How to keep moving forward from abusive relationship
August 13, 2013 4:08 PM   Subscribe

I asked these questions earlier and you were all so helpful. I am now two and a half months out of my abusive relationship. I want to continue to move forward and need your ideas and encouragement.

I don't know whether my ex is alive or dead because we've been no contact since the breakup. I've been off social media and am using an alternate email from the one he knows. I've gotten past the guilt. I no longer think it would be my fault if he killed himself, though I would be very sad. I'm still afraid that finding out he did would jeopardize my recovery, so I have avoided doing so.

I've been getting counseling and EMDR for my PTSD. The depression is starting to lift and I'm making some new friends, since I had to move to a different town. I need to reinvent every area of my life now and would like some feedback.

First of all, there are many things that remind me of him or our relationship, and I'd like to be able to do/enjoy them again without flashbacks. For example, he made me a professional website, and I can't even stand to look at it, much less refer anyone to it. He used it to guilt trip me with, saying that I "owed" him. It's a pretty nice website, but I still feel guilty about its very existence. In fact, I wish I had the money to pay him for the time he took, just to get closure, absolve myself, and prove to him that I'm not the gold-digger he accused me of being. (It was his idea to make this site for me and I know it was a form of loan-sharking, but I have not yet been able to shake the bad taste out of my mouth about it).

It's also hard for me to work on anything (I'm a writer/artist/musician) because he would constantly criticize everything I did or made. He did nothing but brag about how he could have done whatever it was better than I did, and sucked all the joy out of my creative process. Unfortunately just thinking about working on projects brings on flashbacks.

He thought himself highly superior to me, and decided that his role was to teach me things. I'm very right-brained and he's extremely left-brained. He referred to himself as a genius, and as far as I know, he was considered a computer prodigy. He tried to teach me basic programming concepts so I could become more technically adept and get into a higher income bracket. But then he'd get enraged that I couldn't learn fast enough for him. He told me there was something wrong with my brain. I have no idea if he was correct. I just know that before I met him, I was excited about technology, and after what he put me through, the idea of learning anything having to do with tech makes me sick to my stomach.

I'm not working right now. My family is supporting me due to the PTSD. However, I'm starting to feel like I might be ready to find work, and I would like to do so soon. With regard to my "life's work," I don't want this horrendous experience to be a waste, or something that weakens me. Also, I'm in a position where I need a career change, for reasons other than the relationship (I was a pro writer/editor and then the economy crashed and I am simply no longer jazzed about journalism anyway). I have an urge to turn my experience into something I can use to help other women and/or to do something creative.

Ideas I've thought of include running a women's art/journaling group, writing a novel based on the relationship, writing a nonfiction book about abuse using my experience, and returning to school to get some sort of counseling certification. Or all of the above.

I also want to move on in terms of dating. How do I know if it's too soon? I've actually met some guys I think are interesting, but I'd hate to be on the rebound without realizing it. (The ex and I were off and on for a couple of years).

I appreciate the wisdom of Metafilter and all the encouragement so far. Thanks all!
posted by Rainflower to Human Relations (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
For many of your questions, I would encourage you to give yourself some time to continue processing and healing. Don't pressure yourself to look at the web site, or date right away. Put aside the web site and dating for a while, and check back in a few weeks to see how you feel about those things.

I think recovering your creative identity will be important for your healing, so I would suggest working with your therapist on small steps towards being creative, and strategies for any triggering you get.

Best wishes!
posted by Squeak Attack at 4:40 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yes, I think it's too soon to start dating.

I was in an abusive relationship two years ago. I am still in the process of overcoming the aftermath of that relationship, and though I am significantly beyond the majority of the bad stuff, the one thing I wish is that I hadn't waded into dating again as soon as I did (about the same amount of time as you) because I still did not know the extent to which my psyche had been damaged by being in a relationship with a person like my ex-fiance. This is not to say that all people in abusive relationships heal at the same rate; I would be remiss if I were to suggest such a thing because we all know that's not true.

The thing is that you have to do so much unlearning of old habits and old mental routines that I firmly believe that it's better to do that unlearning for almost a year to two years with a therapist and on your own before you get back into a relationship so you don't subconsciously seek someone out so you can "fix" what went wrong in your abusive relationship and "get it right this time". You may also do what I did which is seek someone out to validate that the abuser I was once with wasn't the only guy that could ever be attracted to me. And guess who I started dating? Guys that honestly weren't much different because I didn't yet know how to really truly identify what I actually need in a relationship and what sort of behavior is baseline in a good partner.

Take this time to invest in yourself and in FRIENDSHIPS with other people. You have PTSD from an abusive relationship. Take that seriously and give yourself the time and space in which to really get to know yourself again or else you may find yourself with Abuser 2.0 and you deserve so much better than that. Maybe it won't take as long as it's taken for me (I am still processing, personally), and I hope it doesn't for your sake, but for now, don't jump in. You don't need it. Seek love in other aspects of your life first and grow strong there first.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:58 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Finding work? Yes Dating? Too soon. Helping others heal? Probably too soon. Spend more time healing yourself, getting to know yourself etc... I would do creative things just for the pleasure of it.
posted by SyraCarol at 4:59 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you can find a local support group for domestic violence survivors, that might be a great place for you to both get help and help others (which is a great advantage to groups). Most of the trauma organizations that I've been a part of and that have taken volunteer counselors, have wanted those counselors to be at least six months out from their own trauma (whether it's a death, a sexual assault, an abusive relationship, or something else).
posted by jaguar at 5:22 PM on August 13, 2013

Also, feel free to toss stuff that reminds you of him, when it's feasible. Can you redesign your website, even just using a template? Go for it! Need to take a break from creating projects? That's ok! Maybe you can go out and enjoy other people's music, or read other people's books, or just let yourself recharge for a while.

