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 After Leaving, Part 2: Not quite the End

Leaving wasn’t the end…

…it simply moved my new end-goal to finalizing my divorce. However, it still was a new beginning and an opportunity to learn who I could be on my own. Although our relationship was far past the point of reconciliation, my ex changed his tune immediately to try and get me back. If your ex didn’t respect your voice before, once they find out you mean what you say it will just be a lot of pointless wheel-spinning, manipulation, etc.. I think if we are honest with ourselves, we know when this applies to our relationship. The trick is if we can admit it.

I wrote my ex a letter of explanation detailing everything, after the protection order was finalized. We exchanged a few e-mails on an approved e-mail that was an exception to the Protection Order. Although things had fallen apart terribly, I didn’t want any ill for my ex. I just wanted to get away from him. So I worked very hard to write my letter in a factual, kind and steadfast manner. If any of you have seen the graphic on the ‘Cycle of Abuse’, you will understand what I mean when I say his response followed the quintessential honeymoon mentality. He was so sorry. He was getting help. He was willing to do counseling. Apart. Together. A separation instead of a divorce.

These arguments may have swayed me before, but, while he admitted everything I wrote in that letter was true, he never agreed that his actions and choices constituted abuse. That made it easier to stick to my guns… as did the fact that he point blank refused any of these options in the months leading up to my departure.

Repercussions

The ‘honeymoon’ period of his rationality lasted only so long as it took my ex to realize that I was absolutely serious.

My ex was angrier about the protection order than he was about the divorce, and ultimately I had to share the response to my e-mail of him agreeing to doing all the things I had put in my protection order with my lawyer and his lawyer. My ex was very retaliatory throughout the entire process.

I stuck to my guns, and in the end, it mattered more to me to be fair and stick to my request of a 50/50 split than to cater to my ex’s threats and demands. Luckily, I was in a position with family support to make that possible. Usually, people start from a place where they will negotiate from. I just stuck unwaveringly to what I wanted and knew to be fair. I didn’t want alimony, and I didn’t want any ties to my ex after the divorce was finalized. It dragged things out longer, but it was important to me to 1) stay classy, 2) hold my ex accountable, and 3) stand up for myself and what was fair.

Two years after leaving, I am still struggling to get out of my financial hole. Recovery has been tough, I still owe thousands of dollars I borrowed for my attorney. I missed a few bills before our divorce that have chased me down, up to and including getting my wages unexpectedly garnished. (Oops.)

My ex is still out there, bearing a grudge, and likely skirting sanity as much as he was when I was with him. So safety is still a factor. I’ve learned a few practical things:

  • If you’re registered to vote, it’s likely your home address is publicly accessible. (Some states have ways around this in Domestic Violence situations – but it’s more footwork.)
  • There are websites with generic information about you, and some websites (if you log in) that have your full address. Mindful of my personal safety, I’ve gone to each one and opted out, some required copies of my license to remove the information (I redacted some info). Note: Google yourself to find out where your name comes up.
  • Lesson learned, when I move again, I am getting a P.O. Box.
  • Make sure to have two copies of a protection order. That way you can give one to the police in case of an encounter, and still have your original.

Even with all of that? It’s worth it. Home is safe again. Home is a peaceful place again.

I’m happy.

Life after Leaving, Part 1: Retrospective

While I prepare to file a renewal for a protection order (mine is about to expire) there has been a lot to contemplate and ponder. Mostly the soul-searching of, ‘Do I really think he could still come after me?’ (Yes) and ‘Am I overreacting by requesting a renewal?’ (No).

Now that I’ve wrestled with those two questions, I started to reflect on the past two years. No matter how many blogs I read, nothing really prepared me for what life would be like. I know not everyone’s experience is the same, but this is what it was like for me, leaving an abusive relationship of 10+ years. This will be my first ‘series’ of posts – I anticipate, and I hope to get out roughly one a week.

Mine isn’t the only experience – I welcome comments and am happy to share blog posts if folks write (or have written) their own experiences summing up their experiences after leaving an abusive relationship. Questions welcome. Gritty, funny, practical. 🙂

Life after leaving… really started before I left.

I hesitated to speak up for so long, because a part of me knew that once I did, everyone’s feelings about my husband would change.  Even outside of our relationship, he was not the easiest person to get along with, although very few suspected what was really going on. About three years or so before I left, he threatened my life, and I resolved at that time that if things didn’t get better I may have to make a choice I didn’t like.

The last six months of my marriage I struggled with extreme anxiety and depression. I had decided years prior, that I had to be responsible for my own happiness, and I tried for a long time to make that happen within the context of our marriage. So when my health began to go downhill, I began tracking my panic attacks and anxiety, trying to figure out what my triggers were, so I could deal with or remove them, or seek help from a counselor.

All instances led directly to my husband. It took me a few more months, and two or three extreme incidents to finally start reaching out to people I trusted. When my mother asked me, “Honey, do you want to leave?” there was only a moment of silence before I agreed. “Yes.” And broke down. But having made the decision, I felt a temporary lightness and hope. I can be free.

