Why I Stayed and Why I Left



In light of the recent discussion regarding domestic violence we deemed it necessary to post an essay that reveals our heart on this matter. After much consideration we concluded that it is wise to have a trusted friend draft an essay that speaks to this issue. Her well-crafted, loving, and experienced language addresses the victim’s struggle in a manner that hits its mark. We pray that you are blessed by her timely insight, and may the victims of domestic violence, BOTH MEN AND WOMEN, receive the grace that is necessary to properly assess spiritual, emotional, sexual, and physical abuse.

RT @ TishaRaquel (Sep 8):
“Oh girl, don’t exist too hard, you might piss him off and get your ass beat.”

“Are you safe at home?” Not just a question. A demand: authoritative, insistent, persistent, made in a raised voice full of intensity by a friend full of concern. It’s a sound, and a moment, Deirdre will never, ever forget. She said “yes,” as emphatically as she could, given the inner turmoil – no, catastrophe – of that moment. “Are you safe at home?” The voice demanded again. “Of course I am. No one has ever hit me.”

That was in July. By October, everything would be different.

They married young-ish, after dating a long time.  Years.  Most of the time he was sweet and funny and loving. Yet quiet alarm bells started to go off in Deirdre’s mind.  Small transgressions like spilling food on the carpet or parking in the wrong space, resulted in way too much anger and far too many insults for something so small.  “Are you stupid?”  “You idiot!”  “How could you be so dumb?”  “What’s the matter with you?”  She found her protests steamrolled by his anger when she tried to stick up for herself… and herself in even bigger trouble when she told him to calm down.  “Calm down?  CALM DOWN???”  But calm down he eventually did and she resolved to be better, and then he wouldn’t be angry.  Because when he wasn’t angry, he was wonderful.

So she ignored the signs, as she had while they were dating, because she loved him, and love hopes all things, endures all things, and conquers all, right?  And the years went on – and Deirdre learned that the best way to keep peace was to “be” right.  Don’t disagree.  Better still, don’t have an opinion at all – because if she liked something that he didn’t, he called her “an idiot” for liking it.  Really, if she could have been a mind reader, they might still be married.  She’d have been able to play by a constantly-changing, never-defined set of rules, and he would have always been the happy version of himself.  It’s not that Deirdre learned to suppress her opinions – her self – just around him… in her desperate, panicked quest to “not do anything that will get me in trouble,” she lost the belief that it was okay to have an opinion.  When she had one, you’d never know, because the fear of being wrong was an absolute paralytic for her.  She came to believe that if anything went wrong, it was automatically her fault, and apologized with alacrity.

There were no children.  He wanted everything to be perfect – financially – before they had them.  She wanted them first to be able to have a disagreement without it being a disaster, and not have to be behind closed doors to have one!  Appearances were everything – nobody could know they didn’t agree or weren’t perfect.  Even talking about the mundane events of a lazy morning was COMPLETELY AND TOTALLY THE WRONG THING TO DO AND HOW COULD SHE POSSIBLY HAVE TOLD ANYBODY THAT?

All the accounts were in his name.  She could buy anything she wanted but couldn’t do anything in secret.  His work hours became more and more erratic, and her suspicion level went way up, but she had no way to find out what he was doing out in the middle of the night, because a minor transgression years before had proved her unworthiness to deal with finances.

One day, Deirdre finally asked a couple friends to pray for her and her husband.  Even though that was a “safe” request – because she didn’t tell them what to pray for – she still shut her cell phone in a drawer, three rooms away, and spoke very quietly, so great was her certainty that he was tracking her cell phone and using it to listen in on her conversations – and so great was her fear of what he would say or do in retribution if he knew that she was telling anyone they had problems.

He threw things when he was angry – never directly at Deirdre – but he violently smashed something precious as her punishment for daring to voice the obvious.  She went on with life without that thing, explaining away its absence in the vaguest terms possible so as to avoid the questions she wasn’t allowed to answer… because her husband had trained her not to share anything too personal, and she, being a good Christian girl, wanted to honor her husband and submit to him.  The night of the smashing was also the night of the first hard shove.  The insistent, agitated, demanding question from two weeks before burned in her mind: “Are you safe at home?”  Deirdre didn’t know.  It was one of her first moments of honesty with herself.

The question – the burning question – came after a seeming disaster for Deirdre.  Normally fairly level-headed, in that moment she couldn’t stop her rising hysterics in the face of her biggest fear: having to tell her husband she’d lost something important.  (It was stolen.)  The mask was shattered, and years of subconscious training to “not mess up OR ELSE” left Deirdre a tear-sodden mess on a dirty floor far away from home – with friends wondering why she was having such an inexplicable and vehement reaction.  Yet, by God’s grace, she was there that July, and not at home.  Because of God’s mercy, her utter breakdown came in the presence of the friends who told her, fiercely, that her situation wasn’t normal, and it wasn’t right, and it wasn’t safe – and kept asking questions until she gave them a real answer – and held her hand as she walked out in September, and again for good in October.

