I think for every person who experiences ongoing abuse there is a moment: a moment when the person knows it is over. They know they are not willing to take even one more minute of lying, gaslighting, physical violence, sexual assault or devaluing of their humanity. At that moment the survivor becomes empowered and powerful.
Some survivors are forced to stay with their abuser after this point. Do not equate what I’m describing as “just leave” or “why didn’t you just leave?” Leaving is complicated. There are lots of reasons why someone is not able to leave. Never judge a survivor for how long it takes them to walk away from violence. Everyone has access to different options at different points in their lives. Even if they are still living in violence, do not judge, for at that time they need your support more than ever.
I’m not talking just about leaving. I’m talking about the moment of realization “enough is enough!” After that point the survivor begins to take her power back, even if it is just internally. She realizes she is worth more than the abuse and that a good portion, if not everything, the abuser tells her is untrue and designed to control and confuse.
Everyone has a breaking point, and after that point they begin to grow stronger in the broken places.
I remember the moment I decided that I couldn’t stay married any longer. I’d played around with the idea of leaving for about a year, seriously for about 13 months. I tried to leave 6 months before, but was lured back with promises of him attending counseling.
The sexual assault followed a predictable pattern. It always involved me saying no when I was awake, or saying nothing when I was awake. Later in the marriage I wrote my “no” in letters, emails and discussed it verbally during the day. I explicitly spelled out in numerous ways that I did not consent to sex or sexual touching when I was asleep. During the majority of the marriage I took varying doses of psychiatric medications that made me tired, sleepy, drugged, slower to respond, and quicker to fall back asleep. I would fall asleep and wake up 45-60 minutes later (at the time when the medication was at it’s peak strength) to him touching me sexually or initiating sex. I won’t get into all the details here, but it was non-consenting by definition, since I was asleep and drugged. He knew I would say no if he asked me when I was fully conscious, so he just waited until I was asleep and impaired. The medication also can make it harder for me to form thoughts or speak clearly and quickly, it delays my reaction times, especially around speaking.
When I did wake up I sometimes said no again, I sometimes froze and he eventually stopped, sometimes I moved his hand away, sometimes silently went along with it, and rarely I said yes once I was awake. Even when I said yes when I woke up, I still experienced it as assault, because my body was already reacting physiologically by the time I was conscious. Then it sometimes felt easier to go along with it because it bought me more time before he would ask or take again.
The last time we had sex was the end of our marriage. Yes, ironically I can say that the sex was so awful I left him because of it.
I’d already been thinking about leaving, many times when he assaulted me I lay there thinking “This will be the last time” or “I could just get up and walk out” but I stayed because I had kids and I was afraid.
The last time was in early July, around July 7. It was one of the times where he started touching me while I was asleep and when I woke up I decided to say yes. We had sex. I felt awful. I knew it was over. I realized that if I felt violated even when I said yes, then there was no hope. And I still felt upset that he couldn’t understand that if the sex started while I was asleep I didn’t have the chance to consent.
The next few days I spoke to my counselor at the abused women’s centre. I spoke to one of my best friends, who had consistently been giving me the advice to tell my parents, get help, consider leaving. Everything just clicked and a few days later I told him it was over.
From then on I never really looked back. It took me 7 weeks to move out into a place of my own. Those weeks were a living hell. But I was never confused again. I never wondered if I was doing the right thing or not. I felt empowered to take some action to reclaim my life.
Sadly, in my story moving did not completely stop the abuse, and this week almost 3 years later, I watched someone else hit that breaking point. Someone very close to me. My own child. I’m not sure whether or not to be absolutely devastated at what she’s been going through, or glowing with pride and inspiration at how empowered and strong she is. At such a young age she is more self assured, confident and has better self esteem that I do as an adult. She’s learned things as a child that I was taught in therapy as an adult.
At the same time I feel like the world’s worst and best parent. I feel like the worst parent because I feel responsible for what they’ve gone through, and I feel like the best parent because I have, on my own, created empathetic, strong, caring and brave children who care about social justice and equality. Sometimes I feel we are good people in spite of, despite and almost to spite him. Being a kind person is one thing he can never take away and that empower us.
I’m not sure whether I’m triggered or inspired. It’s been an emotional, upside down week. I feel like I’ve been fighting to justify my entire existence for 3 years, probably longer. I’m tired. I’m so tired. I sometimes feel I don’t have the strength to carry on, but I also don’t have the option to stop. It’s a marathon. Sometimes the decision to leave can happen in a split second, but the leaving can take a life time.