50 Ways to Leave Your [Abusive] Lover

*Disclaimer: I am not a legal, medical, or mental health professional; I’m simply a person with experience and ideas, trying to share them. Please take the following suggestions carefully and if you are in an abusive situation and need help, reach out to someone you trust. xxJ



You just slip out the back, Jack
Make a new plan, Stan
You don’t need to be coy, Roy
Just get yourself free
Hop on the bus, Gus
You don’t need to discuss much
Just drop off the key, Lee
And get yourself free

Paul Simon, “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

If only leaving your lover was as easy as Mr. Simon’s catchy tune makes it seem! And leaving an abusive partner? That’s even harder to do.

I don’t actually have a list of 50 ways to leave your abusive lover. I did start start trying to make one… I had things like, “Sneak out at night and leave a glitter bomb for your now ex-lover to open and find in the morning. All it needs to say is: Fuck you; I’m outta here!” I also included ideas like giving your partner the finger, doing a dramatic hair flip, and then walking off like a bad-ass movie star who never looks at explosions behind them. Or simply look at them, and call upon the Queen of queens, RuPaul, saying “Now sashay away…byeeeeeeeee!!!!” before sauntering out the door.

But those ideas seemed really inappropriate when paired with the actual circumstances of leaving an abusive partner, because I think, unlike Mr. Simon says in his song, that leaving an abusive partner is a process—one that doesn’t end when you physically remove yourself from your partner’s presence. It’s more like a series of physical, emotional, and financial steps away from your disentanglement to that person and towards your re-engagement with yourself.

You’ve probably considered leaving before—maybe even many times before!—but until now, you’ve always found ways to rationalize staying. You’ve told yourself that your partner will change. Or you’ve blamed yourself and decided to just work harder (just!) to make changes in the relationship. You may feel too scared to face the uncertainty of leaving what’s familiar (even if it’s dysfunctional). You might assume that you’re not worth more than how your partner treats you (they’ve groomed you for those kinds of feelings, remember?), feel like you have nowhere else to go, or there may be children involved and that complicates things.

There are so, so many ways to convince yourself to stay.

When you do, finally, make the heart-shattering, gut-wrenching, completely terrifying yet entirely empowering decision to leave, you begin the step-by-step process of leaving your abusive lover. I have some ideas about how this process might look, but remember that the entire process could take years, or it could happen in the course of a few moments. My experience was that it took years before I felt empowered enough to leave my partner. Others may make it happen right away. You do you, but here’s what I think the process may be like:

  1. You begin to consider leaving as a legitimate possibility. You mull it over, maybe take some small steps to start preparing for it, and you work yourself up towards making the final decision.
  2. You reach out to someone you trust for support as you prepare to leave your abusive relationship. This may be a trusted family member or friend. It may be a counsellor or your doctor; it could be someone at a shelter or on a partner abuse hotline. You seek out the reassurance that someone will in fact be there when you find yourself alone.
  3. If you are an intensely anxious over-planner like me, you will set a time and date for when to inform your lover. You may also draft up a quick and informal separation agreement and have your trusted friend or family member come with you on D-Day to deliver your news and your agreement to your partner, ensuring that everyone present signs and dates the agreement (this is an immensely helpful document if you find yourself in a legal battle post-separation).
  4. Or you don’t plan ahead and one day, you just tell your partner that you’re leaving. Or you kick them out of the house. Or you sneak out in the middle of the night because that’s the safest way for you to leave. You get the fuck out of there, however works best for you! Because that’s the whole goddamn point.
  5. This is where the-post-leaving work begins. You begin to disentangle emotionally from your abusive partner. This might take days. More likely weeks, months, or even years. Having a counsellor, if you’re able, makes this a much steadier process.
  6. You hire legal help, if necessary, to protect yourself when your emotionally abusive ex tries to exert control over you again. There are Legal Aid services in Canada and the United States. There are likely others in different places as well.
  7. You enlist a kickass accountant, if you are able, to make sure your finances are dealt with responsibly. Do NOT allow your partner to dictate this unless you fully understand the scope of the decisions being made. And please do NOT underestimate the importance of taking care of yourself financially. This was a much bigger part of leaving my spouse than I expected and was very hard to deal with during the sweep of intense emotions that came along when I left.
  8. You “get yourself free”, as Paul Simon says, and you manage the best that you can. That’s really what it comes down to.

Voila! You’ve left your lover. And it only took 8 steps! Easy, right?

