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Photo by Flicker user Donnle Nunley (Creative Commons license).

Photo by Flicker user Donnle Nunley (Creative Commons license).

A year ago today, I took my life back.

One of the things that has haunted me in the past, as a pretty free, nomadic spirit, is that I’m always the one who leaves. Whether it’s a relationship, a friendship that has run its course or is beginning to be detrimental, a job I’m not happy in, or any bad situation, I don’t wait around to be left.

I’ve never regretted the leaving itself, only the fact that I always seem to be The Leaver. So that I’m not The Left. I’m not cold. I’m not a hardass. I’m not a flight risk everywhere I go. It’s just that I used to go only where I was wanted. Now I go only where I want. I am by nature a loyal and incredibly stubborn, persistent, positive-minded person, so my leaving never happens on a whim. I try so, so hard to make things work. Usually, I stay too long. Every time, in fact, I have stayed too long.

But when I’m done, I’m DONE. Gone. I will take what I can carry and not look back. I have left in the middle of the night. I have left bright and early in the morning, with a to-go mug of coffee and a piece of peanut butter toast in my mouth. I have left behind pets and Pearl Jam memorabilia. I have left clothes, so many clothes, and furniture. I have left behind complete sets of really good cookware. I have left high-paying, management-fast-track, fulfilling jobs. I have never left books or my computer because, hello, I have to draw the leaving line somewhere. I have cried when leaving; I have laughed when leaving. I have given two weeks notice, or I haven’t. I have crossed state lines, or I’ve crashed on someone’s couch for a bit on the other side of town. I have moved across the country without having a job lined up. I have moved with less than $50 in my checking account. I have maxed one credit card three different times for moving. I have followed people, and I have left alone.

Without getting into too many details, I was the leaver again last spring. The worst bad situation of my entire life had been taking its toll on me for nearly two years, and after months of turning the problem over and over in my head, trying to solve it, I realized the problem was actually that I was still there, still trying, still the only one trying, still the only one being bruised. The problem was that I was attempting to apply logic to an illogical situation, person, relationship. The problem was that I was trying to fix something that couldn’t be fixed. The problem was that I wanted to be my own person, to live, and not to live in constant, crippling fear, and I couldn’t do that where I was.

Problem solved.

The statistics on leaving an abusive relationship are…not encouraging. On average, a victim of domestic violence will attempt to leave approximately seven times before actually doing so, if s/he actually does leave. The most dangerous time for a victim is right after leaving. I used to live in York, PA, and worked at the York Daily Record/Sunday News. I still follow the news there. Just a couple weeks ago, the YDR ran a story about a woman who was killed by her soon-to-be ex-husband when she finally left him, after years of horrific abuse. It’s the fourth domestic abuse-related fatality in the county this year. So far.

The woman in this particular story was a close friend of one of my colleagues at the newspaper. I ache for her, for the victim’s family, and for everyone that leaving hasn’t saved.

Leaving saved me, but I’m still afraid. Maybe always.

But I’m not haunted anymore about always being the leaver. All those other times I left, wherever my reasons were on the spectrum of urgency–they empowered me to do it this time. I knew I could because I had before. With nothing. I’ve started over a lot. At a time when I was the most traumatized, anxious, fearful, beaten down wreck I’ve ever been, and when leaving scared me almost as much as staying, the only confidence or inner strength I could draw on was knowing I’d lived through starting over before.

One year. Holy shit. Look at me, still alive. Happy anniversary to me.


If you are being or have been abused and need to talk, I will listen. Leave me a comment or email smfleegal (at) gmail (dot) com. Take care of yourselves:

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence: Statistics you should know

Safe Horizon: 10 Signs of Domestic Violence and Abuse

“30 signs of emotional abuse in a relationship” (Because emotional abuse is not as obvious, even to the victim, which contributes to an even greater sense of isolation and confusion.)