If you haven’t decided to leave your situation yet, my post ‘How Do I Leave?‘ summarizes most of what I felt was helpful, or you can go to the ‘Leaving your Abuser’ tab on my home page and look at the blog posts there.

My original plan was to wait a month, get things together slowly, sneak things out here and there. It was simplified by the fact we had no children. But that night when I first went home, I realized I couldn’t maintain the facade for long. Apparently everyone on my very small team was relieved when I reduced that time frame to a week.

I had help, however. Having allies in this case makes an impossible seeming situation surmountable. 

The road goes ever on and on…

Revelations are curious things, and sometimes the most profound of realizations to some are ones that are so obvious to others. But I suppose, the path to understanding ourselves is more about the journey to the destination than the destination itself.

A recent run-in with my ex, who decided it best to get arrested rather than obey my protection order, left me opening mail from the Domestic Violence Advocate and the Prosecutor’s office. In it, was a request for a Victim’s Impact Statement.

Although the request sent me to my Google Docs and I wrote several pages on several different days, none granted me the words I wished to use. I wanted to achieve a few things:

  1. I wanted to be cognizant that anything I write will go into the public record.
  2. I do not want to be weak, but I want him to understand I will utilize my protection order to the full legal extent I am allowed.

Though I still don’t have anything down I feel comfortable sharing, I discovered some things about myself through this process.

Continue reading “The road goes ever on and on…”

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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Breaking Free

Shame involves that pervasive gut-twist of fear. It is the awareness that someone has learned some deeply hidden truth about you and they may think less of you, because you think less of you for it.

When I first left my ex-husband, I felt a lot of shame. That inner voice didn’t just whisper, it battered me with my own judgmental thoughts. It weighed me down physically and emotionally. Thoughts that were harsher than I would offer  any other person in my situation.

Continue reading “Breaking Free”

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 “I am.”

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?

 

 

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.

A breath in which to grieve and ramble

Three separate addresses in the last five months, met with a new counselor, a new doctor, living a new life balancing open dialogue with consideration for what may be TMI. Revisiting old struggles, living with my family again, matters I never quite dealt with before.

This last weekend, I stringently protected my time, I made no plans, I gave a gentle “no” to each person seeking my time. I slept. I watched mindless shows on Netflix. I struggled to tap into the place where my words and stories come from, and though it was mostly unsuccessful, it was a start.

Saturday night, late – the pent up emotions released. Signing the final sale documents on our home was about as hard as signing the original documents to begin the process of my divorce. Is it strange I’m grieving the loss of my home so much more than the loss of my marriage? Even if I am alone for the rest of my life, I am already so much more peaceful than I have been over the past few years. Yet I still miss owning my own place, having the freedom to design and decorate as I want. Having something of mine. It is frustrating having to reintegrate pets again, after spending the last five months struggling to integrate them the first time. They aren’t handling the change particularly well either.

That said, my room is about twice the size as it was before, and I have a walk-in closet. Which means I have enough space to have my books all about me, and I am so very eager to have them around again. The companions of so many years. I regret my Ex’s needling me to constantly cull down, and that I got rid of so many.

Bills are now reasonable enough for me to manage on my own, even if my Ex continues to forgo any contributions. I am trusting that the lawyers will make all equal. I want no more, and no less, than my share. My counselor is encouraging me in this, though she says normally she encourages people to back off.

I’m tired of being a doormat, tired of falling back to always taking up the smallest footprint possible so as not to disturb everyone else. Yet it is so uncomfortable, to try and make myself heard. Anxiety builds whenever I have to give people a response I don’t think they want or will like. I suppose most of that is from dealing with my ex over the years, his rages could be so unpredictable.

I miss the man he could have been, and not the man he chose to be.

It feels wrong that I should spare any feelings for him at all. Even now I still have a hard time holding on to any anger. There is more just a sense of sadness, of disappointment.

Anyhow, enough ramblings for now…

Brittle strength

So many moments of powerlessness envelop my memory, and it is easy to feel ashamed, or discouraged or foolish. Ashamed that I covered up so much. Foolish for protecting my family and loved ones from the intensity of my Ex’s childishness and mood swings. Discouraged that I spent so many years of my life struggling forward on a path I had chosen for myself, only to give up on it, in the end.

Early on in my counseling sessions, my therapist mentioned that it can be healing for people in my situation to look back at their life and pick out moments of empowerment. To find the moments of strength in history.

I can more easily point to days and weeks and months and years where my focus was just on getting through the day. There were many times I made concessions. Catered to his moods. Kept silent. Refrained from sharing information I knew might stir him to anger or upset.

And yet… there were times I drew a line, and dared him to cross it. And usually he would back away. Continue reading “Brittle strength”

“It’s just…. money/worthless/unimportant….”

(A forgotten draft, posted late almost a year later.)

