The post linked below was fantastic, although more for the friends and family of the abused than for those living in that hell themselves.
For me, I ‘knew’ my husband was ‘sick’. That he had a mental illness. I convinced myself that the anger issues were a part of the Bipolar. That somehow, it made it ‘ok’ on some level, since he couldn’t control that side of things. For the past four years it had been a slow escalation. Two 911 calls. A 2-week involuntary commitment. And endless manipulation. He would do what he could to check off the minimum of my demands, when I found the courage to set a boundary, that would allow us to go back to a comfortable status quo (I should add: comfortable for him). And always, I was frightened to push too far, and ‘make’ him do something we couldn’t recover from.
Growing up a dedicated Christian, and still holding on to that faith, I never wanted Divorce to be an option. I didn’t want to fail. Or be a statistic. I wanted to do everything I could to make it work. I didn’t want to ‘push’ him to the point I would have to make that decision.
Hindsight being what it is, I’m beginning to understand the flaws of my logic a little better.
It took a lot for me to break away: the amazing timeliness of 4 amazing, attentive friends; learning a long-time friend was pregnant, and afraid of my situation endangering her and her unborn child; husband escalating and growing more threatening to myself and others, as well as physically violent to things around me; and a friend, who started going to counseling, and reached out to me simply by sharing her very real struggles, and thus opening the door to those deep, intimate conversations where I began to reveal the daily occurences of my life. Her love for me, and her bravery in telling me she was frightened for me – helped me realize that enough was enough. I needed the reassurance that I had a safe place to go. I needed the active assistance of people willing to make the coordinating plans for my exit strategy – calling lawyers, researching Protection orders, arranging a safe place for me to go afterward. Mentally, it was all I could do to pretend things were normal, afraid that he would lose it if I did anything suspicious.
From the first time I called 911, when my husband – at the height of a manic rage – threatened to slit my throat in my sleep – to the day I finally left, took about 4 years and 4 months.
No one wants to be a quitter. No one wants to abandon someone who is ill. We all want to think we are strong, or strong enough. That if we set boundaries, and do all ‘the right things’, we can help someone change. That we can provide enough love and commitment for the both of us.
And by the time we realize it’s more important to quit, than to endanger ourselves and our families; that we deserve to be taken care of too; that sometimes being strong is not enough when someone is determined to crush the life from you; that boundaries only work when they are respected; that people cannot always change; and that you can love unconditionally, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept hateful, unloving behavior.
By the time I realized all of the above, I had been entrenched in this life for years. Sometimes I burned bridges with those who might have helped me. Fearful for them. Fearful for myself. Shamed that I kept running into the same struggles over and over, I stopped reaching out. It took a lot of gentle loving, openness, readiness, and patience on the parts of those who were concerned for me. And finally, finally I took that step and left.
Not everyone has all the support I did in leaving. Some people have the additional worry of children. I honestly don’t know how anyone could manage to break away without all the hand-holding I had every step of that last week. But I know some people do. And I have nothing but the utmost respect for them.
“Why didn’t you/she/he/they leave?”
When it comes to domestic violence, I feel like this is often the most common question. Why not leave–as if leaving is the most obvious thing in the world. As several other media outlets and Twitter campaigns have striven to show, there are any number of reasons why someone doesn’t leave: they think it is their fault, they lack the resources needed to find a new place to live, they still love/care about their abuser, they are dependent on their partner for income or health insurance, they are trapped in a cycle of substance abuse, they don’t have anywhere to go…the list goes on and on.
The thing about these stories is that they illustrate an important point: domestic violence, from the perspective of the survivor, may not be black and white. When people ask why someone didn’t leave, the truth is that they are judging…
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