If you don’t have time for this full piece, scroll to the bottom where you’ll find a good article on how to help someone in an abusive situation.
I was a domestic violence victim for 17 years, half my life by the time I finally made it out. In those 17 years I divorced him and remarried him and chose to have 2 kids with him while we were still divorced.
Most of you who read my blogs, I think, would not consider me the victim type. I did a lot of work to change from a victim to a brazen, confidant Wylde Woman. But I’m getting ahead of myself. I want to try to track some of this.
I was the only, adopted child of an alcoholic Mom. My father held me to standards that were hard to attain. If I can an A in school, he wanted to know why I didn’t get an A+.
Before my pre-teens I was active, and a tom-boy. I liked jeans and t-shirts and flannel shirts (this is in the 50s) and was the only girl allowed to hang out with the 3 neighborhood boys because I was quite willing to fight if called for. I remember being confident. I was not afraid to talk back to adults I thought were wrong.
Then, something changed, and I remember being painfully shy.
Trying to find the thread, I think the shyness started in 5th grade, when I was looking at books in the aisle of Dart Drugstore on Lee Highway in Arlington Va. Momma was a few aisles over looking at cards in one of those twirly stands they put cards on. There was a man looking at books beside me. I remember smiling a greeting to him and continuing to look at books. I chose a book that had 2 stories: a horse story and a dog story. When I turned to go towards my Mom, he had his fully erect penis out, smiled at me, and said: “You like this?” I brushed past him. I didn’t tell my Mom. For 3 years. I didn’t go back into that Dart Drug ever again. My parents never asked why.
By the time I was in my teens, Dad would call Mom at night (he worked nights) and she’d be drunk and he’d have her put me on the phone and ask me whether or not she was drunk, with her standing there. It felt like being put on the spot. It *was* being put on the spot. My life long distrust of psychiatrists started at about the same time – Mom was seeing one and he knew she was drinking and yet he was giving her downs to sleep and ups to wake. She, on some days, did in a fifth of gin and half a fifth of bourbon. And some nights she would wake me to come write down long disjointed thoughts because her hand was tired and she felt she needed to get this all out on paper.
Up until 16 I was the “good girl/good daughter” personified. I followed the rules. I thought about being a nun (I was Catholic in a Catholic school). I have my diaries with entries about being a nun. I got good grades. I made National Honor Society.
My cousin, raising hell for her own reason, came to live with us. Out riding between Tops Drive Inns on Lee Highway in Arlington and Broad Street in Falls Church with her, I ran into my next 17 years. She wasn’t shy. The next night I lied to my Mom for the first time and said I was going to a school dance and went and met Him instead.
Maybe the shadow side of the Good Girl is the Rebel. At any rate, I embraced that persona whole heartedly. At school, no one really expected anything from me but my known Good Girl persona so I got through my senior year breezily, getting drunk on slow gin fizzes most weekends.
Senior Day I went to D.C. with friends and got drunk (18 was legal at that time). I came home and slept some of it off and went to pick Him up from work and drop Him off at his house. He was very angry that I had done this without Him. Never mind I could never count on him to be where he said he was or to get me when he said he would. We had a huge fight. Huge. I remember putting my seat belt on (which I never did back then), putting my foot on the break, flooring the accelerator and aiming for a telephone pole halfway down the street. I woke up in the hospital. He had taken his car over to get my Mom, who was drunk. The first thing I said when I woke up was “Are you still mad at me?” She didn’t notice, I guess, because she never asked about that. 48 stitches in my head, 1/2 block from stopped to high enough speed to snap a telephone pole in half, a totaled car, and neither of my parent asked me what was up. Ever.
I felt unlovable. I felt if he left me I’d be alone for the rest of my life. I was 17. There are more stories. When we got married at 19 people were literally taking bets that we’d either kill each other or divorce within the year.
In case you don’t know, in battering relationships there is a cycle. There is the honeymoon phase where everything is lovely and loving and couldn’t possibly be better. Then there is the tension build up phase. Intuitively the battered partner knows what’s coming. After a while s/he will incite the battering phase just to get rid of the tension and get back to the loving phase. The cycle can be years or hours. It does not get better, not matter how many times the battering partner promises because the battering partner believes (and may not be able to articulate this) that if the battered partner would just [fill in the blank, it changes even within relationships and usually is actually something like: “read my mind, fulfill all my wishes and make the rest of the world go away because it is your fault and their fault that I am so unhappy”], then everything would be fine. The battered partner believes that too, mostly for reasons of lack of self worth (see “unlovable” above), and tries to control *everything*. Believes in perfection. Tries valiantly to do the impossible. Get’s verbally denigrated, pinched, pushed, punched anyways – incites it to get back to the loving phase. Around and Around. If I write it all down, we’ll have a book here, so I won’t.
In my opinion many of those “instances” of female on male violence are that incitement phase. But maybe that’s just me.
Why I stayed: All of my friends were in the same situation, more or less. Isn’t that sad? There were no empowered women around me anywhere. I had no psychic support system. My religious system (which I have long now discarded) said I was married forever and must take whatever I got. I was the main money earner through all those 17 years so at least I had that, but women don’t earn that much and two small kids to support by yourself was no easy feat – easier than supporting him too but I didn’t know that yet.
Trying to Leave. It took numerous separations, a divorce, a remarriage, 2 kids I loved fiercely and wanted to protect, and a broken eye and bruised ribs before I finally left. Each time there were promises that it wouldn’t happen again. Promises I wanted to believe. Each time I was alone and didn’t know how to be alone because there was no “me” there. I had no concept of wanting something for myself. The idea of putting myself before *anyone* was as foreign to me as living on the moon might be.
How I Left. It was the convergence of several things: at work I was doing well for someone with just a high school education. I was given more and more responsibility. At home I could do nothing right. Cognitive dissonance. Big Time. Lunch hour in the park every day for two years writing my way to understanding I could want something, writing what it was I wanted, prioritizing that list. Last ditch weekends away together to talk. Him: “Let’s not ruin this time by talking about all that.” His female heroin buddy calling in the middle of the night ostensibly for him to fix her battery. My car not working the next morning and Him refusing to get out of bed to help me get it started to get to work. Finding my daughter playing with a hypodermic needle. My own rising rage that was flowing down hill to my kids. A magazine, Woman or something like that – one of the first with short articles and definitely not Women’s Day or Good Housekeeping, with an article that felt like a punch to the gut and a wake up call. I shared it with Him. He said so what. Heroin Buddy calling the house even though I specifically told Him to have that stop, but I wasn’t answering the phone (denial). I answered the phone. He came back from visiting a friend across the street. It was nighttime. I started yelling. He pushed me down on the couch. I twisted around and attacked ready to claw his eyes out, He backhanded me, my cheek swelled up to where I could see it within seconds (broken eye socket). Scared Him. He left. I had my prioritized list and it did not include this treatment. I had Him arrested. I’d like to say that was the end of it but of course we went through months of my having a Peace Bond and Him breaking it, trying to break in the house at night, coming for the kids, choking me, back to jail with the kids begging me not to. All those lovely, very hard things. The difference: I had done the work, I was walking my way to empowerment. I got individual therapy for me and the kids and group therapy for DV victims which was the best thing I ever did. I could see it in others and then I could see it in myself.
Then I forgave myself for not figuring this out sooner.
Here’s a Good Article: much shorter than my whole thing if you don’t have time for all of the above: …Helping Someone in an Abusive Relationship