On the Path to Healing, Some Things Take Time
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How Solo Mom and abuse survivor Kelly Sundberg learned to hear her inner voice
It takes the average domestic-abuse survivor seven attempts to leave the relationship. This illustrates just how gradual and insidious abuse can be. The departure when a person finally exits the relationship after suffering through months or years often requires a lot of speed.
I didn’t plan for the day that I left my husband. I had known for a while that I should leave, but I hadn’t wanted to leave. I left my ex-husband two days after his arrest for domestic battery. I remember looking at him and really seeing him for the first time. I felt as though my blood was turning to ice. My entire body got very still, and I finally knew that he was never going to change. I knew that I needed to leave. So I raced.
I raced around our home packing the necessities for me and my child. While I raced, my ex-husband chased me yelling, “You are provoking me to abuse you. You are provoking me to abuse you.” He had a no-contact order that he didn’t want to violate, so he was frustrated that he couldn’t abuse me. But still, despite all that, I was lucky: He didn’t abuse me that day—not physically, at least—and I got out alive. So many women don’t.
After I left and was finally safe, I tried to resolve every other issue in my life with the same kind of speed. I applied to PhD programs and new jobs within a week. I found a divorce lawyer through Legal Aid of West Virginia who represented domestic-violence victims for free. I finally told the people closest to me that my ex-husband had been abusive. It was a painful and trying time, but the speed helped me get out and stay out of the relationship. I did get into a PhD program, I did get a divorce, and I was able to leave the state with my child.
Still, I have learned in the years following my divorce that the speed that served me so well in exiting my relationship does not necessarily serve me well in all aspects of my life. There were moments when I needed to slow down, when I needed to realize that some things take time. For example, in my haste to leave my husband, I made some decisions that didn’t serve my financial future well. I went against the advice of my lawyer and let my ex-husband keep our house. I also went against the advice of my lawyer and dropped my request for spousal support.
My ex-husband bullied me into doing these things. He had threatened to sue me for primary custody of our son. He had threatened to file a motion to keep me from leaving the state with our son, and I panicked. I gave him what he wanted. Still, when we were in court, it was apparent that he wouldn’t have been able to keep me from leaving the state. The judge said he was happy that I was improving my life. He told my ex-husband, “You should want your wife to be happy. That is what is best for your child.” The judge also told me that he would have awarded me spousal support for a period of two years.
I was frustrated to realize that I had conceded on things that would have made my life easier. I still struggle with feelings of frustration over this, but I am not angry at my ex-husband. I am angry at myself for letting myself be bullied. This is not rational, I know. I did what I had the emotional resources for at the time, but I still struggle with feelings of self-blame.
I’ve had some issues come up recently with my child support, and I’ve had to decide whether to go back to court. My child-care costs have far exceeded what we agreed on. I asked my ex-husband if he wanted to help me or if he wanted to go back to court. He said that he wanted to go back to court. This is typical for him. He’s counting on the fact that I won’t want a conflict, and our history would provide the evidence that he’s right; but I’m not sure this time.
I spoke to another survivor, a woman who has been very proactive in her own divorce, and she told me that I needed to file the request for amended support, to show him that he couldn’t get away with his mistreatment. This woman told me that she, too, had felt the impulse to get out of her marriage quickly, but she had found a lawyer who specialized in domestic violence and who recommended that she not establish the precedent of letting her abuser dictate the terms of their divorce. Letting her abuser dictate the terms of their divorce meant that he would likely continue to dictate the terms of their relationship, and when children are involved, the relationship usually continues on some level. I found this to be good advice from my friend and her lawyer; but still, I had to think, “Was my relationship the same as hers?”
Not really, and that’s why I’m taking my time. I’m taking my time to think about what’s best for me, what’s best for my child, and what’s best for my long-term safety. Abusive relationships have similarities, but they also have differences, and it’s important to recognize that survivors need to do what is best for themselves. My personal experience during my relationship with my abusive husband was that I lost the ability to listen to my inner voice. Now when I make decisions and everyone is offering me advice, I try to take a step back, quiet down, and listen for my own inner voice. My own judgment is the best judgment. I am capable of making the best decisions. I just need to realize that some things take time.
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