By See the Triumph Guest Blogger, Rachel Miller
“If she would just leave…”
“She should have left the first time.”
“If she would only stop taking him back (going back to him)…”
It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Just leave, get out of the relationship, never go back and everything will be fine; it will all be over, right?
I can’t blame people for believing that, especially those who have never experienced domestic violence. Even as I was leaving my abusive 15-year marriage, I thought that was how it worked. I thought once I was out it would stop. Yes, I knew I would have to go through the divorce process, share custody of our children, but I truly thought the everyday tension, the walking on eggshells, the fighting, the anger and the control of my life would end.
I have never been more wrong about anything in my life.
You don’t know what you don’t know. Most people ignore domestic violence and those who don’t, rarely truly understand it. Domestic violence is not about a fight gone too far, an impulsive action or an anger management problem. It is about a cycle of power and control that almost always involves multiple forms of abuse. An abuser does not suddenly stop wanting power and control over a victim because she has decided she’s had enough. The cycle of abuse does not end just because she no longer lives in the same house as her abuser. Abusers adapt to this new development and adjust their tactics accordingly. Some begin to stalk and harass their former partner, some attempt to woo them back, or become physically violent, while others use the family court system to threaten, intimidate and control.
To top off this continual, unexpected battle of having someone attempting to maintain control over them, most victims leave their relationships with severe emotional damage, unhealthy relationship patterns and distorted thought processes. So while we may find the strength to leave, we are seldom equipped to handle these unexpected abusive patterns that continue, though very few of us realize just how ill-prepared, unequipped and damaged we are.
We, like everyone else, believe that leaving is the ultimate goal. If we can get out the rest has to be so much easier. Let me tell you, it’s not.
Most of the focus around domestic violence is in the areas of awareness, prevention and getting out, with a silent assumption that there is a pot of gold waiting for us, simply for leaving. But the pot of gold isn’t where we expect it. We can see it, but it’s still a glimmer on the horizon. And the path to it is often paved with the eggshells we thought we’d never have to walk on again.
I believed I was fine, that I was better after I had left, that I was capable of healing and moving forward with just the support of those who loved me and my own sheer determination. What I failed to understand was that you can’t heal what you don’t know is broken. I had let my gaping emotional wounds scab over and thought that, with time, those scabs would heal into barely noticeable scars. It wasn’t until one of those scabs was unexpectedly ripped off, a year and half after leaving, when I was threatened and verbally attacked via phone by my ex and was left with a gushing, open emotional wound that manifested itself as a panic attack, that I realized I needed to find someone who could help me properly stitch the wound closed and teach me how to heal it with minimal scarring.
I now understand that I, like so many other survivors, have PTSD as a result of my years of living in trauma. I know now that there are many recovery tools available to help survivors become whole, emotionally healthy people, capable of stopping the cycle of abuse in their and their children’s lives, but I didn’t know any of this when I left. I thought it was all about leaving.
I sought help when I was getting ready to leave, used the resources available in my community to help me create a safety plan to get out, but I didn’t think I needed help after I left. I believed leaving was the ultimate goal. It’s what most people believe. I’m here to tell you that while, yes, victims of domestic violence need help getting out, we also need people to understand that leaving is not the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, healing is. Healing in a manner that allows our scars to exist but not to be a permanent glaring reminder of our past, instead to be gentle evidence of how far we have come.
This kind of healing takes time, a lot of time. It happens most often with someone who understands where we have been, where we are, where we are capable of being and has the tools to help us get there. Most of us have no idea that we walk around with distorted thought processes and unhealthy relationship patterns that make us more vulnerable to ending up in these types of situations and we cannot heal what we don’t know is broken.
Understand that not everyone who claims they can help us truly can and no matter how much our friends and family love and support us, they very often can’t help us either. We may take years finding the right recovery program, support group and healing path, have patience with us. The help we need is of the professional variety, though many of us don’t believe we need it. Not every therapist is equipped to deal with the struggles of a survivor, but there are many who are, give us the time, support and space to find one that is a good fit. If you want to help a survivor reach that pot of gold, support them in their long-term healing; understand that getting out of an abusive situation is not the end of the rainbow. Domestic violence is not something we can just “get over.” It is something we must recover from and recovery is a journey.