I left my abusive ex-husband 6 years ago after 25 years of emotional abuse and thankfully only one night of violence. The first 3 years were rough and would have been a lot smoother if I had done a few things differently. So, please consider the following:
If you are in danger, call 911. Call the police. I wish I had. They are trained professionals and many of their calls involve domestic violence. They are used to the cunning, lying behaviours of an abuser and in most cases will believe you. Don’t call friends, family, or neighbours. Chances are they will have never dealt with this type of situation before, won’t know what to do other than console you, and they may even try to talk you into going back.
Get a lawyer as soon as possible. Had I seen a lawyer within the first few days of leaving, I would have saved myself years of grief and a considerable amount of money. A lawyer would have likely suggested that the proceeds from its sale go into a trust fund. Instead, because I thought I was being fair, I thought my ex would be as well. That wasn’t the case, and my quest for fairness dragged out into an unnecessary three-year legal battle taking its financial and emotional toll.
Avoid all contact with your abuser. Statistics indicate that abused women are in danger even after they leave their abuser. Ex-husbands stalk and even kill their ex-wives. You may think you can handle seeing him. I thought I could. I was wrong. The result was that I effectively gave him permission to control me. At first, I let him contact me for the sake of keeping peace with the family. I thought I could forgive him and that perhaps we could be friends. That opened the door for him to continue harassing and it continued for years. Every time he contacted me, I was unsettled for hours afterwards. Eventually, I had to leave the city, change my phone number and block him from email and Facebook. No contact means NO CONTACT! Stop all contact immediately. It’s the only way to heal and move on.
Think of yourself first. Many abused women are used to taking care of others first. In fact, they are so busy trying react to their partner’s behaviour they don’t think of themselves. Do something that’s healthy for you. We all have psychological needs. Go for long walks, join a gym, exercise. Socialize, go to a movie, take a vacation. Each person’s psychological needs are different, so figure out what recharges your battery and do it.
Separate your finances and utilities. Banks and utility companies deal with this issue daily. They’re very nice about it. If your name is on the utility, get your name off the bill before your ex makes additional charges. Even though the cable was in my name, the company representative was empathetic and immediately removed my ex’s additional charges for porn movies when I explained the situation.
Get your valuables away from your abuser as soon as possible. I only had the opportunity to return to the house once with my ex not there. The next time I went back (accompanied) my ex was there. He refused to leave. So, naturally, I was uncomfortable and hurried. What he hadn’t sold or packed, he had damaged or destroyed. In hindsight, I would have called his parole officer and forced him to leave so that I could have a day to pack my belongings. One could say that ‘things’ aren’t important and, of course, I value my freedom and safety over my belongings. However, I had spent years collecting books, art, glassware, entertaining dishes, linen and mementos. I’ve been able to replace some of them, but it still annoys me that I left my belongings behind.
Get professional help. I didn’t think I needed professional help. At the encouragement and insistence of friends, I finally did go to an abuse centre, my family physician, a psychiatrist and a lawyer. I also spoke with the local Special Victim Unit. If for no other reason than to formally document what happened; I urge you to contact all of these professionals and do it immediately. Find a women’s centre in your city. No one will understand what you’re going through as well as a woman who has gone through it herself.
Reach out to friends. Share your experience. Caution: don’t go on and on and expect pity. Tell your story once only, but tell it to everyone you know. People are generally empathetic. Do this for yourself and for others. Part of the issue with domestic violence and abuse is that the ‘general public’ doesn’t realize how rampant it is in our society. Spread the news. Sometimes friends will offer things you hadn’t even thought of. One friend gave me pots and pans, a vacuum cleaner and some various dishes. Another friend gave me a place to stay for a while and some desperately needed cash. Friends who I contacted via email or Facebook were most encouraging and provided the emotional support I needed.
Keep a journal. At least try. You may or may not find it healing, but at minimum you will have a record of when things happened. This may be important later on. Police will ask for the particulars. I found within several months I started to forget the details.
If just one woman reads this and makes better decisions in leaving her abusive partner, my purpose will be fulfilled. Be safe.