On Victim Blaming

My ex-husband blames me for his abuse. His family blames me for his abuse. Some of his friends blame me for his abuse.

This is natural. It is difficult to acknowledge that someone we love and respect has perpetrated horrific acts of violence on another person. It was difficult for me to acknowledge that it was happening while it was happening, so of course, it would be difficult for people outside of the relationship, who didn’t personally witness the abuse to reconcile that their friend or family member, a person who seems very mild-mannered and nice, could brutally beat his wife. It is easier to blame the wife, to think that the wife must have done something to set him off, to think that the wife must be exaggerating somehow, or to think that the wife is lying because she’s crazy or malicious or revenge-seeking.

It is also easier to think there is a gray area, that this is an issue between the couple, that all couples have problems. Caleb and I had problems. I was not the perfect victim who just silently accepted all of the things he told me. I yelled back. I criticized. I tried to fight back physically once, and I discovered that my strength was no measure for his. I discovered that I was weak when he held me down by my wrists. So effortless for him. I was pinned like a butterfly to a board.

He looked in my eyes for an extended pause, then he spit. In my face. He spit in my face three times. He spit in my face to show me how powerless I was.

But because I tried to fight back, he can now say, “She abused me too.” One of our mutual friends told me that his friend had told her “Well, Caleb says they beat up on each other.” I don’t know what to say in reply to that, except that I am not as strong as Caleb. If I could have defended myself against Caleb, I would have. I can promise you that.

If I had the strength to fight back and win, I would have.

I would have. I would have. I would have.

I am not the perfect victim.

I am not a martyr.

One of my best friends wanted to write a guest post for this blog about how she witnessed me changing as the abuse was happening. She is a wonderful, accepting listener, and I have talked to her quite frankly about my struggles with anger towards him and towards other people in his life. I have acknowledged to her that, when we would fight (he and I), I knew the abuse was inevitable, so I often went all in. My own fighting style became harder, meaner, more aggressive. There was no healthy communication in my relationship with my husband, so I could either stuff all of my feelings inside, or argue back, and neither of those options ever ended well.

My friend wanted to write about how she witnessed some of this. She saw me getting harder. She saw me getting sadder. She knew this wasn’t me. She saw me changing in ways that were not for the better, and she knew that something was happening, but she didn’t know why. She knew for a long time before I did that Caleb and I were going to get divorced. I would call her in the middle of the night sobbing, telling her that he called me names and put me down, but I didn’t tell her he hit me. I didn’t give her that information yet because, if I had, she would have been on a plane, and she would have made me move out, and I wasn’t ready for that yet.

I’ve been friends with this woman for 16 years. We lived together and, in typical twenty-something fashion, we discovered we weren’t suited to being roommates. We experienced personal traumas and tragedies together. We fought over silly things. We once drank boxed wine with another friend and had a karaoke party long into the night. Just the three of us, giggling and singing karaoke in our apartment. She was in my wedding, and I was in hers. She married in Vietnam, and as a wedding gift to her, her mother bought my plane ticket. We have the same name. We are both named Kelly. When we lived in the same town, we saw each other almost every day. When we moved apart, we started talking on the phone. When she lived in Vietnam for two years, we Skyped–she in the early light of morning and me at dusk. I still love the sound of the Skype ring on the computer. We have talked almost every day for 16 years. This is a love story. A love story of friendship. In the past year and a half, I have discovered that my friends are the loves of my life. Not just this friend. There are others too. The universe has blessed me immeasurably in that regard.

She knows me as well as anyone. And she witnessed me change during my marriage, and it concerned her, and she wants to write about that, but she struggles with writing about my change because she realized, while attempting to write it, that she was opening me up to being victim blamed. That, if she shows me as being flawed or imperfect–even though she loves and admires and respects me–there is the possibility for people like my ex or his friends to latch on to those imperfections and say “See! She deserved it!”

