After spending 16 years in an abusive marriage, it was an amazing feeling to be free. In the beginning my freedom was a contradiction because my children and I lived in hiding. It was worth it, though, because we were away from the mistreatment.
What so many people don’t realize about leaving a domestic violence situation is that for the victims, the suffering continues. We lived in abject terror of being found by him or his family. We had come close to dying the day we escaped and my children and I knew if he could track us down, he’d finish the job. On top of that we had all these feeling we’d never been allowed to feel, because when you live with someone who controls every aspect of your life, you feel or don’t feel according to what the abuser allows you. We had to come to a place where we could allow ourselves to have legitimate feelings — and to cry, laugh, be happy, or mourn. We all suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder to differing degrees, so we dealt with panic attacks and flashbacks on a regular basis. For some of us, being touched was so uncomfortable we avoided it like the plague. We swam in a deep sea of depression in our new, alien world.
Not surprisingly, these are all very common attributes of new survivors. People don’t just walk out of severe, life-long trauma and shake it off. Abusers program their victims. We had a lot of faulty programming we needed to learn to replace — and we are all still working on that even today.
When my ex was arrested, the media went into a full-fledged feeding frenzy. They sensationalized what was a very personal and painful situation and we victims were left to carry the burden of the local, national, and international media blitz. Our privacy was invaded and trampled upon and my children had to go to school every day and be mocked, ridiculed, and bullied just because they were victims — they were punished for what their father did to them.
His indictment was 7 pages long, with 19 charges. Most of them were felonies, and three of them carried mandatory life sentences. Before trial, some really horrible stuff was happening with my kids and they were in no condition to testify — one of my kids ended up in a psychiatric hospital because the pressure in his life became too much and he thought self-harm was the only way out. So I did what I thought was right — I asked the prosecutor to offer a plea deal so that my kids wouldn’t have to be traumatized even more by testifying. Can you imagine being so afraid of having to see your abuser in a courtroom that you’d rather run a knife through your body? I couldn’t do that to my children. The prosecutor, also, did not want to cause more damage to the kids, and agreed to offer a deal, and my ex jumped on it.
He received 15 years with no possibility of early parole. The outcry from the local community was amazing. Many people were jumping to misinformed conclusions about why there was a plea bargain. Many people assumed we didn’t have the evidence to go to trial. Others were upset that he wouldn’t get a life sentence with a plea deal. Here’s the thing: I did what was best for my kids. We put him in a cage where he belongs for as long as we could without causing more harm to my seven hearts. He isn’t abusing us anymore. He can’t hurt any other child for 15 years.
Some people thought with him in prison we would heal up and move on, end of story. We are healing and moving forward — we’ve taken humongous strides in certain areas over the last several years — but prison doesn’t just magically make it better. We still struggle. We still hurt. We will always remember. What’s great is that now we can choose to lay the horrors of the past down and leave them there, instead of burying them in a shallow grave, knowing they are going to rise up to haunt us when we least expect it. We are still haunted, all of us, by certain aspects of the past, but we are learning daily how to let go.