Note: This post discusses domestic violence
For years if you stood on my perfectly manicured front lawn, you’d have seen a welcome mat and two rocking chairs, framing a front door with a cute little sign reading “Welcome home.” On the other side of that door though, looking from the living room, you would have never guessed that to me that door may as well have been a mountain. A mountain I couldn’t move.
That mountain took the form of bills I was made to believe I could never pay, custody battles I truly thought I couldn’t win, and lives, including my own, I knew with certainty hung in the balance. That mountain isolated me. It kept my family and friends in sight but an impossible distance away. At first they’d cross the mountain, but it took such effort and was so uncomfortable that over time it happened less and less.
That mountain I’d later come to understand, like most, was built over time.
It started to form before I said, “I do.” Before our households were combined. Maybe even as early as our first date. Though I can’t say exactly when its foundation was laid, I know it started with intense feelings of adoration and intimacy.
Intimacy can be a confusing word. Having used it, I feel the need to explain things weren’t sexual that early on. We were just close. Extremely so. We needed one another, and that’s where he needed me to be. Looking back, sometimes I even wonder if we had stayed in that phase if things would have worked out differently. But those what ifs, the throwbacks to what we had, were also what kept me stuck in a dangerous cycle of staying with the hope those things could happen again. So, I frequently have to stop and remind myself to look where I am now and think of what’s ahead.
I can’t tell you when things went too far or when the closeness became too much.
I can tell you that within a few short years it became normal to worry if my outfit was too provocative for others or too sloppy for him, to see him at my office every day, to have him look through my phone, and to look for reasons my parents or friends could not come over.
But it wasn’t a life of imprisonment. At least not initially. Again, though, I guess the creation of mountains takes time. There were date nights, flower deliveries, and a lot of sweet nothings whispered along the way. Gestures, both big and small, telling me I was OK. That this was love. And that even if I was in over my head, we were in it together.
Our family grew. But with each sweet baby, we brought home so did that mountain. Within three years, between us there were five mouths to feed. And I was tired. As was he. Which is why I told myself tempers were hot and emotions were high. But none of those things were actually an excuse for the words he spoke against me. The words that broke me down.
One night I let our daughter stay up late to watch a favorite show. We made popcorn and were lying in a blanket fort in the living room when he came home from work. Seeing her awake, he flew into a fit of rage. He called me “worthless and lazy” and told me by raising her without structure I was “setting her up to fail.” I carried her up to bed in tears and remember her saying, “I’m sorry I got you in trouble, Mama.”
The next day I told a friend I was thinking of leaving.
Incredulously, she asked why. She told me how she always envied the relationship my husband and I had and what a good dad and spouse he was. I thought about her words and convinced myself I was wrong. He was a good dad. He coached a t-ball team, gave piggyback rides on-demand, and read bedtime stories. He was a solid provider. He wrote me occasional love notes and the fresh flowers he loved to send were a timely reminder he often thought about me.
And that was the last time I reached out.
Things escalated. Which is what they do. The more isolated I was, the more powerful he became. But for us, that power shift is what turned dangerous. Because in the silence, I couldn’t give him what he needed.
By the time I walked away, my wrist had been broken, I’d been raped by the man I loved, and my children had seen and experienced things nobody, let alone an innocent child, ever should.
I didn’t know how I would feed them, what I would tell my parents, or if I could make it on my own.
But I knew if I didn’t leave, I wouldn’t make it at all. And in that desperation, I leaped with only a prayer that I would land. Thank God I did.
And on this side of survival, however obvious it is, I want to say:
The first time your partner crosses a line–whatever line it is, draw yours. If something makes you uncomfortable, stand up. Even if everything inside you wants to stand down.
The first time he tries to control you, know you’re worth more. If his reaction to that scares you, run.
If he tries to tell you what to do, who to talk to, or what to wear, turn around. Sweet girl, trust me, you deserve SO much more.
If he raises a hand to you, even just once, no matter how sorry he is, RUN. Run to those who love you. Don’t worry about how long it’s been. Run. Trust they will protect you.
Power is little more than an illusion. But in the throes of abuse, it is a mountain. A mountain you think you’ll never get over.
Abusive relationships aren’t all bad, which is what makes them confusing. They’re a combination of highs and lows, but the lows can be deadly. And the longer you ride it out, the less clear your assessment of the situation will become. Trust YOU, and if you’re the one someone reaches out to, trust them.
Because I’m telling you—that took all they had.
Abusers have a way of earning trust . . . and not just of their victims. If someone shares they’re afraid, don’t discount it or doubt them. Connect them with help.
You don’t have to wear a superhero cape, and you don’t have to understand it—just run a Google search for your county name and domestic violence hotline and connect them with the resources they need.