Recovery after Abuse: Saying Goodbye to What Didn’t Happen
There are things in life that should happen. Parents should love and protect their children, spouses vow to love and cherish each other, and children are supposed to love their Mom and Dad. I’m sorry it didn’t happen. Whatever abusive relationship you are coming out of – someone treated you wrongly, cruelly, giving no thought to loving or protecting you. An important part of your recovery from abuse is recognizing and accepting that the abusive person in your life is never going to be the loving person you hoped for. It’s time to remove your rose-colored glasses. Someone hurt you very, very badly. On purpose. They may have their own problems to face, but that does not negate or make excuses for what they did. Love is always a choice, and the choices we make every moment of the day make up our character. Their character was badly lacking.
I know you had dreams. That’s what makes us human. But the hopes you had for the abusive person have got to go. Pretend your hopes for the relationship are sand, disappearing from your fingertips. It’s over. It’s time to say goodbye and move on. Letting go will mean grieving. It is a process that can take weeks, months or years. It’s a decision to trust yourself; and to believe that the pain in your heart was not your fault. Someone was cruel. Someone was a bully. Someone’s intent was malignant. It doesn’t matter that you weren’t perfect. Because you overslept one day, missed a phone call, had a car accident – whatever you’ve been blamed for – it was never a cause for someone to hurt and punish you. You are human, the same as everyone else. The hallmark of being human is making mistakes. So what? Normal people love and embrace their differences and their weaknesses. What you endured was not normal.
I had a client, Sarah (name changed), who came from a sad, dysfunctional family. She had a sociopathic brother who harassed and abused her, and her family did not protect her. Sarah had to accept that her parents were never going to be the loving parents that she wanted. She had to say goodbye to her dreams. Sarah says, “In recovery, I used to dream that I was moving out of my family home. It was my heart working things through. In my dreams, I was always packing and leaving. Once, I stood over my parents bed as they slept, and stared at them, before leaving quietly and walking up the street.”
“I well and truly said goodbye,” she added. “I cried, I grieved, I let go. When my parents became old and infirm, I was able to maintain a relationship with them, even to the point of being affectionate at times. But emotionally, I was no longer connected. I was free from the pain and the expectations. And I was free to limit my contact with them to whatever was comfortable for my well-being.” Begin to say goodbye. Sarah said she found it helpful to pretend her parents were seated in her living room as she talked to “them,” yelled at “them,” and cried at “them,” working through her grief and frustration.
Keeping a journal is also a helpful tool for saying goodbye. When you have deep emotions to feel, make sure that you are well-rested and in a safe place where you won’t be interrupted. Don’t worry. You won’t always be saying goodbye. Soon you’ll be saying hello to a satisfying future filled with hope and surrounded by loving people. Stay with the process and keep your chin up.