Christa . . .
What was I thinking?! Maybe I really am crazy! What if he really has changed this time? My mind raced non-stop, as if it was in constant replay mode for months after I left. I was caught in a perpetual personal viewing of the nightmare I had been living, and yet still second guessed my decision to leave. Because maybe, just maybe, he was going to straighten up his life for good. What if he meant it this time? What if I don’t give him one more chance? What if everyone blames me for putting my children through the divorce because I didn’t take him back? Luckily, after two months of battling with myself and trying to find a way to justify his actions over the years, new lies crept to the surface. The entire time he had claimed that he was trying his best to win me back, he was spending that time in the company of another. It had all just been more lies. I realized that he was merely trying to manipulate and control me once again. And I knew that he would never change until he finally accepted responsibility for his actions.
For me, healing after my verbally and emotionally abusive relationship was a difficult and accelerated process. I had three children to take care of. I had to remain strong to help them adjust to the major changes that took place when we left, and it wasn’t easy. I had my moments of emotional breakdowns and worries of how I was going to muster the strength to make it through the day. However, the most difficult part rested in the fact that I struggled with blaming myself for falling prey to the control, to the lies and manipulation.
You will never be able to heal until you realize that you were not responsible for the abuse you endured.
I had become bitter toward everything that had to do with love. My only solace was in the constant love and support of my family and close friends. But not everyone has that luxury. Some have to rely solely on themselves. Fortunately, there are many different self-help articles available to give victims suggestions on how to heal after abuse.
Over the past two years, I discovered that the most important aspect to healing is FORGIVING YOURSELF FIRST! You will never be able to heal until you realize that you were not responsible for the abuse you endured. You were not at fault for ending the relationship. You need to forgive yourself. Stop taking the blame for everything that happened. I know you’ve all heard the saying “Forgive and Forget,” but if you’re anything like me, you’re thinking “Screw that!” Forgiving anyone that has done you wrong is the hardest thing to do. I never dreamed that forgiving myself would be ten times harder. You may constantly criticize yourself for being dumb and naïve. However, you are not dumb! You may have been a little naïve at first, just enough to fall for their charm, but that’s how all abusers start. They’re your dream come true. They treat you like royalty and convince you to trust them with everything you have. This allows them to subtly manipulate you and gradually increase their control over your life. It is in no way, shape, or form your fault. Time to put your foot down, tell yourself you’re sorry, and move on to healing and gaining control over your life and your happiness.
Ending an unhealthy relationship is very much like enduring the death of a loved one. You may have dedicated years to continually trying to nurture it, hoping one day it would grow into a healthy, more meaningful partnership. But your abuser destroyed it, smashing your hopes and your dreams. In fact, your partner now seems like a stranger to you because the mask is gone. You are left with nothing but the remnants of your shattered self, delicately holding the pieces in your hands. You will go through the stages of grief (which we will cover in a later post). For now, simply understand that it is perfectly normal to feel this way. Seeking the guidance of a therapist or counselor is extremely beneficial in allowing you the opportunity to understand your feelings.
Manipulators belittle and degrade their victims in order to make them feel that they are worthless, that they aren’t capable of being loved by anyone else, and that they are crazy or high-strung (a cruel and sadistic technique known as gaslighting). Abusers also instill many other insecurities to make you believe that they are the only person that cares about you. Once you truly understand that you are none of the terrible things they called you, then you can start the healing process. When you are able to see yourself clearly, without the interference of abuse, you can gain the strength you need to move on with your life. It may help to stand in front of your mirror and create a daily mantra: “I am beautiful, I am intelligent, I am lovable, I am me.” Remind yourself that you are on the road to recovery, to a happier, healthier you. This is a long journey that will happen gradually, but as you feel yourself gaining confidence, becoming more independent, and enjoying life instead of dreading it, you will begin to look forward to the future and the recovery of the real you.
Lindsey . . .