No. It’s not easy. It’s 100% difficult. Especially in instances of emotional abuse, because people (including law makers and the like) often consider “emotional abuse” to be subjective. And depending on how skilled your ex-lover is at being charming or manipulating others, it may become even more difficult to get support as an abuse survivor. I know this firsthand, because when I left my marriage, I had to fight fiercely for my claims of abuse.

And isn’t that just the worst thing you can do to someone who has just escaped an abusive relationship? Make them fight for the legitimacy of their experience? Fuck that. The lip-service given to emotional abuse is not enough to protect survivors of it, should they choose to, or more likely need to, engage in a legal battle post-separation. If you don’t have children with your abusive lover, things may be different. I’m not going to say that they will be easier—that wouldn’t be fair to those whose legitimate struggles with abusive partners happen without them being parents as well—but I know that when I left an earlier partner who was also abusive, whom I didn’t have children with, it was still incredibly difficult. So difficult, that I’m still dealing with the feelings and fear that developed as a result of that relationship.

So, no. Not having kids doesn’t guarantee that it’s easier to walk out on your abusive partner. There’s still intense fear and risk involved. You still need somewhere safe to go and someone trusted to talk to. You may have to hire a lawyer and advocate the shit out of your experience in order to protect yourself. There will still be so many feelings and experiences to figure out afterwards. You will still be putting yourself in an incredibly vulnerable position by changing the status quo of your life and of your ex’s life.

Emotional abuse is just as scary and just as serious as physical abuse. So, despite what Paul Simon says, leaving your lover isn’t usually as easy as just walking out the door. Anyone in an abusive relationship should be able to leave that situation. Maybe that’s the one part Mr. Simon gets right in his song when he says, “Just get yourself free.”

I had the fight of my life trying to disentangle from my abusive partners. In fact, it still feels like a fight everyday.

If you need help leaving your lover, please reach out to someone you trust, or to one of the places below.

xxJ

Canada: https://www.justice.gc.ca/eng/cj-jp/fv-vf/help-aide.html

Canada: http://www.awhl.org/home

Canada: https://www.sadvtreatmentcentres.ca/find-a-centre/

USA: https://www.thehotline.org/

USA: https://www.rainn.org/national-resources-sexual-assault-survivors-and-their-loved-ones

Worldwide: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_domestic_violence_hotlines

Let’s never underestimate the courage it takes to leave your [abusive] lover.

Bizarro World

As I said last week, the world is kind of going to shit. And within that chaos, we each have our own pile of crap to manage. It often feels like the shit is hitting the fan and everything is falling apart in our own lives and all around us. What a time to be alive!

When my life was dangling from the shit-covered fan of a messy divorce and major mental health problems, and I was desperately trying to disentangle myself from everything I had known for the past decade and a half, I started gathering an arsenal of tools and strategies I could use to cope better. I’ve already talked about some of these strategies, but today I want to share a new one. Here’s how I learned it:

One day in a therapy session, my counsellor turned to look at me and he asked, “Do you know who ‘Bizarro Superman’ is?”

I’m not exactly a comics buff, but I’ve picked up a bit of knowledge from watching Marvel and DC movies, and from many sessions of playing superheroes with my daughters, so I looked back at him and said, “Yes.”

And my counsellor continued… “Okay, so Bizarro Superman is like the exact opposite of the actual Superman. He exists as a reflection of Superman and does things that seem strange and unexplainable to the rest of us.”

“I want you to imagine that parallel to your real life, there is a Bizarro World. It’s a place where all the crap that doesn’t make sense and isn’t rational and is completely ridiculous exists. And when you come up against something that is nonsensical and irrational and completely ridiculous, you need to stop and remind yourself that it’s all just Bizarro World crap.”

And I went, “hmm” and sat with the idea for a moment.

My counsellor went on: “So when someone says or does something hurtful, just tell yourself that this is Bizarro garbage and belongs in Bizarro World.”


Random garbage bag full of Bizarro crap, obviously.

So I learned The Bizarro World Technique, as I’m now dubbing it, and it consists of doing one simple thing: reminding yourself that irrational thoughts and behaviour (whether done by yourself or someone else) belong in Bizarro World and not in the real world. The Bizarro World Technique, or TBWT because I’m lazy and want to use an acronym, is similar to using the Positive Belief Record (or PBR, ’cause who wants to spell everything out every time? Not this girl!) I talked about back in October of 2018. What TBWT has that the PBR lacks is a sense of humour. And humour truly is great medicine. (I think someone said something like that once.)

It’s not always easy (or appropriate) to use humour when dealing with trauma, but sometimes it’s the best way to diffuse tension, open up to creativity, or just get some big emotions out in a way that leaves you feeling better instead of worse—my counsellor and I had a good chuckle on the day that he introduced TBWT to me and I absolutely left that session feeling better than when I had arrived.