There is this fine line for me, a line between empowerment and safety. A line between productivity and caving in to irrationality. My whole goal in this divorce, has been to untangle us from our marriage with as little cost as possible. My ex is ill, and in some ways I pity him because he’s stumbling around in this world of paranoia where everyone is out to get him. He genuinely believes I am a money-grubbing witch who intends to ruin him.

Here, where I am paying all the bills, as he doles out funds 2-3 weeks late.

Here, where I let him stay in our home for 3 months before pushing him to find another place.

Here, where I left him the car, kept him on my health insurance.

Continue reading ““It’s just…. money/worthless/unimportant….””

Why didn’t/don’t you leave?

This isn’t meant to point fingers. To blame.

I’ve shared some of the reasons I hung on to my marriage and abusive relationship, because it felt like this was a question I came across a lot. Everyone’s response is often to say, “Don’t ask that! It’s inappropriate!”

Yet my mind doesn’t work that way. I don’t want questions to be off limits in my life. They should be an exploration, before which we have no fear. Questions lead to honesty, to communication, and they break down the barriers of isolation. Asking makes us examine things, sometimes painful things.

But maybe – the reasons why you didn’t leave might resonate with someone else. Maybe the reason’s you still haven’t left are because you haven’t figured out if that is the best thing for you yet.

We all have different reasons. Would you share yours with me? There is really no right or wrong answer here, merely a desire to understand better. To help those who ask that question, and are genuinely curious, understand better.

Why Didn’t I leave? Part II

Part II: The Practical Quandry

My personal emotional quagmire was not the only reason I struggled to leave. There was a practical side to things too.

  1. Where will I live?
  2. Can I afford to live on my own?
  3. How am I going to get around without a car?
  4. Will I lose friends and/or family?
  5. Can I afford to keep/protect my pets?
  6. How do I break away financially without him getting suspicious?
  7. What happens to our joint mortgage/bills?
  8. What happens when people get tired of helping me?

Even though I have a full-time job, people offering me rooms to stay, my situation over the past few years left me reluctant to put my life, livelihood, and living situation in anyone else’s hands. There are matters of trust I had to get past. Fears of inconveniencing others (though they assured me, time and again, I would not be an inconvenience.) Fears of being let down, or dropped, when I became too great of a burden. (I assumed I would be).

My ex’s patience with me was so short, I didn’t want to exchange that for simply another situation where people would be short and angry with me, too. I wasn’t willing to risk losing the independence I did have simply for a chance to be miserable somewhere else.

The fact of the matter was, I was paralyzed by the unknown of the distant future, and too emotionally exhausted to cope with more than one or two days of my present.

The reality of the situation, now that I am out, is this:

I don’t know what the next few years will have for me in the way of belongings, or possessions, or financial situation. I might be in a lot of debt for a long time. However, I will have my family. I will have my friends. I will have my pets. I will go home (wherever that is) and be at peace. Already I am sleeping more than I have in a long time, even when I don’t sleep well. Instead of ‘not sleeping well’ meaning 1 to 3 hours of sleep, it now means I ‘only’ got 5-6. Some nights I even manage a few, full eight hours.

I have no car. My personal space is limited to an 8×8 room. But I still have my job. The rest can come with time. I have a lifetime to figure that out.

Still, however, if I think too far ahead, the fear of the unknown is paralyzing. You see, for so long, when you live in an abusive relationship, it’s your job to overthink the possibilities. You have to be aware of what can happen, so you can minimize the fallout and the pain (emotional in my case, physical for some others) that you will experience. It’s something my counselor calls being hyper-vigilant, and was a way I survived in that terrible marriage for so long. But the trouble is, the things we learn to protect ourselves in an abusive relationship, don’t always translate so well to reality as other people see them.

I still marvel, that I am one of the lucky ones. I had the people to help me escape. I never let go of my job. I grieve the loss of children I’ve never had and may never have, but I know that choice of having no children made my departure easier, too. But I am out. And now that I am out, I realize that none of the above things really matter.

Because I will survive, and I’ll be happier doing so without an abusive marriage hanging over me. If I can escape that, I can do pretty much anything.

Coming out

No, I am not gay. (And despite the fact that I am a Christian, I have no problems with who people decide to love. I know some amazing people who fall in the spectrum of LGBT.) But talking about abuse seems like something so many want to sweep under the rug, to hide like a skeleton in the closet. And I’m going to be damned if I sit in silence any longer.

This was a painful and emotional weekend.

As part of my protection order, my lawyer suggested it might save us money if we wrote a way into the contact order to contact one another outside of lawyers. At the time the judge made it clear, that the e-mail option we chose, was not to be used in a threatening way. However, my ex has been growing more and more comfortable with it, and I shut it down on Sunday.

Here he is, in our home, with our car, having me pay half the mortgage for nearly 3 months now, barely inconvenienced – while I am borrowing rides, working out carpools with strangers, riding the bus, reliant on others. I’ve barely taken anything from the house. Some personal property, and three shelves. The crock pot. Candle stuff.

Continue reading “Coming out”