On average, it takes a woman seven attempts to leave an abusive relationship. It took Lisa many more tries – so many that she lost count. Those days are now behind her, but her journey of healing is far from over.
She’s finally ready to share her story, in an effort to showcase her resilience and encourage others to walk away from violent situations before it’s too late. We’re honored that she chose The Exit as her outlet.
I spoke to Lisa, 57, via FaceTime on a Saturday morning. She was decked out in a University of Georgia sweatshirt, still on a high after the Bulldogs secured their second National Championship win in as many years.
But it didn’t take long for her smile to fade. Lisa informed me that she had just returned from a quick breakfast run to Hardee’s, where a disgruntled customer had raised his voice at an employee. It was enough to put her on edge.
“Some things still trigger me. When he started to yell, I backed up and stood behind a partition,” she said.
I asked Lisa if she was sure she wanted to talk about her experience with abuse, to which she replied: “I don’t want to be silent anymore.”
Gaslighting and drug abuse are red flags
Dating was the last thing on Lisa’s mind when her neighbor tried to set her up with John. She was recovering from a major health event that had set her back physically and financially, and her top priority was to give herself the time and space to heal.
But was there really any harm in meeting a man that came with a glowing recommendation? What was the worst that could happen?
It took a few weeks, but Lisa finally agreed to meet John. They became exclusive and their relationship was, at least for a short time, a happy one. That is, until the first red flag appeared.
“I suspected he was using drugs, but I wasn’t sure. I knew something was going on because he started getting quick cash. I’d often wake up to hundreds of dollars on my nightstand, and he paid off my car.”
Despite the alarm bells, Lisa stayed in the relationship. “I felt very alone at that point in my life, so I latched onto him. I thought bad attention was better than no attention,” she said.
Lisa soon realized the relationship wasn’t a healthy one and tried to leave John several times. However, they kept getting back together – and it wasn’t long before things got violent.
“John and two of his friends jumped me,” she said. “My face was purple; I didn’t go to work for two weeks. I told my boss I was in a car accident and hit my face on the steering wheel.”
The cycle continued on repeat, over and over again.
“Even after therapy, medication, and a domestic violence class, I still kept going back,” she said. “He would always come to me with a new story about how he had cleaned up his act, and I would always believe him.”
However, the physical and emotional violence continued after each and every broken promise.
“John would play these mind games with me. My daughter told me he was gaslighting me. I had never even heard that word before, but when I looked it up, I started crying.”
At one point, Lisa visited a mechanic and learned that John had put three different sized tires on her car and loosened the universal joints.
“He wanted me hurt, or worse. I started to wonder if he had taken out a life insurance policy on me,” she said, adding that he slipped drugs in her drinks at least twice.
Walking away from domestic abuse for the last time
After 2.5 years, Lisa walked away from John – who has since been in and out of jail for unrelated drug and theft offenses – for the last time. A residential program run by a nearby charity helped her get back on her feet as she looked towards a happier and healthier future.
She waited tables as a steppingstone before landing a full-time job in accounting. Today she’s focused on building her career and spending as much time as possible with her children and grandchildren.
“I’m in a good place now. The abuse I suffered is part of my story, but it isn’t my whole story.”
Lisa also has a message for anyone who is currently involved in an abusive relationship: “Get out. Love yourself. You’re worth it. If you have kids, do it for them too. Set the right example for them and their future relationships.”
Love bombing is a dangerous form of mental abuse
Those who have never experienced an abusive relationship often wonder why a person would continue to go back to someone who hurts them. That seemingly simple question has a rather complicated answer.
“There are a number of reasons as to why those impacted by violence remain in or return to abusive relationships. One major reason is that abusers often use their power and control to ensure the survivor is left with little to no power or control themselves,” said Chloe Adel, a licensed social worker in New Jersey, who works with sexual assault and domestic violence survivors.
Many abusive partners also isolate the other person in the relationship. “This can leave them with a minimal or non-existent support system to turn to,” Adel said.
“Humans are naturally built on connection, so if someone is lacking connection or attention, their response may be to seek it where they know it exists.”
Adel went on to explain that although many people assume that abusers are “bad” all the time, the cycle of abuse can include the abusive partner “love bombing” the other person. This affection is naturally appealing to the recipient and “gives the abuser the opportunity to reel them in and abuse them over and over again.”
When people do try to escape abusive relationships, they often turn to local law enforcement to help keep them safe – but just as Lisa experienced, the authorities aren’t always able or willing to do so.
“Unfortunately, it’s often reported by survivors that their experience with law enforcement and the reporting process leaves them more traumatized than if their situation hadn’t been reported at all. They often feel unheard or dismissed.”
Adel stressed that it’s important for survivors to learn and understand their rights, which can include restraining orders, victim compensation benefits, emergency shelters, and counseling.
But although it might sound odd, getting out of an abusive relationship quickly isn’t always the best route. A safety plan for the survivor should always be the top priority.
“The goal of safety planning is to attempt to protect the emotional, physical, financial, and maybe spiritual well-being of someone in an abusive relationship. Even though this seems counterproductive, sometimes the safest action a survivor can take is to stay with their abuser until a safer plan is in place.”
If you or someone you love is in an abusive relationship and unsure how to get out, a call to the National Domestic Violence Hotline is an excellent first step. They’re open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and can provide help, resources, and a listening ear. They can be reached at 1-800-799-7233.
Lisa’s surname has been withheld to protect her identity, and her ex-boyfriend’s name has been changed.