• Cate

Why Doesn't She Just Leave?

Updated: Mar 5

“Why doesn’t she just leave? There are resources out there. She’s stupid to stick around and let him treat her that way.”

I’m going to debunk this one right here. Again, I’m going to pull from personal experience. I tend to be extremely motivated and that’s rare in my situation. I have my own reasons for being this way, but it also makes me a good example of what it’s like to try to leave.

I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again: You don’t just sign up for an abusive relationship. Abusers are crafty. They learn about you. They take their time learning every little thing about you so they can exploit it later, so they can use your traits against you.

At first they’re attentive. They’ll treat you like you’re the only person in the world. They’ll give you compliments. They’ll charm your family and friends. They’ll give you gifts and take you places. They’ll make you feel special.

Once they have a grip on you, they start to change. It’s slow at first. They start to talk badly about your family and friends. They start to second guess everything you say and you wonder if you’re crazy. They lead you to believe that no one loves you or wants you.

Then they start the abuse. It escalates over time. An advocate at Cornerstone once used an analogy (a very bad one!) and said, “if he hit you on the first date, you wouldn’t have married him.” It’s crude, but it’s true. They become two people. The person you remember them being, and the person they’ve become, the one they really are.

Within that relationship, there’s a cycle. Usually there’s a sense of bad normalcy. It starts and ends with the honeymoon period. This is the time when you see who they were at the beginning of the relationship. This is when they treat you like a queen to fool you into false complacency. This is how my cycle looked:

He behaves for awhile. He doesn’t cheat, he doesn’t drink, he doesn’t do the behavior that you both hate. You start to feel like you might be able to get back to where you began. But then he feels like it’s been long enough and he can start doing what he wants again.

Anything can set him off. A bad day at work. His mom. The kids. You did something that he can’t stand. The anger seeps into everything and the scene is spoiled. You wait for the other shoe to drop. This can be a matter of minutes or days. You never really know how much time you have until he’s going to pop again.

Then the dam bursts and his anger explodes. He may hit you. He may scream at you and tell you you’re nothing. He may endanger your life. He might rape you. He might just leave and you’ll never know if he’s going to come back mad or if he’ll still be mad when he comes home. Every time the door opens, you sweat.

So you start to sneak around. You start to make sure things are finished before he comes back. You start to avoid your friends and family because you don’t want to admit you’ve become entangled in an abusive relationship, especially if it’s not your first.

He encourages this self isolation, reinforcing the feelings that your family and friends just don’t understand your relationship. He makes you feel supported when really he’s tearing apart your relationships. One day, you find yourself alone.

Once you realize you’re in this position, you’re caught. He’s already wound his way into every part of your life. Once I was married, both times, that’s when it all changed for me. The hardest part is not being able to have any emotions. If you get angry, he calls you abusive. If you are upset, you are jealous and delusional.

But if you want to leave? The trap is sprung. The walls close in. Your options go away. If your behavior has changed, he’s been watching. He will make it absolutely impossible for you to go. He will stand in your way any way he knows how.

My ex-husband broke my car the day before I was going to leave him. He figured out I wasn’t coming back and took a belt off. My funds had been drained by that point. I ended up having to sign it over to him to avoid liability and I lost my mode of transportation. That’s why my aunt helped me rent a car to drive home.

My ex-husband made me late for work every day. He wouldn’t let me drive my own car. He yelled at me until I was cowering in a corner, trying to shield the kids. We were living in a live in hotel and the front desk would call every day about my welfare. Ridiculous because it’s hard to say you need help when your abuser is threatening you mere feet away. Help won’t get there in time if you set him off.

When you try to leave, your friends may have washed their hands of you. Your family may not believe that he’s abusive, seeing how charming and charismatic he is. My step-dad feels I need to work harder on my marriage. He thinks I give up too easily. He won’t make room to get us out of the situation. I’m not actually his kid anyway, now that my mom has been gone for a decade and he’s remarried.

