February 14, 2016

It was the Worst Valentine’s Day of my Life.

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This is the way I escaped an abusive relationship.

I’d just finished getting settled back into my college town, Boulder, for winter semester, after spending a year off.

I had been living with my boyfriend in New York and decided it was definitely time for a break.

I had to leave because I’d begun seeing signs of abuse—he was saying mean things to me and had started pushing me around. Literally. One day he pushed me down the stairs. It only hurt a little bit but it got my attention. I was not about to sign up for more.

Immediately, I reenrolled in college, boarded a train and got 1600 miles away from him.

Phew. I was in the clear. Or, so I thought.

A few months passed.

I was going about my business that Valentine’s Day and ran into him at the health food grocery.


I panicked. He’d flow into town to surprise me for the Valentine’s Day weekend.

I was shocked. I quickly put on a smile and endured his visit for two days. When it was time for him to leave, I assured him I would see him the following summer and would miss him every minute. It was a lie.

Lying was the tool I used from my suitcase of tricks to freedom—the ticket away from my abusive boyfriend.

Of course the next summer arrived and he came looking for me, but I was long gone. I’d disappeared to another town and never saw him again.

Since then I have helped myself and many other friends escape abusive relationships.

“Lovers come and go, the river roll, roll, roll.” ~ Grateful Dead

Running away is the key.

Physically removing ourselves from a bad situation is certainly effective.

What to pack in the suitcase when we leave an abusive relationship.

1. Hopeful stories.

One thing we can do to empower ourselves to run away from an abusive relationship is to read inspirational stories about how other people have left intolerable treatment. A favorite book of mine is Room by: Emma Donoghue. When I was reading it, I was fired up with thoughts of: if she was brave enough to escape, I can be too. 

2. Distance.

Time and time again, I have seen examples of people leaving the scene and the abuser. The most helpful thing for me was having a place to go with friends and loved ones to shelter me. I did feel a bit ashamed asking for their help, but it was actually no trouble for them—they were happy to help.

Even if we just wind up in a hotel room across town, it provides us physical safety. More than that, it gives us mental and emotional distance and gets us out of survival mode. Having a bit of time and space to gather our wits can help us make a plan for real escape.

3. Find a helper.

It could be a friend, coworker, family member or waitress at the cafe. Having an ally to assist us is invaluable. Telling someone the secret of the abuse helps free us from its clutches.

Contact the help of your local domestic abuse agency. They have trained counsellors on hand, usually 24 hours a day. Many cities have safe houses where those affected by domestic abuse can safely get away.

In dire situations, solicit the help of a police officer or firefighter. No joke! I’ve had other desperate times in my life when I had to this and it worked.

4. Time.

They say that time heals all wounds. I’ve found this to be true. If you need to escape an abusive situation, make a plan. Also consider a plan B. Things don’t always go according to plan, so practice flexibility in the meantime.

Get grounded in the present moment and witness the whole process. Escaping is not easy but when we finally do it and spend time away from our abusers, we get stronger and they’ll eventually forget about us.

I promise.

I’ve seen it again and again. The abuser gets bored and discovers someone new to pick on. Life goes on—for us and them.


Author: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: Pixoto/Dimitris Tsirigotis 


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