Choosing to stay in an abusive relationship is a difficult thing to explain, even after you've left it behind you. It is even more difficult to understand when you are someone who has never had the displeasure to experience one firsthand. I've always found that, for those with even a slightly active imagination, analogies are incredibly helpful when trying to put something into perspective whether it's for others or for yourself. This one came to me as an inner monologue during a quiet period at work, and it resulted in a breakthrough of sorts. I'm hopeful that other people suffering in an abusive relationship or those that are witnessing one will find this helpful as well.
Being in an abusive relationship, verbal or physical, is like being stuck in the middle of the ocean with nothing but a leaky raft. You keep blowing air into your life raft and it keeps deflating, just like you know it will. It's not taking you anywhere, forward or back, suspended among the high chaotic waves that crash down around you. When your hope falters, you wonder if you should let go, but what if, in its limp and frantic state, you become so tangled in it that it takes you down with it? It keeps going until either you run out of breath or the raft simply becomes useless and hopeless. Both you and the raft are presented with two options each. The raft might accept its fate and simply sink to a bleak existence to the bottom of the ocean where it will lay until it detereorates. The only probable outcome besides this is that some other lost and hopeful being might come along and attempt to fill it with air as you did. While not impossible, it is unlikely that someone with the proper equipment will happen upon the raft and repair it. Whatever the outcome, the raft is too broken to float on its own. Now you, your decision carries much more weight. You must choose to sink or learn to swim. Sinking is quicker but not instant. It is painful and miserable; dark and lonely. However, if your instincts serve you well and you try learning to swim, the process is trying and sometimes painful, but you get the wonderful opportunity to swim in any direction you like. You could end up somewhere better than you could ever imagine.
What of the victims that are NOT alone; those that have people who care about them and want to see them get better? The analogy doesn't end there. Everyone in the victim's life plays a part.
Should you decide to swim, you reach a point where the waves are quieter and you can see across the horizon. For some, they may not see anything, but this isn't a bad thing. They can imagine any kind of destination they'd like and go until they reach it. Though you might also see and island, far away but still within sight. On that Island, there are people, waving you over frantically and yelling to you. These people often have very different things to say. In the best case scenario, they will cry out your name, spilling tears of joy, and run out to the water to pull you in the rest of the way. They'll wrap you in their warm embrace and tell you how much they missed you, how much they love you, and how proud and relieved they are that you've made it back. These people will understand how tired you are from your harrowing journey and will give you space to breathe while also helping you recover. However, not all islanders will react this way. Sometimes, when you swim closer, you'll hear that their cries are filled with anger and confusion. They wonder why you wasted your time with that broken raft in the first place and didn't immediately swim back. There might even be some islanders that believe you should have tried harder to bring that deadweight of a flotation device back with you. They'll tell you that you deserve your exhaustion for putting yourself in that position in the first place. Worst of all, these people won't meet you in the water while you struggle back to land. They'll stand over you, judging and accusatory, watching you crawl up the shore to tire at their feet. Should you ever hear these angry calls on the horizon, swim in another direction and don't look back until you've found an island that you can call home and that you know will always be there, awaiting your return. These islanders, no matter how familiar they are to you and no matter what they were to you once before, will finish the job that the raft could not when you left it behind you.
To complete a journey to freedom and relief, you must first find the strength within yourself to swim and find loving, caring people to nurse you back the rest of the way. It's exhausting, it's heartbreaking, and it's a big decision to make. But there could be ANYTHING waiting out there for you. Don't let a leaky raft pull you down.