You can call me stupid. Call me wrong. Call me incapable. Call me names I cannot even repeat. You can spread your lies. Convince others. Build a whole army of puppet followers who all agree with you. You can convince a friend of mine. Turn someone I love against me. You can find the evidence that you need. Point out my flaws. Cast a spotlight on each insecurity. You can get inside my head. You can even break me down. Bring me to my knees, alone on a cold, hard floor, and you might think then, that you’ve won…
but tomorrow, I will stand up. I will take another step forward, no matter how small or how shaky. And I will know that you will never get the best of me, because even as I stumble through this fucked up world, it is love I hold inside my heart, and you can never make me hate.
I know it’s hard. I’ve been there. In love with someone who hurt me.
I’ve tried telling myself that everything is fine and it’s all going to work out somehow. Convinced myself that I could make things better. I’ve taken on the mission to bring back the perfect relationship so that I didn’t have to leave. Stayed on my best behavior. I’ve been brave and forgiving and promised that I would always be there.
I’ve tried to rationalize away the feelings. Ripped up pictures. Given myself pep talks about why I deserve more. Reached out to other people for help. Tried drinking until I was numb. Pretended like I didn’t care. I’ve practiced the conversation in my head over and over of exactly how I would say each word “I can’t be with you anymore. You’re not good for me. I’m leaving you.” Only to feel the terror pull back the words before they make it through my lips.
Back and forth I’ve gone. Back and forth. Losing pieces of myself. Slowly. Like grains of sand falling through an hourglass. Counting down until I was completely empty and numb. And then I’ve thought, “Maybe I’m the crazy one. Maybe I’m just lucky that anyone loves me. Maybe this is as good as it gets.”
I know what it’s like to be in a place where the only thing worse than staying is leaving. And the only things worse than leaving is to stay.
I know what it’s like to feel loneliest when you are with laying right next to someone. I know how hard those nights are. The ones spent staring at the numbers on the clock as they change, one by one, second by second through the night. I know the painful mornings. Standing in the shower staring at the water falling down the drain, hardly feeling the drops against my face. I know the coldness of the bathroom tile against my cheek. I’ve laid there, on that floor with you. Praying. Wishing. Silently begging for someone to help me and to tell me what I am supposed to do.
If you are wondering if there’s something better out there…if there’s more in store for you, the answer is yes.
Yes. Yes. Yes. A million, trillion times, YES.
There is so much more in life. More love. More adventures. More heartbreak too, but also more growing and learning. If you are stuck in a relationship with someone who hurts you, you might not be able to see it right now, but don’t let go of the promise of something more. Listen to that nagging voice inside that knows deep down that you deserve better. You are so much stronger than you think. You’re so much smarter than you know. You’re fucking awesome and you only get this one life to be the person you were made to be. Don’t give that life to someone else. Don’t let it go. Don’t feel guilty or selfish about fighting for yourself. You owe it to the universe. To whatever God you believe in. To your children (current or future). You owe it to that person out there that you might not have met yet that wants to love you the right way. But most importantly, you owe it to yourself.
I used to wait for a sign. For some outside source to tell me that I wasn’t going nuts and that I needed to get out. Get away. Start fighting for myself. If you are like me, and are waiting for a sign….this is it. From someone who has been to the deepest depth of the hell of abuse. From someone who believed it was impossibile to break up with my abuser. From someone who could barely make it through the night a few years ago… Trust me. It’s hard. It hurts like hell. But leave. It is the most important thing you will ever do. He’s not going to change. Things aren’t going to get better if you stay. You already know what you should do so trust yourself.
“Future you” says thanks.
