The 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
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