52 sundays; september 14, 2014 – WHY I STAYED, WHY I LEFT

‘. . . run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.’ ~Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

I could be cleaning my house, running the sweeper, mopping the floors, dusting the furniture or balancing my checkbook; I could be in my kitchen putting pie crusts together, baking muffins, biscotti, scones and quiche. I could be doing my morning yoga practice, taking a walk outside in the crisp fall air following a night where a glorious moon beamed its beautiful light. Instead, I’m staring at my computer screen, heart racing, breath shallow, mind jumbled with flashbacks as I read through my Facebook feed; ‘Ray Rice’, ‘Domestic Violence’, Ignorant’, ‘Dumb’, ‘Effing Stupid’, ‘Married for the $40 million’, ‘She hit him first so it’s not abuse’ and the list goes on. And the truth is this: a small part of the reason women stay in bad relationships is because of these very words – used by both abusers and the observers standing along the sidelines – flinging these words with great intensity, but who have never walked this path. Part of the reason battered women stay is because of the shame.

My story isn’t that different from any of the thousands upon thousands of women sharing their own stories since the news broke about Ray Rice and his wife Janay. I come from a family where there was never, ever a time when my father hit or abused my mother – ever; my family is working-class, educated and well-read. But I found myself pregnant and married to a boy I believed with-all-my-17-year-old-heart I loved and I believed with-all-my-17-year-old-heart I could love him enough to erase his own unhappy childhood.

The first beating came one week after we were married; I don’t remember what the fight was about but I do remember the blinding light I saw when he punched me in the face with a closed fist. And I remember my pregnant body being yanked up by one arm and thrown across the room where I hit a brown-paneled wall and slumped to the yellow linoleum-tiled floor. I remember thinking if I fought back – if I hit him back, he would stop; he grabbed a brass lamp and beat me with it instead of his fist. As I wiped the blood from my split lip and now swollen shut black eye, I winced when I cradled my purple arm; he said he was sorry, that it would never happen again. I believed him.

Of course there were more bloodied lips, swollen-shut eyes, broken ribs, stabbings with knives, head-bashing against walls, doors and steering wheels of cars.‘You’re dumb’, ‘You’re stupid’, ‘You’re an effing bitch’, ‘You’re a whore’, ‘You should be thankful I married you because no one else would want you, you worthless piece of shit!’, ‘You shouldn’t have pushed me to my limit’, ‘It’s your own fault you’re getting hit, you say the stupidest things!’ ‘If you ever leave or try to leave me, I’ll hunt you down and I’ll kill you!’ ‘Baby, I’m sorry, it won’t happen again.’

By the time I finally left, I was the mother of two sons under the age of 2 and was being driven from my home in the middle of the night under a sheriff’s escort; the only possesions I took with me were the pajamas my infant sons were wearing, some makeup, disposable diapers and the clothes I was wearing. I never saw him again. I was 19 and a high-school dropout with no way to support myself and my children. At my divorce hearing, I asked the judge for sole custody with no visitation; the judge replied, ‘We know your husband doesn’t like you, but what about your children? I can’t withhold visitation just because he doesn’t like you.’

Women are 75% more likely to be killed when attempting to leave a batterer than if they stay; during one separation, my then-husband physically carried me out of the hospital where I worked while I fought, struggled and pleaded for help. Not one person moved. I went back to my husband because I believed I deserved being hit, I deserved the life I was living and that having a ‘normal’ life was not for women like me. And I still believed if I loved him enough, if I was good enough, smart enough, pretty enough, fill-in-the-blank-enough – he would love me back and the abuse would stop.

The physical and emotional scars are many and run deep; It’s taken years of therapy to uncover a mountain of reasons as to how I ended up married to an abuser. I have some of the answers but not all and on those occasions when I’ve spoken publicly to groups of women in shelters, I see the familiar look – ‘That’s your story but it’s not my story, my story will have a different ending than yours.’ They are correct – this is my story and no one else’s. Some of us die trying to get out. Some of us make it out alive, scarred and changed – some for better, some worse.

I’ve not watched the video – I don’t have to in order to know what’s on that clip. The comments I’ve read on the threads sting and feel as if I’m being punched again; some of you know me personally, some of you know me only via social media and some of you don’t know me at all – but most of you have no idea of my journey because it’s part of a past that I’m not proud of nor do I ever want to tell my story gratuitously, for the shock factor. As my sister-in-law said, ‘Janay Rice’s story is out there because he’s rich; for every story like hers, there must be a million others that never gets talked about.’

Shame is a hostage-taker, shame keeps us silent, shame keeps us in the dark and hidden . . . and shame comes in the form of words: ‘Ignorant’, ‘Dumb’, ‘Effing stupid’, ‘Married for the $40 million’ and so on. I am not a victim, but I am a survivor – and I will not be shamed anymore.

Dometic violence is a very, very complicated issue with no quick fix or easy answers. Choose your words carefully . . . someone in your circle may need you someday and those words you’re using? Those words have real power.


