How I Escaped My Controlling, Abusive Husband
My “come to Jesus” moment.
It’s a tricky thing, writing about faith as a feminist. There is a large school of thought out there, both in the feminist and Christian worlds, that considers the two things to be mutually exclusive. I wrestled with the decision to submit this piece to a feminist publication, notwithstanding their support for my writing over the last couple of years.
The temptation to self-publish, and not risk rejection was great.
But, I asked myself, isn’t being fearless the whole point?
Reflections on my great escape.
I suffered gradually worsening domestic abuse for more than two decades. I escaped in May 2015, but I spent years before that fantasizing about breaking free. I remember back in around 2005, before my son started school, making a plan with a friend who had moved to the country. I would pack the car when my husband left for work, take my son and just go, never to return.
For reasons I still don’t fully understand, I didn’t leave, but that didn’t stop me from dreaming about doing so.
When I first started writing online, it was to process my own pain. Before long I realized something really critical. I was not the only one who had had her life eroded by an insecure, controlling, abusive man. What I had been through was terrifyingly common.
I know this, because dozens of women have left private notes, or tracked me down online to share their own stories of agony and confusion. Their own stories of having years, sometimes decades, stolen by an abuser.
So now I write for them, the women who are still trapped, or like me have broken free and are now trying to piece together some semblance of a life from the fractured pieces that her abuser left behind.
But so far my story is incomplete.
Until now I have tiptoed around the edges of my story. I’ve shared my lessons learned, and the insights I have gained. But I am yet to share my own answer to the question so often asked of abused women.
Why didn’t you just leave?
Those of us who have been there know that to ask such a question is like amputating someone's legs and then berating them for not running away from a bear.
Now it’s time to answer the question, to tell you why I didn’t leave sooner, and what was different when I finally did.
It was well after I escaped when I finally accepted that I had been a victim of domestic violence.
Sure, I felt that my then-husband was controlling, I knew that the husbands of my sisters and friends didn’t have issues with them doing things alone, such as going shopping or out for coffee. I felt he had anger issues, able to rapidly change from calm to furious in a matter of seconds if I put a foot wrong.
I was confused, because he constantly told me how much he loved and needed me and that he always worried when I was out of his sight.
Countless times I tried to discuss his attitude to me, explaining that I could not reconcile the way he treated me with how much he said he loved me.
His answer was to make an appointment for us to see my doctor to have my anti-depressants reviewed.
I didn’t have a Christian upbringing, and right up until March 2015 I had no faith whatsoever. I then had an unexpected and radical conversion.
One day I was a fragile, confused woman whose soul had been eroded by her abuser. The next day I was completely different.
He was furious that I had made a decision of any sort, not to mention a life-changing spiritual one, without his permission. Neither of us knew then that my conversion was the beginning of my escape, and the end of the prison masquerading as a marriage.
On Mothers Day 2015 I was sitting in Church, having done battle with him over my selfishness of leaving him and our son to go. Eventually, I had run out to my car before he could stop me. Immediately after the service finished a man I had never seen before came up to me with tears running down his face and said he had something important to tell me.
I was a brand new believer, I still found some things about Church a bit hard to understand. The idea that someone would have a message from God sounded pretty crazy.
But I was brought up with manners, so I listened. He said:
God wants you to know He loves you exactly as you are, that you are strong, you are courageous and you are ready for what He has planned for you. You need to trust Him, and keep your eyes on Him because whatever it is you are going through, He is about to lead you out.
No one knew my story. I had been the lead actress in my own façade for years. I certainly didn’t share the misery of my marriage with any of the handful of people I had met at Church, I hardly knew them.
So what was this guy going on about?
The next day I was due to start a two-week trial in the Supreme Court in Sydney. I had been working on this case for years. My client and his former business partner hated each other. They were fighting over millions in business assets and goodwill. It was the ‘impossible to settle’ case. Mediation had failed more than once, it was time for a Judge to decide.
We were all there, lawyers, witnesses, half a forest of paper used in the discovery and evidence. It was time to fight.
My then-husband hated me going to Court, even though I made really good money. I now understand that he hated me going to Court because in Court people listened to and valued what I had to say. It was always a battle to get away on time to catch the train to the city. He would rant at me relentlessly, so that by the time I got to the train I was a shaking mess.
He did everything he could to throw me off my game.
So the Judge came onto the bench as we all rose and then sat again, ready for the two-week battle ahead when the barrister down the other end of the bar table asked if the parties might have an adjournment for one hour for further discussions. His honor was not happy, the matter had already failed mediation more than once. But he did agree.
Thirty minutes later the case that could not be resolved, was.
And suddenly, this busy mother, lawyer, and abused woman had a two-week space in her diary.
I could never have escaped during a trial.
I was home by lunchtime. That night my husband did what he had done many times before. Woke me up and told me it was goodbye and he was going to kill himself. Usually, I begged and pleaded for him not to go, such is the insanity of a confused, abused mind.
Instead, I had this overwhelming sense that God was telling me to let him go.
So I did. As he drove away I knew that somehow I was going to tell him not to come back.
He went to stay with a friend in the city and I took a day off work. I put my special needs son on his school bus and headed down the beach. I sat there sipping a coffee, staring at the waves. The feeling of peace was overwhelming.
Then I once again felt like God was speaking to me, telling me to call and let him know. I called his number, unsure of what I was going to say.
I’m afraid to live with you, I’m leaving. Please don’t come back until I’ve moved out.
After years of trying to up with complex ways to escape, the path out was simple. And because he convinced himself that I was suffering some sort of temporary delusion and would return when I came to my senses, he let me go.
His wrath didn’t start until a couple of months later, when he asked when I was returning. I told him I wasn’t. He was furious, but by then I was safe.
Call me deluded if you wish.
If I had read this seven years ago I may well have agreed with you. I realize that this article may be hard to read for some, hard to believe for others.
But the truth is, this is exactly how I escaped.
This is how I broke free.
Matilda is a writer from Australia. Find more of her work at https://medium.com/@matildafairholm