How a cat turned my abuse memories upside down! — Chase, curiosity and courage.
“This is not good! A trespasser!” My brain gathered danger quickly and I went on high alert!
Was I prepared? Not at all! Not just caught off guard but I was brutally forced out of my deep sleep too! Being caught off guard was not unfamiliar when I experienced abuse. But being forced out of deep sleep was a relatively new experience. I cherish a rare and restful deep sleep now after having battled insomnia, as a fallout of domestic abuse for years.
I know I have grown since abuse happened. But life is life! It does catch you off guard — if not with abuse, that night with a trespasser leaving me with the same unnerving, anxious, frightened and sweaty palm feeling that often abuse (or the anticipation of it!) gave me too.
Feeling old. Experience new.
Although bang in the middle of a bustling city, my cottage felt like paradise with chirping birds, fruit bearing trees, especially the sweet smelling seasonal alphonso mango in the backyard, and the bright pink delicate Bougainville flowers dropping in early spring lining my steps everywhere around the circumference of the cottage. Sun down would be as beautiful with cool breeze and rustling leaves despite scorching heat elsewhere in the city.
April is not a good month to be here, they say! But I discovered that no month is good or bad — it just depends on what meaning you give to it….curious? Read on!
Paradise it was — could I ask for more to serve my buoyant mood? Nah! Was I happy? Yeah!
Now, the only challenge here was frequent encounters with creepy crawlies — nature attracts them so…ahem…perhaps I was the intruder in their habitat! A lizard here, a spider there, a long line of marching big black ants, mosquitoes buzzing to get their dinner off my blood, rats that are smart enough to reach anywhere from any crack. Oh! Rat bites can hurt! So you see, I had a lot on my plate to ‘worry’ about while I enjoyed my paradise!
A daily mission was to secure my space from any of these creeping into doors and windows and I would heave a sigh of relief every day when I knew I had done a good job! Why?
Because I’ve been scared!
I’ve been scared of these beings that I think shall harm me. You see, over the years the scare only got bigger because I was harmed enough from the abuse to think that not just my abuser but the world was my enemy — including those poor creepy crawlies, most of whom perhaps didn’t in fact mean any harm to me!
But danger and harm were etched in my mind! This part of me was still healing from the trauma — as I became aware that night.
Despite making all efforts to make the cottage a fortress, especially at night as I’d been living alone, I wasn’t prepared for this trespasser — who smartly kicked open the mosquito net on the window and jumped right into the bedroom I slept in.
As if just a short aberration to my deep sleep, I woke up in the dark to stick back the Velcro laced net to the window pane, attributed the open net to a gust of wind and leapt back into bed. No thoughts. My dear sleep called me back!
We will know soon if that was a good idea though!
The quick meows of a cat kept me awake for a couple of minutes. Assuming that the cat was walking around the edge of the cottage, I waited for it to pass by. But the sheets over my head didn’t drown out the meows. I grew irritated.
Soon the meows became so profound that in the blink of an eyelid my irritation turned to cold sweat….the meows were right next to my ears!
I bounced off the bed, switched the lights on, a quick glance at the watch said it was 4.03AM and felt a sudden rush and fright through my head and body. My legs felt like jelly. I froze for a moment. Clearly the cat was inside the room!
Perhaps, the lights going on and me jumping out of bed had alerted it so it hid away but continued meowing.
I could feel my heart racing while walking around shocked and sleepy to look for the cat. The meows increased — both in frequency and in pitch! My brain signaled me to meow back! After all, there was no preparedness for a situation like that!
And then I spotted it, all of white and military green, hiding behind a piece of vintage furniture. Now, how on earth could I chase it away when the whole cottage was a tight shut fortress!
I felt trapped (and so did the cat!).
I anticipated harm (and so did the cat!).
I have suffered cat scratches in the past and been on a full course of 4 rabies injections! And oh they hurt — the shots I mean!
At 4.03AM in a huge cottage and all by myself — that’s the last adventure I could have wished for — a cat scratch!
So trapped as we both were, I wanted to shoo it out somehow and save my self (looking back, am pretty sure, the cat had the exact same goal but in that moment it was my enemy!). But what both of us lacked was strategy!
