Why I didn’t leave. That is the question that haunts me, and increases the anxiety that was left behind. Why didn’t I just go? I didn’t even love him, so why would I stay? I wrestle with these thoughts, some days more than others. And, recently, I learned that it wasn’t my fault.
I did try to leave on a couple of occasions, and each time ended with some of the worst physical violence that I had ever experienced. And my children witnessed it. As babies, and with eyes of innocence. They saw and heard as their mommy was beaten. They heard their daddy threaten to kill mommy, while he told me they didn’t love me. At two and four years old they had to defend me. They had to save me.
When I replay those times in my mind, I wish I had the strength to call his bluff. I wish that I would have taken my babies, and saved them, instead of them saving me. I wish that I could have made their memories happy, and not be haunted with the thoughts that not even adults should have to carry.
Knowing what they went through and what they saw make it hard not to blame myself. Those thoughts made me feel like a bad mother. They made it hard to see that I was not part of the problem. We were all surviving, and I truly believed that if I left, I would have been killed.
Before my first child was even born, he told me he would take my baby from me, and never allow me to see him. I believed him. He told me his family had money, and they would take me to court to prove I was unfit. I believed him. I did not have family to turn to. I did not have money to hire a lawyer. I believed him. I believed him when he said he was going to kill me. I believed him when he said no one would miss me. I believed him when he said I was worthless. I believed he would kill me, and my children would be left in his care.
It was all part of the power and control that abusers use. I didn’t know it was all a part of his plan, to make me so weak that I couldn’t fight back. I didn’t know that with every hateful, hurtful word, he was crushing my spirit. I didn’t know how much power the fear held over me. It was just life. It was all I knew, in turn, becoming all my children knew.
I apologized to my children for not leaving sooner. They told me it wasn’t my fault. Each one of them, at different times. I didn’t want them to save me any longer. I didn’t want them to take the guilt away. They told me, each in their own way, that it wasn’t my fault. That they didn’t blame me for what happened, or for staying longer than we should have. They blame him.
“Mom, he was the one that hurt us.”
“Mommy, he was the one that was so mean.”
“He hurt you. And us. He was bigger, and stronger.”
“Mom, you got us out. You are the reason we are safe now.”
“You are my protector.”
“Thank you for never leaving us.”
“Thank you for loving us.”
Their words bring me comfort. Hearing how they are able to process the past, and learn from the fear, and pain lets me see I am doing something right. I am a good mom. They love me, and trust me. And, I am their protector. I will have their backs no matter what. Day by day, we each heal a little more. The broken parts become smoothed over, and we are stronger for it.
The next time you say, “Why won’t she just leave?” Please remember you don’t know the whole story. You do not know all of the details. If she leaves, he might kill her. If she leaves, he may hurt her children, or pets, or family. If she leaves, she may not have anywhere to go. If she leaves him, she may not have any money for the things she or the children need. If she leaves him, she still may not be safe. You cannot judge a person when you have not been in their situation.
Please remember, she is doing her best. She is trying harder than most, just to survive. Every. Single. Day.
She is stronger than she knows.