When I got married I romantically imagined in my mind’s eye that my husband had carried me up the gangway of a beautiful ship which was to be our New Family Ship. As we embarked on the adventure of marriage we would set sail to explore the world, sometimes passing over deep waters, and experiencing storms now and then. But together we would be safe and help each other along on the journey of a lifetime which we had chosen to take together.

This picture served me well, and as time went by two beautiful children joined our crew onboard. We had many adventures and exciting experiences together, although there were an awful lot of storms, and then there were long periods of time when in fact the ship stood dead still and went nowhere at all.

I am talking about the stonewalling, when my husband refused to speak to me for days (sometimes weeks) on end – completely ignoring me. He wouldn’t eat the food I cooked – he would fry an egg and toast for himself. And I wasn’t even worthy enough to wash his clothes – he would keep them in a pile on his side of the bed and wash them himself - all of this and much more while never speaking one word to me and ignoring everything I tried to say to him.

Eventually, he would tell me what I had done to offend him (many times I had no clue) – and when I apologised he would magnanimously give me another chance....

Being a sensitive (too sensitive he always told me) and caring soul, I automatically blamed myself and thought that if only I could be a better wife, mother, woman, whatever – then we wouldn’t have so much trouble in our marriage. There were also times when I thought this must be ‘normal’ and I should just get used to it – after all, every marriage has some struggles. I never really spoke to anyone about it because hubby would never allow me to ‘betray’ him by speaking to others about our personal business.

After about ten years of marriage I started to realize that our Family Ship had some very serious leaks and cracks in it... they started out small, but I could see the water seeping through, and as time went by it got worse and worse... when I pointed these out it was met with anger and then more stonewalling – how dare I suggest that he/we were anything but perfect... we never got as far as marriage counselling because he would never admit there was any problem.

It’s a long story which sadly I know many of you will be able to relate to and you can fill in your own details and heartaches. I have subsequently discovered how pervasive and far-reaching the devastating effects of emotionally abusive marriages are these days. All those lonely traumatic years I thought it was just me – but now I know there are so many of us... The good news is that we no longer need to struggle alone, there is help, and there are those who do understand. So let’s keep telling our stories…

It took another ten years or so before our ship finally fell apart and I found myself floundering in the deep cold waters, looking at the shipwreck of my marriage floating away in pieces. Now, several years later I am thankful to say that I have reached the shore. My feet are firmly on solid ground and I am walking towards the future with a hopeful step. But it has not been an easy journey and it’s not over yet.

Coming back to the title of this article – PTSD is real (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and in fact when you have been in an emotionally abusive relationship for a long time it is usually called C-PTSD. The C stands for Complex. This is because there are complex layers and layers of trauma and abuse which are interconnected, subtle and not so subtle, but all very confusing and painful when you are trapped in it. It was only when I finally got up the courage to leave that I could start to see things a bit more clearly. I started to realize that a lot of things which I had taken as ‘normal’ are actually highly abnormal and abusive.

So that was the first step – to get right away from the abuser and the abusive situation. I took my two teenage children and moved 60kms away to a small town where I could start a new journey – a journey of healing. The effects of C-PTSD can come and go in so many different ways. I struggled with bad dreams and nightmares, flashbacks especially with certain triggers like smells, certain sounds or familiar places with bad memories. Speaking of memories – I found that some episodes I had blanked out completely – My children sometimes say, “Mom, remember when this or that happened?”– and I have no memory of it whatsoever... Certain times of day were difficult, especially bedtime when I would “see” my abuser’s shadow in the doorway, even though I knew he was no longer there…

So, if I could share with you some of the things that have helped me to heal and to navigate my way through the C-PTSD it would be the following:

· Going No Contact: The only way I could start to heal was to cut myself off completely from all the negative influence of my abuser. There are times when contact is unavoidable due to our children, but then I keep it purely logistical, with no emotional involvement whatsoever.

· Getting Information: I started to research as much as I could to find out what exactly had happened to me... I discovered brand new words I had never even heard before like Narcissistic, Misogynist, Psychopath, Sociopath.... the more knowledge and information I found, the more understanding I gained. It was so uplifting and freeing to realize that I am not alone, and I am not crazy – this has happened to others, and they too have survived.

· Taking Care of Myself: I learned to really take care of myself – after 20 years of being so focused on pandering to every whim and need of someone else – I now had to learn that my needs and feelings are also important. For me that meant getting some new clothes, eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, and taking time out to do the things I enjoy.

· Grieving what I lost: I cried a lot in the first year after I left... and the more I cried the more free I felt. I also journalled a lot – just writing out everything I was thinking and experiencing. I took a long hard look at all the things that I had lost – mostly my dreams and illusions of the future I had imagined we would have together. By allowing myself thoroughly to experience the grieving process, eventually there came a day when I could look up and start thinking about a new future. It’s important not to rush yourself through this process of grieving. Everyone has their own schedule.

· Being with supportive friends: Friends and family were and still are a huge help to me, especially in practical ways, helping me to move out and set up a new home. Sadly I found that some ‘old’ friends never understood why I had to leave, so I mourned the loss of their friendship. But now I have a new life which includes new friends too.

· Going for counselling: Getting professional help for me and my children has been very instrumental in our healing. Being able to tell my story to an objective, non-judgemental person brought clarity, helping me to see where I had come from and how to go forward.

· Prayer: When you have been shipwrecked, and you find yourself on the point of drowning, you instinctively cry out for help. I cried out in prayer to my Maker, throughout my difficult marriage, during my ordeal of leaving and now navigating PTSD in the aftermath of my emotional abuse. I have found Him always to be my redeemer, my anchor, giving me hope and strength to press through the storms, showing me where I have been wrong and helping me to try again.

Author's Bio: 

Sylvia Smith is a relationship expert with years of experience in training and helping couples. She has helped countless individuals and organizations around the world, offering effective and efficient solutions for healthy and successful relationships. Her mission is to provide inspiration, support and empowerment to everyone on their journey to a great marriage. She is a featured writer for Marriage.com, a reliable resource to support healthy, happy marriages. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, StumbleUpon, Google+ and Pinterest.