“I am bigger than anything that can happen to me. All these things: sorrow, misfortune, and suffering, are outside my door. I am inside the house, and I have the key.” - Charles Fletcher Lummis
- Speak. Shame feeds on silence. Talking about that abuse might seem like the last thing you want to do, but speaking out about what happened to you and letting other people in takes away the power of the depression and the shame and gives that power back to you. Don’t know who to talk to? Confide in a parent or a friend, a coach, a guidance counselor, a brother or sister, a cousin, an aunt or uncle, a grandparent, a minister, priest or rabbi. Or, call a hotline, for example: The National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline, a national 24-hour resource, can be accessed by phone (1-866-331-9474 & 1-866-331-8453 TTY) or the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-SAFE) Or, visit www.loveisrespect.org to access an online help page.
- Find a therapist or a support group. Talking to a professional or joining an organized survivor group can be pivotal for some victims. It can help you to understand that what happened to you is not your fault, and that the things you are struggling with are often normal symptoms of abuse. It is important to find a therapist or group that you feel comfortable with. There are lots of great therapists out there and they can do wonders in your life if you are brave enough to put in the work. Psychology Today has a great source to help find therapists in your area: http://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/. Other good resource centers can be found at facilities specialized in dealing with relationship violence.
- Write. If you cannot speak out loud, write. Write about all the things that are not fair. About all the things you wish you could change. About all the things no one ever told you. All the things you would say to your abuser right now. All the things you would say to the person you used to be. All the things you are afraid of. Write about your nightmares. Your memories. What still haunts you. Write about how you can make a difference. What you can do to help someone else. Write down what you want in a relationship. What is important to you. What you would like your future partner to be like. Write about nonsense. Write every curse word you can think of. Write about forgiveness. Write about revenge. Write about hate. About all the feelings of hate. And then write about love. About what gives you hope. About what you are thankful for. About the reasons why you are blessed. Write poems. Write songs. Write gibberish. Write a book. A Blog. A sentence. If you want, share the writing with the world. If not, keep it in a private journal, or throw it away, but get the words out from inside of you.
- Find a healthy escape. Play a sport. Take up running. Lifting. Train for a triathlon. Learn to play an instrument. Join a band. Blast music in your car and sing along at the top of your lungs. Take a dance class. Write a book. Act in a play. Find something to take your mind off of what you have been through and allow yourself a break.
- Practice yoga and meditation both of which are proven to lower stress and anxiety. They can also help you to learn how to control your negative thoughts.
- Scream. Cry. Act ridiculous. Go to a private place if you have to and let yourself fall apart for a little while. You work so hard to hold it all together, but sometimes you need to let yourself feel the pain so that you can get it out. Sometimes hearing the sound you make (even screaming) helps you to remember that you have a voice.
- Be your own best friend. Has someone ever left you an encouraging note or called just to tell you that you are amazing and they are proud of you? Little things can brighten your day. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Be good to yourself. Instead of sending negative messages in the way you talk and think about yourself, start being your own biggest cheerleader. Even if it feels manufactured at first, you need to be on your own side in order to get through the worst parts of recovery.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help or to admit that you are struggling. Sometimes victims think that they have to do everything on their own. They have to keep up the appearance of being perfect in order for people to like them, or to try to prove to themselves that they are “worth it.” You don’t have to do this on your own. Don’t be afraid to tell people that you are struggling or having a bad day. There are people who can help you, or at least just sit with you when you are upset. If no one knows what is going on, then you miss out on the support that is around you.
- Join a support group or go to a recovery workshop. It can be intimidating to join a group or attend a workshop, but victims often find these resources incredibly helpful. Being around other victims can be incredibly therapeutic simply because you are in a place where other people understand–to a certain extent–what you have been through and are going through. Search for resource centers in your area, or talk with a therapist to see if he or she has any recommendations.
- Make peace with a higher power. Believing in God can be helpful in many ways during the recovery process. Give up your pain to Him/Her. Sometimes just trusting that God wants you to live an extraordinary life, and that He/She is there with you in your darkest moments and will bring you through, helps take some of the pressure away off of you. If you don’t believe in God, trust in whatever higher power you believe in and know that you are connected to this world and to everyone in it. You may feel alone, but you are not isolated. Feeling connected to the universe can help you recover from what you have been through and let go of some of your pain.
