I heard this the other day and it hit a little nerve. “Don’t be afraid to leave, be afraid to stay”. I was watching a series and someone said that to a female in an abusive situation.
It reminded me of things I’ve been through and the feelings I’ve had to process and deal with. I’ve said this before and I will say it again – until you have been in this kind of situation, you DON’T know anything about it. And even if you have, everyone’s experience is different yet the same. There are key hallmarks that are common across all, but the circumstances and people differ.
So many women simply do not have the time, resources and support to escape situations that turn nasty. In fact the reality is that even if they do, they can’t, because by the time it gets to that stage, it’s too late. Their psyche is already warped and they are ashamed. I am not afraid to admit that that’s what happened to me. The thought of being labelled a failure, or of the shame and the stigma and the “victim status” kept me quiet. When you keep quiet, you start to accept things as the norm and you also then develop your own coping mechanisms to deal with things within the environment.
The irony is that often the person is “not a bad guy”. To family, friends, outsiders, co-workers – it’s hard to believe that this person is anything but amazing. It’s a mask and role that’s played. Quite honestly, by the time there is even a hint of physical abuse, it is actually almost something that seems like a natural progression because by then there’s been constant verbal, mental and emotional abuse. It happens to the best of us – the strong ones, the professional ones, the good women, the talented women, the women who are amazing. It’s not reserved for a particular sector of women.
The thing is, unless you’ve been through this you will not understand it. You will not understand the total annihilation of who you are as a person…you will not understand the destruction of your mind, body and soul … The emotional rollercoaster…the attempts to keep the peace. And you will also not understand the minutes where your instinct for survival and hope leads you to realise that it’s “him or me”.
By the time you get here, you will be mired in a sea of self doubt, with no self worth, no clue of who you are anymore and the prevailing thought will be ” I need to survive this”. There will be meticulous planning to escape this in such a way that you save the scraps of your sanity and self worth you’ve managed to hold onto.
At this point you either start the process of rebuilding or rebirth and find your fire again or you end up a complete basket case, and let me tell you, the line between the two states is thinner than a hair. This is where you realise forgiveness is for you, closure is a myth and PTSD is real. Trust (especially trust in self) is basically shattered. It is in this dark trench that the process of healing has to start. It is here the fear grabs you by your throat and almost chokes you. It is here where you debate with yourself, and berate yourself, about what you did, how you did it, why you did, and just in general have a ‘what the f” moment. It is here where you sometimes find spirituality, whatever that means to you.
My point with all of this is that it’s a process. Everytime you think you’re moving past it, something WILL appear in some way to help you in clearing the dregs of it from your system. I want you to know that you’re not alone, that there is a multitude of women out there that have and do struggle with this. There are some who are open about it and some that choose not to speak out – those that are meant to find you on your journey absolutely will because believe it or not, women are homing beacons – we find the people that need us and we find the people we need through common experiences, accident or serendipity. Being a survivor of abuse in whatever way you experienced it is something that you should wear proudly.
You survived what was meant to kill you, now thrive. It’s your time to thrive. It’s your time to LIVE not just exist. I no longer identify as a victim – I am a victor. I urge you to do the same. I also urge you to listen to that little voice that tells you this is off, and you need to leave. It will not lead you astray it will save you.
I penned this as a means of reaching those who think that people don’t understand, or could never relate. I penned this for the women who remain voiceless. An open and honest account of what this truly feels like. I also penned this as a reminder – until you’ve been there, you have no idea. It’s easy to say “just leave” or things like “she’s stupid for staying with him”. Even better “you’re so strong, how could this happen to you”. I want people to understand that those little things you say don’t help. They’re judgements foisted upon someone who’s just been in the biggest battle of her life for her sanity, her bodily integrity and indeed her soul and her life. It’s things like that that stop women from speaking up and speaking out.
When someone has the courage to speak out about this, it’s takes everything they have inside. Ask me, I know. It is debilitatingly humiliating to admit that someone crushed your spirit and broke you to the point where you accepted this way of life as normal. It takes courage to even make that first telephone call to start getting out. When someone reaches out to you like that, don’t judge, don’t offer your comments, just listen. If she tells you what she needs and you can help then do so. Learn to be a safe space because you never know what people are going through. And if someone reaches out to you to ask for advice it should be “don’t be afraid to leave, be afraid to stay”.