Leaving Abuse: A Journey Into The Great Unknown

walking awayThe sun had barely crested the horizon that morning, when I awoke in my daughter’s bed.  Turning over, I realized that, during the night, my neck and shoulders had turned to stone.  I rose slowly and began to massage my neck to release some of the tension and became immediately overwhelmed with an emotional exhaustion too intense for words.  The night’s horror returned to revisit in full force.

Fortunately, none of our four kids were at home – three had spent the night at their grandparents’ house, and one was at a slumber party.  The timing could not have been better, as the evening’s events encompassed a full range of terror and tears that ended without resolution long after midnight.  I had confronted my husband about the relationship he was obviously pursuing with another woman, and he raged at me for having the audacity to eavesdrop on the late-night telephone conversation I overheard him having with her from our bedroom.

Having told him that I wanted him out, he flatly refused, insisting that he wasn’t going anywhere and that I no right to tell him what to do.  Then he locked me out of our bedroom, something to which I had grown woefully accustomed.  I had no intention of sleeping in the same bed with him anyway, and I curled up in our daughter’s bed and cried until exhaustion finally won, offering me a few short hours of respite.

After trying to restore blood flow to my aching muscles, I wearily rose to my feet and sought to get my bearings, to beat back the confusion while standing among our six-year-old’s toys and belongings.  I heard myself barely whisper, “What should I do, Lord?”

 In the silence, I immediately heard the words.

“You must leave.”

 The voice was crystal clear, and the directive absolutely compelling.  In an instant my mind turned from one of heartache and confusion to a sure purpose:  Get out.  Now.  The adrenaline began to flow through my veins, and where physical strength lacked, a sense of urgency took over.

John was still asleep.  Daring not face him, I knew I must act quickly.  I went to the garage and gathered a half a dozen large plastic garden bags and returned to the kids’ rooms where I began stuffing the bags with t-shirts and jeans and pajamas and socks and underwear and school books and toiletries.  As the minutes ticked by, the fear of waking my husband sleeping behind the locked door only a few feet away grew, and I inwardly cringed imagining how he would respond when he realized that I had left with our kids.

Only a few minutes passed before I felt I had collected sufficient necessities to meet the immediate need.  I tossed the bags into my van but wasn’t sure where to go.  It was still early, and I grabbed my cell phone and walked outside, not daring to talk aloud in the house.  Our neighbors’ homes were quiet and dark as I walked and prayed, then I called my mom and stepdad’s house where my kids had stayed the night.  Even at the early hour, my stepdad cheerily picked up.

“Hello,” he answered in his usual friendly fashion.

“Hi, Gordon,” I stoically responded.

“Hi, Beautiful,” he chimed, as was his way.  “What can I do for you this fine morning?”

“We need a place to stay,” was all I could muster, and his voice immediately deepened, as though he knew how serious the situation was.  He did not even hesitate, didn’t check in with my mother, just said the words I desperately needed to hear.

“You come right over,” he said.

“Thank you,” was all I said as my voice broke, and we hung up.

I returned quickly to the house, climbed into my van, turned the key in the ignition and backed out of the driveway.  Arriving at Mom and Gordon’s house a few minutes later I was met by my stepdad halfway up the walk.  He put his arms around me and held me close while I cried, then warmly ushered me into their home.  My kids were at the dining room table, chatting over donuts and milk in their pajamas, innocently unaware of the drastic turn of events.  Honestly, I don’t even remember what I told them.

But I knew in that moment that our lives would never be the same, that when I walked out that door, I walked straight into The Great Unknown, a world of a thousand unanswered questions.  I knew nothing of what it all meant, what to do next, what to tell people in my circle, or how John might respond to the note I left on the kitchen table explaining that I would no longer live the way we had been.

I did not know whether there was any hope for our marriage or how the kids would cope with the cataclysmic change.  I walked out with no plan, no answers, and no idea what the next day or the next month or year might look like.  In fact, there was only one thing I knew for sure:  I had to leave.

For the next few weeks my life became a jumbled mess of he-said-she-said telephone conversations, individual counseling appointments and efforts at compromise that soon faded into yelling matches. For almost a month the kids and I lived with my parents, until John finally agreed to live elsewhere so the kids and I could return home.

