I believe we are all storytellers. Our words, actions, and experiences tell the story of who we were, who we are, and who we are becoming.
Part of my story is that I was in an abusive marriage for over seven years. Apart from movies and news stories, domestic violence is something that I knew very little about. Until it became my life.
Someone once told me that it takes a person an average of seven times to leave an abusive marriage. There are many reasons why it took me seven years to leave. As I run through some of these reasons in my head right now, I can trace them all back to one thing: fear. Fear of disappointing others, fear of the unknown, fear of his retaliation against me or our children, fear of being alone.
I can’t remember how many times I packed “escape bags” for me and my children, carefully accumulating things we would need once we were free. I even fled to the homes of people I trusted several times (twice in a different state) in an effort to break off our relationship. But I always went back. I let fear take over and guide me back to a life that was slowly killing me from the inside out.
You see, domestic violence does not always look like broken bones or black eyes. Sure, I got my fair share of bruises and bloodied lips. But the deepest wounds my ex-husband left on me reflected in how I viewed myself – a failure at life, someone who was incompetent and unable to live on her own, a person undeserving of respect and love.
When I met with my therapist for the first time almost ten years ago, I couldn’t even tell her what my favorite color was. Domestic violence at the hands of my then-husband had stripped me completely of my sense of self. All I knew was that I could not walk any longer down the path my life was taking. I also knew that in order for me to change course, I needed someone to help me. I had come to the end of myself, and I knew that if I was going to survive this life, I needed people to prop me up and help me find my way past the darkness to the shining light.
For over two years, I worked with my therapist to navigate the tangled mess that my life had become. Under all of the sadness and pain and shame I found a woman who was valuable and deserving of love and belonging, as the well-known author, Brené Brown, so beautifully puts it.
Leaving my abusive marriage was truly the most difficult thing I have ever done, but once I was faced with the truth of my life, there really was only one path for me to take.
I knew that this path would not be easy. I knew that it was going to feel like death at first, and it did. But I also trusted that on the other side of that hellish journey would be a life of unimaginable beauty, safety, and truth.
This December, I will celebrate my Emancipation Day. Six years of freedom. Six years of not bracing myself when I would hear his heavy footsteps through the house. Six years of being able to create a safe, nurturing home for myself and my beautiful boys.
Don’t get me wrong. I still walk with a bit of a proverbial limp. I am easily startled by abrupt movements, can’t watch even minor violence in television shows or movies, and wince when I hear loud yelling. I still wake up in the middle of the night sometimes from the same nightmare I’ve had for years and feel like I can’t breathe. The scars of abuse are never really gone; rather, they slowly fade as the beauty and freedom I’ve found in this second chapter of life runs over them like a healing salve.
If you are being abused, I want you to know, beautiful soul, that you hold the power to change your life. I know that feels like a lie, but it is the truest thing there is.
Like me, you might have been conditioned to believe that your life will never change and that you are getting exactly what you deserve. I am here to tell you that is a lie. There is a different path for you, and you have everything within you to walk that path. I know that because you have made it this far and you are still fighting.
If you know someone being abused, here is my advice for you: listen to them and believe them. Knowing that I was heard and that people believed my story empowered me to change my life.
For years, I believed that life was a prison. What I didn’t understand then but now see so clearly is that I was the only one who held the key that would unlock the door of the cage he worked so tirelessly to keep me in. Today, I can look deep into the eyes of people who helped me hold tightly onto that key and say to them “thank you.” If I hadn’t shared my truth with them and asked them to walk with me through the darkness into light, I probably wouldn’t be here today.
Domestic abuse might have clouded several years’ worth of memories in my life, but I am ready to shine a light on the blurred darkness and get to work. The story of my life is still unfolding, and yours is, too. One foot in front of the other, let’s walk this path to perfect peace together.