Finding My Voice During Lockdown
To those who feel scared, lost, alone, isolated, and stuck, this is written for you. For those, who are trying to get through an abusive breakup, start over, and have been forced to come face to face with fear, this is for you.
My Story: How I found myself in an abusive breakup
The year was 2020, the world was on lockdown, and I found myself alone in my apartment in France. Both of my roommates were stuck in America, so I spent three months living alone. During that time, I learned that my house makes a TON of noises at night. I learned that I am a roommate who never does dishes. And I wrote a book.
Someone told me, as we entered lockdown and my soul was grieving a drawn-out abusive breakup, that at the end of every loss there is a moment of creativity, don’t miss it. So, I wrote 1,000 words every day. Most of them were not beautiful, but 65,000 of them were pieced together to become the story of Eleanor Quinn.
In my mid-twenties, I had an “oh-my-gosh-the-world-is-ending-and-I-will-never-find-love-again” breakup. (Older and wiser now, I wish I hadn’t been so dramatic when I typed those words, but I know that you can probably find that phrasing verbatim somewhere in a text to my sister). I really thought that my life was over.
I started to tell a few of my friends about my recently ended relationship. After describing something my ex had said to me while we were dating, one of my dearest friends said the words I had been dreading and denying—that he had been emotionally abusive and manipulative. That I had in fact been experiencing an abusive breakup.
With the pieces of my broken heart, I refused to believe her. He HAD loved me. I had also loved him.
A few months went by, and I did my best to forget her words. I moved on with my life. I figured out who I was again. I felt like myself. And then, one morning, I got on Twitter. The #metoo movement had begun, and I found myself absentmindedly scrolling through the tweets. I could relate to almost every tweet. The things these women were calling abuse were things that I had experienced in this relationship. I was not alone.
I fell to the floor and cried.
I had felt so alone in my grief when the relationship ended. I felt isolated and too ashamed to admit to people what had gone on in the relationship. Frankly, I felt stupid that I didn’t see the obvious markers of an abusive breakup, which now, looking in the rearview mirror, were so obvious.
I felt like I had lost a piece of myself, and at that moment, crying on the floor of my tiny apartment, I was determined to find myself again. So, I began writing.
I have always been a storyteller. From the moment I learned that I could keep my sister’s attention if I had a good enough story, I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Writing has always been a way of creative expression.
When I started writing, it took me years to find my voice. No matter what the plot was, for some reason, the story kept falling flat. The words that I was writing didn’t feel like me because they weren’t me. The stories I was trying to tell were not mine to carry. I knew it. Those who read my words knew it. It was not authentic. It took this moment of breaking to find the voice that is mine.
From my spot on the floor, I wrote. I wasn’t sure if it had been hours or minutes, but I stayed there until my computer ran out of battery. I wrote the words that had been slurring around in my brain for the last few months. The words that I didn’t know I had buried in my heart. I had spent the better half of a year justifying this bad behavior because I thought that the way I was being treated was the way love was supposed to look like.
That night, I wrote a song whose words I repeated like an anthem whenever I needed courage. It was there when I needed reminding that I was brave. That I was strong. That I can do hard things. That I already had done hard things. It was a reminder of the past, but it was more of a battle cry for the future.
I spent years writing stories that were not mine. It took facing the reality of my own story to find the hope that had been tucked into the grief. Maybe you also feel overwhelmed by the vastness that comes with starting life over.
5 Creative Ways to Heal After an Abusive Breakup
So, to you who feels alone, lost, afraid, broken, not enough, trapped, I encourage you to find a creative outlet:
- Go for a walk down streets you haven’t explored before, pay attention to the sounds, sights, and smells.
- Write, whether it be poems, song lyrics, or short stories, and find a way to express your story through a new lens. Don’t stop to critique and read, just let your imagination go, dream, and write.
- Paint, draw sketch—just like writing. It doesn’t have to be perfect or gallery-ready. Let your creative juices flow.
- Take up photography and look at the world through a different lens. Get a new perspective on life.
- Listen to music, dance, and feel good in your body again. Abusive relationships can all too often result in body issues.
Whatever this expression might look like for you, feel empowered and remember that you can do hard things. I hope you feel seen. I hope you feel loved.
Olivia Swindler is the Communication Coordinator for Young Life in Europe and the author of debut novel, Cynthia Starts a Band (October 2021, Morgan James Fiction). Find more about her and her book here at oliviaswindler.com.