I was a single mom when I met my husband, and my daughter and I fell head over heels. Within six months, the words “I do” made us a family of three. And before our one-year anniversary, we were four. Life happened fast. So fast I didn’t see it slipping away.
I was seven months pregnant the first time I saw things clearly. He was drunk but insistent he wasn’t. He looked me in the eye and lied. Promising me he’d poured out a bottle I knew he hadn’t. I fought him to let me drive home. I wanted him to sleep it off, and he wanted me. I left with our daughter, and in the morning, he promised me it would all be different.
And for a while, it was.
He was in school and working full time. And so was I. We had two happy kids, a cute dog and a picket fence to boot. We were the perfect family of four.
But addiction was lurking.
He was home with the kids one night while I was out with friends. I came home to find him passed out, and my 2-year-old asleep in the garage. He’d made it that far, looking for me. To this day, I thank the stars he didn’t make it further.
I scooped up the kids and left.
But he apologized. Nobody was hurt, he reasoned. It was a lapse in judgment. And he swore it wouldn’t happen again. And I believed him.
So, I stayed.
Things didn’t go back to normal. Without anything to stabilize his mood, he was angry. He’d lash out at me. But he wasn’t drinking.
So, I stayed.
Then he started reading my texts. And telling me I couldn’t go out with friends. He came to my office every day to check in. It made me uncomfortable, but nobody got hurt.
So, I stayed.
He started drinking again. But it was “only on the weekends.” So I told myself it wasn’t that bad. Then the weekends got longer, and longer. He could be rough, but it was only on the weekends. However long they now were. But the kids were safe.
So, I stayed.
Another baby was born. Stress was high I reasoned, and I wasn’t easy to live with. So I vowed to pick up more and satisfy him.
So I stayed.
Then one night my daughter was on the floor crying. In the heat of an argument, he had told her she was worthless. I wish I could tell you I left right then, but I didn’t. I pulled him out of the room. He pushed me away. My wrist was broken. But she wasn’t hurt. And he was sorry.
So, I stayed.
Then finally it happened.
His handprint was left on my son. And I had nothing left. I couldn’t say “At least . . . ” anything.
And I looked back on eight years, and I cried. I cried all night. I cried for the bad days, but also the good ones I knew I was about to leave behind. I cried because I was where nobody wanted to be. And I looked at the stars that night, and I screamed, “I need you to take this!”
The next day wasn’t easy. I told my husband it was over. I told him I loved him, but I had to love myself and our children more. Then I watched my children’s hearts break as he and a suitcase drove away.
For us, that wasn’t the end. He found help, and we found our way back to one another. But when I said goodbye, I was OK with the ending. Terrified. But OK. Because finally, I saw things clearly, and I knew my kids and I deserved so much more. But for everyone’s sake, I regret I didn’t know that sooner.
People say they don’t know how a woman lets herself get abused, but it’s not as simple as that. It’s not a conscious thing. At least, it wasn’t for me.
I didn’t marry a man who would hurt me. I didn’t marry a man who would endanger our kids. And though those things crept in, they were between brighter times. And the light from those brighter times, like new babies being born, romantic dates, school graduations, and other happy things overshadowed the darker moments.
Life doesn’t stop because unacceptable things happen. And sometimes the sun is shining before you’ve even processed what occurred. And looking back, because you’re already on the other side of it, it’s easy to think it was not that bad. And the more you live through, the higher your threshold for not that bad becomes. And that’s when it gets dangerous.
If he showed up at my job after our first date, there wouldn’t have been a second. If he’d hurt our first child, I wouldn’t have had another. But the timeline wasn’t so simple or straightforward.
Bad was followed by better. And better by worse. But worse was not as bad. And that’s the kind of chaos that confuses you. Because you confuse the not as bad with change.
When you’ve lived with someone obsessed with alcohol, someone sober but obsessed with your actions isn’t so bad. When your wrist has been broken, being told “you’re a pathetic waste of space” doesn’t seem unmanageable. And though once either of those things would have raised the hair on the back of your neck, you become desensitized to it.
And nobody says anything.
Not because it’s right, but because friends who would have spoken up and asked if you were OK are long gone So, you just take it. And slowly you get broken down. You forget those hard lines, you forget your worth, and you accept that you are powerless to fight.
My worth didn’t suddenly return the night I knew I needed to leave. But my desperation had become greater than my fear. I was overwhelmed with the notion that not everyone would make it out of the situation I was in alive.
So, I acted.
I acted with the support of people I had turned away from. I acted with the support of people I’d once promised I was fine. And I acted with what felt like reckless abandon, and little more than a prayer I’d be OK.
And it worked.
It worked because my village surrounded me.
It worked because nobody looked back.
And today I can tell you I should have acted sooner, and I can tell you it turned out fine, but what I can’t tell you is how isolating and scary it was before.
Statistically, one in four of your friends will need you. Because one in four women experience domestic abuse in their lifetime. And rather than asking, “How did you let this happen?” just ask how you can help.
Your support will mean everything.