a letter to myself, after leaving an abusive relationship
This post originally appeared on the One Love Foundation blog.
[This is a letter written to the woman I was 9 months ago. These are the things she needed to hear, and that I can now put a voice to after months of therapy and healing space. This is everything I wish someone had said to me on the morning after I left my abusive relationship.]
First of all, take a deep breath. There are a lot of things that you need to do right now, and the first one is to just breathe. Second of all, take your time. Get out of bed slowly, if and when you are able. When you do, take a look at the woman in the mirror. She has a whole world to rebuild. If that sounds daunting, try to reallocate that weight to be hopeful for the new and beautiful things that I can see from where we are now. It’s going to take some time for you to get here, and that time will not always be easy, and that’s okay. Healing is like that. Third – and you may not be ready to believe this yet, but we’ve got to break the ice on this – none of this was your fault.
You thought you could fix him; save him. You thought that if you stayed, he would finally love you in the right way, instead of the way that kept you isolated, and up at night, and hiding things. You offered that man every square inch of warmth in your heart. The fact that it didn’t heal him says nothing of any insufficiency on your part, and everything of how cold and despondent he really must have been, despite your best efforts to see the situation in any other light.
Here’s what you need to know. Not to spoil the ending, but your life has absolutely expanded in his absence. But his departure doesn’t get the credit for that; your life would have expanded regardless. You know who you are, what your purpose on this planet is, what you deserve, where you’re headed, what you are worth. You have always known, and those things were never contingent on his staying or leaving, but it sure is easier to hear all of that without his voice in your ear constantly telling you that you are too much, to slow down on your dreams, or:
“That didn’t happen.
And if it did, it wasn’t that bad.
And if it was, it’s not a big deal.
And if it is, it wasn’t my fault.
And if it was, I didn’t mean it.
And if I did, you deserved it.”
That voice is gone now. I know you don’t really know what to do without it, but hear this – there are better, kinder, more truthful voices coming to take its place. You don’t have to listen that one, The Wrong One, anymore – and I’m sorry that you ever felt like you had to in the first place. The good news is that you found the strength to walk away from it; that was a hard thing, even though most people talk about it like it should have been a really easy decision. They mean that with love; only some people really know the extent of the hold he had on you, the power of abuse, and even fewer people know the whole story, which is that he stripped you of your identity and made it sound like he was doing you a favor, made you feel like you had to stay, and even worse — that you had to keep how terrible things really were all to yourself — and you spent months too paralyzed to look for a way out.
But you did find it — the courage to leave, rather than exist in a world where you took whatever you could get and accepted that you were merely tolerable instead of exquisite and radiant and unstoppable, which are all things you only realized that you are after he left and you had to wake up in a quiet house and look in the mirror again.
His house was cold; his heart even moreso. There were no mirrors on the walls there, though. You couldn’t see the strong woman in the mirror. You’ll wonder later if this was intentional.
But it’s your first morning. It’s your first morning turning over a new leaf. And it’s really hard here. The girl you’re looking at in the mirror – I know that she’s terrified. Be there. Be terrified for a minute – or angry, scared, sad. Feel those things, and stay with them until you figure out what they have to teach you. It would be really easy to just call and let him back in for the 400th time, and start the whole cycle over, which he will invite you to do, peppered with the same old things he doesn’t mean like, “I’m sorry” and, “it was the bourbon” and, “but you’re the love of my life.”
You may have been, but he wasn’t yours, and that is all released to the wind now.
There is actual love out there.
You have so much of it within you; nurture that for a while. Breathe. Take your time.
None of this was your fault, but oh, you will grow from it.
The girl in the mirror will smile again, soon enough.
She will find joy, and pour herself into things that will flourish.
The anger and fear and confusion will pop their heads in from time to time.
They’re still around, but they will be the white noise behind laughter,
singing in the car, life stories in coffee shops,
or under the stars.
Life will be abundant again. Write that on the mirror, in case she forgets.
— in case she forgets that love is coming.