Six years ago today, I took action to change my life. I left my abusive boyfriend whom I had lived with for over three years. A lot of people are probably asking themselves why I would still be talking about this, or living in the past, but that’s not what this is about. It’s about me.
There is a social stigma around domestic violence and abuse victims.
It’s uncomfortable and no one wants to talk about it, often including the victims ourselves. Lots of questions from outsiders are silently asked behind the victim’s back, like, “Why doesn’t she leave?” and “Well, how bad can it be if she’s still there?“, “I wonder what she did to deserve it. You never know what goes on behind closed doors.” Or my favorite: “She’s lying.” Because otherwise, why would she be there?
I’m hear to tell you that sometimes it’s not as easy as just leaving.
Abusers often have a psychological hold over their victims. In my case, my abuser spent 3+ years verbally assaulting me until I felt worthless and unable to take care of myself. That’s what they like: control. They don’t want us to be able to leave them, because then they lose that control they need to make themselves feel better. I never felt like I could leave, because I was made to feel less than every single day. He broke my spirit deliberately.
My abuser was smart and calculating. He abused me by taking my money. Yes, I willingly handed it over, but I felt compelled to do so, because I knew that if I didn’t, I’d be forced to sleep on the floor, or trapped in a closet, or be made to sit in a dark room with no electricity.
My abuser backed me into corners and called me stupid, ugly and pointless. My abuser would snap at me to move back to Michigan, because no one wanted me here, and then turn around 15 minutes later and charmingly say how sorry he was and would I please take him back? My abuser cheated. My abuser hurled me into a wall and gave me bruises. My abuser dragged me across our back deck by the back collar of my shirt, choking me, before pinning me to the ground with his own body weight. My abuser killed my cat and made two others “disappear”. I never turned him in because I couldn’t prove it and I was afraid of him.
I could probably write a book on my experience, titled How To Date A Sociopath for Dummies. It would be a best seller.
A lot of people in my life pulled away from me, because it understandably made them uncomfortable. Confidantes of abuse victims feel guilty. They feel awkward. They pity. They pull away. But I wish they wouldn’t. I’m personally telling you that pulling away is the worst thing you can do, because without your support, they feel even more dependent on their abuser for validation and self-worth.
Being a victim is a lonely experience. Haunting, even. I was a ghost of myself for a long time. I stopped hanging out with friends, I stopped going places. I stopped reading, because he knew reading was my escape from him and would force me to sit in a dark room without lights so I couldn’t even leave the situation in my mind with a book. And he did so much more to me than just these things I’ve told you.
“People like you never leave.”
I remember the day I decided to leave. Coincidentally, it was the same day he had dragged me across the back deck by my shirt. I sat sobbing on the deck with my back to the rail, crying that I was done and leaving, while he put his arms around me to “console” me, and whispered into my ear, “People like you never leave.”
I left five days later with the help of my father from whom I had hidden the abuse, and some dear friends who are so special to me – friends who very much feared I’d go running back to him. They are my village. I am really proud of who I am today and how far I have come and it’s because of them and their combined strength that I was able to change my life. I still have nightmares, I still get anxious, but my village talks me through it and reassures me that everything is okay. I would be less without them. I might not be, without them. Admittedly, talking about it is awkward even now…but it shouldn’t be. Most people will completely pass over this post, or read it and then move on because it’s hard to listen to such an uncomfortable story when we hardly ever talk openly about it.
I’m telling you all of this because I refuse to be silent. If I make people uncomfortable, good. It needs to be talked about. It needs to be said and discussed and dissected so we come to terms with the realization that domestic violence is more common than we think. It needs open dialogue so victims aren’t afraid to speak out and get help. So they aren’t ashamed.
Victims are victims twice: once by their abuser and then once again by the social stigma surrounding being an abuse victim. I refuse to be a victim any longer. I will not be shamed that I stayed for so long nor keep silent about my struggle. I will always talk about my experience. I refuse to be a victim, so I’m telling you that the social stigma needs to go and the only way it will is if we talk about it. Out loud. Out in the open. If we share our experiences.
I refuse to be a victim.
If you feel like you might be the victim of domestic abuse, please contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline. You can also call 1-800-799-7233 for help.