I wrote a letter to a woman being abused, and now I feel kind of sick about it.
There's been a thing happening that makes me sick to my stomach, and it's been happening as a result of something we posted on Upworthy. Something that happened to me. Before I delve into it fully, you need to know: I'm a domestic abuse survivor. I left more than seven years ago, and the ways in which I've changed and my whole life has changed as a result of it are countless.
Years ago, when I lived in New York, I could hear my neighbor being, at the very least, verbally abused by her husband. I didn't know what to do to help, but I couldn't do nothing. I have always been a writer, so I wrote her a letter. I dropped it off when her husband wasn't home.
Fast-forward to four years later, and we're experimenting with some long form text at Upworthy to see if readers like it, so I decided to let my coworker publish said letter, which has long been dormant on my former website. The recipient has been kept anonymous, and the letter could be to anybody being abused.
The response was huge. Comments were filled with people wishing someone had given them a letter like that when they were in that situation and wanting to know what happened to the neighbor. There was a melange of other comments too, positive and negative.
But then the private messages started coming in. To me.
There was one from a man who said it described to a T the way his ex-wife had treated him; the experience left him emotionally scarred. There were multiple letters from women in varying types of abusive relationships. Many of them wanted to thank me because they finally realized they had to leave.
I felt punched in my gut. I feel it every time, because I care very much about victims becoming survivors and having a happy ending like I did. I responded to each of those messages, but the struggle to find the right balance of words weighed on me heavily. It was important to reinforce each person's sense of self and their right to be safe, respected, and happy. But I also had a huge responsibility not to bullshit them — to make sure they knew they were about to embark on the most dangerous leg of their journey.
You see, when abuse victims die at the hands of their abusers, it's most often when they leave.*
*This doesn't at all mean you shouldn't leave. But it does mean you should take whatever steps possible to protect yourself.
I can tell you from experience that if they make it out alive, they have months to years of emotional and physical recovery, all exacerbated to the extent that the abuser remains in their lives for the purpose of kids or shared assets. That's not even touching on the financial aspect of getting out of an abusive relationship.
What I'm saying is: There are seemingly insurmountable hills to climb.
If you're being abused, getting away from your abuser is definitely the endgame. But you should also have some straight talk about how many different ways from Sunday it will be difficult so you can prepare yourself as best as possible before you go.
Here are some things I did that you can try:
- If you can save money and secure all the access/paperwork you need to any assets, shared or not, do it.
- If you can have your escape plan aided by trusted friends, family, or even a police escort, do so.
- If you can get in touch with a domestic violence resource locally, that's best.
But if you are in a dangerous emergency situation and you need to leave with kids in tow and/or the clothes on your back but no plan, getting out alive is better than not getting out at all.
Use an app like the one I'll link to below, or text a code phrase to someone you've arranged to be on high alert for you. You can take the other things step by step later, with the help of the aforementioned resources.
And if it takes you several tries to leave for good, there is no shame in that. There is nothing etched in stone saying that because you went back once or even five times that now it means you've gotta stay. This is hard stuff — actually, it's the challenge of your life. This hill is a Sisyphus-style hill. Sometimes the rock rolls back to the bottom and you start all over again.
I'll be straight with you: Despite my personal experience, I'm not a professional domestic violence counselor. I can't advise you on how to handle your particular exit strategy. But if you've found that flicker of spirit left inside of you that knows you deserve better than what you're living, then I have a responsibility to make sure you have a full picture.
Before I go take some antacid for the ulcer this critical matter is giving me, please know that I have a ton of resources and links for you down below. And those (besides having shared my own story a bit) are the best, most useful things I can give you. For anybody struggling to leave an abuser right now, let me leave you with this:
You have the most difficult (and dangerous!) time in front of you. But please keep faith in yourself that if you just keep going with your plan to leave and stay away, your life can become full and rich again, and the pain you experienced with this person will eventually be a distant memory. Your life will again be full of possibility! You have all my faith and strength behind you — just keep going.