Freedom from Domestic Violence: “How Could I Lose Myself Like That?”

By Christiane Rosenmuth

My name is Christiane. I’m married, still, and have three grown children. And this is one thing I’ve learned: leaving my husband was the only decision, the only right one that I could make to come into myself and finally, at just over 60, create a worthy life for myself.

I wanted to emigrate – to spend my twilight years in my husband’s home country, which had become my second home over the course of our 30 years together. But when the time came, we only managed eight months. Then we separated, at long last.

For almost 29 years, our marriage was defined by physical and psychological violence and my husband’s narcissism.

I used to be a teacher. Ever since I was signed off from therapy and recovered from an operation on my hip, I have been supporting disabled people and studying social work. I want to help children and young people to learn to love themselves, to acknowledge their feelings and take them seriously.

We were hitting each other, no longer holding anything back

3 January 2022. It was one of those nights: drunk, stoned, coked up and full of Bazooka [a dangerous cocaine paste]. My husband had already snorted it all, and I was pumped full of alcohol and coke too – it had become the only way to make it through these nights.

But this night, he was more violent than the others; there were so many of them in our marriage. I don’t remember how it happened this time – we were fighting, hitting each other, no longer holding anything back. I hit back. This is something I had “learned” in the last few months: to stop putting up with everything, to stop being scared and silent.

I too had crossed the line, and we were about to go over the precipice.

Eventually, he fell asleep, and I prayed: “God, if you want all this to end, let me go without waking him up.” I left. My packed bag had been waiting for this moment for months.

I grabbed a few more things and headed out into the dark, with just enough money to pay for the bus to Quito, the capital of Ecuador. Our daughter, who was 10,000 kilometres away, stayed on the phone with me the whole time and paid for the first hotel remotely.

The decision to leave

It would take another two weeks until I could leave behind my old life of emotional and physical hell. You couldn’t just up sticks and leave like that. There were documents I needed to leave the country, and I had forgotten them.

Besides, I couldn’t really let go yet. The few times we met before I finally left him and the country I’d come to know as my second home were filled with last ditch attempts to save what was no longer savable.

There were fears and threats of death, and a final embrace with my husband that is burned into my mind. It was perhaps the only embrace in which our souls felt our pain, our sadness and also the little love we had left for each other, for a few minutes in our 30-year marriage.

I was fortunate to have help from some selfless, kind people, without whom I would not have been able to leave.

An uncertain freedom

19 January 2022. Back in the winter of Germany. From the warm equator to the sub-zero temperatures of Frankfurt. I had my suitcase and a backpack; nothing else was left from those 30 years. I didn’t want anything else.

For a long time, the only feelings I had were loneliness, of having uprooted myself: of not belonging anywhere and no longer wanting to belong anywhere. Our children had already given up a long time ago. They couldn’t watch it, couldn’t stand it anymore.

Quito – Madrid – Frankfurt – Stuttgart. A 40-hour journey. Suddenly, a muddled thought flashed through my mind: “My vaccinations aren’t valid in Germany. What now?”

I stood at the Frankfurt railway station with only €20 in my pocket. I didn’t see anywhere to warm up until the train left. The station’s charitable mission was the only place I could go. The young woman at my table gave me a piece of chocolate cake.

I felt like a failure then, just like everyone who walks through those doors. And that’s exactly why I was so grateful to be there. I knew that I had exchanged the false security with my violent husband for freedom – but it didn’t seem to offer me any support.

Loneliness, emotional turmoil, feelings of guilt towards the children who themselves had suffered so much from his violence, feelings of guilt towards my entire family. Why did it take so long to open my eyes? And at the same time, I felt an almost inexplicable yearning to be with him, to go back to the old cycle of violence and regret.

Finding yourself again

The next 18 months led to an inner journey that sometimes caused just as much terrible pain as my previous life. Inpatient therapy, facing up to my life, to my failure, to myself.

It wasn’t just the hellish years of my marriage that needed to be looked at, but mainly the 30 years that preceded them. I realised that I had drifted through life for 60 years without any self-worth. I hadn’t learned to recognise, appreciate and take myself and my feelings seriously.


How could I lose myself like that?

Wasn’t I on the right path?

That old fear of not feeling loved

Was stronger and was leading me onto a dangerous bridge

that broke beneath me

Hope and illusion – two powerful drugs –

until I fell apart

But they carried me through pain and torment

The voice saying stop fell on deaf ears

I haven’t felt like myself for a long time.

Starting life anew

12 September 2023. I have an appointment with a lawyer in a few days. I’m filing for divorce. And I’m trying to forgive myself.

The responsibility never lies with just one person. That will never justify his violence, but I also had my reasons for staying and maintaining the relationship for so long, and for not sparing my children the misery much earlier.

I am well on my way to coming to terms with my past and becoming a part of society again. But it’s not over yet. I have to slowly nurture a new relationship with my children and rebuild the trust that we destroyed. It will be a long and painful process. But I dream of one day sitting down at a table with them and laughing together warmly, happily.

We have a long way to go, but I know that this moment will come. That’s what I’m working for, and it will only happen like this:

When I’ve managed

To overcome all my fears

To find myself and appreciate her

To no longer walk in his footsteps

But rather follow my heart.

When his blood no longer flows in my veins

only then will I be free

and we can talk again

3 November 2023. I no longer need him to know who I am.

Translated from German by Sarah G Robinson

Courtesy of Trott-war /