October 16, 2015
A year ago, I left my home behind and started to drive north. I didn’t know where I was going to end up. I just knew that my heart was broken. I just knew that my body was hurting and that my mind wanted to forget.
I told people that I wanted a change of pace. It was partially true. But, at the core, I was actually running away from a physically and emotionally abusive relationship that tore my entire world to pieces.
Until last month, I mostly remained silent about what happened. I went about my life as though nothing hurt, nothing happened, and all the pieces that fell apart could be neatly catalogued and returned to their proper place.
“Am I done healing now?” I’d ask myself after I had uprooted everything, hoping the pain had evaporated. It just loomed larger over me as I tried to push it down.
Finally, in September, after six months of writing and throwing away and forgiving myself for writing terribly and then writing some more, I hit “Publish” on a post that has since been accepted to one of Medium’s top publications and read by thousands.
I have received an outpouring of stories from other women in return, who have shared their journeys with me privately as well as in more public forums like Medium, Facebook, and Twitter. And I have learned, more than ever before, that our voices hold our power. We can use that power in our healing, to get at the core of what we really need when we leave an abusive relationship behind: connection with calming, caring humans just like you and me.
Today, I am breaking down some solid steps you can take after leaving an abusive relationship to take care of yourself. Whether it has been two days or two years since leaving an abusive relationship, these are all important to bear in mind. These lessons got me through some of my darkest days. It is my hope that they can get you through yours too.
Because there is light after all this.
I’ve stood in the dark before too. I promise it doesn’t go on forever.
1. Recognize your emotions and do not label them as positive or negative.
After leaving an abusive relationship, your emotions vacillate wildly between joy and anguish, loneliness and triumph. You experience varying baselines of sadness, numbness, anger, regret, and shame. These are hallmark emotions of those who have escaped from trauma.
Left unchecked, these emotions can slide into long-term depression, which happens to over 30% of survivors of abuse. Everything you are feeling is normal. A third of the women in your shoes have felt what you’re feeling for long periods of time.
There is nothing positive or negative about the emotions you are feeling. They simply are. They simply must be felt, not “worked through.”
If you’re having trouble with self-blame and you continue asking yourself questions like, “How could I let this happen?” or saying to yourself, “If I had only done ____ differently,” this, too, is normal. Let the questions sit and know that they don’t have answers.
2. See yourself as imperfect.
You are imperfect. I am imperfect. But we are all here as imperfect beings together, worrying, blaming, regretting, crying, and smiling through the everyday.
It took me many months to come to this realization after everything that transpired in my relationship. After reading the book Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach, PhD, it became abundantly clear to me: none of what happened was my fault, starting with my own wants and needs since birth. Instead of blaming and trying to change myself and my needs, I can just accept them and nurture myself where it’s most needed.
There is nothing wrong with you that allowed any of this to happen. All of everything you have been through is a lesson that got you to this very point. It was a lesson in how to set boundaries, love yourself (and look back at little you to love her too and tell her that she is worthy), recognize signs of what you need to look for in future partners, and see red flags in people you should not let into your life in the future.
3. Ask: when was the last time you cared for yourself?
This one is simple. What activities make you feel alive? Calm? Unjudged? Connected to others and to your core self?
Now when was the last time you did those things without wondering how to be better at them or how you can ever do those things more?
4. Now, quickly: Think about how you answered that question. Did you just judge yourself for not caring for yourself enough?
If so, you may be playing out a narrative of unworthiness, and there is nothing wrong with that either. It is necessary, though, to be aware of it to stop it in its tracks.
You are worthy. It is not your fault. And it is time to take care.
Here’s a personal anecdote: I spent most of my life feeling unworthy, feeling like I wasn’t enough or feeling like I had to strive to do things that would encourage people to praise and accept me. I had a 4.83 GPA in high school for this reason. It served me well, I felt celebrated for short periods of time, but it covered up a lot of what I pushed down. For a long time, realizing that I had felt unworthy for so long felt like a waste too. I felt bad for feeling at all, and started to blame myself for not feeling more worthy. And around and around I’d go into a downward spiral...
Every day you have spent feeling unworthy was not a waste. It was a lesson. It laid the groundwork for finally loving myself. I never needed him or the relationship. I needed my own love, my own acceptance as a flawed, imperfect, evolving human being. Most cultures, family, and friends don’t give women the space to feel this way safely. You have to create that space yourself.
5. Your voice matters. See a therapist, go to Meetups, go to 7 Cups of Tea, go to your best friend.
It is often safer to talk to strangers when you are finally ready to speak about what happened to you. Your friends may or may not be your allies. They may not understand or they may not know what to say. It is best to go to parties who cannot judge or, if possible, who are experts in healing from trauma.
There are Meetups for survivors of trauma, yoga classes, and thanks to technology and community’s convergence, there is 7 Cups of Tea.
In fact, in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, 7 Cups of Tea is launching a new support guide to the entire community. Once it is launched, you will actually be able to search for listeners who have been through this DV training. What a gift in your times of darkness.
Try each and see what helps you feel connected to others who have been in your shoes. According to Psychology Today, this is the only way to release the pain of what you’ve experienced.
We are raised to believe that we should be silent, that our desire is second, that speaking the name of what hurts will result in shame. This is what keeps so many of us silent.
What is truly key here is that you are giving yourself the space to feel what hurts. And the only way to heal from the hurt is to feel it. I know that seems counterintuitive, but how can you heal from something that you have not fully acknowledged exists?
6. If you’re not yet ready to share your story, that’s okay too.
Your inclination to seek connection to others who have been through similar situations is a positive sign. That doesn’t mean that shouting about what happened to you is the best course of action.
You won’t be here forever. This despair does not go on indefinitely. You may not yet realize how much company you have in your sadness. You are here, reading this, perhaps in the deepest depths of your sorrow. There are so many people around you who feel what you feel, who cannot say it. So when you are ready, you will speak. Not a moment sooner.
I speak from the vantage point of great privilege. I make sure to acknowledge this at every turn because I know I am standing atop more safety than millions of women in this world. It is for this very reason that I do make an effort to shout my words, as quiet as they may seem, while I am able. It is my responsibility to narrate the atrocities that have happened, to hold space for others so that they don’t continue to happen.
I write this today in support of all those women who have shared their voices in this conversation and who so desperately want to.
I write this in the hopes that those who have not yet found a way out will start to see some light, will start to make your way towards the door. I’m holding the door open for you whenever you’re ready to walk through. All of your friends and fellow survivors will be waiting for you.
Written by: Carrie Jones
Carrie is a writer, community builder, and survivor of an abusive relationship. In the last year, she has started to write about her experiences healing from abuse. She has found enormous strength and power in the process. She aims to build safe spaces for the 35% of the world's women who have been abused to share their stories and release the weight they carry on their shoulders.
Find Carrie on Twitter: @caremjo