To me on November 19, 2012, (the night before my children and I escaped my abusive husband)
I see you. I know how terrified you are right now.
You are doing your best to act normally even though you have escape plans in place for tomorrow. Only your parents, who will help you escape, know.
You haven’t even told your children yet, for fear that your husband would somehow find out.
I know that you feel conflicted and so guilty, planning to leave when today was one of your abuser’s “nice” days. Twenty-seven years of past experience is proof that his “nice” won’t last.
You have reached a desperate tipping point and have concluded that if you don’t leave, you, and possibly some of your children might die.
I want you to know this:
You are so much braver than you feel right now.
You are on the verge of stepping off of a cliff in the dark to save your children. A free-fall into the unknown, with no idea when or how your parachute will open. (It will open though)
You are about to leave behind your beloved farm home, favorite kitchen, gardens, pets and farm animals to save your children.
Leaving what you love for the unknown is so scary.
You are so much more amazing than you know right now.
Now, 5 1/2 years in the future, I can look back and thank you for being brave, for trusting your intuition that yes, it really was “that bad” even when you felt so confused and scared from all of the years of abuse and gaslighting.
You are so much braver than you feel right now.
Recovery starts here
I also want to tell you that the leaving, which is terrifying in its own way, is only the start of recovery for both you and your children.
The next 5 1/2 years are going to be horrifically hard.
Your children will disclose so much abuse to you soon after leaving (feeling safe has a way of drawing those stories out) that the list you document will be 10 single-spaced pages long.
As horrible as it will be to hear the abuse your children have experienced at the hand of their father, it will confirm that you made the right decision in leaving.
Recovery starts here and while it will be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, you won’t regret it.
Don’t listen to the naysayers
Don’t listen to those who tell you that you are “taking the easy way out” when you leave.
They have no idea what they are talking about. Stepping out into the unknown with a dozen children and no way to provide for them after being out of the workforce while you homeschooled for 27 years is not the “easy way out.”
Single-parenting a dozen children who are struggling from the fallout of abuse isn’t “taking the easy way out.”
On the contrary, it’s doing the hard, scary, brave, selfless thing.
Don’t listen to those who tell you that you are “grieving the Lord” in your decision to protect your children by leaving.
The Lord loves you and your children and wants you to be safe.
It will be even harder than you can imagine today, but it will be worth it.
Don’t listen to the naysayers.
Be compassionate with yourself
You will feel so guilty for not recognizing and identifying the abuse earlier… for not rescuing your children sooner.
I want you to know that you were doing the best you could do.
For 27 years, your time and energy were totally consumed with caring for your young children and always being vigilant to step in to intervene or rescue your children from your husband’s unpredictable tirades.
You did everything you possibly could (and then some) to make your marriage work.
5 1/2 years out, I can look back at you with tenderness and thankfulness for how very, very hard you tried.
Be compassionate with yourself. You were doing the very best you could with the information you had at the time.
God will continue to “show up” and meet you in your neediest moments
It would seem that once you are out, the worst is behind you, but I’ll warn you that you are in for years of emotional, drawn-out, expensive legal battles to protect your children.
Your husband will repeatedly betray and hurt you and your children. As painful as this will be, it will serve to further confirm your decision to leave and rescue your children.
The litigation process will feel like it is going to destroy you, but it won’t. (spoiler: God will intervene for you in astounding ways. Your children will be safe!)
God will continue to “show up” and meet you in your neediest moments. He will.
Friends will abandon you
Also, more “cheery” news: don’t take it personally when your friends abandon you at the most desperate time in your life.
Some of them see you living their worst nightmare and turn away, unable to look.
Others can’t stand to think that even when you follow The Formula and do all of the “godly Christian things”, that you won’t have a picture-perfect marriage and family.
Some simply want to believe what they see in public, rather than what you have disclosed of your family’s private hell.
Some don’t know what to say, so they say nothing.
Some mistakenly declare “I don’t choose sides,” not realizing that by not choosing sides, they are siding with the abuser and abandoning you.
Some place the institution of marriage on a higher pedestal than individual women and children. They believe that the marriage must be saved and protected, no matter the cost. They forget how much Jesus hated abuse and how much he loves individual women and children.
You will be lonely, heartbroken and betrayed, but God will provide two amazingly faithful, patient friends (one new and one you’ve known many years) who will walk alongside you.
Two friends who will be willing go down into your dark valley and hold your hand.
Two friends who understand that grief cannot be fixed, that it must be carried.
You won’t be alone.
You should also know that 6 of your older children will be diagnosed with serious anxiety disorders, common fallout from growing up with an unpredictable, abusive, narcissistic father.
One of the hardest things you’ll have to navigate in the next 5 1/2 years will be supporting and trying to find help for your children as they battle depression, PTSD and even serious OCD.
You yourself will be blindsided by the symptoms of Complex PTSD. As scary, overwhelming and unpredictable as it will be, I will tell you this: You will find ways to navigate this.
It will feel like it’s going to sink you.
But it won’t.
God will continue to “show up” in your very darkest, neediest times and give you the strength to keep going for your children.
There will be joy
As dire as all of this sounds, I want you to know that there will be joy.
Right there in the midst of so much heartache, confusion and pain, there will be heart-bursting joy.
Where there was once fear and hiding until your husband left for work each day, now here will be spontaneous laughter.
There will be freedom.
There will be the delightful, new-to-you feeling of safety in your own home.
If you only hear this, please know that you are braver than you think and you are making the right decision.
You will have faithful friends walk alongside you and most importantly, God will not fail you. He will “show up” in your most desperate moments, supernaturally going before you, giving you the grace and strength to keep going even when you are certain that you can’t.
You can’t see it now, but I’m telling you, from 5 1/2 years out, “You are making the right decision. You’ve got this!”
* Dedicated to all of the brave souls who are contemplating escaping their abusive relationship and to those brave ones who will faithfully come alongside them. You are my heroes.