I would like to be able to encourage the reader by sharing that things smoothed out and settled down as the days passed. (They didn’t.)  Or that I suddenly had a workable plan, or knew what to expect and how to manage the drastic lifestyle change.  (I didn’t.)

On the day I left, John called me, incredulous.  He told me he couldn’t believe that I had gone to that extreme; that I was overreacting as usual.  A few days later, when my resolve held and I cited some of his patently unacceptable offenses, he decided to get clean and sober, go to counseling, break things off with his girlfriend, and promised me and the kids that “it would never happen again.”  For a few short weeks, it actually looked like his changes might just be the real deal.

Although I lacked peace, I felt obligated to give him another chance, and after three months of separation he moved back in.  That was one of the worst decisions I have ever made.  It was not long before I heard the sarcastic, biting tone in his voice return as did all his other nasty little habits and addictions.

When confronted, he argued that I needed to allow him room to fail.  I fell back into my enabling role while calling it ‘patience,’ and after three months, any favorable changes in his behavior had completely gone by the wayside.  I told him to leave as we had agreed upon before reconciling, and he moved out, grumbling all the while about my unrealistic expectations and appalling lack of faith.

His absence from the home altered the type of stress we lived under but by no means ended it.  For me, there was still no solid ground on which to stand.   I felt stuck and confused, unable to make any firm or final decisions.  Unbelievable as it is, I still had hope that our relationship could be restored.

Although separated, John would try to bulldoze boundaries at every opportunity.  We had an agreed-upon after-school schedule so that he could have time with the kids, but I would find him at the house even after I returned home from work, in violation of our agreement.  He would complain that I was hindering his efforts to be a “good parent,” and I would often come home to him waiting around for me to make dinner and then asking if he could stay to eat with us, and many times I was forced to tell him to get out.  I know now that John created the scenario not only to throw his weight around, but also to make me appear the “bad guy” to the kids.  In reality, I think the kids appreciated it when I insisted that he leave.

Not long after the second separation, our thirteen-year-old daughter begged me to file for divorce.  John, on the other hand, asked if I would wait a few more months before making a decision to give him time to change.  In no hurry to divorce, I agreed to wait, much to my daughter’s disappointment.  But only a few days later, after he lied to me for the umpteenth time on the telephone, I found myself suddenly, peacefully certain of our marriage’s fate, our marital bond permanently severed by John’s ongoing and willful moral failures, and soon after I filed papers.

Surely, that cleared things up, right?  No, that decision only brought with it a whole new realm of uncertainty.

  • How would the kids respond to the divorce and what kind of emotional support would they need?
  • Would I be able to make it financially?
  • How much would the divorce cost?
  • Would the kids and I have to move?
  • Would they have to change schools?
  • What might custody arrangements look like?
  • Who would watch the kids after school?
  • How would I be able to balance working full-time with single motherhood?
  • Would my friends and family support my decision?

Each question alone was intimidating, and all together it felt as though no aspect of our lives would remain untouched.

“Hard” is an inadequate word to describe the long months of instability slowly grinding by.  “Excruciating” is probably more accurate.  I cried a lot and prayed a lot and told the Lord how tired and desperate I was for it to all be over.  I prayed continually for strength and patience and peace and wisdom, for His divine provision – and for closure.  I prayed for my kids and the attorneys and mediators and judges.  And I also thanked God every morning when I awoke in my bed – happily alone, and I praised Him every night for giving me the strength to get through one…more…day.

And even when the divorce papers were signed 16 months later, and the kids and I were able to stay in the house they called home, and people came alongside to faithfully to help us, it was still really hard.  My work days were long and hard, and coming home to meals and household chores and homework and bills and car repairs and yard work and grocery shopping and hurting children was really, really hard.

But it was far easier than life with an abuser.

Yes, God made a way for us, and I have never once regretted my decision to walk out the door that day.

I know many abuse victims want to know what they can expect if they leave.  It is certainly ideal to be able to establish a support network and nail down a general legal and financial picture in advance of separation, to limit the unknowns.  But, sometimes there is no way to know the answers to all the questions and potential scenarios beforehand.  And there may come a point when the only thing you know for certain is that you simply have no choice but to walk out that door – and into The Great Unknown.

