Survivors know their abusers and their own personal situations better than anyone else. Which is why they also know when it’s time to leave. It’s all about a gut instinct, one that 39-year-old Amy Thomson knows well.
“I’ve heard survivors say it many times: ‘If I didn’t leave when I did, I would have died.’ People tell them they’re overreacting, but I know.” For Thomson, that gut feeling came on the morning of Dec. 14, 2012. “Something was different in his anger. I couldn’t read it anymore.” As soon as she left for work, she knew she’d never be coming home again.
“I didn’t know what would be waiting for me when I came home, and I didn’t want to find out.”
“I Just Started Accepting It”
Of course, Thomson’s abuser didn’t start out as such. He was “a knight in shining armor,” she says of when they met in 2006. She was 29 years old. They were friends first, then they started dating and, two years later, moved in together. “He was the first person I ever lived with besides my family,” she says.
Looking back, she can see where things started to first go awry. His kindness morphed into something more sinister, a constant negativity punctuated by outbursts of unexpected anger. “You would ask him something and he would snap at you, but he’d say he was sorry, he had a bad day. We all have those days, so it was easy to write off.”
But it kept happening more frequently. And, it got worse.
“He started saying things about the way I dressed, or told me that I didn’t have to wear makeup. He said I was beautiful just the way I was.” But over time, his tone became more threatening, says Thomson. “He would say, ‘I thought I told you I didn’t want you to do that.’ Or, ‘You’re only putting on makeup to get attention from other guys.’ You don’t even realize what’s happening.”
At first, she told him that if he kept talking to her like that, she wouldn’t want to be with him anymore. Her instincts told her things were headed south, but at some point, she remembers choosing to surrender instead. “I just started accepting it and stopped fighting it. I felt like it was me. I was jumping through all these hoops to make him happy, but he just kept adding more hoops.”
Thomson says she’s always considered herself to be a well-educated, independent woman—not someone who could fall victim to abuse. “I don’t think anyone would have expected it.” But for four years, she stayed and endured his abuse, which fell under almost every category there is: verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, spiritual and financial. He isolated her from her family, only allowing her to call them to ask for money. Eventually, they stopped answering her calls.
He ruined her credit, overdrawing her bank account and racking up debts in her name. He monitored her calls, emails and texts, and had people follow her and watch the house while he was at work. He called her fat and disgusting. And, on the day before she decided to leave him, the last straw—he accused her of having someone else over while he was at work and, for 10 ½ hours, he physically assaulted her. It was the first time in four years, Thomson says, that neighbors called the police.
“The police officers came to the door. He was standing between them and me when they asked if everything was OK. What else was I going to say but yes? The abuse started up again as soon as they left.”
“If I Would Have Gone Home, I Would Have Never Left”
The next day at work, she tried to act like things were normal, but inside, she felt panic.
“He started calling me at work … I stopped counting after 23 times. He told me to tell my supervisor there was an emergency and I needed to come home. I asked what he was going to do and he said, ‘You’ll find out when you get here.’ I don’t think, if I would have gone home, I would have ever left.”
She tried to figure out who could help her. “I sort of ambushed my supervisor. They had someone at my work, also a survivor, who handled that kind of stuff. She told me it wasn’t my fault. She gave me a list of places to go for support and people to talk to. And then she called my father and he actually picked up the phone.” Thomson was surprised, assuming her family was all done with her. “He insisted I come live with him.
She got to her father’s house around 3 p.m., learning later that her boyfriend showed up at her work shortly after she had left. She filed for an emergency order of protection. Her parents took her to the store for clothes and toiletries because she owned only what she was wearing and the contents of her purse. She paced the house all weekend, only sleeping when one of her parents were in the room with her and the lights were on. She woke up from nightmares of her boyfriend choking her.
“It’ll Take a Lifetime to Heal”
It’s been three years now since Thomson escaped. The stalking and harassment continued for a while, she says—“He would randomly show up where I was”—but for the most part, she was able to start a new life. However, it wasn’t easy. She has post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks, depression. She feels like she’s being followed. She still lives with her parents, trying to recover from the financial ruin her abuser left her in. She can’t open a bank account, qualify for a loan or get a credit card. “In some ways, I feel like a child.” She thinks it’ll take a lifetime to heal, “but every day is progress.”
Two months after she left, she started a blog about her experience, hoping she might connect with other survivors. At first, she was scared to reveal too many personal details, but her mindset soon shifted. “I didn’t do anything wrong. Why am I the one hiding in the shadows?” She came out, so to speak, posting her photo and her real name. She started helping to facilitate a #domesticviolencechat on Twitter every Monday night. The number of survivors who have come forward has surprised her.
“There are so many people out there who want to talk about their experiences. It’s sad that there are so many, but I’m grateful. It’s the biggest thing that’s helped me.”
This article originally posted on domesticshelters.org
Sunday Survivor Series is a bi-weekly blog series highlighting survivors of domestic violence and their success after abuse.