"How could this have been their first chance to escape in 10 years?" I've heard people ask when discussing the three women held in the Cleveland nightmare. But, I know the answer.
Years ago, I escaped from 18 years of an abusive situation -- and I know that it isn't chains that hold you. I was not tied in a basement. I could have found a way to escape. But my chains were mental and proved to be a much stronger binding than any physical restraint could have been.
I met my first husband when I was 16 and had just broken up with my high school boyfriend. Of course I wasn't mature enough to understand the signs. But certainly, they were there. Even while dating, when he left my side, he'd warned me "Now, don't flirt with anyone while I'm gone". I thought he was kidding; I wasn't flirtatious. It was too outrageous of a statement to ever take seriously. But, he absolutely meant it, and it was only a precursor for the control he would exert over me.
We married quickly even though I was under age. He was charismatic and convinced my parents to approve it. He then moved us to a small mountain town where he could cut me off from others. He made it impossible to see or have contact with friends or family.
At first I was embarrassed. I didn't want anyone to know. So, I hid what was happening. Then eventually I'd started to believe his manipulation and lies. Every night, he was drunk and angry- at me. I did a good job of covering bruises from beatings. His parents were the only ones that knew. They did what they could, but they didn't want anyone to know what was happening. I felt they blamed me for not doing what I was told.
But try as I might, I just couldn't be what he wanted. One night I spilled something in the fridge. He got a gun from his truck and waved it in my face screaming "It'd take so little to be rid of you!"
He convinced me that I was the reason everything in his life went wrong. If only I was better, he wouldn't have to keep disciplining me. He was a master manipulator and I was young and impressionable. I believed him and stopped trying to get help, convincing myself that no one would understand or believe me. But eventually, I knew he was insane and he would probably kill me.
As time went on, I saw suicide as the only way out. But suicide really wasn't an option; I loved our children too much. Who would take care of them? They were the reason I kept going even in the worst of times.
What actually saved me was an act of courage by 13-year-old my daughter. While traveling with her school group, she recognized my sister stopped at the same restaurant on the highway. She told my sister everything and asked for help. You see, I didn't know that my children were the silent audience to what was going on. And my daughter had the courage to help me.
My family took immediate action. Within a few short weeks I had moved back to my hometown with my children and was safe. They rescued me and I held on for dear life.
I know now that there are all kinds of psychological names for what I went through. As a 16-year-old girl, I didn't know what could happen. For these women in Cleveland, my heart goes out to them. Long after the chains are unlocked, they will be unraveling the lies and finding out who they are. And I pray that eventually they will be free also.