Why I Stayed…

Even if you spend much of your time under a rock like I do, you probably caught wind of the whole “Why I Stayed” campaign on Twitter (and elsewhere).

There’s big noise because Meredith Vieira shared her story today. The NBC Nightly News shared feedback; one woman mentioned the misconception that people who are abused have low self esteem, which she succinctly defined as a load of hooey (she used a better word but I can’t remember it now). She went on to say that Ms. Vieira’s revelation should give them hope, since she is such a vibrant person who has developed a very positive existence in the years after her abuse.

Hope is great and I certainly applaud Ms. Vieira for telling her story.

I have shared my own in various places but have never said specifically why I stayed.

There were a number of reasons, the most gigantic of which was tied tightly to self esteem. I didn’t have low self esteem–I had no self esteem. I was a love-hungry college student and he was an older man. He showered me with compliments and I basked in the experience. Alarms went off in my head but they did not prevent me from letting him moving in to the apartment I had shared with a colleague. When the true holder of my heart called me one last time (on Thanksgiving; I was standing over the stove, cooking a holiday dinner for this man and my parents…), what I think of now as my truer self screamed, “Wait! Don’t hang up–listen: I’m sneaking out and coming to your house. If you let me crash there, I’ll explain everything.” My actual in-the-moment self said nothing and continued to stir the gravy.

Instead of acting on the advice of my truer self, I got married; my truer self tried to drag me out of the church, but my in-the-moment self stood there and mouthed those words in front of my mom and dad, members of his family, and our church, none of whom had a clue. My truer self would do backflips each time I was screamed at, hit, and shoved. I stayed at first because I felt like I had nowhere to go; I felt like I could not tell my family what had gone on, what went on with regularity.

And then I got pregnant and stayed because he threatened to take my child and make me out to be a bad mom; the fact that I was the one who made sure my child got what he needed was lost on the in-the-moment me.

As time blundered on I stayed because I was in so deep and simply couldn’t see past the end of my nose. I was afraid.

I was eventually widowed out of that marriage and all the mental health training I had kicked in; couldn’t lean on any of it when I was in the thick of things, right? But once the world was silent I could listen. He was a product of abuse; he did what he knew.

I offer than not as an excuse, but to say that from a distance, I came to understand the abusive nature of that man. Just as I had no one to “school” me about not staying in such a situation, he had no one to “school” him on how not to be the person he was.

MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell asked, “Can you imagine staying in a relationship where you were being hit?” (That wasn’t the exact question but it was close).

Yep. I sure can.

Can I imagine walking away back then?

Sure, if I knew what I know now. If I had listened to my truer self and was then the woman I am today, sure. But as Ms. Vieira said, abuse is complicated. It’s never neat or as simple as, “Just leave.”

And that’s what people must remember before they comment on the experience of anyone in any situation.

8 thoughts on “Why I Stayed…

  1. It seems to be a common part of a lot of women’s story that they abusive person moves into YOUR apartment. Thank you for sharing, I have been there too.

      • After I was coming out of my divorce and breakdown, a friend confessed to me she had been married previously, and guess what she learned from secret marriage #1 that went down as very abusive? Never let the man move in with you, Amen. I am sorry we are all talking about this due to someone’s private life exploding on the news, but maybe we all will help people be better educated, make better choices and have a better chance of health without such a high price involved in the learning curve. Good luck, health and peace to you!

  2. You are so right–the point is to help others hopefully not experience what we have. I hope that out of this there will be healing for many. I am grateful to my second (and current, let me say that 🙂 ) husband who has been nurturing and understanding of the internal scars I still carry. My first husband died in 1999 and I was having nightmares about him up until 2012/2013.

  3. I didn’t experience anything as bad as you did, but it’s probably just dumb luck. I had all the self esteem of a gnat crushed under someone’s boot. I’ve always ended up with men who were psychologically abusive in some way. Several of them were cheaters. I had one who told me I brought his cheating on myself. How, he never was quite able to explain. I used to attach my worth to these men’s opinions of me. I attempted suicide because of losing a relationship that was in no way good for me, and I knew at the time it was no good, but still, losing this man was the end of the world. I still have physical scars from gouging my arm with razor blades over this clown.
    I’m glad you’ve told your story, and that you found a good partner this time.

  4. bloomn–I must say that I was humbled as I read your words here; I would certainly say that our scars are similar. We all–whether they are male or female or identify as such or otherwise, who has experienced physical, mental/emotional, financial, or any other kind of abuse you can name–carry the scars of those experiences. Whether we have placed some of those scars on our physical selves, or whether someone else left us marked in some way, or if our scars are internal and only visible through description, we have them. And your share and mine, and the shares of all the others give hope! Not just to those who read, but hopefully to us, ourselves. Taking time to read our stories will hopefully empower us to find other ways to exist as we move along our individual and collective paths…know that you are in my heart, dear one!

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