(Content warning: Discussion of my own abuse survival and brief mention of suicide.)
I read a statistic last week about domestic violence survivors and how many times they typically attempt to escape. That statistic was 7-10 times or attempts. It struck me in particular because being a survivor myself I hadn’t thought about my own escape attempts in years. I had to really think about it and count them. Not a pleasant thing to consider, but it was enlightening. It took me 6 attempts to escape my abuser. The first two times I called the police, but the results of both of those calls only made my situation worse. I will very likely never call. the police for shit ever again. I have never talked about my escape attempts, though I believe I’ve mentioned the constant planning and hoping in previous posts on the subject of domestic violence/DV. Five years is a long time to live in those conditions, and I was only 14 years old when it began. I still cannot understand how no adult intervened, but I’m 45 now and I know most adults are feckless in the face of things they’d rather not see let alone say or do something about it.
Today I came across this news report about a shooting in the town where my abuse happened. I couldn’t help but scoff loudly at the part where the police were already aware of the abuser in the car and yet that motherfucker was free and wrecking this family’s life. The police are not here to help or save anybody, please know that, it could save your life. Yes, I know how that sounds. The PD in my hometown was, and I’m sure still is, completely worthless when it comes to helping anyone. When I moved back for a few years out of necessity they pulled me over once to make sure I was aware of a pedestrian who was on the corner standing but had made no signal or attempt to actually cross the street. But showing them physical evidence of being beaten and bloodied made them all fucking chuckle in my face and insist I must be very clumsy when I was 14 and 16 years old! All while cracking jokes with my abuser. And why would they take domestic violence seriously when 40%+ (reported, so you know it’s way higher!) of police are abusers themselves?!
Some people want to win the lottery to live big and fancy and gilded with gold and all of that. I want to win the lottery to create an organization that will help women in these impossible situations not just escape but heal and become independent. Everything that took me decades to figure out on my own. Often people don’t want to know how horrible these situations are or even talk about it because it makes them feel helpless. What can they do about it, right? I don’t know how my life would have been impacted or changed had my high school counselor not dismissed me outright without so much as eye contact when I said I was dropping out but that I wanted to go into independent studies. I don’t think she even raised her eyes from whatever paperwork she was reading before saying, “We don’t have independent studies here.” which isn’t true and I had to go to the district office myself, again at 14 years old, and ask and insist. How was that not a giant red flag for her? Why didn’t she call my dad at the very least? I don’t know what a school counselor’s actual job is, but I feel confident saying that one sucked.
There are always signs! Abusers isolate you and then gaslight you so that your entire reality is distorted and curated by them and them only. Think about that! Removed from my school friends, and only a couple bothered to stay in touch when I wasn’t in school anymore, no one asked why or looked at this 21 year old man living in my family home and thought anything was off. I can’t wrap my head around that. To be fair, it was the early 90’s and we didn’t have the internet yet. You better believe had I had that kind of tool to research and connect outside of my immediate family I would have gotten myself out sooner. The isolation is the point, y’all! Someone who was once constantly social and then suddenly nowhere to be seen is a huge red flag! Yeah I was a hella depressed teen even before meeting my abuser but I still socialized a ton! I was always on the phone or hanging out with friends.
Thinking about this org of my dreams, it would be a text line to start maybe, that you could text anything to and get replies that seem normal or display some innocuous business name, but would be a real person who could start a file to build strategies for escape. Even sending an Uber/Lyft pre-paid as needed. Because there were a few times where I thought I had escaped and then soon found myself right back where I started. I cannot express the pain and weight of carrying that for so many years in words right now, but it was immense. Had I had a lifeline like that to the outside world for even a chance to get away I would have done anything! Someone who could tell me that my situation wasn’t my fault and to explain how it works (DARVO and all that stuff) would have given me so much more strength and confidence to truly get out. To have the language to explain to someone who could help would have changed everything.
I never told anyone while I was in that situation that I was being abused or beaten or raped or any of it. I never told anyone about calling the police or attempting escapes while it was happening or after. I have never talked about how my abuser befriended this dude and at one point I pinned every hope for my survival on this sad sack of a dude to help me out of my situation. Yeah, I bonded with him a bit, light jokes in front of the abuser and such, nothing that would raise suspicions, and then the abuser started a fight with me (regularly) and this time I decided to show up at sad sack dude’s house and spend the night. I didn’t specifically offer myself up to this dude, but I was prepared/willing had he made any move or inclination. My abuser, not knowing where I was, nearly broke him and I relished in my tiny taste of freedom. But sad sack dude was a sad sack because he was stuck on some girl who broke his heart and that was all he talked about into the wee hours after listening to the “New” Metallica album…ReLoad. Ha-ha! But there was no chance of actual escape or stability there, sadly for me. I would have been fine just sleeping on his couch but my abuser soon figured shit out and I was back in the shit with him again.
