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October, is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. I am sharing some of my story so you may know, not just what I was able to get free from, but what many still suffer in. You may know someone. Please help get the message out.

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My friend opened my mail and read it for me. Then she would tell me what I needed to know. Often, she would just shake her head and say there was nothing of value, nothing I needed to know.

Why, you ask, would someone else need to read my mail? Was I blind or having some unresolved vision issues? No, not physical ones at any rate. But my abuser was still manipulating me through correspondence, or at least he was still trying.

It took me a while to come to the place where I asked if she would be willing to do this. You see, abuse is more than just physical altercations. In fact, many years of emotional and verbal abuse had so affected my ability to see clearly, that by the time the physical abuse began, I was very sure it was all my fault. That’s what I was told each time, “he had to do this.” Breaking free from abuse included getting my abuser out of my thought life.

A simple letter concerning something, like insurance or visitation for the children, could be riddled with subtle and blatant derogatory comments that would emotionally set me back or send me into a whirlwind of depression and bring on feelings of incompetence. Essentially, it would destroy my progress and cause me to doubt my decision to get free.

I share this because, even years after I no longer lived with my abuser, I still suffered the consequences of abuse. He was in my head. Abusers do that.

When I see a headline saying a victim is denying it was abuse, and that it was a one-time incident, I have concern. Especially when the headline is about physical abuse, which has been publicly documented. When I see a physical display of violence, I am leery to believe it was the first time. Abusers get in your head, to the point that your words are most likely not a reliable testimony of what is really going on.

What I’m suggesting here is, if you are in an abusive relationship you can’t even trust your own analysis of the situation, because your abuser is so in your head, that real isn’t real any more.

I estimate no less than 10 to 15 times, after questioning me about whether I felt safe to go back inside, the sheriff would leave my home, without taking any action. I’m not even sure what I was thinking. I knew I wasn’t safe, but my abuser was looking awfully sorry about what had happened, and maybe this really would be the last time. Besides, it was inconsiderate of me, not to keep dinner warm until he got home, and maybe I could have kept the kids awake a little longer, so he could have read them a story.

With thinking like this, I was doomed to my circumstances, and without the loving help of friends who stepped up to help me in a variety of ways, I would have ended up back in another relationship with another abuser, at the very least.

I was defined by abuse.

I was making progress, but changing my thinking was a continuum. It did not happen over-night.

My friend reading my mail was a huge help in clearing my head. Getting free is a process, even after you no longer live in the abuse. And, when children are involved, there is relatively little chance you can escape contact with your abuser for many years.

Having a supportive community was by far the biggest aid to me not being defined by abuse any longer. I challenge you, if you are newly free from an abusive relationship, surround yourself with a supportive community.

If you know someone, in the continuum of the abuse cycle, find out what resources are available in your community, find out their individual need, and be available to encourage and support your friend. Getting free from abuse and staying free, is difficult, if not impossible, to do on your own.