What makes abuse a uniquely awful experience is the feeling of utter isolation. When an abusive partner leaves the sense of isolation, sadly, doesn't leave with him. So as you start out on your journey it's easy to feel that you are going fearfully where few women have ventured before. If you knew how the journey might pan out; if you knew, especially, that things would improve, how much easier would that journey become?
So here are some of the most important things I discovered along the way.
1. The dire predictions my abusive partner made for and about me were all completely wrong. (Somehow it took me the longest time to realize that he had no talent at all for predicting the future.) As a general rule, people who make a point of predicting your future are utterly useless at it.
2. The dire predictions I made proved wrong. We base our predictions for the future on the past. If you choose to stay in an abusive relationship, then of course all you can expect is more of the same. But once you start the process of change by leaving it, you create a climate in which everything can change, generally for the better.
3. My worst fears behaved every bit as badly as you would expect worst fears to behave, snarling and snapping and generally living up to their job description. (Worst fears tend to be ever so conscientious.) Discovering acronyms of fear helped: False Evidence Appears Real made a dent in the power of fear. False Expectations About Reality and Future Events Appearing Real made me realize just how limited and inaccurate fears’ predictions are.
4. There has always been help, support, love, friendship and kindness available to me. The only thing was, I often wrongly anticipated who it would come from. Some women friends suddenly saw me as a femme fatale determined to run off with their luscious man and shied away from me. Somehow there wasn’t an opportunity to tell them:
a) that I’d sooner join a nunnery than contemplate spending time alone with their husband
b) I had no intention of compounding the mess I was in by rushing into another relationship, especially one that would hurt someone I cared about.
Other people, women and men, extended a selfless kindness and consideration to me that I would never have imagined. I still remain thankful for it, thankful that they ‘held’ me with their generosity when I felt like I was drowning.
5. Past performance is no indication of future achievement. When my daughter was 6 or 7, I took her to see the musical “Me and My Girl”. Her favourite lines in it came when the aspiring, penniless hero is offered a bowl of soup and asks: “What kind of soup is this?” “Bean soup” is the reply. Without missing a beat, he asks: “I don’t care what it’s been, what is it now?”
Life doesn’t care what you’ve been. Life only cares what you choose to be now. As Henry Ford said: “If you think you can do a thing or think you can't do a thing, you're right.” Since you will be proved right, what would you like to be proved right about? What would you choose to be proved right about? Future unhappiness, or your chance to reveal your inner extraordinariness to yourself and the world?
6. The best lies ahead, not behind you. Abusive men are by no means stupid. At some level they know that they wouldn’t see you for dust if you had any idea how much happier your life would be without them. So they do a great job of brainwashing you into thinking that life without them would be all downhill. In fact, they are so good at it that it can take a while after the relationship has ended to realize how manipulative and just plain wrong they were.
7. You’re never so broken that you cannot become whole again. Abused women massively underestimate their own resources and their capacity to heal. In my experience, they are quick learners: once they grasp the true nature of the abusive relationship and how to ‘do’ change successfully, they start to make up for lost time, transforming themselves out of all recognition.
Providing women with the tools to make that transformation and witnessing their evolution never ceases to fill me with wonder: wonder at abused women’s resilience and also wonder that I have come far enough to be able to speed other women along their journey.