For the longest time I was in denial about being a victim of domestic violence. When I finally came to accept it, escape seemed dangerous and impossible. It was anything but easy, however walking away taught me much more than I had anticipated.
1. People are going to judge you. Let them because their opinion doesn't really matter.
Everybody has an opinion and some of them said it to my face, while others just talked about me. They had an opinion about literally everything. Was I really a victim of domestic violence? Did I leave the right way? What did I do wrong or could I have done differently? When would have been the right time to leave? I didn't have to ask these questions but people still gave their opinion.
I had to remember that I had found my courage and voice and left. I began to tell people what I thought of their opinions without deviating from the kind of person I am. I won't be somebody else for others again.
2. It's not one simple act of leaving. It's ongoing, so it's ok to accept help.
My husband had been arrested for beating me in front of my child. It was now or never. I will never forget what the officer said to me that day, "We have put a temporary restraining order on him but it's just a piece of paper. It takes us 20 minutes to get here on a good day (we lived isolated in the country). Don't worry about your things. Take your son and leave so the next call I get from here isn't to pick up your body."
So I did. I knew I had until Monday before he could see a judge and be released. So the next day I packed up as much as I could in my vehicle. I left most of my possessions behind to be able to bring things that I knew would bring my son comfort. Ironically it was Mother's Day when my five year old and I drove to a different state to get away.
I felt like a burden staying with family. I had very little money. The money I did have was given to me by others for gas to get away. I was homeless, jobless, and in a new place with very little to my name. I had to build an entire new life for my son and I. I no longer had a choice but to accept help from others.
3. It's OK to forgive myself. I repeat it like a mantra in my brain almost daily.
Those feelings of guilt creep in all the time. I have PTSD from what I endured over those years. What's worse is my son does too. Guilt kept me in domestic violence too. I believed I was sheltering my son from it because I took his beatings... the ones I saw. And if I just kept doing that then I wouldn't be taking away my son away from his father or breaking up our family. That's what I believed at the time. I have to remind myself of that when I feel guilty. Even if it wasn't true, I did the best I could. I'm still doing the best I can.
4. Sometimes it feels like being abused was easier. It's important to find support in other survivors.
There were days right after I left when I was sad and everything was hard where I thought being abused was easier. Maybe I should just go back. Then I would hate myself for thinking that and think there was something wrong with me.
The truth is, a lot of people go through this stage right after they leave. Talking to other women who had been through or were going through what I had, made me realize I wasn't crazy. Or maybe I was, but I could change the thinking that I had learned from the abuse.
5. Dealing with conflicting emotions is an ongoing battle.
It wasn't all bad. I would not have married him if I had known he was abusive. There were things I had fallen in love with. Every once in a while I would remember a happy time. That was hard on me because in the beginning, I needed pure hate and anger to be strong. He made many attempts to get me back despite the restraining order and in those first few weeks when everything was so hard, I shut out any good memories to be able to get through the trial and starting over.
Once I found my footing, I realized I could remember the good times too as long as I remembered why I left. Someday my son is going to have questions about his father. He remembers the bad. I may need to help him remember the good if he struggles with his own identity as an abuser's son.
6. I am stronger than I think, even if I wish I didn't have to be.
Life has handed me a lot of lemons. One thing I hear all the time is how strong I am. At first I would think people were crazy saying that about me. I had been belittled for so long I did not believe words like strong applied to me.
Looking back I can understand why people called me strong. But in my head whenever someone says it to me now, I still think to myself — I wish I didn't have to be strong.
7. Leave the baggage behind. Don't let the past destroy happiness in the present.
My life has gotten so much better in the time after my escape. I lost all my possesions, some family and friends, the place I had called home, etc. I gained so much at the same time. I found myself again. Even though I'm not the same person I was before, I like who I am now.
I am in counselling and I am in a relationship with a wonderful man who treats my son like his own. The counselling helps me not destroy my current relationship with baggage. I have to remind myself that not everyone is the same so I don't sabotage my own happiness. After all the best revenge is proving I really can be happy.
8. Not all abuse is physical. Not all wounds heal on the same timeline.
The bruises heal, but other wounds stick around so much longer. Not only was I physically abused, I was isolated. I was verbally, mentally abused. It gave me severe body image issues. I was forced to stay home, having no money of my own to say how it was spent. There are many forms of abuse and I only realized how bad it was after telling my story to others.
9. Some people will never get it. That just has to be ok.
Some people didn't want to believe they hadn't known what was going on in front of them. My ex was charismatic and well-liked. People literally told me that they hoped we could work it out to my black and blue face.
My mom had so many questions and no answer I gave ever satisfied her. So many people didn't understand how someone they saw as highly intelligent, put-together and strong could let themselves be put in that situation. They don't have to. If someone has to go through what I went through to understand, then I hope no one ever understands.
The End of One Chapter...The Beginning of Another
In the end, while I wish I didn't have to go through what I did, I have found a sense of closure. These are some of the lessons I learned which have helped shape the woman I am today and I like that woman.