Stay-at home orders due to COVID-19 have created some unexpected social impacts, one of which is a 15% to 30% uptick in domestic violence worldwide. In my own home town, the picturesque Vail Valley, it’s up 20%. Domestic abuse is almost reaching epidemic proportions.

An epidemic within a pandemic.

A survivor myself, exiting an abusive relationship is beyond difficult — even in the best of times. Why? The fundamental truths about humanity make it difficult to leave. Fundamental truths like, I love my husband/wife, I want them to love me, I need a home, a place to live, I want to keep my family together, deep down he/she has a good side, don’t they? And so on and so on.

Elyssa Nager

Add to this the devastating loss of self-worth due to financial control, physical threats, isolation from family and friends and the use of words that break you down into a fragment of who you once were, and you have a recipe that keeps you locked into your abuser’s world -– sometimes for years. 

The fact is, the physical abuse stings; but the emotional side of abuse is particularly virulent. I know. I get it. It is unbelievably difficult to take that first step. 

But as unbelievably difficult as it is to leave, I ask those suffering in an abusive relationship to choose YOU. Ultimately this is the choice you need to make in order to exit an abusive relationship.

At this moment in time, with the world beset by insecurity, that may sound selfish: “Choose you.” But I can assure you it is entirely the opposite. By choosing you, you choose hope and love and joy and the possibility of showing your children, if you have them, a happy and healthy environment that lives just around the corner and outside of the unhealthy relationship you are in. 

What does choosing you look like? Well, it’s as mundane as it is far reaching. This is what it looked like for me.

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I chose to stop listening to the wrong words. 

Words can affect communities and nations. And yes, words have an impact on even smart, self-assured, powerful individuals who are involved in abusive relationships. 

Abusers train our brains with their words. 

I didn’t want to flood my brain with the wrong words any more. So that meant dropping the stories that were playing on repeat in my head. Stories created by him, but adopted by me. That I’m friendless. Family-less. Unable to stand on my own two feet.

I chose new words and created new stories: I am powerful. I am beautiful. I am lovable. I am here. I am worth it. My stories became stories of love and success and hope and joy. 

I chose to leave victimhood behind.

Choosing to leave victimhood behind meant that I could free up my brain to focus on my future. My future with my son and all the things I wanted for my family and myself.

I reached out.

Choosing me meant choosing to let my friends, family and community back in. I reached out and I made myself engage in social situations that I actually found terrifying until, over time, they weren’t terrifying anymore because I remembered that I am likable, even lovable.

In abusive relationships there is no space for you. There is no time for you. There is no place for you (or your children if you have them).

During this unprecedented time, I am asking you to do an unprecedented thing.

Choose you.

Elyssa Nager is the author of  “Crushing Fleas: A Step-by-Step Guide to Reclaiming Peace, Self-Love and the Amazing You After an Emotionally Abusive Relationship.”

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