When I first realized that I was a victim, I did not feel relief. I felt shame. I thought that I had failed as a man and as a husband. The very idea that a man my size could be abused by a woman seemed ridiculous. I was humiliated by the prospect of telling anyone else. In addition to shame, I felt guilt. She made me believe that I was responsible for her cruelty. I turned her into a monster, I caused her violent tantrums, I made her crazy. Though she actually verbalized such claims on a few occasions, the unspoken refrain echoed around us after every outburst: Look what you made me do.
However, there was a feeling more insidious than guilt or shame that paralyzed me. It was the reason I stayed for so long. It was the reason I endured her hot/cold, love/hate cycle. It was the reason I used my kids as an excuse not to leave. It was fear. For years, her response to even minor frustrations was to insult, belittle, and emasculate me. As her physical violence grew more frequent and more dangerous, I feared for my safety and the safety of my children. I knew that leaving her would be the first important step in my own recovery, but I couldn’t bear to think of leaving my kids behind. It took several months of counseling and support from friends and family to realize that I could no longer allow my kids to live in such a toxic environment.
The painful reality that lay before me was clear; I had to leave her in order to become healthy enough to help my kids. Again and again I heard the analogy of oxygen masks that pop out in an emergency on an airplane. You have to put your own mask on before you can help anyone else. That didn’t do anything to calm my fears. In fact, I grew more afraid than ever, but I knew I had to get out. What helped me was understanding that I was making the decision as a father. I wasn’t abandoning my kids. I was breaking the cycle that had imprisoned all of us. I was setting them (and myself) free.
Don’t get me wrong; it was not a heroic decision. It was a necessary one, but I know that it could have been avoided. Had I recognized the signs or heeded the warnings of family and friends, I would not have spent so many years of my life trying to please a woman who could not be pleased. I would not have subjected my beautiful children to the psychological maelstrom of witnessing an abusive relationship. I would not have suffered the devastating blow of being alienated from those kids for breaking up the family. By “allowing” myself to be victimized, I allowed everyone to share in the suffering.
So, I left. Even with the help of a therapist, I was anxious and depressed. I was sad and angry and remorseful and scared and uncertain. For months I asked myself, What have I done? Did I really make the right choice? Was it worth it? However, I eventually realized that it was not all my fault. Did I make mistakes? Did I cause problems? Did I help create the whole mess to begin with? Absolutely, but I wasn’t entirely to blame. And now, I am healing. In the midst of pain, sadness, and self-pity, there are glimpses of peace, joy, and courage. Every day, I am getting stronger and better equipped to give my children the love and stability they need to become healthy, happy adults. And that’s exactly why I left.