One of the saddest, yet happiest moments of my life involved crying over a plate of nachos. I sat alone in a restaurant in the LAX airport, waiting for my return flight home. My California vacation spent exploring the beauty of King’s Canyon had been wrecked with constant arguing and constant verbal abuse by my boyfriend . . . my ex-boyfriend. That plate of nachos represented my emancipation. He never liked my choice of food. He blamed me for his weight gain. And he always picked the restaurants and our entrées. So as I sat alone, marveling at my ability to eat a plate of nachos without the persistent nagging and disapproval of my significant other, I cried. I cried in anger over the deep sense of loss inside my soul. And I cried in relief to finally regaining control of my life.
The next few months were hard. Luckily, I had the support and love of my family during this healing process. Not once did they blame me for staying in such a relationship. Not once did they shame me or ridicule me. My parents were continually supportive of all my decisions and efforts to rebuild myself. I started writing again. I started painting again. I started thinking for myself again. This was not a magical self-detoxing, though. I had professional help. I had recognized a destructive pattern of behavior in myself that would require some sort of exorcism. I needed an ordained priest. And my ordained priest came in the form of a professional counselor.
A friend from work gave me the number for a local family counselor. I usually went into those sessions unsure of how someone could help me with my own neuroses. But the more I opened up, the more I realized how much I needed to talk to an objective person. I couldn’t talk to my parents or my friends like I could to the counselor. I would cry and cuss and vent about my past experiences without fear of ridicule or judgment. I found it a religious experience, like taking my sins to God and having my slate wiped clean. I discussed my childhood, my religious upbringing, my debt, my past manipulative relationships, my hopes, my dreams, and my fears. It was a great purge, and it did not come easy for me at first. In my mind, there was still that stereotypical depiction of the patient laying on the couch, gushing out her problems to a man with a beard and a notepad asking, “And how does that make you feel?” I grew up under the misguided notion that people who went to therapists were weak and didn’t want to deal with their own problems. This is not the case.
My ordained priest exorcised the demons of self-doubt, low self-esteem, and self-blame. He helped me realize my “retail therapy” addiction and why I had accrued so much senseless debt. It was a sort of euphoria, buying something new and knowing that it was now mine. It brought a brief moment of pleasure into my otherwise bleak life. But those brief moments turned into years of indentured servitude, worsened by my abusive relationship. My ex demanded that I pay for things he knew I couldn’t afford. He liked to snowboard. I had to buy expensive snowboarding equipment in order to show I cared enough. He liked to eat out. I had to buy dinner so as not to take advantage of him. He wanted me to meet his family in Virginia. I had to buy my own plane ticket and take off work with no pay. He inflicted all of this financial demand, knowing full well it was ruining me financially. And knowing full well that he made three times more than me. He often bragged about how much income he would make after graduating his residency program. All the while, I was struggling from paycheck to paycheck, accruing more debt just to make him and myself happy. After I broke up with him, I continued this pattern, keeping myself a prisoner to my debt.
My counselor told me I should train my brain to find it euphoric every time I paid more of my debt off. And to realize that every time I tried to make myself happy with a new purchase I could not afford, it would make me unhappy in the long run. He wasn’t pushy and he wasn’t condescending. We discussed my problems and he offered suggestions and ideas for change. I’ll never forget him and how he helped me overcome the trauma of abuse.
I had recognized a destructive pattern of behavior in myself that would require some sort of exorcism.
If you or anyone you know is in need of counseling or help after, or during, an abusive relationship, please hesitate no longer and get professional help. These are deep wounds and scars. Patients recovering from surgery are usually required to go through physical therapy during their entire healing process. This is vital to them regaining control and mobility of their faculties. Similarly, victims of abuse need therapy or counseling to regain control of their mental faculties. It is difficult to reclaim a life stolen from years of abuse. It is difficult to train the brain to think differently after living a life of servitude to the tyranny of an abuser. It is not admitting defeat and it is not stating you are weak. Get the help that you need to heal your mind. There are plenty of organizations, like Safe Connections in St. Louis, Missouri, that offer free services, such as counseling and crisis intervention. They are a truly remarkable group of people that are helping to end relationship violence and rape. There is nothing to lose from their help, except the hold your abuser may still have over you.