Here’s the thing: I am flawed and imperfect, but I didn’t deserve to have my husband beat me. All of the accountability for that falls on him. I am flawed and imperfect, but I am blameless in the abuse because there is no blame that can justify abuse. I am flawed and imperfect, and I am not blameless in other ways. I can list to you all of the ways in which I wasn’t always a good wife, but it doesn’t matter. He wasn’t allowed to abuse me.

This is clearly something that needles at me because I’ve written about it before, but one of my ex-husband’s friends, whose intentions are good but who also doesn’t seem to understand the dynamics of domestic violence, has asked me why I stayed when things got unsafe. She asked me to try and learn to identify my triggers. She is asking the wrong questions. Questioning my behavior won’t stop his violence. She doesn’t understand that this is victim blaming. The only way to deal with a man’s violence is to ask him why he* beat his wife, or why he raped that woman, or why he did whatever violent thing he did, and then to give him clear societal consequences for that violence, which she’s not doing.

If that man has not acknowledged what he’s done, and someone remains their friend, then they have inadvertently endorsed his behavior. Abusive men love neutrality and silence. It tells them that they can get away with anything. When people who know my ex-husband was abusive and that he violently assaulted me for years treat him like he’s a great guy–for example, one couple who knew he had abused me still wanted him to perform the ceremony at their marriage–then those people are showing my ex-husband that his violence against me really didn’t matter, that he was justified in it, that it wasn’t such a big deal for him to beat his wife, that there is gray area, that maybe I deserved it. And that’s how I, the victim, end up with a crappy letter of apology like the one I ended up with, because Caleb, the perpetrator, knows it doesn’t matter, that he will always have the support of his blind propagandists.

Jackson Katz, one of the leading authorities on domestic violence, identifies this issue nicely:
Now, those of us who work in the domestic and sexual violence field know that victim-blaming is pervasive in this realm, which is to say, blaming the person to whom something was done rather than the person who did it. And we say things like, why do these women go out with these men? Why are they attracted to these men? Why do they keep going back? What was she wearing at that party? What a stupid thing to do. Why was she drinking with that group of guys in that hotel room? This is victim blaming, and there are numerous reasons for it, but one of them is that our whole cognitive structure is set up to blame victims. This is all unconscious. Our whole cognitive structure is set up to ask questions about women and women’s choices and what they’re doing, thinking, and wearing. And I’m not going to shout down people who ask questions about women, okay? It’s a legitimate thing to ask. But’s let’s be clear: Asking questions about Mary is not going to get us anywhere in terms of preventing violence

Please take the time to watch this video, then share it with everyone you know. We are in a moment where violence against women is rampant, and it’s time to change that. It’s time to speak out. Katz quotes Martin Luther King Jr:

“In the end, what will hurt the most is not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

*I recognize that abuse is not something that only happens in heterosexual relationships. In this blog, I mostly deal with the dynamics of my own relationship, but I am aware that abuse can happen in same sex relationships and from women to men, and that I am presenting a limited view here.


Survivor Stories, Guest Post. “On Nice Guys”

This survivor story was written by a tough, funny, smart, educated, and humanitarian woman. She is evidence that violence can happen to anyone, and that it’s not always easy to pinpoint or recognize at first. Here is her story in her words.

I’ve often wondered why isn’t there a website where we can search for reviews of other people’s performance in bed?  When I think on how often people would use it, I’m shocked this hasn’t been invented yet.  In an age when we can look up our doctors, plumbers, and even rate our teachers – a place where there are clearly some subjective undertakings – why can’t we learn more about who we might wish to sleep with, before we take the plunge?  (Have fun dreaming up names for that kind of social media site for the rest of your afternoon.)

