Four years of going toe-to-toe with a stalker stripped my personality. Casting aside my old, mild-mannered tendencies. (“If you ignore them, they’ll go away.”) Becoming a driven warrior. Dramatic changes were needed, after all, to survive someone constantly trying to end me.
Then, it ended.
After the last court appearance, I tried to return to my old life. The old, mild-mannered me. And I couldn’t. The Old Amy—who spent most the Dark Years residing in the mental equivalent of the cellar, chained next to the water heater—longed to resurface. But, no matter how hard I tried, she didn’t fit in my post-stalking life. In fact, the Old Amy became a stranger. So foreign, that I refer to my former self as “she” or “her.” Rarely as “me.”
What a blow. Because, that woman, I knew who she was at the core. Her limits and strengths. What she would and would not fight for. Her reactions and interactions. But, she longer fit in New Amy’s experiences. She was completely unprepared for coping with trauma aftershocks. A little too polite. Worried about causing offense.
Hindering the return to normalcy, New Amy lost interest in hobbies and activities that used to bring such joy. Call it the constant strain of always glancing over one shoulder. Before the stalker, Old Amy could grocery shop without wondering if the eggs would get broken during an attack. Her disposable income once supported frivolous clotheshorse tendencies, ending when paying rent on top of mortgage became a necessity, when the stalker made living at home too dangerous. She could entertain friends at home without worrying about their safety.
On the other hand, as much as I wanted to try being normal again, New Amy had a hard time dropping my weapons. Her newly learned survival tactics were completely useless for a healing period. Leaving me with a split personality, neither really fitting into life as I used to know it. Often watching myself react in strange new ways, which I never used to do before. Some of it good, some of it … traits that I didn’t want to become habits.
A compromise was needed. But, how? The two Amys were so radically different, and didn’t want to cooperate. It was a bewildering mess. I became the helpless bystander, while my two halves fought for control. Unsure who would win. Old Amy was often shocked with my unpredictable reactions. I’m horrifically more aggressive when angered—Old Amy could simply shrug it off. New Amy desiring solitude for days at a time, where Old Amy craved parties. When we dead-ended into uncertainty, New Amy, the aggressor, screamed at Old Amy to find a logical solution, but had a hard time listening.
Sometimes getting discombobulated when the old versus the new collide. A couple of times, it was disorienting as living in a Salvador Dali painting. Driving familiar roads that suddenly became foreign. Couldn’t remember my destination. Other times, being unable to walk across the room, because it spun so violently, while my two halves fought for dominion.
I hated this new me. This stranger who was forced into my skull. I wanted to return to something I understood. But, living life normally is a habit. And I had no new patterns for a life after trauma. It was clear: if neither side of me fit in the present, it was time to figure out how to operate. A phrase from The Art of War, which I read while being stalked, began to nag at me:
The new war was this: I needed to figure out the new Amy. For my own sake. This doesn’t happen overnight. Rather, it’s an acceptance. It starts with an end: telling myself I’m going to stop complaining about wanting to go back to my old life. Then, accepting: my life has changed. Instead of fighting with myself, I let my two halves negotiate.
Usually, Old Amy manages to break loose from the cellar and find daylight. She uses familiar career skills. Recalls old memories, to remind New Amy of the humanity that existed before someone tried to end us.
She lets New Amy get the aggression out of her system before interjecting reason. She lets me pay too close of attention to storm warnings, in case disaster-type flooding or earthquakes occur. She lets me scan for safe sleeping alcoves to sleep. Then, because after letting me set the plans, Old Amy reminds me that these are extreme plans for extreme situations. To remember that the skills I learned while being stalked, don’t apply to every alarming situation.
Then New Amy pushes the old self down. New Amy speaks with much more authority now. The old me worries about offending someone, or that it’s the wrong perspective. I remind her that a little aggression doesn’t hurt. She relents, while quietly reminding I can still choose my words carefully.
New Amy often needs to go to bed early because I tire much more quickly now. Four years of dealing with a stalker removed much of my resiliency. Old Amy misses the stamina horribly, but backs off when New Amy roars, “Give me sleep!”
Both halves of me still jumping when doors slam too loudly. Or people stand too closely. Or ask too many personal questions. Those ones … I think I’ll be jumping for the rest of my life.
Often, oh how often, I wish that the new normal didn’t mean taking all these adjustments into account. While knowing they must be taken into account. Recognizing that the old life will never return. So, there’s no choice but to adopt the new.
With each day, we practice. With practice comes habit, and with habit, familiarity. We’ve been working at this for five years. It’s more comfortable, but we’re still adjusting. One day, we will feel more like me.