#whyistayed and #whyileft


I stayed because it was my second marriage and 40 years ago you did not leave a second marriage. Plus, the hitting did not begin until six months into the marriage and after great trauma around a custody suit.

Plus, I loved him. Plus, I thought I was strong enough to heal him, though what dangerous mix of reserve strength and delusion that came from I cannot now imagine. Plus, he was the most handsome man I had ever seen, and I am aware how shallow that sounds.

Plus, as perhaps the majority of women who have been married to abusers could tell you, every time the violence stops – during the peace lulls – you want desperately to believe the last hit or kick was the last one ever. You want to believe when he promises to see a therapist or is on his knees begging that it will be the end.

Plus, after the custody suit I had no funds. Plus, I let him isolate me in a state far from friends, initially without even a telephone. Plus, I was humiliated.

Plus, it takes time to realize the unthinkable is happening to you and that it is not going to stop.

Plus, we met through a spiritual commune and the ways in which the loving tenets of that commune confused my ability to make tough decisions in the “real” world are not easily explained – but people thought he was a gentle man, a modern yogi with great spiritual understanding. They did not believe me when I broke my silence two years later.

Plus, he never broke any bones, and bruising was rare. After the first hit with a closed fist – I still have the scar inside my lip – he slapped or hit with an open hand, kicked, threw, threw things at, and more.

Plus, he never showed violence in front of my daughter, knowing instinctively that to do so would have instantly shattered any hold he had on me. Abusers know what they can get away with.

I write this, adding my story to the emerging litany, for two reasons.1) People who haven’t been there need a lot of information to make it real. 2) Women and men who have been there, or ARE there, need to know again and again that they are not at fault, they can get free, and they can reclaim – or make for the first time – a beautiful life for themselves.

I read that women in abusive relationships make an average of six attempts to leave before they get out. I only remember five attempts. I’m sure there were more, but I have no desire to recall everything.

Once I drove an hour and a half from the valley in Tennessee and stopped for groceries. In the parking lot I saw a large snake, alive and wiggling. A man, a stranger who recognized me though I hadn’t a clue who he was, said “That snake must have followed us from Celina.” I felt then that I could not escape – oh, the mind does tricks – and I got in the van and drove back to Celina and the valley thinking I was stuck forever, that we were two children on a raft of grief instead of that he was the grief and it was okay to leave him.

A second time he was driving and hit me in the passenger seat. I almost jumped out of the van along the Potomac River under the overhang of the Kennedy Center but then I didn’t or he grabbed me, I don’t remember which, but I know the door was open. Somehow an hour later I got the keys, jumped in the van, locked him out and drove to my first husband’s law offices. Humiliation or no humiliation, I made a break for it.

But my first husband was inept and said “Maybe you should give it another chance,” and my second husband arrived – ran? taxi? – and the receptionist sent him back and he fell on his knees again and pleaded his case. (My first husband had the grace at least to step outside.) Without money or a place to stay, and only a modicum of pride left, I went with him and we drove out of town. After hours of silence in the dark, he told me had no intention of keeping his promise to see a psychiatrist.

People don’t want to know, they don’t want to hear. Abuse is emotionally inconvenient. Four decades ago people particularly didn’t know what to do with it. (This is my way of saying that I don’t blame my first husband. He was just desperate to move the scene out of his firm’s law offices. By the time he might have been able to process everything, I was gone.)

At that time there were also no hotlines for battered spouses. I still remember an operator’s voice as I begged for a number to call, without actually calling the police. She felt helpless.

Now, I do blame. NFL officials shouldn’t have had to see the video inside the elevator before they acted appropriately. Period. No excuses. No. Excuses.


I read that it averages two months of preparation from the time you decide definitely to leave and when you get out. I knew in a moment of revelation in my garden in April, but I didn’t get wholly out until the following January. I went public a few months before then. One friend called every day to make sure I answered the phone. Most of the others didn’t believe me.

It is a godawful business.

The final ending wasn’t pretty. I had gotten him to leave the valley, but, insanely, I tried one more time to make it work. I flew to Marin, California where he was with friends. I thought maybe he wouldn’t be crazy if we weren’t isolated.

Within 30 minutes of arriving I became desperately ill and was confined to bed for two days. When I got up, he began non-stop verbal abuse.

