Life After Abuse: An Open Letter to My Friend on Healing from Abuse

The hand of a light skinned person wearing a fuzzy sweater placed in comfort on the shoulder of another light skinned person, wearing a pink sweater. Their hands are clasped together.

I originally wrote this letter for a dear friend of mine about the process of healing from trauma and life after abuse, in 2018, which was published on a blog called Betty’s Battleground on Valentine’s Day. The blog has sadly gone dark since then and the letter was no longer listed anywhere publically. I wanted to make sure that this piece could still be enjoyed and potentially shared with your own close friends if they’ve been through something similar.

CN: Detailed discussion of the emotional impact after an abusive relationship

My Dear Friend,

I never wanted to have to write this letter to you. I never wanted you to have to feel like this: like there are bugs crawling under your skin, like you’ll never be able to trust the men around you even when you desperately crave their closeness, like you want to scream and smash things and sob and hide under the covers forever but you are unable to do any of those things so you sit and stare at the wall instead.

Perhaps I coddle you too much because you are younger than I am. The truth is, I’ve always felt intensely protective of you. Before this happened, you were one of the few friends I had who was not already riddled with trauma. You were happy, you were trusting, you were loving towards everyone and everything and I wanted to keep you that way. Gut-wrenching, gritty, long-lasting wounds weren’t supposed to happen to you. You were supposed to be the one who was safe from that.

I wish I could’ve protected you.

But I have a silver lining to share with you. I’ve been down this path too. I’ve already made the mistakes you’re going to make, got caught in the circular invasive thought patterns, torn myself to shreds trying to heal before I was ready, and been to more therapy sessions than I can count to talk about my abuse.

So much of recovering from trauma involves deciphering what threats are real and which are remembered. You’ve learned to associate danger with everyday tasks like doing chores or wearing a certain pair of socks. You’ve learned to dissociate when you want to connect. The process of realigning yourself to safety is incredibly disorienting, and since you left that relationship doubting everything that you know about yourself, how can you now remember who you are when your perceptions of the world are so scrambled?

I want to help you navigate out of that nightmare.

I will be your mirror. I will remind you of who you are.

A light skinned woman with long blond hair looks at herself in the bathroom mirror. Most of the mirror is too foggy to see a reflection, but one curved swipe from a hand is enough to show her face.

It makes me so angry that you were pressured to hide from me just how bad your relationship was. I clench my fists in frustration, thinking how if I had known how he was treating you I would’ve spirited you away from that horrible place. But then I remember that I hid the worst of my abusive relationship from you too. I remember that when I was ready to come to terms with my memories, you were waiting patiently to find out what I needed and when.

I will do the same for you. I will meet you where you are when you need it.

When you discover a new trigger, I’ll be here to hold your hand, remind you which way is up, and help keep your feet planted on the ground until it passes. When you turn your pain inward and blame yourself for not being strong enough to leave your abuser much earlier, I’ll be here to tell you that you tried to leave–Oh, how you tried. But then you did leave and that is proof of just how strong you are.

We used to joke that we were the same person. Our brains are so similar. There’s a reason we find it so easy to talk about our trauma with each other, why we impatiently await the next time we can see each other when we’re upset because telling someone else about our newest emotional development just isn’t the same. We both think so quickly, we worry about everything, we give ourselves away far too much, we forgive too easily, and our emotions are so big they could probably be detected from the moon.

Now, when you tell me about your newest piece of processing, I feel like I can finish your sentences. I’ve had the same thought, dozens of times. I know the next steps of your journey. I know how this story ends. And that doesn’t mean you can’t have your own story. It should be yours. But it does mean that I know you’re going to be okay.

I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to offer you the words that I needed to hear when I felt what you are feeling now. And it is strangely comforting to know that you, best friend, understand me and my experiences in a new way now. Having that shared set of experiences made our bond stronger.

But regardless of the silver lining for me, I’d give up that increased connection in a heartbeat if it meant I could undo what was done to you and give you back your peace.

There is so much I need to tell you about what’s to come. There is so much I want for you to know in your heart.

I need to tell you that you are beautiful. No, you don’t understand. You are beautiful. You blow me away with the beauty of your heart–a heart that insists on loving everyone to its full capacity no matter how many times you get hurt; the beauty of your ambition, which never gives up, and allows you to shoot for success in everything you do; the beauty of your face when it lights up with laughter or excitement; the beauty of your resilience, which keeps your sparkle as bright as ever and never fades.

A slightly out of focus photo of a sparkler burning in the black darkness. The out-of-focus composition turns the light from the sparkler into a collection of glimmery circles, creating a magical and dreamy look.

I want to tell you that the phrase, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” isn’t true. When people use this phrase to refer to trauma, they think they are exaggerating when they use the word “kill.” They do not understand the very real danger abuse poses. They do not understand that if you are wounded or weakened by your abuse that it is not due to lack of strength.

I want to tell you that when you manage to survive something that threatens to kill you, it reveals the incredible strength that you had to begin with. I’m sorry that you had to use it. I need you to know that I admire you and respect you all the more for wielding this terrible superpower.