  1. Deb, I’m so sorry. You are a wonderful, brave, and tremendously giving woman. There is no better way to characterize it than you have done and it baffles me how anyone could not see the cold stark truth — there is no justification for one person to treat another this way. Ever. Under any circumstance. Big hugs to you.

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  3. dear deb – serious props to you for sharing this painful and triumphant story. i am in awe of your strength, both in the history and in the telling of it. so generous of you to give this story to others. hugs to you…xo.

  4. Mom not only did you save yourself you saved us boys. You did a wonderful job on your own raising the two of us. You prevented the cycle of violence from repeating and made us who we are today. We have grown into successfull men who have families that are surrounded by love and affection. That is something that would have never happened if you hadn’t left. Again thank you for saving us and giving me the tools and the fighting chance to live a productive and successful life.

  5. Deb, I had no idea. There are no words to adequately describe how reading your story made me feel. What you have written will help someone maybe get the help they need. I’m so sorry you had to experience this. Your sister has a good point- for every Janay Rice there are scores of unknown women and children trapped in that same situation. I’m so grateful you got out. You are stronger than you know. So much love to you ❤️

  6. I had no idea, and I get chills just thinking about what you’ve been through, and how differently things could’ve turned out. Thank you for sharing. You just never know who might read this, and find they were exactly the words that she needed to hear at exactly the right time.

  7. Thank you for sharing your story, and for having the bravery it took to change your ending.

  8. Your words immediately brought me back 40 years ago. I too have many many vivid memories of your horror, the many nights of fear you would be dead if you couldn’t find a way out. My own fear was immense and the horror of seeing the devastating injuries deepened it. I think as a young teenager, I also was fearful we would all die as well. I never will be able to find all the words to convey how proud I am of you. You are an amazing survivor. I love you.

  9. I’m so sorry you had to go through this. I wish I would have been there at that hospital the night your ex-husband pulled you out – I would have helped…screamed for the police…thumped him on the back of the head with a lamp…whatever I could have done. I just can’t imagine what’s going through peoples’ minds when they see something like that happening and they don’t step in. It takes a village to raise a child? Sometimes it takes a community to live life! The only thing I know having met you myself is that this experience has made you into an incredibly “wiser-than-her-years” kind of person. Now I know why. Thanks for sharing your story. I know you’re private and that must have been hard to do…but I also know your words are powerful and they can help someone else on the road to healing!

  10. Thank you for sharing your story.

  11. Thank you for sharing this, Deb… It’s an incredibly brave and powerful post, and I know it will help many people – both people who have struggled or are struggling with an abusive relationship and those who are just struggling to understand it all.

    You continue to be such an inspiration to me, and I’m grateful for that… Sending my love!

  12. Debra, thank you for being brave enough to share your story and I’m so glad for you that you were one of the lucky ones to get out. I can’t even imagine your pain through it all but I’m so glad that you found such happiness with Rod. Looking forward to seeing you both again soon at BHP.

  13. Ellen Austin-Li

    Thank-you for sharing your story. Shame is a very powerful force — the only way out of it is to stop isolating with it. You have demonstrated that beautifully!

  14. This is so powerful — and I know how hard it is to share something this personal with others. Yes, shame is truly an interesting thing, keeping those who most need support and understanding in their place. I saw that you had written this yesterday, but had to take a deep breath before I read it and now I’m glad I have. Shuddering and remembering my own experiences with abuse. Yes — absolutely a survivor!

  15. You’ve probably just helped more people than you realize. Big hugs to you. ♥

  16. “I am not a victim but I am a survivor – and I won’t be shamed anymore” should to be put on t-shirts and worn by all of us who have gotten out. I commend you for hitting publish on this post and for your strength. I hope any woman who is still searching for the courage to leave an abusive relationship one day finds herself reading this and becomes empowered to leave. It took me 18 years to leave for good and even longer to share parts of my story publicly. You have done a good thing by sharing yours. Women living in fear and hopelessly need to know that there is a better life, that others have made it out and moved beyond the shame.
    Only those in abusive relationships can truly understand why they stay and why they leave, more often than not, it takes us years to reach that understanding. Your caution to others to chose their words carefully is very good advice. The idiom *walk a mile in my shoes* comes to mind.
    I’m so happy for you that life has been good to since leaving and that you have found yourself in a safe, secure and loving relationship with Rod.

  17. Not being privy to domestic violence first hand, it’s so easy to make assumptions and turn a blind eye. You have so much courage Deb- the courage to leave, the courage to forgive yourself, and the courage to speak out. A heartfelt thanks for sharing and by doing so you’re not only helping others that are victims or survivors of domestic abuse but you’re shedding light for those of us that need to open our eyes and hearts and see domestic abuse for what it is. Much love to you today! xo

  18. No one should ever have to go through what you’ve described. It takes so much courage to share what you have here and by doing so you’ve opened the door for others to bring their voice to the problem and to fuel their attempt to get out.

