** This is a re-post of an article I wrote a few years ago.
I am a domestic violence survivor.
I sit here and stare at those words and marvel at how easy it is to write them. It took me a long time to admit it even to myself. I hate the words domestic violence and not just because I suffered through it. Allow me to explain as I tell my complicated story of love.
No little girl ever grows up dreaming of dating or marrying an abuser. Instead, we are taught the fairy tale. Girl meets boy. Boy is rich, handsome, charming, successful and your father loves him. Girl falls in love. He proposes, they marry and it’s happily ever after. A perfect storybook tale about love.
Once upon a time, I thought I had that fairy tale. He was all of the above. The kind of guy you could take home and introduce to your parents. The sort of fella your parents would instantly love. Oh yes and mine sure did. A perfect storybook about love.
Except, it wasn’t ever perfect. Now, a few years later, I look back and see the warning signs. He didn’t want to hang out with my friends and even considered them an imposition on him and our relationship. Isolation is the first step in an abusive relationship because it takes you away from anyone who might call the game.
I was fortunate enough to be in school so physical isolation wasn’t going to work. School involved a lot of critical thinking and interaction which also proved helpful. I resisted the isolation and noted how he particularly resisted being around family as well. I’m close to mine so that was a problem.
Questions began to plague me about our relationship but the charm would turn on and he would do nice things. Take me to nice places and treat me like I was special. I stayed for three years.
Then came the summer leading into my final year of school. He made me feel guilty for taking a job away from him. He made me feel guilty for wanting to take a trip with my friends before that final year and the real world began. I might not be yet ready to admit this was abusive but I wasn’t going to live in guilt.
I ended the relationship and then my real hell began.
To say he took it poorly would be an understatement. To say the next several years were hell would not be an overstatement. Even now I marvel at the details and wonder if anyone would ever believe the entire story. Recounting every episode would fill a book. Maybe someday I will write that book but for now I will be brief.
At no point during our first three years together did physicality every come into play. After I ended things the situation escalated. There were late night car chases as I would try to escape the stalking. There was an altercation at a restaurant because I dared move on and go on a date. After After I was forced to explain the situation to my poor date, he ended the evening. I never heard back from him. I don’t blame him.
As bad as it was, it certainly could have escalated further if not for one major incident. He showed up the courthouse where I was working. The resulting scene was bad enough for a court officer to follow me, and him, as I attempted to walk back to my office. He wanted to talk to me and it didn’t matter that I asked him to leave.
The court officer walked up to see if everything was alright and he left. The court officer walked me to my office where now I had to explain the situation. I was advised to go to the police. I didn’t. In fact, I never went to the authorities at all. I was fortunate enough to have resources available to contact if I had any problems.
In the meantime, I was being counseled and encouraged to move. I decided that was the right course and so I did. It took a while to find me but he did and showed up at a new employer. This time however it would be different.
This time it hit too close to home for him. He couldn’t continue to show up there because word would finally get out. Publicity was to be avoided at all costs.
A gradual detente set in and I am free from most interaction now and have been for a while. I rarely speak on that time even with those closest to me. To this day, I haven’t shared the full details of what happened with anyone. The reasons why I haven’t shared them are complicated.
I never officially went to the authorities, never sought a restraining order, and protected his reputation like it was my own. My feelings about it are complicated as well. His mother and sister asked me not to do it. They were trying to protect him. I understood because I had that emotion too. You protect the ones you love and I loved him.
How can you love someone who hurts you? God I wish I had an answer to that question. At times we are all going to hurt someone we love. A harsh word here, a broken promise there and you have hurt feelings. We are all conditioned to be a forgiving society. Everyone makes mistakes right?
He wasn’t always the bad guy. He did nice things for me. He did incredibly nice things for others. He was a loving son and brother. We had moments so exquisite it took my breath away.
Human beings are complicated.
Women are conditioned to be silent about so many things. Our societal history is composed of women being told not to stand up, speak up, rock the boat or talk back. Recall sugar and spice and all that’s nice? Women especially don’t talk about unpleasant personal things. On the surface everything must be perfect.
I didn’t tell because I wasn’t sure I would be believed (even though I had plenty of witnesses). I didn’t want to hurt him or his family. I wasn’t sure I could withstand the onslaught of scrutiny that would ensue. I just wanted to get away and live in peace.
Do I regret now not ever going public? Yes I do. Yet, I don’t fault the younger, scared and overwhelmed version of me. I knew how hard it would be to challenge a system overwhelmingly stacked against me.
This is why I dislike the words domestic violence. Hidden problems cannot and will not ever be solved. Call it what it is and this a violent act conducted against a family member or someone who is intimately associated with you. The term domestic carries the connotation of a private act that must never see the light of day.
The only way to eradicate a problem is for it to come to light and be dealt with after a full examination of the facts. Far too often the debate about violence against women excludes the viewpoint of those who have personal experience with it. That has to change and the only way it can change is to make it public and acknowledge the issues.
Domestic violence. Personal. Hidden. Misunderstood. Silence.