October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, which evolved from the “Day of Unity” held in October 1981. During the month, the events and observations focus on three themes. The themes include mourning those who have died because of domestic violence, celebrating survivors and bringing together those who work to end the violence.
There is a lot I could say about my experience as a survivor of domestic violence. At the risk of seemingly self-promoting, if you’d like to more about my story, I’ve written about it on my personal blog, (Bee)autiful Blessings.
Here’s the abbreviated version:
When I was about ten years old, my parents divorced and shortly thereafter, my mother remarried. Her new husband, who I’ll refer to as “step-dad,” was younger, charismatic and liked to have a good time. The first year of our life with him was fairly uneventful, but as the honeymoon period wore off, we began to see him for who he was.
He was an alcoholic. He was cruel. And he was violent.
For six years, we lived in what felt like a prison of hopelessness, misery and despair. As if the teenage years are not difficult and emotionally challenging enough, I now had to grapple with the anxiety and depression that stemmed from not knowing what waited for me every afternoon as I stepped off the school bus.
This is what I want other Moms to know about domestic violence:
My Mom is an amazing mother.
I’ve read comments online about domestic violence that imply that a mother’s decision to keep her children in a violent situation automatically makes her a terrible mother. WRONG. No woman should ever be blamed for the violence of her husband or significant other. Not having the resources to leave, or the fear of something even worse happening if she does leave, do not make someone a bad mother. They simply make the abuser a horrible father figure.
My mom (who is fully supportive of me sharing our story) had no place to go, no money to support us, and was terrified at the prospect of having to support her two daughters on her own. After six years, she did eventually get us out of his home and started a brand new life for us. But it was a hard life. We were incredibly poor, had a less-than-ideal housing situation, and my Mom was understandably depressed. And yet, she had enough resources that she could make it happen. For those women who don’t, I just don’t know how they make those decisions. Being forced to make those horrible, heart-wrenching decisions does not make someone a terrible mother. It simply makes them a victim of a horrible abuser.
Not all days were bad.
This is what a lot of people don’t understand about abuse. It’s not 100% of the time. Maybe it’s only 10% of the time. Step-dad took us camping. He took us to Disney World. He attended our school activities. That was what made the situation all the more confusing. If he was violent 100% of the time, it would be easy to label him an abuser and hate his guts. But he wasn’t always. Trying to make sense of the emotions of love, hate, anger, hurt, embarrassment, guilt, shame and dejection is difficult enough for any person, let alone a child. This is why people stay. Because the 90% outweighs the 10%.
Verbal abuse can be more dangerous than physical abuse.
Do you want to know why else it was hard to be honest about our home life? Not because we were embarrassed of the bruises (although that was certainly part of it), but because we had no self-worth. We were all told that we were stupid, slutty, or devoid of common sense. Why would anyone else care about my well-being if neither I nor my father figure did? Being told daily that you are worthless makes you believe that you are. If you believe that you are unworthy of a better life, what motivation do you have to reach out and seek help?
It can happen to anyone.
My Mom is a beautiful, amazingly creative and talented woman. She has a better work ethic than anyone I know and has an incredible artistic eye. My sister and I are both intelligent, well-educated women. Domestic violence happened to all of us. Abusers don’t care if you’re artistic, intelligent and well-educated. You can be rich or poor. Black or white. Rural or urban. It can happen to anyone, but it should happen to no one. No one deserves to be abused or blamed for being a victim. Ever.
The trauma is long-lasting.
For many years after it happened, I thought I was okay. I graduated high school with good grades, went off to college and had great experiences with family and friends. It wasn’t until nearly four years later when I started dating my college boyfriend that all of this trauma began to resurface and I finally sought professional help. I have come a long way in healing, but I don’t know that I will ever be “fully” healed. Thirteen years later, I still hate the sound of the vacuum cleaner and my heart races if I’m around an angry male. I avoid confrontation at all costs and I’m very sensitive about what my children are exposed to.
My triggers may not make sense to a lot of people (hello, vacuum cleaners, really?), but they don’t need to make sense. They simply need to be met with compassion and empathy.
If you or someone you know is experiencing abuse, please seek help. No one ever deserves to be the victim of domestic violence. Contact the Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.