The subject of recovery for survivors of abuse is not often talked about. What happens after you leave? How to you go about rebuilding a normal life after divorcing an abusive husband? For anyone who has left an abusive relationship, the following article offers help and guidance to make the transition a little easier.
Change is always difficult, even if it's what we want and a change for the better. The adjustments we must make not only to our daily life, but our way of thinking are so huge we may be left feeling overwhelmed. This puts us at risk of losing sight of our dream or worse – back in the arms of the abuser.
It's important to make sure we don't feel overwhelmed and adjust comfortably to our new life.
Many women who have just come out of a long-term abusive relationship are just dying to get a 'real' relationship as soon as possible. Many feel they have been emotionally alone for a very long time - and they have. Unfortunately, getting into another relationship too soon isn't always wise. We haven't had time to find ourselves and we are at risk of falling into the same trap of abuse again. Behavior changes slowly, not just for the abuser but for us as well.
If you already have your eye on some guy and are afraid you will lose him, don't be. If the feeling is mutual, he will wait and allow you time to heal. Don't allow yourself to get desperate and jump from the frying pan into the fire!
While in the abusive relationship we dared to dream. Now is the time to look at those dreams and see if it's what we still want. Our needs and wants change and that's ok. Better to change our mind and move forward than to plug away at something we no longer want just because we said we would.
Make a new treasure map: Get a big sheet of paper and write big words on it like “my job is…” “I live in ….” Have a good think about what you want and write it down. Get pictures from magazines, draw sketches, look at it every day. That way it becomes a reality. Then start planning how you can get those things. The important thing is to write it all down like it has already happened. Don’t say “ I want to live in Atlanta with my family." Say “ I NOW live in Atlanta with my family”.
It’s not some wish that may or may not be fulfilled. It’s a statement of reality, a reality which WILL BE.
Make a new list of goals, let your imagination run wild…Get excited, know it can happen. You once dreamed of being free from abuse, it happened. Believe in yourself and follow your heart.
Now we have to take care of everything for ourselves; paying rent, bills, dealing with finances, taxes, insurance. If we didn't deal with these things before this may all seem a little bit daunting. If a problem seems to big, break it down into small chunks and deal with it one little chunk at a time. If you need help, ask for it.
If he abuses your credit
If your ex is applying for credit with your social security number here are some things you can do to stop him:
Tell them another person is applying for credit using your social security number and ask them to place a red flag. This will require creditors to contact you before approving additional credit using your name and number. Ask them how long the flag is posted on your account and how you can extend it if you need to. Follow up all your phone calls with a letter and keep a copy.
Here is a really good link for information on what to do if someone misuses your social security number: http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10064.html. You can also have your social security number changed. Here is a link to the Social Security Administrations Domestic Violence page: http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10093.html (scroll down the page to find the the information)
You won't constantly be running around like a headless chicken making sure everything is 'just so'. You may however be working for the first time in years and not used to this new schedule. Plan ahead. Make a day for paying bills, a day for laundry, a day for shopping and spread it out over the week so that it suits your new lifestyle and you don't get overwhelmed. You won't get it right first time! Just move things around until you have a system that works.
Hobbies and interests: what are they?
What ever you want them to be! I always wanted to do crafts and make soap. Make sure you allow yourself to indulge in 'you' things. Hobbies give us pleasure and also help us to reclaim who we are. It could be something you loved to do before your abuser came along and then life with him made it impossible or he made you stop. Maybe it's a new thing you want to try. Sewing, reading, rock climbing, watching TV, what ever, it doesn't matter. Remember, this is a choice, you are not compelled to take up a hobby! Perhaps you like to sit and watch an old movie, or read a book, go ahead, indulge yourself. The important thing is you are pleasing your self, quite literally.
It's a whole new world out there and you don't want to face it alone! We know jumping into an intimate relationship isn't the answer, but we do need a support network. Hopefully we were able to build a support network as part of our escape planning. Friends, family, co-workers, counselors, it's important to maintain these relationships after we get out.
If we weren't able to form these relationships before leaving the abuser, now is a great time to start. Many of us were distanced from our family and friends by the abuser who tried to isolate us. Now is the time to pick up the phone and call your friend, your sister or who ever you used to share a good relationship with. Reforming these bonds with our loved ones will also help us to heal.
