Breaking the Silence: I am a Survivor of Domestic Abuse
Those who know me even a little know that “silent” is not a word often used to describe me. I am passionate, outspoken, and even a bit argumentative. I have opinions and I’m not often afraid to share them, sometimes to my own detriment. If you’ve followed my journey the last ten years, you know that I’ve channeled this personality trait into becoming an advocate of breaking the silence that surrounds infertility, miscarriage, and repeated pregnancy loss. I’ve been very open with my own struggles to conceive, the heartbreak I faced losing multiple pregnancies, and the roller-coaster of emotions that accompanies IVF and ART. I am passionate about speaking up against social injustice and inequality. I will proudly stand up for others, to proclaim that something isn’t right, that we must be the change we wish to see in the world.
What I’ve never said, out loud, to anyone is that I am also a victim of domestic abuse. For over fifteen years, my husband used fear, guilt, manipulation and intimidation to control me. He convinced me that I was unlovable, unworthy, and broken. While publicly proclaiming his love and devotion, he privately shamed and demeaned me in numerous and various ways, so often and so blatantly that I believed that he must be speaking the truth. He manipulated me into doing things that I didn’t want to do, that violated my personal set of ethics and morality, in the name of “family.” He criticized who I was as a person, pointing out all of my faults and explaining to me (as though I was incapable of understanding) exactly why I was wrong, about absolutely everything. Nothing was ever his fault; everything was always mine.
It took me a really, really long time to even realize that our relationship wasn’t “normal.” That everyone didn’t fight the way that we did. That the verbal assaults he flung at me daily weren’t typical of couples who disagreed. As I slowly became aware that what he was doing was indeed abusive, i remained silent about it. Worse, I equivocated. I explained and rationalized and justified his behavior. I minimized it. I spoke of my marital problems in vague, dismissive terms. I KNEW that what he was doing was wrong. I KNEW that I didn’t deserve it, or maybe I did. Regardless, I also knew that talking about it was dangerous. And so I kept quiet. I participated in the charade on social media. I publicly praised my husband in hopes that that would somehow create the very reality I desired.
More than that, I lied. I denied (to myself, to others) what was really happening. Unfortunately, I’m not unique in that regard. Many, many victims of domestic abuse reach similar conclusions. He didn’t physically beat me, so it wasn’t actually abuse, right? Even now, after sharing my story with those in positions of authority, I’m told “it couldn’t have been that bad.” After all, I didn’t leave him. I had children with him. No one held a gun to my head - I willingly stayed in an unhealthy relationship for years. Surely, an abuse victim 1) knows she’s being abused and 2) gets out at the first opportunity. Right?
Most victims of domestic abuse (by parents, siblings, or intimate partners) aren’t even aware that their experience IS actually abusive. We normalize these behaviors until we no longer question them. We don’t recognize verbal and emotional assaults as abuse, even though they are. It’s easy, far too easy, to tolerate and brush aside abuse that doesn’t leave a physical mark. Bruises that no one can see stay hidden, and the victims stay silent, allowing the cycle to continue, the abuse to persist and to escalate. A woman, raised in a culture where toxic behaviors are romanticized, comes to believe that her partner hurts her BECAUSE he loves her, not in spite of it.
We have to stop allowing this to happen. We have to speak up. We have to teach our children what healthy relationships look like - even if we aren’t sure ourselves. We need to teach both boys and girls the early signs of domestic abuse, before they find themselves trapped within the cycle. Looking back, my ex-husband displayed all the warning signs of a controlling and abusive partner. At 20 years old, however, I had no idea what to look for. I thought that he was charming, misunderstood, and so, so in love with me. Yes, he was explosive at times. Yes, he got angry sometimes. Doesn’t everyone? I didn’t know that his sudden and all-consuming attention and idolization of me should have been setting off warning bells, as should his constant excuses, his family estrangements, and his descriptions of his exes.
Once in a relationship, we need to listen to our friends and family members. We need to be aware of the strategies abusers use to isolate their victims and create dependency. We need to speak up and say “that’s not okay,” instead of laughing it off, shrugging our shoulders, and dismissing it as “men!” We need to be aware that no one is safe from a potentially abusive relationship - victims are intelligent, educated, outspoken, and well-adjusted people from all walks of life. Many are young, but not all. Just like there’s no brand that abusers wear on their forehead, there’s no stereotypical victim of abuse.
We need to first identify the problem.
Then we need to talk about it.
We need to stop blaming victims, and shaming them for their choices.
We need to speak up, to declare that we will not tolerate abuse in our families or our relationships. We need to encourage, empower, and educate victims.
When it comes to domestic abuse, we have to break the silence.
Lives literally depend upon it.
For more information, visit http://www.thehotline.org/is-this-abuse/abuse-defined/