When I left my ex, my life didn’t change immediately. I obsessed over him and our marriage. I imagined conversations we might have the next time we met. I woke to his voice only to find he was not in the house. My heart raced around the time he would normally return home from work.
I was gone, but I hadn’t left him. My old routines remained. I continued to fear doing something wrong that he would discover. I cleaned the house, bought his favorite foods, and budgeted the money he sent me for four despite having only three of us in the house (our kids and me). When he called, I was afraid not to answer. When he emailed, I emailed right back hoping I met his time schedule for responding.
I continued to behave as if he would come home any second. I lived in chaos, attempting to attend to an abusive husband who no longer lived in our home.
Living Without My Abuser
About 6 weeks after we split, I began to notice how much time I spent waiting on his next move. I wrote a blog called Wasted Time, and decided that I would no longer put off doing what I needed to do just in case he decided to contact me.
This was not easy, and it didn’t happen overnight. I retrained myself to wait before answering or returning his calls and emails. I retrained myself to recognize and cut his words out of my inner vocabulary. I retrained myself to react calmly to his insults and manipulations by distancing myself from him emotionally and mentally.
The hardest part about retraining myself to not react to his antics was realizing just how many of his “antics” I’d adopted as my own.
Take for example his look of disgust when he saw the laundry basket sitting at the foot of the bed, clean clothes folded but not put away. I forced myself to leave a laundry basket on the bed for a full week. I lived out of that laundry basket pretty much. At the end of the week, the sky hadn’t fallen and no one was seriously injured. I started to feel better about ignoring housework to focus on other, more important issues (like how to support myself after the divorce).
From Retraining to Real Change
Deciding how to support myself was scary! I didn’t have clue one as to where to begin. I didn’t want to work my life away as someone’s employee, but bit by bit, I began to realize that being an employee temporarily was probably the quickest way to an income. I didn’t know how to become an employee! Truly – I didn’t.
I found out about a class at the Small Business Association and took it. I learned that I had skills and how to document them on a resume. I learned how to look for suitable work, and I followed the advice from the class. I got a job doing something I loved to do, and took it despite its drawbacks.
Abuser’s Influence Recedes
During this time I kept him out of my plans. I didn’t tell him what I was doing. I didn’t share my thoughts or plans with him. I viewed him as our children’s father, someone who shared their lives with me, but he was no longer invited to peer into the rest of my life.
I desperately missed having someone with whom to share my hopes and fears, but I knew that sharing with my ex would only end in him twisting my words into a knife to thrust into my back. I started calling my sister more often. I went out with my son’s friend’s mother. I met a man and we had lunch. In short, I broke my isolation and forced myself to find other outlets for my needs.
About 6 or 7 months after we’d separated, my ex showed up at my house at 10pm one night. He looked sad, but wouldn’t say why he was there. He wanted to come inside. I had detached myself enough to know that allowing him inside was the worst thing I could do. I told him that I had company, that it wasn’t a good time to visit.
He left and peeled out of my driveway in a flash.
I felt good. I really did! I took a look around: I had a job, I had a house. I had enough income to feed myself, our boys, and my cats. I had friends and family who checked in on me and whom I called just for fun. I wasn’t all the way healed, but I was a lot closer to it than I could have imagined half a year ago.
You can be happier, too. Be patient with yourself, but don’t look back to your abuser for comfort. When you find yourself second-guessing your decision to leave, think about the crap you used to tolerate and ask yourself if you want your abuser’s manipulative behaviors back in your life.
It’s normal to want to retreat, but it’s also normal to overcome abuse. You can do it.