Swimming with Sharks

For individuals who’ve recently ended a long-term commitment with their partner, it can be a frightening venture jumping back into the dating pool. But for me, it feels more like diving into water infested with sharks, precisely at feeding time… whilst covered in lesions still seeping fresh blood. Oh, and did I mention it’s hurricane season?

No exaggerations here –the fear is real. 

This isn’t to say I won’t ever date again, or that I’m not interested in taking a go at it but jumping in under these certain-death conditions would be pure insanity. I need a plan of action. Something that focuses on risk reduction, so when I’m ready to dive in for a swim, I can retain my life –and limbs.

sharks

The first step in risk reduction is attending to my wounds that are sure to attract every “single” shark from miles around. (Please excuse the unintended pun.) These wounds run deep and are a direct result of the years of abuse from the hands that once held my heart, and the hands that held it before him, and before him… a reminder of the consequences of jumping back in the water unprepared.

It’s difficult for many people to comprehend the cycle of abuse. How a person could stay in an abusive relationship for so long, or how a survivor of abuse could find themselves in another toxic relationship. This lack of understanding is one of the most significant factors in becoming a victim, and one that makes breaking the cycle so damn difficult. When you’re submerged in an abusive relationship, the manipulative techniques of the abuser are not cut and dry, clear as day, as they may be to those standing on the outside of your relationship.

Techniques such as love-bombing, gaslighting, and mind games can be easily perceived as the exact opposite of what they are. For instance, love-bombing is a manipulative technique often used by narcissistic abusers to secure a bond with the victim by gaining the confidence of said victim. Love bombing begins at the start of the relationship with excessive attention and affection given to the victim in a short period of time and is often accompanied by a pressure for commitment to the abuser. Given that the abuser will never say to his victim, “I am giving all this affection and attention to you so quickly and adamantly, because it will allow me to advance to the next stage of my abuse cycle –control and degradation, without you being able to recognize my true intentions,” the victim perceives this love bombing technique as a sign of ‘true love’ from the abuser.

With that said, by the time the victim is immersed in the next phase of the abuse cycle, they’re already bonded with their abuser, and therefore become more susceptible to gaslighting and mind games. Gaslighting is a technique so easily executed by a manipulator, it’s often overlooked by even those standing on the outside of the relationship. Gaslighting is a form of manipulation in which the only purpose is to plant seeds of doubt in the victim, using denial, lying, contradiction, misdirection, word-games, and deflection to make the victim question their own perception of the situation –and even their very own sanity.

sharks

It’s easier than one might think to fall victim to gaslighting and mind games that are played by someone who has already convinced you that they are so madly, deeply in love with you. As the victim, you want so desperately to believe that their love is genuine. That they are sorry for their actions, and they mean it when they say they’re going to change.

Often by the time you realize the abuser will never change, they’ve already crippled your self-worth, destroyed any confidence you may have previously possessed, and obliterated any will to find the strength to leave.

Thankfully, I found that strength. But what now? The emotional damage has already been done and not all the wounds have healed. Some are canyon deep scars that will never disappear. Others are gaping wounds that scab over occasionally, only to be ripped wide open again with weapons as simple as a certain song, or the smile on my son’s face as he recalls the happy times, before our family shattered.

I’ve learned that searching for love while you’re still bleeding profusely is equivalent to slapping a band-aid on your vagina while heavily menstruating –it’s completely useless and ends in a bigger mess to clean up. Instead of the dating band-aid, I’m opting for the hobby tampon –immerse myself in hobbies that make me feel good to absorb the unfortunate mess left behind during the healing process.

Once my wounds have scabbed over for the final time, and I’m no longer leeching the scent of vulnerability, I’ll be one step closer to taking the plunge. But of course, there’s the issue of all those sharks swimming around… waiting. How in the world do I approach risk reduction with this inevitable situation? There will always be sharks in the water, that’s a certainty we can all count on in more aspects of our lives than just dating. Friendships, business relations, and even family relationships all have predators lurking about.

So this time around, instead of worrying about eliminating the sharks, I’ve decided I will focus on making myself less appealing to their predatory nature, by becoming a stronger, more resilient me. I’m also learning ways of detecting them before I allow them to get close enough to bite. I know it sounds silly, but education really is the best weapon. Well, that and the mighty pen of course. Writing and learning about myself have become a form of armor against the fear of what lurks in the deepest depths of the water.

sharks

And speaking of fear, I feel it’s important to note how my anxiety disorder plays a role in all this. Anxiety is my hurricane season, though it’s not really a season because it’s here all fucking year long. It convinces me that not only is everyone a shark, but that the water is bone-chilling cold, probably filled with flesh-eating bacteria as well, and an almighty storm is waiting to blow in the second I put my foot in the water. But I certainly won’t allow my anxiety disorder to deter me from dating, when the time is right. It also convinces me that I left the stove on and my house will burn down, but that doesn’t stop me from cooking, after all.

I will admit that it often gets lonely chilling out here on the beach while I watch everyone I know jumping back in and out of the water –limbs still intact. Sometimes an ad for a dating app will pop up on my phone, with a picture of some gorgeous male specimen touting what appears to be a genuine smile and doting eyes, and I’ll think “Damn, I’d sure love to go for a swim with THAT.”

But for now, lonely as it may be, I’m content with staying on dry land, soaking up the sun, and giving love to the one person who I know actually deserves it –ME.

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