The following was written and shared with permission by Rachel Miller.
You can connect with Rachel on her “Awareness Wednesdays” Facebook page.
I was a victim of domestic violence.
I must tell you, even now, a few years after leaving my abusive marriage the word “victim” still doesn’t sit well on my tongue. I had to learn to own the word, in order to move forward and get the therapy I needed to recover from my experience, but I don’t wear it comfortably. I have a hard time balancing the person I know I am inside with the stereotypical image of a victim that pops into my head when I hear the word. Some of that is due, in part, to my own desire to deny my past, but the other is that I have trouble relating to many of the stories I hear and pictures I see promoting domestic violence awareness.
You see my story is different, yet not different at all.
I was hit twice during my 15 year marriage; I was thrown into a wall once and held captive in my own home by my 6’5” 300 lb. husband at least three times, but only the wall incident left me bruised. Only the last time he locked me in the house did I call someone (his mother) for help. I didn’t think I fit the description of a battered woman; I wasn’t hiding bruises or avoiding friends or co-workers. While I might limit his exposure to my friends and family, I still saw them. I was able to work, though he cost me a promotion by threatening to cause a scene at my job if I went in that day. Granted, I seldom, if ever, went out without him. Yes, I spent most of my time walking on eggshells waiting for the next blow up and got extremely anxious when I did things I knew would upset him, but he never threatened to kill me. Though he owned many guns, he never pulled one on me or my kids. While he controlled many aspects of our life, I thought because I had control of others that I wasn’t like those women who end up in hospitals, in women’s shelters or dead.
My case wasn’t extreme; mine had many periods of what people refer to as honeymoon phases; mine was almost always invisible to outsiders. I didn’t feel I could call the police when he backed me into a corner during a fight or stood over me screaming and yelling. I thought because I fought back that law enforcement wouldn’t believe me. I didn’t feel battered or abused. I couldn’t relate to the women that I saw on billboards or in commercials with black eyes or long sleeves covering up bruises. While some of this, I understand now, is typical of abused women, I also feel that the very campaigns that are meant to help women like me, in fact, alienate us.
Domestic violence to me used to mean things like: beaten children, broken bones, bruises, black eyes, angry alcoholics and constant fear. It didn’t mean a man who controls you or your life through manipulation. It didn’t mean a man who intimidated with size or threats. It didn’t mean a man using words to, slowly over a long period of time, break down their partner’s will to be their own person and ability to see what was happening. It didn’t mean long stretches of good times (or what I thought were good times) with periodic explosions of rage, temper, intimidation and violence.
I was the very person campaigns, like the many that are going on this month, are trying to reach, yet I was the very person who couldn’t relate to the information they were providing. All the stories seemed so extraordinary. I could justify that I wasn’t one of those woman because I didn’t have bruises, he didn’t threaten to kill me, he never raped me, didn’t call me names nor did he attack my self –image. In fact I was the “trophy wife” who he enjoyed flaunting and we both knew that at the end of the day I was simply more intelligent.
I was fine. I could handle it.
I wasn’t like those other women; my situation was different. No one saw his potential; no one understood how amazing he could be. He needed me.
Yes, I now understand how wrong that line of thinking was, but I didn’t then. I couldn’t find stories like mine when I read about abusive relationships. All I could seem to find were extremes so I convinced myself that my relationship, while having its issues, was not abusive.
It’s time to reconsider this constant highlighting of the extreme cases, showing the sensational photos, always going for the shock value and bring some attention to the woman who are slowly, silently dying on the inside, whose wounds are deep and bleeding but because you can’t see them, because they aren’t black and blue and their abuser isn’t holding a gun to their head or trying to run them down with their car, feel like their situation doesn’t qualify as domestic violence.
- It’s time to tell the story of the woman who was afraid to spend a day with her cousin because her husband would explode when he got home. You see, she hadn’t spent her day off cleaning an already clean house, which is his mind was unacceptable.
- We need to tell the story of the woman who has to get every friend on Facebook, every follower on Twitter and every potential activity approved by her husband or pay the consequences of his anger.
- We need to tell the story of the girl whose mother controls who she speaks to, manipulates her into taking out credit cards to support the family, yet refuses to pay the bills and uses guilt, denial and intimidation to keep her from telling ‘family secrets.’
- Let’s talk about the little girl who sees her father intimidate her mother, hit, knock down and kick her brother but never her and lives in constant fear of one day crossing his invisible line so that his violence is turned on her.
- It’s time to hear about the boy whose mother slapped him because getting in her face was too reminiscent of his abusive father’s intimidation.
- We need to hear about the man whose wife tells him nothing he does is good enough, attempts to destroy his relationships with his friends and family and insists everything that ever goes wrong is his fault.
- We need to tell the story of the woman who felt she was powerless to leave her relationship because of the lack of money and mountains of debt her abuser had gotten the family into.
All of these stories are part of the domestic violence cycle, and when all we do to bring awareness to the extremes, we risk invalidating those who suffer daily but will never make the highlight reel at the next rally or have their image as part of the latest PSA.
[October] is domestic violence awareness month. I was a victim and there are millions like me. We are your friends, your co-workers, your family member, your next door neighbor and you may have no idea what we suffer through every day. Many of us are extremely skilled at hiding the reality of our situations. To this day there are people who are stunned when they hear my story. They had absolutely no idea and cannot believe that someone like me lived like this.
“But you’re so strong and confident, how could you possibly have put up with that kind of treatment?”
“You’re such a leader, such a go getter; I can’t believe you let him hold you back in the workplace.”
“You’re an intelligent, talented, beautiful woman; things like this don’t happen to women like you.”
I have heard all of these things and more. So the next time you think you know what the victim of domestic violence looks like think again; it may just be the person sitting next to you.
It’s time to tell all the stories, include the entire spectrum of domestic violence in our crusade to make it stop. We need to validate all of those who have suffered in order to shine the light on all who abuse.