Leaving Abuse: What a Victim Can Expect
I have thought deeply about this post. Fearful I will miss something important or add something no one else experiences, I have decided upon a missive that encapsulates my own experience and those of many friends I know who have escaped similar circumstances. I am combining our pasts to give an idea of what one can expect upon leaving an abuser. When I left my ex-husband 15 months ago, I was ill-prepared for what was about to transpire in my life. The shock of what was happening (physically, mentally and emotionally) was an added weight to the already-overwhelming magnitude of stress I felt from just leaving. My plan is to inform readers – both those who have left and those who have yet to leave – of what they might expect when they make the agonizingly brave decision to leave their abusers. Every situation is different; goodness! every person is different. It will not look the same. However, to the best of my ability, here are some common occurrences . . . .
A Seed Must First Die and be Buried, Then Life Comes
Leaving your abuser is like leaving a cult. If he or she has mentally, emotionally or verbally abused you, you may feel as though you are committing the ultimate act of betrayal. You may not even be able to separate your abuser from God. Thoughts like, “Is God still with me?” or “Am I in the will of God?” or “Will I survive? Will my CHILDREN survive?” will clutter your brain and mock you with a force that would make the strongest person break. Your abuser could very well come after you with letters, gifts, personal attacks . . . a constant manipulative assault on your heart and mind. You will need much much affirmation and encouragement. When one leaves an abusive spouse, it feels like a death. There is mourning. A strange combination of mourning mixed with relief.
Something did die.
There is the death of a dream. No one marries thinking they will be abused. There is the death of slavery. Death of what is known. And what is left is something very weak, very small, but very alive and VERY free. This is the part that now needs to be fed and nurtured. Listen – in order for there to be resurrection, something has to die first. Let it go; let it die. Leave the abuser behind as best as you can and embrace that small part in you that KNOWS, deep down inside – you were made to be free. That is the new life peeking out. Break free from the manipulation; make the decision that you will no longer allow your abuser to control you anymore. Ask for help “deciphering” his or her letters, emails, texts. Set massive, sweeping boundaries to the best of your ability. Your abuser might try to manipulate you through your children. God is with you, courageous one. Even if you descended into the depths of hell, He will be with you. No decision of yours could change that. (Psalm 139)
Doubts, Doubts, Doubts
You may doubt yourself and think thoughts like, “Well, was he really all that bad?” or “Maybe it’s me; maybe I’m crazy.” These are times where you need to be strong and try to remember that you left for a reason. Something and someone made it impossible for you to remain in that state any longer. You ran for your life. You tried. You stayed as long as you could. You did the best you could. It was the only decision you could make. Do not doubt yourself. God has given you a sane mind.
Many people have a difficult time sleeping. Thoughts about what to do and what the future will hold may haunt you at night. You may have nightmares. You might shake or lose weight. Your body is going through a tremendous trauma. Thoughts that are centered on a desire to protect children from an abusive spouse can eat away at the soul. We take on enormous responsibility in our hearts with our little ones. Fear threatens to swallow us whole. Don’t stop praying; never give up.
Put On Your Armor
One of the hardest ideas for a victim to wrap his or her mind around is the idea of being a warrior. We were all oppressed for so long. It is highly counterintuitive to be a warrior. But, my brother or sister, I am pleading with you to be just that. Pull it from deep within you – it is there! And begin to be offensive instead of defensive. I know what it is to always be on my heels. Make the decision to be the one to push this time. Fight, with all your heart, for your freedom as well as that of your children. Try to stay one step ahead of your abuser.
The Pain of Betrayal
The most shocking display for so many is watching close friends side with the abuser. He or she might be “important” in the church, charming, “so nice”, etc. This is the hardest part and mentioned so many times before . . . an abuser will often work overtime to ally himself with your closest friends and family. You will lose many friendships, family and, often, any standing in the church. You may be shocked at who betrays you. And you could very well be rejected by the church. The good news about this is that, I believe, this is God’s way of protecting you. God’s protection. He is sifting through those closest to you to show you who you can trust and who you cannot! Divine sifting! And those who follow Christ are no strangers to being thrown out of the synagogues (John 9). You are not alone. After all, it is not the Church who is rejecting you! You are already part of the Church if you know Jesus! No one can take that way.
Remember, the Enemy does not want you to be free. He will work over-time to try to put you back in bondage.
This all might seem daunting to those who have not left yet. To that, I would say, yes. It is daunting. But, if I could paint one broad stroke across this blog post, it would say: IT IS WORTH IT. Christ describes a pearl of great price . . . something so incredibly precious that the “finder” sells everything he has to buy it. He gave up everything. Our pearl is our freedom. Christ paid a high price for our freedom. Fight for it. Allow yourself to leave everything behind for it. Defend it. These seasons above will not last forever. There is so much hope for you, my friend. So much beauty ahead. And Jesus will take your hand every step of the way. And so will we.