I used to belong to a conservative Christian church.
I wasn’t raised in it, or in any church. In fact I was always thankful my parents never forced religion on me. That opened me to visiting different, diverse denominations with my friends over the years. I long felt that meant I could determine what I believed on my own. That I wasn’t just adopting what my family handed down, or being force fed something I didn’t choose.
When I met the guy who would become my husband and was introduced to his church, I accepted the smoke and mirrors as absolute value.
Kind, loving people led by doing what’s right for the greater collective, bound by a simple set of rules meant to protect and bless those who minded them.
Soon enough I was attending on a regular basis, and eventually became a baptized member. I thought I was choosing well, making a good life decision…
Here we’ll fast-forward as I tell you I left that church — and all organized religion forevermore — at the same time I left my husband and the marriage to him.
Because their greater good is only a small selective bunch which must conform.
Because their construct is sexist and misogynistic, and their rules quite deluded, complicated, and narrow-minded.
Because they are judgmental, not loving. The “love” is a farce, because it is conditional, and they don’t actually accept just anyone.
Because they choose which sins can be forgiven and which cannot. And then they self-righteously preach (dictate) about them.
Because they enabled my ex in his abuse of me.
Because they never looked deeper than his surface, or held him accountable—for abuse, for fraud, for legal mishap, for taking advantage of people, for lying, for never repaying significant debt, and much more.
Because when I asked for help, when I really and truly needed it, and assumed the “church family” I’d been part of for years would come through, they told me no.
Because I was blamed for my “failed marriage” and subsequently shunned.
Because they disrespect and show hatred and dismissal to my LGBTQ child, who is forced to attend every other weekend by his dad, the guy who abused me.
Because they want to save people and protect life, but only the people and lives they deem worthy, which are those who fall in line, can’t talk back, don’t ask questions or challenge them.
There’s more, I’m sure. It’s just not coming to mind right now.
But you might guess why any of this is on my heart today.
As a DV survivor, my “job” isn’t just healing myself and turning that into helping other women heal. It’s taking on the bigger cause of fighting for our rights, and reproductive rights + healthcare, and fighting against misogyny, and against the conservativism that tries to shut us up, hold us down, and tell us who we’re going to be and how we’re going to operate, to live.
I left my husband because I wasn’t going to allow another’s control any longer.
I left that church because I wasn’t going to allow others’ control any longer.
I left because I finally sought and saw liberation for myself.
And if we can’t see that this week’s current events, these so-called political actions, work against our liberation, that they are tied up in the kind of conservative religion that controls women, abuses women and enables their abusers while favoring the sexist, self-concerned misogynists, and the patriarchy, then what are we even healing and starting over and fighting for? What is our purpose? What is our charge?
Why are we here?
Things your abuser should have said to you, and meant with every fiber, include:
* You’re beautiful.
* Thank you for everything you do.
* How can I help you today?
* You’re talented.
* I love your eyes/hair/caboose/brain/fashion sense/etc.
* You have a sweet soul.
* I like the way you look at things.
* I’m sorry I didn’t do what you asked.
* What do YOU want?
* How do you feel today?
* My favorite thing about you is ___________.
* You have the BEST ___________.
* You make me laugh!
* I’m so lucky to have you.
* Can you teach me how to __________?
* You’re really good at ___________.
* I’m here for you.
* I adore you.
* You’re so smart.
* I can’t believe you’re mine.
* I have a [good/positive/well-planned/caring] surprise for you.
* I’m sorry I hurt you.
* I love to watch you _________.
* You’re an awesome mom.
* You have such a big heart.
* People are lucky to know you.
* You deserve a break.
* I love you.
Things your abuser should have said to you
are things you can and should say to yourself, and mean with every fiber,
I don’t have any degrees. I’ve no formal education.
Oh, I had a plan for college. Took some early classes that didn’t go anywhere. Dreamed of this career or that and had a fuzzy view of the future for myself but then, simply put, my abuser swept in and swept me from whatever grounding I had. Soon enough, I let him get in the way of what I should have done for myself all those years ago.
This may be familiar to some of you, too, how we subconsciously sacrificed our greater priorities and let someone else take the wheel to drive our life.
If I have a regret, it is that.
I’m not trained or licensed in psychology or therapeutic approaches, or anything that weaves in and out of my content, all my supportive coaching. I feel like you deserve that disclaimer.
What I know is from broken-down, gut-levelling experience and the deep diving I’ve done — 10 years’ worth — to understand what I went through and why.
What I know is what I share here for you, and it’s based on hard-won first-person perspective. Oh, have I earned it.
So what I’m saying is, my credentials are in life studies.
I think they’re more valid and valuable for me, and hopefully more authentic for you as I share, more than anything formal I could have done way back when.
We don’t gain wisdom from a classroom.
The journey in hurting and healing doesn’t require (or produce) a certificate of completion.
I’ve sacrificed a lot.
But I’ve also learned more than I ever could have imagined.
Woman with so much on your plate, I see you.
Because while your journey may not run parallel to mine, I know how heavy the burden gets.
…running a household, maybe with a helpful partner, maybe without one at all. Either way, sometimes even just remembering to get the trash out to the curb on the right day feels too consuming a task.
…working, maybe full-time, maybe through “hobbies” or “side gigs,” maybe both all at once, sometimes feeling the strain of keeping that routine steady and successful without overload.
…raising kids who can challenge us, regardless of how those individual challenges manifest—often while battling and countering an abusive coparent.
…trying to honor healthy relationships, while also honoring what we must do for ourselves.
…devoting ourselves to volunteer commitments we love but maybe stretch too thin for.
…learning patterns so that we can break the cycles and work through healing.
…fighting loneliness and sorrow on the days we just don’t feel like we can be strong anymore.
I see you, and hopefully you see me.
Maybe understanding that we’re in this together, shouldering the same weight, will help us stand taller and keep going.
I will if you will.
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.
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.
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.)
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.