By Liza –
In December of 1997, I made the decision to leave my husband.
This decision came after four years of being emotionally and physically abused. This decision came after repeatedly leaving him and taking our two young daughters to live at my parents’ house where, ultimately, he would manipulate me enough through apologies and promises, that I would go back.
That summer he decided to move us to Alabama, to a small town where he still had a lot of family and where he had inherited his grandfather’s home. It would alleviate us of rent and he’d have a job at a cotton mill and we’d be happy. Well, that was supposed to be how the story turned out… but it didn’t.
It did not take long before problems resurfaced. Arguments over money, over his drinking, and over his violent temper. There was little I could do right, in any facet of our home life. I was constantly being reminded that he was the one working and therefore I could not do anything without his approval.
My job was cooking and cleaning and maintaining the house as well as being available for sexual use whenever he wanted, regardless of if I refused. I was repeatedly raped during those six months I lived there, before I left that Christmas. I did not understand I was being raped until much later, because I did not understand you could be raped when married—that a wife still had the ability to say no.
I was extremely homesick in Alabama. I am an only child and my parents have always tried to support me even though we don’t always agree with one another or get along. My marrying at 19 because I was pregnant was very difficult for them and so I truly tried to spare them the grief of my failing marriage, even though I would ultimately go back home a total of six times, for sometimes 2-3 months and live with them, with the two children. They knew I was unhappy, that he was controlling and had a temper, but not to the extent of what I was experiencing.
I asked to go home for Christmas because I was homesick and after many arguments, he finally gave his consent and purchased tickets for me and the two girls. I did not plan on not returning, however I had discovered I was pregnant prior to my departure and I was devastated.
He… was happy. Many things went through my head, from the non-consensual sex that had me in this predicament to the knowledge that if I had another child, I would never be able to leave him. I didn’t have an education or a job because I had two children under 4 years old and a baby would pretty much anchor me to a marriage that I was afraid would kill me.
We’d had a fight about something, I can’t even remember what, but what I do remember vividly is me, in one of the closets of the bedroom crouched down and praying he would be distracted by something and not hunt me down and then him finding me, yelling at me with a sawed off shot gun in his hand and pressing the barrel to my forehead. I was not going to disobey him, again.
So, I got on that plane and while I don’t even remember the trip, I remember crying at some point, holding my youngest and pulling the older one close against me and telling them we weren’t going back.
People have told me that I am so brave for leaving but it wasn’t bravery. It was survival. This wasn’t some Hollywood-hatched plan of escape. It was luck. I believe that sometimes the universe opens a door that you may not understand the meaning of until you are in that moment.
Going back home was nothing more than wanting to be with my parents for the holidays but it opened up a window of opportunity that only made itself known to me when I opened up my eyes. I needed to survive because I had two small daughters who depended on me to protect them and care for them.
I am often asked if I have any advice for women in domestic violence situations or survivors. Here is what I can offer from my experience:
• It’s not just physical: I wasn’t aware I was being sexually abused/assaulted, repeatedly until much later. Domestic violence includes: Sexual/Physical, Emotional, Psychological, Financial and Social abuse.
• Boundary building: When you are in this situation you become so acutely focused on pleasing someone else you forget entirely about you. Where you once may have been able to say no, you are unable to because “No” becomes associated with rebelling and violence. If you cannot learn to create boundaries with people you remain a potential target for abuse.
• It’s not your fault: The abuser cannot take responsibility for their abuse and so it is pushed onto the victim. This burden is not yours. You were not to blame. It is one of the biggest hurdles because it is one of the first things they do to assume control. “You made me do this” or “If you could just do this right, I wouldn’t have to..” You’re not to blame.
• Remember happiness: You were once happy before things took a downward turn. Remember what it was like to not be afraid, to be happy, to see yourself smiling, or laughing, and to see your kids smiling. Abuse shatters happiness and leaves you as a shell of your former self. It robs your children of their happiness too. You deserve happiness. Children deserve happiness. Hang on to that hope, don’t let it get away from you and you will eventually get there.
I am not a counselor or therapist. This is only my opinion and perspective from experiencing domestic abuse and violence myself. If you are in an abusive relationship please call (in the US) National Domestic Violence Hotline at: