“Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.“
– Brene Brown
TW: abusive relationship, mention of suicidal ideation
“I don’t understand why you didn’t leave.”
I’ve heard some variation of this question dozens of times, if not hundreds of times, since I left my abuser a little over five years ago.
It’s an understandable question. Anyone who has heard me talk about what living in that relationship was like could be forgiven for wondering the same thing. Hell, I’ve asked myself the same question countless times.
The truth is nuanced and complicated. The truth is partly that I was so young – still a teenager when I met him, and he was so much older. I had precious little power to begin with, and he robbed me of the rest.
But the piece that’s always been hard for me to face is this: it wasn’t all bad.
It would be easy to leave an abuser if they were all bad. Very few people would even enter into, let alone stay in, a relationship with someone who treated them like shit right from the beginning. Abusers show their true colours over time, once you’re already invested. Or they temper their explosive outburts with moments of behaving like the sweetest, most loving person in the world.
A couple of years ago, I wrote about how I sometimes wished he would hit me because then I would feel confident naming it as abuse and be able to leave. Would I actually have left if he had done that? I don’t know. I might still have justified it, excused it, run logical rings around us until I made it somehow my fault.
He wasn’t all bad.
I still remember the first time I saw him. A shock of long hair and a cheeky, charming grin, brown eyes that sparkled mischievously when they locked with mine. The first time we kissed, by still water on a chilly November night, when I thought my heart would stop. The first night we spent together, when we stayed up talking and fucking and talking until we fell asleep sometime past dawn.
Later, too, the lows that made me want to kill myself were interspersed with highs that felt like dancing on a cloud. He’d scream at me and throw things while I cowered away from him, wondering if this would be the time he’d lose control and throw a punch. But later, he’d shove me against a wall and kiss me and the incredible sexual chemistry we undeniably had would rush to the surface, and I would be powerless to say no.
One day he would tell me I was poison, a curse who destroyed his life the day he met me. The next, he’d tell me I was the most beautiful woman he’d ever known, a goddess who had him under a spell. From day to day, I never knew if I’d be an angel or a demon.
The man who reduced me to calling my best friend, sobbing and suicidal, in the middle of the night was the same man I waited for in airports at dawn, just to throw my arms around him when he came through the barrier.
Even when I was in the middle of it, I recognised the rollercoaster. I remember telling friends, “we never do things by halves. It’s either incredible or it’s terrible, there is no middle ground”. Every time a low was low enough that I almost left, a new high would suck me back in. It was like almost dying and then taking a gulp of oxygen. Over and over and over.
It wasn’t all bad. And I wish it had been. Because then I might have left much sooner… or never got involved in the first place.
If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this piece, it’s this: maybe don’t ask survivors why they didn’t leave earlier. Our reasons are personal, complex, nuanced, and our own. We don’t have to justify it to you or to anyone. For me? I stayed for so long because it wasn’t all bad. Until the day it was.
I wrote this piece for Quote Quest, a new weekly meme by Little Switch Bitch. Click the button to see what everyone else wrote! And if today’s piece resonated with you, you can always buy me a coffee to say thanks!