After struggling to free ourselves from the chaos of domestic abuse—battered in so many ways and worn threadbare—we limp away exhausted and convinced that we never, ever want another relationship. There is no way we will go through all the pain again.
Consider this feeling a gift. I hear your collective, “What?” Stay with me. When you are determined to never again find yourself with an abuser, a space for healing opens. Our aversion to relationships blocks us from returning to the former nightmare, and keeps us from rushing blindly into a new one.
While we want to speed further down our life road, leaving the hurt behind, healing has its own timeline that is unique to each of us. The only way to recover is to walk through the pain, feel it, cry it out, let it shake us like a dog with a rag-doll, until eventually it subsides. The tears will stop. Our hearts will mend. A space has opened, An opportunity arises. If we do the work, we are no longer condemned to stay caught up in the pattern of violence.
Afraid to be alone and feeling desperate, weak and helpless (something that has been hammered into a victim by her former partner) a victim may search for someone to come into her life and do a quick-fix. (*) With a snap of his fingers, the perfect family life will appear. The problem is, most often the one eager to take control of the situation is another abuser. He’s searching for someone who is vulnerable. He shows himself as a savior, wanting to help, loving her kids and promising the moon and stars. Yet, it’s all a facade. When a victim looks for a quick-fix, she often finds herself trapped in another violent relationship.
Sometimes a victim who is afraid she may give her heart away to another abuser, closes herself off from any possibility of moving forward. She may fear that if she lets go of what happened to her, she will be hurt again. So traumatized, she tells her story over and over to anyone who will listen. Years of her life can pass as she constantly relives every painful past moment. She’s stuck in her fear.
Both of these reactions are exhausting. It doesn’t have to be that way. There is freedom from the past. Many victims do go on to rebuild their lives and have healthy and happy relationships, some with intimate partners and some without.
The key is to take the time needed to do the work required to recover. I always recommend seeing a therapist trained to provide victims of domestic abuse with the needed tools to move them along the path to recovery. Talking to friends is helpful, but the right therapist can help a survivor feel some relief within a few visits. If the survivor doesn’t feel any relief after three or so visits, she should find a new therapist. (There are therapists who charge on a sliding scale through social agencies.) As an addition or an alternative, a support group through the local shelter or social agency is another economical opportunity for survivors.
Most important, do the work. There is no way around it, no magic fix. You have to roll up your sleeves and get down in the muck. Read self-help books, write in a journal, get involved in activities you used to enjoy and find new ones. Practice trusting your gut. Get reacquainted with the strong marvelous person you are. Catch the negative voice in your head and counter it with positive affirmations. (I wrote affirmations on the back of business cards and carried them in my pocket as a reminder that things were going in the right direction. I also memorized uplifting hymns, and replayed them in my head when I felt overwhelmed and afraid.) Develop a mission statement stating who you want to be. Read it every day and make all you decisions based on achieving that mission.
It isn't an easy journey, but in the end it’s worth it. You are worth it. If you persist and do the work, you only have to do this once to move on to a better and joyful life. When you become whole, you will love and respect yourself and know that you can take care of yourself, you no longer need anyone. Then you are ready to choose to be with a partner who is whole, healthy and respects you. (Again time is your ally to determine who is right for you.) Wholeness a much better place from which to make a life decision than desperation, where you feel you need to have someone, and settle for anyone.
Join me on Facebook to connect with some magnificent survivors, brave women who are doing or have done the work.
( * In this post I use “he” when referring to an abuser and “she” for a victim, since that was my experience. Recognizing that the components of abuse are alike for either gender, I invite anyone reading this post to substitute the proper pronouns.)