Lessons from Freedom

Weds 26th April, 2023

I didn’t mean to take so long away from writing blogs and updating social media over Easter, it just sort of happened. Life sort of happened, busyness happened and a chaotic camping trip in the mud and the rain happened. Life is chaotic sometimes, but it is good.

It was during this trip, when I took the opportunity to meet up with an old friend who asked “how long is it since you got rid of him now?” that I realised it was the ten year anniversary of my freedom- or at least the ten year anniversary of the day he moved out, little did I know then that it would be some time before I really was free, abuse tends to increase for a while after separation. A decade. A whole decade since that dawning realisation that my life wasn’t okay, my relationship wasn’t okay, that I couldn’t live with this anymore. A decade since an argument over potatoes was the straw that broke the camels back.

I don’t tend to write about my own experiences of abuse that much anymore. Always Hopeful is no longer about me, it’s about all the amazing women I’ve met over the last ten years who have worked so hard to rebuild their, and their children’s life after abuse. Every journey is unique and I’ve learned that to make a difference I need not only to speak out, I also need to listen. If you’ve got a story I want to hear it, I want to listen, I want to understand. I would like for my story to offer hope, for it to offer solidarity to others who experienced abuse, I am sure there will be things other survivors can identify with, but it is not the only story, we are all different and all our voices are valid.

As it’s been ten years though, I thought I’d share a little of how my life has changed and what I’ve learned on this recovery journey.

I realised it was ten years to the day since he moved out, whilst I was having dinner with a friend I’d recently re-connected with, a friend who I had forgotten I had drunkenly told about the abuse on my hen night, and who told me she had always felt awkward that she knew but had watched me marry him anyway (not that there was anything she could have done) A friend I would never have reconnected with had I still been with him. I have lots of new-old friends like that now. My boyfriend sat next to me with his brother who had also joined us for the evening. My boyfriend is another old friend I reconnected with after my divorce and I could never have imagined a relationship so loving, so freeing and so happy. Not only is it possible to find love again after abuse, but, and perhaps more importantly, it becomes possible to build life affirming, healthy friendships and relationships of all kinds, and isn’t that what humans are made for? Relationships. Having dinner with old friends and new family seemed a perfect way to be accidentally celebrating an anniversary that has now become so insignificant I’d almost forgotten it.

Forgiveness is….complicated.
When you see people on TV straight after their children’s murder, saying they forgive the murderer, something doesn’t sit right with me. Is that even possible? Do they really? Or are they saying that because they know they should forgive the murderer? Or because they intend to forgive the murderer?
What even is forgiveness, really? If it’s a verb, an action then perhaps I’ve forgiven. I have no opportunity to safely demonstrate kindness as an act of forgiveness to my abuser, but I certainly don’t attempt to seek revenge or wish him any harm. If however forgiveness is a state of heart or a lack of anger I’m not so sure. I’m mostly there, I mostly feel nothing for him, sometimes I feel compassion and pity for him, but other times, especially in relation to the children I feel anger. I don’t think that’s wrong, a mother should feel anger when her children have been hurt, it’s how we continue to keep them safe. Forgiveness isn’t a one time event, you don’t just forgive and then that’s it, it’s a journey, something we work toward, something that we may have to do more than once. Is it necessary? I don’t know, is it sinful not to forgive? I don’t think so. Should we beat ourselves up if it’s difficult or we don’t want to? Definitely not.

Trauma gets better but never really goes.
Or at least it hasn’t for me anyway. On a day to day basis I don’t experience any symptoms of trauma. Most of the things that were triggers aren’t any more. I remember in the early days comparing the emotional highs and lows of abuse to heroin, it’s why we become addicted to our abusers and feel like we can’t live without them. When things are good they are so very good, when they’re bad they’re horrific. Constantly living in expectation and fear of that swing from high to low becomes so normal that in the early days after leaving, living without drama can make you feel numb. This hasn’t lasted forever. My life is now completely drama free and I love it, rather than feeling numb I feel truly alive and deeply content. Yet, on occasion something unexpected will punch me right in the emotional gut and I’ll be back in my old kitchen with his hands round my throat, it’s rare but it does happen, and even after ten years, even though I am happy and content, barely a day goes by when I don’t remember I was once in an abusive marriage.

But that makes me grateful for the little things.
A walk in the park alone, being able to go on muddy camping holidays without someone ruining it, driving my van when and where I want, getting lost, wearing my pyjama’s, getting fat, visiting my friends, hugging my children, making my own parenting decisions, seeing tulips in my front garden, having savings, being loved. Life is magnificent and every little moment of happiness and freedom is there to be savoured. When I first left I couldn’t imagine a life where I would ever be happy again. Turns out my life now is more full of joy than I ever knew was possible.

Recovery is messy
Have you ever decided to have a massive clearout and deep clean? Maybe, like me there have been times you’ve emptied a cupboard and it’s contents have ended up strewn around your house whilst you sort them out, take stuff to the tip, or the charity shop, or pile things up in corners, bubble wrap and packaging everywhere, waiting for someone to buy them on ebay.

Or maybe you’ve cleaned a really greasy oven, you’ve sprayed all the cleaning stuff on and waited as the smell permeates the rest of your house, as you rinse it all out the grimey greasy suds spill out of the oven onto the floor…. In the middle of the process it looks worse than before you started.

It’s worth it in the end though isn’t it? Even if you don’t manage to get everything sold on ebay, or you don’t get all the grime out of the oven, you probably still feel better for that clean out. Recovery is like that. It’s like a big spring clean for your mind. At the start you think that you’re just going to clean up the mess left by your abuser, but as you dig you find yourself challenging long held beliefs, or poking through childhood memories. It’s messy, it’s hard, there are times you feel awful and worse than you did at the start….. But keep going! Stick on that journey, it’s worth it.
And ten years later I’d love to tell you that I’ve finished my journey, but every so often something new rears it’s head, something I’d forgotten. Yet every time it does I learn, I grow and I come out better, the journey gets easier, it becomes more pleasant it becomes more about growth than healing, life isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey. So if your journey is tough right now, take a rest if you need to, but then keep plodding on, it’s great when you reach the open water!

If you are a survivor, what have you learned in your recovery journey?