On Domestic Violence: My Story

In the past few days, domestic violence has been the topic of conversation around the country. Ray Rice was accused of domestic violence toward his then-fiancé, Janay Palmer, in an elevator this past February and was suspended for two games. Since that incident, she went on to marry him. Just this week, a new violent video of the incident has surfaced and he has been released from the Ravens and indefinitely suspended from the NFL. She apologized for “her role” in the incident, and has chastised the media for being so mean to her husband. The backlash has been significant, but strangely, much of it against his wife. Most of the conversation is about her. How could she do that? What is wrong with her? I would never… And on and on. She is standing by her man, and that is confusing to people unfamiliar with domestic violence.

In the midst of this hoopla, a woman who knows firsthand about domestic violence, Beverly Gooden, started tweeting with the hashtag #WhyIStayed. As she says, “Leaving is a process, not an event.” It has caught on like wildfire, and many victims are telling #WhyIStayed as well as #WhyILeft.

But still, I am seeing responses that shock me. Friends of mine on Facebook are still saying that these women are stupid or that maybe things aren’t really as bad as they appear. They themselves would never stay. People, it’s not about staying in a bad relationship or the “stupidity” of the victim. It’s so much more complicated than that. It’s about control and power and manipulation. It’s about bravery and fear and taking leaps so mighty they should be celebrated, not alienated as something “other.”

These women are not other. They are people you know. People you see every day. Smart people. Kind people. People like me.

My husband abused me.

This is the hardest post I have ever written, because I don’t speak of that time. It’s been ten years, but I still don’t tell what it was to live that life except to those very close to me, and only in pieces and vague nuances. Even now, I go over and over and over my words, wondering if I want to expose myself this way. Wondering if this is worth it. Embarrassed. Some days it still feels like it was my fault. I believe the lies he told…and sometimes the ones you all tell, too. That I should have known better. That if I was just smarter, if I just listened better, if I just paid better attention, this wouldn’t have happened to me. That this only happens to stupid women with low self-image and maybe I’m both. Even now, I feel I risk so much in the telling. I know I will find more eyes filled with pity, more silent stares and disengaged relationships. I know it will invite questions, because these truths are full of contradictions and have no easy answers.

Even now, this thing has power over me.

But I have had enough. In light of these public events, and some very powerful private ones, I am done with alluding to that life. Today, I’m going to spell some of it out for you. It might mean I lose friends. It might mean I alienate with discomfort. It might mean that I become a woman with too much baggage to bother with. So be it.

Because sometimes it is in the telling that we give the power back to others and speak the truth to ourselves. And that matters more.

So here is my list of Why I Stayed, Why I Left, and one more aspect that needs to be addressed: Why It’s So Hard After.

 

Why I Stayed

Because I have a master’s degree and these things don’t happen to people like me.

Because I’m articulate, and if I was just persuasive enough, I could reason him to stop.

Because I’m tough.

Because I’m not a quitter.

Because he was a professional and respected in the community.

Because he never drank or took drugs. He simply reacted to me. Change myself, and it would stop.

Because God hates divorce.

Because he said the pastor would tell me to stay; I thought so too, because everything from the pulpit supported him, and so I never dared to ask.

Because we were the “cutest couple” and “so good together.” Because teens we worked with hoped they could be “just like you two” someday.

Because I made my bed and I should lie in it.

Because it’s hard to leave when you are unconscious.

Because this was a submission issue and not an abusive one.

Because he erased all the evidence I had.

Because a lot of the time it wasn’t physical.

Because he knew how to not leave marks.

Because this doesn’t happen to smart people.

Because I was too stupid to leave the first time it happened.

Because sometimes I fought back.   And maybe that made me as guilty as he was.

Because I got pregnant.

Because if I left, he said he would kidnap my child.

Because if I called the police, he said we would both go to jail and our child would be turned over to CYS.

Because I was systematically isolated from everyone who loved me.

Because everyone he surrounded us with would believe every word he said.

Because he was a kind man, and a charming man, and an interesting man. He made me laugh. And he was intensely interested in me.

Because away is unknown, and maybe unknown is worse. This was the unknown, before.

Because he could kill me if he didn’t remember to have mercy. And there is no mercy for a woman leaving.

Because when I was routinely asked at the hospital if anyone at home was hurting me, I lied. I was in labor and there were people in the room, including him. And he told me that was on record now; nothing else I said mattered.

Because he took my paycheck. And changed the bank account password regularly. I never knew how much we had because all purchases had to go through him.

Because the daycare was in his office building.

Because we worked for the same company, and telling meant every coworker and copy lady would know what a fool I was.

Because I couldn’t leave and keep my job.

Because he said my smart mouth got me in trouble. So maybe I deserved it.

Because everyone knows that I’m strong and opinionated and no one steps on me. And so no one would believe I would let it happen.

