“Why did you stay?”: An IPV survivor’s story

“If she was so crazy, why did you stay with her?”

I hear it all the time, especially now that the good folks at AVfM have encouraged me to share my story. In doing so, the question comes up, especially from those who might doubt that a woman is capable of the unfathomable acts of evil that I charge “Peaches,” my ex, of committing. “Come on!” they say. “If she was so bad, you had to have seen some signs of it early on.” I’d be lying to myself if I said she just flipped an imaginary toggle switch in her brain that made her go crazy after I married her. Truthfully, she raised many red flags along the way, but I willfully chose to ignore things such as:

  • Strange men and women showing up at her house looking for her, all the while giving me dirty glances.
  • Saying I was both “the love of her life” and the man who “ruined her life.”
  • Locking herself in the bathroom and gulping down pills when I got my college acceptance letter.
  • Her ex-boyfriend always obtaining our phone number, no matter how many times we moved.
  • Long, drawn-out re-evaluations of our relationship, usually at 3:30 a.m. before the day of a mid-term or final exam.
  • Her disappearing for days at a time, leaving our daughter and I at home without money or a vehicle.
  • The verbal, emotional, and physical (yes, physical) abuse on a monthly basis.
  • Using lies and manipulations to turn my friends and family against me.

So how could someone who comes from a good family end up with such a monstrous and destructive harpy? Well, I didn’t come from a “good family.”

I call my childhood home “Trauma Central” for a reason. The environment was rife with the same destructive, narcissistic patterns outlined in Nina W. Brown’s book Children of the Self-Absorbed. My parents’ constant need for attention and validation thrust me in the role of both providing that for them and being seen only as an extension of them. And when life threw them a curveball, it was me who bore the brunt of their frustrations. I was constantly told that I was “bad,” “stupid,” and “useless,” and I entered adulthood wearing this identity about me like cloak. At 43, I’m still paying the taxes on that “inheritance.”

In short, growing up this way made me easy pickings for Peaches.

In the beginning, she seemed perfect: smart, funny, and, above all, not shy when it came to physical affection. In short, she gave me the love and acceptance that had eluded me my entire life. Naturally, I jumped head-first into a relationship with her, making her my everything. And because I finally found what I believed to be a permanent source of my love/attention/validation drug, I didn’t dare question her on the many strange occurrences mentioned above. I also sat by helplessly as her bizarre and abusive behavior continued to escalate into all-out war in the married housing dorms. I wasn’t about to risk losing my “one and only” source of love, acceptance, and emotional/physical comfort … not after going without for so long. What if I couldn’t find someone else?

I also stayed because Peaches’s dysfunction felt … normal.

There have been many studies about why people stay in abusive relationships. Some psychologists say our want for the familiar causes us to recreate patterns we know are bad for us. Neuroscientists talk about brain chemistry and how we can become addicted to the chemical reactions produced by negative experiences, especially if that’s all we know. Personally, I think they’re both right: Peaches’s dysfunction was definitely familiar, and I can’t deny a certain addictive quality to the relationship despite its toxicity. And so I stayed, soldiering on as best I could under extreme duress.

Trauma Central played a more direct role in my staying as long as I did. One family member was delighted that my daughter was the first and only grandchild in the family, and this person lavished my child with time, money, and attention. This family member had a vested interest in Peaches and I staying together, so much so that it became easy for that person to believe Peaches’s constant litany of abuse at my hands, my alleged alcoholism, and other loutish and chauvinistic behavior she suffered ever so valiantly. In short, this family member was as easily conned by Peaches as I had been, and it was made all the more easy because she already considered me a piece of shit anyway. Perhaps this is why this person refused to help me when I tried divorcing Peaches for the first time.

Eventually, I got off this crazy rollercoaster. After all the arguments, assaults, lies, bankruptcy, and threats, I caught Peaches in flagrante delicto with someone I thought was my friend. At great financial and emotional cost to myself, I left and filed for divorce, this time for good. By believing I deserved far better than what she was capable of giving, I was at least able to defy both Peaches and that part of Trauma Central that would do anything to keep me shackled to this abusive woman. It wasn’t a perfect parting, however. Thirteen years later, I was forced to allow Peaches’s new husband—the ex-boyfriend mentioned above—to adopt my daughter. It was the last mechanism of control she had over me, yet it was the strongest, and the brutal realities of that decision still haunt me to this day.

At the end of all this, I thought it would be hard to tell this chapter of my story. After all, who’s truly willing to paint an unflattering but true picture of their former self? But after sharing it here on AVfM, I feel a sense of freedom; it’s the kind that only comes from unburdening yourself of something you’ve carried for far too long. Now, what I find more difficult is trying to imagine someone asking me why didn’t I leave Peaches sooner … especially if the one doing the asking is someone who ardently believes in the phenomenon of “battered woman’s syndrome.”

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