I don't know what it is like to be in abusive relationship, but I can imagine that for a person who has experienced being on the receiving end of threats of or actual instances of physical abuse, the psychological scars remain long after the relationship has ended.
For starters, it must be hard to shake the fear, that omnipresent sense of dread, that one day the abuser will find the victim at the victim's new home, at his or her job, or while shopping at the local mall. It can be hard for someone who has been in abusive relationship to allow oneself to trust anyone else who might show a romantic interest in him or her. Then there's the loss of confidence. "How could I have been so stupid to allow such a thing to happen to me?" is a thought that many people who have experienced an abusive relationship must ask themselves.
When I left off with my previous post about my friend Lucy (as an aside, I changed the name I used for her), she had made her escape from her abuser with the assistance of her uncle.
Quite naturally, Lucy was afraid to go back to her apartment, at least for the short term, so she stayed at her uncle. Her uncle though, as it turned out, was not exactly a fountain of sympathy. Lucy would tell me that he would berate her for allowing herself to get involved with such a man. He made her feel like she was imposing on him and her aunt, telling her she could only stay with them until the end of the month. Knowing her uncle's personality, it may be that she was reluctant to reach out to him sooner.
Having been a hotline counselor some years ago, one of the qualities that was ingrained into me was to be nonjudgmental. In Lucy's case, sure I could think some of the things that her uncle said to her, but it would not be productive to say them. What matters most is not to tear a person down, but to build that person back up.
I asked Lucy to tell me as much about the abuser as possible, so that I could make more informed suggestions to her. One of the most important things she said about him was that he was the kind of person who did not like to make a scene in public or draw attention to himself. His parents house, where he was presumably living now, was in the outer suburbs of Toronto, Furthermore, he did not have a car and had to rely on public transportation to get around. Based on this, I told Lucy that it should be safe to return to her apartment building. As the temperatures were starting to get colder in Toronto, it wasn't likely that the man would ride for an hour on public transportation to get to her neighborhood and then stand around in the freezing cold waiting for her to show up at her building.
Still, Lucy was still unable to bring herself to return to her apartment. Not only could she not shake the fear that he might turn up there, she could not bear to be in the place where she suffered the abuse and sleeping in the bed she had shared with him. So Lucy ended up staying for a time at a homeless shelter. She described to me the conditions at the shelter, including a roommate who was not exactly playing with a full deck, if you catch my drift.
After about a week or so, I implored Lucy to return to the apartment. Over a month had passed since she had left, so it seemed reasonable to expect that the abuser would believe she had moved out permanently. I told her that she could look for a new apartment while she was there. Fortunately, she had made the acquaintance of another woman who agreed to stay in the apartment with her on the first couple of nights of her return. The on jarring note was that the asshole ex-boyfriend had left a letter that she reckons he slipped under her door within a week after she had made her escape. He asked her to call him. The only other communication she had from him, apart from that, were the calls he made to her cell phone the night she left him, which she did not answer or return.
Lucy started searching for a new place to live and managed to find another apartment that was in a more favorable location for her commute to her job. She moved into it at the end of the year, and thus far Lucy's life seems to have taken a turn for the better.
While Lucy's physical circumstances have indeed improved, it must be hard for her as well as others to feel normal again. Lucy admitted to me on a couple of occasions that part of her still misses the man who abused her. I told her that it was understandable to feel that way, as he must have had some positive qualities that attracted her to him in the beginning. That being said, I advised Lucy that whenever she starts to feel like she misses him that she should remember what it was he did to her.