[Note from the Author: This post starts out sad but I promise it gets better :) Resources for you at the bottom]
Even though I knew leaving my ex husband for good was not only a positive thing but absolutely necessary for my mental health and personal safety, I spent almost 2 years contemplating whether or not I would leave. There were way too many questions going on in my head that I could never answer. I had no idea what I would do. I had no idea where I was going to go, or where my dog would go, or how I would make enough money.
Though I made my ultimate firm decision to leave based on a number of logical factors, I wasn’t prepared for the aftermath. Because, I thought I would automatically return to when I last lived my life the way I wanted to, I thought I would automatically return to happiness. I thought the uphill battle was over.
When people write about trauma survivors, albeit with the best intentions, it’s always from a place that feels like an outsider’s viewpoint or clinical and statistics driven. I don’t want to talk about trauma-informed care, I want to tell you, dear trauma survivor or their loved one, I want to tell you what to expect next.
After I left, my reality consisted of feeling completely void of emotion. For the first time ever, I didn’t know how I was feeling. I was numb yet chaotic. I felt torn to shreds and discarded, even though it was my decision. I was panicky, anxious, and had PTSD. And, many of us feel this way for awhile.
I was also not prepared for the two questions that constantly tortured me at the time:
What Now & Why Me?
If you’re a victim or trying to understand one, these two questions are so hard to reconcile that there are no words to describe the pain they erupt. But you, survivor, must try so you can move forward.
So, what now?
Now that you’re triumphant, you've overcome the narcissist and are safe enough, what now?
NOW is not the time to find a new partner. Though many survivors do.
NOW is not the time to chase a big dream. Though many survivors do.
NOW is not the time to get caught up in substance indulgence. Though many survivors do.
Now is the time to rest. To heal. To recover. You just won the biggest fight of your life. It’s time for you to be taken care of. Though many survivors won’t take this time.
Now is the time to research grief so you know what to expect. You will likely experience all of the steps in grief: anger, denial/disbelief, bargaining (“what if” or “if only” statements), depression, and eventually acceptance. Some people report going through these in order, I found myself in a constant flux between all of them. Also, it’s worth noting that grief knows no time table, so even though many people expect our grief to last “as many months as the number of years we were with the person”, know that it’s not that simple. Please be patient with yourself.
Now is the time to surround yourself with calm, positive, supportive people.
Now is the time to sleep more, write more, and plan less.
Aside from doing the basics (go to work, take care of kids, etc.), now is the time to give in to what you want to do - don’t be hard on yourself during this time.
You’ll find with time this question will change into something more exciting. “What Now?” can take multiple shapes as you move forward in the healing process. Eventually, your answer could be “going back to school,” or, “a trip to Australia,” or simply, “learn what makes me happy.” When you get to this point, and you will, where you’re making more positive decisions for yourself, you can also begin exploring new boundaries within relationships and get informed about red flags. I promise you, if you allow yourself this time of healing (healing being the key word, not just time), you will come out the other side healthier, empowered, and knowing what you want from life.
For now, and for at least the foreseeable year, take this time and give yourself an oasis of comfort, grace, and healing.
If you feel like reading further, do so, otherwise, just allow the above words to sink in. The general message being, yes you will feel excited about life again, but for now, allow yourself space in the grieving process.
The other question that was so gut wrenching was, “Why Me?”
There were so many times my ex talked about wanting to hurt a man. There were so many times he hurt me instead. I never understood it. This is true of all abusive people... why? Of all the people to hurt, why pick the on the one person who’s willing to fight FOR you?
In the middle of the abuse and directly afterward, I would rack my brain thinking about what I did wrong to make him blow his top. I thought about what I said, what I could have done differently, how I could have been a better wife. This is true of all survivors - we blame ourselves first. It’s logical that if someone is mad at you, you would immediately think you did something wrong.
Let me tell you, the abusive person knows you’re going to blame yourself and is counting on that guilt to hold you down, keep you in place, and become a catalyst to continue to manipulate you.
Further, the result can look really different depending on the abuser: they can gaslight (where even if you know you’re right, they figure out how to turn it against you and you end up believing you’re in the wrong), they can yell louder and threaten, they can also sit down with you calmly and ask you to do something differently only when you do that thing differently - the way they said they prefer it - they find something else to pick on.
So… if no matter what, they would find something to pick on you about, is it really you that’s the problem? If no matter what, they’re going to make your home an unsafe place, is it really you that’s the problem? Nobody is perfect, but is it really YOU that’s the problem?
This is when I stopped asking, “Why Me?” When I came to the conclusion - it’s not me.
It was him.
Yes, it’s a shame any time an abuser hurts someone who loves them, but it’s not the victim’s fault. We are not responsible for their actions. We are only responsible for our actions. Only they are responsible for their actions.
And… they will only change when they want to. Not when you want them to. Not when a judge tells them to. Not when police take them away. Not when they’re in a mental hospital because of an attempted suicide. Not when their friends tell them. When THEY want to is when they change. If ever. (I don’t think anyone ever loses hope that eventually the abuser will change, but the main concern is getting the victim safe.)
When this “Why Me?” portion of this post really sinks in, you’ll realize you have a decision to make. You are only responsible for you. Only you can make yourself safe again and if you have to leave to make that happen, then I would encourage you to do so. You do have other options and there are plenty of people waiting to help you walk in your pain with you:
Call 211 to find local shelters; the number operates nationwide
Never hesitate to call 911 even if you’re “just scared” (some 911 operators accept text)
Call the Anxiety Hotline 888-993-3112
Find out if your company has an EAP hotline (free to employees & anonymous)
Domestic Violence Hotline 800-799-7233
More Numbers: https://ncadv.org/resources
TELL a close friend or family member, develop a safety plan (see other blog post)
Betterhelp.org ($35/week, text/email a professional counselor)
Get a Nimb ring (a ring you wear and can touch to notify emergency responders, subscription required $30/month)
Find a Codependent No More meetup group or a Survivors Group (most women’s shelters offer this)
Read Codependent No More
Read Why Does He Do That by Lundy Bancroft
Read Girl, Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis
You can read my book for free if you want to learn more about the red flags I experienced and how I eventually left.
You can also contact me.