This is a booklet talked about in my novel SHE - a guide for those who don't know how to take the first step in leaving an abusive relationship
So, you’ve made the decision. You can no longer live with the fear, the depression, feeling like nothing you do is right. Whether it is hurtful words, emotional blackmail or worse, you just can’t take it any more.
Been there, know exactly what you’re going through. Which is why I wrote this, to help others escape their emotional abuser.
If you are where I was, you want to leave, have to leave but you have no clue HOW to leave. My intention is that this guide will help you on your journey towards freedom, strength and independence. As such, I’ve shared my experiences and straight up words of wisdom without the sugar coating.
I’ll apologize now if anything I say offends or scrapes across already raw nerves, but sometimes you gotta be direct and this is one of those times.
Oh, and congratulations on taking the first step.
The first thing you must do is stop and take a deep breath. Unless you are in imminent physical danger, you need to take a period to take an inventory and do some planning.
As a survivor of more than nineteen years of emotional and sexual abuse when I finally escaped, I know that when you make the decision to leave you want to make the jump right now.
You MUST take some time to make plans for the future. Even if you walk away with nothing else, you’ve got to have a plan. That’s where I come in. In the following pages you’ll find common sense advice to help you set up your future. Hopefully you’ll know what you need – to do, to have, to get, so that leaving will be less traumatic than if you hadn’t taken the time to build your road map.
I grew up in a family where divorce was not an option. One cousin I hadn’t seen since I was six months old was divorced. One aunt (the wild and crazy one) was divorced three times and ended up living with a man for 23 years until his death. Other than that family members married and stuck with it.
Even if the family tree had been littered with divorced couples, it would have been impossible for me to leave. X had me brainwashed within months of our wedding that I could not survive without him.
I found myself in an interesting situation because we were both in the U.S. Air Force at the time. X was twelve years older with a previous marriage and two kids under his belt. I was young and naïve.
Over the first years of our marriage, X took a bold, brash, vivacious, smart woman who was convinced she could conquer the world and turned her into a spineless, self-loathing doormat who questioned ever decision down to what shoes to wear with this outfit.
To keep me in line and under his thumb, X made sure I worked even after I left the Air Force, but never had any money. I knew it would take several thousand dollars to get my feet under me and start a new life, but no matter how hard I hid money, he always found it and spent it. Usually it was to catch up the bills or some other reasonable use of the funds, but it always served its purpose, to keep me broke and under his control.
He also threatened me. When our son was about three, we had a fight and I mentioned taking him and leaving. X looked at me with the most intense expression I’d ever seen him wear. He told me I could pack my shit and leave anytime I wanted, but if I took “the boy” he would hunt us down and kill me. He declared he would not “lose another child” to a woman. That threat was repeated nearly annually until our son was twelve. His tone and expression scared me and I knew he was not joking.
So much of his control was exerted through “jokes” and “comedic putdowns” that it got to where I never knew when he was joking and when he was serious.
Looking back I understand now he was controlling me, keeping me isolated, preventing me from making friends, joining any sort of social organizations, even attending a regular church. Letting me have a live outside the four walls of our home would have caused his control to slip and I might have escaped sooner.
WISHING, HOPING AND PLANNING
To get where you need to be, you need to know where you are now and draw a map to where you want to go.
Make a list. Write down things you want to accomplish, places you want to visit and dreams you once had and have nearly forgotten about.
I found one of my lists when I started writing this and took great pride and satisfaction in being able to cross off a handful of items, which I had accomplished.
Now I’m looking at the remaining items and am working on plans to make them coming into being.
BUILD YOURSELF A SUPPORT SYSTEM
All it takes is one other person who believes in you to give you courage and strength that you may think you don’t have.
In my marriage I was not “allowed” to have friends. X preferred I worked, came home and focused on my family. When I was able to start my on medical transcription business and work from home he was delighted. Then I didn’t need to leave the house, except for the grocery store and other errands. When I tried to sign up for a class just to get out of the house and be with other people, he always came up with reasonable reasons why that just wouldn’t work.
My first true “woman friend” was the secretary of a financial planner who was soliciting my business. She had been where I was and knew what I need – a friend. From her I learned I was stronger than I ever gave myself credit for.
If you have no one to talk to, no one to confide in, no one outside of your marriage, to a local church and introduce yourself to the church secretary. These are very special women who can introduce you to someone with similar interests. They are also great resources for plumbers, electricians and car repair services when the need arises.
Another place to find support is any women’s social group. Or if you town offers it, a battered women’s support group or a Celebrate Recovery meeting. There you can meet with people who are traveling the same road you are. These women can offer guidance and suggestions to problems or just listen when you need to vent.
All it takes is one person to say “you are worthy”, “you are a good person,” “I believe in you”, to help you believe in yourself.
If you can, try to find a good therapist who specializes in counseling battered women. I found my through a friend who was once in this same place.
No matter how alone you feel, know that you are not. There are a lot of women who have been where you are today. Almost every woman I talked to as I was taking steps away from my life in abuse seemed to have a story of their own or of a friend or family member who was once in the same situation. I picked up a lot of great advice from these women and I thank them all for the time and patience and love.
You are not alone! We are all with you, sister!
I’d like to share a technique I used when leaving X. I still use it today. OBTAD or One Brave Thing A Day. It’s easy to do and nearly foolproof when applied on a consistent basis.
Tony Robbins advocates doing two things on your to do list every day to see great changes in a short amount of time. For a woman with no self-esteem and little confidence, two things were too many to contemplate.
I started challenging myself to do one thing every day. One small thing that takes me out of my comfort zone and closer to whatever the goal is.
