You’re about to do it, you plucky little mo fo. You’re going to leave the asshole(s) who was (were) abusing you. I admire your spunk. It takes a hell of a lot of courage, and even more strength, to look an abusive asshole straight in his dead eyes and say, “Hit the road, Jack, and don’t you come back, or I’ll make a lampshade of you.” (A little legal advice: Don’t put the lampshade bit in writing.)
Now what? What will happen when you’ve told your not-so-darling abuser to stick it where the sun don’t shine? Well, fortunately, I spent the first 40 years of my life doing in depth field research on just this question. If there was an abuser in the room, I would zing right into his or her force field of abuse, as if drawn there by an invisible tractor beam. It didn’t matter if the abuser in question wanted a platonic relationship with me or a romantic one. What mattered is that he or she was willing to help me feel like the piece of shit I believed I was. Similarly, if there was a cultish, intrinsically abusive social group on the horizon, I would run to the them, flailing and screaming, “Pick me! Pick me! Please abuse ME!”
Luckily, I spent a lot of years working through my shit, and I now know I’m a ballsy, beautiful babe worthy of tons of respect and love. The people in my life behave accordingly, and I treat them like the beautiful, ballsy babes and bros they are in return. In the process of finding ballsy, beautiful babe me, I’ve left lots of abusers in the dust, and now have become what abusers the world over like to refer to as “a crazy bitch.” For the record, I relish it when abusers call me a crazy bitch. It means they are scared of me and trying to deflate and disempower me using their favorite trick–good ol’ fashioned gaslighting.
But if you are new to the “leaving an abusive asshole routine,” you might not yet understand that being called a crazy bitch is pretty much textbook fallout when you leave an abuser. In fact, you might not know what in the world to expect at all. So here goes. What every abuser I’ve ever left has done the second I said I’m done, and what I am almost certain your abuser will do now that you’ve told him/her/them it’s over.
- Get pissed off.
Because historically, every time the abuser gets mad, you buckle. So they will try to reestablish the abusive power dynamic you have shared, up until now. They will do everything imaginable to cow you into staying. They will threaten you. They will tell you that you are a crazy bitch or a narcissist or a meany. They will say things let, “Go then, bitch. I’m better off without you.”
Avoid abusers while they are in the rage phase of the “Oh, my god, the crazy bitch just left me” throes of woe. In fact, avoid them always. Because while the rage phase is pretty obviously dangerous, at least the danger is on the surface. Abusers are more mentally (and possibly physically) dangerous when they:
- Gaslight you.
Gaslighting. Everyone talks about it these days. Abusers are super damned good at it. They will do everything in their power to make you question your version of events. (I didn’t call you a crazy bitch! You called me a crazy bitch!) They will delete photographs and erase videos and go to elaborate lengths to establish their twisted and inaccurate version of reality as truth. They will try to make you question your own sanity. (A former husband who was a serial cheater said, when I cried after finding out he’d cheated on me, “I always knew that if I ended up with a crazy person, I’d take care of her for the rest of my life. Don’t worry. I’m going to take care of you.”) Fuck those guys and their gaslit version of events. Don’t listen to them. Don’t talk to them. You don’t owe them shit. They don’t get another inch of your glorious headspace, ever.
Even when they:
- Woo you.
This is the hardest piece of the “I just left an abuser” aftermath to get through unscathed. I promise, it will happen. Your abuser is going to show up on your doorstep, or call in the middle of the night, or email you, or send you a singing telegram, saying how sorry he/she is, how perfect you are, how he/she has finally seen the light and is now going to treat you with all of the respect and love you deserve.
Your abuser very likely knows what your wildest dreams look like, and he or she will make speeches painting beautiful pictures of your future together that look very much like your wildest dreams. He will likely make grand gestures that are very appealing during this time. If you want marriage, expect a ring. If she’s been cheating on you, expect dramatic rejections of her other sexual partners and public declarations of love for you. If you are religious, he will get baptized into your religion. If you are leaving her because she’s an alcoholic, she will join AA. If you are tired of being beaten, he will set up appointments for couple’s therapy. She will buy you trips to the Bahamas. He will buy you flowers. Read this next part with an open heart, because you need to hear it.
What you think is happening:
What is really happening:
Your abuser is full of shit. Your abuser has zero intention of following through on his/her/their promises. Or maybe he does, but he doesn’t have the mental capacity/life skills to accomplish what he wishes he could. If you take her back, this is what will happen.
You will have a few good days, weeks, or months, depending on how resistant you are to returning to the way things used to be. This “honeymoon phase” will look much like what the abuser promised when he showed up on your doorstep with roses. You will think you’ve died and gone to heaven. And then, cracks will start to appear in the façade. One day, you will be sitting there with your abuser turned perfect partner, relishing the sunrise, and she will flip a switch and call you an ugly cunt.
Or your abuser, who has been attending AA meetings faithfully for a few weeks, will declare himself cured, and you will want to believe him, and also will not want to rock the boat because things are going so well. And then, he will come home drunk. And then, a few weeks later, you will have a black eye, and he will tell you exactly what he really feels, which is that you have completely betrayed him by leaving him, and he now intends to make your life a living hell to punish you.
