We are honored today to share the perspective of a dear friend Katy who has walked the journey of many going through the healing process after leaving an abusive relationship. Katy Cusumano is a recent transplant to Raleigh, NC by way of Los Angeles, CA. She spent the last year and a half working the Alpha ministry and previously was in the fashion industry for five years, as a merchandiser, for premium denim brand, AG Jeans. She is now Chief of Operations at our favorite ethical fashion boutique the Flourish Market in Raleigh and is loving her new role and home. In her own words, here is the account of how she is taking steps, with her community and through her faith, to embrace her beauty and live a vibrant life once again. She is lovely and bright and a major inspiration.
As a fellow sister who has endured emotional and verbal abuse this topic is near and dear and trickles into how we view ourselves as women and our bodies. Our bodies are to be cherished and loved, not objectified by anyone including ourselves. But many of us have suffered abuse in some form or fashion that led to us not being able to love ourselves.
Recognizing abuse is the first step. Healing from it takes a village, a set of amazing girlfriends, a ton of prayer and endless self love. Feeling beautiful can be very different from looking beautiful, and we believe the the first is most important. I can't thank Katy enough for sharing her story and being vulnerable enough to write it. Sister love to all who have struggled through this season.
Katy's Story -
I remember heavy rain hitting the car windows and darkness encompassing my fiance and I as we sat in his car on campus. I was trying to articulate why I couldn't marry him. I was 23 years old, insecure, timid, a people-pleaser, trying to explain to a man ten years older than me that something wasn't right.
Little did I know then, as my gut and spirit were trying to tell me, I was the perfect prey for an abuser. My intuition was telling me to run, to call off the wedding. Run from the red flags of manipulation and control. Run from the red flags of stories that didn't line up. But I didn't know back then how to listen to the voice inside me. I did not have my own identity; I had let others create that for me, into my young adult life. My unhealthy self cared more about other people's feelings and putting them above my own. This even meant making a life-altering decision: marriage.
I look back at those times, a total of almost six years, and see a dark covering over my life. I found myself in an abusive marriage and saw no way out. A day in the life with a narcissistic husband was mind-meddling to say the least.
I had thought this was my forever, my new normal. My thought process was, “I made my bed, and now I have to lie in it.” This was no one's fault but my own. My perfectionistic self could not see God's mercy and grace, because it was clouded with my own guilt and shame. The word "divorce" was taboo growing up in a Midwest conservative background. I had to do this by my own strength.
I put on my happy face, and from the outside we looked well-suited and thriving. We were heavily involved in a church community, helping lead small group and volunteering. But behind closed doors a very different person appeared. This created a constant conflict within myself and clouded truth and lies that were being told to me. After nearly six years, you start to believe those lies.
It left me riddled with anxiety, always on edge, and the continual trauma, fear and worry manifested outside of myself. It made it all the more difficult to reach out for help. I had become a person I did not want to be: angry, resentful, bitter and sarcastic.
It wasn't until after I was able to safely remove myself from that relationship that my journey of putting my broken self back together really began. I left that marriage emotionally exhausted in mind, body and soul. I was jaded toward men, especially men in the Christian church. I left with battle scars from a long, tiring fight for freedom.
That recovery started with a solid foundation of counseling, accountability and community. As you can imagine, this process is still happening as I share this with you all. This is not only years of abuse, but also broken records of thought that I brought from my upbringing. This is almost 30 years of unraveling who I thought I was through others’ eyes and rewriting my story that I am a child of God, created in His image. Precious. Distinct. Chosen. Purposeful.
My pastor in L.A. once spoke over me that he saw a picture of me frantically trying to put these large clay pieces of my heart back together again, out of my own strength, while a man in the corner was yelling over me. He reminded me that God is there with me, and together we will put my heart back together again. It will be a process and it will take time, but God is sovereign over it all.
I remember how overwhelming it felt to put one foot in front of the other as I began my journey towards freedom and healing. Small steps and education are key! I would love to share with you some helpful resources and next steps I took and continue with on the journey of a healthy self.
Find a counselor you are comfortable with and trust to walk alongside you. Counseling can open a door for healing by reminding and affirming that you are not the reason or at fault for the abuse. It can also relieve your own false stories that you created and carried. Many counselors offer sliding scale rates, or find out if your health insurance covers any portion. When I would stress about the cost of going, I would remind myself that my emotional and mental health is number one and affects every other aspect of my life.
- Educate Yourself
Pick up a book! I researched and read more on the habits and hang-ups I had developed over the years and learned more about abuse, which was a helpful balance to sit alongside counseling. I could go and talk to a trusted professional about my reading, much of which my counselor had recommended. They are great tools; use them! Here are some helpful books and websites I used.
Growing Through Divorce by Jim Smoke
by Leslie Vernick
What does that look like for you? Perhaps it is going for a walk, getting your coffee and alone time in the morning or taking time to read. For me personally, weekly exercise, dates with myself at the nail salon and alone time to re-charge are my thing! Check in with yourself and see how you are feeling. It may be time to recharge, and that is okay!
- Finding Margin in Your Life
This fits alongside your self-care routine. Check out this great article recently posted by Darling Magazine for easy and helpful steps.
We are so thankful for our friend's bravery and transparency in sharing her journey of hurt and healing.
If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, know that you are not alone and that there is help available:
For live online chat with professionals available every day from 7am to 2am, visit http://www.thehotline.org.
National Domestic Violence Hotline:
TTY users can send a text to: 1-800-787-3224
No matter what we have had to endure or what hardships have come into our lives, we are each beautiful and precious because of how and by Whom we were made. We pray this truth will sink into your heart today.