When the end is just the beginning…

**This blog may contain triggers and discusses the issues experienced following domestic abuse**

October is Domestic Abuse Awareness Month. I think that it is an American thing and every year I wonder whether I should post about it or not. Then I think about how I try to teach my children how important it is to have a voice and use it so I thought I would show people that no one finds it easy and there’s nothing wrong with finding things tough once you leave. In a lot of ways, leaving is just the start of the journey.

I get messages on a regular basis from women who are in unhealthy relationships, have just left or want to leave the relationship and the underlying tone of the messages is often one of feeling foolish or humiliated.  ‘Victims’ of DA are made to feel ashamed and often like they are stupid for getting themselves into that situation. When they do leave, they feel like they should ‘get over it’ and feel failures when ‘normal’ life is hard to regain.

DA is around us all the time. We don’t always see it. We don’t always notice that someone is suffering from it, perpetrating it or is affected by it in a different way. DA doesn’t just affect the core people involved: it affects their children, their parents, their families, their friends and colleagues.

According to Women’s Aid, over a quarter of women will experience some form of abuse from a partner from the age of 18 and that is just the cases that are reported. Of course, men can experience abusive relationships too, but it is recognised as a gendered crime by ONS (2017).

As some of you know, I was in an abusive relationship for most of my twenties. A lot of people assume that leaving is the biggest challenge, and of course that is a momentous achievement when, a lot of the time, you are made to feel like you simply cannot function outside of that dynamic.

The truth is, I don’t think my biggest challenge was leaving him. I think the biggest challenges are what I face every day, trying to ignore the seeds of doubt he planted in my mind.

So, for all those people that message me and tell me I inspire them as I’m this happy, sassy, confident girl, here’s the raw truth.

When someone makes you feel so worthless and so useless, you begin to live life like you are invisible. You try to make as little impression on life as you can. It feels like living without leaving any footprints. You feel like you are an annoyance and you almost feel like you should apologise for your very presence in this world.

I feel like I have spent most of my life since leaving him doing just that. Not really living, just quietly there. Trying to make as little impression on life (or anyone else’s) as possible.

I never had a normal twenties filled with testing social boundaries, of flirting, of exploring life and the world and of getting to know myself. Instead, I was trapped in a game I didn’t want to play and was never privy to the rules. As a result, I constantly worried that I didn’t know how to function in this social world. I did what I thought would keep me safe: I kept myself isolated. I pushed people away. I built walls around my heart so high that no one could even get close.

Then I lost me Mam. She was my safe place: my sanctuary. The one who reassured me it was okay to just be me.

There’s a saying about how a bird doesn’t need to have belief in the branch it sits on because it has faith in its own wings. My Mam was my branch. When she broke, I didn’t have any strength in my wings.

The truth is, life is a constant battle of ignoring those voices in your head. I constantly question my judgement. I’m supposedly an intelligent person and I got myself into that situation. Will I have better judgement if I meet someone else? Do I not read people properly? What if they aren’t trustworthy? What if they make me feel like he did? I honestly don’t think I’m strong enough to get through that again. Was it my fault? Did I irritate him that much? Was I so hard to love that I made him treat me like I was worth nothing? Do I deserve someone who is kind? Who cares if I get home safely? Who wants to know about my day?

I tell my friends all the time that they deserve to find someone who bloody worships the ground they walk on and treats them as such. A relationship is a partnership: a joint enterprise. A two-way support system that challenges you both to be the best versions of yourselves. But what happens if you don’t feel like you are worthy of that kind of affection?

I envy people who throw themselves into love so easily. That trust. That open themselves up. The very thought of that kind of emotional attachment terrifies me. You hope one day you just meet someone who likes you enough to put in the effort to keeping showing you that you are enough and that they care. But I honestly don’t know if that will ever happen for me.

So for those women who message me, thinking I have my sh*t together… guess what, I really don’t! And I think it’s important to share the struggles so other people know it’s completely normal to not be okay.

Surround yourself with supportive people. I am so lucky to have a fabulous support network who every day snub out one of the dark negative thoughts in my mind by lighting a supportive one. Who genuinely make me feel like, yes, it is okay to be me.

Don’t be hard on yourself. Leaving someone is a massive achievement. It will take time to process it all. Give yourself a break and a big pat on the back every now and then. Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. You don’t know what they are hiding behind the sparkle and glam of their ‘public’ lives.

Be brave. Push yourself out of your comfort zones, whatever they may be. Leave some mofo footprints on life 😉

And remember, yes, leaving is momentous. Leaving is tough. Leaving is a massive achievement. But in so many ways, it is not the end of the journey, but the start of one.

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