This was not what I was planning to be up doing at 2am when I woke up to check on the kittens. But when you see an Upworthy post related to domestic abuse that claims to answer a very serious question that even in your own mind you aren’t 100% certain you believe your own answer to… you watch the video and then you talk about it. Why? Because you realize that you have to. You realize that if you don’t, you will never get past it. If you don’t, there’s a very good chance that someone else won’t ever get past it either.
The below video is a Ted Talk featuring Leslie Morgan Steiner. Be cautioned that this is a very serious video in which she accounts her story in how she faced abuse from her first husband. She answers the question “Why Does She Stay?” very well. And while maybe that isn’t the answer for every victim of abuse… it’s certainly the reason I stayed and I feel compelled to share it.
My ex husband was this same man. I was lured into our relationship at the very tender age of 20 under the impression that everything would be picket fences and rainbows. He had a good job – military, with decent pay and the strong potential to continue climbing the ranks. He had a nice car, was well dressed, was incredibly intelligent and seemed so full of love. I was instantly attracted to his charm and he made me feel so safe. Financially, I wasn’t in the best place but not the worst either. He made me feel like if we got married, the sky was the limit. I could go back to college, we could have a family, we could take vacations and enjoy a few of the nicer things in life. We were so in love. Heart-wrenching, intense, unyielding love… til death do us part.
I was pregnant almost instantly. The isolation came quickly and easily for him. I already did not have a very good relationship with my parents and he even made efforts to try to help me smooth things over with them. I had only one real friend in the area and they lived just far enough away to make it very difficult for me to run to them. Now that I was pregnant, he was able to take my car away with the reasoning that it was unsafe for me to drive a still fairly new vehicle. I absolutely “needed” to trade in my 4 year old car in on something newer. I did as I was instructed because in my eyes he was older, wiser, knew better than I did.
Step 1 was putting my new car only in his name. I was in love and I knew he would never lie to me, right? The car needed to be in his name only for the sake of our license plate and property tax – if my name were on it, we’d have to pay for these things. With but one signature, I signed my freedom away. I gave him the power to control me by letting go of a car I worked very hard to pay for myself in high school.
Step 2 was coming up with reasons as to why I couldn’t drive this car. It needed fresh oil. It needed gas. We needed to get the brakes checked. He didn’t feel comfortable with me driving it in the rain. Oh it might rain today so just in case, you can’t drive it. You’re pregnant so it’s not safe for you to drive. Now the car has sat for months without anyone turning the engine over and it no longer runs – it needs a new battery.
Step 3 was me quitting my job. I didn’t need it. He wanted me to stay home, be a housewife, take care of him, rest and get ready for the baby. I left my job and I felt without purpose. I started an online t-shirt design business because I couldn’t stand the lack of productivity and earnings. I gave him every dime of it that I made in order to contribute to bills because he made me feel like I needed to still contribute somehow and wasn’t allowed to spend the money on anything for myself.
I was now fully under his control and I didn’t even know it yet. I was so stupid and oblivious to the whole thing and at this point, so was everyone who knew me. From an outsider’s perspective, he was just taking care of me and I was “lucky” to have a man love me as much as he did.
Step 1 started during my pregnancy. I had started playing World of Warcraft (WoW) again to help pass some of the time where I was alone at home so much without much contact with the outside world apart from a few Mommy / pregnancy boards on MySpace at the time. He had zero interest in the game… until he did. He took over my account for himself. We started to fight because he took over my thing – didn’t ask, didn’t care that it was how I was occupying my free time. He just sort of took it. Then he got addicted. Very addicted.
Step 2 was making me feel unwanted. He spent more time on WoW now – often all of his free time outside of work. He made excuses – It was important, He had already promised xyz he’d do something in the game, He supposedly “needed” to play because he wanted to unwind from work. He gave many excuses and made me feel guilty for wanting to spend time with him after being shut away at home all day.
Step 3 broke me when during an argument about his excessive WoW playing, he told me that he would take our unborn baby away from me after I had her.
I was sad… very sad. I was now terrified of the man I married. I felt all alone and the man I loved didn’t even want to spend time with me. And now? Now I was afraid that he would make my life difficult if I didn’t obey or worse, somehow take our baby away. I was reminded daily of how much he was doing for me, how hard things were at work for him, what he was having to sacrifice in order to take care of me.
