I packed up with the help of one neighbor who was practically a stranger. With my 9-month-old baby girl asleep in a baby carrier, I stuffed away eight years of my life in boxes. Deathly afraid that he might walk through the door at any moment, I struggled for my last attempt at freedom. I was leaving for good, and this time I wasn't looking back.
If you're reading this, chances are you or someone you know might have also left a similar situation. And while the hardest part may be over, it's normal to feel alone and lost wondering how you'll repair your life from here. Though it feels difficult right now, I'm here to tell you that it's possible to get to the other side of it all. Here are three things I've learned in my own journey to regaining my life and happiness.
1. Know There Is Nothing Wrong With You
I never even fathomed the possibility of being in an abusive relationship. I thought that with my education and my past experience of helping my friends in similar situations, it was something that could never happen to me.
I was wrong.
Abuse is often portrayed as solely physical, but while it can be a lot harder for others to detect, mental and emotional abuse can be just as damaging. It's a long cycle of invalidation, guilt, and shame . . . all for a short-lived bit of harmony. And it's those fleeting moments of calm that you begin to live for. You tell yourself that the "good times" outweigh the bad. And you constantly battle with responsibility and blame. You sometimes tell yourself that you're the one to blame for the problems, and through this cycle, you always end up thinking, "Something is wrong with me."
There is nothing wrong with you. There is nothing wrong with having needs and standards for the way that you're treated. There is nothing wrong with asking for what you want. There is nothing wrong with saying no. If your ex-partner made you believe otherwise, they're gaslighting you to make sure they get what they want.
Someone who truly loves you supports you no matter what. They're sensitive to your emotions, they encourage you to put your dreams first, and they put in as much effort as you to ensure that you feel loved back. Please stop thinking there's something wrong with you, because there isn't. Start holding your boundaries. Keep your expectations high regardless of circumstances. Let people around you earn their right to be in your life. Continue working on that inner strength and trust because you deserve it.
2. Remember Your Dreams
I had so many dreams that I put aside to make my relationship work. The many things I wanted for my life and the courage and drive I had to get there were soon replaced by crippling self-doubt. My dream of being a writer was replaced with tear-filled diary entries with illegible writing.
It took me a really long time to remember that my now ex-partner was once a stranger. I lived decades without this person. I had big dreams and a life before I ever met them. But who I was before them became harder and harder to remember as time went on. I realized that every decision I was making was for my partner instead of for myself. I felt like my dreams didn't matter anymore.
But they do. They always did. I just didn't have anyone to support and encourage them.
What are the dreams that you once had but you had to put aside? Traveling the world? Becoming a doctor? Being a good role model for your children? Having a close group of friends who will have your back no matter what happens? No matter what that dream is, fight for it with everything you have. Surround yourself with people who see the value in it just as much as you do. When you have love and support in your life, anything is possible.
3. Take Charge of Your Life, One Step at a Time
Life is tough to begin with, and grieving and letting go of your past doesn't make it easier. The struggle of building up your inner strength to repair your life after abuse is incredibly difficult, but it can be done. Just know that you are never alone in your struggle.
I may have left the relationship, but the feeling of powerlessness that I had in it still carried over. I dreaded making decisions. I feared not being able to provide for my kids. Paying bills alone made my heart sink. Even the menial things in life made me think, "How do I do this? Can someone help me?" I was used to being controlled for so long that having control over every decision felt paralyzing. But when I realized that this sense of helplessness wouldn't help my kids, I knew I had to take charge. It was the only way to transform my life into one I had always wanted. I may have been starting over, but I had so much fire in me to take life into my own hands once and for all.
Building this inner strength is like building up a muscle. You start wherever you can and work your way up by continuing to add more weight. It's a slow and sometimes painful process, but you'll get there. Start with the small things that you can handle, whether it's going for a walk on your own, changing a lightbulb, or hanging a picture frame on your wall. Taking small steps in essential in covering a lot of ground over time. You got this.