Because he told me he would stop if I behaved better. I just needed to try harder.

Because I was a good wife.

Because of slut shaming.

Because we’re all sinners so I should have grace for his faults.

Because I’m not a saint, so maybe I wasn’t really a victim, either.

Because isn’t love supposed to cover a multitude of wrongs?

Because if I left I was dooming my child to statistics like these.

Because when I stopped covering my bruises as an act of rebellion, no one said a word.

Because I was so, so ashamed.

 

Why I Left

Because I knew if one person believed me, if one person said something to me, I could leave. One person was brave enough to speak. And then I was, too.

Because I couldn’t do it on my own, but others helped me figure out how to get away.

Because I am stronger than he thought.

Because my child needed me more than I needed to follow the rules.

Because sometimes fighting back doesn’t involve fists.

Because I was tired of being brave and quiet.

Because I am strong and opinionated and no one steps on me.

Because despite his best efforts, I didn’t miscarry my child. And that needed to matter.

Because I figured I was dead either way. May as well go out in a blaze of glory than in quiet suffocation.

Because walking away doesn’t always mean you are quitting.

Because he said I never would.

Because God hates abuse more than he hates divorce.

Because there was a pastor brave enough to say that my safety mattered more than my marriage.

Because watching my child get struck hurt me more than being struck myself.

Because I have a smart mouth and I know how to use it.

Because not all evidence has to be physical.

Because if I stayed, I realized I was dooming my child to statistics like these.

PhyVioBecause I saw this and I realized that it’s not about submission, it’s about control.

Because I saw this and I realized how deep it really went.

Because I saw this and knowledge is power.

Because I saw this and I wasn’t alone anymore.

Because I was believed.

 

Why It’s So Hard After

Because my private life is fair game for public dissection.

Because explaining it sometimes feels more embarrassing than living it.

Because every time I am asked if I knew before I married him, all I hear is “How stupid were you, exactly? Mostly stupid, or all the way stupid?” And I know that, deep down, they have judged me as stupid, regardless.

Because for every person who tells me they are proud of me and I am so very brave, there is another who isn’t so sure. One woman told me that God wanted me to go back. Another told me that I was lying. Someone else told me they knew this would happen to me.

Because for every pastor who supported me, there was a pastor suggesting that I didn’t try hard enough or I didn’t listen to good counsel in marrying him, and that sounds an awful lot like maybe I deserved it.

Because every time I hear “respect your husband and submit to him” I remember the way those words flowed through his fingers and around my neck as I passed out. And every time I hear someone say “head of the household” I remember how it felt to have my own head beat against a doorframe to the rhythm of those syllables. And the dark side that exists in those words is never publicly acknowledged. Often it seems that protecting theology is more important than protecting women.

Because no one ever says that sometimes turning the other cheek means walking away.

Because I have to be a victim. And that feels like a dirty word. And sometimes people tell me that being a victim is a choice.

Because wounds become scars, but sometimes people want to treat me like the wounds are still bleeding. And they aren’t. I don’t choose to be defined by this.

Because sometimes, at times like these, the scars burn bright, and hearing all the words again make me think that maybe he was right about me.

Because sometimes when I tell someone about it, they tell me all the violent things that it makes them want to do toward him. I don’t need anyone to punch him out or “give him a taste of his own medicine.” What I need is for him to have clarity, and understanding, and ownership. Those things don’t come from violence.

Because my son still sees him every other week.  And I have the terrifying privilege of teaching bravery and honesty.  Of teaching what it means to respect and honor with truth and compassion and an eye on safety.  Of teaching how to joy together in the ways he is kind and interesting and charming, even in the light of all the rest.

Because while I get to choose how to tell my story, it is always there, needing to be told. And choosing grace and love is still hard sometimes. But the alternative is worse.

Because sometimes when I tell my story, the listener makes it my identity. They see me as weak and coddle me; they see me as exploitable and they attack me; they see me as damaged and they walk away. But it is not who I am; it is what happened to me. Who I am is what I did with what happened.

Because often politeness and appearances matter more to others than truth and honesty.

Because sometimes I feel like I have to carry a scarlet A into every relationship, and no one would ever want to deal with that.

Because even though I have brilliant people around me to remind me of true things, sometimes I’m still so tired of being strong.

Because although I don’t know her specific reasons, I can empathize with the complicated explanations behind why Janay Rice stayed. And why some of my friends did, too. And I know I’m not any different than the women who stayed, not really.

Because I don’t need pity, and I don’t deserve blame.

Because sometimes I’m still so ashamed. But I’m also determined. And better.

Because it’s all so very complicated.

