I grew up in a vanilla cowtown full of racist and misogynistic views in the middle of nowhere. Fortunately, I grew up with a hippie mother who believed your spirit was just as much part of Christianity as God, and the world is to be explored, delved into, and torn apart. She became a big part of teaching me how to leave a toxic relationship, professionally and personally, but we will get to that in a second.
Her adventurous spirit infused mine as I left Wyoming for college in Miami, FL, when I was just eighteen. My world was cracked open and suddenly full of technicolor and glitter patterns I did not even know existed.
I was free, and it was magical.
And as I explored a world more beautiful than one I could ever makeup, I had another world crash into me that was eviler than I could ever make up.
Someone was suddenly breaking my technicolor glowsticks and taking the rose-colored pilot glasses off my green, glittery eyes. And soon, they even sucked up all of that glitter, throwing it out to sea as they moved me across the country to fertile land that closely resembled the same prison I escaped.
I was a caged bird, only let out when accompanied. Abusive relationships become a bit like a cult suddenly. You sever from everyone who ever supported your dream world, and you only hear how awful your flaws impede this other person’s life, your “keeper’s” life.
After fiercely judging my best friend in high school for staying in an abusive relationship, I found myself locked in the grips of one at twenty-five.
Someone saw what I would give up the world for; the marriages all of my high school friends had entered at eighteen, someone to protect me as I was tired of always protecting myself, a shoulder to lean on that could provide that alluring next chapter of my life for me. It truly is like a mouse going after a piece of cheese and being trapped by its prey.
And I took a bite, and I almost died from the strength of the trap.
The moment I ripped free, I cried the first happy tears of my entire life.
I was free, and it was magical.
And my dreams did come true, and still are coming true.
I would still be stuck if I were there today. Part of me believes that I would still be there if I hadn’t had one rush of courage, of the thought that it was my life or his, of the realization that staying was going to end with me dead. If lucky to stay alive, my confidence shattered, my career ruined, probably with a child who would bear the same brunt I did.
And the future in front of me was/is better than I ever could have dreamt up at the time and in the moment.
I made a decision, and I used social media as a support system to connect with others who needed to make the same decision or already had. I discovered that my technicolor dreamworld had never left, and there were even more glittery patterns and bright lights to explore.
I was one of the lucky ones; my stars aligned in just the right way for me to leave my toxic relationship.
Abuse does not just occur with two lovers. Abuse occurs in every and any relationship, and it can seduce you before you even know you are in the trap. You could find yourself with a verbally abusive boss or a crazy parent who constantly manipulates you. Emotional abuse is still abuse.
Forms of verbal abuse at work include anything that isn’t professionally communicated with you. Does someone on your team use raunchy nicknames with you? Do you get a tongue lashing if you don’t answer an email at noon on a Saturday? There are professional ways to handle those situations without it getting into the form of verbal abuse. There are professional ways to leave a professional toxic relationship.
Abuse is everywhere, and the trial with Amber Heard and Johnny Depp did not help its case at all. Abuse is real. All you have to do is read my story to realize how crazy it can get and know that I’m one of the luckier ones!
We have a right to find ourselves worthy, more important than another human. And we have a right to stand up to our abusers, no matter what form they come in. That sentence alone is hard for me to believe, but I needed to get the courage to leave my abuser.
Check out this image for hints on whether or not you are experiencing abuse in one of your relationships.
Abusers like to assert power and control over you, which is ironic since it takes an incredibly insecure person to become an abuser. When you realize they are abusive, you might fear losing your job, your child, or your home if you stand up to them.
Fear it, but do not believe it. Anything you think could happen from leaving an abusive situation is false; it’s fear making up storylines in your mind. I do not care who you are. Another job, another lifelong partner, or another home, will be there to catch you before you ever have the chance to fall.
Once in a lifetime, an abuser might not realize their actions and walk it back if you have an open conversation with them, but 99 percent of the time, an abuser will not change, and the best course of action is to sever yourself from them entirely ASAP.
Here are some tips for escaping your abusive situation, no matter what form it comes in, domestic abuse or professional abuse:
Create a Secret Network
This could be a family member, coworker, mentor, or friend. Who do you trust the most?
Confide what you are going through in them, so at least one person knows what is occurring at home, or work. Continue to grow this network as you move along so you have a support network ready for you when you leap. My mom likes to say, “Circle your wagons!”
