What If You Cannot Leave – But Should?
While the addict gets most of the attention in the family, whether or not he or she seeks and gets treatment to deal with the addiction, other family members suffer as a direct result of the addiction. In some cases, the suffering exceeds tolerable limits, encompassing extreme emotional and even physical abuse. When the situation becomes this dire at home, the logical and rational outcome is to leave. But it’s not always that simple. Sometimes the victim knows they should leave – but for one reason or another, they can’t. What should you do if you are in this situation?
Don’t Give Up
Burdened by overwhelming troubles (financial, legal, social, and familial), you may feel so crushed that you believe there’s nothing that can be done. That’s the first trap, but don’t allow yourself to fall into it. The fact of the matter is that the reason you think you cannot leave is that you’ve allowed yourself to be controlled by another – in this case, it’s your addicted partner/spouse. Other cases involve children controlled by addictive parents, but that is another situation entirely. Here, we’re concentrating on what you can do about your situation, which may involve children.
You have to believe that there is help for you so that if not now, somewhere along the line, you will be able to leave, and do so safely. At this point, don’t consume yourself with worry that you don’t have the answers or you can’t figure out how all this will happen. Just don’t give up. If you do that, the abuser addict will win.
What you can do is begin to prepare yourself to leave by taking incremental small steps. This is the first step in your own road to recovery.
Importance of Support
Typically, the spouse of an addict has suffered a loss of self-esteem and self-confidence. While addicts themselves have this condition, so do spouses and other family members. The longer addiction has been present, as well as the extent of the disease, type of addiction or addictions, and other circumstances, the more severe the situation may become.
In general, spouses of abuser addicts have few or no friends or family members left with whom to confide. The addict has subtly encouraged or demanded that the spouse give up all outside relationships. “I want to spend all my time with you” or “I don’t want to share you with anyone else” are phrases you may have heard. Over the years, what few relationships you may have had have dwindled, to the point where you now have none.
The reason the addict does this is to exercise complete control over you. He or she wants to be the only one in your life so that you are completely dependent – and subject to his or her control. The fact that you’ve given in to these demands is another indication of your own loss of self-confidence and self-esteem. You have, in effect, enabled the addiction by perpetuating a climate of unhealthy involvement in your partner’s addiction.
It’s important that you begin to rebuild your support network. Don’t think that this is impossible. It isn’t. But it does take time. Slowly get in touch with good friends from your past. You may be able to track some down via the Internet – use the public library if you want to keep your efforts from your addicted spouse. Use public telephones if necessary, instead of your home or cell phone. Again, this will help you keep your activity away from prying eyes.
If your relationship with family members has become strained or fractured because of your partner’s addiction and controlling behavior, work on mending this first. Your family will be your most logical means of support. After all, family comes before everything else – for most people in our society.
Next, make a concerted effort to find new friends. You can do this gradually, so don’t think that you have to rush out and find someone right away. Maybe it’s a neighbor that has tried in the past to lend a hand of friendship, or one that you believe can prove to be an ally. Perhaps it’s someone you meet regularly at your child’s school programs or sporting events, or a doctor, nurse or member of the clergy with whom you occasionally connect.
Why do you need to build up your support network? You will need resources and allies for the time when you will be able to leave. Even if you ultimately make the decision to stay where you are – perhaps because of children, or finances, or other reasons – you will still need the support of others whom you trust to get you through the tough times ahead.
Support Outside of Friends
Beyond friends and family, you need other support from independent agencies and individuals. This is important because your friends and family may not be as objective concerning your personal situation. In addition, independent support can provide you with resources that your friends and family either don’t know about or don’t have access to.
Look in the phone book or on the Internet (again, use the computers at the public library or at a friend or family member’s house to keep your search activities hidden from your spouse) for support organizations that may be available in your area. These include:
• Support groups, such as 12-step groups for those whose lives are affected by someone else’s addiction: Al-Anon/Alateen, Co-Anon Family Groups, Nar-Anon Family Groups, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Co-Dependents Anonymous World Fellowship, COSA (Co-Dependents of Sexual Addicts), Gam-Anon, and S-Anon International Family Groups.
• Shelters, such as a local battered women’s shelter, or shelter for victims of domestic violence. You can also call the police department, YWCA, or local family court and ask for a referral to a local shelter. May of these shelters provide an array of services which include 24-hour emergency shelter, individual and legal advocacy, support groups, information and referrals, and community education.
• Counselors – If your spouse or partner is already in treatment for his or her addiction, if family counseling is part of the program, take advantage of it. Similarly, couples counseling, if available, may prove helpful.
• Volunteer and social workers – Among the many avenues of support, volunteer and social workers may be able to help you get additional assistance.
• Call Centers – Contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE to inquire about services in your area.
Report Any Violence
If your spouse or partner physically abuses you, when you can safely do so, you need to report it to the police. Be sure to write down everything that happened and keep this documentation safe. Tell the authorities you are keeping a log of every incident that occurs. Don’t think that the violence is a one-time event. Statistics show that when a partner/spouse resorts to physical violence, despite vehement claims that it won’t happen again, it does. And it usually gets worse.
