Escaping an abusive situation is difficult, if not full on dangerous. Preparing your escape will make you more likely to get out and stay out. Here is some advice to consider while getting ready. These are starting points to help you get started. Please, always realize that abusers often escalate when their targets are trying to get out. For this part of your journey over-preparing is better than under-preparing!
There are many charities world-wide that can help you assess your personal situation and give you support. Here is some help finding one local to you:
How Do You Get Out?
This is like preparing your own evacuation plan. Where are your exits? Not only the physical doors, but also the opportunities to get out safely. Can you time your exit to increase your safety, for example while your partner is at work? Think through all the steps, so you don’t overlook anything. Getting out of the house is great, but less useful if you realize you don’t have the car keys with you.
When I decided to cut contact with my parents, I still had a lot of my stuff stored in their house. My partner and I discussed that we would like to get some of our things out, and we assessed the situation safe (there was no physical threat from my parents). So I made arrangements to have our things stored elsewhere and rented a trailer to move everything out. I did not mention my plans to cut contact to anyone, and simply left a letter after I had everything loaded onto the trailer. I timed it all for a Sunday morning, so my parents would be at church for a large part of the operation. I also decided that the safest way to ask them for no contact was in a letter, which I left on their kitchen table with my house keys seconds before heading out of the door (more on that in last week’s podcast).
I had a few contingency plans in place too. If they would be home, I would just post the letter to them instead of lighting the fuse while still in the house. My partner had spoken about the “have to get items” (like getting our degrees from my parents’ safe) and the “would be nice to get items” (like extra blankets, some kitchen gear etc.). That way, I knew what to get first and that I could always leave certain things behind if need be.
What Do You Say, and Who To?
You are going to want to talk to some people about all this, not in the least because you will need some help. It can be hard to determine who you can trust, so perhaps you only talk to people from a domestic violence charity. Maybe you have a best friend who you trust with your life, or a family member you know will have your back. Especially in the beginning, you will need to figure out who you trust (not only who you CAN trust, but who you feel safe and comfortable with).
I did not tell my sisters of my intentions until after I had left my parents home (they did help me with the moving, but did not know the extend of my plans). I did not feel they would understand or support my plan if I had been upfront. The only people who knew were my partner, and some fellow daughters of narcissistic mothers I had met online. In the days that followed I told some of my closest friends, and they all responded with love and support. I also practiced on what to say when random strangers would ask about my family, or people at work… That took a few practice runs. I made a few people feel very uncomfortable, I am sure. But this is not an easy thing to talk about. These days I mostly say ‘it’s complicated’ when someone asks about my family and I don’t feel like getting into it. I eventually confided in a manager, just because I wanted her to understand that I was dealing with some stuff (and she was one of those manager that you feel you can talk to).
Be Prepared to Lose Some People
Not everyone is going to understand. Not everyone is going to be willing to see the abuse. Some people are going to defend your abuser. Some people are going to say things like “but they are your parents!?” or “he seems like such a good man”. Be prepared to leave some people behind, because you need to keep yourself safe and supported. People who cannot or are unwilling to see the truth are not going to help you achieve the difficult task of getting away and healing yourself.
I met my childhood friend when I was 3 days old, and we managed to stay friends for 35 years. Unfortunately, she became a flying monkey for my family. She started to look for information to feedback and even started dishing out some of the emotional abuse that she was fed from my parents and sisters. It broke my heart, but I had to part ways in order to protect myself. Although that was probably the most dramatic connection I lost, I left many people behind when I cut contact with my family. The flip side of that is that the friends that do remain, and the people I have met since, are much closer friends than I ever thought possible.
Get Some Legal Advice
Especially when divorce and custody are involved, you want to get some advice. The earlier you can get it, the better prepared you will be when you get to actually getting away. As always: document! The more evidence you gather, the better prepared you are should it ever come to court proceeding (even if you think it never will). Communicating in writing or by email can really help with that. It is harder to twist your words when they are in writing, and you have information on file when you need it.
Since I was an adult with a job and a house, there were not so many legal ramification to my decision. I suppose they would have kicked up more of a storm if I had had any kids, and would probably have given me a “we have a right to see our grand child” speech for that. As it happened, that was not the case. I did scan the letter I wrote them, so I would have my own copy – just in case. Although I did not, you may want to consider recording the times when they break no contact. Since I was in a rental flat, and assumed I would move again before too long, I figured eventually I would be out of reach. That may not be the case for you.
Finding the Money to Leave
This was not the greatest of my personal challenges, although for a while it looked like I would need a guarantor for the rent. Eventually we found a landlord who happily accepted my brand new employment status without anyone to back me up, but when it was still a possible requirement I asked one of my sisters for help. Although I eventually lost contact with my whole family, my initial priority want to sever ties with my parents. Since they always tried to have influence on our finances, I was very aware I needed to get a place without their names being anywhere near the lease.
When you are dealing with a controlling spouse, finding cash to escape with can be very complicated. Fellow survivor Kylie Travershas some excellent suggestions in: How to get money to leave an abusive relationship. Also, speak to a local domestic violence charity (yes, emotional abuse is violence too!) to get information on resources and assistance you can access.
The Abuse Will NOT Stop When You Leave
I don’t say that to discourage you, but it is important to realize. An abuser will not let go without a fight. My parents wrote me a bunch of weird letters, kept inviting me to their parties… they even ambushed me at my sister’s place once. When they were unsuccessful at regaining control (and access to me), and especially after I moved without a forwarding address, they started recruiting flying monkeys. Like the friend I spoke of, and most recently my in-laws.
You need to prepare yourself for the continued abuse after you leave. Consider not giving people your address, so it cannot end up in the wrong hands. Block email addresses, social media profiles or phone numbers in order to shield yourself. If you need to have communication about the children or the divorce, get a PO box (and have a trusted friend check it so you have an emotional buffer in place too).
Most importantly: ASK FOR HELP!
I remember so clearly the feeling that I could not ask for help from anyone. It is not true! Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is not failure and it is NOT – I repeat NOT(!) – a nuisance!
If you feel unsafe, call emergency services and ask for help. I had a neighborhood police officer in my old place who was extremely supportive and understanding when dealing with one of the flying monkeys my parents sent to violate our privacy and even threaten us.
Do you need access to our Community of Survivors, but do not have the means to pay the membership fee? Get in touch and ask for a scholarship, we offer those for a reason!
Local charities and shelters will be able to give you advice based on your situation and the legal situation in your country or state. They exist for a reason (that being the fact that escaping abuse is HARD!) so make use of their knowledge and services.
You are not alone, even if it does feel like it.