Seek A Mental Health Professional
I met with a psychologist for months before leaving my abusive relationship. We created plans, and she worked with me to accept that I had to leave the situation no matter how much I feared it. Psychologists are a great way to gauge the amount of abuse happening, as well. They can tell you if something you thought was always said at work is abusive behavior. Believe me, therapists are trained on ways you can leave your toxic relationship safely.
Ditch Your Emo Side
Your emo side loves pain, loves melting into a puddle as My Chemical Romance says everything you wish you could. DITCH IT! You need all the positive energy you can muster to leave a relationship, personal or work.
Letting go of the sad songs means creating a positive playlist on repeat or downloading Apple Music’s handy “Feeling Happy” playlist. Watch comedies, search for funny reels, and do everything in your power to keep your space positively charged and ready for when you leave.
Forget The Good
There is no good where abuse is prevalent. It can be easy to remember the good times; that 4th of July on the roof of the Cad, Sundays on our computers on the couch with takeout Pasha, running to get our marriage license on our break. Or, if it’s work, positive feedback from the abusive person on a project, a work dinner that went well…STOP.
Those did not exist. You probably are even remembering them better than they were! They are not a part of the future you are building for yourself, and they quite literally do not exist in your current life anymore.
You cannot let the good of the abuser seep in if you are truly going to leave them, especially if you are an overly emotional person like me.
Symbolic exercises are more helpful than you think when separating from someone. Rip up old photos, burn them! Delete emails that angered you from your work abuser. Write their name on a napkin and burn it in your kitchen bowl. You need to LET GO. This is how you leave a toxic relationship!
So many children search for, “Am I being emotionally abused by my parents?” How sad and true, is that?! It would help if you had a clear mind to have the strength to pick up and leave your spouse, change jobs, or redefine your relationship with your parents.
I used a Chopra meditation around letting go and cutting the energy chord before leaving my ex. It allowed me to visualize a chord cut between us, a true severance. Search on YouTube for a guided letting go meditation that works for you.
Leaving an abusive situation is often taking an opportunity when it suddenly pops up to leave. And, as the saying goes, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” You must be prepared to exit physical abuse and emotional abuse successfully. There is no good time to leave a relationship, so you have to jump on any opportunity.
Prep an exit strategy. These will look different depending on your relationship with your abuser, so stay with me here:
- Where are you going to stay the first night you leave?
- What can you have packed and ready to go in case you need to leave quickly?
- How are you going to make money? Will you keep your same job? Do you already have an offer for somewhere else?
- What are your talking points with your parents to set boundaries?
- How much cash do you need to survive?
- How much money do you need to leave your job without another one available yet?
- How will you get to the place you are escaping to?
- Who needs to know that you left?
- Do you have the phone numbers of shelters, in case?
- What social media channels need to be changed right away?
- Who is a lawyer you can use for a divorce and/or employment case?
- What credit cards do only YOU have control over?
- Have you experienced sexual violence? Sexual assaults? Psychological abuse? Do you have physical abuse, bruises, broken bones, etc.? >> You could! So have a list of doctors you could see right away when you leave.
Having all of this planned out in an excellent Google doc is helpful. The cord broke suddenly for me, and I survived because I had a plan in place that I’d been planning for months.
Yep! Severance is the final step of the process.
PS- If you haven’t watched the show on Apple TV, you need to!
To leave a toxic relationship, totally cut yourself off from the abuser. Leaving an abuser bruises their ego, and they often want to play cat and mouse game with you after you’ve left. If they are physically abusive, this step is even more critical, because you do not want them to know where you are living and/or working.
If you need to stay in touch due to legal proceedings, personal or professional, only speak through your lawyers. There is no need for you to ever talk to the abuser again.
If they run in the same professional circles as you, give them a polite nod; otherwise, keep your mouth shut and stay as far away as possible.
Abuse is real, whether the Johnny Depp, Amber Heard trial made a joke of leaving toxic relationships or not. You deserve a healthy relationship, so work towards one, not against one! You must start taking steps towards first identifying abuse in your life, then creating an exit strategy.
Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions regarding personal or professional abuse, but know I am not an expert like the National Domestic Violence Hotline. This incredible hotline will help you even more as you leave your toxic relationship and start to see in technicolor again.
-Marji J. Sherman