I’m Out- Now What

I talk a lot about leaving a controlling or abusive relationship, there are a lot of sites out there on leaving the situation. But what happens after you leave? Leaving is not a magic answer and leaving does not wipe the slate clean of all problems. In some cases, leaving can result in new problems. Just like life, escaping an abusive relationship is an ongoing process.

A controlling person may continue to try to exert control. If you have a restraining order- use it, report every contact. If you don’t have an order, keep in mind that if the attempts to contact become excessive or threatening you may need to get one.

Don’t answer your phone. We are conditioned to pick up the phone if it rings. You don’t have to. Caller id is helpful, or you may need to make arrangements with friends or relatives that you will only be answering the phone at certain times of the day. Do not unplug it as you may need it quickly in an emergency (put it in a drawer or cover it with a pillow.) If you must speak with the ex (sometimes it is necessary for children) try to handle the conversations on the phone,  keep the discussion on topic, refuse to talk about any other issues  and hang up if the discussion strays. I know, it sounds rude and hateful. But keep in mind- whatever works they will do over and over. If it doesn’t work for them, it should ease in time.

Establish a home. Even if you are on a friends couch or in a shelter, you can make small moves to establish a home (use your own pillow, maybe a special pillowcase or slip a sachet in the pillowcase, keeping a picture near where you sleep or a small vase of flowers.)

If you are in a new place of your own or in the family home, it may seem strange for a bit. You will have to take steps to make it “your own.” Only you can decide what will make it “your own.” Whether it is a decorating change (within your budget- you would be suprised what a difference even a small change might make) or simply rearranging the furniture. Maybe it is establishing new traditions- if there are children, establishing a family night or a friend’s night, if single a friend’s evening can go a long way toward making it feel more like a home (one night a week that you invite friend’s over- some old friend’s, some new friend’s.)

Fill the void. When living with an abusive or controlling person most of your focus was on their wants or needs. Suddenly, there is a void. Filling the void doesn’t have to mean a new man. Filling the void may mean making contact with friends or family you had not seen, take a class, join a church, develop a hobby or consider volunteer work. New experiences can do a lot in filling the void. But attempting to fill the void with drugs or alcohol is a mistake and doesn’t work.

Do not be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. Domestic violence agencies remain a great resource. There is also local community action agencies. Both may be able to help with employment issues, volunteer work and general assistance as well as referrals to other agencies for needed assistance.

Decision making- suddenly you have to make the decisions. Some decisions are small, some are large and it is something that you probably haven’t had to do alone for sometime. You do it and remember it if it works. If it doesn’t, you consider it a lesson learned. You do the best you can, and keep in mind no one makes perfect decisions all the time and you won’t either. Mistakes are allowed and you will get better. Avoid making unnessary decisions for a bit until you feel more stable and less fragile.

Counseling. After living in an abusive or controlling environment, it is not unusual to have problems with self-esteem. To have trust issues, to have difficulty with decision making or to have problems making the mind shift from victim (guilt, submissive, “acting out”, anger, depression, confusion and other issues.) to “survivor” (self-confidence, decision making skills, freedom from fear and other skills.) It may not only be difficult for you, but also for your children. There are a variety of places that counseling can be obtained and many are free or low cost. DV agencies often have counseling available, community agencies and mental health agencies are other examples. If there was a criminal case, the crime victims fund may be able to help. There is no shame in needing a little counseling after coming out of a traumatic situation- the only shame is if the need is there and not met.

Financial needs. Many DV agencies often include the model that violent partners don’t allow their victims to work. And that does happen a lot. But there are others. Many women do work. And their income may be what the family survived on. So separating will not change that. In some cases, financial situations have improved because they were no longer supporting a person  who wasn’t working or was holding back on using their income to support the home.

At times social service agencies or human resource agenies may be needed until you are on your feet. If there was a criminal case, some funds may be available from the crime victims funds.

Employment- community action agencies, employment agencies,  county human service or social service agencies and domestic violence agencies may be able to assist in getting a job or getting a better job. Consider taking classes to learn a new skill or to sharpen old skills.

Legal needs. You do not need an attorney to get a restraining order, but the domestic violence agency is a great resource for assistance and advocacy. They also may be able to assist in helping obtain an attorney for divorces where abuse was a problem.

Isolation. Often after escaping DV the first impulse is to withdraw into ourselves, isolate from further hurt. You may feel different from others or feel as though you are somehow “at fault” for your situation and unconsciously be trying to punish yourself or may resist trusting getting involved with others. Resist doing that. Use caution, but new friend’s and new experiences can be a big help in the recovery. Use those new experiences to step out of your situation physically and emotionally.

The scars. Domestic violence does leave scars. You have memories- both good and bad. The good memories can become painful, because that is what you wanted and thought you were getting. The bad memories may cause continuing fear.

You may still feel love. And that is okay. The fact that you still love says more about you as a person than it does about the relationship you left. You are not “crazy” for remembering the good times, for feeling love and for leaving. But sometimes people who love should not be together.

You are also not “crazy” or bad if you no longer feel that love. In some cases leaving can feel very liberating. Sometimes the bad memories will override any feelings of love that you once experienced. And you are not “crazy” because you stayed so long. You loved, you were in a bad situation and you tried to make it work. It didn’t work, so you left. That doesn’t mean you are “crazy”, unloving, uncaring,  stupid or bad. It only means you tried.

It is tempting to try to say that leaving will solve every problem. But it won’t. There will still be problems, the difference is that you will be able to work on solving those problems without fear of violence. That is a major positive change.

