It’s Okay to Be Single, Survivor

Maybe you need to hear it’s okay to be single.

The conditioning that forced us into codependency makes us think differently, at least at first.

And the emotional neglect, the deficit in love and respect we carry after abuse, makes us needy. We want to fill those holes, and fast.

But if relying on another person to make us happy didn’t work before, why would it work now?

In fact, maybe you need to hear that it’s necessary to be single, at least for a time. Longer than weeks. Longer than a year. Maybe a few years.

We have a lot to figure out as survivors before we’re ready for the kind of romantic relationship we want and deserve.

The key is inside work.

Your empowerment,

your self-fulfillment,

your self-love
self-respect
self-acceptance

are all key.

Don’t misunderstand. This is NOT the same thing as saying, “You have to love yourself before anyone else will love you.” That’s patronizing bullshit.

What I’m saying is that those pieces MUST come first, creating a solid foundation of peace and well-being that needs no external validation, before anyone else can “swoop in” and add TO your happiness.

And this is all coming from someone — me — who’s been single for almost 11 years. Not always by choice, and despite a fair number of dating trials, but out of a necessity the universe led for me.

Everything I said at the start of this essay was me, early in.

I only know all this stuff now because of my personal experiences in survival, dating, healing, the journey of self. It’s taken years upon years to internalize these truths, and be able to share them.

I’m to the point now where a boyfriend isn’t going to work for me unless they contribute to the peace and well-being I already have on my own.

It would be lovely to have a companion. Someone to come home to. Someone whose shoulder, arms, presence are a safe space. Someone who makes me laugh and makes me coffee, helps around the house and with responsibility, loves me for me. But do I NEED them? Absolutely not. I didn’t always know this.

It’s taken me a long time to embrace it. To really MEAN it from my core based on everything I’ve learned and accomplished by myself, and not just say it because that’s what people expect you to say when you’ve been single “too long.”

I will never forget that around the time of my divorce — I was all vulnerable and glowy-eyed and hopelessly romantic (not despite the abuse, because of it) — when a friend shared with me, in a wise-matron sort of way, that it took her five years to find her second chance and the love of her life. It was both a caution and an encouragement, subtle, well-meaning, though at the time I only rolled my eyes and thought, “That won’t be my story. I’ll never have to wait so long.”

And here I am, a decade later…

Wiser than ever.
Happier than ever.
At peace because I’ve done the work, because I MADE my peace.

And because I’ve learned it’s not just necessary to be single,

it’s also okay — more than okay — to be single,

even for a long time.

How to Deal with Abuse

Step 1: Listen to that tiny voice when it says you deserve better.

Step 2: Internalize that you need to leave.

Step 3: Figure out a way to leave, then leave. Or leave even without a clear plan. Whatever it takes, hopefully with a support system in place, but also if not. It’s possible.

[Alternate Steps 2 & 3: Recognize that you’ve been discarded by your abuser and now is your chance. It’s a gift. It doesn’t feel like it yet, but it’s a gift.]

Step 3.5: Realize that you don’t have to figure out how to survive, because you are already surviving and have been for weeks or months or years. Take a few deep breaths. Keep on.

Step 4: Establish your outlets for crying, yelling, confusion, empowerment, therapy, raw honesty, hurting, and healing. Plus more crying and yelling.

Step 5: Teach yourself about the abuse. Study when you can. Knowledge is power.

Step 5.75: Embrace that you deserved none of the abuse, nor were you responsible for it.

Step 6, Part 1: Set your standards and start practicing your boundaries. These are your personal guidelines and rules that you’ll allow no one to infringe upon or break, and will not sacrifice yourself.

Step 6, Part 2: Understand that these standards and boundaries are necessary in all walks: with friends, family, bosses, partners, etc., and operate thusly.

Step 7: Explore and find what it is that makes you feel safe, helps you create stability, and fills you with happiness. Do more of it.

Step 8: Take time to notice that holy shit, you’re doing this. You’re healing and thriving.

Step 9: Move forward into a life which needs no one’s approval but your own.

Step 9.99: Remind yourself as often as necessary that you’re a warrior a la Wonder Woman.

Step 10: Use your story to help others. (Note: Helping doesn’t have to look and manifest the same to you as it does for me.)

A Note for Survivor Supporters

Those who have never experienced an abusive relationship assume that at the inception of one they would take charge and respond with empowerment immediately.

“I would NEVER allow that.”

But a domestic abuse truth is that its victims are groomed and conditioned from the beginning, through subtle yet effective behavior by the abuser, not to react any way other than submissively

with self-blame

and with involuntary forgiveness.

