A is for Abuse (Part 2)

This post is nearly two years late. I have this problem when it comes to relating my experiences with abuse: I make a big post that references abuse I’ve been through, and then it becomes impossible for me to write anything else in that blog for months or years, due to an irrational terror that my abusers will know I’m talking about them and that, somehow, they’ll find me and punish me.

So much for Pagan Blog Project 2013. Maybe I’ll try again in 2015.

In A is for Abuse (Part 1), I talked about spiritual and religious abuse in a Pagan context. Today, I’m continuing on that topic, with an emphasis on good things to do once you’ve realized that you’re in a bad situation.

GET OUT.

If you read the previous post, those words have probably been hammered into your head already. However, this is easier said than done in some cases, especially if you’re living with your abuser, or other members of the abusive group. If you have friends or family who you can hit up for money or crashspace, this would be the time to do it. Look up local domestic violence resources, women’s shelters, homeless shelters, anyplace that’s away. But the most important thing at this point is to not make a big deal out of leaving. There are plenty of nice, non-threatening reasons for you to suddenly be elsewhere — make up an excuse to visit family, spend the weekend with a friend — just focus on getting out the door with a packed bag.

If you can get away with actually moving out openly, do so, but try not to act as if you’re never going to see them again, even if this is actually your goal. Abusive people will often try to reel you in again if they suspect you’re leaving the group1, so if you can get away with “needing more personal space for now” or “visiting a friend”, that may be the best option.

If they’ve given you things, throw those things away, or have someone who’s good with energy cleanse them and sever any ties between the object and the one who gave it to you. Store-bought things, or things you’ve paid them for tend to come clean pretty easily, and I’ve had good luck cleaning out things like crystals and tarot cards. Handmade things tend to hold their maker’s energy more strongly, so if they made you a dreamcatcher or knit you a scarf, get rid of it. You probably don’t need the emotional associations with someone who’s treated you badly, and you definitely don’t need their energy in your space.

So yes, you may lose some stuff. You may lose a lot of stuff. In a worst-case scenario, you may end up leaving a bunch of things behind you in your rush to get away from the scary people, and you need to be prepared for that. But I’ve found it’s easier to get more stuff than it is to recover from long-term abuse. There are even people who will make you custom magical jewelry and other objects who aren’t trying to use that as a way to make you grateful to them, as shocking as it may seem.

Once you’re away, do some heavy-duty ritual cleansing, and focus on setting up wards and personal shields. If the group used a specific method of setting up defenses, try using a different method2. Some abusers will try and throw nastiness your way, and some either won’t or can’t, but if nothing else, setting up magical defenses will help reinforce that you get to have space of your own now, and their bullshit isn’t welcome in it.

If you’re not living with your abuser(s), or have successfully left, you should then decide how to handle the possibility of further social interaction. Probably the best thing to do is to calmly say that, due to such and such issue, you don’t think you can continue being friends/covenmates with the abuser(s), and then to cut off all contact. Block their calls and emails, and otherwise carry on with your life. It’s up to you whether you want to keep in touch with mutual friends, but you might want to have a script prepared if they try to bring up your abuser or suck you back into the group: “I understand you’re still close to [abuser], but I’d really rather not talk about them. Have you gone to see [movie you’re both interested in] yet?” or “I know the group is doing really great things for you, but I wasn’t comfortable there, and so I’m taking this time apart to get my head together. Did you hear about the art gallery that’s opening downtown?” Let them know you’re not willing to talk about it, and change the subject3. If they persist in trying to talk about your abuser(s) and why you left, politely but firmly remind them that you’re not interested in talking about it, and exit the conversation. You can say something like, “Maybe we should try this again some other time,” if you still want to try and be friends, but you also have every right to stop speaking to them if they refuse to respect your wishes.

Of course, all of the above is the mature adult thing to do. The scared abuse victim thing to do, in my case, was to let the “friendship” drag on, even with continuing abuse, and gradually make up more and more excuses to not come over when I was invited, and finally just stop responding to emails after a long enough period without contact. It was not the best plan, and probably screwed me up more in the long run. If, like me, you’re afraid of cutting things off completely, at least try not to go anywhere with your abuser(s) where you couldn’t get back under your own power. My abuser used to invite me over, keep me there past when the buses stopped running (“Dinner isn’t even ready yet!”), and then declare that her partner was too tired to drive me home. (“I think you should spend the night. You don’t mind, do you? Your cats will be fine on their own a little longer.”) One day would turn into two. Then she’d push for three, and only the fact that I had cats at home who’d doubtless emptied their food bowls by then would get me out sans drama4.

Don’t be like me. If you’re planning on doing a slow fade, keep an escape route open at all times.

Once you’re out, there’s the problem of figuring out which of the group’s beliefs are valid, and which are just controlling bullshit in a different form. This isn’t easy, to say the least. Things you once took for granted may be tainted by association with your abuser(s), and you may be unused to trusting your own perceptions after too long a time spent being told you’re wrong about everything… all of which is a subject for another post, because if I try to go into that in this one, it’ll never get posted.

I’d strongly recommend anyone with these issues go read all the posts tagged “boundaries” over at Weaving Wyrd, because there’s a lot of good stuff there that I haven’t been able to cover, myself, some of it explicitly concerned with religious abuse.

  1. This isn’t a universal trait, though: I actually got kicked out of my abuser’s house the first time I left the group, on account of how putting a projective empath with Major Depressive Disorder (that would be me) in an abusive situation is bad for everyone involved. But then she made disapproving remarks about how I could’ve stayed in the city instead of going back home, so I’m taking it to mean she still wanted me in abusing range, just not close enough that she had to deal with the consequences of said abuse. And then I went back to living with her when she apologized, thinking things would be better if I just stopped projecting my unhappiness everywhere. Spoilers: they weren’t. []
  2. I highly recommend Spiritual Protection by Sophie Reicher as a resource if you need information on cleansing, shielding, and warding. I literally have only one problem with that book, and that’s the lack of thorough editing — there’s some homophone confusion in the text which really should’ve been caught by someone. []
  3. It can be tempting to try and convince them to leave, as well, but if they’re not ready to, they’re more likely to go running back to the abuser(s) with stories of how you’re badmouthing them, thus confirming you in your abuser’s eyes as an Evil Traitor who’s out to ruin them. Just be polite but firm, and when they’re ready to get out, themselves, they’ll know where to find you. And then you can swap horror stories and traumatic memories! It’s hours of fun! []
  4. I tend to leave out more food and water than my cats can finish in a day, so it wasn’t like a couple of days would hurt them… but three or more would. []