 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will stretch forth Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me. Psalm 138:7

 You might also like “Life On the Other Side.


Cindy Burrell

Copyright 2014

All Rights Reserved



20 thoughts on “Leaving Abuse: A Journey Into The Great Unknown”

  1. Thank you for sharing this. As painful as it is to read, I appreciate you posting it. I have not left my H yet but am “this close” to leaving – but I have no job, no family here (10 hrs away), and nowhere to go. In some ways, it feels like it won’t be too much different than what I already have on my plate. My H travels every week for work, so I homeschool, get groceries, cook, clean, do all the yard work and take the trash to the dump, etc. I am basically a single mom! I know there is more, and it’s not really that simple, but I do aometimes think that maybe, just maybe, God has been preparing me a little for this role already. It doesn’t mean I want to be a single parent, but it’s better than being emotionally neglected, cheated on for years, and lied to.

    1. Hello again, MicroGal.

      I pray that you will seize the moment when it comes and that, in the meantime, you will learn to identify the abuse and become stronger as a result. Please be safe and let me know if I can help or direct you.


    2. MicroGal,
      I can so identify with where you’re at right now. I was there, married, but living the life of the single Mom, except when he came home and did what he did.

      I know how alone it can feel…but there’s that spark of hope that maybe someday you’ll be free of the neglect and abuse. Keep that spark alive, and ask God to give you direction. At the right time he’ll provide the way out, the answers your need and the resources.

      Stay connected with sites like this one where you find others who are, or were in your shoes.
      D. Anne

  2. My journey to leaving abuse behind was different from yours in the fact that it was my ex who walked out the door — but it wasn’t until a couple years later I realized he told people that we had mutually agreed to a separation with the intent to reconcile.
    After he left initially he started trying to keep contact with me and I finally told him that i would only communicate through email because talking to him on the phone was just pulling me back in.
    He tried being all nice at first then when he saw I was not going to openly welcome him back — I believe the reason he left was so I would see how much I needed him around — and when I didn’t have him come back and made the decision to file for divorce he then started showing his true colors.

    Choosing to leave abuse, whether the victim physically leaves or the abuser walks out…no matter how it comes about — LEAVE and TRUST.
    Yeah, easier said than down. It is definitely a journey into the great unknown and not an easy one, but with constant prayer and leaning on the Lord it is possible to have freedom from abuse and experience peace in your life.

    The night my ex walked out (although this was certainly not the end of the abuse which continued for another couple years) I opened my bible up to Psalm 118:5 — “In my anguish I cried to the Lord and he answered by setting me free.”

    I knew right then I had my answer. God had taken the abuse away from me and I was free. I wept long and hard — and that night I slept so soundly as I was full of peace for once in my life.

    Life was hard though for the next few years. He left in ’09 and the divorce was not final until ’11.
    It was indeed a journey into the unknown and very excruciating at times, many times. But in the end my journey led me into a life of so much more than I could ever had imagined.

    BTW, this was such a powerful peace of writing that it actually triggered a dream last night in which I woke crying and shaking, something I have not done in a couple years.
    I’ve been pondering whether to share my story for so many years and feel that perhaps the time has come. Not only to help others, but to heal myself.


    1. My journey was that same in some ways and different in others. Plainly he did not love or even care about me or his daughter but he considered us possessions and how dare a possession make a decision to leave him.
      The hardest part of being with an abuser is the judgement and condemnation you have heaped on you by others that do not have a clue of what you have been through and no matter what you do you are gonna make someone upset. You have already been abused horribly by someone that is supposed to love you and then you are maligned by others.
      I posted on A Cry for Justice awhile back this statement and it resonated with quite a few readers. “I was condemned for staying in an abusive relationship, I was condemned for leaving an abusive relationship. I was condemned for speaking out about the abuse (gossip/disrespect). I was condemned for remaining silent about the abuse.”
      So many times people believe that we exaggerate what has been done. It is quite the opposite we minimize what has been done. I have not met one abuse target that is not embarrassed or ashamed that they have been treated so horribly. The abuser has told them they deserve this if only they had ________ or they had not ______ then the abuse wouldn’t happen.
      I thank God for my parents that were there when I needed them most without them it would have been so much harder because the abuser decimated the finances and I left with only my personal belongings, my childs’s belongings and had to start all over again. Thankfully I had a job with supportive coworkers or the weight of the world may have crushed me.
      I really think the people that hurt me the worst were the ones that judged me without knowing the situation or judged how they would react in the situation. I feel more abused by them than by the ex.

