I recently had a Facebook memory pop up, an image from a vacation in January 2016. In the photo, my puffy, red eyes betrayed that I’d been up all night crying, despite a chipper caption about my breakfast shake and a smiling emoji.
The night before, my partner had painstakingly pulled a confession from me that I was planning to move out after we got home from our trip to visit his family. I believed that our living together was not healthy for me and wanted to address things in therapy, as a couple who was dating but not living together.
He, of course, “had no idea” that I was so unhappy. He apologized. He promised. He pleaded.
And he threatened.
“If you move out, I think we’re done, I don’t think there’s a path where you move back in.”
I was afraid to lose him entirely. So I agreed that we could work on our own individual needs to be healthier partners, alongside each other.
We were married seven months after the photo was taken.
And things never did change. He got more controlling, I got more isolated from friends and family, I gave up more and more of myself without realizing it. My eating disorder spiraled and I reached my lowest weight because of extreme dieting and over-exercising, all so I would have some semblance of control in my life. He implied that my talents and passions were created by him and not inherently mine. I lost myself.
But I wasn’t ready in January 2016 to leave yet. And I have so much compassion for that past version of me who wasn’t ready. The same compassion I have for everyone else out there who isn’t ready.
It’s easy for people to blame the victim. “If he was abusive, why didn’t she leave?” is a common question when domestic violence escalates.
She didn’t leave because abuse doesn’t work without good parts. Beautiful moments of connection, laughter, fun, joy. Real moments of love. Without those as the mortar, the bricks of abusive control would tumble at the smallest upset. And she could walk away because she’d realize he was full of shit.
But there is so much hope in a survivor. Hope that the abuser isn’t intending to be so hurtful, hope that the abuser isn’t in control and can be saved from his impulses, hope that things can be better again like they were before.
There is also fear. Fear of starting over, fear of losing financial support, fear of losing kids in a custody battle, fear of escalating the abuse to become even more harmful.
Abuse is not something you can just walk away from, 99% of the time. It takes women an average of seven attempts to leave their abuser.
So if you aren’t ready, I don’t think you’re being a victim. I don’t think you’re weak. I don’t think you’re choosing the easy way. I think you’re not ready, and that’s okay. All of the blame for an abuser’s violence falls on the abuser. Never on you.
I left in March 2018. He asked if we could have a trial separation and then move back in together after working on things apart for a while. The same thing I asked for in 2016 that was “impossible” for us to come back from. He only became okay with that when I was completely walking away. Because it was never about what we needed to be better partners; it was about keeping me as close as possible to maintain control.
Coming up on four years later, I am the healthiest version of myself I have ever been. I am safe now. I protect myself and surround myself with people who want me to be safe.
It’s okay to choose the safety of what you know, until you’re ready to make your own safety outside of it. If anybody judges you, you send them my way.
Note: I acknowledge the heteronormative language in this post, indicating a female victim and male abuser. This does not mean that women do not abuse, that men are not abused, or that queer partnerships are not abusive. However, in my own experience in this relationship, I was at the time identifying as a cisgender woman (I am out as nonbinary now) in a relationship with a cisgender man. Until we have statistics that more accurately reflect a more inclusive gender spectrum when it comes to abuse, this is currently the most statistically common gender dynamic in abusive relationships. Let’s stop raising men in toxic masculinity culture, that will probably help a lot.
If you’re in an abusive relationship, check out the Domestic Violence hotline. Their website is full of resources, and you can call, text, or chat online with a dedicated advocate. Call 800.799.SAFE (7233).
Chat with me
I’m a creativity coach, but I coach about a lot more than that. If you want someone to talk to, I can help you make a plan to start a business, make time for your passions, set healthy boundaries, or simply work through some negative self beliefs. I’m offering free thirty minute consultations, you can get on my calendar here.