Beyond my Auntie Jody, no one has extended a helping hand in my situation. No one helped with the kids. No one helped financially. No one gave me the benefit of the doubt.

When I left Colorado, I had to do everything I could to find a place to stay. Things did not go well staying with Auntie Jody. She wanted me to hurry and the best I could do was a 3 month stay.

All the while, I was meeting with Cornerstone to qualify for temporary housing, I was signing up for assistance with the county. I was trying to find childcare for the kids. I was trying to get help to pay for the childcare so I could be gainfully employed.

But there was another problem. PTSD. My two kids and I all have it. It doesn’t just go away. My son was nearly 3 when I left my ex-husband. He barely spoke for the next year. A door slamming, even far away, was enough to send both kids into a panic. A loud voice defeated us all.

The first daycare I found turned out to be abusing him. It was the only place I could walk to that was covered under daycare assistance. I had to pull him out and the damage on top of his PTSD made it impossible to put him into day care again for a year. I then had to call it “school”, just to get him out of the house.

In my county, Hennepin County, MFIP, the state welfare program, only pays a maximum of $70 per person, per month. So my max benefit was $210 a month with $500 in food stamps. I started working odd jobs. I worked for a caterer, I did freelance photography, I did anything I could to keep our heads above water.

We finally qualified for section 8 housing and moved in. That’s where I was living when I reconnected with my current husband. Our yard was dirt and the crime was quite high for such a nice part of town. My family treated me like second class trash, dumping their hand-me-downs on us whether they were useful or not. Giving gifts with rules and exceptions. Acting as though I couldn’t take care of myself.

I ended up applying for a daycare grant and letting the welfare go. I couldn’t get to the place for meetings weekly to keep getting assistance. I decided to go back to school. I took out student loans to support us. I’ll be paying those until I die.

When I moved in with my current husband and was married, I thought things would get better. But I immediately became the breadwinner on my part-time income. I thought he’d get it together. I was wrong. All of a sudden, all the stability he’d pretended to have was gone. I had to take out another student loan that was twice as much as I’d borrowed to support myself and my kids for a year. He needed it to pay the mortgage or we’d lose the house, he said.

He said he paid me back. He gave me a fraction of it and then didn’t give me any money for bills for the next 3 months, so it was a wash. Then I got pregnant.

I never went back to school. I had Juniper and was working 4 weeks postpartum after my third c-section. Then I had to get a better job to make up for all the money he was wasting. And then he started to play mind games.

Honestly, I’d started to have some misgivings before I married him. I didn’t think anyone else would want me. I had incredibly low self esteem. Read earlier posts for the explanation there.

When I decided to leave my current husband, we were in the middle of the pandemic. There wasn’t any daycare available. I did sign Juniper up in the spring of 2021 for a daycare. When they didn’t enforce mask mandates, she became sick within the first week. We had to quarantine for 2 weeks, so I then had to pay for 3 weeks of daycare that I got no benefit from. It sucked a good chunk of my savings up.

Daycare in my area is full now. Preschool is full. I tried to sign her up for full day preschool, but it was $650 a month. So she’s on a waiting list for the fall for a part time program.

I keep applying for jobs, though I know that I can’t really take one. I haven’t been offered any reasonable position or salary yet anyway.

I was receiving unemployment, because hospitality jobs still haven’t returned all the way. The spike in cases is making that go the other way. I can’t even work part time because my husband keeps scheduling things on his days off, now that my money has run out. It’s his way of securing the trap, since he knows I’m trying to escape.

I also don’t have a working car in my name. His mom bought him his cars, he has two and I drive one of them. The car in my name is broken.

There’s no subsidized housing available because of the pandemic. Waiting lists are over 2 years full. Rent is too high for me even rent a 2 bedroom apartment - and not one apartment would consider my unemployment as income.

I’d built up my credit, it was in great condition. It still is. I could buy a house, but housing prices have shut me out of that market. I went to Cornerstone. Their shelter was closed because of the pandemic. They had people dispersed elsewhere and there wasn’t room. Their short term housing program was full. I don’t qualify for much anymore because I’m not technically homeless.