Somehow he was willing to drive me to the San Francisco airport where he threw my clothes out of my suitcase at me and screamed I was a whore. That is one impressive way to shock people at the check-in line. I called someone who let me book a ticket on their credit card and I flew out on the red eye.

Months later I was in a bookstore and picked up a book on physical and emotional abuse. It had a checklist of characteristics. Every single one of them pertained to my situation. There was no “special case situation” for yogis and mini-gurus. There was no separate category for educated people who had good intentions and meditated. I was just a run-of-the-mill abuse case. There was nothing special about it at all. Not a thing.

A couple times I realized he was capable of killing me and making it look like an accident. Cold ice goes through your veins at those moments, but it may not the moment to leave.

Instead you become feral, you sniff the air for change, you register each vibration, you don’t show strong emotions either happy or sad, you never criticize, you exude being calm, you do not turn your back, you watch if he’s keeping the car keys in his pocket because that’s a signal that pressure is building inside him, you manage to get an extra set made and hide them outside near the car, you always reassure – you reassure the person who harms you that you love them. Yes, that’s what you do. You pretend, and you better make it lifelike to both of you.

And you grieve because you did love him, because he was gentle once, because you know he was beaten as a child and told he deserved it and he believed that, because he has a beautiful face that belies what is damaged inside, because in some way you believe he still loves you and needs you, because he is a tragedy.


April half my lifetime ago, propping up baby romaine lettuce knocked down by a rainstorm, I heard a voice: “You who know so well the value of lettuce, of how much more value are you?”

It wasn’t often that God spoke to me, but I recognized the voice.

I stood and said, “If I leave, he will kill himself.”

The voice: “Not your first concern.”

In an instant I realized I was created out of the Divine Source and that my first obligation was to care for me. I had a responsibility to the force that created me.

In that instant I knew I would leave, that I would build my strength silently, get straight enough inside to leave.

That is what a miracle looks like.

I will never judge a woman, or man, who has not yet found the power to leave an abuser, but I would warn them in advance if I could, I would help them if they asked, I would rejoice in their courage when they did.

You are weaker than you realize. Do not allow abuse.

You are stronger than you realize. Do what you need to live your one life with joy and happiness.



10 thoughts on “#whyistayed and #whyileft

  1. Magnificent piece. Thank you for your candor, for laying your life open so that others may heal, may follow in your foot steps.

    Yesterday, I was speaking to my young grandson ( age 9), giving him different scenarios and asking if he thought it appropriate to hit a girl if she hit him, kicked him, tripped him or spit on him. And in each case he said what I hoped he would say, has been taught to say….”no”. Then I wondered, if a woman kicked, hit, tripped or spit on me….would I walk away? If she were the out of control aggressor…..would I stand there and allow this violence to happen to me or would I knock her out cold if I could? Would I be able to control my ego enough not to respond to violence with violence. This all made my head hurt. There is a nuance to this conversation that we are missing. I don’t want my grandson to ever put his hands on a woman. I also don’t want him pummeled and spat on by some woman who has “lost it” and believes she gets a pass because of her gender. What am I missing here?

    • Diane, I don’t think you’re missing anything, you’re trying to figure out a question many are asking. Personally I don’t believe two wrongs make a right. Hitting someone because they hit you doesn’t make it okay to hit them. It means you’ve gone to their level, as I experience it. AND created cycles of violence. (See current world situstion.)

      Btw, if a man hits you, you don’t hit back. It is guaranteed that you’ll get smashed in return if you do – so when someone says they would just slug back, it tells me they’ve never been there.

  2. I think there is a dimension of race and class that comes in here that is not being considered. As a black woman in our culture, I do not feel/ was never allowed to feel delicate, protected, put up on any pedestal. I think the interpersonal dynamic between black women and black men may be different than between white women and their men. Our men, for reasons we know too well, are often not in a position to protect or provide for us. My generation, my mother and grandmother’s generation have been out in the workforce, out in the world. We maybe feel more equal to our men…..more able to go toe to toe. In the Ray Rice case, I think we may also react differently to a man losing his livelihood. We know that Rice cannot now decide to go to law school and just pick up the pieces. We know how many family members are potentially dislocated by his loss of employment. There is a real negative reaction to mainstream women’s organization’s trying to speak on behalf or Rice’s wife, make her some poster child for domestic abuse or raise money on her tragedy. We understand why she flatly rejects it.

