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Dealing with Pain or Abuse: You Can Let It Destroy You, Define You, Or Strengthen You

Strength

“When something bad happens you have three choices. You can let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.” ~Unknown

When I was twenty-four, leaving my ex was my “something bad.” It was about as bad as it could get.

After four years of dating, I was certain marriage was right around the corner. Our lives were completely intertwined. I knew he wasn’t a great guy for me, but that didn’t matter because I truly believed I was ready to take the next step.

One night changed everything.

I found his drugs, confirming what I had suspected all along: his attempts at recovery were just an act. Admitting to flushing them initiated the scariest experience of my life. Immediately, he searched for his pills and destroyed my apartment when he couldn’t find them.

When he finished looking, he came after me next, verbally and physically terrorizing me as if he had not already proven his anger. I broke free from his grip and fled, in search of help. This wasn’t our first incidence of violence, but enough was enough.

I was tired of living alone in silent abuse.

First, It Defined Me

When I say that night changed everything, I mean it. Aside from the major life change, something shifted in my mind. I was no longer Akirah, but rather a single, lonely, and abused victim who would never find happiness.

The abuse diminished my self-esteem, leaving me very little to rely on for healing. Low self-esteem made it easy for me to define myself as a victim. And I preferred it that way because doing so allowed me to remain focused on him.

This continued for several months until I eventually grew tired of defining myself by my abuse. Unfortunately, being myself did not feel like a feasible option, as I had no clue who I was anymore.

For four years I skipped out on traveling and making new friends because of our relationship. I never made even the tiniest decision without considering his feelings first. Recalling all the sacrifices I made for him gave me a sick feeling to my stomach.

It was too much to think about. I needed to numb the pain.

Then, It Destroyed Me

My destruction occurred gradually, progressing with the help of alcohol and men. Every weekend was exactly the same routine: get dressed up, get drunk, get attention. I rarely skipped a week.

My problem with alcohol was actually secondary to my addiction to male attention. Any hint of male validation caused a rush inside of me.

A look was good. A smile was great. Wanting my name and number?

Jackpot.

I maintained an illusion of confidence because I read somewhere that men are attracted to that. But nothing else could be further from the truth. If anything, I had confidence in what I wanted and who I was trying to be, but certainly not in myself.

After each short-lived relationship, I would think of my ex-boyfriend, wondering if I had maybe made a mistake. I knew deep down it would never be right between us. I could not imagine living my entire life being abused and controlled.

So in order to avoid getting back together with him, I would find other men to distract me.

Because, you know, being alone was not an acceptable option.

I was destroyed. Yes, the abuse started it, but my refusal to heal brought me over the edge. It took one sentence during an episode of Oprah to change my perspective.

Then It Strengthened Me

“You have to walk through the fire of grief.”

I did a double take.

Fire? Grief? This advice did not sound enjoyable.

But nothing else was working. Time was not healing my wounds; hangovers and breakups were becoming exhausting and embarrassing.

Who was I becoming? Someone who needed to walk through the fire of grief, that’s who. So I tried it. It was terrifying at first, of course, but I tried it.

My first order of business was crying. Can you believe I would never let myself cry? After deciding to walk through the fire of grief, I knew that needed to change. So I cried.

Then I joined a support group for other survivors of abuse, which initiated even more crying. It felt awful talking about past violence and abuse, yet comforting to know I wasn’t alone. It was as if each tear gave me strength.

And with that strength, I blossomed.

I traveled across the country. I ran my first 10K. I even started wearing my hair in its natural state—my afro.

My life was moving forward and I was choosing how. It felt wonderful. Hard. But wonderful.

Strength Was In The Healing

Yes, abuse is awful, but I don’t regret my experience.* I don’t regret how it temporarily destroyed me either. Because without that destruction, I would have no idea today of how strong I am.

(Sometimes a breakdown can be the best thing to happen to a person.)

Whether you are letting your “something bad” define you, destroy you, or strengthen you, remember this: Pursue healing.

Rather than running away from the pain, feel it. If you’ve hit rock bottom, acknowledge it. If your “something bad” defines you, consider defining yourself as someone in healing instead.

No matter what season you’re in, it’s never over until it’s over.

So if you don’t feel strong right now, that’s okay. Don’t pursue strength; pursue healing. Because your strength is in your healing. And healing is wonderful.

Hard.

But wonderful.

Plus, you deserve it.

*Though my abuse was horrific, I did not marry my abuser or have children with him. Additionally, he did not seriously injure me or end my life. Too often I hear stories about others whose choice to safely leave their abusive relationships was tragically taken away from them. It is in their honor that I do the work I do. If you think you might be in an abusive relationship, I urge you to contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for support and guidance. You are not alone. You are worth healing. 

Photo by Hartwig HKD

About Akirah Robinson

Akirah Robinson is a licensed social worker, writer, and breakup coach who helps women heal and seek healthy relationships. Learn more about her at akirahrobinson.com and check out her new book "Respected: How One Word Can Change More Than Just Your Love Life" in paperback and Kindle. Wanna connect? Follow Akirah on Facebook and Twitter.

