This is a hot topic that I've seen all over the news and social media this week. It is also a topic that I have struggled with sharing to those outside of my circle of friends for close to four years now. Well, today is the day that ends.
It is easy to sit on the other side of domestic violence and judge women for staying. It is easy to say that you'd never stay and these women need to just leave. Unfortunately abuse is not always black and white, and neither are the decisions a woman must make in those relationships.
I was emotionally abused in my marriage for 2 ½ years before the abuse finally turned violent. The first time something happened I was livid. I left the house and stayed with a friend. Braden was just over 4 months old. HE apologized. I went home. Several months went by and life was good. But then it happened again. Again I left, and again HE apologized, and again I came home. As time went the abuse became more and more frequent and I stopped staying with friends. The problem was that usually when it got to the point when I was scared enough to leave, I was also terrified that HE would find me at a friend's house and hurt them, too. So I'd lie awake, all night, listening to Braden sleep and making sure that no one was going to hurt anyone I loved. There were several nights that I did stay at our house, too exhausted to leave, but too scared to stay. So I'd lie on the couch at night to make sure that HE didn't take or hurt Braden. That would sometimes go on for 3 or 4 days in a row. I was raising a toddler, working full time, and not able to sleep or feel safe in my own home.
Eventually I just started staying at hotels. Sometimes for a night at a time. Sometimes for a week. I constantly kept a bag in my car that was packed for Braden and I. And I know that some of you are reading this, judging me, asking me why I stayed.
I rationalized that he had never hit me, so it wasn't really abuse. But over those 2 ½ years I became a shell of the women that I once was. In the end things got really scary. My marriage ended with incredible violence. I won't go into the entire story, but Amelia and I walked away with minor bruises after things finally turned violent. Guns, a SWAT team and a knife that could have easily killed Amelia and I ended my marriage. My world changed in 4 hours on a Friday afternoon.
I stayed for several reasons. First of all, with emotional abuse, it is not always black and white when you are in the middle of it. The first time seems bad, but then after so many incidents, you begin to rationalize. You tell yourself that it's really not that bad. Before long I was isolated from my friends and family, so I had no one to really talk to about most of the things that were happening. It wasn't until after I got out and began telling my story to friends that I realized how bad it was. And I only knew that by seeing their reactions.
I also stayed because I made a promise, and I don't do failure well. I know that sounds silly, but I stood in front of my friends and family and made a promise to God to love this man forever. It didn't matter that HE had broken his promise to me. I always felt like if I was strong enough I could fix us both.
And the statistics. As a parent you always want the best for your children. Statistics say that children raised with two parents are more likely to succeed. I wanted nothing more than to give Braden that life. And the thing is, when HE was good, he was the best father you could ever want. The problem was I never knew who I was coming home to. And when HE was bad, it was just plain scary. HE could turn from good to bad in a moment and I never knew what would set him off.
But lastly, I think I stayed because I was scared. When I woke up the day after the attack I was lost. I had suddenly gone from a two parent household with two incomes to a one parent household with one income raising two children. By myself. I just kept repeating that over and over. I'm by myself. And the thing is, I had a good job. But I still couldn't make ends meet. I had to make decisions that I didn't want to make, but decisions that were necessary for my kids and I to not only survive, but to prosper. And now we are all better for it. During the abusive period I had lost friendships and some family ties. I was terrified that leaving would leave me all alone. Of course for the most part that couldn't be further from the truth, but things aren't always clear when you're in the middle of the storm.
I guess what I am trying to say in this blog, is please don't judge a woman who has been beaten for staying. Often these women don't work outside the home and have no source of income. Their spouse may take their money. Sometimes being out of an abusive relationship is just as scary as staying in one. I know that it takes courage to leave, but sometimes it takes just as much courage to stay. And I know that no one will ever understand that last statement until you have lived the life of a woman who has been abused. I found myself and made me better despite my abuse. Not all women have the ability to do that. I had a lot of faith and a good upbringing and a place to come home to. Things haven't always been easy since we've gotten out. There are still nights when I wake up scared in the middle of the night and can't sleep. There are still nights when I sleep with chairs under the door, but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I made the only decisions I knew how to make at the time, and my kids and I are happier and healthier for it.