How to be a friend during abuse.

TW: sexual abuse, trauma

When your friend confesses that her relationship has always been abusive, there are two instinctive emotions, at least for me. The first one was anger – anger that it had continued right under my very nose, anger that she had not told me sooner, anger that I had somehow not pieced the puzzle together when the evidence was before my eyes. The second one was an immediate desire to protect her – basically, to keep her from going back to that relationship no matter what. Over the next year, it dawned on me how misplaced both those feelings were. My anger was no help to her, and despite my desire to protect her, I watched as she went back to him over and over again in a vicious cycle. I soon realized that there was very little I could do to actually keep her from him – abuse is like an insidious drug, and I saw first hand how a cycle of dependence and trauma bonding kept bringing them back to each other. I soon realized that it was not my job to make her leave him, or shame her into doing so. I also realized that in several instances, my friend’s behavior was also unacceptable to me. This dichotomy between loving my friend, wanting her to leave her abuser, and simultaneously disliking the things she did almost drove me crazy.

I saw first hand how a cycle of dependence and trauma bonding kept bringing them back to each other

And then I came to see how abuse can totally break a person down, turn them into someone they themselves don’t want to be. I saw how abusers manipulate, lie and deceive, with the tacit support of their friends and society. My role was therefore, not to judge her or to compel her to take a particular course of action – my role was simply to keep her safe. This meant going home with her after drinking scenes so that she wouldn’t be alone with him. It meant listening to the same horrific stories over and over again. It meant getting into fights with her, because she would side with him over herself. It meant spending every minute with a person I was beginning to dislike. It meant standing up to him for her, when it mattered. It meant never lying to her about the truth of what was happening to her. It meant being ready with the joints and alcohol, ready to numb the pain, despite how unhealthy a coping mechanism it is. Now, we are both on the other side of it. I was the first and only person who knew the true extent of the horror she endured, and as a friend, there was very little I could do to stop it. All I could do was reaffirm in every way that she did not have to endure it alone. Now that it is all in the past, we are sometimes able to joke about it, which has been crucial to her recovery. Healing from abuse is a long, drawn out process. The triggers, the trauma and the anxiety are still with her – but so am I. At the end of the day, that’s all I can do.

This story was submitted to us my an anonymous writer for the StandAgainstRape campaign and has been published unedited.

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