By New Horizons Family Violence Victim Advocate Schaene Shatto
When we discuss leaving, we mainly talk about the better life you are going to have and your bright future, yet we often neglect to talk about the pain that comes with leaving, both the expected and the unexpected. We often prepare ourselves for safety yet we do not prepare ourselves for the people and things around you that too will cause pain, hurt, shame, betrayal, and even re-traumatization and re-victimization.
Leaving a domestic violence relationship is often one of the hardest and scariest things you will ever face. You’ll second guess your decision, yourself, and whether it is the right thing to do, you will go back and forth, you will safety plan, you will put your supports in place, and you’ll rally your village. Everyone around you will remind you that it is in your best interest, your safest option, and that you are stronger than you think. They will promise you that they have no expectations and to allow you to take all the time you need.
We would be lying if we did not expect this to be challenging, if we did not expect for the fear of the unknown and wondering what is next to be paralyzing at times. Expect the unexpected that those who say they support you may be the very ones to criticize you. Some may tell you that you are not doing it right because it’s not how they would have done it or that you’re not moving forward fast enough… That you create an atmosphere of walking on eggshells and that they cannot keep up with your emotional rollercoaster. Sometimes they may feel it’s too much or even that you are. They may blame you and often talk about how you reacted yet never about what triggered you.
People will ask whether you’re in therapy or why this still bothers you or if you’re trying. They will remind you that you are still not over him or her yet and that you have not dealt with the trauma. Maybe they’re right, are we ever really over someone we once loved? Do we ever forget the trauma we once endured? They will comment on how one minute you’re happy, the next sad, and the next angry. That too is okay as anyone who questions that may never have experienced grief. They’ll tell you that you’re too sensitive and they’ll question why you do certain things a particular way without ever considering the life you just left behind and the habits that unfortunately do not go away overnight. They will remind you time and time again that only you can do this and that no one can do it for you. They may even want the very best for you and they’ll push you to be the best version of yourself yet even with the best of intentions, they may forget to cut you some slack. You may stop hearing from people that once were a significant part of your healing process because “you’re safe now” and they’ll let you know that you sound different and that you’re better now. It may get lonely and you’ll do everything you can to protect yourself and those around you. You will beg people to stop reminding you that you are young and have your whole life ahead of you and that you deserve better and you will so badly want someone to just tell you it is okay not to be okay. And that is okay. You’re not too sensitive, you are just healing and rebuilding the confidence that was so wrongfully stripped from you. You are not too much, you are everything you were meant to be. Allow yourself to grieve the loss of a relationship, the life you knew, and remember that neither healing nor grieving is linear and it gets messy. If you take two steps forward, and three backwards, it’s okay. It’s okay if you thought you were over it, but it hits you all over again. It’s okay to fall apart even when you thought you had it under control.
This is your story, the journey belongs to you. There are no rules and leaving does not come with a step by step direction book. You are going to have good days and bad. You are going to feel like it is you against the world at times. And at times, you may even want to go back despite how many times people tell you that you deserve better or question how you can miss someone who treated you so poorly. It is normal. It is a part of the journey. It is the foundation that you must lay in order to rebuild. But you can do it…. You are doing it… and you are going to continue doing it.
Your responsibility is to embrace the journey, to be easy on yourself, to show yourself grace, and go through the motions of every high and low. It is your responsibility to believe in the person you want to become. It is not your responsibility to try and help others to understand. Some days you will have no idea how are you going to do it, but every single day it still gets done. Iyanla Vanzant once said, “each of us face a moment in our lives called ‘the breakdown moment.’ This is the time when you must stand toe to toe, eyeball to eyeball, with the very thing you have tried desperately to avoid. In that moment, when there is nothing standing between you and the thing you fear the most, you will be forced to step into your greatness, because that is what life is demanding of you.” So, be committed to seeing yourself win. You owe everyone nothing, but you owe yourself everything.