One of the toughest things about the safety planning process is that it forces you to face the abuse in your relationship. When you look at your abusive relationship truthfully, the panic to leave begins. You rush to judgment on yourself, thinking things like,
- “How could I have been so blind?”
- “Holy crap! How did I let this happen?!”
- “Staying here proves how stupid I am.”
Please, refrain from judging yourself. Not one of those reactions takes into account how your abuser manipulated you into the relationship. If you think about those thoughts, you’ll find that they are false judgments. Your abuser lied about who he was and wanted to be. You believed him because he seemed so damn real. There’s no way you could have seen his deception, and you couldn’t have read his mind. He tricked you. Period.
Let his shoulders bear the weight of responsibility for his actions.
The Safety Planning Process Can Feel Like Betrayal
I wrote the following before I left my marriage:
My Department of Social Services counselor has told me that it’s okay for me not to leave this relationship, this marriage, this family. I don’t have to leave just because I know what’s going on.
That was such a relief! I wasn’t ready to leave; there was no plan, no job, no money, nothing. I wanted to stay for another few years until I completed my bachelor’s degree.
And secretly, I didn’t want to safety plan for domestic violence possibilities because planning without telling him felt horrible and scary. It forced me to acknowledge, in writing, that my children and I were in danger.
Safety planning for myself and my children felt like a betrayal. My abuser conditioned me to tell him about everything I did so I wouldn’t get in trouble. I thought I had two choices: tell him everything so I didn’t betray him or don’t plan at all. He was so successful at the brainwashing that I chose to not plan. Isn’t it crazy how abuse makes you see in black and white–to limit yourself to the choices your abuser gives?
My Safety Planning Process Experience
It’s one thing to know you need a safety plan to escape domestic abuse, and another thing entirely to create it. My first safety plan was to drive a half mile down the road and sit on the farmer’s road with my lights off. That was it. I didn’t have extra keys, I didn’t pack an overnight bag. Nothing but me and (I hoped) my purse. I wasn’t being realistic.
I worried about how Will would react to my plan, although I knew I wasn’t supposed to tell him about it. I felt confused and upset that I had to contemplate leaving my home for even an instant. However, I knew violence was possible. Will would put his hands on me. He would. He had before, and I could only assume he would do it again. But my safety plan did not involve leaving my marriage, only my home.
I spent the next weeks rather pissed off that if he misbehaved, I was the one who had to leave the situation. Why couldn’t HE leave when he felt his temper rising? Why wouldn’t he take some responsibility for the intimidating airs he put on around our home? Why couldn’t he admit that he was at least part of the problem? And as I stewed in my anger, I realized something else. What Will had been doing wasn’t right AND he was doing everything and saying anything he could to avoid accepting one bit of responsibility. I would always be the one to have to leave. Always.
The safety planning process needed to resume. I needed more than a plan to run away to a farmer’s dirt road to wait out his anger.
Getting More Realistic with My Safety Planning Process
At this point, I started fleshing out my plan a little more. I knew that I needed enough cash to cover a hotel room (I wasn’t to the point of asking my friend for a crash pad), and probably at least one meal. So I opened an account in my name in a bank separate from our family bank. It felt weird to have something I couldn’t tell him about.
I decided that if I hadn’t needed to use my emergency cash stash by our 25th wedding anniversary, then I would turn all the “hidden” money over to him at that point and we would take a vacation – just the two of us, to celebrate how far we’d come as a couple and how happy we were together. I didn’t think it was “right” to put secret money aside, so I had to rationalize it in that way. I’m okay with it now, but back then I really wanted that couple’s vacation!
The fantasy I held of us being close someday continued, but even so, my safety plan was a little stronger. Soon after, I worked up the nerve to ask my friend if I could run to her family’s home if I needed to. She agreed, and I felt better for talking to her, but bad because I felt I (and possibly the boys) would be a burden to her family. In my heart of hearts, I know she would have us stay as long as we needed to stay, but still, I felt like a yet-to-be-discovered leech on someone’s leg in the pond.
In so many ways, making my safety plan felt like I planned to leave the marriage permanently. It was hard to assimilate the information that came up during the safety planning process: Like following through with making keys, telling neighbors, getting a PO Box, securing documents, creating a personal login for the bank, signing a contract for a phone that accessed the Internet…it felt sneaky. I don’t like sneaky. I prefer an open approach, honesty, and integrity. This didn’t feel like integrity to me.
My Safety Planning Process Was Not Thorough
The night I left, I had yet to put a change of clothes or toiletries in my car. I had to pack them while the cops were there. I didn’t remember to take any documents, I didn’t even think about securing my personal files on the external drive I’d left by my computer. I wasn’t ready because I had hoped it would never come to that – I wasn’t ready because I wanted to stay. I planned to return home the next day until I remembered what he said as I walked out the door with the cops – I had thought it completely ridiculous that he told me to take myself off the bank accounts. What?!
So, a few hours after I left the house on the final night, I used my phone to check the bank. I found emails saying that he had changed the username, password, pin number, phone password,…all of it. He had tried to lock me out of the accounts. But he didn’t know about my login information. I used it to remove funds from our savings account and transfer them into my own personal account. Just like that, in those 3 minutes, I knew I wasn’t going home.
I received more emails from the bank showing that around 7 am, he called and withdrew all the remaining money out of all of our accounts, even the boys’ accounts. I imagine he felt as if I stole the money from him; I know he was really mad about it. But what had he expected me to do? He told me in ugly voicemails that he’d been waiting for me to leave, waiting and hoping that I would go. But when I did, he seemed to want to make it impossible for me to leave. How was I going to stay gone with no money I wonder?
I suspect that he wanted me to come groveling back to him after learning what the “real world” was like sleeping in my car in the cold, with no money for a burger. But I’ll never know, and I’m too smart to ask him to explain his reasoning – it would only lead to more abuse.
The emergency plan I created during the safety planning process wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t nearly enough – I wish I’d had a pre-packed bag, I wish I’d … it doesn’t matter. My two saving graces were my phone and my bank login information. But if I had to do it over again, I would have pressed through the emotional pain of the safety planning process and created a thorough safety plan before I had the need for it.
The Safety Planning Process Made Easier for You
You need a safety plan even if you plan to stay in your abusive relationship. You need it because your abuser is unpredictable and you do not know when the last night at home will be. I’ve developed a safety planning workbook for you. You can download it for free or purchase it from Amazon.
The safety plan is comprehensive, meaning it gives you a lot to think about. The more you think about now, the less you’ll have to think when your adrenaline is pumping and you’re bumbling around packing a bag, forgetting to put panties and bras in with the mismatched t-shirts and sweatpants. Forgetting work clothes altogether.
The safety planning process will never be easy, but having the right tools to guide you through makes a difference.
Featured photo by Ben White