Merriam Webster gives three definitions for constraint:
- The checking on one’s true feelings and impulses when dealing with others.
- Something that limits one’s freedom of action or choice.
- The use of power to impose one’s will on another.
Any woman who has been in an abusive relationship knows firsthand at least one of these definitions if not all of them.
In the beginning when we would fight and things would start to get out of control, I would leave. I would get in the car and just leave. Having already moved 1000+ miles from home, I didn’t have anywhere to go. I did not have anyone to turn to, so I would drive around for an hour, maybe two, before giving up and going back to the house. I don’t remember what would push me over the edge to get in the car and leave, and I probably wasn’t always right in walking away when things got heated. But I do remember being afraid of what he would do while I was gone, especially to my cat. He would threaten to hurt her if I left her with him. He would pick her up and throw her at me and yell at me to take her with me. So I would pack her up in her carrier, and she and I would take refuge in the car.
Eventually, I wasn’t allowed to leave the house when things got too intense. The days of driving around in the car with no place to go soon became a distance memory, a luxury of freedom I would long for. If we were having an argument, no matter how heated it got, there was no walking away. He considered my walking away to be extremely disrespectful, and it meant either I didn’t really love him, or that I was sleeping with someone else. I remember the sheer frustration and anger it would generate, to be confined to a room when you wanted to leave. I pushed, shoved, screamed; I didn’t go down without a fight. The first time he restrained me in a doorway, when nothing else worked I pinched him when he wouldn’t let me through. It was the first time he hit me. He slapped me hard across the face and then just stepped aside.
In the rare event I actually made it out of the room before he could stop me, he would take the car keys or stand in front of the outside door so I couldn’t leave the house. I would try and remove myself to the couch or the guest room. But that was not permitted either. If I didn’t return to the bedroom in a reasonable period of time, I would be physically brought back to the bedroom. This meant being picked up and carried.
On one occasion, I managed to grab the car keys before he could stop me. I barely made it outside and into the car before he bore down on me. With the doors locked and him unable to get to me, he went berserk. There was an old tire in the yard, and he used that to start attacking the car. Terrified, I sat in the car too scared to even drive away, while he pounded and screamed and threw that tire at the car over and over. Once he had worn himself out from throwing the tire or was sure I wouldn’t drive away, or both, he went inside and locked me out of the house.
Eventually my anger and frustration at being restrained started to fade, and as it faded, so did my attempts to fight back against the restraint. The anger gave way to a feeling of defeat and worthlessness and ultimately to acceptance. In the end, I quit trying to leave. I’m not exactly sure of the point in which I crossed over from believing I couldn’t leave, to not even thinking about trying at all. It was probably around the time I had my oldest son. There was no way I was going to leave that house without him, and my husband made it clear there was no way I would leave the house WITH him.
By the time my youngest came, I honestly believed there was no option of my leaving. It saw absolutely no way of being able to leave of my own accord. Instead I would daydream of ways I would finally be free. I would fantasize of my husband dying in a car crash. I would dream of him having an affair and leaving me for another woman. I would often tell him that some other woman would make him happier, that clearly I was the wrong woman for him. Silently I prayed that he would somehow leave me.
They say the average woman in an abusive relationship tries to leave 10 times before she is successful. After the first couple of years we were married, I never tried to physically leave, and I was so trapped mentally by his abuse that I never even imagined a scenario in which I left. But I probably fantasized of him leaving me more than a 1000 times.
Years later, my now ex-husband still does not recognize his actions as abusive. He even recounts events as humorous anecdotes to tell while with friends. One particular story, of my cat sailing through the air and landing in a clothes basket continues to be a party favorite. Once I even laughed along when he told this story, desensitized by his violent behavior. But I am no longer in that dark place of acceptance. The other night while laying in bed with my oldest son, he referenced a story daddy told him of throwing our cat. I am grateful that I am now in a place where I can openly discuss this story with my son and demonstrate to him that violent behavior is not the way to solve his problems as he grows up.