Dear Red: Moving On After Abuse

Dear Red,

After reading the latest Dear Red letter I got to thinking. I got myself out of a six year abusive relationship years ago, but it recently occured to me that I have kept myself boxed in since then. I was so proud of myself for getting out, but now I see that I have been treating myself the same way he used to. How do I release myself from this trap? The thought of getting close to another person, and potentially getting myself into another unbearable situation, has kept me celibate since, but is trying again the only way I am going to be able to heal myself? The thought terrifies me, but then so does the idea of carrying on like this.

I realize this is probably an impossible thing to answer, but it can't hurt to try, right?


Trying to Move On

Dear Trying to Move On,

Thanks so much for writing. I can't imagine what you must be feeling. I think most people are a little hesitant to get back up and love again after a relationship ends, but in situations with abuse, I'd assume that feeling is magnified tenfold.

And so, since I am not at all a licensed therapist, and I haven't experienced what you've experienced, I'd have to say that I'm not sure I'm all together qualified to specifically help you. What I can do, however, is imagine if you were one of my close friends who approached me with the same question. And if that happened, and if you were sitting across from me over a few drinks, this is how I'd reply:

I'd tell you to get help (if you're not already). Do what you can to find a therapist in your area who specializes in cases of abuse (referrals work great if you feel comfortable asking around). While you've been so strong to get out of that awful situation, it's clear that you may need someone who can really help you systematically work through the aftermath of that relationship. They can also help you build confidence in your own self-trust, and help you know when you're really ready to "get back out there." (And seriously, sometimes dating is hard enough without feeling afraid.)

Then I'd tell you that you are awesome, and smart, and strong. I'd tell you that using your gut and your noggin is going to help you to spot the baddies before anything bad happens to you (I bet you can spot warning signs, phrases, and behaviors long before most of us can). I'd tell you that with or without someone, you're an amazing and capable woman, and with or without someone, you can continue to be that kind of woman.

Because this whole thing? It's about you. It's about you feeling ready to open yourself and be vulnerable to someone again. It's about healing to the point where you feel confident enough in yourself to know you'll never, ever put up with shit like that ever again. And it's about knowing that, no matter what, you'll be okay no matter what your past is and no matter what your future holds.

And then, because we've put back a few, we'll both get teary in the restaurant and then start laughing at ourselves for getting teary. Because that's what friends do after two very dirty martinis.

So yeah, that's what I've got. I really think the biggest thing is to get help from someone who can help you dig deep through those old scars and wounds and start to heal. Therapy is not a bad thing at all...I went after my divorce, and sometimes just having a neutral third party there to ask the right questions is, well, amazing.

I don't know you, and yet I can say that I'm really proud of you. It seems like you're on the brink of some pretty cool stuff as far as self-realization, healing, and life-time kick-assery goes. And I can only imagine the strength it took for you to leave your relationship. That is awesome, awesome shit.

Thanks again for writing in and sharing a little bit about your story. I hope I was able to help at least a little. And I really hope that one day we can actually throw back a dirty martini together. Get it, girl. You're awesome.