As I continue to manage the crap in my own life, and think about how I can do more to help the world, I’ve had to remember this technique of referencing “Bizarro World.” It helps me sift through the mess of thoughts I’m being flooded with and deal with the crazy behaviour I’m seeing from people around me.

I want to be clear though: I’m not saying that we should ignore the alarming and destructive behaviour happening around us. Likewise, TBWT doesn’t mean you should ignore your feelings, or stop working on addressing your personal trauma and your triggers. The technique categorizes these experiences and re-frames them into a much more manageable framework so you can detach from them emotionally and then think rationally about how to handle them. Plus, it might make you laugh! Bonus!

The Bizarro World Technique also reminds us that WE ARE NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR OTHER PEOPLE’S FEELINGS. EVERRRRRRRRRR.

Recognizing the shitty behaviour of others through using TBWT (or a PBR, or talking to a counsellor, or journaling, or blogging, or talking with a trusted friend…) should be an act of removing any sense of obligation you might feel to fix or change other people. Throwing that junk in Bizarro World means that you recognize that it is someone else’s shit and that your job is simply to manage how you feel and what your behaviour looks like.

Really, it’s about taking ownership of your thoughts and behaviours, so that you can think more clearly and take action with intention.

So when your ex does something typical and shitty and you start to feel crazy, remind yourself that it belongs in Bizarro World.

When you start thinking that no one could possibly be as stupid/ugly/crazy/whatever as you are, throw that garbage thinking into Bizarro World.

When you’ve had enough of the political bullshit our bigoted lawmakers keep spewing, wrap it up in a black garbage bag and toss into the Bizarro Universe.

I sometimes even literally say the words out loud: “This belongs in Bizarro World!” And I won’t think you’re crazy if I hear you saying the same thing.

We don’t need to take ownership for other people’s bad decisions; what we need is more people living authentically in order to help humanity get back to thriving! We need more people to wake up to the Bizarro bullshit they’ve become encumbered by and start putting it where it belongs. What we need are minds free of Bizarro World clutter so that we can make confident decisions and act mindfully and with intention.

xxJ


I think this is an excellent representation of how to get that Bizarro World junk where it belongs. If only I had all those muscles to help me really kick its ass!

Til Death Do Us Part

When you have a partner who is narcissistic or emotionally abusive and you make the choice to leave them, the advice that’s always given is to go “no contact” and cut them out of your life completely.

That would work beautifully as a solution to healing from the emotional trauma of being in a relationship with a narcissistic emotional abuser. Except…

What about when you can’t go “no contact”?

What about those of us who created beautiful children with terrible people? What about the women and men who have left an abusive partner but can’t fully escape them because of the children they share?

What about the people like me?


The single, most difficult thing about my life now is managing the co-parenting relationship I have with my daughters’ father. It feels like I continue to hold the vast majority of the parenting responsibility, as I always did, but am required to engage in a relationship with my children’s’ father, regardless of my history with him.

My struggle in this relationship is so bad that I’ve idealized the lives of other parents whose former partners have completely abandoned them and their children. I recognize (and empathize so much with) how incredibly difficult it must be for these parents, financially and otherwise. But I envy the freedom they have when it comes to making decisions for, and being caregivers of, their children.

I also envy my friends who got divorced BEFORE they had kids. In my mind, that type of divorce is akin to ending a middle-school relationship; you both move on and it never has to matter in your life again EVER. Again, I’m not saying it’s easy, just that it’s easier than divorcing when you have kids.

I don’t actually think of what my ex and I do as co-parenting. In fact, there’s a different term for the type of parenting we do: it’s called “parallel parenting.” “Parallel parenting” looks more like a business relationship than a typical parenting relationship. You detach from the other parent and operate separately, aside from making major decisions together. This article explains it much better than I can, but hopefully I’ve given you the gist.

Thinking about all this stuff makes me wonder, how do other parents manage when their partner is abusive? Whether that person is narcissistic, emotionally abusive, physically abusive, or just a shitty person…how do the non-abusive parents cope with an ongoing parenting relationship? Because it’s hard. It’s really, really, fucking hard. And it takes time to figure out ways of coping.

