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How to Successfully Discover Yourself After an Abusive Relationship

How to overcome an abusive marriage and live your life to the fullest

My gray green eyes have seen quite a bit of pain in my 39 years. There were moments when I hid in my bathroom in my home on the Puget sound in Port Orchard, Washington, truly believing there was no escape from the torturous relationship I was in.

I remember one particular instance staring into the bathroom mirror and not recognizing my reflection. Who was the person staring back at me? What happened to her? Why was she no longer the shiny, bright, unique individual she once was? Why did she appear to be gray? In fact, why did everything she looked at appear to look, feel and seem gray… as though nothing had any life to it anymore. Everything was dead and there was no way to revive it.

Its interesting what happens to a person when they finally lose hope. The struggle stops. They stop defending themselves and they just lie down and take whatever is thrown at them without resistance.

My ex husband is a narcissist and it most certainly took its toll on me.

I was in an emotionally abusive relationship for 11 1/2 years. Married for about 9 of those years. It started off as any new and exciting relationship does: happy, carefree, understood, with anticipation and a lot of excitement. However, by month 7 it was apparent that he was extremely abusive and I needed to end the relationship.

A month after the relationship, I realized I didn’t have some bizarre stomach flu, but was in fact… pregnant. This was the fork in the road. Do I go back into a relationship that was toxic or do I leave? I chose to go back. I do not regret it. Everything in life happens for a reason. However, the abuse only grew through the years... and eventually the abuse was also put on our two children.

But… I chose to stay… I chose to stay, because I was conditioned to believe that if I went through with the divorce, I would never see my kids again.

Until one day, I didn‘t stay anymore. I snapped back to reality one chilly September morning, after an extremely volatile argument. I witnessed the pain of my two beautiful, unique, bright and shiny children. I decided to leave.

I drove blindly around the streets of port orchard terrified, looking for a lawyer with absolutely zero knowledge of what I was doing. I remember finally finding a divorce lawyer by the courthouse. I remember hearing my own voice in my head telling me, “What you are doing is not going to be easy. You are about to walk through fire and it will absolutely destroy any remnants of who you are. You will make many mistakes. Many tears will be shed, but you have to make a better life for your children… you even have to make a better life for yourself.… even if you are ‘ugly, stupid, worthless, disgusting, don’t deserve to be alive, etc (the many insults from my ex)’.”
It was in that moment, the word ‘Phoenix’ popped into my mind. The beautiful bird that was burnt up by the flames, only to die and then be reborn from the ashes of despair to be more brilliant than ever. The bird of fire that flew with flamed wings and dared to fly to greater heights than ever before.

I decided Phoenix would become my middle name once the divorce was finalized and I would live my life by that name.

So, how did I overcome my abuse?:

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1. I had to first realize that the pain I went through was very real and with that came PTSD. I had to cry. I had to scream. I had to one to terms with the fact that I was a victim of extreme emotional and mental abuse.
2. I had to realize, just because I was victimized, does not mean that is all I am and whom I will always be. I had to make the decision that I was no longer the damsel in distress. There was absolutely no one coming to save me. The only person that can save me is ME. With this thought process, I realized I needed to learn how to be the “mom“ and the “dad”. Flat tire? I need to change it. Broken appliances? I need to fix it. Any skill set that my ex husband had, I needed to find ways to learn those skills sets so that I could be self reliant.
3. Realize I am only one person. I have a career as a teacher, work a second job, have two amazing yet demanding children, have clinical depression, need to keep up on chores, need to fit in a work out routine as well as find time for self care AND also sleep! I only have 100% to work with… I will never be able to give 100% to my kids or my work, etc… because it is distributed amongst many tasks. Finding balance is key.
4. GET HELP. A friend or family member offers to help? swallowed my pride and took them up on the offer! I am only one person.

5. GET MENTAL HELP. I am a firm believer that everyone should have a therapist or a counselor no matter their life situation. Everyone should have someone that can give them advice about the best course of action that do not personally know them.
6. SLEEP. Get enough sleep. If your list isn’t done. Screw your list. You will be much more productive with 7 hours of sleep than a clean sink and kitchen and only 5 1/2 hours of sleep.

This next step has been the most valuable step for me:

7. If you can, LIVE LIFE FULLY AND WITHOUT FEAR as often as possible. An obstacle presents itself, run towards the obstacle instead of away from it. Charge towards the things that make you the most uncomfortable…. The things you don’t want to do, because you are scared of failure.

Try new hobbies that you never thought you would be interested in. I’m currently looking for some salsa lessons, plan on learning the art of axe Throwing, rock climbing even though I have a fear of heights and would like to learn welding as well.

Life is incredibly short and although I have gone through a type of death from my abuse, I choose to live my new life without fear and take flight with my wings of fire.


This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2022 Yolandi Phoenix Hattingh

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