Also true is that the quiet, insidious, controlling abuses are typically introduced long before physical violence—if physical violence even becomes a component of the abuse. Sometimes it does not.

So even if you mean well, stepping into a survivor conversation with comments like:

“If they hit me even once I’d hit them back” or
“I’m packing my bags as soon as they lift a hand”

…may be true to you in this moment,

but can also be painful, condescending messaging to survivors who never asked or gave permission for the abuse they received.

You might think it could never happen to you.

We thought the same thing.

You Are Enough

Three simple words.

Many people blow right by them; the phrase doesn’t even register.

Those are the people who have never questioned their worth. They don’t carry a deficit in validation. They weren’t devalued, over and over again, by someone who was supposed to love and guard and lift them.

But to a survivor of domestic abuse, these three simple words are balm on the tattered heart.

And they’re just the beginning.

Here are more words, just for you.

> you, already, are everything you need to be

> you are 100% lovable, just as you are right now

> you did nothing — lacked in no way — to deserve the abuse

> you have more potential than you are capable of grasping

> you are invaluable to the people who deserve you

> you don’t need anyone’s approval to exist

> you are allowed to dismiss anyone who disagrees

> you are the only one who determines your worth

Guess why?

You know the answer. Even if you can’t see it yet, or are still trying it on for size, it’s right there hiding in the shadows and waiting for the warmth of light.

It’s because you are enough.

Trans Youth Affirmation is Not Abuse

Every American politician who’s currently trying to take away transgender rights, with special vitriol aimed at our youth, needs to sit face-to-face with a well educated mom who affirms her trans kid.

Let them try to look in her eyes, on her turf, maybe even inside her warm and loving home, and try to explain to her how she’s committing child abuse.

I volunteer.

Because I offer a powerful bonus. As a domestic violence survivor, I know a thing or two about traumatic, damaging behavior.

Come talk to me.

I’ll help you understand true abuse.

🏳️‍⚧ Today is Transgender Day of Visibility.

Understanding Abuse and its Nuances

Let’s review some terms, yeah?

Domestic Violence (DV)

That word “violence” packs a punch. Many assume violence MUST be physical, but that’s just not so. Violence can happen around you as much as it can happen to you, and it’s not always about kicks and slaps, but also refers to anything that hurts you emotionally and psychologically.

Abuse takes on so many forms beyond what is physical. In fact, it’s the other abuses — emotional, sexual, spiritual, financial — which lay deeper wounds and take much longer to learn about and heal from.

Domestic Abuse

Domestic abuse is any abuse that happens in a home setting, which means it affects a woman’s kids as much as she herself is affected. It even applies to Grandma if she lives in the same house.

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV)

This refers specifically to romantic relationships which are touched by abuse, and it is present in teen dating as much as it is adult partnerships.

Whether in reference to domestic or intimate partner dynamics, the terms “violence” and “abuse” can be used interchangeably.

Survivor

Sometimes folks seem to believe a woman can’t call herself a “survivor” unless she saved her literal life from death by leaving physical violence. But ANY woman who leaves ANY kind of abuse is a survivor.

Hot Take: The only difference between a victim mentality and a survivor mentality is how you think of yourself.

On Will Smith

(from a white woman)

I feel like, given my platform, I have to say at least this:

I’ve long adored Will Smith, and as a fairly devout fan I’m overwhelmed by disappointment.

But that disappointment is underpinned by the fact that I carry an everyday awareness that I will never not be a domestic abuse survivor.

I saw the clip with survivor eyes, not fan eyes.

And I don’t handle uncontrolled emotion well.

I don’t handle explosive men well.

I’m so anxious about what I saw, and all of social media’s coverage of it, that I can’t even figure out what I think about it.

I do know many are saying “white people don’t have a place in this conversation” and as such, I don’t want to overstep, which is why I’m keeping this brief.

But trauma is trauma. Everyone has their triggers.

And every survivor deserves a place at the table where the conversation’s topic is rooted in violence, and where education is not just a possibility, but a necessity.

A Note About Spiritual Abuse

Sundays are bittersweet.

While I’ve found my peace and carve the day my way now, usually at home, which is my absolute favorite place

I remember what it was like before, when I woke up, brainwashed, and just did what was expected of me,

which was to dress up and play the pretty, happy, doting, submissive church wife, and accompany my [ex] husband to the morning service, where he schmoozed and pontificated and reconfirmed his reputation as a “Godly man”

so that once again he was deemed fit by the people whose approval his ego required, by the people he fooled,

and was “forgiven” for his “sins” when all he did was show up and convince them he’d never hurt a soul, that he was so funny and smart and charming, and worthy of a blind eye,

but yet never truly humbled himself, or offered authentic repentance, or saw error and wrongdoing in his weekday ways,

or was honest about the fact that he so grossly and so consistently abused his own wife and failed as a father.

