Shine your light. Share your journey. When you are courageous, you create a spark that ignites and inspires others to be brave.
Each time I tell my story, it begins the same way. “Over the course of several years I have been on a bit of a journey, if you would like to call it that. This journey took me far away from the person I am. So far away, in fact, that I didn’t recognize the person in the mirror. She looked the same on the outside, but if I really looked into her eyes, I didn’t know the person staring back. She was empty. She had little interest in anything. She found no joy in the happiest of occasions. She was a shell.”
And, every time I read it, my stomach turns in on itself, shooting a course of nauseating pain that screams of anxiety. I fight through it, reminding myself that my life is now different, that I’m in a better place, and that he (my abuser) is no longer a part of me.
Although I had lost who I was, what was more difficult for me was that I couldn’t comprehend how I had let it come to this. I was a strong, independent, ambitious woman. I had a plan for my life…and this was not it.
They say it takes half the time you were in a relationship to get over it. For me, that would be eight years. I was over him within months but being over how the relationship affected me is an entirely different matter. The damage that I incurred over those sixteen years has created a few obstacles that I’ve had to overcome. But before delving into that, let me start at the beginning.
It all began as a blissful, high-school romance. But, within months, there were signs I refused to see. It seemed that everything he did included trying to control me. With every good thing that came of our relationship, his behavior and anger escalated. It started with guilting me for wanting to spend time to family and friends, to putting me down and calling me names, to manipulating circumstances to hurt me and raise himself up. Soon, everything he didn’t like about his life was my fault, and I paid for my “wrongdoing” with emotional and physical attacks.
I didn’t look right, cook right, clean right, make enough money, work enough, exercise enough, eat right, or lose enough weight. His temper would flare over the simplest of things, resulting in broken keepsakes, slaps, arm bars, wrist locks, chokes, being slammed against walls, being kicked and punched, being pinned down, emotional abuse, and my broken spirit.
Through all of it, I lied to friends and family, covered for his actions and absences, and protected him with all I had. I learned that nothing you can to do will change someone who does not wish to change.
It took me sixteen years to decide I could take no more, and several months to walk out. It was something as simple as being accused of cheating that was the catalyst that propelled me out the door. I had done nothing but be faithful, in every way, while he treated me like the dirt beneath his feet, and I could take no more. I didn’t realize the damage that had been done and what I had waiting for me. I had to work through health issues and psychological issues. I had to learn to interact with others again and start picking up the pieces of my life.
As I write today, I can say with confidence that I am no longer looking at that same reflection, but I am still learning to live with me. Learning to live with yourself is no small task. It has been almost ten years since I faced my fears and walked out the door. A decade since I said I was done and made the heart wrenching, terrifying decision to leave my marriage. And, even though so much time has passed, I find myself at war with my own insecurities, dealing with anger and bitterness, and often fighting to be happy in my own skin. Old habits, and emotions, die hard. And yet, I am also aware of how far I have come.
This journey has been like none other, bringing me to places I never comprehended, lows I don’t wish on my worst enemy, and love I never knew existed. But isn’t that what life is? A journey? Every day is a new start, a new adventure, and another day where I chose my happiness. No one said the journey would be easy, but there is a profound beauty in the lessons I have learned along the way.
Everyone deserves to be treated with respect. It takes some of us longer than others to realize that. But, no matter how long you have stayed and endured, there is a beautiful life that can be had. Believe in yourself and find it.