Let’s be very clear about this: like many, many other
abused women I did not have the courage to leave. Rather I spent years fantasizing about
leaving, often wanting desperately to leave, and never daring to do so. I hated myself for my lack of courage, while
my then husband knew it was something else he could use to humiliate me.
In those days I didn’t understand about patterns and contracts in relationships. My ex-husband and I got together at a time when I was struggling. It’s a common story. He rescued me. At the time I believed that being rescued was my best case scenario.
I didn’t know that rescue tends to come at a very high price. Nor did I know that dealing with the difficulties would have been more painful in the short term, but hugely empowering over the medium and long term.
In the best of all possible worlds, a rescuer would step in, help you through the immediate difficulty and then give you the space and the support to get back on your feet. Most rescuers don’t operate like that. Most abusive men who ‘rescue’ damsels in distress run a different program, a program whereby they win and you lose.
Abusive men will rescue you in the first instance, so that you will then feel obliged to rescue them for ever after. But that’s not all.
Abusive men are not remotely interested in helping you get back on your feet; they are interested in keeping you dependent. They are also extremely good at it – it’s a key life skill for them - which is why abused women in general, and I in particular, found it so hard to leave. They reinforce your feelings of weakness (and self-loathing) when they endlessly throw it back in your face.
What led me to leave was a painting. Maybe it only happened because I could never have predicted the course of events, never seen it coming.
It happened like this. After over 20 years in my miserable marriage I fell madly in love one day with a painting I saw in - of all places - a kitchen shop in Rome.
At the time I was training full-time as an Alexander Technique teacher and had almost no income coming in. My self-worth was at an all time low when I saw the painting (by a then undiscovered master Moreno Bondi www.morenobondi.it ) and it 'spoke' to me. I knew I had to have it. The then husband, a highly paid professional, asked me how I was going to pay for it. I replied that I would sell a few pieces of old furniture that I owned.
It’s a long story but I sold the furniture, started clearing clutter from my home and the last and best thing I cleared was the then husband. The painting remains among my most treasured possessions, both because of its own beauty and all that it symbolizes.
I discovered that my courage and self-worth had been eroded over the years by an abusive relationship (I truly hadn't known). I now use all that I have learned to help other women along their road to healing and self-worth.
I now have a life I truly love that fulfils and challenges me and takes me in directions I would never have imagined, whereas before I was merely "tiptoeing through life to arrive safely at death".
What I have learned, and what I now teach, is that courage may be that big leap in the dark, or if you have been really beaten down by life, as many people are, then courage is a process. The beauty of it is that you only have to start the process, wherever and however you can and a domino effect will ensue. It really doesn't matter how small your first steps are, the knock-on effect will be powerful and beneficial beyond anything that you can imagine at the start.
Nor is courage necessarily something that you have to screw up when you feel scared out of your head. For me it started when that painting fed into a passion I have always had for Italy and all things Italian.
If someone could have told me how things would pan out just before I set foot in that shop, I would have laughed in disbelief. And yet...
I guess that courage was given to me, in the measure that I've needed all along the way, when I trusted the stirrings of my heart.
I believe that courage will be given to you also. Just be warned, courage feels a lot like fear.
Courage is a label that defines our actions rather than our feelings. Don’t ever sell yourself short again by believing that you can’t be courageous because you don’t feel courageous.
It’s a myth that you need courage before you can make big changes in your life. You don’t need courage at all. You just need to heed that small inner voice and take the small steps that you can, bearing in mind that all roads will lead you somewhere other than where you are stuck right now.