It is 2010 and I sit in the hallway of the rehab I have just checked my husband into for the first time. After they take him back through daunting metal doors, he disappears from my line of sight in a seemingly endless white hallway. Unbeknownst to me, in less than 24 hours he will check himself out, and I will be immersed in another nightmare.
I breathe a naïve sigh of relief as a woman calls me back to her office. She tells me about the no contact period we will experience during the beginning of his admission. Again, relief floods me. Then, she explains the shared counseling we will participate in twice a week if I am willing, and suddenly I find myself internally panicking.
“You will be okay. This is for the best. We will help him,” she tells me. I want to scream that it is me who needs help, but I simply nod, smile, and exit the office.
She does not know it, but only a few months prior, we once sat across from a different counselor. I still remember the feeling. I was no one. I was nothing as I listened to this adult, this trusted confidant with a PhD, explain to me that it was in fact not my husband, but the drugs he was on that had been robbing me blind, lying to me, manipulating me, and hitting me.
“He has a disease,” I was told ever so gently. How is it that he can be so sick that no one notices I am wasting away? I wondered this, but dared not let the words leave my lips.
This was not the first time and certainly not the last time that the burden of responsibility for his actions was taken from him and misplaced onto someone or something else. More troubling, is that as usual, the blame found its way back to me.
“You must have said something to provoke him.”
“Well, what were you doing before he hit you?”
“If I know you at all, I know you’re not one to back down from a fight.”
“You are making this worse than it is. He loves you.”
“You know to be sensitive when he is coming down.”
“He is fighting a battle. Why can’t you support him?”
“The Christian thing to do is to submit to him as your husband.”
… and finally,
“No one is going to believe you.”
These were the things that I heard on the occasions I mustered up the courage to tell someone what I was experiencing at home. Why did I stay as long as I did?
Maybe I expected such behavior, having grown up in a home where love was modeled in the form of control. Maybe it was because by the time I realized how bad it was, I had isolated myself from all of my resources. My friends were tired of my late night tear-filled phone calls, and so ironically, I leaned on my abuser for comfort. Maybe it was the threats to kill himself, or the fear he would overdose. The responsibility I felt to save him from himself, all the while forgetting that I myself needed to be saved. Maybe I didn’t want to bring shame on my family with a divorce. Maybe I could not bear to be called a quitter, or maybe I had lost myself entirely.
Maybe, just maybe, it was all of the above. What stays with me to this day though, is that I lived in, and still observe to this day, a world where women are made to believe they have done something to justify such chaos.
If you are out there, and you are reading this, it is entirely possible to feel like you have gone mad, while in reality, you are the only one who is sane.
Society has taught us to rationalize the destructive behaviors of aggressors. Society has confused the act of staying as an imaginary permission slip for the abuse to continue. Society has missed the signs, and failed to recognize the resources that it takes for a woman who is being controlled and manipulated to rebuild her life. Society has forgotten that for most women, some of the most traumatic experiences we have come AFTER we decide to leave. After we change our number only to have it discovered by our abuser in a matter of hours. After we change the locks only to wake up to murder/suicide threats. After we dare to speak, only to be painted as dramatic, life ruining liars.
If you or someone you know is in a domestically violent situation, pass no judgement on that person or on yourself. Educate yourself on the signs, and learn to recognize the silent cries for help. We must break the cycle by supporting victims and helping them grow and transition into survivors.
The journey is long and complicated, my friends.
Always believe what you are being told by a victim to be true. It may be the one and only time you are told. Please, make sure you are listening like their life depends on it.
While breaking the cycle of victim shaming, you just might save a life.
Photo by Kelsey Kay