Domestic violence has dominated the headlines lately. Mel Gibson spewed a sexist and racist violent verbal tirade on ex-girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva, telling her she deserved to be hit. Last month, Feministing posted an article on how texting contributes to dating violence and Gender Across Borders (GAB) posted an article on the link between domestic abuse and animal cruelty. Singer/abuser Chris Brown had a “breakdown” at the BET awards (seriously why is this asshat still allowed to perform?!) and some question Rihanna singing about “liking the way it hurts” in an abusive relationship in the song “Love the Way You Lie.” There’s even going to be a new reality TV show Abusers, providing interventions in domestic violence situations.
This is a vital issue dear to my heart. In the U.S., one in four women will face domestic violence in her lifetime. I grew up witnessing an abusive relationship when I was very young. I wouldn’t witness one again until I myself was in it. I debated whether or not to share my own story, to put it out there in the blogosphere. But then I realized that it’s not my shame as I did nothing wrong.
People who don’t know this about me may be shocked. I’m the strong, loud-mouthed woman; an uber feminist, advocating for women’s independence and autonomy. How could this happen to me? And yet to my horror, it did.
Now everyone’s situation is different; I don’t claim that there is some universal domestic violence situation. And the LGBTQ community experiences domestic abuse as well. But I’m here to share my story.
I was in two abusive relationships. The first was when I was 18. He didn’t become violent or even aggressive until we moved in together. When we fought, he became volatile and controlling, not wanting me to leave or allowing me to even use the phone. I left soon after the first time he slapped me. But things were not over yet.
My ex proceeded to stalk me over the next few months. He would come to my job, sometimes sitting in the parking lot outside where I worked. Other times, he would come into the store, threatening me. When I told him I was going to call the cops on him, he just laughed, calling me a “little girl.” As I worked late shifts, my protective co-workers would follow me into the parking lot to make sure I got to my car safely. One night, I was driving home when I saw familiar headlights in my rear view mirror. Just to be safe, I passed by my apartment, heading to the police station. Luckily, it either wasn’t him or he lost interest and I was able to go home. I moved and changed jobs and didn’t hear from him again. Years passed and I moved on, or so I thought.
The second abusive relationship occurred in my mid 20’s. We were together for about a year when we decided to move in together. One night, he came home very late and very drunk. We began to argue as he didn’t call me to tell me he was running late. The next thing I knew, out of nowhere, he punched me in the side of my stomach, cracking my ribs. It hurt to breathe too deeply or laugh for several months afterwards.
Shocked yet furious, I fought back, pushing him. This only enraged him further as he proceeded to push me onto the bed. He wrapped his fingers around my throat, squeezing and choking me. I tried to lift my feet, legs, knees, hands, anything. But his legs and elbows pinned my limbs down, his oppressive weight not allowing me to move. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I kept thinking over and over, “I have to free myself. I can’t die like this. But oh my god, this could be the end.”
Luckily, he finally stopped and then passed out. I was horrified. Yet I assumed the alcohol spurred his actions. He apologized, promising to never drink excessively again. But I soon learned that it had nothing to do with alcohol. A couple of months later, we got into an argument. He tossed me on the kitchen floor and kicked me repeatedly. A few months later, I left him. I had dealt with his bullshit long enough and could no longer live in fear.
In both situations, I thought I could fix things, if only I could make the guys better. I put the responsibility on me. While I didn’t believe it was completely my fault, I still thought I played a role, that I instigated the situation by behaving too bitchy or too angry. Yet I told myself that I wasn’t like other people in abusive relationships because I had high self-esteem and I loved who I was (still do…yay!). Yet I eventually came to realize that despite my positive opinions of myself, I still had a difficult time envisioning that I deserved a loving, supportive partner and relationship. Luckily, I now know that I do.
People often wonder how a woman could let it happen, particularly if there are children in the home. If it happens once, why stay? I’m sure many asked that when Rihanna’s story came to light. I mean she’s a beautiful young woman who has fame, money and celebrity status. But what people who are not domestic violence survivors don’t realize is that it’s not that simple. Nothing exists in black and white; everything is shaded grey.
A violent relationship often exists in a cycle. Things go well for a while. Then you start to bicker, arguing turns into fighting, and that’s when the physical violence may occur. Then the abuser usually feels guilty, conveying remorse, attempting to make it up to you, swearing he loves you and it will never happen again. This is deemed the “hearts and flowers” phase, when you think “oh he didn’t really mean it, he was “stressed” or “things can change.” In addition to physical abuse, abusers often dole out verbal and emotional abuse: controlling your finances, not allowing you to see your friends or family, telling you you’re fat, or ugly or worthless. Some women stay because they believe their partner or spouse will change. Others desperately want to leave but can’t as they’re bound by financial chains, worried they have nowhere to go. And still others stay for they don’t want anyone to know their dark shameful secret.
If you yourself are in an abusive relationship, please talk to someone you trust. Know that love never hurts (not in the physical way), you are stronger than you think and that you are not alone. There are many wonderful organizations ready to help. In the Boston area, there’s Casa Myrna Vasquez which provides counseling, housing, financial and legal services. You can also call a confidential hotline like Safelink. A national hotline, they answer questions on shelters and services. They also provide support if you need to prepare an escape plan or if you just need someone to listen. Hotlines also provide guidance to family or friends of those in need.
If you happen to know someone in an abusive relationship, as much as you want to, you can’t make them leave. As hard and as frustrating as it is, they must leave when they are ready. But what you can do is provide them with love, encouragement and support.
Domestic violence is an insidious crisis that affects us all. We shouldn’t assume women are lying, seeking money or to spite their partners/spouses. We need to remember that the abusers are the ones to blame, not the survivors. We need to provide a safe and supportive environment for women everywhere. We never know what goes on behind closed doors; we never know the private pain someone faces.
Domestic violence can strike any of us: our moms, sisters, best friends and even ourselves. I hope none of you ever have to go through what I did. But if you do happen to be in an abusive relationship, remember that you deserve better. You deserve love and respect…we all do.
If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, please call Safelink at (877) 785-2020. It’s multilingual, free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.