There are some things in life that we talk about as though they'll never happen to us. For me, abuse was one of those things. It was something I was trained to recognise, due to my day job. Something I knew about, but would never have to personally experience.
Of course, then it happened to me. And when you're in the midst of a relationship with someone you love, but who is harming you in any way, yet is also manipulating you to the point that you think you somehow deserve it, or they can't help their behaviour, it's very hard to call it what it is. So you live in the situation, desperately hoping things will change. The process of coming out of that situation is a long and difficult one, for all kinds of reasons, but when you do, you're almost immediately aware that leaving isn't the full-stop you longed for it to be.
Leaving a bad situation is often only the vital first step along the road to actually being free from it.
I often refer to the process of recovering from abuse as being like climbing a mountain. The analogy I frequently make is that it can be a difficult journey, but you keep going, because you know the view from the top is going to be amazing.
I'm not quite sure when I reached the top. Perhaps it was the day I had my last ever session with my amazing support worker, from the abuse charity who helped me put myself back together. Or maybe it was the night I passed my abuser in the street and somehow managed to keep smiling and walking with confidence, despite the churning in my belly and the fear in my mind.
The one thing I know, is that there came a point where I knew I had finished climbing the mountain (you always know that there'll be triggers and reminders that set you back a bit, but as time passes, they become less frequent and they don't drag you back like they used to). What I didn't know, was what to do next.
You climb the metaphorical mountain and you survey the incredible view and do the whole "wow, I'm so proud of myself" bit, but then you're sort of... Well, just standing there.
You just stand theeeeeere!
It was only very recently that I realised what's supposed to happen next. You don't walk down the other side of the mountain, nor are you supposed to set up camp at the top. No. You're supposed to fly.
There comes a point after all that hardship, after all that effort of putting your broken pieces back together again, where you realise you're as fixed as you'll ever be and you don't want to be shackled to the memory of what you went through. Sure, you keep it with you forever, but it no longer defines you; it no longer weighs you down. And once you have that realisation, the only way, as Yazz once sang, is up.
Whatever causes you to be ready to make that leap is a very individual thing. It could be a brave decision on your part, that makes you realise you've regained your confidence. It could be meeting someone new and realising you want to start again with them. It could simply be a gut instinct that you wake up with one morning. But whatever causes it, you've got to grab that feeling tight with both hands and never let it go - it's your cue to spread your wings.
I realised this weekend that I was ready to move forwards with my life. I suddenly knew - in an instant - that I was ready to go for it. Before, there had always been a shadow on me; the ghostly hands of the past, tugging me backwards. Somehow, recently, I was able to kick off those shackels and decide "no, enough is enough."
"I can't control my destiny," as Mimi once sang in Rent. but I can control whether I'm ready to let go of the past and start afresh. And that time is now.