People ask why I didn't leave my abusive relationship, but the truth is: I didn't know how.
I couldn't save my daughter's life because I couldn't save my own.
It was 2:30AM and I was standing outside the police station with my toddler wrapped in a blanket and my pregnant belly popping out of my jacket.
Shaking and terrified that my husband had followed us, I whispered into the phone.
"I ... I took my daughter and I left. I don't know where to go. He's gone now. He left, too, but I can't go home. Is it OK if I take her somewhere? If I just leave?"
The voice on the other end of the phone was polite, but stark.
"Ma'am, if you want to come down to the station and file a report you can do that but since you don't know where your husband is right now, we wouldn't be able to do anything tonight. And if he has any injuries, he will be able to press charges on you as well. Unfortunately, you can't just take your child and leave if you both have custody of her. That's kidnapping."
I looked down at my hands, the fingers that I had dug into his neck during the struggle, and that was that.
I hung up the phone and with it went the last shred of hope I had for staying alive. My husband was going to kill me.
Tears and blood stained my clothes. My hopes and dreams faded away. I didn't know how to get out of my abusive marriage.
I was terrified to lock up my abusive husband like a caged animal, only to have him post-bail, be released, and hunt me down. I didn't know where to go that he couldn't find me.
And if I couldn't leave with my daughter, I wasn't leaving at all.
So with that I went back home because trying to "behave myself" was better than being hunted. I'd read the statistics. I knew that 75 percent of abused women who are killed are killed right after they leave the relationship.
I didn't want to be a statistic.
Over the years I tried to leave him time and time again. With each injustice against my flesh, I'd call the local women's shelter and they'd say I could stay but after 6 weeks, I'd have to find another place to live. The only problem: I didn't have anywhere else to stay.
I couldn't get an apartment without a job; I couldn't get a job without childcare; I couldn't get childcare without money ... and he had all our money.
I couldn't afford to leave, so I stayed.
I was "nothing," he said and slowly I became nothing because I believed him.
He took my despair and harnessed me with it like a horse, controlling my every move like the animal he believed I was.
For years I just existed. I was there, but not really. I was trapped and had given up; shame washed over me and sealed my lips.
Then that night came, the night he nearly killed me, the night I was told that I could leave with my life — but not with the life of my child. If I couldn't protect myself against him, then my daughter didn't stand a chance.
Abuse is not a movie that you watch on the screen — a tearful face and a comforting system. The reality of abuse is harsh.
It's the police who don't know who to arrest, so they arrest everyone.
It's shelters that aren't able to provide long-term housing or legal services, so you leave no better off than you were when you went there.
It's the money your abuser has to hire an attorney and the threat of losing your children to a system you can't possibly navigate alone.
Reality builds up until it crashes over you like a tsunami that drags you out to sea — too far to keep swimming, too far for anyone to hear your screams.
And just when I felt like I had hit the end, when I was merely floating and praying for a quick death, someone saw me. I was saved because someone saw me.
I told someone that I knew, what was going on, and that I needed help. Then, for the first time in my entire life, that person did what everyone else in my life had failed to do — they stepped in and fought for me and my future because I was unable to fight for myself.
They helped me get divorced, fight for the custody of my children, separate my finances from my husband's, and get back on my feet.
They constantly reminded me that this was not my fault.
They helped me leave my past and gain a future.
Domestic abuse is rarely a battle that can be won alone. I know that because I almost died trying.
People always ask me, "Why did you stay?"
I stayed because I couldn't get out.
*The author of this piece went on to start the organization "Rise From The Ashes," a 501c3 nonprofit that assists shelters by providing pro bono attorneys, counselors, and court companions to help women escape what they can't escape from on their own; a life that is killing them.