I was lucky. I beat many statistics and continue to do so even more than 7 years post-escape.
I say “lucky” mostly because I didn’t have a plan. I was still somehow under the delusion that he would behave better – or at least be less destructive – once we were no longer together. After all, didn’t he spend more than 2 decades telling me what an awful wife and mother I was? How nobody else would want me because I was so terrible? Surely logic would demand that in the absence of the “horrible” me, he would be able to at least be a better parent.
But that was not to be.
The Numbers of Getting Out & Staying Out
Before we delve into the deepest parts of this 2-part series, let’s review some statistics. Do not view these with fear but rather with the attitude that “forewarned is forearmed.” I had no knowledge of these things prior to getting out of my abusive marriage.
Approximately 3/4 of all reported physical attacks occur after the abused partner has left the relationship. In other words, it is far more common that leaving will increase the level of abuse. While this statistic was first published in 1998, it remains roughly the same.
Physical violence (hitting, pushing, choking, etc.) does not have to be present for a relationship to be abusive and dangerous.
More than 90% of those having left an abusive relationship describe being actively and aggressively stalked by a former partner and having reported it to friends, relatives, and/or authorities with no action taken.
On average, it takes 7 tries to get out and stay out of an abusive relationship.
Aubrey’s First Law of Survival: Document, Document, Document
When I finally made the decision that it was time to get out and saw that I would have a window of opportunity, I would spend my days while he was at work copying documents, getting things off his computer and out of his hiding places in the basement, even things I didn’t know might have value. I opened a side email address and a Carbonite offsite backup account. When something was very sensitive, like an email that could compromise him, I would print it, scan it, save it to backup, then destroy the printout. By destroy, I don’t mean shred; I mean I would stand in my bathroom with a pack of matches and burn documents over the toilet, or I would burn things on the patio and till them into the garden soil.
Aubrey’s Second Law of Survival: Have Your Entire Roadmap Laid Out Before You Make Your Move
Having now learned what I’ve learned, make sure you have your entire roadmap laid out before you make your move. By that I mean, assess every possible threat, reaction, or behavior of your abuser and design a response or safety plan.
Here’s an example: during the worst of his threats when he knew I was not going to either come crawling back or curl up and surrender, I made a habit of forwarding certain emails and documents to trusted friends for safekeeping. These were people I knew I could trust to save these documents and bring them out if anything ever happened to me. The reasoning behind this is, while I had many things saved to my Carbonite (and still do), that would do no good in a situation where perhaps I was unable to communicate. So, design your roadmap using a lot of “if/then” statements. If he/she does X, then I will do Y.
When to Leave? That’s the Question
But the nagging question of when and how to know it’s time to leave remains. Since abuse alters one’s logical thought processes, the challenge is to pull your thinking out of that tailspin. I know for me, the tipping point was the experience in the Paris train station where the attack was against my children and their emotional pain tore at me with the force of an atomic bomb.
What kept me out and no longer prone to his manipulations was realizing that interaction with him of any kind left me feeling awful. I traced that back and it occurred to me that I spent every day for decades worrying that I would not meet his standards or I would make him mad. In fact, once when I gave him an article on emotional abuse and asked him to read it, his first comment was, “Is it going to make me mad?”
When I realized that my fear of leaving was costing my children their happiness and self-esteem is when I finally, blessedly, had the motivation to break free.
There Is No Substitute for Good Preparation
Luckily I was enough of a strategic thinker that I quickly figured out how to manipulate the manipulator and I did a pretty good job. However, there is no substitute for good preparation, and for that I have some recommendations that apply whether you are female or male:
Talk to a domestic violence organization and tell them you need to develop an escape plan.
They will walk you through your personal situation and help you devise a plan for getting out. Many times, these plans are not a matter of fleeing in the night with a suitcase, but rather a calm and strategic exit. They are also experts in helping you figure out finances and other resources.
Open up to people.
I know this one is especially hard and sometimes dangerous. However, in my own situation I didn’t open up until long after I had gotten out, at which point I had women I knew coming out of the woodwork saying, “You too? I thought I was the only one!”
Be mindful of where you place your trust.
I did have one person I confided in at my church who was supportive and helped me keep some focus before I actually got out. The few others I told at church, especially after escape, were not so supportive. In fact, several told me I was somehow damaging the sanctity of marriage (yeah, I think he did that by cheating on me a bazillion times and terrorizing both me and his kids!) and a couple of them even had the gall to tell me to “work it out.” Remember that not everyone will be rational and supportive. Dismiss those people quickly and stay with your posse.
If you have children, prepare a separate safety plan for them which includes confiding in a teacher or principal you feel comfortable with.
Your children will have their own road to travel and it helps to have an advocate for them at the place where they spend the bulk of their waking hours.
Take physical care of yourself.
If you can’t eat due to nerves (common) stock up on protein shakes. If you aren’t sleeping, take Melatonin or even NyQuil. If you are physically weak or exhausted, you will not be clear-headed and will make errors in judgment. Trust me, I am one who did this.
Keep a journal.
Even if you have to hide it in the most bizarre place imaginable, you will need to log both your thoughts/fears and any activity by your abuser. My journal was hundreds of pages long just from the period of June, 2009 to November, 2012…and that did not include what I published on my blog in 2012. If you do this in electronic form, don’t keep it on your computer but rather on a USB (thumb) drive.
This is a tall order, but remember that you were not put here on earth to suffer. There is something better, you just have to get there. Getting out and away from the abuse is the way to get to that better something.
While my own escape was somewhat haphazardly executed, what was not left to chance was what came afterward. It didn’t take long to realize that he would go the way of every other abuser, finding ways to control and terrorize even after he was living a thousand miles away from us.
In part 2 (next week), we’ll explore ways to stay out of the relationship, reprogram your thinking, and begin building a better life even in the midst of turmoil.