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Hidden Costs and Lasting Shame of Financial Abuse

The Debt That Saved My Life

By Veronica WrenPublished 20 days ago 13 min read
Top Story - April 2024
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(For insurance purposes, this is Photoshopped). Photo by author: Veronica Wren

I’ve always been responsible with my money. I have a job that pays decently, although (like many in our inflated economy) I should definitely be making more for what I do. I regularly check my credit score. I don’t eat out much, nor do I spend frivolously on non-essentials.

So why can’t I seem to get a foothold on the debt I’ve been slowly sinking into for the past 3 years?

Financial Abuse and Intimate Partner Violence

Financial abuse occurs in 98% of abusive relationships and is the number one reason victims stay in or return to abusive relationships. — PCADV

To the outside observer, it may seem like I haven’t been as financially savvy as I could have been the past several years. I understand how it may look that way. After all, in the middle of a pandemic, I picked up and moved across the country alone, without a job lined up.

But that adventure is far from the whole story.

I hope it might soften the knee-jerk disdain society wants you to feel toward those deemed financially irresponsible when you learn that for many years now, nearly every resource I’ve had has gone toward either escaping or recovering from domestic violence.

That’s not to say I don’t feel ashamed for my lack of financial stability. I have a lot of internal conflict about the decisions I’ve had to make that have been steadily draining my bank accounts. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like they were really “decisions” at all.

From where I’m sitting, on the couch of my run-down apartment 1500 miles from home, I did the only things I felt like I could do in order to keep breathing.

Abusers Can’t be Choosers

In 2020, in the thick of a global pandemic, I’m grateful to say that I was finally able to escape a five-year abusive relationship with a violent, gun-obsessed, alcoholic, narcissistic cop.

We’d purchased a home just the year before, after searching together for months at his request.

When we finally landed on a place we both loved, he suddenly changed his attitude on moving, claiming I was the one insisting we move in the first place. He complained that he couldn’t afford to pitch in on the down payment because he made less than me, and that I was taking advantage of him by expecting him to pay for something I wanted.

In reality, there were many reasons he had less money than I did. His excessive drinking and dangerous behaviors had resulted in both of us losing our jobs a couple of years prior.

I plan to share the full story of that nightmare situation at some point, but honestly it’s incredibly difficult to write or think about.

Fortunately, I was able to find a new job pretty quickly (hair toss), but it took him much longer due to the circumstances.

From then on, I was expected to support both of us and regularly covered expenses that should have been shared. He moved into my apartment, where he refused to contribute to rent. What little money I had leftover, he’d pour into a glass and drink on ice.

When it came time to put money down on the home we’d chosen, he proceeded to throw a gigantic, manipulative tantrum about how the entire house hunt had been a waste of time for which I was to blame.

In the end, I covered the entire down payment, nearly my entire life savings, to placate him.

We signed the deal and moved about an hour away from my family and work.

“Why Didn’t You Leave?”

About a month after moving into our new place, I caught my abuser cheating on me with multiple women.

Our finances now tangled as they were, paired with other abuses and control in which I was entangled, I was left with little choice but to try to work it out.

Just days after that trauma, my car was totaled in a storm and I was badly injured. I was left with the crushing costs of medical bills and finding another car. In the meantime, I had to rely on my abuser to help me get around the house until I recovered. I also had to count on him if I needed to drive anywhere.

Lovebombs Away: The Cycle of Abuse and Control

After the crash and cheating, he initially went into lovebomb mode, helping me get around and even doting on me. This is a common control tactic and part of the cycle of abuse meant to make victims feel indebted or dependent on their abusers.

He undoubtedly did this in order to hold it over my head later when he felt he was entitled to something I didn’t want to do for him. I’m sure he also thought this made up for the cheating.

These honeymoon periods never lasted long, however, and the abuses tended to escalate when they inevitably returned.

The arguments became ever-more frequent and severe. He quickly became fed up with my complaints of pain from the crash, demanding sex despite how uncomfortable it was for me. He’d criticize the weight I’d gained as a result of my injuries. He’d pick fights, then disappear on benders with little to no contact or explanation, surely setting up a new supply with his next victim. I caught his truck driving by my location on several occasions, checking up on me.

I was in mental, physical, and emotional tatters. I knew by this point that he was still cheating, and honestly didn’t care if it meant he left my body alone, but I was still his possession.

Sign of the Times

These circumstances came to a head when the pandemic hit in 2020.

Trapped in our house together even more than we’d been before, there was no where I could escape his violent, cruel moods.

When we’d fight, I’d often tell him I was worried he’d end up killing me. I even confided this fear to his enabling mother. It’s chilling to remember how neither of them bothered denying it or even looking surprised.

It finally, finally sunk in that if I didn’t do something I wouldn’t be alive much longer. With help from my counselor and some incredible loved ones I hadn’t managed to isolate myself from completely, I was able to arrange my successful escape.

