Step 1. Begin at the beginning.

Step 1: We admitted we were powerless over [our relationship] – that our lives had become unmanageable.

My counselor, and other mental health professionals, says that the reason that I was in an abusive relationship is because I was trying to fix what happened to me as a child. Someone has probably told you the same thing if you’re reading this. I think there are two additional reason that I was in an abusive relationship. Reason 1: I was looking for love and didn’t know what it really looked like. Reason 2: I was trying to fill a God-sized hole inside me with a person-sized, twisted, insecure, version of love.

I was so used to feeling anxious, I didn’t know that my relationship was spiraling out of control. I was so used to yelling, hitting, screaming, emotional unavailability, etc. that I didn’t know that I should leave when my relationship began to spiral out of control. I was so used to feeling invisible and unloved that I didn’t know that extreme jealousy was not an expression of love. I was so used to other people controlling my life in a co-dependent and unhealthy way was not how people interacted.

My life was unmanageable because I wasn’t managing it. I gave away my power and acted at the behest of another person. I was subjected to whatever the insecurity du jour was. I walked on eggshells. Irrationally, I tried to read his mind to avoid upsetting him. I existed in this world with a tight chest and constant fear.

It comes down to this: my counselor was correct – I was physically abused as an adult because I was physically abused as a child. I was in the relationship I was in because I learned as a child that I was powerless, not in control, and my wants, needs, and desires didn’t matter. I learned many things that I am still unwrapping, the most important of which was that I was unlovable. After all these years, this is the thing that I struggle with the most.

Reason 1: My second reason may not be one of your reasons but I would bet that many domestic violence survivors experience it. I never had a good example of what love looked like. The reasons for this vary and are irrelevant. I cannot, as I write this, identify a single loving, caring, relationship that I want to emulate as an adult. I simply didn’t know. Add into that paradigm the fact that little girls are told that when a boy hits her, he likes her. Or add in that television and movies try to give us a distorted understanding of how the progression of a relationship occurs. Add in also that we as adult women don’t always instruct our children (male and female) on how to treat us. Also add in the war on drugs (from my generation) and the current (and subsequent) heroin epidemic – which results in self-centered, egotistic parents caring for children (or not caring for them at all) in an unhealthy manner. Add in the twisty-twirly idea that a white knight on a white horse will come and save the princess.

Reason 2: I had a God-sized hole I was trying to fill with a twisted, insecure, illusory version of love. We all have a God-sized hole that is a gaping crater all the way to our soul. We search for things to fill it with. For me, it was a relationship with other humans who would love me and care for me. In exchange for that love, I would give away my power and my body and my freedom. Once I did so, however, I was unfulfilled. But, I kept trying.

We learn to accept less than we deserve from those who are supposed to love and care for us. The red flags become normalized in our existence because we have no example of anything else. When we enter into relationships where those red flags are waving in our face, we think it’s okay because that’s what we’re used to.

I would enter these relationships and figure out that I’d lost all control and that I was in danger. But by then, it’d be too late.

When it’s time to run, we can’t. Because along the path of ignorance, we have let go of all the resources we have that would allow us to get out. Plus, we are either married to the man and have created a bond with him and possibly have his children, or we are in a sexual relationship with him. These create bonds that make it excruciatingly difficult to leave. When you add in the lack of resources, control, and connections with the exponential danger that happens when it’s time to leave – we don’t.

Merriam-Webster defines unmanageable as difficult or impossible to control or manage. [1] We can’t manage our lives because we’ve given up our power to another human being. When we reach our lowest level of existence and highest level of fear for ourselves, or for our children, we are often powerless to leave.

But, it’s possible. It’s dangerous but possible. We have to start all over. We have to start at the beginning and work our way to something resembling a normal existence. Often, we have to hide. Or we have to fight for custody of our children. Sometimes, he comes after us – leaving an abusive partner is the most dangerous time for a woman in an abusive relationship.

God has a special place in His heart for the widows and the orphans. We’re both. When we start over, we’re both. Starting over isn’t easy. But, it’s possible. Leaving isn’t easy, but it’s possible. Surviving isn’t easy, but it’s possible. We reclaim our power when we leave.

Admitting you’re powerless is the first step. It’s the first step to freedom. It’s the first step to getting power back. It’s the first step to manageability. It’s the first step to recovery. It takes courage and bravery. Be brave. Be courageous. God is with you.

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