Yes, Sundays used to be tough.

Even before I woke to the abuse — then leaving the marriage and the church at the same time — I carried a deep discomfort with the way things were. I didn’t understand until some time later.

Now I see that his organized religion was perfect in its quiet commitment to look the other way, celebrate the manipulated and superficial, and enable abuse by the chameleons like him.

So now, when Sunday dawns, I relish my peace and awareness. My life as I’ve made it, in my own terms.

But I also think about the women still living the life I used to

stuck in the brainwashed and continually-excused cycle of spiritual and domestic abuse.

Healing and Growth Are Found in Solitude

How often do you remember to pause and center?

If you haven’t realized yet, let me tell you that it’s imperative to our hurting and healing journey.

Today’s Facebook memories served me this photo and its caption:

Photo is author’s from 2015.

“I have come to the park to think and study and have a solitary picnic and paint my toenails as the breeze blows. #doingitformyself

I remember the day. It was a Sunday, lunchtime. I’d just spent the week without my kids, per the custody order with my “coparent,” and they were due back to me later that afternoon.

No one who doesn’t experience it knows how hellish and gut-wrenching it is to hand over your babies to the person who abused you, and who doesn’t treat them right either. For stretches of days at a time, even. No one knows the inner angst when it goes against every fiber of your being, but you’re bound by the law (or else) anyway.

No one cares that you have to find a way to exist with it, the injustice.

And so it’s not that I can say a break from my kids was ever a gift, but I will tell you, I found a way to claim the gift in being by myself.

Lonely as it was at times, raw as the absence of my kids felt, big as my worry over them, it was the pausing and centering in solitude that found me, taught me, healed me, and which made me fit to be everything my kids needed me to be.

So on this day — the Sunday pictured here with my fresh toes and the smooth water and the light breeze we can all imagine — I was reconciling that balance of angst and solitude with the resounding joy that my kids were coming home again.

I’ve learned over the years that if we don’t learn to pause and center, it’s all for naught. The suffering, the opportunity for growth and empowerment, and the chance to let solitude have its way.

Don’t let it be for naught.

Whose Permission Do You Need?

What’s your relationship with approval?

I ask because I had an epiphany this week.

To summarize its cause, I finished Will Smith’s autobiography, WILL, wherein he wrote about his decades-long struggle to gain the approval of others: in his most personal relationships, among friends, throughout Hollywood and all his professional endeavors.

His revelations stunned me.

No photo description available.
author’s photo

How had I never before found conscientiousness about my own need for approval?

Oh, I’ve learned that my love language is words of affirmation, though it took quite some time. Given that any relationship formed alongside domestic abuse or intimate partner violence creates a deficit in all love languages, you start out with almost every bucket bone dry. Each needs equally filled — which also takes time — before you can understand which bucket you want to carry, and that was true for me.

But affirmation, encouragement, is a little different from validation.

And I’ve put a lot of work into understanding my relationship with validation, too. It’s a basic human need — recognition of your qualities, and all you offer — another thing we exist without during abuse.

The journey for abuse survivors is in finding authentic validation from quality people who will not manipulate or harm us, who care about our well being—and, more importantly, it’s about learning how to validate ourselves.

But validation is a little different from approval, too.

Approval is an acceptance for just being.

I had no clue until I read Will’s raw, honest account that a need for approval still follows me ten years post-abuse — despite all my personal progress and insight for other survivors — but what’s more: it has haunted me my whole life.

I’ve seen its shadow since childhood. Felt its omnipresence almost constantly. I just didn’t know how to define it, or that it’s surely the root of allowing myself into so many abusive and hurtful patterns through the course of my 43 years.

But now, somehow so clearly, I get it. It’s like the same switch that flipped the millisecond I knew I had to leave my abusive marriage flipped again.

I don’t need permission to exist. To feel. To create, excel, thrive, rest, let go.

I don’t need permission to make my own choices, to do what’s right for me, and carve my own path.

I don’t need anyone’s permission to feel comfortable in my skin, or love who I am just as I am, and live my best life.

I don’t need permission disguised as approval, not from anyone other than me.

This means it’s true for you, too, dear survivor.

Your existence needs approval from only one person.

And it’s you.