I’ve never really been crazy about my birthday. For the last few years, there was usually something stressful or chaotic going on around the end of July – one year it was a big exam, another year I had sinus surgery, another year it was an important presentation on my summer research, another year I was moving (this year I am also moving, but that’s for a separate post).
But last year, the stress on my birthday had nothing to do with exams, surgery, or moving. Last year, the stress was because of my abuser. The end of July 2016 was when things really started to become unbearable with him – when I would pray in my car for 15 minutes before I went in to see him, when I stopped sleeping because I was so anxious, when I walked on eggshells and lived in fear of another outburst from him, when every thought in my brain revolved around him and anticipating when his next fit of anger would come on full force.
Nevertheless, I of course spent my birthday with him last year. For some reason, I knew he wouldn’t lash out at me on my birthday. I knew that unlike every other day of the year, I was safe on my birthday. Even he wasn’t cruel enough to ruin it. And by some miracle, I was right about this. He didn’t explode at me on my birthday. Naturally he did the day before and the day after. But on my actual birthday, he was able to contain himself.
But just the fact that I thought this way, that my birthday had become the only day of the year when I felt safe, makes me so incredibly sad. I didn’t even realize then that this way of thinking wasn’t normal. I do think I was starting to crack, that I was getting to a point where I just couldn’t take it anymore. But on my birthday, all I wanted was to survive the day and use all my energy pretending that things were fine.
So much has changed in the last year. We broke up (a week and a half after my birthday with him), he spent months harassing me, I have learned every secret entrance and elevator and hallway in my building to try to avoid him (he works in my building and is in my graduate program), and I have cut off contact with almost everyone in my program. But most importantly, I have felt the absolute worst pain I have ever experienced in my entire life.
I never knew that the aftermath of an abusive relationship could be so incredibly gut wrenching and at times, feel even more suffocating than being in the actual relationship. I never knew that the memories would resurface at any time and take all of the breathe out of my lungs; that my heart could stop at the tiniest reminder of him; that every single day would feel like I was fighting a war, one that I never asked for and never saw coming.
And I am still fighting. Even on hard and stressful days, like today, my birthday. But this year, I am no longer living in fear. I may still be stressed (experiments, work, and moving can be a lot to juggle) and I may still be in pain. But I am not afraid. Every day is safe for me, not just my birthday. And that, more than anything, is a reason to celebrate.