Why didn’t I leave? – Part I

Part 1: Emotional Quandry

Nearly five years ago, my husband glared over the breakfast bar at me, and snarled, “I am going to slit your throat while you sleep.” Standing in the kitchen, body strung taught like a bow about to launch an arrow, he had easy access to half a dozen knives of all shapes and sizes. I don’t remember the moments immediately prior. I don’t remember the moments immediately after. What I do remember is the hard look in his eyes and feeling more terrified than I ever have been in my life.

Although I called 911 – citing fear my husband was suicidal, and stating that I didn’t feel safe – I didn’t breathe a word of what happened to anyone. Not the full words. I did mention to two people, after a struggle, that he had said ‘something really bad’.

Yet the more time passed, I felt shame. Shame whenever something new happened, that I hadn’t left then. There was always, too, a little sense of relief that things never seemed to get quite that bad. I told myself I would never let it happen again. That if it happened again, then is when I would prepare myself to leave. I said that to myself about a lot of things over the years, because my husband seemed to guess my strategy. He didn’t often do or say the exact same things twice once I put my foot down, always seeming to know just how far to push me. And every year, I toughened up. Hardened. Handled more and more and repressed more and more. My therapist says it is like a frog in boiling water, if you heat it up gradually, it doesn’t realize the danger it is in.

I fought back, in my own quiet ways, trying to preserve my marriage and stand up for myself. But as I struggled to erect boundaries, I became a little less each year. A little less alive. A little more repressed. No one saw me fighting, managing, accommodating. They only saw me at the end, when I was finally broken down so far I simply couldn’t hide it anymore.

Failure was not an option. (I’m stubborn.) For me, it was all or nothing. Divorce was never supposed to be in my vocabulary. Neither was victim. I was only risking my life, after all. Working so hard to make our home mine, I didn’t want to give that up either. I tried to make myself a little sanctuary in a spare room, but that never lasted long when we needed to clean. I tried to fill up my life with other things to make up for the void his choices left in mine.

I saw his brokenness, and thought if I just loved hard enough, he would change. He was great at instilling hope, here and there. I attributed more to his mental illness than was reasonable, I think. Some times we would have a great few months… which would only bolster the guilt I felt over my reactions when things got bad. But the other shoe would always, always fall. Right when I least expected it. Right when I was starting to relax again.

Well-meaning people gave marital advice. Yet because I never let them see how bad it was, it hurt and hindered more than helped. ‘Marriage isn’t always about being happy.’ Was one of the phrases that hurt the most. My father has always sacrificed so much to be there for my family, through my mother’s health situations, it was just difficult. I struggled to look at him and say I wanted to give up. I didn’t want to disappoint him. Or the Christian people in my life I looked up to. I didn’t want to admit I wasn’t so strong as I thought he was. I didn’t want to admit that I wasn’t as strong as everyone thought I was.

How people feel about divorce and divorcees oozes out in a million subtle ways by the people around me. And since my reality of abuse had become my new normal, I simply couldn’t see that my situation was more extreme. Because admitting the situation was extreme, was admitting to myself that I had allowed myself to become something I had fought so hard against: being a victim.

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