As most of you know, I in no way condone any kind of abuse or violence: domestic, sexual, animal or anything else. I can put words to my experience: terrifying. Futile. Hopeless. Lonely. But they are just words, and the only way I think anyone could truly "get" what I went through is if they were to be in my mind for a few hours. Of course, not only is that impossible but unnecessary, as I think most relatively sane people can agree and understand that experiencing any kind of violence or abuse is awful - even when they disagree on how to deal with it.
It took nearly four years of abuse at the hand of my husband before I was able to leave him. As some of you may already know, my boyfriend, who is a registered sex offender, is the one who effectively enabled me to finally leave. The biggest reason I didn't leave sooner was that I was unable to accept that I was a victim. I knew what he was doing was wrong, I knew it hurt, and the fact that I was terrified of him, even when things were "fine", was present in my mind on some level at all times. But instead of leaving, I retreated into a world where I ignored my gut on a conscious level in order to continue functioning.
It didn't help that the extent of social interaction for me was my job, where I was the sole administrative employee of a construction company. My boss and his wife were both over 50, with children the age of my younger sister, and they were sometimes the only other humans I interacted with on any given day. My family, who has always been my biggest and most reliable support system, lived close by, but I rarely saw or even spoke with them. I had no friends and no means of finding any, as my life consisted of work and home only. My husband didn't believe in therapy or medication and told me that seeing a therapist would mean I was "keeping secrets from him", so I had little option but to retreat into myself. He effectively isolated me from most of the world, and those that did see me were completely unaware of the truth. I'd become so good at convincing myself that convincing others was effortless.
When I finally reached out to my now-boyfriend at the end of 2009, it awakened feelings in me that had been dormant for years: desire. Love. Safety. Happiness. Freedom! I knew, the first time we embraced each other in over 7 years, that I needed to leave my husband. For three weeks, I struggled to conceive a plan for escape that wouldn't leave me injured or dead. When I tried to get to the door during a fight to avoid his wrath, it only enraged him more, and meant a more violent punishment for me. One of the few times I was able to get to my car and lock the doors before he caught me, he kicked the car door so hard it dented. My plan couldn't leave margin for error.
The day I finally did leave - a very cold Sunday in late November - it was almost completely unplanned. I woke up knowing for sure that I was going to leave that day, even though I didn't know how yet. I pretended to sleep through his incessant sexual advances, which finally stopped after what felt like hours. Around mid-day, I broached the subject of staying with my family for a few days. My sister had recently come home unexpectedly from college and wasn't in a good state emotionally. He was aware of this, and I cited her needing me as my reason for wanting to leave. After several hours of carefully talking him into letting me go, I packed a change of clothes and deodorant, got into my car and left. I spent that night with my boyfriend, in his rented railroad apartment that was actually just a room, on a folded up futon that was terribly uncomfortable. I never went back to our apartment, except for a few months later to get my things.
For the first several months after I left, my husband bombarded me with emails and phone calls. Miraculously, he never found out about my boyfriend - which I guess isn't so strange, considering how honed in on me and how "wonderful" our relationship he was. His communications with me ranged from pleading with me to come back, luring me with promises to enter therapy, accusing me of being cold-hearted, weak and pathetic, and attempting to guilt-trip me by claiming I had abandoned our marriage. And for months, I continued to correspond with him - driven by what, I'm not entirely sure. I knew I wouldn't return to him - I'd known that since the day I reconnected with my boyfriend. Looking back, I believe I was desperately hoping that by responding to him rationally, he'd eventually see that what he had done was wrong and accept why I had left him. Throughout our relationship and even after I had left, he usually refused to acknowledge what he did was wrong - in fact sometimes claiming that I was so awful, people would undoubtedly side with him even if they found out.
My attempts to squeeze out the response I wanted from him were futile. No matter how civil, rational, validating, or angry I got, my words never got through. I was still in the wrong and always would be. One afternoon, I sat in a traffic jam on the Saw Mill Parkway after leaving work, and called my mom to let her know I would be late. Since we weren't moving at all, I began relaying my husband's most recent email, in which he was dangling a particularly heart-wrenching proposal in front of me: our dog, who he had inevitably decided was his and had taken with him when he moved, was dying. She was going into kidney failure and was scheduled to be euthanized the next day. He had asked me to come and I declined, knowing by this time that it was a manipulation on his part and I had no interest in seeing him again, even given the awful circumstances. He responded by tearing me to shreds and claiming I didn't care about our dying dog. I began sobbing as I told all of this to my mother, as leaving the dog with him was the only regret I ever had about leaving.
But something else was happening. As I was talking, and recognizing my emotions - sadness, anger, frustration, confusion - I realized that even though I'd left him physically and was embracing a life without him, I was still feeding his desire by giving him my mind, my emotions and the right to upset me. As cheesy as it sounds, it was at that moment that I realized my only option was to sever ties and move on - truly move on. Otherwise, I would forever be trapped in the cycle of abuse. Maybe not physically, but mentally. My responding to his accusations and even acknowledging his existence was just an indirect way for him to still control some aspect of my mind. When I thought of it that way, I was chilled, but moreso relieved. Now that I knew how to fully escape him, I could begin to heal.
It wasn't easy in the beginning. He did his best to goad me, and when he realized I wasn't responding anymore at all, it was an onslaught of the worst possible things one person can say to another. While my heart still pounded every time I saw his name, and I longed to point out all the ways in which what he said was wrong, I no longer had to. Each deleted email and absence of response gave me a sense of empowerment. My silence was stronger than any words I could have spoken, as that was the only thing he couldn't ridicule, twist around or throw back in my face. The power shifted to me.
Once I had disengaged from him emotionally, I began to look at him as a sick person who needs help. I hate what he did to me, how he treated me and hold him fully accountable for his actions. However, I no longer feel the need to prove that to him or even hope that he understands it. It doesn't effect me or my happiness either way. I'm living the life that I want, free from him and able to discuss my experience with others without fear or shame. I never want to see him again, nor do I trust him or his intentions. However, wishing the best for him and those like him is also the best for me - and the rest of the world. I hope he can go on to live a fulfilling life and overcome his problems. This is not just for him, but for his family, friends and the world around him. Retaliation against him and wishing harm upon him brings me down to his level as well as ensures he will always be on my mind. Letting go and moving on allows me to choose whether or not I want to be a perpetual victim, or a person who has experienced domestic violence, survived, and allowed it to strengthen me and my resolve.
My advice to those who have experienced abuse, mistreatment, injustice, intolerance or neglect: talk. Vent. Get help. Get healthy. Make a difference. Educate. Forgive.