Sometimes all it takes is a whiff of familiar cologne to make Amal, 25, remember the feel of her abuser’s fingers around her neck.
On a winter night in early 2015, her husband raped her. He strangled her until she almost blacked out. Every time she tried to get up from where he’d shoved her to the ground, he pushed her right back down. Eventually, she managed to get away and ran to a friend’s house.
Amal pressed charges, and her abuser was jailed for what he did to her. She moved home to Maine later that year, graduated from college, got a job as a case manager in social work, and now pours her extracurricular efforts into domestic violence awareness. But the memories remain embedded in her mind always. She suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)—a mental health condition that can occur after various kinds of trauma.
Right after she escaped her abuser, Amal was “petrified” to be alone. Her friend stayed with her in her apartment for a while, and Amal literally followed her from room to room. “I wasn’t able to take care of myself,” said Amal. “She would have to remind me to eat and help me go grocery shopping. The best way to describe it is that I was a zombie.” Scared that her abuser would find her, Amal was often too afraid to leave the house. If she heard even the slightest noise, her heart rate would skyrocket, a stress rash would creep across her cheeks, neck, and chest, and she would start to shake. “I was a wreck,” she says.
Almost three years later, and with the help of her counselor, Amal has made incredible strides in her healing process. But like many survivors, she says she sometimes struggles with everyday things that remind her of what she went through. A particular scent makes it especially hard.