Trigger warning: Domestic abuse
If you clicked on this article, chances are you’ve experienced abuse in your life. Whether it’s been a month or 10 years or you’re still currently in this situation, I know you’re still recovering. Because recovering is never complete. You never feel fully healed; as heartbreaking as it is for me to say that, you need to know the truth.
I wish I could tell you there will come a day when you don’t flinch when you hear their name. I wish I could tell you someday you’ll be fine and be able to move on completely, but it simply isn’t the truth. The scars they left you with don’t just go away. They lessen with time, and eventually you’ll feel okay, but I can’t promise you it’ll be easy.
It’s never easy, but if you’ve already left your abuser, you’ve done the hardest part. But now that you’re dealing with the aftermath, how do you heal? How do you trust again? How do you cope? I can’t tell you what will work for you, but I can tell you what won’t work, because I’ve tried. I tried drinking away my thoughts, I remember days passing and not being able to eat. I was addicted to sleeping medication, because if I didn’t take it, I wouldn’t sleep.
I remember my first nightmare after escaping. I was safe, and I knew he couldn’t get to me, but he managed to get to me in my sleep. We were in someone’s house, and every new room I’d go to, I could hear him coming. I was finding hiding places before he could get to me. I woke up sweating and bawling—I couldn’t escape the damage he’d done.
The recovery process is never pretty. Because nobody tells you that you still have to grieve. You don’t know that you have to mourn the death of the future you pictured. You have to go through the five stages of grief for someone who’s still alive.
Denial, anger, depression, bargaining, and acceptance all apply to losing who you thought was your forever love. The denial usually happens while you’re still in the relationship. You’ll deny that this is abuse. Because they love you, because they said they were sorry, because they were drunk. These excuses are you denying the hard truth—that the life you were planning is dead and gone.
The anger and depression can mix. They can be on and off; they can start while you’re still with them and last long after they’re gone. The depression, I found, can last through all other stages of grief even after the acceptance. Your anger might be at them; you might be furious. How dare they lay their hands on me. What gives them the right to destroy me, take away my entire being with their fists? You might feel angry at your friends and family, or at God, or at yourself for staying so long. It’s normal and healthy to be angry.
Then you begin bargaining. You start trying to negotiate with yourself. In your head, it might sound something like, “I could give them one last chance, if they ever do it again, I swear I’ll be done. They’ve changed now.” It might sound like a good idea now. You think it’ll take away the anger and depression, but let me ask you this: What if you don’t survive this time? What if this one last chance is really the last chance? What if this is the last chance you have to save your own life? The bargaining is what usually puts us back in the same situation, and we start the entire process of grief over again. It’s not worth it.
Finally, you’re ready for acceptance. I won’t lie, this stage usually won’t come for a long time. It could be months or years before you’re ready to accept the death of your love and the death of who you were before the abuse. It’s also the most freeing feeling in the world. This is the stage you finally feel like a person again. Their words and their hands may have made you feel inhuman; they made you feel small and took away your sense of feeling safe in your own skin. This is where you reclaim yourself. This is the time of reckoning; this is your survival. This is where you win.