Betrayal
Trauma
Recovery

40 Years Of Abuse And Trauma

by | Abuse Literacy

There is healing in sharing your story with safe people.

Many women in our community have been abused for years, even decades.

Abusive men are incredibly capable of hiding abuse and making it difficult for women and others to detect.

Florence, a member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community spoke with Anne on the free BTR podcast. Florence lived through 40 years of trauma and abuse. She shares how she has found a degree of peace and safety. Tune in to the free BTR podcast or read the full transcript below.

Women who have been abused and betrayed for decades may wonder if it’s possible to ever feel safety and peace again. From Florence’s powerful story, we found three truths about healing and peace after abuse and trauma.

Telling Your Story Can Help You Heal From Emotional Abuse

The freedom to be honest and forthright makes it possible to handle and work with.

Florence, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community

Abusive men often isolate their victims from supportive communities by imposing a policy of silence about the abuse. Sometimes victims feel a strong drive to protect their abuser from scrutiny.

Women may feel ashamed or embarrassed about their abuser’s behavior. They may feel fear that others won’t believe them if they do tell the truth. The consequences of telling the truth may feel overwhelming. There are many reasons that women stay silent.

Regardless, women can begin to find healing as they openly share the truth about what is happening to them. The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group offers a safe place for women to speak about their experiences and find community and validation.

How Can I Share My Story?

It may feel overwhelming to share your experiences in a verbal conversation. Here are some gentle ways you can begin expressing your feelings:

  • Journal
  • Draw or paint
  • Write a letter to yourself
  • Write a letter to your future self
  • Write a letter to your children
  • Write a poem
  • Look in the mirror and tell yourself your story
  • Dance
  • Model clay or play-doh

Processing your trauma in gentle ways can help you become ready to share it with others.

Use Professionals Who Understand Trauma and Abuse

I was told by a lot of professionals, “Oh, you need counseling.” I tried that. I’m sure this isn’t true across all mental health professionals, but what I found was that most therapists are not equipped to deal with this kind of abuse. They tend to try to use their behavior modification, which they’ve learned in graduate school somewhere, “If you do this, then he’ll do that. If you do that.” It doesn’t work.

Florence, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community

Often, counselors and therapists tell victims to “work on themselves”. Generally, marriage counsellors will have victims focus on communication and attachment. Never actually recognizing that the issue is not with how the couple relates to each other, but that he is abusing her.

Finding and using trauma and abuse-informed professionals is essential for every victim.

Helpful professionals will:

  • Validate you
  • Identify the abuse
  • Side with you
  • Help you set boundaries
  • Encourage you to seek safety
  • Acknowledge your pain
  • Never ask you to “see his side”
  • Listen to you without judgment
  • Help you understand what’s happening to you
  • Believe you
  • Show empathy and compassion
  • Never blame you for the abuse

Boundaries Help You Establish Safety

I do think that a lot of women, myself included, were raised with low expectations and low sense of self. We didn’t really know when we weren’t being treated well. We may have known it, but we didn’t think we had any right to do anything about it.

Florence, member of the Betrayal Trauma Recovery community

When women begin to work toward safety, boundaries are an essential step. Boundaries are not requests, statements, or ultimatums. They are courageous actions that women take to separate themselves from abuse. Boundaries are in your power and can help you find the safety and healing you deserve.

Betrayal Trauma Recovery Supports Victims of Betrayal and Emotional Abuse

Abuse victims need support. You can find healing. You can find peace. You don’t have to do it alone. BTR provides resources for women just like you.

Listen to other victims’ stories on the free BTR podcast. At BTR, we believe that empowerment is essential. The BTR podcast strives to empower women through validation and education.

The Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group meets daily in every time zone. At BTRG you can:

  • Process trauma
  • Share your story
  • Ask question
  • Make friends with other victims
  • Get answers
  • Find love and support
  • Vent your hard feelings

Join today and find the support that you need to begin your path to healing.

Remember, you are not alone.

Full Transcript:

Welcome to Betrayal Trauma Recovery. This is Anne. I am honored to have a client on the podcast today. Her name is Florence. Florence is 75-years-old. She has experienced a lot of trauma throughout her life, multiple, multiple times.

Florence: Thank you, Anne. It’s nice to be here. Thank you for having this organization. It’s something I wish I’d had 45 years ago.

Anne: Florence, I wanted to ask you. Over the years, how has it changed? How did you relate to it, say in your 30s or 40s or 50s? Did you try different things?

Florence: I have engaged several processes in trying to figure what was going on. I think this is, probably, one of the most challenging issues that a spouse can be called upon to deal with. I tell my husband, and everybody I know, that I’m everything I am today because of him. Because I had to survive.

How Trauma Effects Functioning

Anne: How old were you when you and your husband married?

Florence: I’ve been married forty-four years. I was introduced to his illness. I didn’t know it was an illness, three days after we were married.

Anne: You were about 30 at the time?

