Domestic Violence: What Leaving Feels Like
As nurses, we often feel that we know how to help someone. We KNOW that a woman in an abusive relationship should leave, just leave. And we tell her so. But do we have any idea what leaving feels like? Some of us do.
Imagine you got up from your computer right this minute, and walked out of your house knowing you will never, ever come back.
Maybe you had a chance to grab your purse on the way past the chair it's slung over, but more likely not. So you've walked out of your house with nothing but the clothes you have on your back -- not well chosen for whatever may come, but just something you threw on when you got up this morning.
Old sweats, maybe, and flip-flops. Not even a pair of real shoes. Your car is sitting right there in the driveway, but you didn't get a chance to grab your purse or your car keys, so it's useless to you now. You may never see it again, either, despite the three or four years of payments you have yet to make. You've got about 90 seconds before he notices you're gone and comes looking for you; 90 seconds to disappear so he cannot find you.
Do you run as far and as fast as possible, cross country and avoiding roads in the hope that he won't spot you? Do you try to go to a neighbor's house? Will they even let you in, both of your eyes blackened and your face covered in blood?
The neighbors have a good marriage, you know. You've walked past their house at dusk with your dog on a leash, and you've seen them all sitting around the dining table talking and laughing. That's what happy looks like. How can you knock at their door and ask them to hide you from your husband? Will they even understand how dangerous he is? Will being in their home put THEM at risk? How could you forgive yourself if their young children got hurt because they were hiding you?
Inside your house is your grandmother's dresser, your great-grandfather's steamer trunk and the mirror he bought your great grandmother as a wedding present. How can you leave those treasures behind? How can you not? Your computer is there, with all your bank account information, your passwords, your LIFE. The blue and white china you picked out when you were newly engaged and feeling so hopeful about the future and so happy about the present, the silver your mother gave you that HER mother scrimped and saved to buy. Your clothes. We're not talking about the contents of a walk-in closet here and the results of a lifetime of shopping prowess, but clean underwear, a nightgown, a pair of jeans and a clean sweater. Real shoes instead of the flip flops you're wearing, and to wear to work. Your mother's jewelry, your grandmother's wedding ring and the watch your parents gave you for graduation. All of that still in the house.
Your time is running out. Quick!!! What do you do? You want to live, but you don't want to live like this anymore, but you know you can't run in those flip-flops and you hear his heavy steps coming to the front door to look for you. What are you going to do? Disappear? Or convince him that you just came outside to get the spare jug of laundry detergent from the garage, go back inside and try to leave another day -- a day when hopefully you have your purse and your car keys and a change of clothes? If you're lucky enough to survive his anger for one more night.Last edit by Joe V on Nov 4, '16
About Ruby Vee, BSN, RN
Ruby Vee has 38 years of nursing experience, four years of experience in an abusive marriage and 27 years as a survivor of domestic violence.
Joined: Jun '02; Posts: 13,955; Likes: 58,369Jun 21, '14Great article one of the hardest topics, it is easy to say just leave but it isn't that simple I know I was there once. Now when I hear someone talk about their abusive relationship I know I cannot just say leave him/her there has to be a great support system and a plan so one doesn't have to be forced to go back witch always seems to be the easiest when the the struggles begin. Listen first that is a good start sometimes that's the first thing a person in that situation needs "to vent"Jun 21, '14Our hospital has a question on the admission assessment form that reads "do you feel safe in your home?" I was so glad to see it added. It at least gives the patient a "neutral" context in which to open dialogue.
Fear and isolation, and lack of knowledge of resources available to them is a big part of "why women choose to stay." Developing an exit strategy is key: if women know how to get out, and get out safely it can help expedite the process before it gets to the point of running to the neighbors with a bloodied face and with an explosive, dangerous man in pursuit.Jun 22, '14Thank you for this. Over the weekend one of my favorite aides came to work after sending her abuser to jail for the night. We have suspected that he was hurting her but she never said anything. I have been searching for things to say to help her keep her courage to stay away from him. She keeps going back...Jun 22, '14As much support as you and others can give. Going back is complicated and personal so simple "why do they stay" comments I believe are non supportive. Finding an advocate to guide her through the systems is one strategy. There are some good resources for women in these situations. Being proactive to find the advocacy agencies before a crisis is another suggestion.Jun 23, '14It is never easy to leave the comfort of one's home, yet life can change in a flash and that may be the only thing between life and death...leave!!
I can only imagine the fear, disappointment, regrets, etc, etc. All sorts of emotions that one has to grapple when these situations arrive out of nowhere, or maybe you saw it coming but never knew it would be so bad.
To say leave, just leave is easy, but try doing it.Jun 23, '14Having survived DV myself for many years, it is NOT easy to leave. Part of the terror of leaving is that he tracks your every move, to and from work, who your friends are, where you shop, etc. Often, you can't go to any of those places because he will surely find you. I have left an abusive relationship with literally the clothes on my back. Escape is indeed possible. Getting help is vital!
Been there, done that!Jun 23, '14There are a few problems with the "Do you feel safe in your home?" question. First, I've seen this question asked almost 100% of the time in front of someone else that came with the patient, usually their spouse/domestic partner/boyfriend/girlfriend, etc.--so right there, if there is something going on, you're not going to get an honest answer. This should be asked while the patient is alone, along with questions about sexuality, along with "Is there anything else you should tell me that you don't want me to repeat in front of [support person/family, et al]?"
Secondly, it's a really weird question to ask someone. Most people will automatically say they feel safe in their home, even when they're abused in it. The question should be, "Are you being or do you think you may be harmed physically, mentally, or emotionally?" and then follow-up questions--which is a time to put your chart aside and pay the patient full attention until s/he is done talking. Then chart, and ask questions as you need to fill in the gaps (you may even want to chart this out of sight of the patient.)