this blog discusses safety issues a lot. Most of the time, the safety issues are related to coping challenges and coping strategies for internal or emotional safety.
This post is different.
It is about physical safety. Sometimes survivors can stay in the same neighborhood/town/city/state as the abusers and be physically safe. Other times, relocating and hiding is the better option. The abuser’s investment in the survivor determines a lot of this. By investment, I mean how much of the abuser’s lifestyle and health is dependent on being able to hurt the survivor anywhere and any time.
If the abuser is not very invested or believes a replacement can be easily found, he or she might let the survivor go without much retaliation or work to bring the survivor back. If the investment is moderate, the abuser might oersist for a while before eventually moving on. And if a large part of the anuser’s lifestyle, identity, or self image is dependent on her or his relationship with the survivor, the abuser might never stop harassing and searching for the survivor.
My situation is number 3. I couldn’t leave the state or the city when I first decided to break ties with my family of origin. My job, my counselors, my life was centered around the city I worked in. And I didn’t have any outside supports to help me even if I tried. So I started with basics: change phone; change email; change address.
That didnt stop them though. They knew my work address and phone number. My grandparents had my cell phone number. The donors convinced my grandparents to call on their behalf and coached them on what to say while listening to the conversations. They sent letters and cards to my work address. So for returned mail, I gave the reason that I don’t work there anymore.
That is when life got really complicated. The donors had family friends call my office number to see if I still worked there by using an excuse of calling the sibling instead more than once. The sibling has lots of friends who live and work and go to school in the same city as me. He got them to give me dirty looks and keep track of my whereabouts as I used public transportation to get around. Some even went so far as to physically and verbally harass me. And they found out where I lived through old school mates (mine, younger sibling, cousins), students from when I taught martial arts, and friends of friends.
I also had to worry about the people I didn’t remember: ones I met in grad school and was rude to, people my alters met and didn’t want to be around, and childhood perpetrators I didn’t recognize but felt scared around. So I moved every year for three years looking for a way to escape the stalking and harassment, not dealing that it was real, prosecutable, and causing a lot of triggers. Because I was dissociating and switching so much, I often forgot events or dismissed them as part of my craziness. It wasn’t until after I got mugged, that I realized there wasn’t going to be a safe place for me to relax and take care of myself unless I took steps to really disappear.
How to disappear without moving out of state?
I started looking up resources and asking for help about legal name changes for domestic violence survivors. That got me in touch with the relocation program and an attorney who helped me join a lot of programs designed to keep my information confidential. I did this before my last move 2 years ago.
It doesn’t change what happens when I run into people from my past during day to day activities. But it does change how I feel and react to those occasions. Because of the legal name change and the address confidentiality, I am more physucally safe. I can tell those people they have the wrong person when they start to bother me and walk away knowing I am safe. I don’t have to worry that they will find me where I live now. Or that they have people who can bother me where I live. None of them have connections to this city or friends in my area.
that has allowed me to take control of the dislocation and only use it when necessary. As for the switching, the alters and I communicate and cooperate more so that information gets shared. That builds trust and allows everyone to be aware of situations even if they were not involved so we can all take part in maintaining health and safety. And with less dissociation comes more recovered memories, trust in ourselves and each other, and confidence that I or whovever is in charge can take care of everyone or switch to let another alter take care of everyone.
That confidence allows me to remember that I can physically protect myself and do not have to be afraid of accidentally hurting someone if my automatic defense mechanisms get triggered. I try to avoid situations that get physically or verbally aggressive. But I also am at a point in my life/recovery where I am not willing to step back and let others hurt me without defending myself in some way. That is where DBT has helped a lot. DBT taught me effective verbal communication skills to help me protect afainst and deflect verbal or emotional abuse without lowering myself to the other individual’s level: i.e. mean, insulting, aggressive, etc.
So yeah, until I leave the state I live in, this will continue to happen. I and my alters will get triggered. One or more of us will defend ourselves. Then will come backlash and increased symptoms until the coping strategies start to help and everyone in the system feels safer again. Because even though our home neighborhood is relatively safe, our work one is not.
The hope for this year is our relocation out of state. Our circumstances have changed for the better. Financial stability; minimal debt; being able to keep my job as a remote employee; and a stable support network is making this all possible.
Relocating, changing my name, and doing all of this is and was scary. It was like starting over from scratch without any safety or support cushions to help me if I fell. But the peace of mind is worth every bit of the struggle.