- Take care of yourself. Workout. Follow healthy eating habits. Get a good night’s sleep, take a shower and put on clothes that make you feel good about yourself. Taking time for yourself is incredibly important and it is something that victims often neglect. When you have negative feelings inside, feelings such as shame, self-doubt, anger and sadness, it can be hard to do things for yourself. If you are having a hard time trying to tackle the big problems in your life, start with the little ones. Get a new haircut, allow yourself to look nice and try let go of the things that you can’t change about your appearance. Celebrate what makes you special and allow yourself to be the beautiful person that you are.
The fact that someone abused me was not my fault. This is a reality that even on a good day I have to talk myself into; a reality that has taken me years to begin to accept. Years of fighting with myself and repeating the words over and over and over again. It was not my fault. It was not my fault. Years of listening to a string of therapists remind me again and again. Years of going over each event in my mind, analyzing it from every angle, replaying the hands gripping my wrists and wondering if maybe I could have twisted my body differently, could have screamed louder or tried a different collection of words that might have prevented it all from happening the way that it did.
Why didn’t you fight back harder? Why didn’t you yell? Why did you let him hurt you? Why did you stay? Why did you date someone like that? Why did you get yourself into that situation? Maybe you have a bad judge of character? Maybe you deserved what happened to you. Maybe he wouldn’t have acted like that if you weren’t for the way that you are. Maybe you made him crazy. Maybe you are over exaggerating. Over reacting. Overly picky. Too weak. Too quiet. Too soft. Too hard to please. Maybe it was your fault.
In the circumstance of domestic violence, self-blame is, in many ways, a natural response for a victim—the product of being hurt by someone you trust and love, and then being told that it is your fault again and again. For me personally, taking responsibility for what happened to me was my way of maintaining a sense of control and balance. It was somehow easier to accept that I was abused because I was a bad person, there was something wrong with me and I somehow deserved it, than it was to accept that sometimes terrible things happen in life that we have no control over.
It is shocking to me now, looking back over the years and watching the messages blur all around me, coming not only internally but externally as well. I remember people asking me these same questions. I can still hear my friends call my ex ‘crazy’ over and over as they saw him hiding behind the bleachers at our hockey practice, but then in a closed conversation late at night under the blanket of a sleepover they would get the courage to question whether maybe I encouraged his behavior, and if maybe I felt lucky sometimes to have someone that loved me so much.
And then recently, someone close to me questioned the “type of person I must be to have had a past like I do.”
Am I too trusting? Do I get myself into bad situations? Do I put myself at risk? I head a voice inside me chime in.
“Maybe,” this person said, “maybe you aren’t the best judge of character….Maybe, you are a liability.”
The result is traumatizing. A few years ago, a comment like this would have devastated me for a long time. My answer would have been yes. Yes, I am a bad person and what happened to me is a reflection of that simple fact. Yes, I should never have trusted or loved…I watch as everything falls in line: my abuser told me that it was my fault, I told myself that it was my fault, and my friends and people outside of the situation questioned whether it was my fault. So, yes, it seems like an easy question to answer: it must have been my fault.
Today, I know so much more than I did when I was fifteen. If I could go back, would I do things differently having this knowledge? Absolutely. Would I have been able to prevent it all from happening? Maybe parts of it, yes. But could I have changed his actions? No.
If I had known what my ex was going to be like, I never would have dated him. If I had known I had help available, I would have tried to use it.
But the reality is, I didn’t know what I now know about abusive relationships. I didn’t know the red flags, the warning signs, the definition of stalking or harassment or assault. I didn’t know that a person I knew for a long time could change into a complete stranger.
As I have gone through the recovery process, I have begun to realize and to accept that what happened to me was not my fault. I did not get myself into a bad situation, I got myself out. I didn’t fall in love with someone risky who I knew would hurt me, I fell in love with my best friend- someone I loved and my family loved and I thought that I could trust. I didn’t cause him to go crazy, I found a way to survive when it turned out that he had deep-rooted psychological problems. I wasn’t hurt because I was a bad person and I deserved it, I was hurt because someone else made poor decisions and intentionally tried to hurt me. I made the best decisions I could with the knowledge I had at the time, and unfortunately I was exposed to someone who’s unhealthy decisions led to devastating consequences in my life.
