Why is that women stay with their abusers? A little less than two years ago, I certainly couldn’t have told you the answer to that question. Now I can. And that’s because I did.
I’ll never be able to pinpoint the exact moment when my relationship with Chris started to become unhealthy. It could have been as early as the moment I met him. It could have been the first time he criticized my weight. It could have been when he started controlling who I could hang out with. It could have even been the very first time he called me a “stupid slut.” Really, at this point it all becomes a big blur full of screaming, name calling, and suicidal threats, not to mention one very unhealthy pattern of fighting and making up.
With each fight, the emotional abuse became worse and worse. With each honeymoon period that followed, he’d tell me things would be different this time around and I would always believe him because I thought that our love could conquer anything. Eventually, I became convinced that I was just lucky to stand in his presence. I did anything that I possibly could to prove to him that I was worthy of his love. I gave him every single penny of the mere $100 biweekly paycheck that I earned at my student job. I stopped talking to people he didn’t want me to talk to. I ditched classes to drive an hour so I could bring him lunch at work, just to turn around and drive straight back home to school. No matter what I did, it never seemed to be enough. I was always too fat, too loud, too needy, too slutty, too something.
I guess the reason that I’m thinking about all of this is because I’ve recently been pressured by my current boyfriend to take out a restraining order so that Chris will stop sending me harassing text messages. This would involve me going down to the Alamance County court house to file for it, giving a copy to the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office to serve to him, digging up phone records of said messages, and then presenting my evidence against him in a civil hearing in which he will be in attendance.
And I guess maybe this doesn’t sound like a big deal to someone who hasn’t been in an abusive relationship. Bu to me, Chris still seems 50 feet tall and I still feel like I’m 6 inches. It’s not that I admire him; it’s just that I’ve been so accustomed to thinking of the two of us in this metaphor for almost two years. It’s the equivalent of conquering a giant to me. It’s overwhelming and seems impossible and I just don’t feel ready to do that yet.
I’ve made a lot of progress since I left Chris once and for all in early September of 2010, and I’ll continue to do so. I’m just not ready to stand up and face this particular demon yet. I don’t know if I’m wrong to ask my boyfriend to stop putting pressure on me to file the court order. I don’t know how to explain where I’m coming from in this situation. I feel like unless you’ve been abused like this, you can never really understand the long-term implications and effects of it. The only thing I do know is that I’m not ready to face Chris in a courtroom. I’m not even ready to look at him or hear his voice. Just because I’m getting better doesn’t mean I’m back to the person that I used to be yet.
So why do women stay with their abusers? I can’t really speak for all victims of domestic abuse, but I know why I did for over a year. I did it because I didn’t think I was strong enough to leave. For me, it wasn’t that I’d never considered leaving; I said to other people numerous times that I knew the relationship had become unhealthy. I knew that if I didn’t get out of it, the relationship would continue to consume me until the only thing left was a thin emotional skeleton of what I used to be. I stayed because Chris had convinced me that I wasn’t strong enough to leave him. It took me months to finally leave after that. Despite me knowing I needed to do it and despite my best friends telling me that I had to do it, it was something I had to do on my own time. I think that might be the case here again. I have to wait until I feel strong enough to face him again, because until then I won’t win any kind of battle against him, in court or otherwise.
[A big thanks to reader Lauren for her strength in sharing her story.]
If you know someone in an abusive relationship, you can help.