In the end, this meant moving out of the house (which I’d primarily paid for and maintained) without a fight. I simply no longer had the strength.

Breaking Away: Abuse Doesn’t Stop When the Relationship Does

Unfortunately, my abuser’s violent nature and connections with law enforcement (many of whom I knew to be abusive and/or violent in their own right) left me hyperaware of how unsafe I was in my own hometown.

After months spent fighting to convince my abuser to sell the house we’d shared (both of our names were on the contract), he finally relented so that he could move in with the woman with whom he’d immediately replaced me.

No one falls in love faster than a man looking for a place to live and a capable woman to take care of him. I hope she’s doing ok.

This came shortly after he’d blown through any remaining money he had, opened a credit card in my name, then maxed it out, destroying my credit.

He’d also stolen several of my sentimental possessions when I moved out, parsing them out every month or so in an attempt to convince me to meet up with him and keep me on a leash.

Good People: Social Supports Can Make All the Difference

Miraculously, I was able to get back most of what I’d put down on the house. I’d been staying with an endlessly generous loved one who’d been charging me almost nothing.

I am forever grateful to have had those lifelines. They allowed me to scrape together enough money to make my next move: getting as far as fucking possible away from my abuser so I could start trying to feel safe again.

This ended up meaning moving across the country with no job, resources, or connections.

Something’s Gotta Give: Fighting Injustice in an Unjust System

Burnt out and disillusioned from my own experiences working with and being abused by toxic cops, I decided I could no longer justify feeling complicit with the justice system’s overwhelming and deeply rooted failures.

I’d done my best to change a broken system, but the system believed it was working just fine. I decided it was finally time to completely change careers and try to do some good in other ways.

In a brand new state. In the middle of a global health crisis, economic depression, and job crisis.

That probably sounds pretty wild, and it was indeed a huge risk. That should tell you how bad I’d learned the justice system was on the inside. Irreparably so.

Something in the Way She Moves

I didn’t really care where I ended up, as long as it was far away. I spent a few months trying to apply to jobs in other states, hoping to secure one before committing to moving. In short, that was a bust.

After getting some advice from an incredible mentor, I decided to take the plunge and move across the country, picking a spot on the map and hoping I’d be able to find work wherever I landed.

This was made more frustrating by the knowledge that I could’ve gotten absolutely a job as a patrol officer if I just gave in and took one. Females are woefully underrepresented in law enforcement for many reasons, including the exact reasons for which I was leaving.

Although I did apply at a few departments as a backup plan in my more anxious moments, I kept turning down interviews because I couldn’t stomach continuing in that field any longer. I would rather have failed and moved home than be around that toxic and triggering culture any longer.

After months of searching, and a mind-numbing number of interviews for other roles, I finally landed in a position that’s turned out to be such a positive thing in my life. I absolutely love my company and coworkers, and I’m so fortunate to have space to grow my writing and creativity while also feeling genuinely good about my work’s impact.

That SINKing Feeling: Money, Living Conditions, and Mental Health

As someone who’s been lovingly referred to as a SINK (Single Income, No Kids) for the nearly three years it’s been since I escaped, it seems like I should have plenty of money built back up now.

Unfortunately, after everything that got me to this point, I have a humiliating amount of debt piling up. This is something I find difficult to bring up to those who know me, because it feels like there’s not much I can do except keep trying to turn the ship and pay down the debt that saved my life.

I don’t live with anyone currently, because my mental health was in such shambles when I moved that the idea of living with someone else, especially an unknown roommate in an unknown state, sounded beyond terrifying and suffocating.

My apartment is embarrassingly expensive for the dump that it is, but it’s the best I could afford. That alone takes a significant portion of my paycheck. Sadly, the woeful living conditions only further add to my mental strain.

Abuse, Financial Instability, and Physical Health

Financial anxiety has been shown to negatively impact physical as well as mental health. Studies have found that financial stress can lead to burnout, reduced immune response, heart disease, and an overall shortened lifespan.

These effects are compounded by the already negative health outcomes of abuse survivors.

Abused women have a 50% to 70% increase in gynecological, central nervous system, and stress-related problems, with women sexually and physically abused most likely to report problems. — NIH

Compared to those who haven’t suffered abuse, survivors have higher rates of chronic pain, digestive problems, STIs, headaches, vaginal bleeding/infections, appetite loss, UTIs, and other chronic issues.

Counseling is a “luxury” I insist upon at least once a month. I can’t afford it nearly as often as desired or recommended, but I do the best I can for my brain in other ways such as journaling, art, meditation practices, and rigorous exercise. This routine may not fix everything, but we do what we can with what we have.

Nowadays

I absolutely love the new city I landed in, which is an incredibly blessing. I’m grateful to the sense of peace it brings me to be so far away from my abusers looming presence. I also regularly cringe at how expensive it is to be here.

I spend a lot of my free time outdoors, because it’s freeing for my mind as well as my wallet. I eat some form of eggs or smoothies for most meals because they’re cheap, filling, and relatively healthy. I do the best I can for myself, yet concerns about money and debt are ever-present.

Financial control is something that often keeps victims trapped, without the resources to escape their situation. Financial stress post-abuse is something that impacts so many abuse survivors. I’d imagine many of them are struggling this holiday season, just as I am. Being so far away from home means expensive flights, dog-sitters, holiday celebrations, plus gifts and other expenses.

I’m trying to chip away at my debt while incurring ever more due to the costs of living alone in this inflated world. It’s a daily stressor that leaves me with a lot of hidden shame and embarrassment.

No one deserves to be taken advantage of or forced to feel like they have no other option but to stay in a dangerous situation. Had I been financially secure enough to leave my abuser earlier, I could have saved myself from a lot of trauma.

For these reasons and more, it’s vital to recognize the signs of financial abuse in your own relationships and those of loved ones.

Intersectional Considerations

I’d like to highlight the fact that I’m speaking from the perspective of a white, middle-class, bisexual, cis-gender woman, a view that is by no means all-encompassing. I also acknowledge the fact that having access to resources and support needed to escape my abuser safely came from a privileged position in itself, which is exactly the problem.

I am incredibly fortunate to have been able to escape from my situation, and my hope in speaking out is to help others do the same.

I’m Glad You’re Here

After years spent advocating for domestic violence victims while hiding my own suffering, I refuse to let anyone feel abandoned in their abuse or its aftermath.

Trauma sucks. Recovery shouldn’t. That’s why I’m making communicating about my own experiences as normal as possible while actively calling out abuse and inequity when I see it.

My aim is to give others a safe environment in which to develop these tools so we can start making some much-needed changes together.

Please support my continued writing (and help me inch my way toward my first book) by following and engaging with me on trauma and advocacy. I’d love to hear from you!

Subscribe in one click to receive your FREE digital copy of my new guided journal, “Empower and Heal: 90 Days of Transformational Prompts for Trauma Recovery, Self-Discovery, and Growth”, delivered straight to your inbox!

Veronica Wren Trauma Recovery Book Club

Financial Feminist: Overcome the Patriarchy’s Bullsh*t to Master Your Money and Build a Life You Love — Tori Dunlap

This post may contain affiliate links. This just means if you click a link and decide to make a purchase, I’ll earn a few extra pennies to support my book-buying habit (and do an elaborate, celebratory dance around my apartment just for you). My promise to you is that I’ll only ever recommend resources I truly believe in and have found beneficial in my healing journey. Happy reading!

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About the Creator

Veronica Wren

Trauma sucks. Recovery shouldn't. Subscribe here for your FREE exclusive guided journal

❤️‍🩹 bio.link/veronicawren ❤️‍🩹

Domestic Abuse & CPTSD Recovery Coach

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Comments (9)

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  • Harbor Benassa9 days ago

    Having to rely on an abuser to help you navigate when you're sick or injured is terrifying. It makes the world feel so much less safe, because these "normal" risks people take with their health and safety are so much more threatening to your well-being. It makes it feel like you can't do things that normal people do without fear, because the consequences are amplified. I'm glad you made it out.

  • I really feel your pain here I relate with you too well unfortunately tho my situation has been getting better it’s never perfect or easy

  • Babs Iverson19 days ago

    Powerful, courageous story!!!"💕❤️❤️ Congratulations on Top Story too!!!

  • Thanks for bringing awareness on this fight for the rights of so many women, abused and sinking into debt because of trying to get back their rightful honest lives. Congrats on top story, you really deserve it!

  • Ameer Bibi19 days ago

    Congratulations for top story 🥳🥳You're making significant strides with your hard work and commitment. Keep up the momentum

  • Anna 19 days ago

    Congrats on Top Story!!

  • Davina Z. McKee19 days ago

    Thank you so much for writing this. You said a LOT. One of my biggest pet peeves with online writing is the clickbait nature of people saying a whole lot of nothing. But you touched on so many things women need to be aware of, and have conversations about… and all of it is connected. “No one falls in love faster than a man looking for a place to live and a capable woman to take care of him.” Right! Single women need to be mindful of this when a man wants to commit too fast. Even if he’s not abusive, it’s still a red flag that he’s looking for someone to mommy him. Men who are emotionally and financially stable move slow, because they actually have something to lose by settling down with a stranger. I know going into detail about your situation you escaped must be hard, but I hope you write about it in divine timing. When you’re ready to share your wisdom from a place of calm detachment it can benefit others so much. I love your idea to give people a guided journal too. 💗

  • Lindsay Sfara19 days ago

    What an incredible story. And you're absolutely right, recovery shouldn't suck. Thank you for sharing your experiences, and also for striving to make a safe space for others to cope.

  • Tabby London19 days ago

    Thank you for sharing your story Veronica. Your resilience is an inspiration. I wish you well.

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