What were you doing ten years ago? Where were you living? Did you have kids yet? Where were you working? Think about how much you have grown over the past ten years. Have you grown a lot? Not so much? Maybe things are a little tougher for you now than they were then?
Ten years ago on March 31, 2005 my ex-husband was arrested for domestic abuse and false imprisonment. Technically, I think his arrest was just after midnight on April 1; but you get the idea. In the past ten years the girls and I have had great pain and great growth. However, I want to focus on a few details to highlight a phenomenon that goes along with domestic abuse—why does the victim stay with her (or his) perpetrator?
Ten years ago I felt numb. I wasn’t exactly living life to the fullest, but I had a few hobbies, I had a job I enjoyed, I had fun with my young daughters. My life was pretty good when you ignored the fact that I lived in a constant state of stress and worry. I was always worried that I was going to piss off my husband. And when I pissed off my husband, I got hurt.
After his arrest, the real difficulty started. Now he knew I wanted to leave him, wanted to be free from his power and control. His behavior intensified, and my stress levels went through the roof. Even after I moved out and had my own little apartment with the girls, he still knew where I was and what I was doing. I would find the wrapper of his favorite candy tucked under my windshield wiper. A sticky drink poured over my windshield, attempts to put foreign substances in my gas tank. He would spy on me, then call or text me and describe the person I was with or what I was doing. All this happened even though I had a criminal restraining order against him. I was afraid to leave the house. I wanted nothing more than to run away to another state where he couldn’t find me or the children; but I had to stay in Sacramento County so that he had access to our children during the custody battle and divorce.
Ten years later, we are still in the middle of a contentious custody battle. He still tries to exert his power and control over me. If he can’t get a reaction out of me, he uses the children. By hurting the girls, the most important things in my life, he is able to hurt me. A reasonable man would see that hurting his own children is not worth it just to exercise a little power over me, but he is not a reasonable man. Now our life is full of therapy (2-3 hours each week) and I still struggle with daily life simply because I am no longer able to process stress effectively.
Those who know me well know that I have just as much stress today as I did 10 years ago when I left him. Even though I no longer fear for my physical safety, I feel the effects of long term stress on my body and mind. When I ask myself if life was easier when I was married to him, the honest answer is yes. Safer, no…I was constantly in fear of being punished, hurt, even killed; but it was definitely easier to be numb and go along with what he wanted instead of trying to live life by my own rules.
Let that sink in—ten years after leaving my abusive ex-husband, I still think life was easier living with him than it has been to become independent apart from him.
Does that sound crazy? Does that sound like other women who tried to leave and couldn’t? I KNOW that I did the right thing by leaving him, but the right thing is not guaranteed to be the easy thing. Some women are not able to find the strength and courage to do the right thing for themselves because it is too hard. Sometimes it is easier to go back to the numbness and avoid the terror of the unpredictable ex. If I had chosen to stay with him and lived a life of numbness, I am fairly certain I would not be alive today. I am lucky to have survived 10 years ago. But my short life would have been easier, and that is why women return to their perpetrator.