[Excerpted from a letter I wrote regarding my own domestic violence experience -- this is pretty much navelgazing, y'all, but you're welcome to read on. It's just not your standard perky Friday reading fare. My apologies :)
Oh, and standard "may be triggering" warnings apply.]
Growing up hearing about my maternal grandmother's marriage and how
she left, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I'd never let myself be
in a relationship that involved domestic violence. The second someone
reaches out to strike you, you leave. Full stop, end of discussion. G
taught it, Mom seconded it, I believed it. But over the course of my
first two marriages I learned that abuse has more forms than a raised
fist. Between the two of them, I endured every type of marital abuse
that exists with the exception of an outright, bloody beating.
What kills me (and this appears to be a universal feeling among various subsets of domestic violence survivors) is that I know better.
I knew it going in. I'm intelligent, I'm educated, and I grew up in a
family where we were taught to be honest, kind, and to use our words --
by anyone's measure, a "good family."
I know it's wrong to talk to people like they're trash. I know it's
wrong to threaten to abandon your family on a regular basis simply as a
means of venting your displeasure. I know it's wrong to withhold money
for basic household bills. I know it's wrong to make your family suffer
because you refuse to provide the means to secure adequate medical and
dental care. I know it's wrong to threaten to discipline your children
physically to coerce your spouse into behaving a certain way. All of
that is wrong and there is so much more to add that I dare not even
attempt a comprehensive list; but every item on that list is a means of
one person increasing their control over another. I get that. Because
every item on that list (and more) was employed against me, by the
person I should have been able to trust most.
And yet I let it happen not only once, but twice. As it was
occurring in my life, I didn't see it as abuse. I saw it as
irresponsibility, as idiocy, and at times as plain-out meanness, but the
fact that all those behaviors put together created a pattern of abuse
just didn't take, and dealing with it turned me into a person I didn't
even recognize at times. Looking back, I still don’t. It took me
finally getting sick of the constant divorce threats from my second
husband, leaving him, and then actually sitting there in the Parents
Children and Divorce class with that domestic violence cycle diagram
staring up at me from the workbook for the reality of what I'd lived for
the previous decade and more to actually sink in.
This was all because they didn't hit me. Somehow the lack of a direct strike was supposed to make it okay.
But it wasn't okay.
I want other people to understand that. I want them to understand
that domestic violence isn't only found at the end of a fist, but also
in a pattern of behavior used to belittle and control. The simple fact
of the matter is that there isn't a batterer out there who didn't first
start with verbal abuse, with emotional abuse. Not one. I remember the
story of how G's husband started treating her differently right after
they got married. When she asked him about it -- contrary to common
perception, women who deal with domestic violence are rarely voiceless
doormats -- he said, "We're married. No use to be dragging bait when
the fish is caught."
That was the first overt sign of things to come.
I'd like fewer women to have to deal with those "things to come".
I'm not sure how to accomplish it*, but that's what I'd like to see.
*Actually, how I accomplish it now, outside of putting my limited monies where my mouth is -- including a specific donation this letter accompanied -- is by occasionally sharing about domestic violence on my blog. I don't want to go nuts with it here, because as I've said before this is not the place. But on occasion... definitely. Because I'm a normal, relatively well-adjusted woman who also happens to also be a domestic violence survivor. If it could happen to me, it could happen to anybody. The only shame is silence.