauma itself, and in coping with the dread that persisted long afterward, these patients had learned to shut down the brain areas that transmit the visceral feelings and emotions that accompany and define terror. Yet in everyday life, those same brain areas are responsible for registering the entire range of emotions and sensations that form the foundation of our self-awareness, our sense of who we are. What we witnessed here was a tragic adaptation: In an effort to shut off terrifying sensations, they also deadened their capacity to feel fully alive.” –   The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma – book by Bessel van der Kolk

Knowing my Truth

After years of education and being out of that insane environment, I can now understand my truth.  While navigating divorce, I was stripped of all the financial assets, my self-worth and my sanity.  However, no one can rob me of  my truth.  This is my experience and what I have come to live with on a daily basis and try to heal from.  

History Cannot Repeat Itself

I don’t want my innocent children to know the details of my pain, as this is not their burden to carry.  However, I will be damned if history repeats itself.  That is why I am so passionate about sharing my experience and educating the next generation about all of this, so they will not have to ever live through this pain and they can hopefully learn not to repeat the cycle.  

Survival Mode 

I was diagnosed with Complex PTSD as soon as I entered therapy (four months post filing divorce).  I had hit rock bottom and was suicidal for several months.  I took six months away from my career to get the mental help I needed to survive my divorce, but not heal from my past.  I was once again in survival mode, trying to get through day by day.  

Horrific Trenches 

My divorce was HARD and lasted over two years. During those years, I tried to get through the horrific trenches while navigating a career and being a single mom of four kids.  Although I took time off to get my mental health stable, I did not address the trauma I had lived through.  I still had so much pain, so many triggers.  

My Body Kept Score

Fast forward, three and a half years after I filed, my body began to shut down.  I found myself in a sincere, loving and calm environment that I had worked hard to build.  I was in a very respectful and supportive new relationship, my career was at its high and my kids seemed to be thriving.  However, my body did not know how to function in this new state of a calm normalcy.  

I was now thriving in life, but my body was wearing down.  I had severe digestive issues and intense abdominal pain, forcing me to be in bed for weeks.  For months, my doctors ran several different tests to try to diagnose my illness. However, there was no tangible medical diagnosis. I found out that even if you try to erase your past trauma and abuse,  your body doesn’t forget.

“To people who are reliving a trauma, nothing makes sense; they are trapped in a life-or-death situation, a state of paralyzing fear or blind rage. Mind and body are constantly aroused, as if they are in imminent danger. They startle in response to the slightest noises and are frustrated by small irritations.”   The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma – book by Bessel van der Kolk

What Has Happened to Me?

After reading the latest book published by Oprah and Dr. Perry, What Has Happened to You?, I have now realized all of this pain has happened FOR me, not to me.  I can turn this pain I experienced into purpose.  I am using this to educate myself and empower others to find purpose in what has happened to them.  

The book articulates that so many times we often ask what is wrong with her? Instead of asking the simple question of What Happened to Her?  If someone had asked me that question four years ago I am not sure I would be able to articulate what had happened to me, however now post therapy and education I now can comprehend my story.  

Very often, “what happened” takes years to reveal itself. It takes courage to confront our actions, peel back the layers of trauma in our lives, and expose the raw truth of our past. But this is where healing begins.” – Oprah Winfrey, What Happened To You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing

Healing Begins 

I now, once again, find myself in much needed intense counseling.  I have begun EMDR on a weekly basis to try and process the trauma and abuse.  EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma.  During EMDR therapy sessions, you relive traumatic or triggering experiences in brief doses while the therapist directs your eye movements. EMDR is thought to be effective because recalling distressing events is often less emotionally upsetting when your attention is diverted.

“Because sometimes that’s what has to be done.  You have to lay down with it.  The hurt.  Or the heartache or even the hate.  Whatever is inside.  Sometimes you have to get close to it.  Taste it and understand it so you can define it before it defines you.”  – J.M. Storm

Reestablishing Ownership 

Since I began therapy, I have slowly begun to recover physically as well.  I can now figure out how to calm my body down, understand my triggers and create much needed boundaries for myself.  This is a daily practice and will take several years to unwind.  However, I am determined to live each day as a blessing and new chance at life, become extremely transparent about my struggles and surround myself in a community of those that are safe and supportive to my healing.  I am rebuilding myself and reestablishing ownership.  

“The challenge of recovery is to reestablish ownership of your body and your mind — of yourself. This means feeling free to know what you know and to feel what you feel without becoming overwhelmed, enraged, ashamed, or collapsed. For most people this involves (1) finding a way to become calm and focused, (2) learning to maintain that calm in response to images, thoughts, sounds, or physical sensations that remind you of the past, (3) finding a way to be fully alive in the present and engaged with the people around you, (4) not having to keep secrets from yourself, including secrets about the ways that you have managed to survive.”  –   The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma – book by Bessel van der Kolk

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