Often, as I work with Survivors of Domestic Abuse, I hear how the life after abuse is much harder than living with the abuse. It’s sort of ironic to say that, but as a Survivor myself I do agree with that statement. For someone who has never lived with abuse you may ask, “How is that possible?” “Wouldn’t a life free of abuse be easier as you wouldn’t be abused?” Good question and you would think that would be the case, but in many ways it is not. Let me explain.
When you are in an abusive relationship, over time the abuse becomes familiar. Yes it is horrible but it is what you know. When I was in my abusive marriage the abuse was a terrible thing to endure, but it had become my normal. When someone would suggest leaving I became scared. I had lived so long in an abusive world that the healthy world outside of that was scary and unknown. Would I have financial security if I left? Would my kids be ok without their father? Would I lose the family home? Could I be a single mom? So many questions like that flooded my mind and after years of being told by my ex, through actions and words, that I was worthless I truly believed I could not achieve a good life if I left my marriage. I believed everything would fall completely apart.
There is a line that I have heard that is true; “A victim of domestic abuse will not leave until the idea of staying is scarier than the idea of leaving.” That is exactly how it was for me. It was not until that fateful night when my ex admitted to me that he knew he was raping me and hurting me (up to that point I had lived in a world of denial to survive, thinking that he must not realize what he was doing because how could my husband consciously hurt me this way?) that I fully realized who I was dealing with. I was dealing with a dangerous man who was ok brutally hurting me and I knew at that moment that if I did not figure a way out of my marriage I may not survive it. Suddenly I no longer cared what my obstacles to leaving would be I wanted to live and I was going to figure out how to do just that.
For every Survivor their moment is different. For some it is being brutally attacked that ends everything for them, for others it may be seeing their children get hurt, for each one it is different and it is powerful. They will reach that moment where suddenly they are done and they have nothing left to give and they will decide to leave no matter what it costs them. It becomes a matter of life or death spiritually, emotionally, mentally and for many physically.
It is at the point of leaving, and the time following leaving, that a Survivor needs the most support. This is the time when new and often difficult obstacles come their way. For many they are unsure how to make decisions on their own. They have lived a life where every thought, every move has revolved around their abuser. As a result the Survivor has lost their internal compass. The simplest task can be confusing and overwhelming. It is then that family and friends need to be with the Survivor. To listen to them, to hear their stories, to be there when they cry, help them with errands as focusing on day to day can be overwhelming. I, thankfully, had a great support system including family and friends. Once I realized that I needed to leave my abusive marriage I knew I could not do it on my own. I knew I needed support. Most of it was emotional support and some financial. I created a network involving friends, family and professionals. I reached out to whatever support I could get to help myself and my kids through this transition. That support system helped me during my weak times. The times when the obstacles became too much; paying my mortgage on my own, dealing with a child’s meltdown on my own or even dealing with my own pain, I thought it would be easier to return to my marriage. My support system was key to keeping me going. They listened, they encouraged and they consoled me. They reminded me how strong I am and that I could do this journey on my own without returning to abuse.
For many life following abuse is an up and down journey. After living in trauma many struggle to sleep, have night mares, struggle to eat healthy, suffer a lack of focus and for a child their grades may drop. Often both the Survivor and their children battle with depression and PTSD. There abuser may stalk or harass them. It is a hard road. Counselling is always a good option during this time and or connecting with other Survivors in support groups can help. Knowing there are others out there facing the same battle can help a Survivor realize that they are not alone.
There will probably be times on that road where the Survivor may think it is just easier to go back to what they know and they may return to their abuser. Please do not give up on the Survivor during those times. On average a Survivor will leave 7 times before the relationship is truly over. For me it was four times. For others it could be ten. It’s during those times though that they need your support, your voice of reason to remind them what they are worth and to not give up on them. They already have an abuser telling them that they are worthless so it is important to still be there for them, if even at a distance, so they know that someone out there does believe they are worth it. I know for friends and family it can be extremely hard to see your loved one return, but try to hold on, they do need you.
Leaving an abusive relationship is often noted as one of the harder cycles in life to break. It is so intricately tied to a person’s self worth, self esteem, how they think and feel that it feels like you have to break through a 1000 spider webs. It can be done though. It has been six and a half years since I left and I am finally feeling like I am over the worst of it. My life is feeling more balanced from day to day. The night terrors have diminished, the flashbacks have mostly drifted away and I feel a sense of peace. I know that what happened is always going to be a part of me but it no longer dominates my day to day. I feel blessed to be where I am. It took a lot of hard work and perseverance to get where I am. There were times where I wanted to throw in the towel and just crawl under my blankets and disappear, but deep down I refused to let him win. I refused to let his abuse destroy my life. I relearned and accepted that I am worth more than his abuse and once I accepted that there seemed to be no turning back.
If you are a Survivor of abuse please know that you are not alone and you are so worth a life free of abuse. I know that the idea of leaving is daunting, but please know there are supports out there waiting to help you. Check your phone book for local supports or Google on line, reach out to a friend or loved one and know that there is a better life out there just waiting for you to grab it.
If you are thinking of leaving your abusive relationship I encourage you to create a Safety Plan. Like a how a fire drill helps you safely escape a fire, a Safety Plan helps you safely leave an abusive relationship. Please check out this link; http://verbalabusejournals.com/how-stop-abuse/safety-planning/ Scroll down the page it opens to download it for free.
Are you a Survivor needing support? You can sign up for a Mentor, someone who has been there, and receive free support and guidance all via email, at :http://verbalabusejournals.com/mentoring-program-for-domestic-violence-survivors/mentor-request/
I love writing for free, but with three kids it can get tight. So if you like what I write feel free to make a donation towards my work. Please click on this Paypal link; PayPal.Me/JanetBrownlee to make your donation. Thanks!