      1. Hello, Cindy.

        What you described in your comments is the precise dynamic, the perfect storm of dysfunction that serves to empower the abuser – our tendency to distrust our senses, others minimizing our experience, the abuser insisting that his behaviors are normal, and those on the outside who readily judge us without having a clue what we are living in.

        In spite of all of it, Cindy, you did the right thing, made the hard choices, sacrificed a lot in the process but have received the support of others willing to love and help you through it all. God bless them…

        You did the right thing. God knows the truth, and it doesn’t matter what anyone else says.



    2. Hello, Amy.

      Thank you for taking the time to share. I love the Scripture that you shared – that God gave you in your moment of need. So powerful.

      I am amazed how God leads us through those very dark days and blesses our faithfulness to the truth – and to Him, especially when so many others often stand in judgment. It blesses me to know that you have healed so much since those days, and that you reach out to so many to help them to do the same through your blog.

      Keep up the good work!

      All the best.


  3. Very powerful post, Cindy. And everyone else!

    Other people just DO NOT UNDERSTAND how it is to live with, for example, “the sarcastic, biting tone in his voice” as you put it, Cindy, and the pattern of put-downs and accusations, which can be as energy-sucking and spirit-crushing as any other form of abuse. For YEARS I told myself, well, that’s just the family culture he came from, giving the benefit of the doubt. Not. It’s a choice he made.

    Love the testimonies, too. How you sensed the Holy Spirit telling you to leave, Cindy, and the Scripture from your testimony, Amy, Psalm 118:5.

    In my own story, I can relate. Mostly, now, I deal with the temptation to pick over my every little fault and failure in my former marriage. However, from many sides I am being reminded to leave the past right there–and to resist the temptation! I know what is my rational guilt (and duly confess/repent) and I am learning what is irrational guilt (refuse and rebuke). And the main reason is that it is very distracting!

    There is simply too much going on now that needs attention and focus. So here was just a little reminder for me to stay on track: this morning, for some reason, I gave in to the temptation to berate myself once again for my faults in the former relationship. I gave in to the temptation for a little while until I realized it was irrational (this time) and then I did a little “spiritual warfare” and moved on. So, in the time I was still mulling over territory I need not have, I 1) left my glasses at home 2) neglected to make some copies of worksheets for a couple of new students, and 3) was not as organized as I usually am stepping into the classroom.

    You’d think I would learn! But, my track record of getting back to the matters at hand is getting better.

    1. There are times when I still beat myself up, too, mostly when I realize what my kids when through. But, you are right when you say we need to leave that stuff in the past where it belongs and claim our victory in getting through it and learning and growing from it.

      Romans 8:1, “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” If God doesn’t condemn us, we are wasting our time condemning ourselves. Once we have confessed it, if we continue to struggle with old guilt, it is all us, not Him.

  4. I fully understand the urge to give him a second chance. I did the same thing. Mine never changed even for a day. He was adept at pouring on the guilt however. I am so glad you are free from the abuse now, Cindy, and are helping so many others.

    1. Hello, Caroline. It’s always nice to see your name among the comments.

      I think few abusers actually change; I think they just pretend to long enough to make us feel guilty and subsequently obligated to take them back. I think most of us simply keep our abusers’ secrets, convinced that our situations are unique, and then find ourselves stunned to realize after the fact that abusers are basically all the same, that we are not alone.


      1. Cindy,
        You are so right. I have been through 2 abusive marriages. If you name it I have been there. They do pretend to change. In my first marriage, he would be drunk and fighting me. And the next day would be so sorry, (yeah right.) I fell for it quite a few times. And we do tend to keep things that going on, secret.