    I was just talking to my daughter (adopted) who grew up in Southeast DC. She spoke of getting into fights with men bigger than she was and going for it and seeing her sisters do the same.Sometimes she got hurt, but sometimes they were the ones in ER. I asked her why she wasn’t afraid and she said she didn’t know why, she just wasn’t. She offered that in her community feeling fear, showing fear was a real liability. Her brother taught her how to fight….knowing how to fight was essential. My daughter is a nurse now across town and spoke of seeing women behave in the most provocative ways toward men, taunting, disrespecting, violent….knowing that if the man responds in kind he will be judged not she. Obviously, there are the horrible domestic violence cases in the black community that we see in every community…..not discounting that. What I am aiming to do here is add some texture and dimension to a conversation that I think often does not go deep enough.

    I am thinking back to that other famous elevator scene when Solange, Beyonce’s sister went after Jay Z, kicking, slapping and charging. A body guard held her in check and Jay Z was able to stand back and remain dignified. The media accounts focused on the possible reasons for Solange’s rage. I saw nothing calling her out on her behavior. Looping back to my young grandson….to be considered a decent man…..is his only response to such an attack…to stand there and take it or walk away. Is that how you would respond?

    • Diane, I keep coming back to what you have written and your care in writing. Despite my having “been there,” you have shown me how little I know, including my realizing that my instant assumption re Jay Z was that Solange lost it because he was adulterous and therefore she was somehow acting out for Beyoncé. I didn’t think it was best behavior (!) but I didn’t seriously criticize her. I thought she had something to drink and lost it and would be embarrassed later. I greatly simplified without even being conscious of it.

      I have also realized how much personal experience determines our assumption. I KNOW what it feels like to be hit (open palm) in the face or kicked, or to literally be thrown into dangerous places. I physically FEEL the phantom of those, I’ve come to realize, whenever I write or talk about my past situation. (I did have a couple PTSD episodes.) But I don’t have the experience of being a man hit by a woman. I have placed far lesser credence on that because I haven’t had the visceral experience.

      So, Diane, I owe you a lot for showing me more.

      Re your grandson you seem to be asking both what he should do and what I would do. The second is easy. I would walk away. I might say calmly that I would sue or whatever if this continues, but I WOULD walk away. In my work I’ve been in dangerous situations and I go utterly calm and have talked down people who were threatening to kill me and others. I know what I would do, and pray hard that it worked!

      What your grandson should do? Well, he has a wise grandmother. Seems maybe full conversations that look at various sides and options. But I wouldn’t hesitate to have training in fighting for self protection. Bring discipline and strength and conflict resolution together. But, really, Diane, you are Way ahead of me on this. It’s so terrible we have to even think about this for adults, let alone children. (Bios for him on nonviolent “heroes”?)

      • Thank you so much for this response Patricia. The open way you received my experience allowed me to feel seen and heard. And isn’t that the fundamental basis for connection? Isn’t it what we all want? I am learning much from you walking along side you on your journey.


      • For some reason system was not allowing me to post comment below….trying again.

        Thank you so much for this response Patricia. The open way you received my experience allowed me to feel seen and heard. And isn’t that the fundamental basis for connection? Isn’t it what we all want? I am learning much from you walking along side you on your journey.


        • “… to be seen and heard,” to be recognized at our core whether as children or adults. Without it most of us get a little frantic. It shouldn’t be so hard, should it?

          I just posted my first new blog in awhile and it looks at the issue of self-awareness, which has to come first. If we don’t recognize our own deep humanity, how can we recognize it in others? I don’t know…. I just write blogs. 🙂


  3. Wonderful, gutsy piece. And, I understood.
    Please consider publishing it.
    When you are in your rocking chair: ah the stories you will have to tell. How fortunate!
    Painful, yes! But a life fully lived.

    Thank you. I shall reread this one again.

    PS. I left my spiritual life for many reasons. There were the true seekers and few masters….and then the rest.

  4. Dear Patricia,

    Perhaps you are in beautiful Paris by now? It’s such a wonderful healing city.

    This blog
    #whyistayed and #whyileft
    may be among the best you’ve written.. At least it borrowed into my bones and my soul.

    I value your honest vulnerability even pain. Survivorship. It was wonderful and stays with me still.

    With appreciation and respect,


    • Thank you, Dorree, for your insights, replies and support.

      Yes, in Paris living in the Now… with croissants.


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