I have lived so long in this new life of mine that it’s sometimes hard to remember the old life happened. But every now and then, something takes me back to those days and it knocks the wind right out of me.
I remember that I was a victim of domestic violence.
I can tell you the first time I was really afraid of my ex-husband. We were having an argument. I was in our walk-in closet hanging up some clothes. He was standing in the doorway. Things were getting heated. I suggested we talk about this later. He didn’t want to. So I attempted to get past him, and he wouldn’t let me. He was a good 80 pounds heavier than I was, and he was strong. There was no way I was getting him to move. I struggled with him for a minute, but it did no good. I sat down in the closet and cried.
Things escalated from there. Pushing and shoving. Swearing and screaming. Threats and intimidations. All spread out between long periods of everyday kindnesses. He would go out on cold mornings and start my car. He would stop on the side of the road and pick wildflowers to bring home to me. He would wake up on Saturday mornings and make chocolate chip waffles with our kids. And sometimes, if he was angry enough, he would abuse me.
It took me a long time to use the word abuse. It felt like such a severe word for an occasional behavior. But the more it happened, the easier it became to accept. Even once I started to name the behavior, it still felt strong on my tongue, like maybe I was making it up or exaggerating things in my mind. I eventually started keeping notes of his outbursts, so I could look back and remind myself “See? That did happen.” I have kept these as a written record of things I have endured and things I have learned. And, oh, have I learned some things. Let me share some of those things with you.
Even if you don’t have a black eye, you can still be a victim of domestic violence. I remember sitting down with my boss one day. As a part of our church staff, he knew the issues I had in my marriage. He was a wise man with a fresh perspective. I was explaining to him that I was having trouble defining exactly what was taking place in my marriage. He asked me, “Would you feel the same way if you had a black eye today?” And I shook my head no. A black eye, a set of large bruises, a broken bone – those things would have screamed, “You are being abused!” For some reason, the name calling, the verbal threats, and the pushing and wrestling didn’t FEEL drastic enough. But let me assure you, when a man lays his hands on you to threaten, intimidate, or harm you in any way, that’s abuse. Even a too-firm grip on the arm can be abuse.
If he threatens to hurt you, you should believe him. I remember after one altercation, my ex-husband calmly sat down on our bed and said to me, “If you call the police and I go to jail, I will have a long time to sit there and think about how I will pay you back for that.” I believe he meant that. Safe people do not make those kinds of threats, even when they are angry.
If the important people won’t listen, keep talking until you find someone who will. I talked to my pastor and four different marriage counselors before I found someone that was willing to talk about the abuse. One counseling appointment was just a week after my ex-husband’s first arrest for domestic assault. The counselor didn’t want to talk about that. He wanted to focus on the “issues at hand.” I had been thrown onto the floor during an argument. I couldn’t imagine what issue could be more “at hand” than that. When I attempted to address the physical and emotional abuse with another counselor, he responded, “Well, we are all abusers in one way or another.” Finally, I found someone willing to address these serious issues with us. I kept talking until someone listened.
“All You Need Is Love” is a great song, but it just isn’t true. My heart was done the day my ex threw rocks through the back window of my van with my four kiddos strapped into their car seats inside. I was driving out of our driveway, and my oldest saw the shattered glass on the floor and began to cry. We drove directly to the police station, and we met an officer who went to arrest my ex-husband. I loved him, but there was no more will to make it work, to wait for things to change.
I’d rather be treated with kindness in the first place than have a hundred apologies. There is a Bible verse that says “Obedience is better than sacrifice.” It that basically means that it’s better to do the right thing in the first place than to do something wonderful to make up for having done the wrong thing. Abusers are excellent at apologies. They have years of experience with apologies. No amount of flowers or tears of regret can undo the damage that is done when angry words and fists fly.
I hope this doesn’t resonate with you. I hope can read this and feel a sigh of relief that your life is so different from my old life. But if you are the one in three women that has been victim of some form of physical violence by an intimate partner, you need to know that you aren’t alone. I know it sounds cliche, but isolation can rob you of your strength. Find help and surround yourself with support. You are worth it.