This happened not really in any steps. It all sort of happened abruptly and most in relation to various fights we had regarding his WoW playing, issues regarding his sleep apnea and snoring, various unpaid bills because I had no access to “our” funds or “our” bills and they were going unpaid because he was forgetting to pay them.
During each of these encounters, I was degraded. He made sure to tell me I was worthless and suggested that I had no friends (he’s right – I didn’t), that my family didn’t care about me (they did, but very little), and that I was going nowhere in life (I couldn’t – he took away my job and my car). He made me feel like I needed him because I would no longer survive without him. I had to be with him and it was the only way I and our baby would get taken care of.
After I had our daughter, the physical abuse started. It was simple things at first – pushing, slapping, holding me against a wall. But it progressed very quickly to slamming my head on surfaces, choking me until I passed out, holding me above the edge of the stairs and threatening to push.
No one will care if you die. I can bury you in the back yard and no one will ever think to look for you. I can kill you and no one will ever know.
That still sends chills up my spine to this day. This quote and various forms of it became the norm. At one point, I slipped and almost fell down the stairs in one of these altercations and for a split second, I believed I was about to die. I was going to fall down these stairs, break my neck and crack my skull open once I reached the bottom at the door.
I had a lot of bruises to start accounting for. Most were easy to hide, but some were not. I cancelled several doctor’s appointments for myself and our daughter because I couldn’t leave the house with bruises on my neck in the shape of his hands. Most of the bruises were left by hand until objects around the house became involved.
Hawaiian Punch Jugs. I still get a weird feeling in my stomach when I see them. I picture him using the plastic handle to swing a large, empty jug at my body.
Why I Stayed
I told no one. I was afraid that if I told his superiors, he would take it out on me. I needed to be there for our daughter. I couldn’t anger him like that. He was going to kill me one day. Maybe he wouldn’t really mean to, but one day… he was going to slip up and kill me.
It wasn’t until his lack of paying the bills affected us to the point that his car was repossessed and he was suddenly willing to fix my car and make it run that my anger really set in. He had long since not allowed me to do any grocery shopping and we were left at home all day without food and often nothing for our child to even drink. Putting my foot down about the issue only resulted in me getting beat.
I stayed because the potential alternative sounded worse. I stayed because the man I fell in love with wasn’t this man. I stayed because I had convinced myself that he was just stressed out at his job and that one day soon, everything would be better. He’d convinced me that I wouldn’t survive without him.
But one day, it all set in. I had to get her out of there. Our daughter couldn’t be raised in this. I had to try. I had to get her away from this situation somehow. We needed a way out and so I took the one that in my mind would be the easiest to pull off. I left him. I packed up our stuff and I walked out the door one day while he was away at work.
Clearly, I am alive. Although I was afraid he may kill me if I tried to leave him, what he did to me was far worse. He made sure to spin everything to the best of his ability so that although he did not want our daughter, he didn’t want me to have her either. He threw thousands of dollars into the pot to make sure I had no ground to stand on and that I couldn’t even afford to compete. He destroyed me in every way a person can be destroyed. In the end, it was so much worse than I could have imagined.
I often toyed with the idea of going back to him. That’s what he wanted after all. He wanted to make me suffer to the point that I went back home in hopes of it stopping. But I knew it would never stop. If I went home, it was only a matter of time before he killed me, or worse… our child.
To this day, I will put a lot of the blame on myself because I’m not ready to do otherwise. Dozens of friends and 2 psychiatrists will tell you that I was not the problem in my first marriage but there will always be this tiny part of me who was abused so heavily emotionally and mentally that I can’t clearly see what everyone else sees in me.
It’s that same tiny part that sometimes has trouble acknowledging my self worth. I can’t always see what others see in me and so I belittle myself for the comfort of it. I live in constant fear that I’m not good enough and that eventually, people will see what I do and that they will leave me for it.
I’m severely broken and hope one day, I’m able to put it all back together. But it’s been 6 years since I walked out the door and I still have a long way to go.
I really hope that this video and account of my personal experience make you understand a little better about why people stay in an abusive relationship. It isn’t as simple as “I’d never stay with someone who hits me”. You don’t know what you would do given the right circumstances.