Hear me out: Angie’s List, a site for the reviews of professionals and hired help around the house, doesn’t allow the company being reviewed to make changes to the assessments they deem unsatisfactory.  And with good reason!  Companies would flood the site with fake, positive appraisals of their work.  I was once inappropriately hit on by the Elvis impersonator at my grandmother’s nursing home, and when I went on-line to see if there was a place to complain, there were already multiple negative comments about this guy.  People who had hired him before said he has stolen from other nursing home residents, he’s been seen dangerously speeding on the interstate, and if my grandmother’s convalesce facility had just taken a peek on-line, they might not have hired him.  There were precautions in place.  There were warnings.
But back to the issue at hand: Pretend you’re a woman who is dating someone that seems pretty great.  Wouldn’t it be reassuring to Google them and learn “Tom was so attentive.  He listened to me and, when something wasn’t working, was willing to try new things.”  Ah, sigh of relief.  Now, if there are hundreds of reviews, we can start considering how many people he has pleased and also make an informed decision based on our understanding of what kind of sexual history is right for us.  Oh, the possibilities!  But alas, we have to make choices about others for ourselves; and sometimes we’re wrong.

I fell for a guy who seemed really great on the surface.  He is so gregarious, and always has groups of people surrounding him and laughing along to his stories.  He’s a terrific communicator, we had so much in common regarding work and interests, he’s well-groomed (but still rugged and handsome), and a bit older – all things that, to me, indicated we could take our relationship to the next level.  Great communicator = great friend, right?  Great friend = great lover, does it not?

Well, our first time being physical together was a disaster.  Something about his wants were at odds with each other.  He is a really tight-lipped kisser, which is fine, I can work with that.  There was nice foreplay; he really seemed to be avoiding some sort of first time rush. But then, in the act, there was so much pushing, and grabbing, and hair pulling.  I had no idea a nice, mild-mannered man would be so violent in bed.  But it was the first time.  Maybe he was over-acting, you know, trying too hard to impress? 
Some weeks go by and he’s still a nice guy, still wants to spend time with me and talk and, except the occasional, short-lived fight, we really get along.  He keeps pushing the idea that he wants to get to know me better, and he’s definitely not a “love ‘em and leave ‘em” kind of guy, so it seems like things are going great.  I can work with this.  But the next time we’re physical, a few weeks later, it’s just more of the same.  I am more vocal this time, and say things like “Please don’t pull my hair,” because, let’s face it, it didn’t feel playful and I couldn’t enjoy myself.  He listened, but with a shocked “oh,” as if considering “who wouldn’t like that?”  But I thought ‘this could work; maybe we can compromise.’  That’s what great communicators and friends do.

But I was wrong.  Time and time again it became apparent that he couldn’t climax unless I was pinned down, immobile, quiet, and basically in pain.  This is no sexy Fifty Shades of Grey agreement thing, which I’d probably argue isn’t sexy anyway; this is a psychological need of his to overpower and conquer.  Sure we tried other things.  But, it was more of the same.  The more I tried to suggest intercourse in which we’re equal players and both have a say in the rhythm or pace or location, the less he was into it.  He’d want to stop halfway through, which would make me feel inadequate, or like a failure.  I’d feel like I was doing something wrong.  He would never finish “making love” to me unless I basically laid there and let him hurt me; but he is such a “nice guy,” remember? 

Maybe some women might feel accommodating to these needs, and I am certainly not one to judge, but it’s just not in my nature to continue with this kind of behavior when I feel so uncomfortable with it.  Maybe he had been with other women who liked him being forceful, and hurting them.  Maybe he watched pornography that reinforced this behavior.  And I wanted to accommodate his needs because he is so nice, but in the end it was hurting me far too much.

The truth is, I stayed with a man that was hurting me –  a man that couldn’t bring himself to not hurt me, even when I asked.

Now, you might be thinking, “Why didn’t you just talk about it?” and you’d be right to.  Sex is something we should feel comfortable discussing with our partners.  It’s only safe and most pleasurable when we can.  But he couldn’t.  I’d ask ‘What can I do to help you climax?’ in, I assure you, usually sexier ways than that, and I’d be met with lots of “It’s a sensitive subject for me,” and “I just can’t a lot of the time, don’t worry about it;” but I wasworried about it.  The only time he did was when I was feeling harmed in one way or another.  If you think me a prude, that’s fine, but I’m not above a little spanking or anything, so don’t jump to conclusions on that front.  I just can’t allow myself to be continuously held down in such a painful way, physically and emotionally.

