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  • Surrinder Johal

Finding Self-Love After Surviving Domestic Abuse

Experiencing domestic abuse can have a lasting impact on one's sense of self-worth and well-being. I have experienced a personal journey of learning to love myself after enduring years of domestic abuse and by acknowledging the abuse to practising self-care, I found a path to healing and rebuilding my life.

My Marriage

I was in a traditional arranged marriage for 27 years, during which I experienced narcissistic abuse. This abuse manifested through belittling comments, criticism, emotional damage, as well as financial and sexual abuse. These experiences left me with profound feelings of low self-worth, guilt, isolation, anxiety, and depression, with no support system to turn to.

My late husband wasn't always that way.

When we first got married, he was determined to succeed in life and create a better future for our family. The arrival of our daughter and later our son brought him great joy. He was mindful of being a good parent because his own father had been an abusive alcoholic, and he vowed never to become like him. However, after six years into our marriage, his mother fell seriously ill, and within a year, she passed away. It was during this period of witnessing his mother's deterioration and eventual death that he turned to drinking to numb his grief. Over time, his drinking spiralled out of control, and he never sought help for his pain.

Throughout our marriage, I never considered myself a victim of abuse because he never physically assaulted me or our children. However, I lived in constant fear.

He had two sides to him: a caring, sensitive, and open-minded side, but also a darker side that worsened when he drank.

Weekends were especially difficult as my children and I walked on eggshells, unsure of what his mood would be like in the mornings. I vividly remember the dread I felt during family weddings when he would be heavily intoxicated, and I would have to drive us home. Those nights were a nightmare, with him gripping the steering wheel, swearing, criticising, and making hurtful comments throughout the journey. The following day, he would apologise, only for the cycle to repeat at the next event.

Despite my life falling apart, I did my best to focus on household chores, cooking, and taking care of everyone. However, emotionally, I became numb and disconnected, finding solace in work and occasionally turning to drinking on weekends. I believed I had to keep going until my children grew older and got married. I couldn't envision a life once they left, fearing I would be left feeling unnecessary. I often wanted to leave him, but I knew I would have no support if I chose a different path. The odds were stacked against me, and I risked being disowned by my family. It felt as if the decision had been taken away from me, and I had no choice but to stay. I wondered where I would go and who would provide the support I needed.

To the outside world, we appeared to have a lovely home, two children, and a life filled with family vacations. Even my friends were unaware of this hidden side of my life. But at home, my confidence had been shattered, and my daughter became my protector as I became worn down by her father's behaviour.

Despite reaching a low point, I still couldn't identify myself as a victim of domestic abuse. However, the emotional scars ran deep and didn't fade away easily.

After 27 years of marriage, just after my 50th birthday, he made a sudden attempt to harm our daughter. Something inside me snapped, and my inner voice screamed, "Enough! Run!" And I did just that. I sought refuge with a friend temporarily, but I lived in constant fear that he would retaliate by vandalising her property or causing other problems for me. He did tarnish my reputation by spreading slanderous remarks to anyone who would listen.

Three months after leaving him, he tragically took his own life in our family home. While I was finally free from his physical presence, he remained my harshest critic in my thoughts. I was consumed by anger, guilt, shame, and rage as the truth about my family became known to everyone, and they looked upon us with pity as a dysfunctional family. I believed that if I worked hard and provided a safe space for my family away from prying eyes, everything would be okay. However, life is rarely that simple. The three of us had to embark on our individual journeys of healing because we lacked the tools to value ourselves.

Fast forward 15 years, and I can confidently say that I have created a life I love on my own terms, free from feelings of guilt, shame, and regret. I now reside in a beautiful house nestled in the countryside near a lake, and each morning, I awaken with a deep sense of gratitude. Although the journey has had its share of struggles as I discovered who I truly am and what I need, I have taken ownership of my decisions and found peace.

It took a lot for me to get to where I am now on my journey and I have learnt so much along the way. Here are my key takings from this experience and how I endeavour to help you:

Acknowledging the Abuse

Recognising the Signs and Seeking Help:

It took me a considerable amount of time to acknowledge and process the abuse I had endured. Beginning therapy was a pivotal step in my healing journey. My therapist listened attentively, validating my experiences, and confirming that what I had experienced was indeed abuse. This revelation left me shocked and brought tears to my eyes. I allowed myself to experience a range of emotions, including rage, helplessness, shame, confusion, and guilt. I learned the importance of self-compassion, understanding that the younger version of myself didn't possess the knowledge or tools to navigate such circumstances. While my self-esteem has significantly improved over the years, occasional moments still challenge it. Sometimes, my self-worth and self-love become entwined with others' opinions of me. A single unkind word, difference of opinion, or feeling of being ignored can plunge me into self-hatred and self-doubt.

Letting Go of the Past

Understanding Intergenerational Trauma:

Initially, I harboured blame towards my parents for the 27 years I endured in a marriage they arranged. An integral part of my healing journey involved delving into the concept of intergenerational trauma, understanding the stories of my parents, grandparents, and even my late husband. This exploration allowed me to grasp the pain that had been passed down through generations. Patterns and behaviours were repeated, and I realised that I, too, had become trapped in survival mode, mindlessly pushing forward without considering the consequences or having the necessary tools to break free. Understanding the stories of my parents and husband played a crucial role in forgiving them for how I was treated. Simultaneously, I recognized that forgiveness does not condone their actions or erase the pain I endured.

Additionally, part of my healing process involved grieving the marriage itself. I acknowledged what could have been, what was not acceptable, and even the fleeting moments of happiness we experienced.

Discovering Myself

Finding Self-Identity and Clarity:

A fundamental aspect of my healing involved rediscovering who I am as an individual. I embarked on a journey of self-discovery, uncovering my true desires, interests, values, and aspirations. It became essential to be honest with myself about my emotions, a practice I had buried for most of my life. Instead of living on autopilot, I started actively participating in life, having fun, and embracing my authentic self. This process required me to break free from the constraints of my past and acknowledge that I was finally in a safe space to open up and live as my true self.

Prioritising Self-Care

Honouring My Body and Mind:

After enduring years of abuse, my mental and physical health had suffered greatly. Learning to honour my body and provide it with the care it deserved became crucial in my healing journey. Although it was a daunting task, I gradually peeled back the layers to uncover my true self and desires. This process often triggered me, causing setbacks along the way. However, even with a few steps backward, I continued to move forward. As someone who had always put my family first, I began practising self-care. Activities such as walking, positive affirmations, journaling, breathing exercises, and gratitude became part of my routine. These practices brought about a sense of well-being and allowed me to fill the emptiness within. I began envisioning a new life filled with exciting dreams and possibilities.

Rebuilding my life after experiencing domestic abuse was a challenging but empowering process. By acknowledging the abuse, letting go of the past, discovering my true self, and prioritising self-care, I found a path to self-love and a life I cherish. If my story resonates with you, know that you are not alone, and there is a healing journey waiting for you too.

Let me be your support guiding light as you embark on your own path to hea

ling and self-discovery.

Visit my services page, website and blog for more information.

Surrinder Johal - Becoming Visible Therapy

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