Every person who leaves has their own feelings about the abuse, about leaving and about coping afterward. I welcome anyone to contribute to this with their own observations or experiences.



  1. Ann said,

    May 24, 2007 at 9:27 pm

    Thank you for this, especially the last few paragraphs. I needed to hear that. I’m in the stage where I still hurt because I love and miss him. A day does not go by with out thinking of him, but its getting easier.

    I’m still not ready to move on. Anytime I meet someone I like I find a reason not to let them get close. Some times I’m scared I will never be able to let anyone that close again, but thanks to your words I know what I feel is normal. Its good to shelter my self.

    I just want to let anyone in an abusive situation reading this that leaving is hard but it is so much easier then the life you face. The first few weeks I remember curling up in a ball with the pillow over my head fighting the nearly uncontrolable urge to answer his phone call. I also removed all his numbers from my phone and tried to forget the ones I knew so when I did have the urge to call I couldn’t.

    You will also be surprised about the number of friends and family that will help you if you show them you are ready to get out. They are waiting on you to make the decision. Its killing them to see you go thru this.

    Please leave now, don’t wait until he nearly kills you like I did. I thank God everyday that I was given another chance because I’ve seen my life flash before my eyes and it was way to short.

  2. Brenda said,

    May 24, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    I know of a man (who spent prison time and is now out and barred from his home state) who actually took a gun to divorce court and killed his enstranged wife right in front of everybody!!

    Also, sometimes leaving is dangerous especially if you go back – they’ll be so sweet and loving and get you cornered and torture you about what “you’ve done away from them”.

    A domestic/peace warrants works for the person who doesn’t want to lose a home or job – but a piece of paper won’t stop somebody who has made a decision to hurt you bad – you always have to be on the lookout – sometimes you will have to miss work, take children out of schools or go in hiding as the abuser will know exactly where to find you or the children !!

    My abuser used to threaten to come to my work site and embarress me or come to my home and hurt my son if he “interferred”. Finally I got a warrant (and a gun for my home for protection) Actually after two weeks the abuser called me and was coming up to kill me – I called the police who hem hawed, etc. until I told them I would kill the abuser as soon as he got out of his vehicle as I knew he carried a gun and he did TELL ME “you can be charged for premediated murder for that” and I told him “yeah but you won’t have a job if you don’t do yours either”. They did go serve the warrant and eventually he found someone else.

    But they will use your fear of losing a loved one or your job, so it’s best just to tell people in your life whats going on so you can move on quicker instead of going back and forth trying to figure out which way to turn.

    Learned my lesson the hard way.

  3. May 25, 2007 at 3:41 am

    Ann, almost everyone feels very alone when they leave. Most people feel like they are the only ones that have had all those confusing and conflicting emotions. You aren’t. Many have gone through it and gone past it. But it does take time.
    It is good to shelter yourself- but not to isolate yourself. You can find other ways and other things to get involved in, other relationships can wait until you are ready. But find your interests again. When you find and do the things you are interested in, you will find that being out of the relationship is easier.
    And you are right, friends and family have most likely been waiting and hoping for you to take that step and want to help. Let them be emotional support and a backup for you. Ask their advice in decisions. But ask them to help, yet to allow you to learn your own independence.
    One thing that I did leave out of the post is to take time to be good to yourself. It doesn’t have to be an expensive thing, but do something nice for yourself everyday- take the time to stop and smell a flower, make a list of the things you are accomplishing, read a good book, take a walk or take a long soak in the bath. Something that you enjoy, that is within your budget.

  4. andrea said,

    May 25, 2007 at 5:00 am

    Thank you for all the great advice HSH. I’ve been away from him for a year and a half. We were married 25 years. My divorce was just final. Now he’s refusing to pay Spousal Support and Child Support, so the power & control struggle never seems to stop. I have sole custody of the kids. He doesn’t even have visitation, due to all the abuse. Every day is a struggle. I have no money. But…it is SO much better having him out of our lives! Hang in there Ann. We are stronger than we think. Support and encouragement really help!

  5. Ann said,

    May 25, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    HSH….I have the best friend in the world. She literally pulled me out of bed and threw me in the shower and just started taking me places to get my mind off of him. She didn’t ask me about what had happened but listened when I was ready to talk. She was just the beginning of the support system waiting for me when I was ready to use it.

    Andrea…I know its hard but I found that struggling and scraping by with my own money was easier then letting him help me. My ex had weaseled his way back in to my life a few months after we broke up by sending me money to replace items he had destroyed, then it turned in to phone calls about the money, then one day I realized that he was still very much controlling my life even if he wasn’t physically present in it. Finally I decided that it wasn’t worth it. I will replace everything myself, and I feel really good about doing it myself.

  6. htstore said,

    May 29, 2007 at 9:12 pm

    Today I found an awesome video by cloud and townsend about boundaries. They place a very serious subject – with humor – and I felt did an awesome job!


  7. Wendy said,

    October 10, 2007 at 4:33 am

    I could have used this article 9 years ago. Counseling is definitely essential, as is (depending on the severity) a screening for PTSD.

    Thank goodness for wise friends. Andrea, you are so right, just hang in there and you’ll get your equilibrium back. My son and I had more fun shopping at the grocery outlet and thrift stores than should be legal, we laughed all the time once the initial fear of the unknown wore off, and I finally found out what it was like to move to a new neighborhood and get to know all the neighbors.

    My ex didn’t like it that I sewed, or crafted or tended garden, so guess what we did all the time after we escaped?

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