When I was still in my abusive situation, I often fantasized about how much better my life would be if I could only pluck up enough courage to leave. I felt daunted by the fact that I honestly didn’t know where to begin. As much as I wanted to take that first step, I didn’t know what that first step was supposed to be. I didn’t have a support network close at hand because I was in a foreign country. How were my children and I going to survive, post-escape?
My counselor and I discussed the irony of how it’s possible to feel “safer” in an environment that is very toxic. It was an illusion created by my abuser which served to undermine my self-confidence and capacity to exist away from him. He would threaten to leave me with nothing, which I believed at the time until I eventually came to realize that wasn’t possible in the eyes of the law. He would say things like, “You’re a forty-two year old mother of two. Who do you think would want YOU? You’re a crap wife who can’t do anything”. His words stung at the time but, as I grew more empowered, I thought about all the things he told me to make me feel bad about myself. The truth was that he had absolutely no right to define me and the way he defined me wasn’t even close to the person I really was.
A life outside of what was familiar felt daunting. It was important for me to remember that I had existed without him before we met and that, as hard as leaving was going to be, living independently and in a peaceful environment, without all the stress and toxicity of that relationship would ultimately be worth it. I knew that I was going to struggle for a while and I did. I knew that I would have to adjust to having to do things for myself and I did.
What I also discovered, along the way, was the sense of accomplishment I felt when I overcame challenges. As I continued to thrive on my own, I realized I was proving him WRONG. I felt free to make the decisions that were right for me, without worry that someone was going to criticize me. The absence of the negativity I’d lived with for so long was refreshing. The peace that filled my house and my heart was absolutely blissful. The knowledge that I could shut my door and lock everything I didn’t want OUTSIDE was comforting. Friends I hadn’t seen in a while would tell me how great I looked and, for the first time in many years, I felt my true self emerging from the protective shell I’d built.
Imagine a beautiful bird in a small cage kept where there is no light. The bird is poked at on a daily basis while its needs are neglected. After a while, the bird only knows darkness and pain. The cage is left open, but the bird feels too afraid to come out for fear of what will happen if it did. One day, the bird observes that the owner has left the cage open, as well as a window, when he leaves the house. The bird knows that all it needs to do is fly through the window, into the sunlight. For a time, it may struggle to adjust to life outside, having to learn how to survive after spending so much time in captivity. This is where instinct comes in. The bird will do whatever is necessary to survive and, as it becomes more and more accustomed to the freedom, survival becomes easier.
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