I arrived at Duke Divinity School to begin my M. Div. degree in August 2006. To say that moving 300+ miles to start a degree program may have saved my life sounds a little dramatic, I realize. It may be true, though.
I was in a pre-orientation program at Duke, and I remember that as we introduced ourselves on the first day, we were supposed to share one fact that no one in the room would know about us. My fact was that I was supposed to have been married about 3 weeks earlier. As I shared that, I realized I wasn't exactly devastated that I hadn't gotten married...but it did feel like an odd place to be, to say the least.
To be honest, I had tried to end that relationship months earlier and had come to the conclusion that it would have to wait until I moved away from the guy who wouldn't leave me alone. Ultimately, I was right. The relationship was on its last leg when I moved and 2 months apart ended it definitively--from my perspective, at least. Thankfully, I had made friends at Duke who talked me through the immediate emotional fallout of what I had been through, convincing me that I was not, in fact, damaged and undesirable beyond repair. Thankfully, when I started having a lot of anger about what had happened to me, Duke had a good counseling center for students and I got the help I needed. Thankfully, it just so happens that I had met this other guy who actually showed me how I should be treated (I married him instead, a while later). And perhaps best of all, I was, in fact, 300+ miles away from the man whose words and actions had chipped away at my boundaries and created deep fissures in my emotional stability and my self-esteem, for over a year...and I was safe. He had never been physically violent, but you never know what abusive words might eventually lead to.
What's the point of all this? Well, it's all to say that I didn't stay in the abusive relationship I found myself in because I already had a plan to be going somewhere else, far away from where that relationship started, and by the time I met him, not even he could deter the path I was on. I was lucky. I got out because I had a place to go and I could get there, and I had the means to survive without him. Going to seminary was the ticket I needed to get out of an abusive relationship.
Now, I don't wake up every morning and think about the fact that I survived intimate partner abuse; after 13 years, there are plenty of more important things that take up the space in my brain. I read some articles recently that made me think more of that "why doesn't she leave?" question people looking in from the outside of abusive relationships often ask, and I cannot stress enough (along with the writers of those articles) how misled that question is. She (or he or they) doesn't leave for a million different reasons, many of which those on the outside of the abusive relationship would not understand or consider valid. It doesn't have to do with intelligence or education. It's not because she's a glutton for punishment. It's not because she doesn't mind the abuse. Abuse steals everything--self-esteem, self-sufficiency, self-confidence, healthy boundaries, a sense of identity separate from the abuser, relationships with people other than the abuser, and in many cases, the physical means for leaving. The reasons "why" abound...but they also don't really matter!
So, don't wonder about why people "let" themselves be abused. Don't imagine you know better. Don't think you're smarter or worth more. Just don't. Sure, she has her flaws, but being abused is not just "her fault." There's much more to it. This Domestic Violence Awareness Month, if you want to help, donate to a shelter--be sure to ask what they need, instead of assuming you know. Listen to someone's story and don't give advice, as though you know better. Take a stand and refuse to let your church or religion or other beliefs be the reason that someone is held captive in an abusive relationship (hint: lots of Christians use supposed biblical precedent to tell women, especially, not to leave abusive partners). Quit asking the wrong question. Practice compassion and unconditional love. That's really hard to do, but I think it's always worth the effort. I mean, it's what Jesus did...
Seminary may have saved my life. Many women and children and men won't be able to say that. And it's not their fault. You could help save their lives.