 

 

If you are in an abusive relationship, tell someone. And if they don’t listen, tell someone else. Call the number below.  It won’t be easy, but it will be better. Abuse is not just hitting. It is about power and control, and there are lots of ways that happens: emotional, financial, sexual. It doesn’t matter how long it has been, how many times you have covered it up, or how it looks to other people. You know what your partner is doing to you, and you don’t have to stay. You have more evidence than you think. When you start talking, truth will start to break through, and you will see more reasons to leave than you do even now. I promise.

National Abuse Hotline: 1-800-799-7233  http://www.thehotline.org/

If you suspect that something is “off” in a friend’s relationship, ask! And if you think they are lying, ask again another day. You don’t know the fear that is bound up in their answer. It is embarrassing to ask, but it is worse to tell. And don’t just ask if he/she is being hit. Ask if he/she is being controlled. Ask if he/she is living in fear. Show your friend that diagram above. Point out the ones that worry you. “How can I help?” are the most powerful words you can utter. Keep the shelter of friendship open, no matter the response.  Leaving is a process, not an event.

Truth matters more than secrets.

Compassion matters more than shame.

Bravery is conviction in action. And it starts with words.

So start speaking.

 

25 thoughts on “On Domestic Violence: My Story

  1. Thank you for this brave post full of great perspective. Thank you for sharing you story so boldly and authentically.

    (I found your blog through Katie John.)

  2. Jennifer Leskovac

    God Almighty, am I proud of you. Beautiful, honest, deeply moving post. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m passing it on because I have friends, family, and church people who need to hear your words. And as a pastor, I am taking your words to heart — theology should never be protected at the cost of the safety and wellness of women and children.

    • flora

      I’m glad there are people like you in the ministry, my dear! Thanks for loving me no matter what…and we sure had a lot of whats, didn’t we? I love seeing how our stories are being told. <3

  3. Connie in NC

    Your’s is an amazing story of bravery, shared with me by my sister Jessie Ostrowski. And one so beautifully and articulately written. In my eyes, you (and other women like you who have left) are more brave rescuing yourself and your child/ren from that than the first-responders of 9/11 because you knew your brave act would likely not bring praise nor medals, but likely disbelief and shame. BEST wishes to you in your new life and raise those kiddos to be as strong as you are!

    That said, I’ll add only that it never ceases to unnerve me how ignorant/poorly trained healthcare workers are of nuances like asking the spouse to leave the room before asking that set of questions 🙁

    • flora

      Thank you so much! Bravery comes in many forms, and I’m grateful for all the brave people who have supported me. I hope that this helps others to do the same!

  4. Emily

    You go girl!

  5. Your speaking out has earned you the empathy of a new reader. I’ve got goosebumps all over my arms, and even though I don’t you, I’m PROUD of you for being brave enough to be honest. You clearly are not stupid and it certainly was never your fault that he hit you. Thank you for writing this. xoxo

  6. Melissa

    My step-father was emotionally abusive. It’s so hard for people not in that situation to understand the mentality of the abused. I don’t pity you. I’m proud of you. I’m proud that you did have the courage to leave and not only leave, thrive and move on. I’m proud that you don’t let that period of your life define you. I’m proud that you gave your child an example of a strong woman acting bravely. I’m proud of your strength. I don’t know you, but I am proud of you.

    • flora

      Yes, I think the emotional abuse is some one the hardest to explain. It’s the control and the fear that just leaves you frozen and oh, so broken. I’m so sorry that happened to you, but I’m extremely glad you’ve recognized it for what it was!

  7. Cristy

    I read an article similar to this when I was a teen. The article also posted a help line to call. When a woman walked into my restaurant with her second black eye, I cut out the article for her, folded it up and handed it to her discreetly. She looked at it, came back and explained she was not abused. I hugged her and said that’s great but to keep the article in case she knew anyone that was. A few months later she came back and told me she had gained the courage after calling the hotline to leave her abusive husband. My point is stories like these empower many of us from the outside to be supportive and help. If you know of a support network or hotline number that was helpful for you or someone you know can you post it?

    • flora

      What a great idea! I’m editing to include it right now.

  8. Your “Why I Stayed” list is chilling because it is so, so familiar. And you are far braver than I was; I only succeeded in leaving my ex because he deployed to Iraq for over a year so he couldn’t physically get to me. That gave me the time I needed.

    My abuse story is summarized here:
    http://athenasantics.wordpress.com/2014/06/12/why-not-have-a-divorce-party/

    And the healing story begins here:
    http://athenasantics.wordpress.com/2014/07/28/marriage-from-hell-the-happy-ending-i/

  9. Connie

    You could have written my story…

    27 years later and I still feel shame…

    I was lucky I’ve never seen him after the divorce.

    I think about driving to his house and slapping the shit out of him!
    But then I realize it’s not worth it.

    It still bugs me that I fell under his power and control. I’ve tried to figure out where and when it started.

    • flora

      Totally not worth it…because he probably still wouldn’t get it. But the rest of us do.

