The Hotline Call

July 10, 2015

“Thank you for calling the National Domestic Violence Hotline,” the outgoing message begins. “Your call is extremely important to us and we will help you as soon as our advocates have assisted previous callers. If this is an emergency…”

Click. 

It isn’t an emergency and holding for an advocate seems ridiculous. I am not a victim of domestic violence. I’m the woman other women, and sometimes even men, turn to when they find themselves in abusive, addictive and otherwise unhealthy relationships. I’m a strong, healthy woman who has helped countless clients heal, evolve and transform their own lives.

Why on earth did I just dial a domestic violence hotline? My ex isn’t abusive – he is an amazing man who just doesn’t know how to appropriately express hurt or angry feelings. Right?  

Of course. He’s from another culture and speaks English as a third language. Our last conversation, which perpetually spins around the rinse cycle of my mind without ever draining, was probably just a series of wild misunderstandings. But then why did it trigger so much…anxiety?

Is that even what this is? It felt like elephants have been stampeding across my chest the past few nights. I have been crying incessantly all morning. I just can’t stop. I don’t even know why.

It’s not typical for me to feel like this. Actually, I’ve never felt like this. Not even after 9/11, or when a natural disaster devastated my community, events which shattered my heart, threatened my sense of safety and completely destroyed the comfort zones of my life. 

Several years from now, while contending with Complex PTSD, I will understand that I have been minimizing Big T traumas for years, and stacking them like collectibles. Hence the breakdown that will eventually bring this awareness.

Here in 2015, I’ve already become an expert at denying my thoughts but I can no longer suppress my feelings. My heart feels like it’s trying to race its way right out of my body, and my chest feels ready to support that choice by exploding.

My brain is lost in confusion and can’t find its way back to any semblance of mindfulness. I feel extremely fearful but cannot, for the life of me, identify what I’m scared of. Hypervigilance feels like an understatement. I do not feel comfortable leaving my home. I do not even feel safe enough to get off my couch.

These symptoms do not seem to warrant a call to a domestic violence hotline, but I guess it can’t hurt to talk with someone. As I listen to the outgoing message again, I wonder what the ratio is of those who hold and hang up.

How many people break through previously impenetrable walls of denial due to symptoms too strong to contend with, only to slip back within their confines when the compassionate voice on the other end is a recording? I suspect it’s a fairly common occurrence for first-time callers. Denial is such a pervasive aspect of abuse and the windows of clarity don’t tend to stay open for very long.

Mine are shutting again as I type. I am not in an abusive relationship, or any other type, for that matter. For the second time in two months, our relationship has become a past-tense experience.

I’m just about to hang up again when an advocate picks up and asks if I’m in danger. My ex is 1300 miles away. I tell her I’m so safe, I don’t even want to take her time from someone who may not be. 

She doesn’t accept my offer to hang up. Instead, she asks questions I don’t know how to answer. I can’t make enough sense of my recent experiences to explain them.

And there’s no way to describe much of what I am feeling; some emotions can’t actually be expressed with words. Someday, I will understand that this is because most of the traumas getting triggered have roots in my childhood, long before I had the language to label them with. 

Even if I had the words to articulate the reason for my call, my voice is barely audible. All I can hear is my ex, telling me to hang up. I am just being dramatic. Only people of “weak spirit” would make a call like this. He laughs sarcastically as he mocks me for being a victim. 

I tell my advocate that I can’t find my voice because the memory of his is so loud. I have not yet found a way to turn down the volume on his endless loop of criticisms, insults and accusations. That’s all I need to share. She knows much better than I do what I’ve been contending with. 

She knows why I got back together with him, even though the breakup had been so good for me. With glimpses of myself returning and moments of genuine happiness and hopefulness becoming more plentiful. I’d even forgotten what his rageful tirades felt like.

Until he helped me remember. 

Today, this advocate will validate my experience, confirming my suspicion that I am in an emotionally abusive relationship.

Tomorrow, I’ll want to pretend the conversation didn’t happen. I’ll want to ignore her advice about going “no contact.” I’ll want to chase the high that follows these ever-increasingly painful lows with my ex.

There’s only one action I can think of that might ensure I won’t take his call. If you’re reading this post, I had the courage to take it.

Welcome to my blog.

2020: This was the first post I wrote, almost five years ago, based upon a journal entry. When I realized I was explaining things in my own diary, as if I hadn’t just lived them, I knew it was meant for the public. I have no idea where I found the courage to post it online and also place a link on Facebook; something in me just knew I had to.

The response was overwhelming. I received supportive messages from many people who had been in relationships like the one I was describing. Others asked for help, as if placing one call to a hotline somehow made me an authority on the topic. Boy, did I have some work ahead of me before I’d become that!

The post became a blog; the blog became my lifeline, and helped many others along the way before I took it down. I am putting some of my original posts back up, with minor additions, as I continue to create the new book. I will soon be writing accompanying posts, to demonstrate the perspective change and healing that has occurred in these five years, so that I may help others do the same.

Check my recent posts or subscribe to LWT for the latest.

Next old post: 

The Beginning

2 Replies to “The Hotline Call”

  1. Wow. I can relate to this on multiple levels, and I’m sure millions of other people can. Thank you for your honesty and for sharing your personal experience. When we realize that there is a wide spectrum between an ‘ideal’ relationship and an abusive one, we can be free to truly use our own discretion about our circumstances with greater clarity. When we look around and see that the majority of strong, healthy, capable, functional women have had these experiences, we can be more empowered as we move through them. There is another way, beyond denial, shame, and perfectionism. Thank you for being a brave leader in pointing to that way.

  2. So happy you took the steps to get help. It is a sign of strength or courage, rather than weakness, to acknowledge one might need help, and then reach out and get that help. And as Amanda says, the spectrum is wide for what constitutes a good, never mind ideal, relationship. Thanks for sharing your feelings, the experience and the info for the hotline.

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