My divorce was denied informa pauporis, so the case is closed until I can somehow come up with the money to pay for it.

My family is no good. My dad raped and trafficked me as a child, so no there. My mom was abusive and is now dead, no there. Auntie Jody moved far away and is living in a tiny apartment. No there. I have no one else.

The only one who helps with my youngest, Juniper is my mother-in-law. But her husband scares me. I worry about putting my child in their care. Indeed she gaslights my husband about being beaten by his stepfather as a child. She thinks that was his fault. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

My two oldest kids were just accepted into an art secondary school. This is wonderful for them. They are both gifted artists with learning disabilities. PTSD, or trauma specifically has presented learning challenges that have made school difficult for both kids. It has been a full time job keeping up with special education demands, but also their mental capacities for stress.

Juniper is showing signs of strain too. My husband has been snapping at her lately. We thought she was the only one who was safe, turns out none of us are safe from his mental attacks. He acts as though we’re all stupid. It wears on you, let me tell you! It’s nothing but empty promises.

Now you’re right where I am now, tell me what I’m supposed to do? I read heartless comments all day long, acting as though “help is available”. Well it’s not. Until you’ve tried to jump through the hoops you need to maneuver through just to qualify for the least amount of assistance, you might think there’s a safety net.

Well I’m here to tell you, there is no net. Cornerstone is one organization with a huge problem they’re trying to carry. They’re giving me all they can and I appreciate it to the bottom of my heart. I have given back in every way I can. Minnesota is one of the better states for helping out.

I’m going to keep working this problem, though depression threatens to swallow me. I’m very motivated. What keeps me going is my kids and their need for a supportive and loving parent. They don’t deserve to struggle like I have. I’d like to save them if I can.

My mom told me all the time growing up to not put all of my eggs in one basket. Well now I’m the fucking Easter bunny. I’ve got eggs hidden all over the place and I’m just praying for one to see me to the other side of this.

To bring this discussion back to the start, why doesn’t she leave? Because she has no options, because her life is at risk, because there’s no safety net, because he took away all of her resources, because she’s afraid, because she’s weary, because no one seems to care, because she’s running on the last of her energy and she’s got nothing left. That’s why she stays.

Want to tell me you could do better? Don’t be so quick to discount what trauma and PTSD do to your functionality in social settings. I’m motivated, I’m pretty tough. I smash through walls because no one will open doors. But I’m also trying to heal from something no one should have to live through.

It may seem so easy when you have resources. It may seem ridiculous to give up on bad neighborhoods to get out. But I know once I leave there will be a new danger. I will be exploited for being a single mother. It’s a four letter word in our society.

I know better than to judge anyone for where they are. Once you’ve been where I have been, you learn a thing or two about life. When you’re poor, life is brutal. It kicks you over and over while you’re down. It’s so much more expensive to be poor. It’s so much more stressful to be poor. If you haven’t lived it, then you have no valid words.

I keep moving forward because my kids deserve a better shot than I had. I keep moving forward because once I’m out of this mess, you better believe I’m going to do everything I can to make sure there’s a safety net for others. Because this letting people fall thing that we let people do here in the US is barbaric.

Your accomplishments mean nothing if you aren’t kind, generous, magnanimous, and contributing to the greater good. Do you think God cares about your sales career? Do you think he’s going to welcome you with open arms for telling people to work harder? Just because everyone else is mean, doesn’t mean everyone should be mean. Didn’t your mother ever give you the jumping off a bridge analogy? If your friend jumped to their death, would you do it too to fit in? Or are you smarter than that? Don’t be so quick to answer.

You may think less of me. Go ahead. I bet I could handle a lot more hardship than a lot of people out there. But I’m not going to put my kids there. They deserve their best chance and I’m going to give it to them.

Why won’t she leave? Because you despise her. Because you shame her. Because you blame her. Help her, don’t judge her.

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