Sarah's Story - "During my abusive relationship, my whole life was a rehearsal"

I have to be honest, I have put off sharing my story for such a long time. But after reading so many shared experiences on I Am Arla, I realised just how much hearing other people’s experiences helps me process my own. And maybe if my story could even just reach one person on this whole planet and make them realise they aren’t alone, that is more than enough. And you know what - I’ve come so far, as we all have, and I’ve learned I don’t need to be scared or ashamed. So here it is.

Before my relationship I was strong-willed, full of love and life. But I got worn down until I was just an empty vessel. It’s only been recently that I have come to terms with it and I can say - I was abused.

During my abusive relationship, my whole life was a rehearsal, and each time the performance got worse.

I would plan my days and weeks, everything was planned ahead analysing every possible situation that could arise. I’d plan how I could minimise any potential little thing that would make him angry. I’d plan my routes everywhere just so I could avoid people. I’d practice things I could say to him in case he saw me talking or even passing another man in a shop or on the street. I’d rehearse answers to the questions I’d always be asked as soon as I walked back through the door. I would practice my smile in the mirror for when people would ask how I am. I would practice my make-up and hair to cover the bruises. I’d plan outfits that didn’t show any skin.

I’d repeat conversations in my head. Practice holding my breath and counting to a hundred and back over and over again to get me through the times when I was too scared to say no.

I constantly felt like an improv performer, trying to steer the audience one way then another. But I was an actor at the top of my game, I’d gone over everything so many times that it had become second nature. Surely nothing could go wrong if I just got better at it each time. I was prepared for anything that was thrown at me. Even when it was fists.

Making him happy to keep myself safe even just for one more hour, no matter what it meant I had to do, became my only purpose. I thought if I could just get everything right, I would be safe. I was wrong.

I got out. But afterwards the hold was still there. Even after he stopped calling constantly every day; stopped standing outside of where I worked for 8 hours straight and waiting for me round corners. Even when that stopped I was infected with the trauma. It was like poison. I had got out but what had happened did not leave when I did. I became a toxic person. I was so scared, so broken on the inside that I became angry and hardened on the outside. I pushed people away and I was numb.

The biggest two fingers I stuck up to my abuser was learning to be soft again. It took a long time of being on self destruct but eventually I broke down and asked for help.

Therapy allowed me to tidy up the mess, let go of the guilt, work through it until I could see clearly it wasn’t my fault. My mind went from thinking everyday about what had happened , how I could have changed it, wanting everything to just end so I could have some peace - to being able to think about all the beautiful things that could happen, being able to think about my future while enjoying the present. I learned to love again and not just other people but myself. And by learning to be soft, I’ve never been stronger.

Its taken a lot of hard work but I no longer have to act, my life isn’t a rehearsal anymore. I can now be the real me. And I’ve learned that I’m no longer scared. I’m not scared to let people in, not scared of knowing that I deserve good things, I’m not scared of simply being alive. And I’m no longer scared of him.

To anyone and everyone reading this, there is a life after our trauma. We are not defined by our trauma and experiences. They are things that have happened to us, they are not us. We can reclaim ourselves, we can heal, and there are so many amazing things waiting for us when we do.

We are so proud of you Sarah, thank you for being so brave and sharing your story with our community 🤍

If you or someone you know is affected by the topic in this post, please do reach out to a friend, us at our community @iam.arla or @womens_aid @refugecharity @rapecrisisew @solacewomensaid

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