  5. The “Great Unknown” is definitely how it feels when we decide to leave. To me if felt like I was jumping off a cliff, leaving everything I knew and was familiar with behind. Somehow I knew that God’s hands were a big safety net at the bottom of the abyss, but I couldn’t actually see his hands. I just knew He was there and would catch me.

    Thank you again for your insightful writing that touches many.

    1. Hello, “J.”

      I’m glad you found the website and are reading up on articles that will give you insight and, I trust, the strength you need to move forward. Here is the link to “Why An Abuse Victim Doesn’t Leave (In Six Words).” http://www.hurtbylove.com/?p=311

      You are also welcome to e-mail me from the Contact Cindy page on the website.

      You are welcome here. Let me know how I can direct you.


  6. I am in the midst of The Unknown. I left my abusive husband of 46 years this past July. Even after 5 months, I pain is as raw and piercing as the day I left. I feel like I’ve been exiled. Am not near any family, have no viable support system, I don’t work. I feel alone, lost, cannot make decisions, don’t know what to do next. I kept going back time after time after time. He always promised to change, and sometimes I even thought he had changed but it never lasted. My entire family is destroyed. My 3 children are all damaged in different ways. I feel to blame. I can’t go back and don’t know how to go forward. I am so depressed I really wish my life was over. All I’ve ever known was the life I had with my husband. I don’t trust my assessment of things. He always told me I was too sensitive. I ended up in countless psychiatric wards, time after time…because my reality wasn’t his, and everyone thought I was crazy. No one would ever believe me that my husband was the way I told them. I finally gave up trying to get anyone to believe me. I feel like my life is over. Please help…please.

    1. Hello, “D.”

      Dear woman, I want to say from the outset that I can validate everything you have been through and expressed here – the fear and confusion, the insanity of the relationship, the disbelief of friends and family, the grief and the desire to reclaim your life. I want to let you know that you can reclaim your value and your life.

      From my perspective, your healing will begin as you find a way to with separate the lies from the truth. I want to urge you to go through some of the articles I have available on the site and educate yourself on the abuse dynamic – what abuse looks like and how we play into it. Understanding the truth about what you have been through will begin your journey toward healing. I also think you would benefit from my book, “Why Is He So Mean to Me?” (the second edition). As an e-book, it is only $8.95. It is a thorough exploration of the abuse dynamic, the abuser’s mindset and tactics and the ways we as enablers are programmed to respond. It also provides information on how to begin the process of reclaiming your life.

      I believe you and want to help. Keep learning and growing and you will become stronger. You don’t have to be a victim anymore. You can be a victor. I have been where you are, so I know.

      As you peruse the articles on the site, let me know what you might be looking for, and I can probably direct you.

      I hope you will keep in touch.


    2. “D”
      You are definitely not alone. I left an over forty year marriage three years ago. That is to say, I was forced out by my ex’s screaming, insulting rage in which he seemed to be going for everything and anything that might have forced me to leave. It worked. I was lucky to not have had a heart attack that night. He has been ensconced in another relationship for nearly all that time.

      I am very sorry for what you are going through. My grown daughters (who are wonderful) also continue to process through issues. The oldest told me once that when they were in their teens she so wanted me to divorce him and take her and my younger daughter away to live with me. He was not physically abusive to them, but just so angry all the time. He was physically abusive to me on several occasions in the early years, however, as well as always, verbally. And the alcohol never helped. Of course, “the good times” through the years made me quickly think/hope things had really changed…

      And so, along with Cindy (who has been a tremendous source of help and counsel to me through this season of my life), let me also validate your experience! The reason it might seem like nobody else believes you is because people like your ex are very adept at presenting Mr. Hyde, in all his charm and goodness, to the public. Usually only their victims/targets experience the mean persona, Mr. Hyde, in private. But, thanks to the information out there, and in here, now, about abusive people, we are better able to feel validated and to get help.

      Might I suggest you continue to do your research in order to help the “fog” of confusion, self doubt, and likely, guilt that may assail you. Search for anything on narcissism, psychopathy, cluster B disorders, and the like, and, of course, read all of Cindy’s articles. They have helped me tremendously.

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