Writing by Katrina Preisler-Weller // photograph by Rossana Battisti
TRIGGER WARNING: Emotional and sexual abuse, mental ill health, grief
At the age of 23, a three year long emotionally and sexually abusive relationship ended and although I knew this was what I wanted and needed, I was confused at the feelings of grief I was experiencing.
I understood what it meant to grieve. After all, I had already lost the person who I loved most in this world – my mum. Not to mention the many other close relatives. Yet this time, the grief confused me and subsequently, my loved ones too.
Over the years, I had decided to end the relationship multiple times, yet continuously felt a strong pull to return, despite being sure that our relationship was neither good nor safe for me. I regularly doubted myself and questioned my decisions, both internally in my own head and externally when speaking with friends.
The sexual and emotional episodes of abusive behaviour were always followed by a downpour of kindness, affection and remorse. A cyclical pattern that created a sense of security, reassurance and most of all – new hope.
I experienced conflicting qualities of my ex-partner; I saw part of him that was loving, caring, funny and affectionate, yet also saw a part that was abusive, manipulative and distant. He was both; kind and cruel. It was this co-existence of fear and love that led to the intense grief I was feeling but couldn’t seem to comprehend.
It is very normal to have positive and loving feelings for someone in these circumstances. In my personal situation, not all parts of the relationship were bad, especially in the early days. We shared moments of laughter and created memories that I believed would lead to a future of love and happiness.
Grief is a natural response to loss and something we will feel when we lose someone that we love; and whilst there may have been parts of him that I hated and feared, there were also parts that I loved.
This was the most difficult bit for those around me to understand as all they could see was the hurt he had caused me, and they had their own feelings about the situation – anger, sadness and protectiveness. This left me feeling isolated and confused.
It wasn’t just parts of him or our relationship that I grieved, but it was also parts of myself. Over the three years, I had started to swallow my own feelings and lost access to my voice. It was mind-bending and I no longer trusted my intuition. I didn’t know who I was, what my values were or what I enjoyed about life. Although I no longer allow the abuse to define me, I often grieve the person I was before it happened.
Grief is not something that we can control. It’s not linear, it’s not ‘one size fits all’ and it isn’t only reserved for when a person is bereaved. It’s a natural response to loss – of any kind – and that includes the losses that we may be grateful for as time passes by.
If you are grieving an abusive relationship, it can be helpful to understand the theory of trauma and that you were neither ‘weak’ nor ‘mad’ for going back to them. It can also be helpful to reach out to a professional for support, a person who provides you with a safe space to explore and process the grief you may be feeling.
Most of all, it’s important to know that you are not alone and what you’re feeling is valid – yesterday, today and always.
If you, or someone you know, is experiencing family violence, please reach out to 1800RESPECT (1800 737732) for confidential support. If you, or someone you know, is in immediate danger, call 000.