“Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten…” Joel 2:25
Catching Your Breath
After living so many years in an abusive relationship and finally finding the strength and the will to leave, you want to believe that everything will get easier.
Many things will probably get easier, and others may become more difficult. Hopefully, a little time and distance away from the abuser will enable you to de-stress and rest. You will begin to catch a glimpse of what life is supposed to be like. Just the freedom to be imperfect is a gift. Awaking in bed alone and at peace is a welcome change from waking up alert and afraid; trying to figure out some new way of protecting yourself from someone who is determined to hurt you.
As you begin to feel more confident about your life change, you find the courage to open up to friends and re-engage, enjoy a good book, a favorite old movie, a soothing cup of coffee, and rediscover how it feels to laugh – and really mean it. Take the time to appreciate the wondrous little things that remind you of what life should be like.
On Your Mark, Get Set, Grieve
Although the reprieve is welcome, and it feels like some of the wounds are healing, there is probably a good deal of emotional and spiritual work to be done. It is unwise to try to sweep all of the pain under the rug. Grief is necessary and healthy.
Some of the hurts are obvious: words that cut so deep that they still ring in your ears; lies that were part of your daily diet of destruction that must be faced and rebuked. You will still wonder, “Why did he hurt me?” There is no easy answer. It doesn’t make sense.
When the hurt wells up, it must be allowed and explored – felt. It is part of the healing process. It should also be processed. Much – maybe most – of what you experienced was wrong, plain and simple. It cannot be justified, so don’t try. Rather, identify the cruel actions as abuse. It may not eliminate the pain, but it will help you to de-personalize it. It wasn’t you. You didn’t make him say or do those things. You were a convenient target. Why didn’t he see you? Why couldn’t he hear you? The simplest answer is: He chose not to. You did not (and do not) have the power to help him (or anyone else who doesn’t want to be helped).
It is also likely that bad memories will surface in unexpected places. There’s the park bench where he told me that the sandwiches I made were disgusting, and he wished that I would learn how to cook… This is the dress he bought me to apologize for locking me out of the house in my nightgown when it was freezing cold outside…
It is both hard and healing to revisit those places. Try to learn to stop being sad and get angry instead. What happened to you was wrong.
It’s also therapeutic to rid yourself of possessions or mementos that trigger disturbing memories. Clean out the closets, donate the clothes, burn the birthday cards that take you back there and hold you captive. Make a ceremony out of it. It will firm your resolve that that painful chapter has closed, and a new one is beginning. And, it just plain feels good.
Don’t expect miracles overnight. Allow yourself plenty of time to heal, so that you will be healthy and free to embrace and enjoy the rest of your life.
Rediscover Your Value
The abuser has made a game of undermining you. Your self-esteem has been bludgeoned and bruised by false claims of inadequacy. You may have come to believe that whatever brutality you were subjected to was deserved. You may see yourself as a failure.
It’s time for an extreme makeover. It is time for you to play Cinderella. You need to remind yourself that you do not belong in the ash heap. Remove the tattered outer layer of deceit that has given you a warped sense of your identity and put on truth. Remember who you are. Allow others to affirm and encourage you, and recount the character qualities, gifts and abilities you possess that make you unique and special. They may be latent, but they are there. Purposefully reclaim your identity and your sense of your own value. Doing so is vital if you are to build and nurture your self-confidence, reveal your inner beauty, and develop the inner strength you will need to stand against any who would endeavor to rob you of your worth again.
Make a New Game Plan
Unfortunately, just because you’re not living with the abuser, doesn’t mean he’s let go. Even though we were divorced, my former husband would find excuses to call or stop by our home, then use those occasions to try to assert his dominance and throw verbal darts my way. He would leave long, harassing messages on our answering machine, or call the house every two minutes if he thought we were home and had chosen not to pick up. We were all filled with dread when the phone rang. His harassment continued on and off until I met the man I would eventually marry. (My former husband wisely decided not to tangle with him.) In retrospect, what I should have done was pick up the phone and hang up on him when he started in, or unplug the phone. When he came to the door, I should have asked him what he wanted, told him he had 30 seconds, counted them off, and shut the door. If you don’t force change, things don’t change. You can’t be nice to an abuser. That’s just the way it is.
Forgiveness All Around
With safety, time and distance comes a clearer understanding of the hell that you had been living in. You may be angry because of what feels like the cruel forfeiture of precious years of your life, and perhaps the wounds inflicted on innocent children. As a result, you may become overwhelmed with guilt for not acting saner, smarter, or sooner.
You need to forgive yourself. It serves a purpose to look at where you’ve been, but only for the purpose of grieving, learning from your experience and letting go. Then start working to build the life you want to live.
You will also be much happier if you forgive your abuser. Bitterness only holds you captive, while having absolutely no affect on him. By letting go of what was and embracing what could be, the world will suddenly look a whole lot brighter. It will take time to get there. You have cause to be angry. But, in the end, you don’t want to carry around his garbage for the rest of your life. That doesn’t mean you are obligated to renew any relationship with him. Forgiving means you release him from the consequences of his actions against you. It is simply an agreement to leave any judgment up to God. It doesn’t change the fact that he is poison.
It may feel like you have a long way to go, but don’t give up. You will get there – one step at a time.
Epilogue: The Lord has most certainly restored to me the years the locusts have eaten. My new life with my husband, Doug, my soul mate, is immeasurably blessed, and my children have the privilege of living in a home where there is safety, acceptance and affection. So, I know it’s possible…
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