I never dreamed that I, Vanessa Pottiger, would struggle with my identity.
Growing up, I was always incredibly confident. I knew who I was – strong, beautiful, intelligent and full of love to give. Yes, maybe a little over-confident at times, but at my core, I was secure in my identity as a woman and child of God.
Then my ex came along.
In the church, the word ‘sacrifice’ is a common phrase. We’re asked to sacrifice ourselves as God sacrificed His son for us – a beautiful and holy transaction. So we get used to laying down the broken and faulty ‘identities’ we used to hold on to, and we learn to pick up the godly identities that make us more like the image of Christ. And we bloom and we grow and we flourish like a well-pruned vine.
Sacrifice became synonymous with love.
So when my ex didn’t like the silly parts of my humor, I sacrificed them in the name of love. When my ex didn’t want to spend time outdoors, I sacrificed my sense of adventure in the name of love. When my ex refused to get to know my family, I sacrificed time spent with them in the name of love. When my ex asked me for sexual favors, I sacrificed my sense of safety in the name of love.
I discovered a poem I had written in the middle of my abusive relationship. Reading back, I’m shocked I didn’t recognize my own cries for help.
My heart wrenched from my chest daily
yet I have known no sweeter face
My angel of light fills my nights
with bitter tears and terror
The ifs and buts and what-could-have-beens,
you selfish bastard.
I’m the selfish bastard.
Love hurts so much I can’t breathe
again and again
in the name of
Because I give him so much of my everything,
his very “no” makes me weep,
his “i’m busy” brings
death upon death.
For my love is greedy. My love is jealous.
I’m the selfish bastard.
Since apathy was easier than feeling, I shut my inner person down and became a hollow shell – in the name of love. If emptiness was what he required, then I would become empty.
In the Christian experience, sacrifice is a norm. And when Christ asks us to surrender, we delight in it, because it brings us into greater joy and freedom.
But there is a dangerous line when the people we are most intimate with ask us to sacrifice who we are.
What makes you happy – what brings you joy? True, deep, fulfilling joy?
Is it sunshine? Is it dance? Is it writing? Is it volunteering? Is it flowers? Is it music? Is it intellectual discussion? Is it robots? Is it making people laugh? Is it family? Is it cars? Is it singing?
Whatever it may be, guard it like a precious treasure. Indulge your desires; delight in them. Chase them. Honor them. And never, and I mean never, let anyone take them away from you.
Waking up from the coma of a codependent abusive relationship is a long, slow and arduous process. But it is full of rediscovering your loves, desires and passions – the precious parts of your soul that make you you.
Outside of educating yourself on what abuse and personality disorders look like, I am convinced that guarding your joys and your sense of identity is the strongest tool against abuse. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, abuse is the result of one partner trying to control the other. If you stand your ground, if you defend your joys as your greatest treasure, if you refuse to sacrifice your identity, you remain powerful. You remain strong. You remain in control.
Of course, that’s easier said than done.
If you’re reading my blog and you have not encountered abuse, hold onto your joys and never let any romantic interest make you sacrifice your very Self.
If you’re reading my blog and you’re discovering you’re in the middle of abuse, take back your joys. The more you reconnect with your inner Self, the stronger you will become. Indulging your joys, will empower your Self and give you the strength to confront your abuser, or the strength to finally leave. Create the line in the sand around your joys and passions and NEVER allow anyone to ask you to cross it again.
If you’re reading my blog and you’re on the other side of abuse, I want to give you full permission to celebrate your Self! The parts of you that were made to feel shameful or ‘less than’, bring them out into the light and let them breathe. You are beautiful and strong and destined for great things. I pray that as you chase your joys, your inner Self will grow even more powerful, more lovely, and more whole.
I always used to laugh at the girls who said, “I just need to date myself for awhile.” How ignorant I was for laughing.
My Self turns out to be a great dinner date.
Vanessa is still conducting interviews for her upcoming book Prince or Poison: Identifying the Difference Between Love and Abuse. If you would like to share your story with Vanessa, please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.