Though I am not a doctor, my advice comes from a combination of personal experience and therapy given to me by professionals. Leaving someone controlling and/or abusive can be (and usually is) a dangerous situation, so more than anything, my wish to you is to call your local domestic violence hotline and get help in finding a therapist that can assist you in your quest. It truly helps to have help from these places as they can help you find lodging, clothing, counseling and more, all for the asking. The help I received from multiple agencies to leave my ex was all free. Do not let your fear of these places scare you. You don’t have to stay in a shelter if you don’t want to. I didn’t. There are alternatives to everything. It is more scary to continue living with violence, home should be a place of refuge, not of fear. Let others help you, to get not only guidance but support.
First of all, I will briefly explain my story. I met a charming, well-heeled (or so I thought) businessman on a reputable online dating site. We hit it off, long story short, I moved in with him. As time went on, it became clear to me that he was hiding something. And, I caught him in lies about many things, big and small. After doing some snooping, it was revealed that the man had just left another woman after trying to drain her of her money. And, he had been married more times than he’d said. His whole story was a lie. I felt devastated. The more I tried to talk things over with him, the worse our relationship became. He became violent, controlling and would disappear on business trips, coming back with “signs” of another woman. He began to threaten, and became phyiscally violent. Without the free cellphone the domestic violence agency gave me, I would’ve been seriously injured or killed. I was in the process of leaving him, that is what sparked his violent rage. I was hurt, stabbed in the hand with a knife, but fought him off and locked myself in the bathroom as I called the police. They arrested him, I had a restraining order put out on him and finished moving my things the next day. Then, I was gone for good.
After this situation, I drove to a new city, far away from where he was, and got a new apartment. It took a few days, so I stayed in a hotel until the right place was found. The first place wasn’t great, but it was safe, even if I had to sleep on the floor. All my things were in storage in another state. I didn’t care, it felt good to know that I was free of the horrible person who tried to control, intimidate and hurt me. With me were my two cats, who were traumatized but ok. They adjusted to hotel living and to the new place faster than I thought they would. In time, I found a gorgeous place, brought my furniture down from the storage place, and bought new furniture. Now, I live on a lake, happily free of any pain.
So, what to do first? Start as much in advance of your move as possible. Quietly, remove things that are of value to you. Frequently, abusers will destroy things of value to their victims, it’s part of their control issues. Pack a suitcase with the basics and store that, too. You will need it if leaving in a hurry happens. Also, take important papers, photos and documents. Put them in a storage unit or apartment that is NOT close to your current residence. That way, when you’re gone, you won’t need to drive near the abuser’s place. Only take things that aren’t easily noticed, if confronted, never tell the abuser what you are doing. Your safety depends heavily on it. It’s about self-preservation, you are an adult and don’t need to explain yourself to anyone. Just calmly blow off any attempts to figure out what you are doing and be as discreet in removing items as possible.
Calmly and without anger, co-exist with your partner while secretly getting help elsewhere. Keep an even temper, so not to add tension to an already tense relationship. Keeping the peace is needed, as best as you can. Read up on the “Cycle of Violence”. It explains the build-up of tension before a fight, the fight, then the “honeymoon” period afterwards. It is a handout that every domestic violence agency has and gives out to anyone living with an abusive partner. And it is helpful in understanding the dynamics of abusers, and how to respond to them. If you can, go to a support group. This way, you can discuss your weekly goings on with others who are also going through difficult situations. A good group, in my opinion, is one that listens to stories, but also gives ideas on coping with each situation. Listening to others’ stories helped me gain the strength to leave.
Living with someone abusive can drain you of all energy, consume your mind with hopes of a better life later (no, you can’t fix the person, trust me) , and make you feel absolutely worthless. Remember, it’s the situation you are in, and not a definition of who you really are. You are a good person, in a bad relationship. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Friends of mine got mad at me for not leaving sooner, they didn’t understand why I wouldn’t just up and go to a shelter. I had pets (shelters don’t accept them) and refused to leave them with the abuser. I planned it all so I’d leave, and not leave anything of mine behind, especially my pets. Protect your pets by leaving them with others for safe keeping, if possible. Abusers will sometimes kill pets, because they know they are important to the victim. People may be upset with you for not leaving when they think you “should”, but only you know when the time is right. Sometimes it takes a few dry runs before the actual time you leave, but when you are truly fed up enough, you will know when and be done with the person. Remember, the MOST DANGEROUS time in the relationship is when you leave the abuser, this is when murders usually happen. They are losing control of you and will react in whatever way they can to take control. Take this seriously if you’re going to leave. Don’t let others dictate when you are ready, trust your own judgment.
Abusive people tend to like control, and isolating their victims. It’s subtle sometimes, but in time, the person being controlled is slowly isolated from friends and family. Each case is different. Be aware of this, and for this reason, it is important to have a confidante you can turn to, who will be there for you. It can be a friend, co-worker, or therapist. Just someone to talk to, to touch bases with, who is trustworthy and who won’t tell the abuser what you are doing. Talking to others helps you not to isolate and keep all the stress inside. In my case, I used friends in another state, and a therapist from the domestic violence center. Fight isolation. Give yourself the ability to be around others, and interact with them. This gives you a voice, builds your confidence and lets others know if you need help or not.
When you are ready to leave, enlist the help of human agencies or services if need be to help you move. A local church helped me for free with lightweight items so I could use my own money to pay a mover for the heavier items. I moved fast, not knowing how long the authorities would keep my ex in jail. Call around, find out who is willing to help. Shop around for good moving rates. One guy tried to jack up the price on moving, I told him to get lost. Don’t let moving scammers take advantage of your situation, by standing firm and not taking any extra-payment-needed garbage from anyone. Don’t be shy, this is a good time to build your self-esteem by standing up for yourself. Don’t tell the abuser about any of this. Plan the move when you know your partner won’t be around for a long period of time, at least a few hours. This is a new life and they have no part of it, so they need not be a part of it AT ALL.
Pre-plan how to leave with kids involved, by talking the situation over with an attorney. If you cannot afford one, call around, looking for an attorney who will do “pro-bono” work (free legal advice). They are out there, and you can find them if you look. Or, go to a Legal Aid society in your area and ask them what to do. They are in major cities, and are there to help those who cannot afford legal representation.
Move out of the person’s life abruptly, and don’t look back. If you must go to court against a spouse for any reason, take someone with you or ask the court staff to accompany you to your car if you are afraid of the person. Be proactive, defend against being a victim. I carried pepper spray in the form of a pen that I bought on an online auction. And had another in my home, too. It pays to be as prepared as possible against attacks. Some people take self-defense courses. Violence can happen in the blink of an eye, so it pays to be alert if the abuser is threatening. Do not underestimate threats. Many people are killed by thinking their spouse would never be capable of murder. Sometimes, violent threats with weapons go wrong and accidents happen. Never underestimate threats or aggression. Ever.
By being alert and pre-planning a new life, you are on your way to a more fulfilling life, if you make it so. It won’t feel good in the beginning, but it will get better, believe me. Time is your friend in this. Remember, you have worth, nobody defines you, you define yourself. In the end, it’s about taking care of yourself and removing the victim. Be a victor. It may mean sleeping on the floor of an apartment without furniture for awhile, or on a friend’s couch, but that is OK. Do whatever is best for you in the situation. Don’t look back, and have NO contact with the abuser. If you do, the person will try and make amends, to try and win you back, most likely. Believe none of it. Staying means an increase of aggression. That is part of the Cycle of Violence. You can do much better. One day at a time.