I want to tell you that triggers will keep happening. They will get less severe and less frequent over time, but just when you think you’re over them, they will jump up and bite you again. Some triggers need to happen. They can be a sign that your emotions are finally moving through you after being frozen for so long. If a memory comes up, it needed to come up so that you can let it go. These awful feelings will pass and you will be okay.

I want you to know that years after your trauma is over, you will continue to uncover new insights about what happened to you, and each and every one of those realizations will be necessary for you to have. You cannot access them until you are ready.

I want to tell you that when you are scared that your feelings are abnormal or too big, it reminds me of that one time when I reached out to you, scared and worried, because when I tried to sit down and get some writing done, I felt a wave of performance anxiety overcome me, while writing in a room by myself! 

You said, “Awww, you’re such a normal human being!”

That’s what I want to say to you when you feel scared or ashamed or weak. You are so normal and so extraordinary! You are both simultaneously! Of course, you feel scared after having your safety threatened repeatedly by a person who said he loved you. Of course, you feel ashamed after a relationship that was built on your helplessness. Of course, you feel weak after fighting with everything you had to get out, only to discover that the memories followed you, and you have to continue that fight long after it should’ve ended.

Two friends with their elbows touching and their hands joined at the pinkies in a display of friendship.

There are some things that I cannot teach you. You have to find those pathways out of the abyss on your own. But I can lead you to them. I can give you little pushes and nudges. I can make your process a little easier.

Helping you through this process is teaching me new lessons too. When I’m wrestling with my demons and you remind me that I’m still beautiful, valuable, or reasonable, I always have a hard time believing you. You’re my friend so you have to tell me those things! But now, I say those same things to you and mean them with all my heart. Someone hurt you and you had a horrible experience. The idea that suffering those experiences would somehow change your value as a human being or the way that I perceive you is beyond absurd. I try to remember this cognitive dissonance when the tables are turned and you are trying to reassure me. It helps me see myself through your eyes.

As I was writing you this letter, I realized that you had written a very similar letter to me just a few years ago. You took your pretty orange stationary, poured your heart out, and mailed me this amazing present. The letter hangs on the wall next to my bed to this day.

So to end my letter to you, dear friend, I’m going to quote what you said to me.

Even when you are triggered or sad or scared, you are still awesome and sexy and brilliant because you are still you. All these feelings and thoughts make up who you are, and I love all of the parts of you all the time. Even when we disagree (like once a year) or when I’m super busy. I love you all of you all the time. You’re not broken- you’re brave and strong. All of your past gave you resilience and compassion. That’s the opposite of broken. You are an amazing woman and I never want to be without you in my life.”

I love you and I am so glad that you are my friend.

Our Debut Book of Poetry:
Pet: the Journey from Abuse to Recovery

A demo of the book cover: The full book cover: The background is a digital illustration. In the bottom fourth, there is a beat-up wooden cage on top of a cliff face, with an old fashioned lock hanging off the side and a golden skeleton key sitting in front of the cage. Behind the cage ascending from the bottom to the top right of the cover are a series of five layers, each with a different shade of grey-blue, starting with the darkest and ending with the lightest, and each layer has a different painted texture. The bottom is moody watercolor, the second is a rippling water effect, the third is sponge-textured paint on a canvas, the fourth is marble, and the last is cloud-like. Separating each layer is a thick line of gold foil. Ascending from the fourth to the fifth layer is a beige colored bird, flying joyously into the top right corner. On top of this illustration are three portions of text. In the top left is "the Journey/ from Abuse/ to Recovery" on three lines, in a pale blue serif font. In the bottom half, slightly right of center is the author name "Kella Hanna-Wayne" in the same font and color blue, but in all caps, with a thin line beneath it. And in the center of the page in very large, highly textured, painted, pale-beige letters it says "Pet"Shortly after escaping a deeply abusive relationship, we began writing a large collection of poems detailing those experiences. More than 10 years later, we released that collection in a self-published poetry book, “Pet: The Journey from Abuse to Recovery.

“Pet” is a poem sequence that navigates the reader through the traumatic & transformative journey of domestic abuse and its aftermath.

Written in four parts, “Pet” explores what it means to lose the sense of self to the coercion of violence; the world-shattering revelation, grief, and uncertainty after the escape; the ache of hindsight; and the quiet strength found in healing. Kella Hanna Wayne’s debut collection of poems is a story of self-denial and self-discovery; A book of poetry to be read cover to cover, and then over again.

Buy the ebook or your own print copy here

A young woman with long brown hair tied in a pony tail, thrown over her right shoulder. She is wearing a white top with pink and peach flowers, bright red lipstick, and glasses with white and black ornamentation. She is staring at the camera with a slight smile.About the writer: Kella Hanna-Wayne is the creator, editor, and main writer for Yopp. She specializes in educational writing about civil rights, disability, chronic illness, abuse, and Dissociative Identity Disorder. Her work has been published in Ms. Magazine blog, The BeZine, and Splain You a Thing and in 2022, she released a self-published book of poetry, “Pet: the Journey from Abuse to Recovery“. You can find her @KellaHannaWayne on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Medium, Twitter and her website

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