Think About This:
When I was eight years old, my grandmother was attacked while stopped at a red light as she was driving to the store. A man in black clothing forced her door open and dragged her from her car, leaving her on the side of the road as he stole her vehicle. Did people ask her why she didn’t fight harder against the man that attacked her? Did they question what kind of person she was that allowed her to be taken advantage of? Did they ask her if she had a problem of putting herself in bad situations? No. They told her that they were happy that she was alive and that they were sorry for what someone did to her and he deserved to be punished.
So why is it so different for things like domestic violence and sexual assault?
It’s not. And to anyone who has ever been a victim, keep remembering this. It isn’t your fault. It wasn’t your fault. It will never be your fault. I am so sorry for the bad decisions someone else made, and the trauma is has caused you, but the reason for the abuse had nothing to do with you. The reason for the abuse was the abuser.
During a soccer game when I was thirteen years old, I stole the ball from a defender on the other team and found myself on a fast break toward the goal. I can still remember the rush of excitement through my entire body, my legs pounding down the field as I told myself that no one could stop me, I was going to score. Then suddenly, a defender slid into me from behind, completely missing the ball but sweeping my legs out from under me. I fell backwards, landing directly on my back as the wind was knocked out of me.
The defender was given a red card, dismissing her from the game. After a moment I caught my breath, stood up, and took the penalty kick, scoring a goal for my team. I played the rest of the game, somehow uninjured by the nasty tackle.
The next morning, however, as I picked up my backpack and took a step up to climb on my school bus, I felt a pop in my back followed by a pain so sharp it was like someone had literally stabbed me with a knife.
The pain was so severe that I couldn’t go to school that day. My mother took me to the doctor, where I found out that two of my vertebrae had been knocked out-of-place, causing my hips to fall out of line and the muscles surrounding the trauma to spasm and tighten, locking my left leg two inches lower than my right and leaving my body in a crooked mess.
I didn’t understand. I had gotten up and played a soccer game after being knocked down, but I crumpled to the ground in agony while trying to take a normal step?
The doctor told me that the injury happened before the pain started, informing me that sometimes after a trauma occurs everything can seem fine, and then, while doing a seemingly normal or routine thing like bending to pick something up or walking up a stair the injury can suddenly be set off.
So, what does this injury story have to do with surviving abuse? Everything.
One moment I was at the top of the world, and the next I was blindsided by a blow that left me flat on my back trying to catch my breath.
Like most victims, I somehow got through the initial trauma. I stood up again and I went on with my life as if I was fine. And then, out of nowhere, everything caught up to me and my world came crashing down. The depression sank in. The anxiety. The hatred. The feelings of being unworthy and unlovable.
I did not understand any of it. I had survived, hadn’t I? I had succeeded despite everything, hadn’t I? I had kept it all together through the worst moments—when there were weapons in my face….when I was scared for my life….when I thought I might die before the sun came up again— and yet, here I was, falling apart because I lost my gym ID; furious that my new boyfriend had decided he loved me; panic-stricken at 4am from a bad dream.
What I have learned about abuse is that at its core, it is like any other serious injury. The sad part is that the internal damage often prevents us from seeing it as such.
1. What happened to you is NOT your fault. You did not cause it. It didn’t happen because you are weak or stupid or because something about you is flawed. When the defender tackled me during my soccer game, I never blamed myself for being injured. I knew that what she had done was wrong. I might have struggled with the unfairness of being hurt, but never once did I think, why did I let this happen to me?
As a victim of abuse, however, I was conditioned to believe that what happened to me was my fault. There was something wrong with me. I somehow deserved what happened, or was responsible for it in some way. I felt as if the abuse was somehow a reflection of me. I was ashamed and I tried to downplay the things that happened or keep them a secret.