Although you believe you can’t leave now, you need to be prepared for the time when you can safely do so. There are steps you can take now to ensure that you will be ready.
• Pack a bag – You will need some things when you do leave, at least clothing and money to tide you over for a few days. Pack these things and keep the bag in a safe place. If you feel taking a bag out would be too noticeable, then take a sweater, coat, wear extra undergarments, etc., and gradually get together what you need. Don’t forget to include any legal documents you may need, including passport and birth certificate. Other items to pack include medications and prescriptions, insurance information, extra money, credit cards and/or ATM cards, extra set of keys, phone numbers and addresses for your family, friends, doctors, lawyers and community agencies or counselors. You may be able to arrange to keep this bag (or the items you begin to accumulate) with a trusted friend or at a family member’s home. Or, store it in a safety deposit box that someone else opens for you.
• Save money – You should begin to save money, if you can. This can be a few dollars, even one or two at a time. It will add up if you do this regularly. One suggestion is to use coupons at the grocery store and give them to the cashier after your order has been rung up. They will give you the money in cash. You can also return items you have purchased, unused, with the store receipt, and keep the refunded amount. Be sure it’s something that won’t be noticed by your spouse/partner. Keep the money you accumulate someplace safe and where no one (including family members who may rat you out) can jeopardize it. Make sure this money is easily accessible to you when you need it. This may often be in the middle of the night, so factor that into where you hide it. Do not keep it around the house. It’s also not wise to open a separate bank account, since statements will give you away, unless you have them mailed to a trusted friend or family member’s home. Again, use caution in who you trust.
• Get legal advice – This is especially important if there are children involved. You don’t want to just pick up and leave with the children. Contact an attorney to find out how to go about this the right way. Some attorneys offer free legal advice one afternoon a week, so do your homework and find one that can help you.
How to Be Safe if You Stay
In the meantime, if you plan to stay with your abuser or addict spouse or partner, keep the following in mind.
• Know what will work best for you to keep you safe in an emergency. This may include how to react or what to say or do if you are threatened or in an intolerable situation with your spouse or partner. Do not antagonize the individual, especially if he or she is intoxicated, high or emotionally unstable due to his or her addiction. Remain calm – as calm as you can be under the circumstances. Rehearse a few responses that you think will not produce a violent outburst from your spouse or partner. Your reaction should include leaving the room as quickly as you can to remove yourself from the potential of violence – but only when you can do so safely.
• Know who you can call when there is a crisis. You can’t do this on your own. You will need help from an ally – a trusted friend or family member. This is a necessary preparation even though you are staying with your abusive or addicted spouse or partner. You never know when the situation could become dangerous – to you and your children. You need to have a clear idea of who to call when the time comes. You may need transportation in the middle of the night to a safe haven, for example.
• Decide how you would call the police in the event of an incident of violence. Experts counseling victims of domestic abuse recommend working out in advance signals you may be able to give your children, or neighbors, to call the police if you are not able to. If you’ve been taking the violence or abuse, decide that you will call the police the next time it occurs – and do so. Remember, it won’t stop if you don’t do something about it.
• The time may come when you absolutely have to leave – even if it’s only for a short period of time. Decide in advance where you will go. What is most viable for you? Discuss your plans ahead of time with your trusted friends or family members so that if the time comes when you have to do it, you already have a plan.
• Domestic violence counselors also recommend that you have your escape route planned out in advance as well. Don’t use familiar avenues of escape. Don’t go directly to your parents’ home, for example, if your spouse/partner has already threatened to kill your family if they help you.
How to be Safe at Your Workplace
Don’t forget being safe at your workplace. Recommendations here include:
• Save all threatening voice mails or emails. These may be used as evidence in court if you decide to take legal action in the future.
• Talk with your supervisor and consider having your work station moved to a more secure location in the office.
• Ask security to escort you to and from your car.
• Review safety arrangements for your children, for daycare or transportation to/from school while you are at work.
• If violence has occurred in the past, make sure security and/or receptionist has a photograph of your addict or abusive spouse
Pick the Right Time to Leave
Getting prepared, working out your escape route in advance, knowing where you’ll stay, and having adequate support to help you out will all help you solidify your decision. While you may not be ready to leave now, you should do everything you can so that you will be able to leave when the time is right.
Knowing when the right time is may be one of your most difficult decisions. After all, you have invested a great deal of time in this relationship. While you have stayed for many reasons, not the least of which is the marriage or time commitment you’ve made to the relationship, any children present in the family, financial situation or other circumstances, ultimately you may need to leave for the best interests of all concerned. Be sure to pick the right time to do so, one that you believe offers you the best assurance of safety and comfort.
With counseling and guidance from your support allies, you will be able to do this. Your life doesn’t have to be one of endless suffering (emotional and physical) at the hands of your abusive and/or addictive spouse or partner. And, leaving doesn’t have to be forever. If your partner or spouse agrees to get treatment and successfully completes it, the relationship may be mended and you may return home at some point.
Whatever you decide, take responsibility for your own well-being, as well as that of your children. Don’t just take the abuse. Do something constructive and proactive about it. The best defense is a good offense. Be prepared, be ready, and act quickly when the time comes to do so.