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Why I stayed (and why I left)

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.

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.

You are not alone

If you are a man who has been the victim of abuse, rest assured that you are not alone.

If you are a man who has been the victim of abuse, rest assured that you are not alone. Whether the abuse was verbal, emotional, psychological, physical, sexual, financial, or a combination of these, you are not alone. Whether you were abused by your wife or girlfriend, your husband or boyfriend, your father or mother, you are not alone. Whether you have endured the abuse for a month, a year, or a decade, you are not alone.

If you are here because you think you might be a victim, there’s a good chance you are. Though this may be a first step for you, it is a huge step to take. Understanding the nature of abuse and its effects is crucial to your recovery.

For those of you who are in abusive relationships now, you are probably beginning to face a very difficult truth: you must leave. This is not about if, it’s about when and how. And as you may have already realized, you cannot wait to be liberated; you must free yourself. Frederick Douglass summed up his courageous escape from slavery as an act of will: “I prayed for freedom for twenty years, but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.”

The goal of this blog is not fully clear to me yet. I know that there are many websites and resources for men who are learning what it means to be a victim of abuse, so I want to add more than just encouragement. My hope is to provide whatever help I can to struggling men. What that looks like in my head right now is a sort of database, a crowd-sourced pool of resources for men to find help at a very local level. This may include phone numbers and addresses of male-friendly shelters, hotlines that offer support for abuse victims, and contact information for local support groups. If you have any ideas, suggestions, or information, please visit the contact page and send me an email. I would love to hear from you.

Every situation is different, and each one requires a unique solution. However, the more information that is available, the more stories that are shared, the more voices that are raised, the more we can establish connections that will allow us to help ourselves and others. By building a substantial network of resources, we can help individuals reclaim their lives and combat the myths about men as victims of abuse.

I am not an expert in psychology, mental health, relationships, or the law. I have no official credentials to offer, nor any professional experience to draw from. I have nothing but my own experience and my own research to offer. Still, for whatever it’s worth, I want to share my story and what I have learned so that I might help others in some way. This seems like as good a place as any to begin: you are not alone.

If you need immediate help, call the National Domestic Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-7233.
Toll free, 24/7/365.