Throughout the recovery process, it is important to keep reminding yourself that the abuse was something that happened to you. It was not your fault and it is not a reflection of you as a person.
2. Nothing is permanent. Pain is temporary–you will heal. There were days when I felt like I would never be ok again, and the little things I had taken for granted before the injury seemed so far away. I was mad that I couldn’t run. Frustrated that I was forced to lay still, but day by day I started to feel better.
After the abuse I struggled with the same feelings. If I let my mind wander, I become overwhelmed with fear that I might never be ok again. The pain was so strong that it was hard to see any sign of an end to it all. It was important for me to remember that nothing lasts forever. Everything is temporary. Pain will lessen. Time will heal. You can find happiness again.
3. Like any trauma, recovering from abuse takes time. After my back injury, it took several days before I was able to walk around again, and several weeks before I started feeling normal. I met with a physical therapist almost every day who helped realign my back and begin to strengthen the muscles around the damage. If I tried to rush through the recovery process, I put myself at a high risk of re-injuring myself and ultimately making the process longer. As hard as it was, I continued to do my exercises, ice and stretch and give myself time to heal. Slowly, I got better. Some days the pain was worse, and I adjusted. I listened to my body and I rested. As time went on, the pain got less and less, and I kept moving forward after each setback.
As you are recovering from abuse it is important to understand that the process can take time, and you should allow yourself the time you need to heal. For some people, this might mean waiting to begin another relationship. For others, it is accepting that there will be bad days, even years later. Instead of getting angry with yourself or thinking that you ‘should be over it by now,’ understand that recovery is a process. The best that you can do is to be good to yourself. There will be good days and bad days, ups and downs, but gradually, piece by piece, you will recover and the internal wounds will heal.
4. Setbacks happen. At first, it was difficult for my physical therapist to get my back realigned. Each time he was able to manipulate it into place, it wasn’t long before it slipped back out-of-place again. Gradually, the manipulations became easier. As I strengthened the muscles in my lower back they began to hold the discs in place for longer periods of time, until everything was healed. Since that time, my back has gone out again. Sometimes it happens after I overdo it, and sometimes it comes out of nowhere, but each time, I make adjustments, rest and give myself time to heal, and before I know it I’m better.
Same is true as I recover from abuse. I might do well for a while, but then I have a bad dream, or I start to get down on myself, or begin a new relationship, and I slip back into the depression and the fear. Each time, I have to realign my negative thoughts and feelings and give myself time to heal, reminding myself that setbacks are part of the process and I will get past this one just as I have gotten past setbacks in the past. Nothing has ever been as bad as the first time because I know what I need to do to get it back in place. I also know that things are going to get better.
5. Sometimes the pain gets worse before it can get better. When my physical therapist adjusted my back, stretched out my muscles and massaged the places that were especially tight, it was painful. So painful that I often had to bury my face and squeeze the edge of the manipulating table to keep myself from screaming. If someone would have given me a choice, or told me ahead of time the level of pain I was going to have to endure, I would have been tempted to say ‘screw this! This hurts too much, I will just learn to live with my back the way it is.’
In the end though, I knew that I wanted to run again. I wanted to play soccer again. Staying the way that I was and learning to live with the pain instead of being opened up to even more pain so that I could heal, meant that I would have to sacrifice what I wanted most. So, instead of remaining where I was, I told myself that the injury was going to heal and I was going to play again. I told myself that I was strong and that I could handle the therapy because in the end it would be worth it when I was back on the field with a ball at my feet.
As a survivor of abuse, it can be tempting to try to stay where we are. As bad as we sometimes feel, the thought of opening ourselves up again seems overwhelming. Talking about the trauma is like massaging the tight muscles. Sometimes it hurts like hell, but it helps the tension release and it allows us to heal. Pushing ourselves to trust people again, even though we know it puts us at risk, is like stretching out the muscles. It takes time to loosen them up, but in the end, it too releases the tension and the fear and allows us to heal.
