Dear friend, in case you didn’t get my earlier letter, I’m sending this one now.
It may take you some time to read. You may not get to it until next week or next month. That’s okay. I know it took me a few days to find my eyes for words.
This letter may also be hard to read. Reading it means, in some ways, that you are part of a larger demographic of men and women who have survived abusive relationships.
It means acknowledging that the abuse actually happened and that you had the courage to say no.
It also means that the road in front of you has suddenly bottomed out. The footing may be more difficult here. But please know that I’ve got you. Hold onto my arm. I’m here.
Seek out a safe space.
After I escaped my abusive relationship, my heart kept pounding. Yes, it was dangerous, as many abusive situations are. I feared retaliation and pursuit.
More than anything, I craved safety.
Your heart may be pounding for different reasons. Your situation may not be dangerous.
Please know that I wish you a safe and secure place right now. Wherever it is, whatever it may be, seek it out. Find the place where you feel nurtured and loved.
This may be across the country or the world. It could be a few houses down. It may even be a domestic violence or crisis shelter, even if the people there are strangers to you.
Go where you feel protected and let yourself be protected and sheltered.
I crawled into a new bed and drew the dark curtains. I ate new food and cried into new arms. Safety gave me the means to lick my wounds.
Cover your tracks.
I take your life seriously. I take mine seriously, too.
The most dangerous time for women who have left an abusive relationship is when they leave.
Cover your tracks, beautiful, whatever this means to you.
For me, it meant changing all of my financial information and passwords, canceling existing accounts, and turning off the location services on my iPhone.
It meant notifying the police as well as my employer. I froze my credit to prevent identity fraud and blocked text messages.
I abandoned nearly everything I owned. Remember that your life is more important than any belongings could ever be.
If there are people in your safe space to help you with these things, let them help. You aren’t making yourself invisible here: you are securing your safety.
Don’t feel the need to process just yet.
I am a perfectionist, especially when it comes to self-growth. I wanted to start my healing process right away, and finish it in a week.
I had been abused—so what? I wanted to move on with my life, choose a new career, find a new partner.
Gently, gently. Proceed slowly.
Don’t feel the need to understand what is happening. In many ways, survival mode may keep you from understanding.
Healing will come. Right now, I just want to make sure that we can get you from scared, hurting, and grieving to somewhere closer to “okay.”
Take care of you.
People are going to say this to you and they will say it often. Listen to them.
I’m talking about your physical, biological needs. Drink lots of water. I mean it. Crying and stress can seriously dehydrate you and water benefits you in more ways than you know.
Do your best to eat healthy, nourishing food, whatever you can get down. If food is hard, try smoothies.
Sleep. This may come easily. Good—let it.
If possible, request days off at work. My employer kindly let me take the week off once I informed him of the situation. People respond (generally) well to crises.
Sometimes motion can help. Go for a walk or a run, but don’t feel the pressure to get a solid workout in.
Wrap yourself in a figurative fluffy white blanket. Turn your phone off. Watch Netflix. Take long showers.
Identify all of your immediate physical needs and meet every single one. Give yourself permission to do this.
You aren’t starting over.
The relationship may be over, but you aren’t. Your journey just got bright with potential. Step into the brightness.
When I left, I felt as if I had lost everything. I had no job. I had no money. I had no car. I felt as if I had no identity. All I had was a story and what felt like a very small voice.
I wish I had known that I wasn’t really starting over, and I had so much more than I realized. My path had just taken a quick, inevitable left hand turn. The trees were unfamiliar. But that didn’t invalidate everything that had come before.
You are still you and you are still whole. Finding love again, getting on your feet again—all of this may feel like “starting over” but you aren’t. You are simply healing. And that’s okay.
Talk to the right people.
You may not feel like talking just yet. Don’t feel the need to shout or share. For some women, it may not be safe to do so.
Yet when that impulse does come, be sure to consult the right people.
The right people will actively listen to your story. They will be attentive to meeting your needs, if and when you express them.
They may be a neutral party. In fact, turning to people who do not know your partner—or communicate regularly with him or her—may be ideal.
You can always call a domestic violence hotline. Skype with your friend who lives in London. Call your aunt. Meet with your therapist.
Whoever you contact, make sure that the outreach is genuine. Be selfish: think of what you need.
Honor your story.
Let yourself feel. The days and months ahead will be a tangle of new and shadowy feelings, shot through with spangles of hope and giddiness. You may miss your partner. You may resent him (or her).
Experience these emotions. Realize that you may not be able to control them, but you can control how you react to them.
When I was in my abusive relationship, my partner repeatedly told me that he wasn’t abusive. He dismissed my pleas. He showed me pictures of women with black eyes and told me that was abuse; I was misguided.
Don’t let anyone tell you this. Don’t let anyone diminish your story or call it by a different name. Claim your experience.
Claiming your experience is the first step in calling your voice back. But here’s the thing: it never left.
You can love again.
It’s easy to believe that you won’t find love again. You may feel unlovable.
You may feel that there are women and men out there, but you may fear that they will simply abuse you again.
I had this fear. I felt all of these things.
Your heart is always capable of love. You simply have to give it permission. Yes, you will be more cautious. Yes, you will struggle to trust.
But you can love again. In fact, I believe you will.
One more thing before I go: I’m proud of you. If no one else says it, I will.
You are a brave, brave being for leaving a relationship that could not recognize your beauty and your promise in this world. By leaving, you have chosen you. You have chosen more.
Hold onto that. You’ve done the right thing. And it’s going to be okay.