The Process of Getting Out

by Nicole Bissett, La Mesa, California

“You wanna leave?” His slurred tone was menacing and full of venom. “You wanna move out and be on your own like your friend Dianne and bring home a boy toy once in a while…? Fine! You won’t get a dime from me. Not one dime.”

This had become typical of my husband’s tirades when he was drunk, but on this night, he wouldn’t leave me alone. He followed me into the living room, where I’d been attempting in vain to sleep. I said nothing in response to him, so he went back to our bedroom, where his movie was blasting on the TV. I moved into the small room we used as an office and slept on the floor with the cordless phone close by in case I needed to call 911. That was how I spent the last night of our married life together.

I won’t lie. Leaving my marriage in 2007 was the most frightening risk I’ve ever taken, and there were losses. I no longer had daily contact with my stepson, Taylor, whom I had a hand in raising for six years. I had grown to love him and missed him terribly. I lost my home, what remained of my financial stability, and, yes, the parts of my husband I still loved. There were two distinct sides to him, and the good side was wonderful. He took me out to plays and walks on the beach; he was a great cook; he’d helped me with homework in very difficult classes throughout my college years; we could once talk for hours. Those were all painful losses.

I went through the entire divorce while finishing the remaining few semesters of my bachelor’s degree in journalism at San Diego State University. The process included filing a restraining order and being told by a judge that I had 45 days to vacate my residence. So I moved with my son Eddie (then twelve) into a studio apartment until I figured out where I wanted to live and what was realistically affordable for me. I had to go after my ex for spousal support because I knew we couldn’t make it on SSI. Eddie and I lived in that studio apartment for a year and a half before I found work that enabled me to afford a two-bedroom apartment. I took on phone soliciting jobs, which were far from what I went to school for, but it felt good to be free. Eventually, I was able to get off of all government assistance. That was self-esteem-building. It was also ultimately why, in the end, reconciliation was impossible. I believe our relationship had been based on my dependence on him. When that aspect no longer existed, he couldn’t deal with it.

Like many relationships with abuse, this one had an element of addiction. That was why, even after all was said and done, I started dating him (long after the divorce was final) hopes that we could reconcile in a healthy way. I don’t regret having done this, but one day, I knew there was no turning back. I was through communicating with him forever. I was finally ready to take the advice everyone had been giving me for years–move on.

I know that I am very fortunate. Statistically, it takes a woman five attempts to get out of an abusive relationship. For me, the hardest part was fighting myself and the mindset I had developed from living with him.

The process of getting out took me at least four years. I personally recommend that a woman considering getting out of an abusive marriage first educate herself and get a support team. For me, the support came from people in a recovery group for families of alcoholics and a few friends. When I started reading about the progression of domestic violence, I could no longer deny the severity of my situation. I also took a class on domestic violence and continued attending recovery groups after I left the marriage. I learned to set better boundaries for myself.

It was important for me to see my part in the problems and stop viewing myself as a victim. I began to learn how my behaviors were teaching him how to treat me. It is my reality as a blind woman that sighted men who like to control are bound to be attracted to me. I wanted to do all that I could not to draw such men to myself. As I started to heal and stopped allowing abusive behaviors to be acceptable to me, the marriage could no longer thrive.

As painful as this journey has been, I’m grateful I chose to take it. I was forced to grow up and reach new emotional and spiritual heights. When I think of taking a risk today, I ask myself if the worst that could happen could be nearly as painful as what I just lived through. So far, the answer is always no.

I knew in my heart, even in my struggle to find a way out, that someday I’d see the proverbial light of day again. I just didn’t know how I would ever get there. I’m proud to say that, with the help of God and a team of people who believed in me, I made it. Furthermore, I was able to love again. That was the greatest miracle of all.