The topic of Domestic Violence is fraught with pitfalls. It is controversial, upsetting and opaque. It stirs emotions from exasperation to raw anger. DV is shrouded in confusion, ignorance and is a mine field of cultural misconceptions. Each participant in any conversation sees the issue through the lens of their own experience. Perhaps they blessedly have none; dwelling in homes with no harm done and have friends in happy relationships. Perhaps they have someone close to them who was abused …or perhaps they have a friend who has been falsely accused of abuse. Perhaps they are a victim who has lived through horror themselves.
Perhaps they are an abuser who is doing harm or has impacted another’s life.
One who steadfastly denies to look in a very ugly and possibly criminal mirror.
How does one make another understand the experiences of someone who has survived the trauma of domestic violence. Make them understand its layers and its massive consequences. To ‘get’ something we need to ‘see’ it. That will not be achieved through victim silence. Nor by howling down what others see through their own personal lens. If it is to be a time of change and progress, we must all try to listen and learn.
Only those who wilfully disrespect very real suffering should be silenced. Ignorance is one thing. Justifying destructive vitriol is entirely another.
Despite having the means to do so, I will not be laying bare my ex husband’s specific actions. To do that gives him a certain oxygen he does not deserve. He has been judged by society on certain matters and is currently paying his dues for that. That stands alone as a reflection of character.
What I would like to share here is the experience of someone who chose to leave. It is a startling fact that whilst there are inevitably different circumstances in each case of DV, the basic patterns tend to conform. Different abusers have stronger leanings to certain techniques but it is much less varied than one might surmise. Predator and prey. The day it turns on a dime is the day the hunter realises the hunted is getting away from them. Those are the frames in the nature documentary of domestic violence where you stare frozen at the screen as the gazelle makes the final run for it. It only has one good chance at that desperate last sprint.
For me, there was a blinding moment of clarity after 16 years of marriage that things were never going to improve. There had been a previous separation where he had won me back and I was too broken to oppose him after months of relentless campaigning. I had become quite ill and had no reserves left financially, mentally or physically. There are incidents that took place in my home over 18 years that even now make my mind want to shatter if I replay them in detail. Major crises were routinely followed by a period of regret and periodic attempts to be a ‘better man’ through brief therapy. It always presented as a combination of his problems as a victim of his past; and how I also should change further to help him. I would convince myself I could soldier on. I would convince myself this time it would be different. This time I could support him selflessly, tie back together my smashed psyche and my husband would have that prayed for revelation. It is a very difficult thing to explain to an outsider. A broken mind is harder to see than a broken arm.
There would be a window of better times before the next chapter. I could never relax but I would be hopeful. Then it would all start again.
Did I love him? Yes. Did I fear him? Yes. Did he wilfully harm me through many forms of abuse? Yes. Did he control every aspect of my life, demand absolute loyalty and rob me of happiness? Yes. Did I want it all to stop? Yes.
Did I want to leave? No.
I can understand anyone would ask, ‘How can that be?’. How can someone living in such horrible circumstances not tell their tormentor to shove it and march out the door. It doesn’t work like that, or very rarely.
You have to be ready to give everything up. Any hope of making it work. You have to be ready to face the gutting truth that you are merely a play thing to the person you once loved. That you made a terrible mistake in being with this person. You will lose your home, your financial security, your history, people who mattered, you will be judged. You will be lied about and blamed. You have to sign up for a future of absolute uncertainty. You have to be ready to face the fact your partner is a danger to you on a level you don’t wish to acknowledge.
Predator and prey.
From my watershed moment of knowing I would have to run to the day I left the family home took approximately nine weeks. Even knowing how perilous my situation was becoming, I still oscillated. I had built my dream home up from scratch. I had decorated it, cooked meals there, had friends there, grown up there in many ways. I had loved two beautiful pets there where their memories still echoed. I now had three more fur babies settled in who gazed upon me with utter trust. It was time to go, but I hesitated and rationalised for about a month. My ex spouse showed signs of cooperation after the abusive outburst that tipped the final scales in November 2016. Still I held my breath and went day by day.
The lion always knows seconds before the gazelle makes that final sprint. He knew.
I had changed passwords in my devices and accounts to which he had always demanded access. The downward spiral became faster. He wanted to know who I was talking to. Who was ‘in my ear and against him’. He informed me he knew I had plans to go. I had better confess because he had sources who were telling him exactly what I was planning. He demanded commitments to staying with him and evidence of future plans as a couple. Each day was a battle to make it to the finish line of my exit. Each day I did enough to divert disaster. Looking back, even I didn’t comprehend how close each day I flew to something even more dire.
As the spiral raged on I secured a pet friendly rental apartment and went step by step with the help of a trusted few. I had several false starts where I thought I had a window …and then it became impossible so I cancelled. The night before the truck came to take what I could, I packed furiously with the curtains drawn by the light of a small lamp. He had gone to stay with his brother but it would not hold long. The car was parked out the front of the house although he was sleeping in another suburb. He would be out the front in the street watching during that final night. I had changed the locks so he could not get in and that door needed to stay unopened for just a few more hours. He would be at work the next day and I would receive a message he had arrived. Everything was booked to be completed by the time he could get back and check on the house.
Oddly I did not feel the fear I should have. What I felt was gut wrenching grief. At about 2am I had done all I could and I needed to try and get a little bit of rest before the final day. My boy doggie needed a pee and I took him onto the back lawn before I went to sleeplessly lie in my big bedroom for the last time. In the morning I would swiftly walk my dogs to the vet for safekeeping whilst it all happened. As Bear snuffled happily on the grass looking for that perfect spot I did something I rarely do. I wept. I remember kneeling on the grass in the dark with him gazing up at me and sobbing hysterically because I would never do this again. I would leave everything I knew behind and it really was over. The familiar would all be gone and everything was an unknown. There would be no going back.
The chapters after my flight are complex. I did make it to my new apartment and I did begin a new life. I was ready and it was utterly the right call to make. There is very little left of the old life now and every prediction of loss did come to pass. Finances, career, security, history. Coming to learn who he absolutely was, minus the filter of wedded loyalty and his determined gaslighting, came at a surprisingly high emotional cost. I continue to live at an undisclosed location and glance in the essential rear view mirror every abused woman has.
In the chaos after I left there was immense speculation as to what was truth and what was not. A good friend contacted me about my welfare not knowing what had taken place and said words I shall never forget. “Women do not leave and live in hiding for no reason”. Indeed not. Leaving is in fact the most dangerous thing you may ever do. It is the ultimate choice when you have everything to lose; and will lose much when you close the door on what once was.
This is dedicated to every woman who finds the strength to start again. May you reclaim who you are and find safety. xxxxx