After I left an abusive marriage during my internship years, I thought I left the topic behind me forever. I never wanted to think about it, read about it, write about it, and I most certainly didn’t want to treat it. I wasn’t a victim. I survived, I freed myself, and I found my strength. As my therapist at the time said, “You must leave and never go back.”
But that wasn’t the whole story.
The truth was that I was ashamed of having been abused. In my fear and ignorance, I told myself that I’m college educated, a feminist. A professional in the field of clinical psychology. What’s more, I was afraid that if I admitted I’d been a victim, that I would be victimized again. The only people with whom I shared my story were other survivors. With them, my shame drifted away like smoke. Their eyes saw into my soul, and mine into theirs. We are an underground sisterhood I’d never expected to find but which gives me the courage to put this content out into the world. As we all know, hell is the person you love dedicating their lives to destroying you mind, body, and spirit.
I’m an abuse survivor.
Now that’s a sentence I never thought I’d publish on the Internet. Even though I never wanted anything to do with abuse again, I discovered I couldn’t outrun it. Other survivors found their way into my life, into my home, into my closest circle of friends. And how I thought I could avoid the topic in my work…I have to laugh at my hubris and naivete. I’m not a numbers person, but after practicing psychotherapy for more than a decade now, I’d estimate that more than half of my clients are now or have been in abusive relationships. Whether it’s physical abuse, verbal, emotional, and psychological abuse, sexual and financial exploitation, or my personal favorite—narcissistic abuse. The damage done to their lives and beyond creates a butterfly effect we can’t even calculate. Simply put, there is a war against womxn in this world that shows no signs of slowing, and is barely acknowledged. We are held hostage in our own homes, pinioned under the oppressive weight of coercive control. Our greatest enemy is our dearest love. That fact alone rends our hearts, and we spend untold years putting back the pieces while trying to earn a living, care for children, restore our mental and physical health, and love again, let alone thrive.
I use the term “womxn” for a very specific reason. It is inclusive of those who identify as gender nonbinary, of our trans sisters, of our queer sisters. But it is also reserved for those who occupy “femme” space, which has nothing to do with our physical bodies but rather, our spirits. It is also the territory of those whom traditionally have held less power. Can cis men be abused by women? Of course this happens, and their stories matter too. They have their shame to contend with, as we do. But I also believe that they don’t have to wrestle in the same way with the patriarchal force and institutions that underpins all abuse, that keeps us stuck if we can’t leave, and nearly drowns us if we do.
Do you think I’m exaggerating? Consider this: Why don’t womxn talk about their abuse more publicly? Why don’t they ask for help when they’re being abused? How do they end up with abusers in the first place? Why don’t they just leave?
Because we are often not believed, even if we do. We are often not protected by law enforcement and the legal system, even if we do. Every person who does not believe an abuse survivor, gaslights her further. Sometimes that’s more traumatic than the relationship itself. And guess what? I never met an abuser I didn’t like at first blush. You read that right. They are some of the most charming, charismatic people you’ll ever meet.
My intention for this online space is for it to be a vehicle for healing. Because I was lucky enough to get out and to survive, I want to share everything I’ve learned about abuse and how to recover from it. I believe that to be a considerable vault of knowledge, and I’m learning more every day from fellow survivors, my clients, experts, allies, and the compassionate souls who support survivors. Because the damage done by abusers has to be undone, every day, in ways both large and small. It’s an experience that never leaves you entirely, but nonetheless, doesn’t have to define you.
You can heal. Your story matters. You are valuable. I’ve not only been there, I’ve walked alongside many brave people of all genders as they fought like the warriors they are to heal their broken hearts and spirits. I’m with you in the struggle. Don’t give up.