Recently an amazing friend of mine had the courage to take some really scary steps towards leave an abusive marriage. For anyone who hasn’t done it, it’s huge. For anyone who has, you already know. Speaking to her the other day, I was flooded with memories of my own experiences, and while I’ve been very tight lipped about any details, I think there are a few universal truths to be gleaned from this kind of life experience. Even though I am not fully healed, I feel brave enough to speak about some of the things I learned.
1. You will lose friends.
Lots of them. People you thought would stick around, won’t. You have no way of even knowing which relationships will last and which will go by the wayside, but let me tell you from experience: don’t try to fight for the ones who let you go. Let them leave and make space for people who will love the new you. You’ll need that love.
2. People won’t believe your stories.
Let that be okay. A common condition of being in an abusive relationship is protecting your abuser. You lie. You hide things you know aren’t okay, to avoid having hard conversations with people. You lie to yourself to avoid making hard decisions. You downplay things that hurt and you justify poor treatment because maybe it’ll get better if you just make it through this hurdle. When you open up to people about the harsh and bitter truths of your reality, people won’t believe you. You’ve done such a good job pretending, people will see your actual lived experience as hate speech from a woman (or man) scorned. Other people’s opinions about your lived experiences are none of your concern. Know your truth and let it be.
3. The people who hurt you will count on you to keep their secrets.
You will always be a little afraid to say anything. Even after you’re out and safe. The fear is not a light switch, it’s a dimmer. Don’t let that fear silence your truth. It’s not your job to protect your abuser’s image.
4. Leaving isn’t always a straight line.
That doesn’t diminish your credibility. I tried to leave my relationship multiple times before it “stuck.” Each time we would reconcile, he would use that as a way to discredit me to people in our lives. “See, I can’t be that bad if we’re back together” or “Could the things she told you really be true, if she still stays?” I liken getting out of an abusive relationship to escaping a burning building. Some of the exits are blocked. Just because you go look for another way out does not mean you want to be engulfed in flames. Just because you don’t continue beating down the same locked door, and step back to find a window, does not decrease the intensity of the flames. Seek safety by any means necessary, and don’t blame yourself if your exit isn’t as swift as other people’s timeline for you.
5. Healing comes in waves.
There is no magic milestone that makes everything better. You will feel a whole range of human emotions, on a daily basis, and that doesn’t just disappear because your divorce is final. You will mourn the loss of a dream. You will be proud and excited and scared and everything in between, for much longer than you would like. Live in that. Grow in the times of discomfort, and savor the moments of joy. Your feelings, whatever they may be, are valid.
6. You are worthy of love.
Yes, you. Even right now. Always. You don’t need to lose 20 pounds, or have a perfectly clean house all the time. You don’t have to learn piano or master calculus. You are interesting and valuable and there will be someone, someday, who will appreciate that value. Do not continue to believe the lies you were told to keep you down. We all have trauma. Please don’t feel like you are alone. You are not too broken or too damaged. Recognize your worth now.
7. You are incredible.
You are strong and brave and worthy. You worked harder than most people know to make it out of something you didn’t think you would survive. Whether you realize it or not, you are an inspiration. Your story matters, and if it helps even one other person to safety, it’s worth telling.
I am proud of you. I am proud of us.