If you also need to continue engaging in a difficult relationship, I do have a few ways you can help minimize the effect it has on your day to day life. You can do things like…

  • Setting a specific ring- and text-tone for your former partner. This way, when calls or messages come in you know right away who it is and you can pause to prepare yourself before answering.
  • Bathing your children when they return home (or having them shower if they’re old enough) and washing the clothes they came home in. I find that scent is a HUGE trigger for me. If it’s a problem for you too, you can eliminate or reduce triggering smells by literally washing them away and the kids never have to be the wiser. All you need to say is “it’s bath night!” and that’s enough.
  • Doing all pick-ups and drop-offs outside your house or in a neutral location. Two choices here: either arrange to meet your ex and the kids somewhere close to home, but not AT your home, or move the pick-ups/drop-offs to your driveway. Again, this is about putting boundaries in your life (and your children’s lives) to keep you feeling safe and secure. Your home should be your sanctuary and if you feel threatened by your ex, inviting them in—or even just having them stand in your doorway—may be too much to ask of yourself. On top of that, and I may have some personal experience with this, opening the door to your ex may enable them to invade your space without permission. So do the drop-offs elsewhere and keep your space sacred (or at least douche-bag free).
  • A similar solution, if it’s possible with your kids, would be to arrange pick-ups and drop-offs around the school schedule so you don’t even need to face your ex at all. Yay!
  • Calling in the recruits! When you have to face your ex, having back-up in the form of another trusted person (a parent, new partner, or friend, for example) can help immensely. Not only is there strength in numbers (or at least that’s how it will look if there are two or more of you), having another person there holds both you and, more importantly, your ex accountable for what is said and done. (Soooo what I’m saying, really, is to make sure there are witnesses, because if your life starts to look more like a crime drama than an actual life, you may need them.)
  • Hiring a professional. If you have the funds, hire a parenting coach or counsellor and attend sessions separately (parallel parenting, remember?). Let the coach do the work of managing your ex’s outbursts, irrational behaviour, out-of-whack expectations, and all other forms of bullshit. If you do end up meeting as a group, you’ll have the counsellor or coach there to keep things on track and keep everyone feeling safe.

Telling abuse survivors who are parents to go no contact with our abusers is actually shitty advice We don’t get to go no contact—it turns out that when you have children with your abuser, “til death do us part” is a life sentence whether you stay married or not. Instead, we should be given tools and language that enable us to set up and, here’s the key part, maintain strong, healthy boundaries that protect us when we feel (or are literally) threatened. Life’s not as simple as just turning away from our problems and when you have kids, you always have to stare those issues straight in the face.  

xxJ


My home is my sanctuary. I feel safe here and my daughters feel at home. We can be secure in these walls no matter what else is going on.

1,040 Days

I was told it would take two years. “Two years,” they said, “and you will feel better.”

“In two years, this will feel normal and you will have healed and you’ll be happy and it will all be okay.”

They were wrong.

Because it’s been almost three years; 35 months, or 1,040 days, give or take, and I still hurt and it’s still hard and it still doesn’t feel normal.

There is no timeline for emotions. Our feelings don’t adhere to expectations placed upon them. They don’t care if we want them to go away. They don’t listen if we try to shut them out. True, we may be able to distract ourselves for a time, but in the end, our emotions make themselves known. And, in fact, when we attempt to suppress them, they always reappear with vehemence.

I think this is why emotional abuse is so hard to recover from. Physical injuries heal. Our bodies have an astonishing ability to look after themselves and heal the scabs and bruises inflicted upon them. But our feelings are different. Once they get bruised, the tender ache has no set timeline for when it goes away.

I was told at the beginning of my separation that it would take two years for me to “get over” the devastation of my divorce. I suppose my lawyers and counsellors and friends and family were well-intentioned in their attempts to both temper my expectations (i.e. it takes a long time to get over something like this) and give me hope for the future (i.e. this won’t last forever). Unfortunately for them, and for me, I’m the kind of person who clings too strongly to promises like that. I grab hold of expectations and stick to them like super glue, allowing them to set me up for acute disappointment. No one could guarantee when things would get “easier” but that’s what they tried to do.

It’s not fair to promise someone that their grief, or anger, or sadness, or even their joy, will last for a finite amount of time. We each move through our emotions at our own pace and no matter what, we can’t be rushed to overcome how we feel.

The emotional wounds abusers inflict upon their victims are what really make us suffer. And in my case, where I have children with my most recent abusive partner, I continue to face that person every day and there is no timeline for when that will change. I still struggle with relationships from high school; how can I possibly get over my ex-husband after just two years, when I have to engage with him all the time??

I know last week I wrote about love; about setting an intention to proliferate, seek out, and practice love in my life. And so the way that I’m showing myself love today is to notice that I am depressed and to allow myself the space to rest, eat good food, write, and sometimes cry; I’m letting myself feel how I feel because forcing a smile onto my face makes everything harder. When I pretend I’m okay, but really I’m not, it’s not good self-care. And I think that an intention to bring more love into my life includes loving myself no matter how I feel.

