The gratitude I feel when I wake up every morning during the lockdown is not just because I am safe from the virus. It is also because I am no longer isolated in my own home, as I was nine years ago, with an abusive husband. Then I remember the women who must be in that unenviable situation right now.
Reading about the rise of domestic violence during the pandemic, I’m forced to relive the trauma of my long years of marriage. And I feel the helplessness of the women who, unlike me, may not feel they can run out of their houses now even if they find the courage to escape.
Reflecting on the five years I lived with abuse, I realize that if I hadn’t made a few mistakes, I could have come out of the marriage earlier, with fewer scars. But I also recognize a few strategies I devised, without conscious thought, that helped me survive.
If you are among the women who currently feel trapped at home with abusive husbands, these strategies can help you cope.
Victims often don’t recognize abuse, but abusers follow certain patterns. Identifying these patterns is the first step to regaining some of the power the abuser takes away from you.
When my husband picked my clothes for me, insisted I be driven to work, or monitored my telephone calls, I thought he was just being protective. Leaving the house for a party would inevitably trigger a fight, and my asthma would flare-up. He would cancel with our friends, saying I was unwell. I started believing I was sick, that I shouldn’t be socializing, and that working from home suited me best. I excused his violent behavior because he felt stressed at work. When he cried, bought me flowers, and promised never to break things or hit me again, I felt safe — until the next flare-up.
I see these patterns now, but if I had identified them then, I could have broken the cycle and sought help. If you see such patterns while you’re home now, use the knowledge to defuse certain situations and walk away from others. This is a time for self-preservation. So, instead of taking him head-on in arguments, or trying to physically obstruct him, simply walk away. Bravery, in such situations, constitutes keeping a cool head and thinking strategically. Your aim is to live another day, and then another, until you can finally escape.
Identifying his triggers may help. Instinctively, I’d realized that speaking about my family triggered my husband. So, I’d wait for him to leave the house before I picked up the phone to call my sister who lived at the other end of town. But given that home is where work is these days, you might want to wait until he’s engrossed in his favorite show or taking a nap to pick up the phone, and tell someone close that you are afraid in your own home.
I didn’t. Shame, fear, and guilt engulfed me. My sister, with whom I spoke almost every day on the phone and saw in person at least once a month, had no idea what I was going through because my husband displayed a different personality in public. She realized my private horror the day I fled to her house after my husband tried to strangle me. She immediately supported me emotionally, as did others when I shared my story. The solidarity I received when I started speaking out convinced me there are people out there willing to listen and help.
Even if you cannot imagine it now, you must trust that you will have the opportunity to escape. The day I left, I ran out in my slippers, a torn T-shirt, and a pair of shorts. I had no plan. But during the lockdown, you can stash a few things: money, small but expensive trinkets and jewelry, documents, anything valuable you can carry on your person. Don’t try to carry cumbersome things: you can buy them when you rebuild your life.
I rebuilt mine, but I no longer own things that tie me down. I adjusted my attachments and attitude toward possessions. Because I lost thousands of books and seven years of research when I left the house, I now buy e-books and store work on the cloud. I do not let my loss or my trauma define who I am anymore. You will get there, too.
In the meantime, to cope with staying home with your abuser during quarantine, your main priority is to stay safe. Whatever you do, do not lose hope: keeping hope alive will keep you alive.
If you believe you are in immediate physical danger, many resources exist to provide assistance, even during a pandemic. You can also contact an attorney to discuss your rights.