Life After Leaving, Part 3: It’s okay to be happy

What’s wrong with being happy?

A lot of websites, well-meaning people, and marriage ‘fixers’ (especially of the religious variety) will often say that being happy shouldn’t be your end-goal. That marriage is hard, and when you get married you should be in it for the long haul. I don’t entirely disagree, but those comments applied to all marriage relationships (particularly abusive ones) can be extremely problematic.

I should know, that’s one of the reasons I stayed so long, regardless of how miserable I became. It’s also one of the reasons I left and stayed gone, because when I was in… I was ALL in. And when I was out… I was ALL out. One benefit of working so hard at that relationship, I suppose, was I didn’t have any regrets.

In conversations, the same exact words may have different connotations to different people. Sometimes people mistake ‘Happy’ as people wanting to ‘live the high life’. But for me, and I suspect many others in abusive relationships, being happy means I have the freedom to be responsible for myself, own my mistakes without fear, and have what should be ordinary and everyday respect from the people in my life. I suppose what makes me happiest, is feeling fulfilled by my choices, my relationship, and my work.

Being born into a religious family, I think sometimes there is this idea in the Christian faith that anything worth having should be difficult. That to be valued, we must sacrifice. That we shouldn’t care so much about what we have in this world, but what we have in the next. These were all beliefs that led me to stay in an abusive and difficult relationship. If I’m honest with myself, it’s probably a part of the reason I ended up in that relationship to begin with, along with a lack of healthy boundaries.

Although I do still have faith in God and consider myself a Christian, I think some of the church culture nowadays romanticizes service and puts on expectations where our worth and standing is dependant on how much we sacrifice.

This is what I meant, when I said “I want to be happy”.

Before I left, I knew something was missing, a big black hole in our relationship that I struggled to fill. Everything I put into it seemed to be absorbed with nothing to show for the trouble. I didn’t know exactly what I meant when I thought, “I just want to be happy” and I never really felt I could verbalize that thought without people misunderstanding. So when I was finally ready to leave, I told my mom I “didn’t care if I was happy, I just want to be able to sleep.” For me, happiness seemed like a selfish goal, while sleep seemed like a practical and acceptable one.

Now I’ve learned that life can be fulfilling and full of joyous moments as well as difficult ones. If you’re never happy, struggle to find contentment, I think that is a sign of something needing some consideration. Just like physical pain helps us key into problematic physical issues in our body that may need to be addressed, a life absent of pleasure probably means we could use an emotional check-up. For me, that meant rooting my abuser out of my life, and doing the necessary work on myself to heal from that experience. My beliefs and expectations and views on boundaries needed some heavy consideration before I truly found contentment and ‘happiness’ again. It took me about 9 months before I smiled again, after leaving my ex. A genuine smile, not a strained one.

In my abusive relationship, the bar for being ‘happy’ was pretty low. Especially towards the end, to get a ‘happy’ moment was more along the lines of a sense of relief of not getting yelled at or feeling frightened or dealing with a suicidal spouse.

I can clean up just after myself, without being put-down and called lazy.

I can look at my bank account (regardless of positive or negative balance), and know what is going to be in there without any surprises.

I don’t have anyone angry at me, because they bought something expensive and now we don’t have money to pay the electric bill.

No one threatens to kill themselves or slit their wrists if I disagree with them.

My happiness-metric

Being happy doesn’t mean I am always comfortable,  but it does have a lot to do with my feeling content. Happiness for me, is safety in my relationships. The freedom to be my authentic self. To recognize I can’t make everyone happy, and to let go of that expectation. I can be considerate, without making myself responsible for other people’s reactions and feelings. Honesty isn’t always easy, when it leads to difficult discussions, but having the freedom to be honest is part of what makes me happy now.

How do you see happiness? Do you agree or disagree with anything I’ve shared? Would love to hear from some of you. 🙂

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Life in the Fast Lane

Sometimes everything in my life blurs just beyond my immediate view, like staring out the passenger window during a road trip. Moving so quickly, distinct features fade into hazy generalities. Flash of orange. Rising and falling gray. Fuzzy depths of ambiguous green.

I can guess what those things are… a road sign. A concrete barrier. Trees. But all the details fade with the rush of travelling at 60 mph. Right now my world feels a little like that, emotionally, and I have to consciously ‘pull over’ to stop and examine what is going on.

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Rest Stop

Sometimes I forget it is not possible to be in control of everything, all the time. Or that, even if I am in control, my choices do not always lead to the best results. Or, even if my choices don’t lead to ‘the best’ results, who determines what is best and worst? Me. And sometimes those determinations are a little arbitrary, or based on other peoples’ expectations.