I promise, you walk back through that door, you will be walking into a hell that is ten times worse than the one you walked out of. And getting out alive next time will be even harder. DON’T GO BACK.
When you refuse his/her advances, your abuser will stop trying to woo you. Then, he/she will:
- Blame shift/Play the victim/Scramble for high moral ground.
I have never met an abuser who did not firmly believe that he/she/they were the victim the person who had been abused. I had a man who was literally threatening to cut my head off play the victim when I left. (How could you do this to me??? Remember that time I tied a string on your finger and asked you to marry me and drove you to Vegas and screamed at you outside the chapel for hours because you wouldn’t marry me on the fly? How dare you forget our perfect romance and leave all of our beautiful history in the dust? Did I mention that my parents used to beat me?)
Cultish social groups are particularly good at shaming people who leave them/speak out about their abuse. (Yes, we put on a hit on you, but how could you possibly go around saying we are bad people???? Do you know how much you’ve hurt us????)
When rage doesn’t work, abusers will almost always switch tactics, crying, rolling around on the ground, trying everything in their power to make you feel sorry for them.
Treat them like the bratty toddlers they are deep down. Do you give a toddler in the throes of a tantrum a cookie for kicking her sister in the shins? Fuck, nah.
Ok, actually, sometimes, I do, but I like bratty toddlers better than abusers. In any case, my metaphor is unraveling, but the point is, don’t give abusers the cookies they are thrashing for. Give them zero sympathy, and do not for a minute let them make you believe you have done something wrong. It is not your job to clean up the mess of them forever, nor is it your job to take their abuse for even one more minute. Block their number. Block them from social media. Cut off contact. I promise, no matter how “special” they’ve told you that you are, they will be abusing a brand new person/brand new people in no time.
And they will do their damndest to use these people to:
- Make you jealous.
Look at me on social media having so much fun! Look at all the hotties who are in love with me! Look at me dancing with all my super cool friends!
Don’t be jealous. Your abuser is an asshat and also a liar. Take a little solace from the fact that his/her/their entire existence is now centered on making up elaborate ruses to upset you, which doesn’t really scream of true happiness. You win, you beautiful, powerful thing, you. You’ve got him right where you want him. Go on with your life and live with all the joy, passion, beauty, and truth that fucker tried to steal from you.
In the meantime, she will:
- Try to silence you/turn others against you.
Abusers are often incredibly charming, charismatic folks. After all, if they just went around throwing things, punching people in the face, and raping people willy nilly, they’d have a hard time finding people to enable them. Their surface personas are often (not always) super sweet and wildly alluring. They are often (not always) very successful. And they are (always) super, super good liars. Your abuser is going to do everything in his power to make everyone you know hate you as much as he does.
Once, in the early days of my recovery from being a lifelong doormat, I pissed off this dude who had raped me by confronting him about what he’d done. As payback, he called my preacher mom in the middle of the night to tell her I was doing “witchcraft prayers,” apparently hoping she would decide her daughter was the spawn of Satan.
Luckily, my mom is bad ass (I got it from my momma), and she told him to go screw himself, in preacher speak. (The word “screw” was not actually employed, but the rapist never caller my mom, or me, again.)
My point is, every time I’ve left an abuser or abusive social group, the rumors have flown. I wish I could tell you that you won’t lose friends because your abuser is a shit faced liar. And I guess I can. You won’t lose real friends. But you will probably lose people who don’t really love you. You know what I say when people believe lies abusers tell about me? “Sayonara, mother fuckers. Thank God I’ve weeded out the riff raff.” Let the fuckers who believe your abusers go, my friend. Because who needs friends like that?
In addition to running a smear campaign, you abusers will also:
- Use any leverage they have to try to destroy you.
If your abuser has any control in any aspect of your life—say you own a house with him/her, or you parent a child together, or he/she is your boss—they will use what they have to try to destroy you. So do whatever you have to do to defend yourself now. Get a lawyer. Stop talking to your abuser, especially in writing. Don’t play nice. Play hardball. Because your abuser definitely will. I wish I could say that your abusers’ attempts to destroy you won’t hurt. But they will hurt like a mother fucker. I wish I could say that the abusers won’t win, but I can’t promise that. I’ve seen too many people lose kids and money and houses and jobs to the tactics of abusers.
What I can say is you have something in you that is eternal and true, and it is not dependent on the circumstances in your life. In fact, suffering often makes this piece of you shine more brightly in the long run, and when you have walked through the fire, you will be more powerful, beautiful and wise than you ever dreamed possible. (It may take a few years. You may have to wade through a period of pure hell before you get to the heaven part, but someday, it will come.)
I can also promise you this, because I’ve seen it happen again and again in my life. Karma is real. And no matter how many times a lie has been repeated, it is still a lie. And somehow, someway, the truth always sneaks up behind abusers and bites them in the ass. When that day comes, pop the top off a bottle of champagne, pop some popcorn, and watch from a distance, laughing, as your abuser falls.
(I know we are theoretically supposed to be ever-noble and wish all people well, but who really is/does? No one I’ve met. Let’s be real today. I give you permission to gloat when your abuser falls. If you’re into that sort of thing.)