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  • Weedie

    Thank you for sharing your story. You were very brave to walk away. I am going through healing and your story showed at the right time.

  • Dawn Laskey

    I find comfort in your story. I, as well, walked away from my first marriage, which included drugs and abuse. I however, didn’t grieve the way I should have and just moved from relationship to relationship, trying to find someone to fill that hole I had. I got re-married to a wonderful man a year and a half later, but I do feel that I should have grieved and had time to myself before getting involved with anyone. But it wasn’t until 2 years ago (7 years after I left), that I started dealing with the emotional pain that it put me through. It was hard on my marriage and on my children, but I joined karate and started dealing with my PTSD. I’ve alway known myself to be strong, and I am. I walked away from something that a lot of woman wouldn’t have, and it was one of the harder things I’ve ever had to do, because I really really loved my ex husband, but I knew things weren’t going to change, no matter what I did.

  • Ines

    Beautiful story, Akirah. I also suffered abuse for many years from my parents, and I’m in the healing phase. I love how you put it into words. Blessings.

  • Great story! Thanks for boldly sharing it with the world. 🙂 You’re certainly an inspiration for anyone who has dealt with abuse.

  • Guest

    This is a great blog. One thing I notice people commonly don’t understand is how hard it is to leave an abusive relationship. It’s easy to allow yourself to grow so used to being the victim, and allowing yourself to be part of the problem, when you think you’re a solution somehow, when you think you’re just being the “good guy”. It becomes “normal” to the victim, even when friends can tell you right away that something isn’t right, and deep down, you know it’s not, but you’ve convinced yourself it’s alright, you may even begin to find yourself hiding things that happen from friends so they don’t tell you to leave your significant other. I’m also disappointed that people may see someone as “weak” for staying so long before leaving or coming to terms with this type of situation, when really, a person is very strong for leaving that situation. So many people stay, or return to the same situation with someone new. It really is sad. It is quite a healing process, and I don’t think most people who have been in that situation know how to cope or how to heal properly right away, afterwards. It is great you went to a support group with others. I hope this blog encourages someone to leave their bad situation, heal, and in time, become a stronger person for themselves. Thank you for writing it.

  • lv2terp

    Wonderful post! Thank you for sharing your beautiful vulnerability, and fantastic insight and strength! 🙂 Inspiring section on strength and focus on healing. 🙂

  • Subramanian

    Thank you.. though my griefs are not even close to what you had gone through, this is a tough time in my life and I’m having trouble thinking positive and constantly find myself in tears, feeling lonely.

  • Weedie…I’m so glad to hear that. Hang in there. I’m pullin’ for you!

    And isn’t it funny how timing can be so perfect sometimes?

  • I can definitely relate to this. I did enjoy a period of time as a happily single woman, but sometimes wonder if even more time would have been helpful to my healing and self-development. At any rate, it is good to deal with emotional pain, as you have been. Kudos to you, Dawn. It sounds like you’re in a better place.

  • Thank you! Blessings to you and your healing. May it bring you strength.

  • Thanks so much. I appreciate that. Just trying to talk about this stuff more. It’s really important.

  • Thank you! And you’re very welcome. This post took me MONTHS to finish because it was so emotionally exhausting, but I’m really glad I did.

  • I’m so sorry you are going through a hard time right now. Please hang in there. Are you in counseling currently? Perhaps some extra support would be helpful to you right now. It REALLY helped me. If not, I think hanging around a place like Tiny Buddha will be good for you. There are MANY positive and supportive readers here.

  • lv2terp

    Really proud of you, that is great!! I am glad you did too! 🙂

  • Angela

    I really, REALLY, need this story today. Thank you.

  • You’re welcome Angela!

  • Thank you. You say so many awesome things in this comment, so really, I’m thanking you for sharing such wisdom with us. You’re right…it takes a lot of strength to leave situations like these.

  • caroline

    Thank Akirah, this article is helpful to me. I appreciate you sharing.

  • Kisi

    that really meant a lot to me Akirah, thank you so much for this

  • dchz

    thank you for your words of wisdom, my story is similar. best advice i’ve ever heard. i truly needed this <3

  • Stephy1987

    I’ve been in a relationship with physical and mental and emotional abusive for 8 years i left him 1 year and a half ago for someone that made me happy I moved foward had another baby and got an apt moved in with my new boyfriend and I left him to go back to my ex I couldn’t move foward and I don’t know y I went back and he is in jail and has been in the since I left him then I left him again for two months and went back again I don’t know wats going on I feel like im literally going crazy I have four children I don’t know wats going on I start talking to him everything ok then I don’t want him then I do confused wats gon g on

  • sabina

    I am experiencing this EXACT thing right now. I mean, exactly. So I thank you for your honesty and courage to write your story. I am currently looking fora support group to begin my healing, because I have been destroyed, and I’m ready to be rebuilt and renewed. I’m a Christian and I’m having a hard time turning toward God, but I know He loves me and will restore my heart and soul.