He’d push me away when I brought anything about it up.  I was in this mindset that I didn’t want to lose a nice guy.  All of my friends adored him, maybe this was a little thing that could change overtime?  If only there had been a website, some source for me to read before: “He’s so nice, but in bed you might feel uncomfortable if you don’t like rape-like role-play.”  That would have been all I needed to know.  Sure, sites like this could be misused, false negatives by dumped exes, or false positives by friends, but I’m learning you can’t trust what’s “on the surface” what will make someone a good match for you.  And if, like in this case, the surface behavior never matches the bedroom behavior, then there is something going on there that I’m not strong enough to help him through.  I have my own demons.  I have my own needs, and I have the right to say what’s right for me, and how I best need to go forward with the situation.  And you do too.

Think of all the people who don’t report rapes.  We know assaults are happening, but they go underreported.  They won’t go forward to the police.  They’re afraid of the stigma.  If there were a safe place they felt they could at least warn others then maybe we could avoid a few more date rapes, or a few more situations like mine, where I feel regret for sleeping with someone who would treat me that way.  I never want to regret anything, and yet, here I am, wishing I’d had a warning sign because what appeared to be the start of a healthy, normal relationship, has hurt me psychologically in ways I can’t fully express here.  When a person seems to understand the complexities of the communicative side of dating, does it hurt more or less when they treat you poorly in the bedroom?  I think, in the end, it doesn’t matter.

And I just keep asking myself, why would someone who claims to be attracted to my intelligence, my love for life, my strength, and who calls me “brilliant” pretty often, treat me during intercourse the way he treated me?  Why would, especially after a few beers, he stop listening to me say “no,” “that hurts,” or “can we stop?”

But people can’t come with a warning label.  You can’t Google whether or not your potential partner has an STD.  Or if they’ve behaved badly in the past.  Or if they’re going to be the nicest person you’ve ever met.  You only have each other.  And trust.  Trust you can build over time through conversations where you’re open about your pasts and needs and wants.  I thought I knew this man, and thought we could communicate well enough, but if we’d just spoken more about sex before going to the place in our relationship where we were having it, maybe I’d have seen more of the warning signs.  The “It’s a sensitive subject” would have been a tiny red flag.  The most often not climaxing, another.  An earnest discussion about our preferences another.

Or, more importantly, I could have said, “Well, I’ve been abused before, please talk to me before doing anything forceful,” or “Please don’t hold me down or force me into uncomfortable immobility.  I need to feel like I have a sense of control.”  But I’ve never felt brave enough to say any of these things before.  Not until right now.  Not until this article.  And maybe it’s taken me too long to get here, but I want to share this with everyone else I can.  Just because I’m older, doesn’t mean I only need to ask about STDs; I need to ask about all of it.  Just because I know what I want, doesn’t mean I don’t have to tell my potential partner about it beforehand.  And just because you don’t think someone is abusing you out of bed, doesn’t mean what happens in the bed is okay if you don’t want it.  I don’t want one more sexual experience in which I feel badly afterward.  Life’s too short to carry those around with us.

Despite my best efforts, even if we had spoken about our preferences before, I still think his preferred, violent sexual dominance would have surfaced, after the bar one night, or after a fight.  But at least I wouldn’t have made excuses for him.  I’d have known I told him before I wouldn’t be comfortable with those things.  I would not have waited, and stayed, and kept trying to make it work.  I should have been vocal about what was not okay from the beginning, because I put up with things that were not okay every time, and no one should keep themselves in that kind of relationship as long as I did.  I blamed myself, because all of our friends thought he was so nice, which he was: in conversations, during afternoons out with groups, and even one-on-one.  But this subject, and this behavior, he wasn’t comfortable talking about.  And I felt guilty that I couldn’t give him what he needed so I continuously let it happen.  But regardless of his attributes, this is something that is never okay.  No matter who does it to you, no matter how nice they are in any other aspect, if it’s something you don’t want them to do to you and they still do it, it’s abuse.