It's ok for it to take a while. Just in terms of biological reality, it takes the body and brain about three trauma-free months just to get all the cortisol and other stressy hormones out; there's no real point in trying to figure out who you are until you've been in a stable, safe, supportive, calm environment for at least three months. Assuming your family living situation is all those things, give yourself a couple more weeks and then start taking a few small steps in any direction, and see what feels ok. As SyraCarol said, though, make sure you're prioritizing your own healing during this time -- it's really easy to get sidetracked taking care of someone else (again) as a way to procrastinate on meeting your own needs.
posted by jaguar at 5:29 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Don't contact him for any reason. Your remark about paying him for the website is alarming. I know you are worried about him killing himself. I am worried about him killing you as part of a murder-suicide. This guy is scary.

I think you should try, as best you can, to work on building a new life that isn't focused on your past with him. Your head is still full of him and I can understand wanting to write a novel about him or try to use your experience to help other abuse victims. But I think you'd be better off to do something that doesn't involve your past with him and puts some other, better things into your head. Maybe years from now when you're good and healed you can write a novel--but I think it will be harder to heal if you continue focusing on him now.

At some point you'll want to go back to creative work and push past your aversions and bad associations. You don't want to give that up forever. No rush, though.

I agree that it's way too soon to start dating again. Make some new platonic friends first.

If you feel like you're ready to go back to work, I think any job would be good, but preferably one challenging and demanding of your attention. By all means try something new.

Good luck.
posted by mattu at 6:48 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like you are doing really well with the steps you've taken, and progress is slow but steady (it can't really be any faster!) Well done!

I very strongly think that you should avoid making your experience in the abusive relationship the focus of your creative pursuits. There is nothing wrong with wanting to help other people either through groups or writing - but it is too soon. It would be a way of keeping the whole thing alive. It's like when you have bitten the inside of your cheek and your tongue keeps going over to poke at it even though you know you should just leave it alone so it can heal. You can't help it, poke - is it better yet? Poke. Poke. Poke. Eventually you wind up biting it again.

The problem with creative things is that, like dreams, creativity can be a way of processing things in your life. Although this sounds really good, what it also means is that if you pursue projects related to the relationship, you will be spending a lot of conscious time and effort and headspace in thinking about the abuse, about the relationship, about everything that happened and might have happened and could have been different. In a sense, you will be perpetuating the relationship. Poke, poke, poke.

Perhaps this is just my experience, but what I found really helpful was doing something that was completely unrelated to my interpersonal skills, because I had little to no faith in them. For me, that meant volunteering in a way that meant I was doing lots of practical things, where it was me being there and doing the stuff that needed to be done that mattered. My creativity, my intellect, my ability to socialise - none of this mattered. It was also a lot of outdoor stuff, which helped enormously too.

You will have to judge for yourself whether you can do creative things that aren't centred on the abusive relationship. Myself, I would be suspicious as creativity by its nature tends to tap into strongly emotional stuff. But up to you.

In terms of the dating, I agree with others that it's probably too soon. Give yourself some time to develop yourself as a person, get in touch with what you want and need rather than responding to someone else's. Give yourself time to heal.

As always, happy to memail if you like.
posted by Athanassiel at 7:13 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can you convert all these reminders of him into reminders that you kick ass for getting him out of your life?

When studying IT and momentarily frustrated by a hard-to-understand concept, instead of "maybe he was right and my brain is broken," what about "thank god I am figuring this out on my own without him here to berate me" or "well, I figured out how to leave that relationship, so I'm sure I can figure out CSS?"

Pretty much any reminder of him could become "I am so glad he is not here! Now I can [do art / learn CSS / figure out my career / whatever]." On top of that, leaving an abusive relationship is hard and an actual accomplishment, so you can go beyond "so glad he's gone" to "and I totally rule for getting him out of my life, so I'm sure I can conquer this new challenge, too."
posted by salvia at 9:25 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]

Someone gave me an exercise for stuff like this. I'm sure it is famous and has a name, I just don't know that info. It is more effective if your counselor leads you through it, but you can def do it on your own.

Step 1: Close your eyes and focus on something horrible related to your ex. Really feel it for a few moments.

Step 2: Put aside that bad memory and focus on a really AWESOME time in your life, when you were joyful, safe, confident. Really feel that moment. Let it inhabit your whole being, feel transported by it.

Step 3: From that happy place, glance back at the bad memory. What does it look like? How important is it now? Exactly!

Do this a lot, until all the bad times are neutralized. This works for anything troubling, btw.


Delete your ex's work and throw up a simple web page until you are ready to redesign your website. Keep nothing from him. Nothing. You'll replace it with better stuff, and the sooner you move his energy out of your life, the quicker you'll heal.

I'm so very happy for you. You're doing great!!

I know this part sucks, but it's actually an awesome opportunity - embrace it!
posted by jbenben at 11:01 PM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

Just wanted to say, if and when you're ready to think about a new website, memail me and I'd be happy to help you out. :)
posted by Acarpous at 2:47 AM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

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