Florence: Yes. In my early 30s. My first reaction was devastation. Fear. Back in those days, women didn’t have the same options that they do today. I had just moved my two daughters and myself to a new location. I had no friends and no associates. Very little opportunity to find gainful employment to support myself. In doing so, I had cut off any support systems that I might’ve had. I was really on my own.

Anne: Were you married before this?

Florence: I was.

Anne: You had children?

Florence: I was. I had two—

Anne: Okay. So you had two daughters coming into this marriage.

Betrayal Is A Form Of Abuse

Florence: They were five and eight. I went very deep into a place of trying to comprehend. I didn’t call myself a spiritual person at that time in my life. I did not have a religious persuasion. I found myself searching. In order to do that, I did what I think a lot of people do. From what I’ve read, is that they explore with their spouse, trying to figure out what it is that their spouse is looking for and needing. Of course, that leads one into, probably, the darkest places on earth. Because it’s a world of debauchery.

It didn’t take me long to figure out that that was not for me. I had to make a heartfelt decision and tell my husband that I could not live that kind of life. A life with freedom of sex with other people and going to nudist camps and pornographic exhibitions. It was just not the right thing for me at all. It hurt my heart. It didn’t help my heart. He apologized and swore that he would never make those bad choices again. We started over. Until the next time.

By the next time, I became aware of his activities, I knew enough to go for help. We both went through a lot of counseling. He was identified as a sex addict. That being said, there were not the organizations that there are today, like the SLAA, 12-Step programs. He went through a lot of one-on-one counseling, but it came trailing back in.

What Is The Abusive Cycle?

The problem was, I didn’t realize that he had regressed back to those activities. I only was experiencing the negative behavior and the abuse. Which, after 20, 25, 30 years of marriage, you get to the point where you do your own thing. You make the best of it. And if somebody wants to be a damn fool and act like a child, let them be a damn fool and act like a damn child. You just can’t let your life be run by that, you know.

Anne: Did you know you were being abused, or did you just think of it as, “Oh, my husband’s—”

Florence: I knew I was being abused. I knew he was sick. I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting. The last year has been a year of repeated difficulties and such a challenge. I remember back when my youngest daughter was 15-years-old, and she and I took a trip out west. We visited a childhood friend of mine. He asked me face-to-face, “What’s wrong? You’re not right.” I said, “Well, my husband isn’t right. He’s sick.” I didn’t elaborate on it. How could I? I didn’t have the words for it.

How Does Abuse Stay Hidden?

I remember thinking many years later, the only people that I could tell that to were people that I’d known for a long time. People who actually had some confidence in me. Because I became aware of the fact that nobody would believe me. People will say, “Oh, he’s so charming.” “Oh, he’s such a sweet man.” He is. And he’s a beguiling, needful child.

What do you do? Go out on the street and bang a drum, and say, “I’m being emotionally abused by a man who can’t show me love, or who can’t relate to me?” You can’t do that. Nobody will believe you. So you try to create wellness within a challenging situation. That’s what I did for years. Until it all broke open. For the last ten years, I thought he had frontal temporal lobe disorder.

It makes the second time I’ve misdiagnosed him in my life. Obviously, I’m not much of a psychotherapist. Because of his anger, I felt that his actions were typical of frontotemporal lobe dementia. In fact, I actually got him to go to a neurologist. It was really embarrassing and a waste of time. “It’s not Alzheimer’s, I’m right, it’s frontal temporal lobe.” Well, I wasn’t right. Yeah, it’s very hard when you get older.

What Is Betrayal Trauma?

Things don’t work the way they used to. Sex isn’t what it was when you were kids. Every now and then, you get an opportunity to enjoy one another to some extent. And he gave me an STD. That was a rude awakening. He had been back to his old tricks. It took me four months to get him to come clean. He’s been in one-on-one therapy, and three SLAA meetings a week since then, of his own volition. He’s reading everything, voraciously, that he can on the subject. It’s better late than never, I guess.

Anne: Wow. For our listeners, I just want to talk about SLAA for a minute. What she’s referring to is called Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous. There are multiple different types of 12-step for sexaholism. There’s SLAA, there’s SA, there’s SAA, there’s SALifeline. Now that we’ve had this overview, it sounds like, in the beginning, the way that you dealt with it was you tried to meet his needs. And then, as you got older and it just kept happening and happening, you started detaching. How would you say your reactions to him are now? Right now, at 75 and him 80?

Florence: It’s been like a fast forward of an earlier movie of everything that ever occurred. I go in a circle. Some days I’m distraught and I’m in pain. I feel sorry for myself. Then I go through days where I am so angry. Those are not bad days, because I let him have it. I tell him that he cannot sit there and put on the TV and not answer my questions. After all, I’ve had all these years of going without answers. The least he can do is respond to me and pay attention.

How To Deal With Trauma And Abuse

I’m more demanding. I don’t accept his disassociation. Some days, I feel like nothing’s ever happened. We’re the best friends that we’ve always been. It’s like a circular thing that goes around. I’ve been able to grapple with this. Because now I can be honest with our friends and our family. Everybody knows. The freedom to be honest and forthright makes it possible to handle and work with.

