To anyone who has ever wondered how women get into abusive relationships and why they stay, please take a moment to read this honest and achingly beautiful guest post from firstname.lastname@example.org. I am honored to share her powerful essay on my blog.
One year ago this week I watched my son’s father drive away from our home in a U-haul, headed to a new life a 12 hour drive away from us. I watched him say a heartbreaking goodbye to our child, and then hugged him hard as I said my own goodbye; my chest aching with the grief of letting go. He handed me his keys to our home, and just like that, he – and our life together – were gone.
The moment he was out the door, I rested my forehead on it and locked it slowly, listening to the click of the deadbolt. I closed my eyes and felt relief rush through my body. I took the deepest breath of my life, and then knelt down and held my toddler son close to me, promising him, and myself, that we would be ok. It was devastating for me to know that my son would now live without a father. But for the first time in 3 years, I felt my shoulders drop.
I was a week into my pregnancy the first time he hurt me. I managed to escape his choking headlock to lock myself in the bathroom, my heart shattered and my body in a state of shock. He later apologized, telling me in tears how much he already loved our baby; magic words that I’d waited to hear all my life. It took me a full year of denial and another 2 years of preparation to leave him. I told no one. My family, my friends; nobody knew what I endured behind closed doors. I knew they would make it black and white, and I knew they would take actions that would ultimately make my abuser more volatile. I had to leave, but I had to do it quietly and calmly, in a way that made him feel like he was gaining his freedom rather than losing his family. Anyone who thinks it is as simple as packing up and leaving is deeply, and very sadly, mistaken.
If someone had told me I would one day be in an emotionally, verbally, physically, financially, psychologically abusive relationship, I would never have believed them. If anyone had told me that I would tolerate being choked, shoved, cornered, thrown on the floor, trapped in a car, denied use of my phone or the bathroom, have my hair pulled and my belongings damaged, be threatened, belittled, denigrated, criticized, dismissed, neglected, and denied access to money for necessities, I would have told them they were insane. If they had told me that I would give birth to my beautiful and precious child and then spend every minute of what should have been a wonderful first two years of motherhood in a state of protection and anxiety, I would have said they didn’t know me at all.
I ask myself every day how I arrived there. How does an intelligent woman with a good heart and the best intentions end up 9 months pregnant and listening to the man she loves screaming ridicule at her through the locked door after having thrown her onto the bathroom floor?
How did I get there? How did I get out? Why didn’t I leave sooner? I am asked these questions by myself and by the few people who now know the truth.
I got there because I love with my whole heart. This allows for beautiful things to happen in my life, but it also opens up space for darkness to sneak in through the cracks. I am wiser now; I watch those cracks more closely.
I got there because when I called for help I was told that my son would be taken from our home if I called again. My abuser was charming and changeable and they didn’t know who to believe. I got there because he showed me nothing but love until he had me locked into our relationship. I quit my job to relocate with him, and then he gave me the one thing I wanted more than anything; a child.
I stayed because each time I tried to leave the abuse got worse. I stayed because I was financially trapped by maternity leave. I stayed because I wanted to believe that someone who claimed to love me would stop wanting to hurt me. I stayed because I thought for a moment that any father was better than no father. I stayed because I was paralysed by the shock of it all. I stayed because it takes time to secretly save money when you have access to very little.
I got out because there was a tiny whispering voice inside of me telling me that I deserved more, and a deafening, roaring voice telling me that my son absolutely deserved more. I got out because I could not let my child become his father. I could not let him see his mother in fear each day. Somewhere inside of me I felt hope that I could one day show my son how love and family are really supposed to feel.
I said goodbye to my abuser that day with a terrified and heavy heart. I had no idea what would happen. I didn’t know whether he’d keep driving away from us or turn around and bang on the door. I changed the locks. I filed temporary court orders. I went through the motions of rebuilding what had been knocked down. I loved my son with intensity and consistency; giving up everything to be with him and care for him in the way that he needed. I watched him sleep each night and prayed that we would be ok.
A year has passed. In some ways the abuse continues. I will forever co-parent with someone who wants to hurt me, and I will forever protect my son from it with everything I have. As the anniversary of our freedom approaches and I come out of the fog of mommy sleep deprivation and crisis autopilot, I look at my life and see so much to be grateful for. We have come from a place of fear and somehow ended up surrounded by the most beautiful love. How we got here is a blur; but we are here, and it feels like a miracle.
I have so much forgiving to do. I don’t know if I will ever forgive myself or my son’s father. But my heart is opening again. My son is thriving. I see a life beyond this story. I need to tell it and then I need to keep looking forward. It happened, like a bad dream that I can’t shake. But each day is a new opportunity to create something better, and I do. Every single day, I do.