Guest Blogger’s Bio: She has been an instructor of Composition, Creative Writing, ESL and Methodology.  Usually a poet, she has recently started working on finding the voice to share her stories of abuse and tragedy.  Sadly in life we have can accumulate so many of these, but sharing and reading them sometimes helps.  She is taking a new job and will be moving soon, and she’s looking forward to a bright future.

On Nature Writing and Divorce

This blog is new, but my struggle is not. Last summer was a pivotal moment for my healing, and as I embark on this summer–a happier, more confident, more independent person–I want to share with my new readers how I felt last year on May 31. I wrote this last year at that time while I was working in a guard station on the outskirts of the Frank Church Wilderness. I wasn’t acknowledging publicly that I had been abused, but the sentiment is the same, nonetheless.

Working near the wilderness again has me thinking about nature writing. As my graduate school buddies probably remember, I set out at one point to write an “anti-nature” essay. I was tired of the genre of nature writing and the idea of the redemptive power of nature. That essay idea came from a single sentence that occurred to me when I was washing dishes. “This is a story about a woman who went into the wilderness and came out unchanged,” and the essay was later published in the Mid-American Review, then at The Hawaii Pacific Review

I’ve always loved nature. I was raised in Idaho by a forester who had me backpacking into remote wilderness areas when I was just a little kid, so I’ve had more exposure than most, but for some reason, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with the genre of nature writing. It’s just a bit too “on the nose” for me. I’ve seen people saved by nature, for sure, but I’ve also seen people who live in the woods in an attempt to escape their own demons. Many of these people sink into alcoholism and depression. Nature doesn’t judge those illnesses, but it also doesn’t heal them.

The reason I’m thinking about this issue again is because, right now, living in nature is giving me just what I need. I’m currently going through a divorce, and it’s not amicable, and it’s not easy. I’m working very hard to be enlightened about the whole thing and not feel any ill-will towards my soon-to-be-ex-husband, but the truth is that I do feel a lot of ill-will towards him, and that upsets me because I loved him once, and we made a child together, and I want to feel that love can survive divorce, even if the relationship can’t. But, when I’m in town, and I have communication with him, it’s frequently upsetting. I spend a lot of time crying. I spend a lot of time ruminating. I refresh my email and check my phone, and frankly, it makes me very miserable. But, being out here with no phone and a satellite internet connection that is only slightly better than dial-up forces me to slow down. Whatever issue may arise–if my husband threatens to hire a lawyer who will “pull every dirty trick in the book” or, if he withdraws money from my bank account without telling me, or if he sends me a funny picture of my son that brings all of that grief back out of the recesses of my chest–none of it matters out here. Because I can’t deal with it until I’m back in town, so I might as well not worry about it in this moment. And this is a skill that I probably should have learned long ago. I need to let go of what I can’t control.

I’m thinking of the redemptive nature essay in a different way now because, in many ways, I am feeling healed a bit more each day. Of course, a lot of that also has to do with having a support system in place. I moved to West Virginia for my husband, which meant that, when we split, my family and closest friends were across the country. In the past six months, I’ve spent more time on the phone than ever, and my friends have picked up each and every time I’ve called, but it’s not the same as a hug. It’s not the same as seeing them. The other night, I was having a mini-breakdown, and my mom came downstairs. She listened to me, and she tucked me into bed like a child. For a moment, I thought she was going to crawl in with me. Having her there made me realize what I had been missing. For the past six months, until my husband took our son for part of the summer, I’ve been raising our 7-year-old on my own, and I’ve had to be strong for him. And, now, it feels good to have someone be strong for me. The next day, when I was driving out to my guard station on the edge of the Frank Church Wilderness, I felt better. I felt as though I was leaving my troubles behind me for a few days.

