Step 2: Safety First

Yes, this could very well have been step one. The idea here is to secure yourself and other key things so that you don’t lose them or let your abusive partner (AP) destroy them.

Here’s the short version:

  1. Physical safety: Secure any and all firearms, preferably removing them from the home.
  2. Important documents. Copy or store tax returns, bank statements, old letters from family and friends, birthday cards, photos, etc.
  3. Digital goods. Save photos and videos of the kids, the draft of your screenplay, any work documents, etc. Backup your phone ASAP.
  4. Passwords. Change ALL passwords (as safely as possible), particularly shared email accounts, cloud storage sites, online banking, etc.
  5. Reputation. This is a tough one. If your AP has begun a smear campaign, consider sending some thoughtful, respectful emails or texts to friends, neighbors, coworkers, or other colleagues to assure them that they may not be getting the full story.
  6. Personal keepsakes. Anything with emotional value should be secured however possible. Old baseball cards, your grandmother’s jewelry, the coffee mug your kid made in 1st grade, etc.

Keep reading for more detailed explanations.


Imagine your house catches fire. You have only a few seconds to get yourself and the kids out, and there’s no time to go searching for the stuff you know you will miss when it’s gone. Obviously, in an emergency, your life is far more important than any particular object. But you’re in a unique position right now. As you read this, you may be considering your escape from an abusive relationship, and you may have the opportunity to begin saving some of these valuable items before the figurative fire burns everything else around you.

Some of these things are considerations I read about before my escape, and some of them are things that I was unable to save because I did not act quickly enough. A month or two after you leave, you may be kicking yourself because you suddenly remembered something of great personal significance that you left behind. Please don’t do that to yourself; take a few minutes and look at this list, and you may avoid the regret that I am currently fighting.



Physical safety

As many of you have already discovered, your AP is prone to some scary violent outbursts. In these moments, your physical safety may have been in question, or you may have worried that she would turn her wrath on your favorite shirt or the guitar your father gave you. Whatever you have witnessed, you know the sick feeling of dread that precedes each episode. What next? How is she going to raise the stakes this time?

I have received a number of disturbing threats (some vague, some immediate) to my person and to my possessions. I have looked down the barrel of a gun, I have wrestled away sharp instruments, I have dodged heavy, blunt, airborne objects. I have watched beloved photographs burn, I have watched birthday and Christmas gifts destroyed and discarded, I have searched in vain for precious artifacts that are lost to the digital void. Out of these domestic horrors, though, I can produce a few words that may help you engineer a better outcome than my own.

If you have ANY firearms in your home, find a way to secure them immediately. Do not wait for this one; you never know what will set her off and what she is capable of if she gets a hold of a deadly weapon. Do you think murder-suicide situations are usually planned in advance? I have no data to back me up, but I feel that it’s safe to assume that most cases of such drastic violence are the result of sudden, passionate anger colliding with conveniently located weapons.

The best option is to get rid of the weapons entirely. If that is not possible, at the very  minimum you should make sure that all ammunition is stored separately, and that all weapons are basically inoperable. Even if this only buys you a minute or so, that could be the difference between another scary episode and an outright tragedy.


Important documents

As soon as you can safely do so, make copies of your tax returns, bank statements, credit card bills, and any other relevant financial documents. If possible, store the originals somewhere away from the house to avoid their destruction. Paper burns very easily, after all.

Likewise, store and/or copy old letters from family and friends, birthday cards, photos, and other memorabilia. These are exactly the kinds of things your AP would love to destroy in front of you as punishment for whatever crime you may or may not have committed.

If you can’t physically save them, at least try and take pictures of them. Also, there are a variety of apps that you can use to turn paper documents into PDF files by scanning or photographing them with your phone.

When you are trying to finalize the paperwork for a divorce, and your AP’s attorney hammers you with a huge pile of discovery requests, you’re going to want access to all those records.


Digital goods

Right now, or at the next possible moment, back up your phone. You have no idea when or where disaster can strike, either a technological failure or the vindictive force that is your AP. How many pictures do you have of your kids on your phone? How many videos of your favorite memories? These can be wiped out in devastatingly quick fashion, and they are simply not recoverable without backing up your phone.

Likewise, make sure you have stored copies of everything that is important to you in the digital world. If you work from home or have important documents of any kind saved to your computer, they are in jeopardy. Upload them to a cloud account or save them to a USB drive or SD card that only you know about.