Time to heal:
Ah, so much to do and it's a struggle that's for sure. But please, take time to smell the roses. Look around, appreciate what you have –freedom from abuse and peace. Admire the beauty in nature, watch the squirrels, walk through autumn leaves, feel the sun on your face - or the rain! Healing is important. Join a survivors support group, physically or online. Get into counseling even if you didn't before you left. Make sure you recognize the signs of abuse and your own self worth so that you don't get involved in another abusive relationship.
Rewire your brain:
After enduring years, possibly decades of negative input about our bodies, cooking, skills, abilities, sexuality, personality and everything that makes us what we are, our thought patterns become stuck into believing it's true. We learned to act in certain ways in order to protect ourselves from further abuse and harm. We built up mental ways of coping with the impossible and bearing the unbearable. We learned to survive.
Those survival mechanisms and thought patterns got us through and they are still with us, but they are now obsolete. We need to rewire our brains to react positively to daily events and to ourselves. We no longer need to apologize for things that aren't our fault, or blame ourselves for another person's behavior.
We need to understand that everyone is responsible for their own behavior, including us! We can't make someone abuse us, they choose to do it. We can't make them stop abusing us either, for the abuser must choose to stop the abuse themselves. You are not responsible for his behavior, you never were. You are responsible for your own behavior, however.
How do you want to wear your hair? What clothes do you want to wear? What kind of music do you like to listen to? Watch what you want on TV. Do the laundry/housework/dishes when you want to. Make your life suit your convenience.
Habits are hard to break. Just be aware and catch yourself if you slip into your old ways and stop for a moment and think 'does this work for me?' Make sure you break the cycle and don't let it happen to you again.
Dealing with him:
If you still need to have contact with him because of joint property and/or children, make it as easy on yourself as possible. If you are selling a house, let your realtor deal with him as much as possible. If you have legal issues about divorce, see if your courthouse has a Family Law Facilitator or some other form of mediation. Check with your local Women's crisis center too.
In the case of child custody, he may use picking up or dropping off the children as an excuse to harass you. I have read posts on the message boards recently of abusers using this opportunity to grope their ex-partners and then fly into rages when their crude advances are rejected. Have him collect your children in a public place, or from a location at which you are not present. Have someone else around if he must come to your home – that way he can't harass you.
If he does begin to harass you, get a restraining order and call the police every time he violates it. Having the restraining order and a police record of his violations will also help you should you need evidence of the abuse in court.
He has a new girlfriend:
How could we be replaced so easily? This is a tough one and let me tell you, I’ll bet my side of the bed didn’t even get cold the day I left! He doesn’t love this woman, he is just insecure and needs someone, anyone, who will have him. Pity her, you know what he has in store for her…He will use his new girlfriend as an emotional punch bag and sooner or later, a physical one too.
Knowing all that doesn’t make it any easier though does it? You are going to feel what ever you feel; anger, shock, pain, humiliation, jealousy, confusion… That’s ok, don’t be hard on yourself for having feelings. It’s your capacity to feel and be human that makes you what you are. Acknowledge your feelings, give yourself a day to ‘mourn’ if it makes you feel better, but don’t wallow in it. Allow yourself to feel – don’t allow yourself to be overcome by your feelings.
Post on the board, talk to a friend or counselor, express your feelings in a healthy way.
Remember: YOU LEFT HIM. Remember WHY you left him and get on with your day.
Being in an abusive relationship strips us of all our self-confidence, makes us feel worthless and unattractive. We need time to heal and reclaim ourselves. By pursuing our hobbies we reclaim a part of our personalities and outline our strengths. By dreaming and planning, we assert our own importance and define our right to have what we want. By planning our time we become decision makers. By beginning or expanding our support network we create a social life. By helping ourselves, healing ourselves and loving ourselves, we will in turn be able to help, heal and love others.
Copyright © Heather Jayne 2001, 2002. If you are in an abusive relationship, Heather's site offers extensive information and resources about domestic violence, tips for leaving your abusive relationship, and support for after you leave. You can visit her site at http://www.leavingabuse.com
Following these steps to recovery for survivors of abuse can help you begin to live a full life, free from threats and beatings.
If you would like more information about abuse, the following articles can offer some insight: