People are always shaking their heads and asking why women don’t “just leave” when their lover is violent and abusive. I’m going to answer that question in my own way, from my own perspective, because I didn’t leave and I asked myself why too.
The first time he hit me he slapped me right across the face and knocked me to the floor. I didn’t leave because he told me that he’d done it for my own benefit, because I’d been hysterical.
It didn’t sound right, but he was such a gentle man that surely it was, surely he wasn’t violent!?
I let him retell the story because my version of it was that he’d made me really angry and I’d yelled at him and he’d hit me. It was easier to think that I was crazy – I’d spent my entire life being told I was crazy by every man I ever got cranky at – than to think that someone I loved would ever hurt me …. and besides, when they hit you you just leave, right?
After the first time there were many others but I couldn’t put them into any sort of sequence, in fact I know I’ve forgotten quite a few of them. Although I knew I should leave, I didn’t because each time he hit me, a little bit more “me” left my heart and soul, and my body became a hostage.
Each time he hit me he rewrote history, until he’d done is so many times that he’d altered the very fabric of my being. He’d screamed in my face “YOU ARE FUCKING CRAZY” as he shook me, he’d told me I hurt our baby (without even waking her?) he’d told me no one would put up with my “shit”. Add in a few extra helpings of “you’re crazy crazy crazy”, and a good headbutt in the face later? Why on earth would I leave?
But even if I’d felt like leaving was a good idea, even if I’d been able to trust my intuition which was telling me to cling tightly, that I wasn’t crazy, he said he’d kill me if I left. And it wasn’t just some light hearted joke either.
When someone who weighs twice what you weigh, and is well over a foot taller than you, stares you in the face, spitting with rage, you listen. When they tell you that if you ever try to leave they will throw you off a cliff and tell everyone you killed yourself, you believe them. When they own more knives than the local butcher, a crossbow, and they have a criminal record for armed robbery, a smart person does what they’re told.
Your spirit shuts down, your heart breaks a thousand times. Maybe some men apologise for the hitting, but mine never did. He just told me I’d imagined it. He would apologise to me because he was concerned about my mental health. After all, I kept imagining things.
I was so utterly distraught. I couldn’t imagine the man that I loved lying to me about this, good people don’t do that. I decided that I must be crazy, and yet a brave little voice deep in my soul kept saying “listen to yourself”.
“Listen to yourself, you aren’t crazy” was what it whispered to me as I wept silently to myself.
Then he told me the police wouldn’t listen if I went to them, and reminded me that even if I thought they would, I be off that cliff by morning, I’d never see my daughter again.
You don’t leave. You shut down. You become a shell. You become a ghost who goes through the days pretending everything is good. You deny it to yourself, and you tell your friends that you’re happy. After all, if you tell them you’re not happy they will ask you why you haven’t “just left”.
By this point, you’re so confused you don’t know why you haven’t left and you don’t know why you’ve stayed. You don’t know much of anything at all really. After all, he’s told you how unreliable you are, and how untrustworthy, and how worthless ….. and how lucky that he keeps you around.
I lived like that for about two and a half years, then he cheated on me. I don’t know what it was about that event that shook me, but I couldn’t take it, and I left. I left in the dead of night with a toddler and my book (it seemed important at the time)
Why hadn’t I left? That question that needed an answer! However the more pressing subject was why on earth someone had treated me so badly? What gave him the right to turn me against myself? I never hurt him, or cheated on him, I’d trusted him with my sanity, and he’d turned me into an unrecognisable mess. And there I found the answer to why women – like me – don’t “just leave”.
I had been afraid to live, and afraid to die. I was afraid to move and afraid to stay still. I was afraid of losing myself and afraid to find myself again. I didn’t leave because when I did, I didn’t take what I had arrived with. I took a million shattered pieces and I had to glue them all back together again.
So please don’t ever ask why women don’t leave. They don’t have the answer to that until long after. The question everyone needs to ask is who would do that to another human? Believe me when I say that is a far more important question. Asking that question is what will help change things, it will help us better support women when they do leave, and better manage the abusers, but asking why women don’t leave is just perpetuating the confusion in vulnerable women.