Letter to a Survivor


Dear You,

One of the concepts that I teach to my students is the significance of connotations. As an example, I often say to them:

“Imagine if you’re reading a book, and a guy says to a girl, ‘I like being with you, its home to me.’ Does he mean it feels like being in a building? Of course not. What does he mean… what are the words or emotions that come to your mind when you hear the word ‘home’ in that sentence.”

The responses are usually things like: loved, secure, warm and safe.

One day, a student said to me, “That’s not what home is for all of us…”

And she was right. It’s not what it is for all of us, and I know it’s not what it’s like for you.

There are a multitude of reasons you’re still there. I know because I’ve been there. Fear is the heart and soul of all those reasons. Maybe it’s fear that he will follow through on his threats if you leave, whether that’s to physically harm you or take the children from you. Maybe it’s the fear of starting over and not knowing if you’re capable financially. Maybe it’s the fear of the unknown. It’s all fear based… even if it’s your fear of loving him.

I know. I’ve been there. I’ve seen it. I’ve walked in your shoes, albeit down a different path, as no two are alike.

I will not tell you what to do or when to leave. You’ve been told what to do enough, whether by your partner or your well-meaning family and friends. I will not ask you to tell me why you’re staying. However, I do want you to know that you don’t have to be ashamed if the reason is something you identify as love.  During this month, you’ll hear people give off a laundry list of reasons a victim might stay with her abuser. There may be another reason, one that the public doesn’t like to hear: You love him.

I know.

I imagined I couldn’t live without mine. I imagined no one else could ever love me. I imagined no one else could see me and know me the way he did. Our highs were so high. I was so convinced.

And I was so wrong.

The school of psychology you choose to listen to will give you a multitude of reasons for this. Maybe you grew up in a domestic violence home, and that tension and fear in the home is what feels normal to you as it’s what you grew up with. Maybe you’ve been brainwashed into believing you’re all the things he tells you that you are: worthless, unlovable, whore, ugly, stupid… just to name a few.

There’s no excuse for making you live in fear. There’s no excuse for making you feel like you are less than. You deserve to know how incredible you truly are. Yes… you. You, sitting there reading these words and thinking, “Not me… I’m flawed and ruined.” No, no you’re not. You’re amazing. And you deserve to hear that far more often than you probably do.

Whatever it is you’ve come to believe about yourself, I can promise you that you are not all the negative inner-monologue you hear. I can promise you that you are worthy.  I know you’re scared of probably a hundred different things, your physical safety is just one piece of it all.

But there is hope.

If someone had told me, the day I finally left him, what my life would look like today, I would have laughed in their face. In fact, for two years after the relationship ended, I was lonely and fought depression, but I was also doing the important work of healing. It took time, education, and therapy for me to feel ok again.

And then, a funny thing happened, something I would have never expected… I began to like myself. I began to see that I was not pathetic or worthless, as he’d said. I was more than his definition of me.

I have always liked writing, but I hadn’t put a pen to paper in some five years when I left him. He was the writer. He was published. He was quick to tell me that my writing was “amateur” when compared to his. I should probably do something else, he’d tell me. Even today, when I receive accolades from someone I share my writing with; I have to silence my self-talk (which is still in his tone of voice) that tells me the person is only complimenting me because they pity me. Some of him lingers, but I still silence it, and I still write.

I also became ok with the idea of not being in a relationship. I truly accepted that I might not find love again, and I was ok with that. And, although he was so sure that I would never again find someone that would want me… I did. I found something I’d never had before: a partner. After three years together, next month we’ll say “I do.” We are not in a perfect relationship. We argue, like any couple. But, we do not say words to wound. We do not try to push each other down; but, instead, we build each other up. The sight of my tears is gut-wrenching to my fiancé, whereas the sight of my tears was fuel to my abusers fire.

I tell you this so you realize you have no idea what life will look like for you in the future. The unknown is scary, but it can also be beautiful. It can be healing, enlightening, and all the things you’ve hope for. You are strong enough and good enough, and when you’re ready you’ll find the survivors that have walked before you will support you, believe in you, and be there for you.  Today you may feel you are a victim, but the day will come when you’ll see yourself as the survivor you truly are.

Above all, know that you’re worth it. You’re worth the life you want. You’re worth love. You deserve to hear the word ‘home’ and think of words like safe, loved, secure, warm… You deserve so much more than you think. You are valuable to this world. No one should tell you any less than that. If they do, I promise, it’s not love that motivates them. No one can truly love you if they don’t first value you. And no one that values you will try to hurt you (physically, emotionally, or otherwise).

You know what today looks like but tomorrow can look so different. When you’re ready, we’ll be here. Until then, stay safe and know that someone out here is thinking of you and will always be on your side.

In love and respect,

A Survivor

**If you’re worried about your physical safety when you make the choice to leave, reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline to develop a safety plan for your departure.**