Toxic and Abusive Relationships (Part 2)
Part 2: Healing After Abuse
So you realized you were being abused, and you did what you had to do: You left. Now what? You're lost, hurting, you miss your partner, you're doubting your decisions, and you feel as if you are falling apart at the seams. For some people, leaving the abusive partner is not always that breath of fresh air or the feeling of relief. And many people do not and will not ever understand that. In this article, I am going to give you the "Do's and Don'ts" of healing, and tell you just a little bit of my own story.
For me, leaving my ex-husband, the man I had spent the last nine years of my life with was a decision that hurt almost as much as the abuse. Looking back now, I understand that hurt was not because I loved him. At the time, I thought it was a broken heart because I missed him. Now that I have had some time to heal and reflect, I realize now it was actually a hurt that stemmed from within myself. I had wasted so much time, I had given him so much of my life. And I could never get it back.
I was starting over and I had no idea where or how to start. I had moved back in with my mom, as I didn't have any place to go. I had come back to the United States with nothing. January 2020 will be five years since I left my own toxic and abusive relationship. And I have spent the last half of a decade healing by trial and error. And I do not claim to be fully healed today, as some aspects of my past continues to haunt me in my present I am doing my absolute best to not allow it to control me any more.
The one thing I have found while recovering is that healing from abuse can be just as, if not more painful, than the abuse itself. During the time of healing, damaged people have a tendency to lash out, shut down, and block people out emotionally. We tend to suspect everyone of having the same cruel intentions as the person who damaged us. Healing is messy, exhausting, and painful. And sometimes it feels as though we will never feel better, we will never feel anything but alone, and many times that pain translates into self loathing.
So I would like to give my fellow abuse survivors some healing tips. And whether you've been in recovery for a long time, or you are just starting, here are some of the things I have found vital in my own healing.
1. Do not relationship-hop!
After time went by, and I no longer pined for the touch of my husband specifically, I found myself very lonely. I had been lonely for a long time, even when I was with my husband. Typically, when you're in an abusive relationship, you feel alone, even with your partner or anyone standing in the same room as you. The abuse had left a gaping hole in my heart, and I had a constant need for validation. I just wanted someone to love me, to tell me I was beautiful, that they didn't want to be without me. Some of my husbands most favorite lines to use were: "You don't do anything for me." "You're gross." "Your weight is a deal breaker for our marriage." "I am embarrassed to be seen with you."
After about six months of being single, I fell into a habit of jumping from one relationship to another. This did not help me, as I attracted predators, other people who were abusive. They preyed on my vulnerability, and I only ended up in situations where I was treated badly still. By not taking the time to focus on myself and heal, I only ended up in more abusive relationships. It created a cycle that was hard to break. So no matter how tempting it is, and how lonely you feel, do not jump into a relationship quickly.
2. Seek professional help.
I waited until last year to start going to therapy. I was ashamed, I thought that I should be able to get over the abuse on my own. And I am also notorious for my pride. But I could not have been more wrong in thinking that therapy was optional.
The therapy helped immensely. Therapy is a safe space, and when you are an abuse-victim you don't even realize how much you appreciate the feeling of being "safe" until you've experienced it. I will also tell you that to have someone who doesn't know you is more beneficial than having a family or friend help you.
I say this not because family and friends can't help you - but here's the simple fact: we treat the ones we love the worst right? We are completely comfortable getting angry at a family member or friend when they tell us something we do not want to hear. As a victim of abuse, there are plenty of things that we need to be told that we are not going to want to hear. Having someone who doesn't know you, but is trained to know exactly what you need is so beneficial, and it saves the "tough love" part to the professional, so that your family and friends can focus on the emotional support that you need.
3. Let Them In
As you are healing, especially in the early years, you are going to want to lash out at the people around you. Especially at the people trying to help you. You are going to try and hide your pain with independence, and you're going to pretend that you are okay.
Take it from me, let those people who are wanting to support you in. Let them see your pain, and lean on them. I did not want anyone to feel sorry for me, and I didn't want anyone to see how pathetic I felt. I most certainly did not want anyone to know how much pain I was in. I hated myself, and I was angry with everything and everyone.
I ruined a few decade-long friendships when I went through recovery. I didn't understand that my damage and pain was going to follow me home. And when it came to the people who cared about me, my pride prevented me from leaning on them during the times I felt most broken and lost. I even lashed out aggressively to push them away. I got angry when they expressed concern and tried to get me to talk to them about what I was going through. I didn't mean to act this way, but I was prideful, and I did not want to show anyone that I was not okay, and the result was irreplaceable friendships getting strained and broken.
Everyone is different, but please do yourself a favor and try not to push everyone away. It's hard to trust after abuse, and it's hard to allow yourself to be vulnerable to anyone. But these family and friends have not hurt you before, so try not punish them. Try to remember they love you, and they just want to help you. Instead of lashing out, try telling them what kind of support you need if you do not feel like talking about your pain.
4. Find a way to express yourself.
There are a lot of deep, dark feelings of pain, loneliness, confusion, anger, and sadness that you are going to feel. And sometimes when you vent them with words, it doesn't help. Sometimes it feels like nothing helps. The pain stays locked inside, and it eats away at you day after day.
For me, my writing and my art became my outlet. For a long time, I had lost the motivation to do anything creative. I had shut people out, and I did not confide in anyone about my pain. So inside me my pain stayed, which hindered my progress in healing for several years.
5. Heal at your own pace.
Be aware that many people will not understand, and that the shadow of abuse will loom over you and all of your future relationships for years to come, possibly even forever. Everyone suffers differently, and everyone heals differently. Do not let anyone tell you how long it should take you to feel better. And do not set limitations on yourself either. While it is up to you to heal, you should not set a boundary for how long it should take. Even if you weren't in the abusive relationship for very long, five minutes of damage could take years to heal. You heal at your own pace, and don't ever compare your journey to another's.
6. Do not ignore the signs.
You have been through it once. When you do eventually get into another relationships, be sure not to fall back into old habits. Recognize the signs, and do not tolerate more abuse from someone else simply because you think you may be 'over-reacting' or 'sensitive.' Future partners may try to belittle your experience, and your feelings. They may try to tell you that you are overly sensitive and to 'get over' the past.
You know the signs. You know how the abuse makes you feel. No matter how much you may like your new partner - if they do not respect you, and your healing process, if they try to make your feelings seem insignificant - then leave. Do not allow them to damage you more. Take care of yourself. And don't ever let another abusive person take advantage of you.