  19. Was it cathartic to write that? I certainly hope so. This isn’t gratuitous, it’s excellent. And brave.

    To leave your husband at such an age with two babies takes balls. Or the female equivalent of. That took some major vulva on your part.

    I’m so glad you have someone like The Professor in your life. And I’m glad he has you in his. You’ve traded up in a big, big way.

  20. Thank you for sharing your story Debra. The scars may be deep, but you have conquered them! I hope that someone who is in a similar situation reads this, follows your path and changes their lives. No one deserves to be abused in any way. You found the strength to leave, to build a new life, to step out into the unknown and survive. I am so proud of you and overjoyed that you found The Professor and have built a beautiful life together. You are two of my favorite people! Hugs to you both!!

  21. Sending you much love for the courage to leave and the courage to share your story.

  22. Debra,
    I absolutely love you. You, my friend, are gifted beyond measure – in more ways than I can even count. Your writing is vivid, and dare I say like poetry, even about one of the most difficult times in your life. While I’ve not walked in your shoes, while I’ve not experienced abuse first hand, your words, your story reminds me of just how many women and children are abused in our world. As a community, it’s our responsibility to not turn a blind eye and shame those who have been. I’m sending big ole hugs to you, my sweet, dear friend.

    Love ya!
    Robyn xo

  23. I love you so much, Debra.

  24. Your words on the page — bitch … whore … stupid … your fault … you should be thankful … no one else … if you ever … I’ll kill you. Vivid, familiar, and frightening in their power to bring back decades-old wounds that never fully heal. I stand with you, dear friend, and I am proud of you for bravely exposing yourself to friends and strangers, for refusing to live in the shame forced on you by someone you once loved and trusted. I am privileged to know you and Rod, to bear witness to your love and your friendship, and to offer you my own support in any way. Every story — the who, the when, the why-we-stay and how-we-got-out — is different and deeply personal. Sharing our stories — from the safety of our new lives — makes others stronger. I, too, got out. I thank the good Lord so many of us make it out alive, and live on to dance safely and joyfully beneath the brilliant sun. Hugs and love to both of you, and smooches when I see you later this month.

  25. Oh my dear Debra, I had no idea.This post left me teary eyed. You are a beautiful, courageous woman and I admire you for coming forward to share your story. I hope many women read this and learn from it. Be happy always. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  26. I almost married a man who beat me for years. He once told me “the only reason I do those things is because I know if you stay that means you love me.” I believed for a long time he loved me and that I could love all that anger out of him. It never got better and he never changed. I was lucky that I got away but even though it’s been over 8 years since I have seen him I fear opening my door and seeing him standing there. I still wake up panicked that he found me or that my current life is just a dream. Thank you for being so honest and opening up about what you went through. Many times I have thought about writing something on my blog but the fear stops me. I have slowly started talking about what I went through and finding this post helps me to understand that so many of us have been through similar situations. Thank you friend.

  27. What a brave story. I really respect you for sharing it with us. I too had the same story. I too found a way to leave. Thanks sweetie.

  28. Deb, my sweet, Deb.
    Thank God you got out.
    And if ever I wanted to hug you tight and spill some tears, it’s right now.


  29. Oh, Debra. I never knew this story. Thank you for being so brave and strong, and for letting us in to this part of your life. xo

  30. I’m so grateful you got out. I’m so thankful you shared your story. I’m so overjoyed that you are who you are now.

  31. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am inspired by your courage and bravery and so happy that your story eventually took a far better path. As you said, not everyone gets out and it’s so important to be mindful of our dialogue because it is so powerful. Thanks again – I have no doubts that the sharing of your story has and will continue to change lives.

  32. Your courage to share this experience is inspiring in a way that’s hard to describe. I’ve never had to share anything so soul-baring in my life. When these types of stories are in the news, it’s often hard to contextualize it or to make it personal. Knowing your story makes it personal for me. I also have few words, just the need to thank you for your bravery and to say I’m incredibly, incredibly grateful that you ended up with the most loving, gently, supportive, wonderful, man. You deserve Rod. <3

    • i am blessed beyond any dream i could have ever dreamed for myself Maggy – Rod is my best friend, the love of my life and i’m so very humbled to have him to walk the rest of this journey with me. grateful for your friendship Maggy – can’t wait to see you soon! (((hugs)))

  33. I have no words, other than to say thank you so very much for sharing your story.

    • Thank you Jenny – I have sat on this piece for the past several days not sure if posting was the right thing to do; but I woke up this morning with a peace in my gut that said it was time to step out and speak. I appreciate your words

      • Why thank you for posting. Is it surprising someone so intelligent, beautiful, kind, strong, talented, funny and loving as you could have ever been treated that way? I wish it were. But we know it is not. I am certain you sharing your story was the right thing and am expressing gratitude as well on behalf of those who read it who can not now say thank you, can’t express what it means to them, can’t ask the ‘what ifs’ and the ‘hows’ they want to ask you. Like your yummy recipes – these words were from the soul, for the soul. Thanks for sharing.

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