Lord I've had my deal; But I never quite knew how it feels; When love makes you wake up sore; With fists that are ready for more.
Blue, blue, black and blue; Red blood sticks like glue; True love is cruel love; Red blood's a powerful fuel; Sweet love, tasty blood; My heart over floods. - The Cardigans
My heart breaks for women (and men) who are trapped in a relationship where the sport of the day is domestic abuse. I want to share my story because it's important for anyone who is living in fear and walking on eggshells to seek help and support. Life is too short to be controlled, feel imprisoned or trapped.
I know why people stay with an abusive partner. I did it for a long time. Abuse comes in all forms: emotional, physical, financial and the usual pattern is that it escalates over time.
My partner came on very strong and moved things along at a very fast pace. He was very charming and at my young age I mistook his jealously for passion.
Initially it was my partner just yelling over me to control the conversation. From there it went from blocking doorways or him following me from room to room - not allowing a fight to end. At this point, there was never any physical abuse, but the threat of it swirled in the air around me and felt very real. Sometimes while I stood there, his face too close to mine, I would feel his spit as he screamed. When I yelled back it escalated to me being shoved. I tried to keep the peace so my kids would not hear the turmoil and be frightened, but they heard plenty.
I didn't leave because I had allowed him to ingrain in my head how 'dependent' the kids and I were upon him. How no one would put up with my migraines or take care of me the way he did. I was called stupid or it was implied so often, I began to believe it. My confidence dissipated. I worried endlessly about not being able to care for my kids properly if I left. I was also very aware that if I tried to leave the violence would escalate. I felt trapped and horribly ashamed that I was in a situation that made me feel like a weak person. I tried to hide it from everyone and I tried lying to myself that it wasn't all that bad and it would never happen again.
The first act of violence left black and blue marks in the shape of fingerprints on the backs of my arms for two weeks. I clearly can remember when he pushed me up against a bedroom wall and squeezed my arms while my daughter who was in fourth grade watched. She was frightened. I was frightened and I distinctly knew in that moment I began to hate this man who had vowed to honor and protect me. Yet I stayed. I wish I had the sense or strength to leave back then, but sadly I did not. When kids witness violence it changes who they are. When we experience violence it changes who we are.
I remember seeking out a specialist in the area. I sat on her couch on a drizzly Autumn afternoon trying to wrap my head around all of it and I asked her, "Does he love me?" This was the question that haunted me over and over for years. The therapist studied me and grew quiet. She didn't answer right away - looking back now I think it was to get my full attention so I would hear her loud and clear (it worked). Finally, she responded with, "You should never feel unsafe with anyone who loves you." I really heard her. It clicked for good. This was not love. It took me a long time to realize some people are not capable of real love.
It's difficult for anyone who has never experienced this type of toxicity to understand why anyone would stay. The best way to explain it is that it feels like a slow brainwashing that takes place over time until you are so far into the cult you can't escape. I had become a shell of myself. No longer a free-spirit, outgoing or happy. Day after day going through the motions and trying to keep the peace. Where would the kids and I go? Would he fight me for custody? Could I support the kids? Who would help us?
Eventually it got to the point where the cops cars were coming down the driveway in our affluent neighborhood. The secret was out. My Mother and my Niece sat with me all the next day as the phone rang off the hook and they begged me not to take him back. They had witnessed the violence enough to be frightened for my safety.
If it wasn't for the restraining order I fear I never would have gotten away. I slept with a golf club under my bed for months and didn't sleep at all. The war was on. I was being shut off financially and he was trying to make life difficult at every turn. It was as ugly as it gets. The kids were stuck in the middle of the manipulation and it seemed as if it would never end.
I knew getting away would be difficult but I underestimated just how difficult it would be and I underestimated the lengths he would go to to try to make me fail. At one point, I made the dreadful mistake of thinking I could play his game and he would help us financially. I let him in the house and when I asked him to leave he become enraged. My son stepped into protect me and a violent attack against my son ensued. I knew I would never forgive this man or myself for allowing him in.
People did support me. The divorce dragged on for years but I fought back. I fought for the rights of my children, the right for me to be free, my right to be respected and I learned through the challenges that I was a force to be reckoned with. "Although she may be little she is fierce." Never underestimate yourself or your ability to fight for your rights.
Today I am a free-spirit again. I LIVE. I sing. I joined a dance class. I hike. I am self supporting myself and helping my college children on my measly salary. I found my voice. I found my laugh. I value true friendships, moments of serenity and simple moments.
My message is that no one has to remain a victim - you always have a choice to become a survivor. The first step is in saying, "No. It is not okay for you to treat me this way and I will not stand for it." Will it be difficult? Yes. I'm sorry to tell you, it will be difficult. Will the fear cripple you forever or will you fight your way to freedom in order to live? Choose to live.
To those of you who have watched a friend, family member or neighbor stay in an abusive relationship, please do not judge them. You have not walked in their shoes and therefore could not possibly understand the complexity and fear that he or she is suffering. Be there for them if they need you. Support them if they ask - their life may depend on it.
Feel free to email me if you are experiencing a similar situation and need someone to listen. From my heart to yours...you should never feel unsafe with someone who claims to love you.