When I go on vacation, I leave behind my family, friends, neighbors, volunteer work, computer, and career. It's not a painful separation because it's temporary and I expect it to be fun and educational.
Many separations aren't temporary or fun, but if those near us provide support, love, and concern, they're at least a little easier. Separating from a batterer is similar to separations such as divorce, death, or moving far away--with one big difference: this kind of separation may be lifesaving in every sense of the word.
Unfortunately, it may also involve a real threat to the well-being of the woman and kids who escape. Safety may become non-existent if the batterer stalks them, learns their new address, knows where they work. Their income may drop to zero. Their personal living space may shrink to one room and they may lose everything, including pets, because they're afraid to return home to claim their property.
Emotional separation from the batterer is extremely hard. Initially,a woman might hope the partner she once loved will change so she can return to him. Sometimes she questions why she stayed with him as long as she did and becomes very depressed. Her feelings are often intensely ambivalent and confusing as she's pressured by friends or family to "think of the children" and return home.
During this awful adjustment, she must deal with her children's sadness, anger, confusion and sometimes blame for their huge change in lifestyle. Severe doubt about her ability to make it alone, especially if she has few job skills or inadequate education, may terrify her and slow her journey toward independence.
Many battered women don't survive this complicated, frightening separation with its court appearances, paperwork,support groups, job search, new schools for the kids, and the need to sever significant relationships and activities.
Some return home, believing this brief separation has changed their partner or that they're now better equipped to survive his assaults. Sometimes they return because of practical considerations like job responsibilities,finishing school themselves or to allow an older child to graduate from his own high school.
The women who stay in the shelter despite these problems, change the most. As they succeed in different ways despite the batterer's brainwashing about their incompetence, they struggle with separation less and less and work toward building a new life more and more.
This is a monumental task. They must suppress every "easy out" and plausible excuse that provides comfort if they are to completely separate from the batterer and their old selves. Some accomplish this the first time they leave. Some must make several attempts. Some never get away from the abuser, especially emotionally.
Nonetheless, they are all heroes to me. I haven't walked in their shoes but I can appreciate their aching feet and admire their search for a better fit.