Written By: *Annie, Survivor
One of the most common questions survivors of domestic violence hear after leaving their abuser is, “Why didn’t you just leave?” This question is a form of victim-blaming that often influences survivors to keep silent about the abuse they endured and reinforces the belief that they are somehow to blame for the abuser’s behavior. It also compels survivors to continue apologizing for and over-justifying their side of the story when they are asked the wrong questions about surviving domestic violence.
Survivor Annie shares with us her story of abuse told from the vantage point of why she stayed with her abuser. In an eye-opening and heartbreaking account of a mother who blames herself for what her children witnessed and endured, we learn why it is so vital for us to reframe the conversation of domestic violence and shift the blame where it truly belongs: with the abuser.
Trigger warning: story contains descriptions of physical abuse that may be triggering to some survivors.
Annie was always a strong, independent woman. She became pregnant with her first child at 16 and was determined not to be a statistic. She was going to succeed, come hell or high water, and they were going to beat the odds. It was Annie and her son against the world.
When Annie was 25, she met a guy. This man who wanted to take care of them thought she was beautiful and made her feel beautiful. He was everything she had ever dreamed of.
Their ‘courting’ was very short. In six months, they became engaged and married less than a year later. The abuse began as control. He isolated Annie from her family and friends and did not allow her to spend time with anyone else. She was told regularly that she was a bad wife, a bad friend, sister, and mother and that “Nobody likes you, not even your family… just ask them.”
After the controlling and verbal and emotional abuse began, it soon escalated to physical violence.
The physical abuse started with Annie being shoved around or pushed down. He sometimes grabbed her by the arms, all the while belittling her. His words were every bit as painful as his touch was.
There is no way to understand the level control involved without experiencing it. Annie wanted nothing more than to have this man to love her. She wanted him to approve of me. More than that, she wanted him to protect her and her son and take care of them.
Annie mentions how quick people can be to judge and doubt a survivor’s story once they leave. At first, she says that she stayed out of shame. She was so ashamed that she ‘let’ a man do this to her. Then she stayed to protect her children because she did not want her kids to spend every other weekend with someone she considered to be a monster.
Annie said that was so beaten down that she honestly believed staying was better and easier than leaving. She wondered who would want her, her children, and the drama attached to her abuser, and thought that no one would. Then, Annie says she stayed out of fear. She was so scared of what he would do to her if she left that she stayed with him.
The physical abuse continued to escalate. She was strangled and left for dead in her kitchen. Another time, she was beaten black and blue and left bloodied on her basement floor. He would hold her down on the bed and push his thumbs into the inside corner of her eyes. Other times, he would use his thumbs to stretch her mouth open and push her head down into the bed, saying to her, “You think you’re so f****** cute.” He held her down so forcefully that Annie was afraid that he would end up splitting her lips. He was careful not to leave marks on exposed skin. Underneath her clothes, Annie was black and blue. She would always wonder how he could look at her body and not feel shame.
When Annie’s children finally summoned the courage to tell her that they were also being abused, she felt like she failed them.
Annie stayed to protect her children, and she did not think that her children knew what was going on. Although she did not think they overheard the abuse, they did. They heard her begging him to stop. They heard her asking him, “Why?” They even heard her cry.
She stayed because she wanted her children to be safe, but she felt that she had not been protecting them. Her children took as much abuse as she did, but they did not tell her because they were threatened and were scared to tell. While she was not at fault for how her abuser treated her children, Annie fully believed that she had failed them.
During the last assault, Annie was thrown through the screen of an open sliding glass door and pulled back inside by her hair. Her face was slammed into the corner, and she was thrown to the ground, kicked, and choked.
At one point, she remembered sitting on the edge of the bed, crying with her head in her hands, begging him to just kill her and get it over with. He pulled a gun out of the nightstand. Annie heard the gunshot and smelled the gunpowder. The bullet went between her feet on the floor. She does not remember a lot because she blocked most of it out, but she recalls the situation calming down, and she went from sitting on the edge of the bed to laying in the bed next to the man who just fired a gun at her.
“People always say, “Why didn’t you just leave?” You have no idea until you’re in this situation what you will do. I was so brainwashed and so beaten down. I was convinced that I deserved what I was getting.
“19 years – I stayed for 19 years. It’s a journey and a battle. At four years out, I’m not healed, but I’m getting there. I do have terrible PTSD, so I have good days and bad days. I wonder every day why this had to be part of my story and why I had to go through the abuse. Someday, it will all make sense, but right now I am still questioning why. Still, my life now is good. I am happy, I am free, and I am alive.
“Once the fear of staying becomes greater than the fear of leaving, you’ll make your move.
“We are healing. We are going to be okay.”
*Survivor’s name has been changed to protect her identity.
**If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, there is help. You can visit the Break the Silence website at www.breakthesilencedv.org, chat with one of our helpline advocates at 855-287-1777, or send a private message through our Facebook page.
What’s YOUR Raw Truth?
Sharing our stories can be incredibly empowering while also helping others connect with survivors who have similar experiences. If you are inspired to share your story with us, complete the form below. You can choose to remain anonymous.