Against All Odds: Escaping an Abuser
There’s never a convenient time to leave. People ask me why I didn’t leave sooner or how I could put my kids in danger for so long. They wonder why it would be so difficult to get out; it’s not like he’s around 24/7.
They don’t understand.
I didn’t have a choice.
Living with John was a never-ending nightmare, but it was all I knew. I moved in with him when I was 17. I was young, naïve, and TOTALLY love-struck. He was my Prince Charming, and life with him seemed way better than my boring life in school.
I got pregnant exactly one month after I moved in, and I couldn’t be happier. I was going to have a baby! I had a charming man who loved me, a much more stable home than the madhouse I grew up in, and a child on the way. That’s all I ever wanted out of life, so it wasn’t a big deal that I had no job. Once the baby came, I would stay home and raise it. Between childcare, cooking, and cleaning, I had plenty to keep me busy.
John was excited about the baby at first, but his attitude changed as my pregnancy progressed. The bigger my stomach got, the bigger his outbursts became. The first time he hit me, we both stood there frozen, unbelieving. He apologized over and over, and I honestly believed it would never happen again. But it did.
Instead of getting bitter, I got smarter. I avoided John when he was in a bad mood and NEVER did the things I knew would make him angry. I dressed as nicely as I could, in ways that minimized the balloon under my shirt. I smiled a lot and did everything I could to make him happy. I wasn’t perfect at it, but I did alright. Somehow I managed to make the outbursts less frequent and less violent. He thought he was in control, but I was doing a pretty good job of managing his temper.
So pregnancy #1 passed without too much trauma. We had a beautiful, healthy little girl, and John’s anger subsided for a while. I saw the return of my Prince Charming and thought the worst was behind us. But a few months and two little pink bars later, the angry man who haunted my nightmares returned.
My tricks didn’t work so well the second time around. For nine months, I struggled and barely managed to keep the baby alive through his beatings. At times, I wondered if he was intentionally trying to kill our baby boy. But that little guy must take after me. He was resilient, strong, and determined to live, no matter how the odds were stacked against him.
The first moment I held my son in my arms, I was hit with two thoughts. First, I was so proud of my baby for enduring the beatings; he had been in danger his entire prenatal life. But somehow after all that, he had the guts to offer me a tiny little smile. I loved him so much! And as I laid there with my baby in my arms and my sweet, innocent toddler next to me, I knew I had to get them away from John.
What if he hit them instead of me?? I couldn’t endure the thought. But I also couldn’t imagine living on my own. For the entire relationship, I had been pregnant and completely dependent on John. I had no job (or skills to get one), no money, no place to go. When I left home to move in with John, my mom had disowned me. In the three years I had been gone, she had never once come to see me or the kids. Home was definitely not an option. And I couldn’t raise two tiny children in a homeless shelter; that would be cruel, right?
As if my situation wasn't impossible enough, winter was coming. It was hard enough to get around town in the snow when I lived with John; I couldn't imagine doing it on my own. I had a car to drive, but John owned it. Wouldn't it be stealing to take it? And wouldn't he come after me?
And did I even have what it takes to leave? I had never once lived alone. I couldn't imagine it. And then add in two kids to take care of on my own?? Without John's income? There was no way.
So I stayed. I took the pain, the bruises, the emotional turmoil because I had no other option. Winter was awful, and though my kids had to witness a lot of crap, I made sure they never took the beatings. I did the best I could with the crappy hand that was dealt me.
Spring finally came and hope blossomed. I knew I'd be able to get out of the house more, so avoiding John seemed more possible. I set up every appointment I could think of for me and the kids: dentist, doctor, haircuts, eye exams. You name it. And every moment I was away from John's cruel words and fists, I felt freedom was that much closer.
One spring morning, as I paced the waiting room in the pediatrician's office, a poster caught my eye. It was a picture of a woman who looked scarily like me. She was hunched over in the corner of the room, protecting her stomach. A shadowy figure stood over her, arms raised. The caption said, "This isn't how it was supposed to be." Ain't that the truth? I thought. Below it were the words, "Help is only a call away: 1-800-770-1650."
I didn't know what they could do for me. Help seemed unlikely. Escape seemed impossible. But something in me broke. It wasn't supposed to be like this. I never signed up for a life of fear and pain. What if there was a chance at a better life for my kids? For me? Wasn't it worth a try?
It had to be.
I gathered all my courage, pulled out my phone, and called the number. They gave me the strength to do what seemed impossible. They helped me plan, but most of all, they believed in me. I hung up the phone with true hope for the first time in….well… forever. It wasn’t easy, but I got us out of our nightmare. And life has never been the same.