Deirdre understands why Janay Palmer apologized for the elevator incident, why she stayed with Ray Rice – and why of course she married him.  She knows that people who are emotionally – and physically – abusive use fear to manipulate and control.  She remembers her own subconscious training, through threats and shaming, to do precisely what her abuser wanted.  Deirdre can’t bring herself to watch the video – she already has enough memories of fear that she’ll never be able to forget.  But she read between the lines of Janay’s “apology” – a statement that made it her fault, and the media’s fault – everyone’s fault except the person who actually did the hitting – to hear the voice of someone desperately trying to regain a precious and fragile equilibrium.  Ray Rice wanted the public eye to focus on something else.  Janay publicly apologized to try to “make it go away” faster.  Deirdre did the same thing for a hundred things that were not her fault – though she believed at the time that they were – because the rule was, “do whatever it takes to calm him down.”  Janay’s leaving Ray would have caused more attention, so Deirdre understands that on one level, Janay may love him, but on another level, she married him to make the story die out faster – because Deirdre would have married him too.

Janay Palmer has her own reasons for staying, and for apologizing, and for marrying Ray Rice, and they are valid and real and entirely her own.  She doesn’t owe any soul on this earth an explanation.  Deirdre knows that most people wouldn’t understand it anyway.  But she desperately hopes that Janay sees the #WhyIStayed tweets… so she knows that some people do understand.  The Deirdres of the world already blame themselves quite enough, thank you very much, for “causing” the abuses heaped on them – they don’t need anyone else adding to that weight.  And it’s not because they’re weak, or poorly educated, or not smart; they blame themselves because the powers of abuse (emotional, sexual, or physical) and manipulation really ARE that strong.

#WhyIStayed shows the Deirdres – and hopefully the Janays – the awesome power of community.  Abusers create lies, isolation, and shame.  #WhyIStayed created a safe, very public, forum for truth and community, and with that comes the melting of shame and the gradual lessening of fear.

#WhyIStayed sheds much needed-light on an issue we have filed away as “easy to understand.”  “Being abused?  Leave!”  It also shows us the myriad of forms abuse can take besides the physical; manifestations that are sometimes even more damaging because they’re more difficult to recognize and thus last longer.  All over the internet, those who have been there are finding a voice, and responding: “It’s not that simple.  Please listen while we try to explain.  And even if you don’t understand, that’s OK, because if you can listen to me without condemning me, you can listen to someone else who might need you to be the one to take them by the hand and lead them out.”

@karolynprg reminded us (on Sep 9) that “The women who most need to know they’re not alone right now are likely unable to see #whyistayed #whyileft because of monitoring by their abuser.”  Let that sink in for a moment.  Then go back and read the sentence in red (immediately above) again.

Deirdre’s been physically away from her abuser for weeks, months, years, yet the #WhyIStayed stories brought fresh pain.  She read hundreds of statements that could have been written about her own life… and yet with the pain came strength.  Here’s a sample:

• At least there was no physical abuse. And hard to recognize emotional abuse when it’s your “normal.”
• I thought love was enough to conquer all.
• One of the most effective weapons in an abuser’s arsenal is economic control.
• Because God hates divorce, and I thought I could put up with anything in order to keep from failing at marriage.
• …God hates divorce. It didn’t cross my mind that God might hate abuse, too.
• I bent over backwards to make sure he was happy. For a while, it worked.
• Because I had NO CLUE what was happening to me and didn’t recognize emotional abuse, narcissism, or manipulative behavior.
• Because I was afraid of what he’d do to me if I left.
• Because I didn’t trust myself… because he trained me not to. And I let him.
• He said he would change. He promised it was the last time. I believed him. He lied.
• Still feel “disloyal” if I talk badly about him.

These things are true: Fear IS real and powerful.  Emotional abuse IS a paralytic.  The voices that tell you “it’s all your fault” (yours and theirs) ARE liars, but they are UNBELIEVABLY loud.

It’s fantastically difficult to break even your mind free from that kind of control… let alone your body, last name, or bank account.  Deirdre did, and she’s glad she did, even though shame is a battle… but it was only possible because other people stood with her, and kept asking her questions.  It took a couple months, but she finally gave them a real answer.  And now she has a real life.

Because I thought love never failed. #whyistayed
Because that wasn’t love. #whyileft

Because I wasn’t allowed to share anything personal with anybody. #whyistayed
Because I finally did. #whyileft

National Abuse Hotline: 1−800−799−SAFE(7233)
Free, safe, and confidential –
call from a friend’s phone, or a pay phone, if you’re worried your calls or internet usage are being tracked

Abuse definitions and red flags: http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/

4 Responses to "Why I Stayed and Why I Left"
  1. Lived with emotional abuse for 25 yrs of marriage, still living it to some degree after 8 yrs of divorce…not an easy thing to heal..I have quoted many of the things you have in your article…Thank God for he has shown me his mercy and love and walks with me every day

    • Karen, after reading your comment, Deirdre sent the following reply:

      Karen – it’s amazing how that experience colors everything that comes after, isn’t it? I’ve heard that from a lot of people, and it encourages me that I’m not the only one. It seems like once we’re out of the situation, it should be “over.” But I find myself needing to reprogram my instincts in a lot of situations… if something was a certain way before, if I find myself in that situation now, sometimes I react in fear as though I’m still there. I have to consciously tell myself to react to what’s actually going on as opposed to what happened before! God’s mercy is amazing to me and I’m grateful that He is your strength as well. Thank you for sharing – you’ve encouraged me.

      • Do you know of any support groups for women who have dealt with emotional abuse? There seems to be lots for women who have had physical abuse but very little out there for the emotional abuse issue. I have thought about starting one but would like to go to one to see how to organize it, etc….

        • Speak with a counselor, maybe, and see if they have a need for one, or have one going on already? It’s not exactly the kind of thing you can advertise for, but a good counselor would either know if one is needed, or where there’s one going on already.

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