Will I survive?
Your abuser controls your perceptions of the world for so long, erodes your sense of self to such a degree, that you’re not sure of anything. I kept asking myself if I was making it up; if I was causing it; if what I thought was happening was really happening. At what point does awkward and aggressive become abuse?
It’s not like there were any bruises I could point to. Sure, she hit me, sometimes with coathangers; she bent my fingers back; she threw drinks over me; she cut off my beard with kitchen scissors; but she didn’t ever give me a black eye or a split lip. I knew my marriage was hell, but I had no tangible sense of just how bad it really was. Deciding to leave an abusive relationship is nowhere near as cut-and-dried as it looks from the outside.
The best way of describing it is to imagine standing on top of a cliff with a fire at your back. You dare yourself to go to the edge, to look down into the darkness below. Do you have what it takes to jump? You know the fall is going to hurt. You know it might not save you. There are jagged rocks down there. There are monsters in the dark.
You lift one foot, and fear overtakes you. Even if you survive the fall, you know you probably don’t have the energy to fight whatever comes next. So you back away from the edge. You look over your shoulder at the fire. It’s not reached you yet. You have time. Maybe if you curl up into a ball and wait a little longer, you won’t have to jump. Maybe the wind will change direction. Maybe somebody will come along and rescue you. Maybe by some miracle, the fire will burn itself out.
Staying where you are, singed by the heat but not yet burning, seems the safer option than jumping to what could very well be your destruction.
Every time I plucked up the courage to leap off that cliff, I dreamed up new ways of fighting the fire, holding it off so I didn’t have to jump. I might have been afraid of staying with her, but I was more afraid of leaving her. That’s why we stay with abusive partners. Leaving isn’t cowardly – it’s an act of courage.
I left it too long before I jumped. I was already on fire, and I almost didn’t survive.
But I did survive. I survived. And I will never regret leaving.