Escape becomes fantastical in your mind when it is all you think about. I would daydream of ex boyfriends or literally anyone “saving” me. Images of burst windows and clouds and fighting for honor or whatever My abuser befriended a few of my ex boyfriends back then because of a shared love of drugs I guess. He was always pulling scams too. I would constantly fantasize about two of them specifically, one of which I knew could take him down in a fight with ease. But it never happened. They never suspected a thing. Most figured I was deep in love. I’m sure that’s how my dad saw it back then. *Shivers in disgust* Blegh! I wonder sometimes specifically about one ex bf but there’s nothing for me from that period of time. Nothing to gain, for sure. I wonder a lot about a bestie that lived with my family for a while before I met my abuser. She taught me so much about life and men and partying safely. I am alive today because of her. I can tell you that. I wonder where she is though and what she saw or remembers from that time.
In the end, it was an ex-boyfriend’s little brother who sensed that something was off very casually (he wasn’t in the house to visit me and we weren’t close or anything) and simply offered a safe place to stay with no questions or need to pay rent. That is all a woman needs to GTFO of any situation, lemme tell ya! I didn’t ask questions other than an address. I had my own car, but nowhere to turn. My family didn’t know and my abuser made it abundantly clear every single day for five years that my escape would result in their deaths. I figured if even they didn’t know where I was then he couldn’t do shit to any of us. I want to create that lifeline for all women suffering in these impossible situations. I was lucky that I never got pregnant, though I caught him multiple times tampering with or hiding my pills or finding holes poked in condoms. I can’t say for certain what would have happened but I know at that time I would have sooner jumped off a bridge than reproduce that person’s DNA in me. Ugh! I actually considered suicide pretty much daily for a few of those years.
You know what sticks in my craw now, is that every time I go to Kaiser (healthcare provider) they ask about feeling safe at home or if anyone is abusing me. I visited the teen clinic at Kaiser a lot from age 15-17 due to a kidney infection and then a tumor. I saw the same nurse practitioner each time, Suzie Cook, I’ll never forget because she talked to me pretty straight forward and that was rare. But she cared more about my reaching 200 lbs than my abuser fretfully waiting in the waiting room each time. Never questioned a bruise or asked about my relationship with this grown ass man. I’m not saying it was her job to spot the trouble necessarily but considering how much time I spent with her, I just can’t know I guess why it was never addressed. Even Planned Parenthood when I had to secretly replace my pills more often than a typical “Oh I lost my pack” situation would call for never asked or brought up the subject of abuse. I’m super glad they are addressed up front now, but gosh! What had to happen and to how many for that to become standard protocol?
Statistics can bring a lot to light. We often see these numbers and think, “Well, I’m not just a number!” but I see it differently. It really helps piece things together for me sometimes, especially things from that dark period of my life. When I first saw those numbers about escape attempts I initially thought it was too high a number until I actually looked at my own attempts. I was surprised it was so many! And then I put myself back into those moments mentally trying to picture my surroundings and the steps I took and whatnot. You really have no idea how you will react to a situation or emergency until you’re in the thick of it, no matter how prepared you think you are.
I am still healing today, 26 years later, from those 5 years of abuse. C-PTSD is not something you can cure or suddenly be “over” with. I have come an incredibly long way, but my hyper independence is often a problem that I’m simply unwilling to discuss or change. Abuse literally changes our brains permanently. I know it wasn’t my fault, but so much of how the patriarchy affects our daily lives makes us accept or agree to things against our own nature. We don’t want to tell someone anything is wrong ever because we don’t want to seem ungrateful/selfish or bring people down. I know I have been a big bummer for a lot of people to be around and especially back then I would apologize for it constantly. But now I don’t apologize for shit! I didn’t choose any of it and I am doing the best I can every damned day!
My life is all mine now, so I shall continue on as I see fit. If someone doesn’t like me because I have been through some heavy shit, that I only occasionally hesitate to discuss, that is on them. I’m not here to be anything to anyone but a good person in my own opinion, and I know good people! I am forever in awe of the amazing people I have been blessed to call my friends and chosen family. I can only hope to be worthy of their love and support for many more years to come. At 45 years old now, I am somehow only getting smarter and more gorgeous as time goes by. I hope one day that my story will help others, lottery win or not.
I’m here for realness and sincerity, honesty and vulnerability, I’m here for the good and juicy bits of life that shine for me when I know I’m heading in the right direction.
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