*Content warning: Abuse (physical, emotional)
I had met a handsome, intelligent, charismatic, and charming man. As is typical, I was completely overwhelmed by the intensity and “love bombing” of the early stages. Sadly, this was then followed by verbal and physical abuse, resulting in more love bombing to express remorse. I had no self-worth and zero confidence, which led me to believe that abusive behavior was normal that I deserved it and it was my duty to ‘fix’ him.
I imagined myself as the one who would never abandon him and always remain faithful. I’d mend him and teach him to love. For the longest time, I did not even realize that I was in an extremely unsafe and abusive relationship. I felt personally responsible for his behavior.
I lost myself completely in that relationship, leaving me with no scaffolding to fall back on – no career, support networks, friendships or other resources. Most importantly, I feared for my life due to the never-ending threats. This was the main reason it took me so long to escape from that nightmare.
I was not and am not ‘crazy’. The relationship dynamic left me feeling like I was. Luckily, I found that as I cut contact and removed myself from the toxic situation, my sense of sanity returned. Trying to tell the difference between what I had imagined and reality was one of the most difficult things to learn. As a result, I spoke in riddles and felt a disconnect between my body and mind.
Once I realized I was being subjected to this type of psychological and physical violence, the magnitude of the pain compelled me to embark on a long journey of self-discovery, healing, rehabilitation, and significant personal development – for which I am now eternally grateful.
Four years later, while I am not in love with him anymore, there are days I still struggle with traumatic flashbacks. I still have nightmares, but they have become less and less over the years. I am going to therapy, and it helps that I have people I love and trust to talk it through with. Today I am in a healthy and loving relationship. I had faith in time and in myself, always remembering that “this too shall pass”.
‘The question “why didn’t you leave?” is very harmful and simplifies abuse. It places violence in a logical context, as if the experience was on par with an unfulfilling job, moving houses, or a slow-serving cafe.
I feel this question promotes a total misunderstanding of what survivors go through, which could further isolate and portray them as ‘weak’. It’s an unfortunate and misguided stigma. People are more likely to break their silence and escape unsafe environments if we provide an open space for tough discussions within our families and social circles.
Instead of “Why didn’t you leave?”, I wish people asked “How can I support you?” 
This piece was written by one of the ICLA eFriend Peer Support Workers. eFriend is an online platform where you can connect with a trained peer support worker whom has their own lived experience of feeling lonely, isolated, stressed or worried. You can speak to your eFriend Peer via video or phone call. Your eFriend Peer will listen, validate and provide hope. If you like, they can also assist you to identify any other services you may like to try or help you create plans to improve your personal well-being. Or they can simply listen.
To book your first call visit: https://my.efriend.org.au/preregistration/