If you are reading this, thinking how desperately you want things to change in your current situation, you are ready to begin your journey. Somewhere inside of you, an unconscious decision has already been made; the only thing stopping you is the overwhelming feeling of helplessness and the question: “Where do I even begin?”
I will be honest with you. It will be difficult. If it were easy, there wouldn’t be many other women facing the same struggle. There will be obstacles to overcome and people who don’t get what you’re going through. You will have to rehash your story countless times, only to have someone trivialize your feelings and experiences. It will be maddening, frustrating, discouraging enough to make you believe that staying in your situation is the “easy” option.
I’m here, sharing my story, because I experienced all of those things and I want to tell you how I did it. When I was one tear away from a nervous breakdown, I was at my lowest point. I was in a fetal position on a chair in my living room feeling the constant “push” towards the edge of letting go. My abuser very nearly had me where he wanted me ~ in a mental institution, where he could keep me locked away and in control of everything. Somewhere through all the chaos of the pain and confusion, I saw my children, without their mother, being raised by my abuser and I knew that I would die before I allowed that to happen. My abuser was solely responsible for the pain and dysfunction in our family. What he didn’t count on was the determination and strength I would draw from that pain which would enable me to fight back and break free. Experiencing that gut-wrenching pain every single day of my life with him taught me that I didn’t want it for the rest of my life. From that pain, I created a plan to change my life.
I asked some hard questions. Will he continue to cause me pain? Yes. Is there anything I can do about it, as long as I stay? No. Does he truly love me? No. Do I want to be in this relationship a week, month, year from now? No. There was my answer and, from that moment on, I had a new mindset: to do what it took to leave. Our relationship was a lie, because HE lied to me over and over about loving me (he didn’t), about me as a person (by trying to make me believe what wasn’t true), about other people (to turn me against them and further isolate me), about himself (to make me believe he wasn’t a bad person and that he only wanted to “help” me). Therefore, I couldn’t trust him in any aspect. How could I stay with someone I didn’t trust? That was a deal-breaker, as it should be in any relationship.
I learned quickly to keep my focus on one day at a time, and not so much what would happen in days, weeks, months into the future. Although it was difficult to take care of myself, I did the best I could in my struggle to keep a clear mind. I refused anti-depressants because I didn’t want an artificial sense that everything was okay when it really wasn’t. When I met with obstacles that threatened my mission to leave, I found people to help me fight to overcome those obstacles. The law practice I consulted prided itself on helping women in domestic violence situations, but they weren’t. They advised me AGAINST mentioning it at various hearings so that the judge wouldn’t rule in my abuser’s favor. The government decided that I DIDN’T qualify for a house because, they reasoned, the abuse wasn’t physical and, therefore, I was okay where I was. There were many setbacks which would have made it so easy to give up. I often got the feeling that it’s what “they” wanted me to do because it would have made it “easier” on everyone I asked for help. I discovered the “gaps” in the system where women fall through.
Despite the obstacles and setbacks, despite being at a constant disadvantage in so many aspects, despite not knowing how long the battle would last, I decided that I wasn’t going to give anyone, least of all my abuser, the satisfaction of seeing me give up the fight. I was fortunate to have a counselor who empowered me, kept me focused on what I had to do and challenged the dialogue put there by my abuser.
It took a long time, but I eventually saw all of my hard work paying off. I won appeals, overturning decisions made against me. Those triumphs might have been small wins in the overall battle but I certainly felt encouraged by them. The only time I looked back was to see how far I’d come and how much I accomplished. I realized that I could do anything I put my mind to, confirming time and again that my abuser was wrong about me.
As someone who escaped, I want to recommend the following:
~ Mindset is extremely important. Don’t “wait and see” how things go before you decide to move on with the rest of your life. Don’t wait for your abuser to change or give you permission to leave. If s/he doesn’t seriously want to change, it won’t happen. Take your life into your hands and decide that YOU deserve better. Because you do deserve better. Once you commit to the decision to get yourself out of your situation, you must emotionally separate yourself from your abuser. There is no room for sentiment.
~ Every little plan you make for your escape must be done in stealth mode. The fewer people who know, the better for you. Choose people you trust. Don’t leave a paper or browser history trail. If you must print anything, please do so on a friend’s computer, at the library or copy/print company. Have a friend or neighbor receive mail for you, particularly if you receive documents associated with your plans to escape. One of the most difficult things I had to do was to pretend nothing was going on and be as civil as possible. I also had to leave my computer on, in “locked” mode, so that I could tell if he tried to snoop.
~ Abusers must create an illusion to keep you where they want you. They do this by: planting a “recording”, in your mind, of the most negative self-beliefs possible; making you question your sanity with sleep deprivation, gas lighting, isolation; twisting their actions in a way that makes it seem like they’re “helping” you so that your reactions seem unreasonable. They will tell you anything they think you want to hear, in such a believable, charming way, so that you’ll think that everything will be okay “from now on.” My abuser once stood over me after he grabbed the phone out of my hand [to stop me from calling the police], grovelling and begging me to put the phone down. He promised he would do whatever I wanted (even leaving the house) if I didn’t call the police. A couple of days later, he looked me in the eye and told me that if I had done what he wanted, he wouldn’t have had to do what he did. Abusers will tell you ANYTHING to protect their illusion from falling apart. Believe nothing s/he says because they’re empty promises.
~ Make sure you have a good counselor AND a good lawyer (preferably one who doesn’t shy away from dealing with domestic abuse). The counselor will empower you while you’re making plans to escape; the lawyer will protect you by advising you about restraining orders, etc. If your counselor or lawyer tries to trivialize the abuse, REPLACE them.
~ Do not ignore or refuse the help or advice made available to you. Those who can help you have survived their escape or they’ve had experience with women who found themselves in similar situations. If you find the courage to ask for help, be ready to accept it. Your well-being, your life (and your children’s) are at stake.
~ Do not get involved in mud-slinging matches, no matter how determined you are to make yourself heard. Oftentimes, you don’t have to say or do anything other than stating facts (document everything!). If you stick to dignified silence and no arguing, you will gain more leverage in the legal arena with your credibility. If your abuser chooses to “fight dirty”, let him. Chances are, s/he will dig his own hole and you will be able to hold your head high, knowing that karma won out.
If you are reading this and have questions, please get in touch. As always, we’re here to help.