I’m going to start this off by mentioning this blog post will potentially be filled with triggers. For those who are currently seeking help to leave an abusive relationship, call your local authorities or find a hotline to speak to a representative/ advocate at https://www.thehotline.org
I’ve tried so many times to make a vlog or make a serious video. I’ve written and re-written over 100 times and there’s just never been a good way to just segue way into this subject. The unsettling truth is 1 out of 3 young adults in the U.S. is a victim of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner. 1 out of 4 women in the United States have been the victim of severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. There are so many crazy-sad and scary statistics about domestic violence in relationships and abuse from partners in both teenagers and adults. And unfortunately, I am someone who has experienced several forms of abuse from multiple partners throughout my young adult life all the way up to April of 2018.
What Makes Me Qualified to Talk About Abuse?
I won’t go into a laundry list of my traumas or situations I had put myself in the past. I won’t go into extreme details at this point because it’s something I’m still working on and healing. But I guess in the span of 15 years I somehow became an expert in dating and almost marrying abusive men. I’ve experienced the entire spectrum of emotional abuse, physical / violent abuse, mental abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse and even stalking.
For a long time, I felt more comfortable thinking the world was just a cold, dark place. I thought maybe I had done something extremely horrible in my childhood or past lives to “deserve” this kind of treatment. Little did I know my lack of values, my lack of understanding of my self worth, and little emotional intelligence along with identifying as an empath or just highly sensitive person was just a deadly cocktail that invited these men to prey upon me and take advantage of me.
How Do You Know if You’re in an Abusive Relationship?
If you’re reading this, or googling other articles to find “tell tale signs” that you may be in an abusive relationship, you probably are in one. This was one of the biggest “ah-ha” moments for me. I was sitting across from my therapist, tears rolling down my face after I had just linked previous abusive relationships together dating back to early adolescence, and finding some toxic family connections woven in there. My therapist stopped me momentarily and asked, “In the past, did you ever have a suspicion the abuse was actually abuse before it escalated?”. I kind of paused, not knowing how to respond. “Have you ever found yourself googling, ‘signs and symptoms’ of abusive relationships?”. To answer that questions – at some points I was looking at articles 2 or 4 times a day. I was SO focused to find the ONE thing in those articles that would point me towards another direction. If I found one piece of information that may not have aligned with my experience- it was as if that was enough validation for me to sweep it all under the rug. I was the queen of excuses for all of my partners. Oh, it’s just cultural differences. He had a horrible childhood. His parents abandoned him when he was 5. He doesn’t know how to act on his emotions so he just blows up sometimes. He’s stressed because of work. He’s stressed because he isn’t working. He hasn’t slept or eaten well in a long time. He’s just worried about money, he isn’t usually like this all the time. Trust me- I had an excuse for EVERYTHING
In abusive relationships – it takes two to tango. And I know some people who may still be playing the “victim” role may not agree or want to read these words- but both people participate in the abusive relationship. For me, I felt like I had gone through hell and back so many times. I wore my scars and my armor covering my heart like a badge of honor. I thought, “I’ve learned SO many spiritual principles and tools, I have so much good, loving intentions, I can help this person”. That was strike one for me right there. It was not my JOB to help this person. Especially if this person didn’t WANT my help. Strike two was then I would go into play this role of caregiver/ wounded maiden. I’d over give. I’d be pouring from an empty cup. I’d receive some form of abuse and then just keep GIVING, as if THIS time it would be different. This time he won’t cheat. This time he won’t lie. This time he won’t get upset out of nowhere and blow up. Strike 3 was allowing the abuse to continue and keeping my mouth shut.
When to Walk Away
This is different for everyone. Thankfully for me, I was already in therapy when the abuse began and I could see it escalating. My fiancé and I were in couples therapy and he admitted the abuse which I felt was a good first step- he wanted to change and he wanted to get help. Therapy seemed like the best solution. However, after several attempts to go together or to encourage my fiancé to go to his solo sessions, it felt like I was pulling teeth. I ended up going by myself every week. I was doing my inner emotional work and saw how things just kept getting worse and worse until one morning after a big fight there was a knife to my face and my fiancé had grabbed my hand and yanked my engagement ring off my finger. In hindsight, there were so many times I knew I should have left, but I never did. I wanted to fight for this person, for this hope of a loving relationship. For me- knowing when to leave was a completely different story than when I had to courage and love for myself to leave.
With the help of several friends where I was living in Mexico and communicating vaguely to family members and friends back in the US, I figured out where to place my things, who would take care of my dogs for the time being, and got a plane ticket to return home and leave everything behind. It was the hardest thing because every time I thought I had the strength to move on or more forward, like clock work I’d receive a text message with paragraph long apologies, or voice messages… but this was the pattern I was used to and finally for the first time I had to just erase and block everything from this person to be able to escape from their toxic behavior and lies and abuse.
It’s SO easy for someone to say, “You need to walk away” when they’re giving advice. But it’s one of the most difficult things I had to do in my adult life. It seems like such an easy and simple solution. And I’ll go more into the scientific nature of abuse and trauma bonding in later posts. But for now- simply knowing when to leave and actually leaving it all behind are very different things. Here are a few things I would suggest that have helped me in the past when I realized it was time to walk away:
- Contacting a women’s or men’s abuse shelter and asking to speak with a counselor about your situation
- Going into regular therapy or speaking with a psychologist about your situation and getting the proper mental health you need to recover from an abusive relationship
- Speaking with a trusted friend or person who you know holds no judgement for you and be honest about your situation and interactions with your partner
- Find a safe place where you can stay/ someone can watch your pets/ someone can store your things as you safely transition out of the abusive environment
- Always have a stash of cash hidden some place where only you know about in case you need to leave suddenly or unexpectedly
- Take time out of your day (Every day) and make a mental list of 3 things that you’re currently doing/ making/ creating/ experiencing in your life that you’re fully loving
- After making that mental note, think about 1 thing that you love about yourself
I’m fully aware that the above list has a lot of things there that may be huge privileges for some and may not be available to others. I was able to financially support myself while paying for my therapy in Mexico because the price was significantly lower than it is in southern California. I went from 2-3 sessions a week when my depression and anxiety and PTSD was at it’s worse, and once a week after, then it was once every two weeks. If I tried to do that in the U.S and tried to work an extra part time job just to pay for my therapy I know my mental stability and emotional capacity would be at it’s tipping point.
The last two points are super important, especially if finding a shelter or therapy isn’t within your means. In abusive relationships, it’s so easy to lose yourself. I lost myself in this person. I lost my desires, my spark for life, my connection to my spiritual body and so much more. By making a mental list every day of 3 things that I was currently doing in my life that I absolutely loved, as well as thinking about things that I love about myself gave me so much more gratitude and space to remember who I am as a person.
Although I am speaking about my own personal experience, I am not a licensed therapist or psychologist. You should not rely on this information as a substitute for, nor does it replace, professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your mental or physical health, you should always consult with a physician or other health-care professional.