How Sisterhood Helped Me To Heal After An Abusive Relationship

How Sisterhood Helped Me To Heal After An Abusive Relationship

I was in an abusive relationship. It took two years of my life. It took another two for me to realise it was abusive. When we were together, I thought he was my person. He held me and, in many ways, healed me. He also hurt me, devastated me, and left me broken. My sisters helped build me back up again.

I met him through mutual friends. We spoke briefly at a networking event (we had a mutual friend, one whom I later found out he had harassed) and then, to my surprise, he sought me out on social media. We spent the next few months getting to know one another. It started as a friendship (sort of) before growing more intimate. From this moment, the unravelling began. 

Where he was once friendly, courteous and kind, he soon became cold, cutting and cruel. The words of encouragement, gentlemanly behaviour and softness became criticisms, evasiveness and punishments when I didn’t oblige to his ever-growing demands. It got to the point where I couldn’t make decisions of my own. From what I ate to what I wore to my career choices, he became a looming figure, ready to chastise and stonewall me if I went against his wishes. When I did obey his demands, I wouldn’t receive any praise or warmth. Instead, I’d receive further condescendence.  

During relationship with my ex. Image taken by my ex.

I became a shell of a person. I was hostile to others around me when I wasn’t with him. I couldn’t properly internalise what he was doing to me while I was with him. And I found myself getting angry at myself for wanting to be with him. To be wanting to go back to a space of hurt and pain. Friends pleaded, family members warned, and I started feeling that whatever ‘this’ was it was clearly not right. At two years in, I was at my breaking point. 

I didn’t know how to get out. He had seemingly entwined himself into my life. As abusers do, he had made it feel as though life without him was impossible. I had allowed him to bend all of my boundaries and tread over all of my values. It was only when he did something unthinkable – sleeping with a close friend of mine, someone who I had considered a sister – that I knew I had to step away. 

I could write in lots of detail about the abuse I experienced. I wrote five thousand words, attempting to make sense of it, in the days following the end of the relationship. I remember reading them out to my mother, a former domestic violence worker, and her silently crying in response. But I don’t wish to give light on that. Instead, I choose to speak of the moments of redemption, joy and healing. I choose to speak of how I got through.

In the weeks and months that followed, I tried all the therapy, meditation and yoga. But the real healing I found was through sisterhood. I was embraced by women who had gone through what I had – whether they told me so in words, knowing nods or hugs. Women who had felt inklings but were still so enraptured that they ignored their intuitions.  Women who couldn’t imagine what I’d gone through – thankfully – but who wanted to help me heal all the same. 

Making new adventures with sisters.

Their solidarity came in waves. When an author I worked with sensed something was wrong after seeing my out-of-office message, she sent me a takeaway and a reminder to eat. It may have seemed small but at a time when I was barely able to leave my bed, that simple instruction meant so much. I started a WhatsApp group with two of my abusive ex’s partners after seeking them out, and we named it ‘Healing Space’. Here, we could speak truth to our experiences and find justice and peace in each other’s acknowledgement and empathy. We’d all been through it, but we were out of it, we’d survived and we had each other to recognise, understand and celebrate that. Friends brought flowers and chocolates – my best friend even gifted me a rose quartz to help me find harmony, love and balance once more – and with each gesture, interaction and acknowledgement, I slowly began to put myself together again. These acts of service and solidarity were gladly given, with nothing expected in return. These offerings told me I was loved, unconditionally. 

Sometimes the most hurtful part of an abusive relationship is the aftermath. When you have been ripped to pieces, it is a painful, confusing and messy thing to put yourself together again. To make sense of who you are again when you are no longer a puppet of another person. To know what you want and feel you have the power to make that decision. To rewire your brain to respond and react differently when you’re so used to responding by fighting, flighting (running away), freezing or fawning. To understand your triggers so you’re not constantly feeling like you’re traumatised. To, ultimately, come home to yourself again. 

It is women who have helped me make sense of all that. Who have held space for me as I’ve dealt with all the stages of a breakup – from the anger and denial to the bargaining and depression to the (not-quite) acceptance. When I found it hard to trust, it was women who sowed seeds to cultivate that vulnerability again. When faced with the freedom to choose, be or do whatever I wanted to, I found it debilitating. I had grown so used to having someone tell me what we should do and what I should even think that some choices made me melt down. Again, it was women who offered a guiding hand, encouraging me to trust myself again. To listen to my wants, needs and desires. My sense of self, albeit shattered for some time and still shaky, was restored by so many women who held me up and showed me a clear path forward. 

On holiday with friends.

I recognise that not everyone has the privilege and blessing of sisterly companionship. In an age of disconnect and loneliness, when our schedules are full, our cups often overflowing and our work-life balance is all over the place, it can be hard to find that solidarity but rest assured, you can find your sisters in places when you’d least expect them. Whilst the majority of my sisters were long-time friends, family members and women I worked closely with, I also found myself connecting with women from all backgrounds and walks of life. From WhatsApp groups and Facebook communities to events and local groups, seek out those who exude warmth, who make you feel safe, and who listen when you speak to them. You can find your sisters in places where you’d least expect them. 

Realising just how abusive my ex was has been difficult to grapple with over the past few years. I’m sure that there are many of you out there like me, still picking up the pieces. Even when you’ve convinced yourself you’re ‘healed’ – you may have found love again, thrived in many ways, and regained your confidence again – sometimes, the ripples of what you’ve been through make you feel pulled apart again. But rest assured that it is from those fragments that sisterhood can put you back together and help you feel restored once again.

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