October is nationally recognized as Domestic Violence Awareness month. The event was originally held as a “Day of Unity” for the first time in October 1981, with the goal of connecting advocates across the nation who were working to end violence against women and their children. Soon after, it developed into an entire week of observance with a range of activities conducted at the local, state and national level. In October of 1987, the first Domestic Violence Awareness month was observed. And in 1989 Congress passed public law designating October as National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, with the first Monday being designated as the Day of Unity.
The National Resource on Domestic Violence provides the following description for Domestic Violence: “Domestic violence is best understood as a pattern of abusive behaviors–including physical, sexual, and psychological attacks as well as economic coercion–used by one intimate partner against another (adult or adolescent) to gain, maintain, or regain power and control in the relationship. Batterers use of a range of tactics to frighten, terrorize, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, often injure, and sometimes kill a current or former intimate partner.”
Domestic Violence involves all the dynamics mentioned above. It is a humiliating and often terrifying situation. As someone who has successfully left an abusive relationship, I can attest that there is a dynamic within the relationship that is so psychologically chaotic, it makes it very difficult to decipher what exactly is happening and what the best course of action is.
Your thoughts become fuzzy and unclear, and you find yourself not trusting your own interpretation of things.
You believe them when they are sorry.
You may go through periods in your relationship where everything feels healthy, and believe that things have truly turned around.
But the cycle of abuse remains. Eventually you circle back around to a dark place.
By the time I left my marriage of 16 years, I was a shell of the woman I started out to be. I often refer to myself during that time of my life as a walking zombie. Mostly numb. Just going through the motions of day to day life. Consistently working to keep my abuser happy, and avoid anything that might anger him, and also protect my children from his abuse. I would always intervene when he went too far with them. When playing became intimidating, or berating or too rough. I would do everything I could to redirect the hostility toward myself and away from them.
I was not silent when things ran out of line in our home, but my words always fell on deaf ears, and usually ignited a greater conflict. So eventually I stopped saying anything…about pretty much everything.
I have blocked out many years of my marriage and the toxic fragments that I would regularly choke down.
I have confronted the pieces I do recall face on. To see their stark truth. And to release them in order to heal each wound they represented.
I was a good mom and wife. The house was always clean, laundry always done and a home cooked meal on the table for the family every night by the time he got home from work. I was involved in the kids’ school, in their sports, threw homemade birthday parties, crafted projects, went to church every Sunday (and ran the Sunday School program), and did anything and everything I could to elevate my role as a wife and mother, which was exactly what I always wanted to be in this life. I cut the grass, pulled weeds, planted gardens, painted and cleaned our rental houses as needed, and helped his family with their business. I did whatever was required to keep an organized, clean and “successful” family and home.
Yet, it was never enough for me to receive his respect.
And I allowed myself to be disrespected. I own that.
I was ashamed. I was silent. I was humiliated that I had allowed this in my life.
I did my best to present a strong front. To portray a wife and mother that had no reason to be pitied. I didn’t want pity. In my mind, I was tough enough to endure this. I would not allow my marriage to be a failure. I would hold things together, and hope for better days. My kids needed me to be strong. To be their rock so I focused on being that for them.
There were many reasons I stayed in my marriage for as long as I did.
Predominantly, I was a stay at home mom to my children for 14 of those 16 years. I had no financial means to support myself, my family was 3,000 miles away, and I had no college education. Not to mention, I had just given birth to our youngest daughter (who was a surprise pregnancy). I knew I was on my way out of the marriage when I discovered I was pregnant. I cried for days as I sat with the reality that I was going to have a new baby in addition to my other three children, and have to forge a career , while providing safety and security for all of them. The day I decided to leave, after lots of praying, I came to the absolute conclusion that I would rather jump off a cliff and plunge into utter darkness, not knowing where I would land, than stay another day with the person I was living with.
I always held on to the hope that the love I believed he felt for me somewhere deep down in his heart, would one day turn things around. That one day he would allow it to take him over, and he would be the man we all needed him to be, and believed he could be. But unfortunately, what we wanted, hoped for, and even believed, was not enough.
You cannot change someone who does not see the truth.
Domestic Violence is not always bruises and broken bones.
Sometimes I wished the abuse I was experiencing would be visible. Believing that if someone saw a physical wound they would begin to see.
They would show me the way out.
I see now that it was my journey to walk for myself. I can honestly say that I am grateful for where I have been led and what I have become through that journey.
I know there are other women out there living my same story. It is my goal to increase awareness for this type of abuse. Verbal, emotional and psychological abuse is just as damaging as physical abuse, with one big difference: physical abuse can be identified by a visible wound. Psychological or emotional abuse is often less evident, and therefore there are fewer advocates reaching out and offering a solution to those who may feel trapped in a situation they are being destroyed in.
Somehow, we have got to reach these women and show them the cycle can be broken. My hope is that I might have a hand in bringing it to the table.