  10. Julie

    I’m so proud of you. I am still crying from reading this. It brings up very painful memories. It is a lot to go through. I had to completely begin over because most Christians I knew didn’t believe me or support me. Every time I heard,”it can’t be that bad” it was like stabbing me in the heart. I don’t even bother with those people anymore. God has given me a new life and I’m never going back. Praise God for his love for us:)

  11. C

    Thank you for sharing and encouraging us with your bravery and honesty. I wouldn’t have left if not for friends asking those questions. And asking. And asking. And even then, even though I knew my friends and family would take care of me, support me, love me – I couldn’t do it on my own. They had to hold my hands every step of the way, because fear IS real and powerful, emotional abuse IS a paralytic, the voice that tells you “it’s all your fault” (both your voice and theirs) IS really persistent, and it’s unbelievably difficult to break even your mind free from that kind of control… let alone your body, last name, or bank account. But I did, and I’m glad I did, even though shame is a battle – but it was only possible because other people stood with me, and kept asking me questions. It took a couple months, but I finally gave them a real answer, and now I have a real life.

    • flora

      That is fantastic! And so true. I could list so many people who were instrumental in making this happen for me, not so much because I wanted to stay, but because getting away was such an intricate process and so emotionally overwhelming. Just the logistics alone took several people. And fear…so much fear. It’s not an easy task. Good for you.

  12. Anita Ervin

    Excellent article, excellent writing. Thank you for putting it into words so for many who are not gifted with that talent. Although I haven’t experience domestic violence, I have had my own share of emotional abuse in my home growing up, which I finally sought counseling for this past year. Many of your reasons resonated with me, and helped me understand my mother better. She did eventually ask him to leave. She said she had to choose between saving her marriage and saving her children. I am so grateful for her bravery. And I don’t like to talk about it either. It doesn’t define who I am. But it is part of me, and I have to accept that as well.

  13. Gizelle Pettingill

    Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for the great example of standing up for truth and what’s right.
    You are an amazing, beautiful and cherished daughter of God. He loves you more than you can even imagine.
    Please know that it does not matter what anyone else thinks or says about you. Only what your Father in Heaven thinks matters.
    Stay true to who you are and teach your precious child the same.
    You are loved.

  14. H

    Thank you for sharing

  15. Adrienne

    I have been in an abusive marriage before, so I get it. However, protecting some ill conceived “theology” is utter horse crap Spousal abuse has no place in true theology. The verses mentioned do not give the right or excuse to beat up on your significant other. How about the verse, “…They became one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Would you bruise yourself, or abuse yourself the way you do your wife? Unless you’re a masochist, not likely. Eph. 5:22-33 is a two edged sword, it goes both ways. Eph.5:25 says for husbands to love their wives as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for her. So husbands have more responsibility to their wives then they have to them, this is why wives ought to submit to their husbands, out of love for them. This is how men perceive love, through respect. God knows us all too well, He knows how men and women accept and view love which is one reason why these verses are there. But those verses are taken out of context too often within the church. A marriage is a partnership, not one person having complete authority over the other. Thank God I have a husband now who understands and applies Eph. 5:25-33 to our marriage.

    • flora

      I totally agree! I think that there are many Christians who are in healthy marriages and apply those verses in a proper way…and for them, twisting it as a means for control and abuse is completely outside of their understanding. So they too often use phrases like “spiritual head” or “leader of the home” and don’t know that their words are being used as fodder behind closed doors to justify abusive behavior… “Didn’t you hear what Jane Doe said at the church picnic today? SHE knows how to respect her husband. Maybe you should learn to be more like her and this wouldn’t happen to you!” And now, that wife is thinking, yes Jane did say that…I don’t think she meant it THIS way…but she DID say it…and if I talk to her, she won’t understand what I mean, because I can’t tell the WHOLE story…well, better make sure I don’t reveal too much to Jane. And magically, another person has been cut off from being a resource or help for the victim. It’s not Jane’s fault by any means, but I think having honest conversations with caveats is really important–making sure we say that abuse is never okay, that these verses apply to people equal in control/power, that warping them to justify sin is NOT okay, etc.

      • C

        “Better make sure I don’t reveal too much to Jane…” So true.

        When will we get to hear the sermon on “submission when your spouse is an abusive porn-addicted narcissist?”

  16. Lily

    Thank you for putting all I was into words I couldn’t..Physically the wounds heal faster. Emotionally and mentally I think may take a life time..Breaking the pattern with another man, still working on that. But I know how to walk away now.

  17. Sj

    The FIRST time my husband laid hands on me, I left. I thank God that I had the intuition that this behavior would not get better even though I had never witnessed nor heard much about spousal abuse.
    Thank you for publishing your story. Thank you for not being defined by the actions of others. Be Blessed, Sj

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes:

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>