girl with suitcase on road

Healing is a journey, not a destination

When I first liberated myself from the abuse, I thought that was the biggest step. I had a vision that getting him out of my house and several states away would be the beginning of peace and an end of fear and sadness. Several months later, when my divorce was finalized, I realized that this was clearly not the end, but the beginning of another challenge. Healing.

The bigger picture for those of us who have survived an abusive partner is not just the healing and reframing of our lives, but doing it under the constant barrage of continued abuse. I have yet to find any abuse survivor, male or female, who was not subject to continued abuse post-escape. Mine began the day after my divorce was final, when it sunk in to him that I had finally gone through with it. The abuse quickly morphs and takes other forms. If you aren’t prepared for it, it can stop your healing so solidly you will feel like you are living in quicksand. Each day becomes a struggle just to keep your head up and breathing air.

But let me share with you what I discovered and what I achieved because of it.

Getting Off the Crazy Train

I discovered that in order to heal myself, I had to stop trying to heal him, which had been essentially a lifelong habit. That meant stopping all attempts at rational negotiation, because he is not rational. That meant stopping forcing my children to have a relationship or interact with him because of my own fear—because their pain caused me more of my own. That meant stopping trying to “make sense of crazy,” because his behavior will never, ever make sense. It also meant stopping trying to get him to comply with the legal orders. Yep, you read that right. It got to a point where it was obvious that his lack of compliance was simply another form of abuse. All of this stuff sucked the life out of me, and generally just kept me on the Crazy Train.

Over time, as I learned to let go of my own behavior patterns that had evolved as a response to his, I found myself again. That gave me the blank canvas I needed to paint a new picture of my life. Was it easy? Absolutely not! There were days when I literally had to force myself out of bed for a couple of hours, or I could be found lying on the floor crying. Or I couldn’t remember when I had taken a shower last. There were some days just too dark to even think about now; days when the only thing that kept me going was knowing that if I didn’t, my children would end up alone with the abuser. So I vowed to myself that he would not defeat me, and I would take one positive step every day, no matter how small.

How I Ate an Elephant

Like all other big endeavors in life, those small steps added up. You know how to eat an elephant, right? One bite at a time! Now, more than six years after my initial escape, here are just some of the things I’ve been able to accomplish through sheer will and hard work:

  • Went No Contact with my ex-husband on 3/6/12, and stayed that way

  • Earned a Master’s degree from a prestigious program with a 4.0 GPA

  • Got a great job, then got another great job

  • Started a business and a support site which helped many survivors of abuse with their own journey

  • Developed an amazing, loving, and communicative relationship with my daughters

  • Changed my hair to what I liked

  • Made incredible, life-changing friendships

  • Chose a completely different place to live, in another state, and loved it

  • Bought a car that I wanted, all on my own

  • Learned how to be an emotionally healthy partner

  • Eliminated people from my life who were not good for me, without anger

  • Earned an appointment to the United States Diplomatic Corps


  • Found the true love of my life

While many of these accomplishments are things that were very personal to me, the point is that I was able to determine what I wanted out of life and take steps in that direction. Not everything I wanted or pursued turned out the way I had hoped—not by a longshot! But in the same vein, some of the things that happened were things I never could have dreamed possible.

Healing Is a Continuing Journey

Even with all the things I’ve been able to change about my life, and to accomplish, and to receive from God and/or the Universe, I recognize that healing will require constant upkeep. It’s very much like recovery from substance addiction in that we learned a destructive behavior pattern, so we have to learn new behavior to make sure we stay away from the same traps. I still have to think through my reactions to things, but with practice, it has become much easier to quickly and accurately say, “Oh, I’m reacting this way because of that and this is what I need to do.”

Remember that life itself is a journey. Too often, we take the short view about our healing from abuse and have thoughts like, “If only (x) then I would be happy and could move on.” What I propose is a new way of thinking, one which worked spectacularly for me:

I will be happy. I will move on without anyone’s permission. And the “x-factor” no longer matters.

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Aubrey Cole

Aubrey Cole

I survived a quarter century of psychological, emotional, economic and sexual abuse. When I got out, I vowed to help others do the same and founded the Emotional Abuse Survivors Network project in 2012. Now, I offer hope and healing to others on their journey as they rediscover themselves. My forthcoming books, Bodies in the Basement and Define Winning, chronicle my experiences, escape, and recovery. There is nothing so special about me that others can't emerge and thrive.
Aubrey Cole

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One comment:

  1. Profile photo of scapechi

    February 17, 2016 at 9:14 pm

    Aubrey, great to read this. Thank you!


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