I left my abuser. What now?

When I finally escaped my violent relationship, I thought people would give me more credit

Published June 30, 2010 12:29AM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm 30 years old and recently left a 10-year marriage that was interspersed with occasional episodes of violent physical attacks and frequent outbursts of verbal abuse. I'm pretty upset with myself for staying as long as I did, but with the help of other women in a support group for domestic violence survivors, I'm working through the self-blame/anger phase and realizing that there is a difference between "blame" and "responsibility," even though the nuance is very subtle. I know he is to blame for the violence, but I do take some responsibility for staying as long as I did, because despite the fear and self-doubt, I would still like to believe that we have control over our lives even though others may violently (or we tacitly and codependently let them) take the reins.

While I didn't expect a ticker-tape parade to be thrown in my honor for leaving this individual, I expected to receive more encouragement from those I considered to be friends. I've been disappointed and pleasantly surprised by those who have and haven't offered me support and words of wisdom. Mostly I'm at a loss as to what to do next. I've been building up this moment in my head for a really long time. It's not as scary as I thought it would be but it's not as exhilarating either. 

In mind and heart there is a mixture of defeat, sadness, a little confusion, but there is definitely some peace. I've found your column to be very helpful over the years and am hoping you can offer some words of encouragement.

And yes, I'm in therapy and doing yoga.

Lost but at Peace

Dear Lost but at Peace,

We are all lost. Some of us are lost but not at peace. So you are in a good place.

When we become aware of the difference between what we desire and expect and what is actually unfolding, something must give. Either what is actually happening must change to conform to what we expected, or what we expected must adjust to what is.

We know that we cannot know the future. We know this. And yet when the future arrives, when it becomes the gift of the present, we act surprised, as though it were subservient to or controlled by the notions we had of it.

The future is alien; it comes at us from some far place; we do not originate it. We know this and yet it is hard to live day to day, minute to minute with this in mind.

Let's remember this: Our notions about how we will feel about something in the future are by definition flawed. The future is a cloud of probability seeded with crystals of novelty. We fly into this cloud. Any one of those crystals may strike us at any time, vaporizing our probability-based model of what the next 10 seconds will hold for us. Here comes a jet falling out of the sky. Here comes a random neuron firing. Here comes the denouement of a melodrama that began before birth, with a molecular change in some DNA. Here come chaos theory, abandonment, genius and inspiration. Here comes Shiva. Here come Paul Bunyan and the Easter Bunny. Here come those puppets from the Kia Sorento commercial.

This is life in time. That is to say, this is life.

Let's try to make a link here between violence, control and expectation. I note that you take some responsibility for staying in this relationship. What is your responsibility? What does violence have to do with control and addiction and the desire not to feel?

What is the lure of violence? What is the lure of unconsciousness? Violence blots out sensation; it leads to unconsciousness. We desire unconsciousness because it is a kind of bliss. Yet when we seek unconsciousness in the myriad ways that we do, through violence and alcohol and sex and drugs and obsessive behavior, we are always waking up to sameness. So disappointment is built in; we get unconscious, we wake up again. We get unconscious, we wake up. we are in a mini-cycle of life and death, while still alive. We are trapped in the cycle of Karma.

Actual transformation will not be what we expect; by definition it will be not what we expect.

Your responsibility in the relationship with the violent person, I would imagine, is your desire for unconsciousness; you chose one of many ways to become unconscious, and also perhaps to feel a physiological high that is also unconsciousness.

Violence concentrates experience at the polar ends of the spectrum, and empties out the middle; yet if we open our hearts, we find that in the middle is where the life is: in the gentle leaf, the bumblebee, the sound of a mockingbird outside, the sound of the sprinklers on a rock rose, a distant television, a child's shout, the hum of the refrigerator. These are the things going on right now. Along with external phenomena are the phenomena in us, our breathing, the chatter in our heads.

As though trying to balance on a column of air, we do not have the skill to stay in the middle; we gravitate toward the edges; we have no balance.

A theme in this response is the difference between big rushes of feeling and steady attention to subtle fluctuations; we might say these subtle fluctuations are the ripples in the space-time continuum, the whispers of the gods, the texture of reality. We keep trying to come back to it because it seems closer to the center of existence. And we keep deviating from attention on it because there is discomfort in the constantly new.

We must be alert to what is coming.

What you have had is a private victory. People will not know how to respond. And people will surprise you. Those who have been quiet and did not seem to much care will be moved and come into your life. Those you thought were close to you may not really understand. They may have liked you better before; they may have felt more comfortable with a cycle of fear and violence that they understood. They themselves may be trapped in similar situations.

It may turn out that now you can help these people who do not seem to get what you have been through. Some of them may get it all too well. Now that you are out of it, you may begin to recognize familiar signs; some people who seem to drift away or not have compassion may have secrets of their own.

Now you can pass on to others what you have learned.

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By Cary Tennis

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