When I was 19 years old, I made the biggest mistake of my life.
This mistake potentially changed the entire course of my life until my children are adults and possibly longer. I was a teenager. I was in fragile recovery from anorexia and depression and had not yet been correctly diagnosed with PTSD. I was living in a city away from my family and the majority of my close friends. I was happy that year, doing well and enjoying life. I had taken up swing dancing and I loved it. I’d made some friends and we often went out dancing together. Shortly before my 20th birthday I met him. He proposed to me after 3 months. It was one of the worst moments of my life. I remember physically shaking, thinking frantically in my head “oh my god, this can’t be happening, why is this happening, why is he doing this, why, what should I do, what will I say, why is this happening right now!!!” In the moment I didn’t want to break up with him, so I said yes. I honestly figured I had lots of time to get out of the promise, but life didn’t turn out that way.
Thirteen years passed.
Three years ago this week I made the biggest and most complicated decision of my life.
Ironically, the things that ended my marriage came together in a culmination of empowerment and decision for me. I’d been battling with thoughts of leaving for over a year, slowly gaining strength, processing the ideas and planning.
The soul crushing depression I’d been living with for a few years slowly began to lift about a year before I left him. I began to see options for myself.
For many years I had seriously considered suicide. After trying ECT (electro-convulsive therapy) and slews of meds, I believed I had exhausted all options for treatment resistant depression. I was ready to give up and only my children held me to this world. I had irrational, almost psychotic thoughts, in the depths of that depression. But in my mind, when I was thinking more clearly, I told myself that suicide was only an option for those who had literally tried everything, people who had no other option. Sometime in summer 2012 I realized that wasn’t my situation: there was something I hadn’t tried.
I hadn’t tried moving. Living in my own house away from my partner. I hadn’t tried starting over, changing my environment, removing myself from the ongoing sexual abuse which I knew was both triggering me and traumatizing me in equal measure.
In 2012, I was experiencing terribly severe migraines which at times left me unable to function. I remember throwing up in the parking lot of a restaurant on my daughter’s birthday. I went to the ER at times to receive IV pain meds. Around that time I began taking a medication called Topimax for the migraines. And suddenly, my depression lightened. My obsessive compulsive suicidal and self destructive thoughts relented almost immediately. I never self harmed in a way that required medical attention again. My migraines improved. I began to see colours again. I noticed the world around me. I began to re-emerge into the world of the living. And I started to consider my options for leaving my partner
As I grew stronger over the course of the next year, I started talking to more people in my life about the abuse. I chose very carefully. I told people who didn’t live in my city. I told counselors and doctors who were sworn to keep confidentiality. I was careful, but I started to talk.
I had some good friends who began to tell me that what I was experiencing was not okay. Friends encouraged me to leave, to tell my parents, to get more counseling and they empowered me. I started volunteering at a women’s organization. It happened gradually, slowly, almost imperceptibly.
In the end, the last time we had sex was the end of that marriage. I made the decision the next day and told him a few days later. That night he initiated sexual touching while I was asleep and drugged. I woke up with him touching my breasts. Maybe he had been touching me for a while before I fully responded. On that occasion I woke up and was lucid enough to respond. Because he had been touching me (without consent), I said yes to sleeping with him. I verbally said yes. We had sex and I felt disgusted. Even though I said yes to the sex, I knew in my mind that I had not consented to the touching. I knew if he had asked me when I was wide awake I would have said no. I realized that even IF I said yes, I still wouldn’t feel safe, comfortable or at all okay. I knew it was over. I knew that would be the last time. So many times, when I was lying awake at night after being assaulted, I thought to myself “this could be the last time, I could get up and walk away” but I never did. I was always afraid and I didn’t want to leave my kids.
There are a lot of reasons why people who are being abused do not leave.
And at the end of the day, it only takes one reason to decide to leave.
Leaving an abusive relationship can’t be rushed or forced. The person being abused has to hit a breaking point and decide that “enough is enough” and that point is different for each individual survivor.
This happened three years ago, but anniversaries are always difficult for me. I feel it all again. I have more nightmares, more anxiety and lower self esteem. I don’t believe in myself. I have difficulty trusting. I hate my body so intensely that I struggle to look in mirrors or wear certain clothes. I don’t feel safe or relaxed anywhere. I return to the automatic living, zombie like state. I have trouble remembering things and difficulty concentrating. I sometimes wonder if it has been worth the fight. The suicidal thoughts creep in suddenly, ambushing me in my day to day life.
But at the end of the day, I have to remember that there were only 2 options left for me:
As difficult as my life is, and as much pain as I’m in, I believe I made the right choice.
I’m still alive.