For every woman who has suffered abuse and escaped, there is an enormous sense of relief when she reclaims her power, her space and control of her life. She notices the changes in her daily life and develops a newfound appreciation for the things she missed, as well as the things she no longer has to tolerate, endure, suffer through, fear.
The day I moved myself and my children into a new home, away from the abuser, I recall how it felt to lock the doors and exhale. My family, my friends across the globe collectively exhaled with me when I confirmed that I was safe in my new home, with my doors locked. I had escaped that toxic situation and I can’t put into words just how wonderful that felt. It was a big step, but still not the end of the road. I would spend the next 2 years embroiled in a drawn-out, stressful divorce process, but at least I didn’t have to endure the added tension of living under the same roof with my abuser while it was happening.
I had never lived on my own before but, as I got used to it, I found it to be very cleansing. I learned that I was capable of taking care of myself, despite the fact that my abuser tried to convince me otherwise. I created a home for myself and my children, which meant painting and carpeting an entire “blank canvas” house (offered to me by the local government council) and assembling much of the furniture myself. When all was said and done, I looked around that house and realized I wasn’t the “useless waste of space”, as labelled by my abuser. My accomplishments were a reminder that he was wrong about me. As I became more empowered and aware of the dynamics of abuse, I realized just how severely my self-belief system had been altered. My self-esteem was never very high but was never so low that I believed I couldn’t do anything.
Living away from my abuser, I began to see the stark contrasts between my old life with him and my new life without him. The negativity disappeared and positivity took over, which gave me the momentum I needed to keep things going in the new direction. I liked living by MY schedule and deciding when everything happened. It was my chance to rediscover and reclaim my identity. I was free to design my life from the bottom up, and not have my abuser dictate how I was “supposed” to live, as he had done for so many years. I didn’t have to over think everything I said or did for fear of repercussions. Although the stress of the divorce affected my ability to relax, my abuser was no longer able to disrupt my sleep. I didn’t have to worry about him barging in on me when I was getting dressed (which he did on several occasions, even after I filed for divorce). My bedroom (my house!) became a sanctuary once again.
In the months that followed, I noticed so many things that no longer happened. I didn’t feel beaten down by criticism or insults and, as a result, my self-esteem built up a bit more. I felt more comfortable with the person I saw in the mirror, after years of self-loathing. Friends would comment on how much better I looked, particularly those I hadn’t seen in a while. They noticed the changes in my appearance, as a result of the fact that I started to care how I looked again. I bought new clothes and made an effort to fix my hair and wear make-up. Living away from the negativity was a boost to my self-esteem. Everyone I saw told me how being away from my abuser worked wonders. I was smiling again. Really smiling. I stopped casting my gaze downward all the time and my posture improved, too.
It’s been just over 4.5 years since the day I escaped. I am still healing and I’ve accepted that I will be for a long time, perhaps the rest of my life. I still occasionally experience the effects of PTSD, as a result of the psychological abuse endured. I have come a long way since my escape and I am well aware of the things I need not worry about anymore. I am in control of my life. I justify myself, my actions to no one. I make choices according to what I feel is best for my family. I have the freedom to do what I want to do, how, when, where I want to do it. I can decide who gets to stay in my world and who doesn’t (read: toxic people) and I have no problems with ceasing contact with anyone who continuously contaminates my life. I am getting better at speaking up when someone upsets me, but it still takes a lot of courage to do that.
I have discovered things about myself that I never understood before. I have reclaimed the identity that I lost underneath the inaccurate definitions of the person my abuser forced me to be. The concept of the “authentic me” was diluted with cruel labels, causing such confusion about what I felt, thought, believed. I have learned to embrace every part of who I am, flaws and all. No longer do I want to be placed upon a pedestal, forced to live up to impossible ideals and punished when I fail.
There is life after abuse. Building it is scary, but exciting at the same time. The most important thing of all?
It is yours.
As always, we’re here to help.