Anne: Absolutely. Without it, it’s impossible. Now that we’re in this different age, I’m 40. The first place we go, when we have something happen is we start searching for things online. What thoughts do you have about women who are starting to search for this and think about this five years after marriage? Or ten years after marriage? If you could go back and talk to yourself?

Florence: You can’t help them. You can’t fix them. I made a very concerted decision many, many years ago. Considering the pain and the grief and the disappointment and the challenges, probably 10 years into the marriage, that marriage wasn’t just for me to feel comfortable and happy, it was a family. I was going to build a family out of the dregs of this mess, if it killed me. I think I did it.

Trauma Is Not Easy To Live With

Our children are very bonded. They laugh a lot. They say, “We don’t care what happens to the two of you. We’re bonded. That’s it.” They spend holidays together. We had all the children and grandchildren with us for his 80th birthday last year. I feel very successful for that. It was in a different age. Today, there are avenues for healing. I think anybody who’s identified with this kind of illness needs to get to the best possible resources.

Anne: I agree with you. At the beginning of recovery, especially now that there’s so many resources, women are very excited. And their husbands are very excited like, “Oh, recovery is going to be awesome, it’s going to be amazing.” Then 5, 10 years down the road, it’s a lot harder than they thought, and not the easy way.

Florence: It never goes away. And you end up being the caregiver. This has been my counterargument to my husband and all of his attempts to heal himself. As it was really convenient now that you’re 80 and impotent, you made these choices to have a responsibility. That responsibility is to their partner and their families. As somebody who’s suffered from it my whole life, you can’t give me back the past 20 years.

How Connection Can Help With Trauma

I didn’t know you were doing this. I knew you were being a jerk. But if I had known he had gone back to illicit deviant sexual practices, I wouldn’t have stayed. I might’ve had the chance to build a life with someone who might’ve genuinely been able to care and show real regard. I miss that. And nobody can give that back to me. That’s where the anger comes from.

I was told by a lot of professionals, “Oh, you need counseling.” I tried that. I’m sure this isn’t true across all mental health professionals, but what I found was that most therapists are not equipped to deal with this kind of addiction. They tend to try to use their behavior modification, which they’ve learned in graduate school somewhere. “If you do this, then he’ll do that. If you do that.” It doesn’t work.

I went to four sessions with one therapist. I just walked out. I said, “This isn’t good for me. I’m getting angry about this.” I quit going. I’ve also challenged my husband on the fact that the SLAA thing is very self-absorbing. They’re all involved with taking care of themselves and getting better and praise God. You know, it’s like, “Wait a minute. You’re still just thinking about yourself. First, it was sex. Now it’s your healing process. Where does that leave me?” It still leaves me on my own. It still leaves me wanting and wanting.

Why Abuse Is So Misunderstood

Anne: Florence joined the Betrayal Trauma Recovery Group. When you found us, how did you feel?

Florence: It was good to know that I wasn’t alone. Most people just don’t get it. They think your husband’s a philanderer. Of course they are. But there’s so much more to it than that. The best thing that’s happened to me in the last year is the ability to be honest. To speak my truth. I am still sad about the loss that I’ve had in my life.

There are people that have worse lives. I’m not going to bemoan all the good things. But I think that people need to re-evaluate who they are. What they want. I do think that a lot of women, myself included, were raised with low expectations and low sense of self. We didn’t really know when we weren’t being treated well. We may have known it. But we didn’t think we had any right to do anything about it.

Anne: I appreciate you sharing your story. I’m so grateful that you found Betrayal Trauma Recovery.

What To Do For Betrayal Trauma

We have a checklist that I’ve been developing for a year. It helps women to know exactly what they need to do when they find out about porn. If they find porn on the computer, if they have an inkling of, “Maybe my husband is looking at porn, or maybe he’s having an affair,” or have an inkling of abuse, this checklist is intended to save women years and years of their life. To save women of going through that cycle of trying to figure out what’s going on. And put safety as their first priority, so they can get to safety immediately.

My life goal is to save women from years and years of pain and confusion. I want to get this checklist in the hands of every single woman all over the world, so that right when she suspects it, she knows exactly what to do.

Please plaster this all over the internet. Let women know. I’m so grateful for all of you who are part of this movement to create more peace and more happiness in this world.

Please leave a comment below. We want to know what you think. Have you found healing? Peace? Tell us about it.

Support BTR

Please remember to support the BTR podcast. We appreciate your monthly recurring donations. Your donations make this podcast possible. If this podcast is helpful to you, please donate.

Similarly, please leave a review for the podcast on iTunes or your other podcasting apps. Your reviews help women find us. You remember how it felt to search for resources. Scary. Confusing. Devastating. Lonely. Hopeless. Be an advocate for other victims. Help them find BTR.

If you would like to be on the BTR podcast, email my assistant Kari. kari@btr.org. We would love to hear your story.

Remember, you are strong. Smart. Worthy of love. Beautiful. Loved. Important. We are rooting for you. You can do this. Hold on to your truth. Prioritize your safety.

Keep tuning in. We’ll heal together. Until next week, stay safe out there.

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