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After months or years of being trapped in a relationship with an abuser, that first breath of freedom can be exhilarating—and may also be overwhelming. And that’s only natural. If someone’s been controlling too many parts of your life for as long as you can remember, reclaiming that control may seem daunting. No worries. We’ve rounded up some examples other survivors have shared with us about what they did for themselves after leaving an abuser. So, take a breath if you need to, and then get inspired by these healthy ways to focus on yourself.
Getting Reacquainted with You
From having pets or getting a tattoo to what you watch on TV, wearing certain types of clothing, or makeup and hairstyle choices, abusers frequently exert control by keeping you from things that you like or enjoy. But after you’ve left an abuser, it’s important to let yourself enjoy them as part of the healing process.
And it may take some time to figure out/remember what those things are for you now. If you’ve been told repeatedly that something is bad, you may not feel certain about your true feelings and likes or dislikes. But don’t worry—it’ll come back to you! Do some soul searching, try new things and determine what makes you happy again.
Here are a few examples from survivors on what they did for themselves after leaving an abuser:
“Slept. Dyed my hair. Dressed really crazy, after years of being insulted for my choices or forced to dress certain ways. Spent time with family and old and new friends after years of isolation. Worked a schedule I wanted and had total control over my money and budget. Bought a car, bought jewelry. Rebuilt my credit.” – Melanie R.
“Started watching TV. He had total control of the remote during the entire duration of our marriage. I was surprised and pleased to find there were shows I actually liked.” – Peggy H.
“Enjoyed my freedom. Cooked whatever I wanted, had whatever schedule worked for me. Talked to whoever I wanted to. Went out with kids to where we wanted to, etc. The list is almost never-ending. Best thing I ever did was break free from him!” – E.G.
“At 40 years old, I learned to be alone for the first time in my life. Best thing I ever did.” – Sheryl R.
“I started playing music I loved every day and sometimes dancing with joy around the house. I felt freedom for the first time in my life, I could breathe again.” – Sage S.
Breaking Forced Habits
Abusers tend to thrive on rules and making you do things their way, from when you’re allowed to sleep or work to how fast you respond to their texts or even the way you fold laundry. Good news: you’re not required to follow those rules anymore. It’s time to make your own. Here’s how other survivors began doing that after leaving:
“I got a job, opened my own bank account and got my driver's license. I was never allowed any of those things, if I took too long on errands, he would give me a ‘warning call’ saying that I had so long to get home before he called in with a DWI or tip. I was arrested and the car impounded 3 times, so the license was a big deal.” – S.R.
“Walk and sleep. I was able to be outside without reproach. Sleep without reproach. Carry out the activities of daily life without reproach.” – Charleen G.
“Brought the dogs to bed and let them on the furniture.” – Jessica E.
Getting Help if You Need It
Healing looks different for everyone, but many survivors say they benefited from counseling as part of their healing process.
“I got counseling. Very good counseling. I had two counselors at the same time for a while. Free to me because of DV. Then later, I found excellent trauma and PTSD counselors. Before that, I found a really good medical doctor. I am healing, literally healing.” – Nancy S.
“Went to counseling, took back my paychecks and got my own bank account.” – Laura F.
“Therapy/counseling. I eventually remodeled my kitchen and redid the floors.” – Elizabeth D.
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5 Tips for Self-Care After Leaving
Want more tips to promote healing? Start with these five self-care tips from some of our previous stories:
- Challenge yourself to a year of self-care. Here are 52 ideas, one a week for a year, that focus on the most important person—you.
- Do a workout you enjoy. You know, one that empowers you, makes you feel good at the end of it or releases stress. Try kickboxing, yoga or a spin class. Here are some more ideas.
- Turn off or limit your time watching the news. Much of the news focuses on the negative, which can be especially triggering for survivors. Find positive news sites to scroll instead.
- Turn up the volume on your favorite song. Music has been shown to help alleviate symptoms of depression. Start here with our new Survivor’s Playlist.
- Tap into your creative side. Much like music, art can also play an integral part in the healing process. Be it journaling, drawing or painting, see if creating helps to release something inside of you.
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