Abuse is measured in days of terror. I lived with my abusive husband for 1,460 days. Like lockdown, it felt endless. He held loaded guns to my head, pushed me down the stairs of our house, choked me more times than I can remember, and pulled the keys out of the car ignition as I drove down the highway at 55 miles an hour. I left him 10,585 days ago. But I will never forget how long one day trapped with him felt.
Unfortunately, for most abuse victims, now is an especially difficult moment to leave. But it’s imperative to trust your instincts, because you know your abuser better than any expert or advocate does. If you feel your life is in danger, call the police and leave — no matter the consequences.
Regardless, here’s what you can do right now: Plan your escape. It took me two years to plan mine, so go easy on yourself, and make sure your actions go undetected until after you are gone.
First, break the silence. Tell someone you trust what you are experiencing. That person can be a relative, friend, neighbor, babysitter or an advocate at a domestic violence shelter, live-chat line or hotline. You can whisper, call, email or What’s App — use the method your abuser is least likely to detect. Your confidant must be someone who will believe you and respect that he or she must keep your situation a secret until you leave. I broke the silence by confiding in two trusted friends in the few moments I was allowed with them. From then on, even during the dark moments shaking on my bedroom floor with a gun to my temple, I was not alone.
Second, invest in your ability to provide for yourself. This can be through increased education or skills, or finding a way to become more financially independent. It’s challenging to do this if your abuser tracks your computer search links, texts and phone calls. Be safe, but try if you can.
Third, secure your children’s future welfare. Investigate your state’s temporary and permanent custody laws. You could also look into getting health insurance for them under Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act. Leaving is harder if you worry that your children won’t be safe, and most abusers use this emotional vise to hold you in place. Many abusers also use pets as manipulative tools, so find out how you can take care of your fur-babies, too.
Fourth, educate yourself about abuse. Research patterns via online websites such as One Love (most of which offer secure encryption) or anonymous Facebook survivor groups so you know what to expect from your abusive partner, your children, your friends, your family — and yourself — when you leave. One expert shared two priceless truths that strengthened my resolve: He’d never seen an abuser completely stop hurting a partner and, because intimacy is often the trigger for abusive outbreaks, the wisest (and kindest) action I could take would be to stop trying to help my partner change and to leave him instead.
Lastly, prepare yourself mentally for a future without your abusive partner. Imagining yourself alone can be the hardest part of safety planning. But it’s critical to create a vision to guide you when afraid or tempted to try one more time. Do this multiple times a day. Your imagination can be powerful medicine. It has the added benefit of being invisible to your abuser.
If I’m describing your world, take heart. I made it out. You can, too. You might not be able to take all of these steps during lockdown, but know this: You are in good company despite feeling so isolated.
Many wise, independent women and men fall victim to abuse. As a bystander, if someone you love has symptoms of abuse — fear, secrecy, sudden unexplained absences, a personality change — tell them honestly, and kindly, that you care and need to know they are safe. You may not realize how many survivors you can help simply by believing them, and thereby offering an ingredient that will remain free and plentiful, no matter how long this lockdown lasts: hope.