What happened that made you decide to leave?
Nothing happened as far as any event with him. By the time I decided to leave the physical abuse hadn’t happened for years, and even the verbal and emotional abuse had been…managed, I suppose. We were “fine.” I was “fine.”
What happened was something else, something I’ve since heard echoed from other women who left. I went out-of-town for a couple of days for a wedding, by myself, and upon arrival took a brief nap at my hotel before exploring the city. Upon awakening, I sat up, then stood up, and as I stood up I heard a voice – literally heard a voice, so clearly that it may as well have been another person standing right beside me – say, “If you don’t leave now, you will spend the rest of your life like this.”
I had thought such things many times before – many times a day – but I had never heard the voice, never literally heard it with such finality and clarity. It was a truth that not only I couldn’t ignore, but that I had to obey. My thoughts and intuition weren’t enough; reason wasn’t enough. I had to hear it.
How did you feel about your abuser and/or your relationship in the days before you left?
Sad. I didn’t doubt my decision, but I knew it would be hard to say goodbye to him. Before I fell into a relationship with an abusive partner, I hadn’t understood how someone could love a person capable of hurting them. I understood that thoroughly by the time I left: I genuinely cared for him, and at the time fully believed I loved him. I felt glad to know that I would soon be leaving – nervous about it too, but mostly glad – but a sense of sadness was what I remember the most.
What three emotions did you most experience in the days closest to leaving Abuse? How did you deal with them?
Sadness. Fear – not fear that he would hurt me, but fear that I wouldn’t be able to stand on my own. Fogginess…that’s not an emotion, but honestly my emotions were so clouded at the time that fogginess best describes how I felt.
I dealt with it by remembering the voice, by remembering the truth. I knew for the first time that I had no other option. I couldn’t “make” it work any more than he could “make” himself stop being abusive – and he had tried, just as I had tried and tried and tried. I dealt with it by remembering the truth, and by knowing it as truth. I also let a couple of dear friends know that I was leaving, and asked them to be my truth when I would doubt it. It turns out I never did doubt it after I had made the decision, but it was helpful to know that there was some accountability there.
What planning did you do before you left? Who knew you were leaving besides you?
I was physically safe by the time I left, so I wasn't worried about him hurting me; that must be first and foremost for anyone who is in a physically abusive situation. Emotionally, my planning wasn't something I'd necessarily recommend either, but it helped me: I made sure he was emotionally safe.
I waited a couple of weeks until after his birthday because I wanted to protect him from having a birthday of desolation. I made sure I had social plans for the days and nights after I left - and I made sure that the people I made those plans with would understand if I needed to beg off to be alone. The only people who knew were a couple of close friends, and an online community I'd entrusted with my situation.
What were the one or two BEST things you did before you left?
I wrote down why I was leaving in a private journal. I did that so that if I doubted myself I would have concrete evidence - from myself - that I was making the right decision. I didn't need to reference it then, but I'm glad I have that now so that, years later, I have a record of where I was then, and where I am now.
If there was anything you wish you had not done before you left, what was it?
I wish I had left him as soon as I had made the decision instead of waiting until after his birthday. It was still a form of caretaking. In fact, just now I made a typo: "after MY birthday." There is a part of me that still confuses his needs with mine, seven years after leaving. And as it turns out, he wasn't protected emotionally by this at all. It would have been better all around had I not tried to protect him in my time of need.
How long ago did you leave? How do you feel today?
I left seven years ago. Today I feel - my god, how can I even describe it? It's not that my life today is blissful; it's good, but perfect it's not. It's more that now, that part of my brain that was constantly on guard - always aware of him, his moods, his words, his needs, his timing, his drinking, his tone, him him him - is at rest. I was with him for more than five years, and not after the first time he hurt me two months in was there a day that went by that I didn't think about leaving him. To have that part of my brain freed up is a form of relief I can't even articulate - imagine taking a breath for the first time, or drinking water after years of only taking it in pill form. Every single aspect of my life is better. I'm able to live a life, instead of living as an extension of his.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
Thank you for this project. It is crucial.
Learn why you need a safety plan even if you're staying with your abusive partner for now or forever.