The last few weeks have brought with them an overflow of information, a few realizations, an incident with the ex, the Flu, a heart to heart with myself, time with friends, preparation for a long-planned minor surgery, and some heavy considerations regarding my priorities, relationships… pretty much the whole nine yards and then some.

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Relational Crossroads

Somewhere in the last year, I met someone who genuinely valued me. Who supported me. Who seemed to enjoy my oddities and find a simple pleasure in my presence. Someone who shared my interests, and who could handle defeat of various kinds with grace and kindness and an odd sort of self-confidence that was dashingly attractive.

Tonight, I realized our relationship was lopsided. That I look at a deepening relationship with as much fear as he does eagerness.

Someone in a group made a comment about his wife, and I felt the brush of Guy’s fingers, and felt as much as saw the warm glance he turned my way.

There is one problem, however.

I am not ready.

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5 Ways to Stay Safe

Reblog Tuesdays: This kind of list cannot be emphasized enough. I’ve shared my own story and some advice, but if you’re in a dangerous situation please seek help.

The original author asked what other safety tips someone might have. I actually wrote a brief post on this called “How Do I Leave” a few months after I left an abusive relationship. An Excerpt:

“Whenever possible, have someone else coordinate resources and plans for you, and perhaps be a point of contact. My mother did this for me. I barely had the mental capacity to get up in the morning, let alone function on any rational level due to my level of exhaustion.”

My mother, being my main point of contact, also gave me tasks, one at a time. Sometimes these situations can be overwhelming, and having someone to help manage your exit – if you can find them – will be a huge help and benefit your safety, as others can coordinate with them and you leave less of a ‘trail’ for your abuser to follow.

Got Hope Blog

One of the big questions many women (and men) have regarding their relationship is how safe are they. Safety is always an advocate’s number one priority. Some of the top tips of advice we can suggest include the following 5 ideas.

  1. Always be aware that you can be monitored online and on your phone.
    Due to all the technology advances, it is really easy to install programs on your computer and/or phone to monitor your activity. Sometimes abusers know exactly what is said in every text message, or they can look at your history on the computer. For that reason, a safer option might be to use the computers at the public library to research safe places to go. If you can afford a simple phone for emergencies, keeping a secret phone would be a good idea. Even if you don’t think they would do this, it’s one of the…

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[Reblog] What’s in Your Coping Toolkit: Putting It All Together

Reblog Tuesdays!

Anxiety has had a major impact on me this week, and I have found this series very helpful and worthwhile. I’ve not had a chance to put everything into practice, but I’m working on learning ways to Be Kind to myself. I’m also working on making self-care choices that are just ‘a little’ better each time.

Small steps still get me where I’m going. 🙂 I hope you find something in here that helps you with whatever you are going through.

eat. spin. talk. repeat.

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Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7

For the last seven weeks, we have talked about all the tools we need/want  in our toolkit. This is obviously not an exhaustive list of ALL the coping skills out there, but it’s a start. Now that you’ve got the tools, what on earth to do with them!?!

I’ve mentioned the importance of having access to these skills in times of stress. That is going to look differently for each skill. So let’s breakdown each skill we’ve talked about and how to do that:

Mindful Breathing:  practice, practice, practice. Take time each day to spend time mindfully breathing. The only way to get good at this skill is to take time to do it.

Relaxation: Come up with a list of relaxing things to do at different places you might…

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A voice worth hearing

 

Some times it is still difficult to find the words that lay closest to my soul. To be truly vulnerable. To be truly myself.

But it is getting better.

Saturday I met some of Guy’s friends for the first time, the first part of the day I hung out and studied. The second part I played a few games. The last third of the time at their house we discussed the world at large, concepts of personal responsibility, thoughts on the issues our society here in America are facing. We didn’t always agree on the solutions, but I think the essence of our motivations were similar enough, and understood enough, we were able to have a genuine conversation.

One that I immensely enjoyed, for the first time in nearly a decade. Continue reading

Nightmares

Despair greeted me when I awoke this morning, opening my eyes to the light pouring in the window. My heart pounded, and it took a little time to place the objects in my room.

No ex.

None of his things.

None of the rooms present in my dreams.

Although I immediately relaxed from that state of near panic, I’ve been on edge all day. For a few moments, I thought everything of these past 18 months had been but a dream. In it’s place, the actual dream placed me back with my ex. The location, however, was the house I grew up in. We had his niece staying with us, roughly 9 years in my dream, and another teenage girl. I returned home from work, and found them both uneasy. The older girl was supposed to stay with us, but had called to be picked up, even though it would take a few hours.

