What happens when you leave an abusive relationship?

For so long we’ve wanted the emotional rollercoaster of an abusive relationship to end.  When it does we’re euphoric at first. I no longer had to walk on eggshells. I could do what made me feel happy without fearing it being sabotaged.  It felt incredibly liberating.   For the first few days, when I was strong in my decision to leave I felt freedom like I hadn’t felt in years.  I was on a high.

What happens when you leave an abusive relationship?

But then I crashed hard.   I wasn’t expecting so much pain to follow.  Because after the phase of euphoria, emotions rush out.

The thawing out period after you leave an abusive relationship can be excruciating.  Those weeks and months where we are withdrawing and feeling the effects of going cold turkey, like an addict does when kicking a drug.

This is when emotions, we haven’t felt before, erupt like a volcano out of us and overwhelm us.  The reason this happens is because once we are away from them we are safer to feel them.  Before, if we admitted to any feelings they were used against us to hurt us.   It’s also because when we are no longer immersed in chaos and drama we’re still for the first time.   Being still hurts so badly as we are withdrawing from our addiction to them.

My loving him had become an unhealthy obsession.  An addiction for me. I was in a futile search for that first high I’d felt and he’d reward me with, between the bad times.

I also thought I could control the chaos.  If only I do X, then he’ll be change.  If I do Y, then he’ll be happy, I thought.   I could make the bad go away and we’d live that dream life I envisioned.   It was an addiction that could have killed me.

I didn’t know then how much I needed that chaos and drama.  When I found the courage to leave it was the opposite.  I was still for the first time in years.

Being still also meant I had to face myself.  For the first time.  I’d spent years going from one boyfriend to the other.  By the time one dumped me I’d already lined up his replacement.  I was never alone.  The new boyfriend therapy was the best antidote to a broken heart.  It was great for my self-esteem too, always having a gorgeous man on my arm and immersed in a relationship.

But this ‘never being alone’ and ‘never being still’ was also an anaesthetic. Masking my own deep-seated issues. Once I was away from the chaos and drama, I had nowhere to hide.   I had to face me.

I had to ask myself the painful question: why had I stayed after violence, when others wouldn’t have? That opened up a Pandora’s box of pain.

I didn’t like the person I saw.   I always thought I was the confident one.  Ask any of my school friends, they’d say the same. ‘Outgoing, confident’ is how I am sure they’d describe me.

Instead, I found this frightened little insecure girl.  One who was terrified of being abandoned. No wonder when I first met my ex it had felt so right.  Why I thought he was The One.   Our baggage matched in a weird way.   The dysfunction felt familiar to me.

Whilst he was the ‘damaged’ one.  Whilst my focus was on fixing him, I could deny I needed fixing myself.  My need to be needed was a great way to numb my insecurities.  He ‘needed me’ to save him, nothing wrong with me!   It made me feel good.  It filled the void inside.

If I was in a relationship with a man who needed me, was more damaged than me, he’d never leave me or so I thought!  My fear of abandonment was alleviated.

But this is not the basis for a long-term healthy relationship.  Bandaids (or Plasters for those in the UK!) never last.  They fall off after a while.   When mine did I saw the rot inside.   But, as painful as it was, it was also liberating. I realised:

I couldn’t control the uncontrollable, I couldn’t fix him. But I could change me.  I now knew where to start.   I had to be still, feel and process the pain.  To start to nurture that frightened little girl.

Take time now to think about your own relationship and perhaps ones in the past too.  Have you used them as an anaesthetic to numb yourself?  Have you needed chaos and drama to prevent yourself from being still and facing your inner demons? Let me know in the comments below.



Are your relationships – past or present – good enough for you?  Do you deserve better?  Try my FREE QUIZ to find out!

Written by Vivian McGrath

Vivian McGrath is a TV Executive Producer who makes documentaries for major US, UK and Australian broadcasters.  She is also a survivor of domestic violence.  Her book ‘Unbeatable (How I Left a Violent Man)’ – her story of surviving abuse to finding success in love and life – will be published soon.  She hopes this blog will help others to become strong, fearless and successful too.  Find out more about Vivian Here.

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