It's almost the end of Domestic Abuse Awareness month and I pondered whether or not to contribute something. It's personal, of course, and the waffling over how much to share and what to say was making it easy to do nothing.
But I'm tired of doing nothing. Considering a woman is beaten or assaulted by an intimate partner every 9 seconds in America, I figured I could at least open my mouth and have a voice.
Not long ago, I there myself, living in a web of emotional, and sometimes physical abuse. I didn't know how to get out, until suddenly I did. Reading personal stories from other women who got out and started over kept me going. They still do.
My stilted essay, for what it's worth, is the best I can do right now. But it's something, and sometimes, a small something is all it takes to impact a woman or man who needs help.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline was so valuable to me. Take a peek and see if it helps you, too.
* * *
Getting out isn’t easy. It took me twenty-two years before I did. I knew in my heart after a handful of those years that I needed to leave. But then things would get better, and they’d stay better for a long time. Babies came. New careers came. Time left.
And then time came again when it wasn’t better anymore. Those were the seconds, minutes, hours, I spent lying in bed, terrified and waiting for the next time bomb to go off. Would he come in raging again, or just go to sleep? Would I get pinned against a wall this time, or would he leave me be?
There was so much booze and beer and intoxicating things that only made his rage worse. But in between those times? In between those soaked hours of the evening and the next bad day? He was the good guy. The nice guy, the one everyone loved.
Everyone but me. I was the stupid bitch. The idiot. How stupid are you? God, what a dumb bitch you are. I was her, too stupid to live. I was the only one who knew how the man turned into a monster, yet had the amazing ability to gaslight me into believing I was making it up—I was stretching things that had occurred in the bad times until they weren’t recognizable anymore. I really was a stupid bitch. Maybe I did get it wrong… maybe it hadn’t been as bad as I remembered. Maybe…
My babies became victims, too. It was little things at first, barely noticeable things. A bruise here or there. A story from one little mouth about Daddy being mean. As they grew, so did the incidents. So did the stories. So did the bruises. And then it would be good again, for a long time.
Until he screamed in my ear so loud, I couldn’t hear out of it for two days. I was on anxiety medication. Antidepressants! Medicine for my stomach. Pills for my migraines. I was always sick and he was always drunk. Unless he needed to put on his good guy face. And then, he was Prince Charming while I was dying inside and my babies were anxious, tired, strained.
Through it all—the loaded gun, the vehicle accident he caused at highway speeds because he was angry at me, and all the other thing—through it all, I lived for the good times because I thought if I loved enough. If I prayed enough. IF I WAS ENOUGH, he would stop.
And we’d be a family. A real family. A safe and loving family.
I didn't want to be enough, not for him, not for this life. It wasn't a family. It was war.
And the bottom fell out, and the police came, and the handcuffs clicked, and a restraining order was set for four, blessed years.
Four years. A lifetime of safety for my babies and me. I didn’t know until I watched him hauled off in a squad car how easy it was to breathe. I could take in a full breath and let it out, and another one would come and fill my chest until it expanded, and my heart rejoiced! I… I don’t know how long it had been since I’d taken just one full, deep, necessary breath.
It’s been months now. I’m no longer on medication. I’ve never felt better, physically. Emotionally? It’s up and down, as any major life event will do. Mostly, I’m good. I’m great. I’m…
Well, I’m free. My babies are free.They are thriving. They are loved.
But the hard part isn’t over once you get out. And you must. You must get out. After you do, remember that he will still try and get to you. In his mind, he is innocent.
He will spout, and deny, and fabricate, and lie. Whatever it takes for his friends and co-workers, hell, even strangers on the street, to believe that he is innocent. He’s the good guy.
Well, you, have the story all wrong. You’re twisting events. You’re making it sound worse than it was. What you said—what you know and believe and lived!—never. Happened.
You’re a liar.
You’re a damn liar.
But let me tell you that being a liar in your abuser’s mind is better than living the nightmare he put you through. In his mind, you’re the root of all his current problems.
But in your heart, he is nothing more than dust sweeping off the road in a storm. The rain will clear, and the sun will shine down onto this newness you’ve created for yourself. Because you were strong and you got out.
You got out.
It doesn’t matter what he says to others about you. Okay, it matters a little. I know that it hurts, and I know that you want people to believe you. Trust me when I tell you that they do, and they will, and you’re not obligated in any way to absorb or believe what he says about you now.
Because you’re out. You’re free from the toxicity of an abusive embrace.
He will doubt you. But don’t you ever doubt yourself.
Each day you go forward now.
I might be a few steps ahead or a few steps behind you, but know that I’m cheering you on.
Because we’re out.
And we’re going to make the most of this new life.
No matter what anyone says.