We all moved on eggshells. Me, as I didn’t want to subject the younger girls to my ex’s verbal diatribes. I don’t recall what happened next, but my ex followed me about the circular house, screaming his anger at me.

I eventually turned around, and stood up for myself. At the least, yelling back that it was not alright for him to treat me in that manner. His response was to become sulky-angry, and he stormed off to hide in the office.

The older girl went out the front door to wait outside for her ride. The niece looked at me with wide eyes, and I heard from her that my ex had been vocalizing this kind of anger while I was gone. I started gathering things, and quietly told the girl that if my ex came out of my room to just go out to the car. She wanted her things first, but unfortunately they were in the office where my ex was.

I went to try and retrieve them, and my ex opened the door when I got there, staring at me with his cold death stare and a freezing anger. The kind of anger that led to things breaking, while I held my breath and wondered if, this time, I would be next.

That is when I awoke.

I have been trying to shake that dream off all day, with little luck. I can’t focus. Can’t study. So I decided to write it down. Try and put it into words in an effort to dump it from my mind.

I am safe.

I am out.

He can’t reach me now.

I just wish my nervous system would get the memo.

I am.

I am worthy. My values and beliefs matter, as well as the manner in which I convey them. Every person is due respect, even if we disagree. It is okay to pick my battles. Having the last word isn’t necessary, so long as I feel confident in my last words on a topic. I don’t have to be friends with everyone, and I do not need everyone to be happy or approve of my opinions. Continue reading

Benchmarks

A year ago today, I didn’t feel whole. Instead, when I looked at myself, I saw something resembling a shattered window. All the glass reflecting bits of me, refracting light every which way, but nothing whole.

Jumbled. Confused. Broken.

I wish I could reach back in time, and wrap the woman I was in a big, long hug. To tell her, “Your journey is worth it.” Because it is. It has been. And it continues to be.

There are days I still wonder if I’ll ever be fully healed again, moments of irrational fear and obsessive thoughts that lead to anxiety. But instead of derailing my day like they once did, I am able to start moving past them. Being able to write and process life and struggles and perspectives here has been such a blessing.

I am starting to come back.

Promotion at work. Slowly getting my finances in order. Starting back to school. Spending time with friends. Working on healthier habits. My own car. Renewed friendships. A healthy relationship.

Life doesn’t often allow us to stop and reflect. I still have a long way to go, and I am still cleaning up a lot of messes that happened when I was overwhelmed, anxious, and lacking in funds. But if I’ve come so far in just a year, where could I end up in another?

 

 

Safety lines

“How would you feel about going away for a weekend?”

I froze, sitting in the car, suddenly aware of the thrum of the wheels against the pavement, the fragility of the windows, Guy – relaxed and easy, driving, and unaware of my fight or flight reaction.

“No rush on deciding,” he continued, voice easy and nonchalant, throwing a smile my direction before focusing back on the road. “but I was just thinking it might be something fun for us.” His own uncertainty slipped out then, as he hurried to add, to reassure, “I want you to feel comfortable, though, so don’t let me pressure you if you’re not ready.” He offered two location options, and then a third with more of a ‘surprise’ potential.

As quickly as my anxiety reared it’s protective head, it settled back down, coiling up like a wary, sleeping dragon with tendrils of smoke and steam still sidling from its nostrils. It wouldn’t take much to stir it up again, but for now, it lay somnolent. Continue reading

Why aren’t you angry?

You haven’t grieved enough. You aren’t angry enough. How can you not be furious? You can’t heal unless you grieve. You can’t heal unless you’re angry.

Even when people are trying to help, isn’t it amazing how often they tell you what to feel? Early on, when challenged over my lack of fury, I was patted on the shoulder as the person concerned over me reassured themselves by telling me, ‘Don’t worry, that will come in time.’

Sidenote: The thing is, our journey to healing is a personal one, and although everyone else joined me on that path the week before I left, it was a rite of passage I had embarked on several years prior. The stages of grief, although people like to categorize them strictly as Anger, Denial, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance, have many over-lapping qualities, and in all actuality, were introduced by Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her book exploring our approaches to death. Her book “On Death and Dying” was published way back in 1969. It was never intended to serve as the be-all, end-all authority on loss and grieving for all loss. Not that there isn’t something to be learned from understanding these concepts.

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Leaving your abuser: Discretion in a digital world

Having written a post with tips on how to get away from your abuser many months ago, I thought it might be helpful to provide some information on covering your tracks. There is a plethora of information available to us online, but if our significant other has access to our computers, phones, or other media (instant messages, etc.) – and has had a history of abusing these or us – it is important to know how to protect yourself.