Now, I kind of want to write a redemptive nature essay–a response to the first one–except that I still struggle with the same issues with the genre. Too many writers–nature or otherwise–write as though they have it all figured out. Often, I’m sure that they do have it figured out for themselves. But that doesn’t mean they have it figured out for others. People have similarities, but our life circumstances are different, and the same solutions don’t apply to everyone.

On Facebook a while back, a friend posted something asking people to comment on what makes a marriage survive or work. Many people responded that “failure is not an option.” That comment thread frustrated me; I felt it was self-righteous. Failure absolutely is an option for everyone in a marriage or relationship, no matter how confident someone might feel about their chances. Marriages change, and people change. Sometimes, marriages are doomed from the start. When I married my husband, he already had many secrets that he was keeping from me. I didn’t find them out until after we had been married for a couple of years and had a child. By then, as is usually the case, I was more upset by the dishonesty than the events that had occurred. And someone who is dishonest early on will probably not be honest later on. Looking back, of course, I can see the red flags, and that frustrates me now. I’m frustrated that I blinded myself to those red flags because I wanted so badly for the relationship to work. I wanted to not be lonely, and that made me impulsive. 

When I see my friends embarking on relationships with red flags, I want to shout “Don’t do it. Those flags are there for a reason.” But I don’t. Because their relationship might survive. The end of my own relationship doesn’t, in any way, make me an expert on other peoples’ relationships. I’m frequently amazed and surprised by which relationships survive and which end.

A few years ago, I wrote an essay where I compared the destruction of a Demolition Derby to the destruction in interpersonal relationships. My initial ending was along the lines of “My relationship is strong. We’ll survive the destruction.” A workshopper and friend, Molly, told me that she thought that ending was too confident–not realistic–and she was right. I changed the ending to make it more ambiguous; instead, I compared myself to a woman driving a derby car. She was just trying to make it to the end of the round. The new ending turned out to be far more honest, and far more accurate. The essay itself was born out of my uncertainty about my relationship. I was already deeply unhappy in my marriage but unwilling to end it. I thought, somehow, that if we weathered the tough times, there would be a reward at the end, but there was no reward. Times kept getting tougher, and in the end, they were so tough that I had to leave. One of my many regrets now is that I didn’t leave sooner, but I did what I was able to do with the resources and knowledge I had at the time. I made it to the end of the round, then I chose not to participate in the next round. I chose not to let the destruction rule my life anymore. 

Being in the woods has given me the opportunity to see much of this. In many ways, I feel happier than I have in a long while, but I still don’t feel wise. I feel flawed, uncertain, as if I’m on a road, but I don’t know where it is taking me, and I can’t see myself ever realistically writing a redemptive essay. I don’t know what’s around the bend. I don’t know if what is waiting for me will be better or worse, but that’s okay.
I tell myself that’s okay.
My friend, Ab, has some comforting thoughts on the subject of uncertainty, and when I confided in him how scared I was of my future, he wrote this back to me:
“Uncertainty is grace. We can’t know the answer to so many questions and we can’t know what’s going to happen, and even though that leaves us open for a lot of strife and pain, it also leaves us open to beauty and surprise and wonder. Nothing is set, nothing is known, and that means we can always change.”

Nature, like everything else, is uncertain. And nature is grace. There is power in that. I believe this. But it’s up to the individual to find the redemption. Nature doesn’t simply bestow it.

On Jumping

In one of my previous posts, I promised to write at some point about the tricky dynamics of love and abuse, but in all truth, I haven’t wanted to revisit those feelings. I haven’t wanted to explore what I loved about him. I don’t love him anymore. At least, I don’t think I do. I don’t know if that kind of love ever goes away. I was always someone who was very invested in romantic notions of love. When I was young, I thought that I would only love once. It never occurred to me that I would love (and have my heart broken) then love (and break someone else’s heart) then love (and have my heart broken again) in a pattern that would begin to feel endless. When I married my husband, I thought I was breaking that pattern. I thought that I would never have to live through heartbreak again.

