Dealing with Survival after Abuse
by Shyama Lalita, Daya Client
I knew that leaving my abusive relationship would not be easy. I had talked to a lot of survivors and attended a lot of support groups that made it clear to me that life wasn’t easy on the other side. Things get even more complicated when there are kids involved. I asked my therapist that if things are bad even after leaving the relationship, why should I try? She said that yes, it is not easy, especially in the beginning, but no survivor ever regrets walking out of the relationship. That struck me. I was really regretting right now for having married the wrong person. But if I can get rid of that guilt and regret, I have more reasons to leave.
Even when I knew that there are always going to be some or the other problems in life whether I leave the relationship or not, I wasn’t exactly aware of what kind of problems I am going to face. Yes, it all certainly depends on the person as well as the situation, and every person + situation is a unique combination in itself, I could only know of those problems when I actually arrived on the other side of the abusive relationship. No amount of estimation, information from the internet, knowledge sharing from the experienced or planning/preparation helped. It is like learning to swim. It can only be done within water, not outside of it.
There are a lot of feelings that come and go in waves that I had to go through. They are not steady and sometimes they even change in a few hours. When those emotions come, they overtake everything in me with their intensity and during those times it feels like that is the only thing I need to work on. However, I am now slowly realizing that the emotions are temporary. So when they come, I nudge them away thinking they have no value. But that is another mistake I made. Ignoring my feelings means invalidating myself which leads to self-doubt and lack of self-esteem which are the two things that I really need at this point in my life to continue. Eventually the way I tackle it is to feel and experience the fleeting emotion in me and watch it pass away like a floating cloud on a summer day. I had already done a lot of work to learn how to attend to my feelings and manage them as they came and went. Now I also have to master the skill of letting go of those feelings and move on. Some of the feelings that I have to go through in great intensity are:
Having trampled for so long, I cannot take it when someone treats me badly or does not give me the respect I deserve. Due to my past trauma, every such incident raises a red flag in me and starts to feel like toxicity or abuse. Having gone through those for so long in the past, I am determined that from now on I will not let a single red flag go unnoticed or unacted upon. I try to crush abuse at its roots and never let it take over me like I have done in the past. This feeling, of course, is leading me to lose trust in each individual and overreact at every situation that seems like a personal attack to me. I come out as overly sensitive and illogical.
It is hard to accept that out of all the people in the world, I am one of the few who got abused in a relationship. There are so many relationships forming each day and, for some reason, all relationships around me seem to be working perfectly fine. Although they have their own problems, no relationship looks as bad as mine did. Unable to overcome the frustration of this unfairness, everything else that seems unfair to me also causes me to just explode emotionally. Whether it is not getting promoted after all the hard work or being rejected admission in a particular school for my kids or not being included in certain conversations… they all make me feel life is the unfairest to me at all times.
Anger and forgiveness
There is definitely a lot of anger for all the things the abuser did to me and how he treated me. And whenever those past moments come again in my head, I feel like beating him up. I am angry at him for doing those things to me. I am angry at myself for allowing it to happen for so long. I am angry at God/life for choosing me to go through such a terrible experience. I am angry at my kids for being born and creating a heavy list of responsibilities for me. Sometimes anger is at the tip of my tongue and sometimes I am able to forgive him. But forgiveness feels like I am condoning his behavior which means that if someone else did that to me in future, I would again fall prey. So I remain angry to defend myself from future predators. However, forgiveness is really necessary to let go and move on in life. I still haven’t been able to come to a conclusion which of the two feelings-anger or forgiveness- I want to stick to.
Life gets very lonely and depressing at times especially when I feel unsupported and it seems like I have to take care of all the problems in the world myself. There is also sadness about life not turning out the way I wanted it to. There is self pity and rumination that also creates a lot of moroseness. This feeling is aggravated when I see myself falling short of my ideals, goals and expectations I had kept for myself for every action and relationship I have in my life. I feel that I am not good enough.
This is an obvious one. Especially when raising kids by myself, there is always a need for someone who can support me in what I am having to go through in life. There is always a need for someone to understand me and the feelings I am going through that I am not able to openly share with anyone. A friend who can understand me intimately and accept me for who I am, the way I am and the stage of life that I am in, seems like the solution to all loneliness, depression and frustration problems in my life. Logically, I am aware that no relationship can heal my wound until I have self love, but emotionally I am unable to follow through. I am ready to again be codependent and even completely dependent on someone else to make me feel good although I know it is not a good desire for me to have.
When I reminisce about my life during abuse and compare it to the life I have today, I am overjoyed by the stark contrast in the freedom I have to live life the way I want to and the time available to introspect and work on my inner self. I no longer have to hide or suppress my own power and I can freely work on improving myself and growing in life. I did not have the freedom to do these things before. It is liberating to know that I can be myself and not have to answer to anyone or spend my entire life trying to please someone else by my actions. However, sometimes it gets scary to experience so much freedom because I am still filled with self doubt and don’t know if I will make good use of it or jump straight into similar, abusive situations again.
Instead of living my life in fear every moment, I can now live with confidence. I can now depend on my skills and talents for survival. I am also allowed to follow my intuition and act based on my own understanding without any control over me. It gives me room to explore new paths and change directions whenever I need to. The fear of overconfidence does haunt me, especially when I remember how confident I seemed to be when I decided I wanted to marry that person to spend the rest of my life with him, and how bad that decision turned out to be. So I stay away from making long term commitments or planning out too far in advance. I have to bring myself back to focus on living one day at a time although everyone around keeps asking for a plan for my future.
Ultimately, there is a lot of overwhelm involved in my day to day because of so many feelings going through me so rapidly and with great force. I am bewildered a lot of the time which feelings to focus on first. I also sometimes lose patience when I question how long this phase is going to continue. However, I am inspired by looking at those who have successfully crossed this ocean and are really living their lives to the fullest with a lot of self love and self compassion. I am living with the hope that this is the foundation I am building for a strong and independent version of myself who is able to live the purpose of her life without distractions.