Regaining Your Life After Abuse
by Teresia Smith
Domestic violence can be more than just physical abuse. It includes emotional abuse, financial abuse and mental abuse. Thought often overlooked, emotional abuse is very devastating, and in some cases, can be more traumatic than physical abuse. Bruises and broken bones heal and leave visible scars, but for some, emotional abuse can linger, shaping choices in life and leaving invisible scars. These scars sometimes lead survivors to wonder if they can ever lead a happy life again.
The answer is yes; however, being able to thrive in life again after abuse can be a difficult road and often doesn’t come easily. Because of the destructive behaviors of an abuser, a survivor’s self-esteem needs to be rebuilt, and they may be experiencing depression, anxiety, fear and guilt. Because abuse is rooted in power and control, breaking away from the way of thinking the abuser imposes upon the victim is hard even after the survivor has escaped. So how can a survivor move regain a thriving life?
According to Jessica Christian with Safe Harbor International Ministries, “Rebuilding your life will take time, but finding closure and peace is possible. Below are some steps to take to transition from victim to survivor:
Cutting off all contact with your ex is first; surround yourself with support; take care of yourself; remember healing takes time; tell yourself the truth, don’t be in denial; exercise; journaling.
During healing, you may feel the need to forgive your abuser or that you are to blame for some part. This is not true. Surround yourself with a strong support network: friends, family, counseling and support groups. Taking care of you is one of the best ways to recover. Remember that none of the abuse was your fault.”
I am sure you have heard the phrase “time heals all wounds.” Not everyone agrees with this sentiment as even a healed scar can still be painful. However, most have found that time does allow the wounds to not hurt as much or as often. The process of healing can be challenging and fraught with setbacks. However, with time, you will move forward and find what makes you happy and maybe rediscover things that you once loved.
It is crucial to figure out who you are after coming out of a relationship where you were so controlled. Finding stability in your everyday life is helpful. That may look like getting a steady job, having your own home, attending classes to further your education, or maybe just being in charge of your finances. Stability looks different for different people so you have to find what works for you.
Another way to discover yourself is to find ways to let your feelings out and not bottle them up. This could be through journaling, joining a poetry group, music, creating art, exercise or even signing up for a dance class. All of these activities are expressive and can help remind you of your strengths and recall who you are deep down.
During your time in the abusive relationship, you may have been isolated and made to feel as though nobody cared about you, that you had no one to turn to for help, that nobody would understand. There are people you can turn to. Support groups and trained advocates can be very helpful as you unpack how the abuse affected you.
You are not alone. What you have lived through is not what you have to continue to feel. You have choices. You will have good and bad days, but every day is a step in a new direction. There is power and freedom in healing and choosing to not be defined by what happened to you, but instead choosing to embrace yourself. Liz Rae sums it up by saying, “While you may feel like you are the only one who has been through what you have, you are not alone in your experiences. Healing involves learning how to connect, how to inspire, and how to still hope for a better world.”
If you have been a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, Crisis Services of North Alabama offers free, confidential services to support you. We never tell you what to do, but instead, help you explore your options and work to encourage your independence in your choices. Our Jackson County office may be reached at 256.574.5826 or we also have a 24/7 HELPline at 256.716.1000. Advocates are waiting to assist you.