By accomplishing one thing, I have gained confidence and belief in myself. After a few days I would find myself doing one thing, then another and maybe even a third before the day was over.
In the movie City Slickers, Curly tells Mitch that the secret to life is one thing. I finally understood what he was talking about after about the fourth time of seeing the movie. The secret of making big, huge, ginormous changes in life is by starting with just one, small, brave act. Just one tiny step out of the box to a new place where you will see the world from a different perspective and maybe see something you missed when you were in the old place.
When a friend of mine asked me what I was doing to make so many changes in my life, I told her. She was in the place I’d been not too many months before. The next time I saw her, she told me that she’d done a brave thing. She’d applied to transfer her teacher’s certificate from New York to North Carolina. I’m happy to say that by making one phone call then following up, she now has her North Carolina teacher’s certification and is teaching in one of the local schools.
Another friend applied this theory to redecorating her daughters’ bedrooms. She wanted to build fancy shelves for the bedrooms, but wasn’t able to block out enough time to do the entire project at once. By breaking it down and doing just one thing she had the shelves, cut out, painted and hung in no time.
Taking one step is like eating potato chips; you hard to stop at one. One step leads to a second step and soon you’re well on your way to accomplishing whatever you wanted to do in the first place. I have developed a few rules that help when tracking the progress you’re making.
1. Keep a journal of each and every brave thing you do and the effect it had. Did it soar? Did it flop? Did that one step lead to three others you hadn’t thought of before?
2. Have someone to cheer you on. A friend who won’t judge you is the best thing any of us can have. By telling him/her about the small steps you’re making, you’ve become accountable. Share the triumphs and the disappointments. Ask opinions – they might see a different way for you to accomplish your goal.
3. No goal is silly – no idea for change is crazy. Just remember to stay within the laws of the land and of science. Don’t try parachuting from the top of the Empire State Building with a tablecloth.
4. Form a support group. Cheer each other on. Take one or two steps during the week and report back to the group on a weekly, biweekly or monthly basis.
5. Don’t be afraid of failure. I have a sign over my computer, “Failure is God’s way of saying you’re moving in the wrong direction”. If one thing doesn’t work, try it another way, or in a different direction. While trying to get my son’s learning disabilities and ADHD diagnosed, my ex was amazed at how persistent I was. Whenever I ran into a wall, I would step back, collect myself, turn one way or another and run at the wall again, hoping this time to find the gate.
6. Don’t forget to celebrate your accomplishments, big and small!
No matter what you attempt, remember that it is all right to be a little afraid. Fear means that you are, indeed, moving out of your comfort zone and into a new place in life.
ROOF, CAR, JOB, CARD, FUND
As you are planning your new life, dreaming big is great, but remember that we live in the real world. There are a number of things you need to have in your own name to protect yourself.
Roof, car, job, credit card and escape fund are the five big things each person needs in this life, preferably in your name alone.
Roof. You need a place to live whether it is an apartment, a home or even a room at a friend’s house. The big thing is that you have to be able to afford it. Don’t forget the other expenses – utilities, electric, phone.
Speaking of phones, a cell phone is a good investment. I moved three times in three years, but my cell phone was one thing I never needed to change.
I also rented a small box at the local UPS Store before leaving so I had an address that was safe, just in case. I continue to hold it today. Again, I moved three times in three years, but this address never changed. Everything except the utilities goes to this box. It saves a lot of time when moving. Also, the UPS Store provides you with a street address instead of just a PO Box number. UPS and FedEx will not deliver to a PO box. And the staff at the UPS Store are not allowed to confirm or deny whether you have a box with them or not so you have anonymity.
Car. A car is essential in this fast moving world. Having one in your own name keeps your abuser from reporting the car stolen once you leave.
Credit Card. Again get an account of your very own in your name alone. Also look into getting a bank account of your very own. The credit union requires a minimal amount to open an account. Just remember to hide any paperwork you receive, preferably outside the house so your abuser won’t find it. This is where a mailbox away from the house is an advantage.
Escape fund. You will need money to set up your new home with, a couple of thousand dollars if you can manage it. When I was making plans I set $5000 as my target escape fund. That would allow me to rent an apartment, get utilities set up and even buy some used furniture with a small buffer left over for emergencies.
To set your own target, you need to get real. Look around and figure out how much it will take to start your life over again. Figure out how much apartments rent for, how much utilities are and what you will need to buy once you are out on your own. And don’t forget food.
A job is a given. You need to have enough income to pay the bills without depending on anyone else because your abuser will not be happy about giving up any money once you’ve escaped.
This is a list of things you’ll want to gather and take with you. You can add or delete from it as you see fit.
Pay stubs – yours and copies of theirs
Information on other accounts and assets – yours and theirs
Social Security cards - yours and kids
Birth Certificates – yours and kids
Titles, deeds, wills, mortgages
Medical records and medications
Kids’ school records
Valued pictures, family heirlooms, other personal possessions
Go through your house one room at a time, one drawer at a time and list EVERYTHING you want to take with you. Take your time with this. If you can, sort, thin, consolidate.
Valuable papers can be scanned onto a stick drive for added security. I heard one story where the husband destroyed all the family’s important papers, thinking that would keep his wife from leaving him. Thankfully she had copies of everything on a stick drive in her purse.
National Domestic Violence Hotline
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
She by S. E. Walker
Celebrate Yourself by Dorothy Corkill Briggs
Forgive To Live by Dr. Dick Tibbits with Steve Halliday
Overcoming Doubt, Fear and Procrastination by Barbara Wright Sykes
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Surviving Divorce
Notes From a Friend by Tony Robbins
The Secret by Rhonda Byrnes