On August 7th, 2017, I took the biggest leap of faith of my life and made the decision to cut off my abuser. I had been contemplating this move for several years, but always felt too scared of the consequences. Having him tell me I was nothing without him and would never be able to succeed without him did not help either. But I did it.
As the first anniversary of what I call my ‘freedom plunge’ was coming up, I thought now would be the time to reflect and evaluate. Do I regret my decision? Has 7 become my new lucky number? (Spoiler alert: not really).
I will say, recovery was not what I expected. I may have underestimated it.
The first reaction was an exhilarating rush of relief and power. I blasted Kesha’s ‘Learn to Let Go’ for weeks, beaming with pride. “I did it!” I wanted to scream. ‘Nothing can scare me anymore!’
When the tears hit, I repressed them. Sadness was a wave I did not want to ride. What did I have to feel sad for, anyway? I had just done such a badass thing. I need to be strong, I told myself. So, I carried on.
Then came the anxiety. An insidious unease that would suffocate me and riddle me with panic as soon as I had to make the slightest decision about the future. What if I was wrong? What if I messed up and it would ruin my life forever?
I did nothing about these feelings, apart from pretending they didn’t exist. To everyone’s surprise (kidding), I got really depressed to the point of being suicidal.
All of this was amid a move to Italy and a relationship that was falling apart. Fun times. To rub the knife in, my therapist was in Africa and could not talk to me for another three weeks.
As much as I had dreaded going to Italy, it turned out to be great ‘therapy’ (along with actual sessions with my therapist) and slowly but surely, my mood improved. Being in a country with beautiful landscapes, great food and the best coffee helped me find a new appreciation for life and my brain relented on the nihilism.
Those months in Italy were a challenge, but I learned to find solace in my friends and in being on my own, locked my inner introvert in a closet and became an outgoing person who went to all the Erasmus parties (trust me, I could barely recognise myself). But in this person and this place, I found happiness, and the beginning of my identity as an individual with their own needs and wants. And for the first time in my life, my opinions were not controlled and undermined by my abuser. For the first time, I felt truly alive.
I have just finished my studies and am in the middle of applying for jobs. As much as I fear endless joblessness and being stuck in my hometown forever, I have faith that with a bit of perseverance and patience, I can get to where I want to go.
I still sometimes see myself as broken. I know that some neurological pathways in my brain may have been permanently damaged by the abuse. This trauma is part of me and pushing it away is futile. Recovery feels like a cactus in the behind sometimes. But one year later, I feel happy. Most of all, I feel free. And as Hannah Gadsby says: “There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who has rebuilt herself’.