This is the fourth in a five-part series on the effects of domestic violence.
Is it possible to escape to another place, another home that is truly a sanctuary, where a domestic abuse victim and her children don’t have to walk, sleep and live on eggshells? Uncertainty, ambivalence, fear permeate her every decision. After years of being told directly or indirectly how stupid and useless she is, her confidence in herself and in her ability to make it on her own have been badly shaken. But she also knows that if she doesn’t leave, she will die. She comes to believe that the prospect of freedom, for however short or long it may last, is worth the risk.
And so she begins to take those first tentative steps toward freedom. She starts to read books like “The Verbally Abusive Relationship” by Patricia Evans, “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft, “Not to People Like Us” by Susan Weitzman, “Getting Free” by Ginny NiCarthy, “The Covert Passive Aggressive Narcissist” by Debbie Mirza and “Splitting” by William Eddy.
She visits websites dedicated to educating survivors about the impact of emotional abuse. She learns about gaslighting, traumatic bonding, Stockholm Syndrome, coercive control, coerced debt and other forms of emotional and financial abuse. She starts to develop a vocabulary around an experience that until now has been nameless save for the labels she has given it herself – anxiety, depression, despair. Now she begins to see the tactics he is using, and it strengthens her resolve to get out from under them, slowly, carefully, thoughtfully. She understands now that the less he knows, the safer she will be.
She has heard the call – a tiny voice at first but growing louder with each passing day, assuring her there is another way, another life. With planning and preparation, she has a chance at a better life, a life of freedom. She hears the call – and answers. She knows she will never be 100 percent ready, but she is determined now to do all the research she can and then run and not look back.
Breaking the silence
She makes the stunningly courageous move of breaking the silence and confides in a friend or colleague. She tells her OB-GYN, her physician, extended family members – her own mother or sister may not have known. Abuse victims, perpetrators and children are all very good at keeping secrets. She has learned that abuse thrives in secrecy, shame, silence and isolation.
She must overcome them all if she is ever to get help, because she has also learned that as hard as it is to live with an abuser, it is almost impossible to leave without outside support. Now she begins to gather that support.
Quietly, secretly she begins to interview attorneys and therapists – paying cash so as not to leave a paper trail. She looks at apartments, puts money aside, gathers important documents and finds a safe place to store them. She starts a secret journal to keep her focused on why she must leave and in case she needs evidence. She reaches out to a detective who is savvy about domestic violence – to get information, resources, support and safety planning advice – but not to take action yet. She must have all her ducks in a row, or as many as she can round up. If she leaves prematurely, she risks losing everything.
So many secrets, when all her life she has longed for a mate to share everything with. Her deepest desires, her deepest fears – now these have become tools to manipulate, punish and control her. And so she must learn to hold her cards close to her chest, try new strategies, get help from strangers, operate far outside her comfort zone. For she also understands that continuing to operate inside her comfort zone will end up destroying her. She knows it is dangerous to leave an abuser. In the end, she chooses to risk the possibility of a quick death over one that is long, slow, drawn out, but inevitable.
She has heard the call to freedom, and now she is ready to answer. It will be the adventure of a lifetime, but there can be no adventure without risk, and she is ready to accept that risk for the chance at a life, however short, that is free of abuse, free of oppression. She is about to become the hero of her own journey to freedom.
In the final installment of the series, Darlene will share how an abuse victim finally breaks free.