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Tiaras and pyjamas

A couple of months after my fortieth birthday I had a Damascus moment. Not dissimilar to the moment Elizabeth Gilbert describes in "Eat, Pray, Love". Way overdue, but with time I've learnt we do what we do when we are (finally) ready and not a moment before.

In that moment of clarity the next step is almost choice-less. Not necessarily easy or smooth or pleasant but a clear and certain choice that whatever happens next will be different. And then you get up and start walking.

Slowly, but with more determination than before. With a better sense of whatever this was; is now done.

That's how I walked out of my abusive relationship of almost two years. Few people know exactly how abusive. For me there was shame attached to being in this situation in the first place. I am educated, had my own money, held an executive position at a great company, had a fantastic circle of friends, love spending time on my own, see myself as strong and competent.

None of the things that society tells us keep women trapped in abusive relationships applied to me and yet there I was, face full of tears and body full of bruises. Shouted at, slapped, shoved and shook regularly, called all names under the sun, locked in a room on more than one occasion. Once again waiting for neighbours to call the police to come and fetch me.

What I could understand even less at that time was that I went back twice!

This is not a victim story this is a story of hope, clarity, strength and triumph. Of claiming self-worth and owning it. Of understanding on a cellular level what you will allow or accept from future relationships and what will make you run for the woods. Of the myriad ways we abandon ourselves and how to stop doing that. Of knowing what a loving relationship looks like and what not.

And of how the simplest thing like a plastic tiara and a fairy wand worn every night with flannel pyjamas was the first step to healing for me. A make-belief princess trying out magic and miracles again.Some nights happily, other nights in tears but my tiara sat straight on my head as my friend casted spells. (Better days for me and disappearing cellulite for her.) I wore that tiara every night for weeks on end until one day I knew I didn't need a tiara anymore to remind myself of who I was.

What I learned from being in an abusive relationship:

  1. Somewhere in my system was a belief that you just need to love someone enough and they will change. They won't.

  2. There is nothing you can do to make someone change. They change on their own, for themselves or they don't. If they change for you it will inevitably lead to resentment.

  3. Constant abuse has a way of making you believe that the behaviour is your fault. You can bend yourself in seven different ways, change everything about yourself until you are barely recognisable, dim your personality, fulfil every command, anticipate every unuttered wish. Nothing will ever be enough or good enough.

  4. Friends who walk away because they don't want to watch you compromise yourself into oblivion are the best and truest even though you might only realise this much later.

  5. I saw the red flags and chose to ignore them. Red flags and warning bells are there for a reason and can't be rationalised into a different colour!

  6. Apologies are worthless and eventually meaningless unless they are backed up by a consistent change in behaviour. Three months is not long enough.

  7. I forgave too easily. I believed too readily. Hope dies last.

  8. Someone's relationship history and how they treat or treated their previous partners matters.

  9. Being in a relationship that eroded my sense of self also brought out the worst in me.

  10. The way in which people speak to each other is very important. Even more so when they argue. It sets the tone for respect and validation.

  11. All people have baggage, some have garbage. Your baggage is your responsibility to deal with.

  12. Keep your finances separate!!

  13. If someone tells you often enough how crap you are, you start believing them.

  14. I'm really good at dissociating and leaving my body. You shouldn't be. It messes with your nervous system and keeps you in places that are not safe.

  15. When you (finally) leave break off all contact. Don't engage in the cycle of pleading, promise, threats. You've seen this movie before; you know how it ends.

  16. I won't jump through hoops to be accepted or loved or approved of for anyone, ever again.


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