I recently published this essay It Will Look Like A Sunset at Guernica Magazine. The essay has been read and shared many times. Truthfully, the response has been quite overwhelming. So many women have reached out to me, to share their own stories with me, and to thank me for putting a voice to their stories. I have felt quite cared for in the past few weeks, and I have not felt alone in my struggle for one of the first times, but it is difficult to realize how not alone I am. I have seen my blog’s views grow by the thousands, and it breaks my heart to think that many of those views are coming from women who have been battered, or who are currently being battered. I wish there was some way for me to reach through the Internet and hug every one of them. And to protect them. More than anything, I wish I could protect them.

A discussion about my essay was started at the website MetaFilter. As I read through the hundreds of comments. I was startled by how familiar these comments were, how so many of these women struggled with the same feelings of love and ambivalence about leaving their abusive partners. One woman wrote quite beautifully:

Her writing is so lucid that many of us (myself included) hear our own voices in hers. To me, it’s not only an effort to share what happened (maybe perhaps someone will see warning signs they didn’t recognize before) but also…to not be alone. Because when the abuse starts, we are alone with a monster–even in public, we are alone. So maybe to discover “it’s not just me” and think “you too?” the crushing weight of solitude is lifted a little, and we can figure out how to escape from under the rock someone dropped on us.

She’s right. This is why I have been writing so much about what happened. I have been writing to escape that feeling of solitude. Of isolation. Of living a lie. Of living a life where, even in public, I feel alone because no one really knows, or could possibly understand (I think), what I am experiencing.

Another writer articulated very well how hard it is to leave:

It’s so hard to move on, because all that re-wiring in your brain just stays with you. Not to mention, I’ve always thought that abusers had to be extra talented at romancing. They have to get you to stay somehow, so of course the highs are higher than with anyone else. You HAVE to have the most amazing time and the most amazing memories with them, because that’s what will get you to stay with them the other times. I know I didn’t escape because I’m special or because my Nope Cortex is special.

I know I escaped because I was lucky. There was a tiny little window of time where the stars aligned and I jumped through that window so hard. The aftermath is harder sometimes. The people who can’t understand why you wouldn’t tell them it was happening, because of course they would have been there for you! And now I just think about the friends that I know know know are in abusive situations, and I can’t help. I can’t. All I can do is keep being a steady friend. Ready for them when they walk away. I wish with everything I have that I could help them get out sooner, but the magic window will appear when it does. It can’t be hurried.

She, too, is right. My magic window appeared when the police knocked on the door. I wasn’t ready yet to jump, and I didn’t jump for two more days. I spent two days helping my ex-husband find a lawyer, trying to figure out how we were going to get his charges dismissed, and hoping that our marriage would change. He was arrested on Monday. On Wednesday, I lied and told him I was going to grade papers, but my mom had made me promise I would go to the domestic violence shelter. I went and sat with a counselor, and she showed me the cycle of violence. It broke through the clutter. I realized, for the first time, that we were in a pattern that would not change. I went home and my husband had whiled away the morning hours looking at porn while I had tried to figure out our future. I remember looking at him and a chill went through my body. It was like my blood was turning thick into ice. My fingers tingled. I knew I needed to leave.

And I jumped. I jumped so hard.

I spoke with a friend recently who is in an unhealthy relationship. That moment seems to have arrived for her. Her window has opened, but she doesn’t want that window to be open. No one ever wants that window to be open. We want to keep loving the person we once loved. We don’t want to jump. The landing is hard. It is so hard. It is not an easy jump where we magically grow wings and fly. Sometimes, parts of us are broken in the process, but we still need to jump.

Women who have been abused are not very good at self-care. We are not great at recognizing what our needs are, but we can still love other people and recognize what’s good for them. I knew that she couldn’t hear me if I said “You need to jump. You will be glad if you jump.” So, instead, I said, “Aren’t you glad I jumped?”

And to you, dear readers, if you have come by this blog because it’s time for you to jump, then I say this to you.

Aren’t you glad I jumped?