I knew that I wanted to fall in love again. To meet a great guy and to have a healthy and loving relationship, just like I wanted to run again and to play soccer. Sometimes we have to keep focusing on the long-term goal, trusting that if we give ourselves time to heal, and to work through the trauma, it will be worth any pain or discomfort it in the end.
6. The muscles you strengthen are the ones that get stronger. As I worked to strengthen the muscles in my lower back and core, it was vital that I strengthened the muscles when my back was in place. If I performed my strengthening exercises while my back was out of line, the muscles that got stronger were the ones that held it out-of-place. I might have been getting stronger, but I was actually doing more damage in the long run. Instead, I had to make sure that my back was properly aligned before doing my strengthening exercises. Sometimes, this felt uncomfortable or unnatural because of the damage that had been done, but it became easier as the muscles strengthened and held the discs in place.
As a survivor, this is important to remember. The muscles that you exercise are the ones that get stronger. If the messages that you send yourself are constantly degrading and negative, ‘I can’t do this. I am stupid. There is something wrong with me. I am unlovable.’ then the fear, and the depression, and the anxiety grow stronger and stronger. However, if the messages you send yourself are positive, ‘I’m going to get through this. I’m more than what has happened to me. Setbacks happen and I’m going to give myself time to heal. I am an amazing, strong, beautiful person and I have so much to offer the world.” then you become stronger and more confident. Even if it feels manufactured at the time, repeating positive affirmations strengthens the positive voice and over time it becomes more natural.
7. Injuries are not fair, but they are part of the game. I was frustrated after my injury. Why did this happen to me? I ended up missing a big game. I had to sit on the sidelines in pain while my teammates ran around and played. As much pain as I was in physically, it made me things even worse to watch everyone else play because it didn’t seem fair. Had I been injured because I was a bad athlete? Was it because I was weaker than my teammates or because I had somehow made myself more vulnerable? Did I get hurt because I was a bad person and there was something seriously wrong with me? No. It was just part of the game. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and another player fouled me.
The same is true with abuse. What happened to me was not fair. As a victim, it is natural to wonder why things happened the way they did. Was I abused because I was a bad person? Was it because I was weak or because I made myself vulnerable? Was there something fundamentally wrong with me that meant that I deserved what happened to me? No. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and someone made decisions that hurt me.
There’s no way to be a competitive athlete and eliminate the risk of getting hurt. It’s part of the game. Injuries come in varying degree, they happen to professionals and amateurs alike, and usually there is nothing we can do to stop them.We can lift weights to strengthen our muscles, stretch out and warm up to prevent pulling a muscle and we can learn to how to protect ourselves from hard tackles, but still, sometimes we get injured. The same thing goes for relationships. We can look for warning signs and red flags when we begin a relationship, we can practice standing up for ourselves and we can speak our mind and be strong-willed and loving and independent, but still, sometimes we get hurt. If we take ourselves out of the game, we might lessen our risk, but we lose the chance to feel the thrill of scoring goals or falling in love. In love and in sport we have to find a balance between doing what we can to prevent injury or abuse without missing out on the what we want and deserve in life. A chance to be and to have something great.
And I realize, that although I prayed for my innocence and naivety back, I now have a deeper awareness in my own ability to make an educated decision based on what I want; although I wished to disappear from it all, I now see the strength I earn from fighting through; although I swore that no one would ever understand, I now have a better understanding for other victims; although I cursed the years I lost because of abuse, I now appreciate every moment of my life I have; although I wanted to hate a world with so much pain, I am surprised by how much love surrounds me.
I am more than what someone tried to make me. I am more than just a girl left alone on her floor. I am more than an empty shell, a sleepless night, a silenced voice. I am more than what has happened to me.
Some days it feels like all I do is keep starting over. I work and work and work. I run until I cannot run anymore. I write until no words are left. I try, as hard as I can try. And I let it sink in for one small second that I am making progress, and then, I fall.