A letter to the woman who dared to leave abuse
I wrote this letter for a dear friend after she left her abuser. But she is not the only friend who has suffered at the hands of a violent partner. The World Health Organization estimates that 35% of women across the world have experienced abuse in the home. I often get asked what a friend can do, what they can say, to help someone in a domestic violence relationship. The cycles of escaping and returning again to abuse, often leave survivors’ friends and support systems — who have invested time and energy to helping — tired and jaded in the end. This is part of a strategy to isolate victims, which puts them at greater risk for increased violence.
My answer to what one can do, as a friend, is simple: don’t give up. Set your boundaries and practice self care, so that you don’t run the risk of burning out and abandoning a friend in need. Buckle up for the long haul because leaving takes practice. Be mindful and consistent in your support and suspend judgment and pressure. Make sure your friend (and the abuser) knows that there is always someone close by that cares. If this letter helps, feel free to share.
If you or someone you know needs help: National Domestic Violence Hotline 1–800–799–7233 | 1–800–787–3224 (TTY) http://www.thehotline.org/
Dear [warrior who took the leap],
I love you. You are worthy of love. You may doubt this now as you are still reeling from the shock of enforcing your sudden life-saving independence, but you will come to understand its truth. In fact, you already have. You left. You made a choice and you acted on it.
You acted despite your fears…
Of what will happen when he finds you / is released from jail
Of supporting your family alone
Of being judged by people
Of being a burden on loved ones
Of insensitive police and long court processes
Of being alone forever
Of being unworthy of love or respect
Of thinking it was really your fault
Of repeating patterns
Of being seen as a selfish person
Of losing it all and being broke
Of the world opening up and swallowing you whole
You looked straight at your fears and decided you and your children’s lives were more important than they were. And I am here to tell you there are few times I have witnessed such strength from a woman. This woman warrior inside holds her head most high at the extremes of life — when she is giving birth and when she and/or her children are faced with death. Do not be afraid of her. She is here to protect you.
I will be still and listen and take you as you are in each changing moment. I will not be sad or angry that you hid it from us all these years and did not reach out for help earlier. You are the only one to really know when you are ready, when it is safe and when it is most critical to act. I will not rant on in anger about the terrible human being he is. There is a reason you chose him and a reason you gave it a chance and, despite the pain he caused, you saw something inside of him that had potential or offered you what you needed at the time and that is ok. What matters now is you. I will never judge you. I am not you and I don’t walk in your shoes. Release yourself of your guilt for any of this. His anger and his abuse were not your fault. At this juncture, the only thing truly important is now. In this present moment I feel nothing but love and respect for you.
I honor your compassion.
It has made you an amazing teacher and an engaged and loving mother. It has made you a friend for life that no one wants to let go. Your compassion for someone who has hurt you so much kept you there until things got critical, but it is that same compassion that aligns you with the universe. That ability to see good in bad is a tremendous and powerful gift. Now it’s time to own it and learn how to have compassion for yourself. If you saw yourself as a child suffering as you have, would you not wrap your arms around her and tell her it’s going to be okay? That is how you must treat yourself now, with patience, gentleness, love and compassion.
I honor your strength.
You may be afraid of surviving on your own, but you have already survived so much. Not only have you survived, but also you have done so while doing everything in your power to make each moment joyful and fulfilling for your children. You have been strong physically, weathering exhaustion and physical attacks, and also mentally with the story-making and all the times you constructed your mental armor against verbal assault. This kind of strength is hard and enduring and, although at times you have felt small and weak, it has never disappeared. It is most activated when you are protecting your loved ones. All should fear you in these moments and you are in your right to call on it to help you and your family thrive. Now it’s time to own it and claim your strength as your power and your ability to overcome your fears and obstacles that lie ahead.
I honor your courage.
You demonstrated your bravery each day when you woke up unsure of whether you will be hurt but moved forward with all you needed to do, regardless of the danger that lie ahead. You courageously traversed unpredictable waters looking for islands of refuge and you now bravely jumped ship to swim for a more solid shore, all the while carrying your children. You have looked in the eyes of someone bigger and more intimidating who threatened your life and your happiness, and you held your head high in defiance. In realizing you may not be able to out-muscle or change his behavior, you changed your own strategy in order to stay alive.
You have made tough decisions that have likely touched every deep nerve in your body. Every fear and every insecurity has surfaced in these transformational moments but they have brought with them valuable lessons. My friend, it will take time to heal and to trust and feel truly free of this burden, but your strength and courage will keep you on the path that’s right for you and your compassion will allow you to open up to new possibilities for healing and growth.
I’m proud of you and I honor who and where you are at in your process of growth and understanding. You cannot disappoint me or let me down, no matter what decisions you have made or will make. You are not to blame for someone else’s dysfunction and it is not easy getting away from someone who has had such a strong grip on you, but you will succeed. In your low moments, and always, know that I am here for you, but more importantly know that YOU are here for you. I love you.