So we both ran around recklessly — me trying to chase it and it trying to leap towards all doors and windows — shut as they were, it failed and so did I.
In the 10 to 12 minutes that followed with natural and man-made meows competing with each other, I had switched on all the lights — and I mean ALL.
But cats are smart! They hide where they want to! I had failed at leading it up to a door to shoo it away.
But I also knew that giving up was not an option — my concern for my safety was looming large!
And then the brain found another way to survive the situation — I knew I needed help! I had done the best I could and was literally and figuratively running around in circles, yielding nothing.
While I ran around, I quickly grabbed the car & house keys, a scarf, a bottle of water and my phone (my escape kit!) and led myself to the front door! I garnered some courage to take myself to the front door as the cat had made way to the basement, to hide there perhaps.
Yet I worried every second that my feet would suffer a scratch with the cat catching me unawares.
Opening the door and leaping out, my plan A was to get the security guard’s help with the evacuation exercise. Plan B was to rough it out in the car till dawn broke to gather more manpower.
Plans aside and with a very quick turn of events thereafter, by the time the security arrived, we saw the cat waiting across the netted front door as if signaling us to release it out. And cautiously opening the door and letting it out is all it took for us to have a cat-free cottage that morning! Just like that!
4.29AM — After a sigh of relief and a refreshing wash, I attempted to sleep safely in my bed again with a smile of pride and letting go of all anxiety lived in the past minutes.
I dozed off thinking briefly how my sleepy brain had quickly adapted from having a huge scare at first to applying survival tactics.
During the next day, narrating the incident to family and friends, reverberated back some concerned but unsolicited advice! “Don’t live alone!” “You should know how to keep yourself safe!” “Leave the cottage immediately! It’s not safe for you!” “Why didn’t you check the mosquito net before you slept?” and more. And as these conversations became the highlight of the day, I started to smile more.
It all happened too quickly for me to absorb when it happened. But as I pottered around doing my chores the next day, I asked myself “From utter shock and scare how could end up smiling at what happened?”
The answer was “I had learnt to surprise myself, pleasantly!”
The conversations revealed something about me to me that day…
When negative incidents happened during the abusive partnership, I whined about them endlessly, even after they were long over (I enjoyed wallowing in the past!). I felt alone and my brain continued to be fogged. Even advice seemed useless or not doable. No one would understand what I experienced during abuse in the four walls of my home years ago. Always frightened and feeling trapped, I continued with my victimhood and more incidents happened!
Years later, I was actually alone that night at the cottage too and within arm’s length of danger (however small it may appear before abuse, it was there).
Yet years of training, inner work and alignment had strengthened me to think far more clearly, be less frightened of ‘danger’, adapt quickly and think on my feet for solutions. I found that the champion within me had begun to emerge.
Now that I look back, that night when I jumped out of bed quietly screaming “danger”, I had surprised myself. My levels of fright have reduced a great deal.
And the revelations in questions that came to me were: was I really the same scared girl who turned into fetus position often, covered herself with sheets and cried the night away when danger came close to her years before? Was I really a scared one such that I would easily give in? Was I really the same scared girl whose trauma responses varied between phases of fight, flight, freeze and fawn and left her de-energized and further broken with response? Was I really the scared girl who thought that the trauma impact of abuse would stay with her life long, knaw her dreams away or perhaps even kill her?
The smile came with one answer alone: No longer!
As I look back and give meaning to the events of that night, my belief grows stronger that the cat trespassing was a reminder from the universe of my courage and more so the acceptance of it — a reminder that I need often to remove the remaining peels of self-doubt that stay with me from the being gaslight day in and day out. A reminder that I have grown! A reminder that healing is possible! A reminder that healing has helped! A reminder that there is indeed #lifebeyondabuse !
No one walks in the shoes of the abused but the abused! Hence, no set of advices can ever work if the abused themselves don’t find their path.
As human as I am, I do feel down, especially because of the hurdles that still come in the way of chasing my dreams, now that I chase them more fiercely! And I feel low too — BUT angels like the cat remind me of acknowledging my one constant companion — courage — and that I am NEVER OUT because someone somewhere lit my path.
Allow me to light yours!
Reach out at aarti_domesticabusecoach (Instagram).