This is a difficult post to write, one I’ve debating writing for some time. But recent events have brought new light to bad memories and I feel I should take the opportunity to share my experience, so that it might help others.
I am a survivor of domestic violence. Ten years ago, I dated a drug-addicted, mentally unstable young man who attempted to control my life through various means: threats, emotional manipulation and outright violence. When sober, he was charming and brilliant. When he was in a bad mood or had been drinking or using drugs, he was a monster. Because it could trigger memories for readers who have been there or readers suffering from PTSD, I will spare you the gory details. Suffice to say, it went from a relationship with a coworker to a complete nightmare that had me fearing for my safety and the safety of my family.
I am not sure how I feel about this whole #WhyIStayed/#WhyILeft hashtag thing. Domestic violence and spousal abuse is so much more than you can fit into 140 characters. Hashtag activism will not help this. What will help is a different attitude towards the issue, meaning not blaming the victim and giving the abusers a pass. I don’t know it all, I have never claimed to, but I do know from my own experience that domestic violence is a complicated issue with no one size fits all solution. It affects all economic classes, all social classes, everyone. It causes a strain on our legal system, our medical system and our social systems. The current goings on in the NFL show that it happens to even financially well off couples.
I guess I could tell you all what I learned from the situation, which is that I am a human being deserving of respect, just like you. I am now a much more cautious person, less trusting and I don’t care much for being near drunk or aggressive people. It’s had a negative impact on my mental health that I try to counteract every day. However, it has made me a better health care worker, it’s easy for me to put myself in the shoes of an abuse victim. I find that despite my mistrust, I’m a little less judgmental of certain situations. With all the media coverage on the Ray Rice incident, the prevalent question has been “Why did his fiancee marry him?”. It’s a loaded question. We have only seen one incredibly terrible part of their relationship. And I know that within my own personal experience, I stayed for a while because I felt he needed me. Janay Rice has her own reasons for staying and I personally am not going to judge her for that.
Much like mental illness, you can explain domestic violence clearly to someone who has never experienced it, but it doesn’t mean they will “get it”. There’s no way to express the fear for your life, the mind games, the financial controlling, all of it. I really don’t know how to help the conversations happen, besides the obvious advice of simply starting the conversation. I guess all I can conclude with is that if you find yourself in the situation of domestic violence, you aren’t stuck. It won’t be easy, but you can have a normal life again. And most of all, you are, in fact, an amazing, wonderful person who deserves to be treated well.
I welcome your comments and emails, as always.