My heart was racing as I took my son for a walk. The undercarriage of his stroller was filled with all I could grab: his birth certificate, bottles, formula, diapers, some baby clothes, and a few baby pictures. Pushing the memorabilia of barely one year of his all too complicated life was a mother, beaten from neck to toe. I walked out of the home where I lived with my in-laws and my then husband and turned to nonchalantly wave as my mother-in-law watched me take my son for a walk this cold winter morning. And then I never looked back. She let me go. She knew what had happened the day before. My parents had driven hours in response to a call from their daughter saying she wanted them to visit and to meet her a few blocks away. I said nothing more. I didn’t need to. Deep down they knew too.
The courtship started as many courtships do in the Pakistani culture. My mother and I met my ex-husband’s sister at a party. She mentioned a brother that “would love to meet me.” He called the very next day. The following months were spent with regular visits from his home hours away and with countless hours on the phone. We were married within a year.
My parents were born and raised in Pakistan. They were both educated and came from educated families. They had an arranged marriage and came from traditional values. My family was very concerned. They didn’t trust him. “There is something about him.” “Please reconsider.” “Don’t rush into anything; think this through.” But my mind was made up. I figured my family was having a hard time coming to grips with my leaving. We have always been a very close family. My parents cared for, loved, and respected one another. Of course all relationships would be this way. There is no other way.
Evidently a different relationship awaited me. The physical, emotional, verbal, and financial abuse was only the beginning. I became a shadow of myself. I was drained and frightened. Every day was another day in survival mode. Violence was prevalent in my in-law’s family history. In spite of this history, they said they would come to my rescue. But their allegiance to their son, their brother left me unprotected and alone. They encouragingly told me to stay for the sake of our child…just as the other women in the family had done. Amidst these conflicting messages, I managed to convince myself that I was to blame and that all relationships are like this. I should not have questioned why he was late. Did I really roll my eyes? Was I really being disrespectful? I should have had dinner on the table five minutes earlier. Clearly I was being insensitive and demanding given all his pressures. Clearly he had a breaking point and it was my fault for pushing him beyond it.
But I too had a breaking point. It was the very violent episode the night before I left that I noticed my son was having trouble sleeping and eating. He was inconsolable and restless. That was it. I knew I had to leave; if nothing else but for my son’s sake. I could not allow him to grow up in a home where violence was not only tolerated but accepted and encouraged. What that mindset would have done to my son and who he would have become is still a thought that creeps into my mind like a terrifying, unwanted intruder.
It has been over a decade since that cold winter day when I took this first step towards freedom. This experience has informed the person I have become today. There were days when I didn’t know what my future held. Would the legal fight ever end? Would I be able to provide for my son and his future? Would I ever live free of fear? While there are still reminders and triggers from this relationship, I finally feel free. The saving grace for me and my son was our support system. I still rely on my family and my community for strength. My family provided me confidence when I needed it and encouragement when I was down. I also connected with the local domestic violence center for counseling support. The compassion and validation I received was invaluable. Everyone – professionals and family – empowered me and reminded me that I was not to blame. They instilled the confidence that had slowly drained from my being. And my son was blessed with growing up in a home where he learned the meaning of healthy relationships.
The journey of healing from an abusive relationship takes time and patience. Where I was emotionally and physically years ago is a far cry from who I am today. Professionally, I am doing what I love in a job that fulfills me. Personally, I have wonderful, positive, friends and family. Most importantly, my son is an incredibly loving, joyful, well-adjusted, compassionate individual. And that is the greatest triumph amidst this entire journey. I often say that I have learned more from being his mother than he could EVER learn from me. Ultimately he saved my life. He gave me what I needed to leave…the need to protect him. I would never have anticipated feeling safe and secure again. But today, I feel strength and love around every corner. That dark and frightening time is a distant memory.
To those who find themselves in unhealthy, violent relationships, believe in your strength. Seek help and support from any trustworthy person. Take this step and take it with all the confidence you can muster up. To those who come upon these fractured souls, believe, support, and help them. Encourage them to get help. Inspire them to break the cycle. Support from service providers and my family gave me the courage I needed to remove my son and me from this violent home and create a destiny full of peace, joy, and freedom.
*This blog is the true account of a woman who has left a violent relationship. She has agreed to bravely share her story anonymously.