These may not seem like priorities right now, but when will they be? When your ex is setting your woodworking project on fire in the driveway? Or throwing your family photos out the second floor window? Or soaking your suits in a bathtub full of bleach-water? No, when she goes berserk, you don’t need to worry about her smashing your laptop or hiding your phone. Save these things while you have a chance to do so carefully.


Passwords

Sure, at the time it made perfect sense for you to merge your bank accounts or set up a joint email. You may even have the cute little married couple moniker as your Facebook name (Jennifer David Smith). Guess what? If she knows your email or Facebook password, she probably knows them all. Like everyone else, you have one or two passwords that you use for everything, and you probably can’t remember all of the different services that are protected by them. Amazon, Netflix, Youtube, work email, bank account, PayPal, eBay, iTunes, Zappos, Credit Karma, etc, etc, etc. So much of your life depends on web-based programs that all operate under a handful of passwords that she knows. What happens when she changes the password on your credit card so you can’t see how much she’s spending?

This particular issue is a very difficult one to solve because so many aspects of your life are mixed together with hers. The goal is to change ALL passwords (as safely as possible), particularly shared email accounts, cloud storage sites, online banking, etc. However, if she figures out what you are doing before you actually leave, she may try to retaliate or stop you.

One possible solution is to begin by securing certain files that may be sensitive. For example, make sure you have not created a Google document with incriminating information about possible apartments to rent or friends to stay with. Also, don’t use your own browser or YouTube account to look up things about abuse or divorce. Use the privacy features on your browser to keep from tipping her off.

Finally, I recommend creating a new password (or maybe a couple of different ones) now. Make sure they aren’t something she could easily guess, but you need to be able to remember them. This way, if you have to leave suddenly, you can change all your passwords as quickly as possible without having to create one on the spot.


Reputation

This is another tough one. One of the most fun consequences of leaving an AP is the smear campaign. She will gladly spread all kinds of information about you, whether it is true or not, in order to sully your name. The more people she can infect with her poison, the easier it will be to manipulate you further. Sadly, I don’t know of too many antidotes for this. The only two possibilities that I found to be effective so far are:

  1. Honesty: Make sure you are being honest with yourself and other people about who you really are. If you try to tell your friends that you are the victim of abuse by badmouthing the AP or behaving in crazy ways yourself, you will just confirm her gossip about you. If you refuse to admit that you aren’t completely perfect and come across as narcissistic yourself, then your family and coworkers may actually believe what they are hearing about you. RISE ABOVE. No matter what she says or does, you have to behave like an adult.
  2. Direct communication: If your AP has spread lies about you, I don’t think you are required to sit idly by and take it. When she mails your best friend a copy of all the “mean” texts you sent to her, tell him what’s going on. When she shows up at your job and tells everyone what a selfish jerk you are, take a minute to write an email or sit down with each person and explain the situation. Keep it very brief and light on the details. You don’t want to come across as defensive, but you also don’t want to imply your guilt with an air of shameful silence. In one of the worst possible scenarios, she may contact your children’s teacher(s) and inform them of your monstrous misdeeds. The same applies: send an email or even have a phone conversation to reassure them that you are their for your kid(s) and would like to keep a line of communication open.

Just remember to pick your battles carefully. Your AP may sling mud by the bucketful, but you can’t engage in most of those encounters. If she is being downright slanderous, you have the right to defend yourself to the affected parties. However, you have to accept the possibility that you are going to lose a few friends in this process.


Personal keepsakes

In the heat of battle, nothing is sacred. That coffee mug your kid made for you in 1st grade is perfect ammunition in the hand of an AP.

“If you don’t apologize RIGHT NOW, I’ll smash this cup! You don’t deserve it anyway! You’re not even a father!”

Likewise, your favorite shirt or the picture of you and your friends fishing or the birthday card from your sister become weapons of emotional devastation. In my experience, the AP is likely to try and inflict pain as a response to her own suffering. If that means destroying a precious object of yours, so be it. Like I said, nothing is sacred.

If these objects are lying around your home, begin collecting them and storing them in a place where they can’t be easily held hostage during a meltdown. I assure you, you do not want to see the evil gleam in her eye as she smashes your late father’s guitar or throws your old photos in the fireplace. It may not seem like an imminent threat, but I’m telling you, she is capable of anything to prevent losing control over you. Do not gamble with the irreplaceable artifacts of your life; protect them now and enjoy them later.

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