Unless you've been in the situation, you don't really know. It's easy to say what you would do. It's easy to judge someone for their apparent weakness. I get it. I do it to myself.
The impact of returning and staying is something that's always in the back of my mind, waiting to derail my day. It's exhausting and stressful and reminds me of the reasons I gave up in the past, but this time, there's no going back. It's been hard, but I'm working diligently to get my little family through to the other side. I am stronger and wiser and surrounded by supportive people who love me and are cheering me across the finish line. That only happened because I finally "came out" and told the truth. I thought that would be the hardest part.
I was wrong.
A mental health professional helped me realize that I was carrying a pile of guilt around. Like a backpack full of rocks, every move I made over years was like a weight that I've been dragging around, keeping me from doing the simplest of tasks. Some days, I'd pull one or two of those rocks out and beat myself up with them, just for fun. Those days were dark and dismal and I swear I couldn't see the smallest glimmer of light. It was like a depression that I couldn't medicate or meditate my way out of. That guilt kept me from smiling on too many days.
The problem was, I didn't even know I was carrying it around.
After reading a printout from this wonderful counselor, I was finally able to start taking some of the rocks out and leaving them behind on the trail. I still need help keeping myself from loading the guilt back on. Part of that process is re-reading the printout she gave me. It's a two page list of reasons people in my situation stay or return. Of the reasons listed, over half resonated with me. Some were reasons I returned in the past. Others were the reasons I stayed afterward. They may not make sense to a lot of you, but those of you who are in the muck right now might recognize some of these.
- Economic dependence.
- Fear of greater physical danger
- Fear of emotional damage to the children
- No control over the finances
- Fear of the contentious court process
- Fear of the unknown
- Fear of losing custody of the children
- Lack of alternative housing
- Social isolation
- Lack of support from friends and family
- Ties to the community (kids' schools, church, friends, etc.)
- Friends or Family weary of helping out
- "Acceptable" violence (violence escalates slowly over time)
- Loyalty to a family member who is "sick"
- Pity for the abuser
- Wanting to help the abuser get better
- Fear that the abuser will follow through on suicide threats
- Denial... it's really not that bad
- Family pressure
- Shame and humiliation
- Abuser promises never to do it again
- Unfounded optimism that the abuser will change
- Unfounded optimism that things will get better, despite evidence to the contrary
- False hope that the abuser will finally go into counseling, as promised
- Guilt about the failure of the marriage
- Demolished self-esteem
- Simple exhaustion
- Social stigma about the abuse
- Parenting alone
- Reporting abuse will place family in court system
- Personal sanity is questioned
- Feeling responsible to save the relationship
- Belief in "Happily Ever After"
If any of these are familiar to you, you're not alone.
If you don't know where or how to start the process of leaving, google "women's resources" and you'll get a list of options in your area. Even if you're not sure about your next step, reach out to them. They'll help you figure out what you need to do and what your options are. It's not going to be pretty at first, but I promise you, there is something so much better for you on the other side.
It's going to be a long, hard, ugly road, but you can do it. I believe in you.
NOTE: Abuse doesn't always leave a mark. Abuse is about power and control. Check out The National Domestic Violence Hotline to learn more.