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Leaving Abuse: How It Feels, How to Do It, and How to Get Through It.

Trigger Warning: abuse is mentioned.

Photo by William Farlow on Unsplash.

How It Feels

Being in an abusive relationship is like trying to hold the ocean in a fishbowl, and feeling guilty when it cracks. Leaving is like drinking the water. It’s nasty and overwhelming. Part of you feels like you won’t be able to survive it, and when you do you still feel it in your stomach for days to come, but at least you’re not holding it anymore. Eventually, it will become diluted by everything else in your life, and all that will be left is the pain that comes from the knowledge of what you once tried to hold, and the after-effects of the scaring the salt water left on the lining of your stomach.

It’s messy, and it’s painful. It will be one of the ugliest things you’ll ever go through, but in the end, you’ll be proud of yourself for making it through. You may not even know until you decide to leave that it counts as abuse. It can be a lot like sitting blindfolded, as your house burns around you. There is a period, when you think the smoke is just bad cooking, but then you feel the fire.

How to Do It

From emotional to physical abuse, the emotions and recovery tend to ring the same, but if you live with your abuser, the first initial steps will be different.

If you live with your abuser, it’s best to make a plan to leave, including where you will be staying after (whether it be a friend’s house or shelter). If your abuser is physically violent, you may want to pack in secret. Take any personal belongs, and important documents such as school records, birth certificates, etc. One way to do this more discreetly would be to make copies of said documents, so that your abuser doesn’t notice they are missing.

Try and save up money the best you can. Keep an extra set of keys and other necessities hidden in case your abuser hides them from you. If you are able to get a protective order, that can be a big step in leaving and legal documentation for dealing with the aftermath. Call the police station ahead of time. Some police stations will escort you out of the house or stay outside in case something goes wrong as you’re leaving.

How to Get Through It

Once you leave, it might feel like a weight fell off your shoulders, only for a new one to appear. Now you’ll have to deal with the impact of leaving.

If you lived with your abuser, after leaving you may be faced with living a completely different lifestyle. It helps if you have a support system to get through this. If you lost your friends while leaving, call hotline numbers and abuse victim organizations. They can help you get back on your feet.

Once you’re in a stable situation, the last thing you will have to handle is the emotional impact. You may hate yourself for leaving, question why you did it, and even feel an urge to go back to them.

The hardest part can be the cognitive dissonance. A lot of abusers use gaslighting (a tactic of manipulation used to make someone question their own sanity) to keep control of their victims. When you spend years looking at life only through the gaslight of your abuser, it can be a shock to the system when someone turns on a lamp. The normal light that everyone else’s eyes are adjusted to becomes blinding. You struggle between what you used to believe and what you now know. You know the abuser was bad, but somehow, it’s still hard to consider. That’s when you learn that knowing is very different than believing.

How to Figure Out What’s Real

The best thing to do when you feel unsure to find someone you trust. Have someone you trust there to help guide you through the moments when you cannot trust yourself.  It can be a friend or someone from an organization, but these people can be one of the best tools you can use on the road to trusting yourself again.

If you’re trusting people to help you through, but you’re still doubting, try making a list. When every action is jumbled together in your mind, it can be hard to see the monster you left. Make three columns. One for healthy behaviors, one for unhealthy, and one for when you’re unsure. Go through your mind and think of the things that happened and put each memory in a category. Looking at it in writing can help make it real. There is also a number of online quizzes you can take that can validate your experience. Just google ‘am I in an abusive relationship quiz.’

How to Move On

Once you’ve come to terms with what happened, you must deal with the emotional scarring that it left. Many victims of abuse are left with feelings of self-loathing, depression, and anxiety. They may struggle with PTSD and other issues. If you can see a licensed therapist or counselor, they can help you work through the issues that leaving left behind. If you can’t afford a therapist or counselor there are free abuse victim support groups you can go to that can also be beneficial.

Even after you leave your abuser, their voice can still pop up in your head. Sometimes their degrading can be so prevalent it becomes a part of your own thoughts. A coping mechanism to fight this and move on is practicing self-love in the mirror. Look in the mirror and find one thing, just one, that you like about yourself, whether it be your teeth or personality. Each day try and find a different thing. This can be a struggle at first, but eventually noticing the things you like about yourself will become natural.

Reminding yourself that you are worthy and reminding yourself why you left are the two best actions in dealing with abuse. If you feel the compulsion to call your abuser, go through the list again or reach out to a loved one. If your own thoughts match what your abuser said to you, acknowledge them, but then acknowledge them as false. They are just words, and words are defined by people, and in that, we must remember to not let them define us.

http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/ is a website you can go to and chat with people to help you out of your situation. http://espanol.thehotline.org/ para Español.

You can call 1-800-799-7233 for the same help, and 1-800-787-3224 for the deaf and hard of hearing.

No one deserves to be abused, no matter what your abuser has said. You may think leaving will be as painful as the abuse and not worth it, but it is. I will not lie to you; it is painful, but its temporary. Eventually you will see, and the sun will come out, but only if you’re brave enough to open the blinds.

References 

“WomensLaw.org.” NNEDV, 28 Mar. 2016, www.womenslaw.org/about-abuse/safety-tips/domestic-violence-victims/safety-when-preparing-leave-abuser.

“Abuse Defined.” The National Domestic Violence Hotline, www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/.

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