My kids have been gone for five days. I still won’t see them for another three. Was this the stuff that was supposed to get easier after two years? Was this feeling of devastation supposed to go away in those 24 months? Because I’m still sitting here, 1,040 days later, crying while I miss my children. And I still feel angry. And I’m resentful. And I hate being here alone.

There is no timeline for how we feel. So can we please stop trying to put one on those people whose emotions make us uncomfortable? Or those who are still struggling even though “enough” time has past? Those who are perpetually and authentically happy, but “should” be feeling something other than that? Or anyone whose feelings don’t mesh with ours, or whose feelings we don’t understand?

We can’t force others to follow an emotional agenda; feelings just don’t work that way.

xxJ

Life feels heavy right now and noticing that is practicing good self-care.

Damn, I Wish It Was Easier.

Grief is a tricky, messy feeling. It manifests in many different ways and goes at a pace that is unique to each person who struggles with it. I’ve personally experienced the death of loved ones and I know what that grief feels like.

I still carry with me a sense of loss for those people I no longer have in my life, but I’ve learned that grief can also be a response to things other than literal death. In the counselling I’ve done these last few years, I’ve come to realize that I am living in a cycle of grief. Not because someone I loved has died, but because the life I thought I would live ended.

Just as it does when we grieve the death of another person, my grief ebbs and flows; it changes, but it still persists. Some days are easier than others, but last week, when I wrote about struggling at Christmas time, my grief was very present. The holidays bring out all the symptoms of my grief because this time of year highlights many of the difficult and lonely situations I have to face in my post-divorce/post-abuse life.

I’m not sure how many people consider the experience of a break-up, or divorce, or another significant life change, as something to grieve, but I now believe that part of what makes these break-ups so difficult is that in these situations, we have to learn to accept life without the person or things we thought we were going to have. The plans we made, the future we envisioned, the expectations we created; these are all things that may contribute to our sense of grief at the end of a relationship or during a big change in our circumstances.

The grief I am living with now is for losing the life I envisioned as a mother and the life I thought I would have as a wife. It’s also because of a deep sense of injustice that I haven’t been able to get over yet.

Imagine being away from your kids every other weekend and committing to this schedule until your children have grown. Consider for a moment what it would feel like to wake up on Christmas morning and not see your own kids. Imagine how it feels to answer phone calls when your child is with their other parent and tell them, as they beg you to let them come home, that you can’t come and get them (because a court order says they have to be with your former partner). Pretend for a minute that your baby is sick and you can’t hold them because you can’t be with them during their other parent’s access. Imagine that you have to explain to your kids over and over again why you and your partner have separated, but at the same time, you can’t say to them that the reason for this is a long-standing history of domestic abuse. 

This is how I experience life in a family of divorce and I will readily admit that it has been a devastating change for me to try to accept.

I once had someone tell me that giving up Christmas mornings and living through those teary phone calls are “necessary sacrifices” in order to save ourselves from an abusive or unhealthy partnership. It’s become a small comfort to tell myself that and I’ve looked for other ways to help assuage my grief. For example, soon after my separation from my husband, I wrote a little sentence that has become somewhat of a mantra to me, and I keep it in mind whenever my grief bubbles up and I feel guilty, sad, or angry about my circumstances.

I tell myself,

“I would always rather explain why I left, than why I didn’t.”

These words offer a little assurance when I start feeling triggered, but my grief is a constant in my life. It is present all the time and every day that I miss with my girls, every Christmas I don’t wake up to their happy faces, every birthday when we’re not together, every time they call and ask to come home, every time I am surrounded by friends and family in loving, intact relationships, I am reminded of my loss and reminded that this is how it will always be from now on.

Always, in the corner of my heart, I hold my grief.

Always, I feel it in my gut.

It is always there.

Much like how we need to acknowledge and accept that mental health can be just as debilitating as any other disease, we also need to see that grief is a reasonable response to loss and not just to death. As I said before, I used to think of grief as something we only experience when a person we care about dies. Now I see that grief really means experiencing profound loss of any kind and trying to come to terms with it.

So I allow myself to acknowledge my grief and I know that’s the best way to deal with it. I also know that I need to give myself permission to feel shitty sometimes; grief has no timeline, no schedule, no checklist and I need to make space for it on the difficult days. The only way to move through grief is to live through it.

Damn, I wish it was easier.

xxJ

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“Some pain is simply the normal grief of human existence. That is pain that I try to make room for. I honor my grief.” – Marianne Williamson