Life after domestic abuse. Sometimes it feels like I rode away in that ambulance yesterday, sometimes it feels like another lifetime. And the thing about it is this: You’re never the same again.
In the beginning you’re so proud that you are out! You’re alive, you are free. And let me tell you that it feels amazing. The euphoria will last for weeks, if not months. Yes, you’ll hear footsteps at night. You’ll look for cars following you. But if you have worked with the professionals to make your safety plan, and please please do this, then after a while you will start sleeping soundly again and not looking in that rearview mirror. You’ll get used to your new life of freedom and begin to understand that you can live it safely.
You’ll learn to talk about it; you will want to. Every week you will take another step towards doing something that may have frightened you before. For me, it is still terrifying to go to the grocery store. I was really abused there, so I avoid it as much as possible. But going out and being around people has become something that I look forward to and embrace on a regular basis – just not buying food with them. Making choices about who I would want to see and when was not a possibility for me during my marriage, now making plans for the weekend is something that I look forward to.
But it hasn’t all been brand new days of sunshine and I can tell you why. The terrifying moments of my new life have been centered around the fact that the court system has forced us to co-parent together. Not believing my allegations of abuse during the divorce trial, and finally acknowledging them years later during a different hearing, the court literally did nothing to help protect me. Which leaves it up to me.
So my ex-husband has had open access to me on a regular basis for almost six years. It’s domestic abuse. Who is worried for my life anyway? Well, I am. And because I am, I have avoided him in public places, phone calls, via email, the best I can without upsetting our court system to the point that they would accuse me of not co-parenting. Not an easy existence – hide and be present at the same time – are you kidding me?
And with every contact he has been able to make with me since I left he has set me back in the healing process more than I care to admit. Often, as hard as I work to make strides, I end up heading backwards as those old familiar pangs of fear resurface. Those waves of anxiety wash over me. Those dark and terrifying moments of my past start playing in front of my face like old TV reruns. But, as I have now realized, I was getting somewhere, I just didn’t see it.
So how long does it take? I guess it takes as long as it takes. And everyone is different. But for me, a defining moment happened today when we had an email exchange and he started trying to threaten and intimidate me. Not so long ago I would have put my phone down and started taking deep breaths, thinking about how I wanted to react, walking around the room to calm myself. One email from him used to cost me hours and hours of stress, anxiety, resting on the sofa to rebound, and then figuring out how to answer it. But not today.
Today I simply told him what he was going to do, when he was going to do it, and why this was the only suitable option for our child. Then I deleted his angry email responses for the rest of the day and went on with my life with an incredible feeling of control, and of peace. While he continued to spew rage and hatred, I came to my desk and continued my work on helping women get out of domestic abuse situations by educating and sharing information. Women that are just like me. Women that were just like me. And for those of you who are already out, God bless all of us for making it to this day. How long does it take? Does it really matter? What matters is that we all get there. That we all become SODAs™. And we will.
So please, remember this: STRENGTH + SUPPORT + PLAN = FREEDOM. You can do this.
If you are a victim of domestic abuse or domestic violence or want further information PLEASE contact THE NATIONAL DOMESTIC VIOLENCE HOTLINE at: 1-800-799-7233 or TTY 1-800-787-3224. If you are going to their website please understand that computer usage can be monitored and it is not always possible to clear your history or erase your “footprints” even if you think you have. If you have any doubts that you are being monitored please call the hotline from a safe place. You can visit the website at: www.thehotline.org for more information.
Many of us have made it to the other side. We are here cheering you on because we know what you have been through. Use our strength to carry you through until you find your own again. You will. I promise. Get help, leave safely, and know that you are not alone.
Sincerely, Susan Sparks
Survivor Of Domestic Abuse (SODA™)