I expect this post will get updated from time to time. If you have found a good resource you would like to share, please feel free to link it below.

Computer/Mobile Web Browsing

This link is a great place to start, Cover Your Tracks, for the computer/mobile. A quick summary:

  • Learn how to delete the history on your browser so your abuser cannot tell you have been to our site.
  • Safest way to find information is at local library, friend’s house, or work.
  • Modern browsers and “hidden” modes. (Also you can search Google for how to browse in private.)
  • IMPORTANT: If you’re reading this YOUR ABUSER ALREADY CAN SEE YOU’VE BEEN TO OUR SITE unless you started browsing using a mode listed above.
  • Private browsing on mobile devices.
  • How do I cover my tracks if I haven’t used one of these modes or have already visited this page without one enabled? This website has some good information on how to erase your browsing history.

 

Additionally, hide smart, don’t just eradicate all your online activities. If someone goes looking for your online search history, make sure to leave some innocuous information – like news sites, etc. Essentially, misinformation.

For the tech-savvy abuser, be aware they may have access to spyware or keylogging programs.

Private messaging/mobile phone folders

Strategies

There are a lot of great strategies you can employ to take back control of your life, even if only in small doses. Consider if any of the strategies at this link will be helpful for you (see summary below of topics covered). Technology Safety Planning. This article was written from a Canadian perspective, but shares pretty universally useful tips.

  • Trust your instincts – if an abusive S.O. possesses information they shouldn’t about you, take note of it.
  • Plan for safety – there are resources out there, but you may not have immediate access to them. Finding someone you trust who can help you with research is great. (In an emergency, don’t forget the police. I myself called upon them twice here in the US, and they were both professional and kind to me.)
  • Use the safest computer/technology access you can.
  • Create a new email, Facebook or instant messaging account – be anonymous, and provide no details. Always sign out of your email or social network sites.
  • Check your mobile phone settings
  • Change passwords and pin numbers
  • Also keep anti-virus software up-to-date on your computer and other devices. This may assist you to identify and remove any unknown programs.
  • Minimize use of cordless phones or baby monitors
  • Get your own mobile phone
  • Get a private post box and don’t give out your real address
  • Google yourself
  • Save evidence and consider reporting abuse or stalking

 

Hopefully you don’t have to use these tips, but my “How do I leave?” post has been getting a lot of views lately, and I felt additional, detailed help might be useful.

Walking the Tightrope

There is a fine line before me, and I set one foot carefully before the other. Sometimes my movements are confident, other times I am hesitant. But I must keep my eyes on the goal ahead, for where I look, the rest of me will follow. Focusing on what is behind me, or below me, may set my feet in places that send me tumbling to the ground.

One of the things I’ve noticed, cruising around the blogosphere, are the different ways that people use to cope with hardship and grief. Some focus on the present. Others on their thoughts. There are blogs that focus on understanding the things or people that have caused the author harm. Still others, seek to inform and educate.

Sometimes I am not sure why I am here, my words are often somewhat unfocused, and I veer from self-help, to streams of consciousness, to random thoughts. I’ve spent a lot of time following the stories of fellow bloggers, reading and considering their insights, and pains, and the validation that comes from knowing you are not alone in this experience. Continue reading

“I get knocked down, but I get up again…”

I’m all better now.

THUMP. Hard to see the sunny, blue skies when my nose keeps ending up pressed to the pavement.

Ok, made it past that hurdle. Life is great! It’s awesome!

Can I just hide in bed for today?

Found my silver linings, it’ll all work out.

Oops. Hi there floor, haven’t seen you in a few days.

And so on, and so forth. Overall life is doing great. I’m slowly whittling down the piles of bills. Been seeing Guy (after this many months, calling him ‘New Guy’ doesn’t seem quite appropriate). Finalized my readmission for returning to school in April. Have an interview for an awesome job that would be suitable for the next stage of my career – that is next Wednesday (the wheels of bureaucracy have never spun so smoothly).

I can’t decide if my anxiety is cropping up now that I have the mental space to pay more attention to it, or because my PTSD is trying to warn me that THE OTHER SHOE IS GOING TO DROP, GET OUT OF THE WAY STAT, IT’S PAST TIME FOR MORE SCARY SHIT TO HAPPEN ALREADYOr even, perhaps, I just have no idea what to do with all the good things in my life. I feel like I’m missing something, some monster that is stalking so close behind me that I can’t see it no matter how quickly I try to turn and catch a glimpse of it.

Oh, right. That’s essentially what anxiety is, isn’t it? Continue reading