At least for me the above statement holds true. It’s hard for me to explain in terms that someone who has not been shaken by violence at the hands of an intimate partner can understand. We all know logically what acts and words are demonstrative of love and those that are not. Further, we all know what constitutes abuse. However, your view of normal shifts drastically from pre-abuse to post-abuse.
I am addressing this, because it seems to be one of the things people ask me most to clarify. They usually misunderstand me when I say this as meaning that the act of being abused itself is normal, but that really is not the case. I can explain this a million times, but if those listening fail to look at it from my perspective, it will be futile.
When the abuse first begins, it appears to be something harmless and out of the ordinary. You make excuses to yourself and to others about things he said to you that were out of the way. Maybe you burned dinner or failed to buy the correct item he sent you for. He can do it privately or in front of others. The first few times, he will make an excuse about being under a lot of stress, and you believe the lie. It’s out of character for him, you tell yourself. Everyone has a bad day now and then, even me. It won’t happen again. I believe him.
From there, the brainwashing begins. A necessary and deliberate step to the evil he will eventually unleash upon you. Necessary and deliberate because if he fails to seduce, brainwash, and indoctrinate you into his twisted thinking, he cannot escalate the abuse and control over you to the next level; he will not be able to completely take over. Necessary and deliberate because there is malice and forethought and planning involved in this, some devices so intricate and subtle that most people will miss the signs when they first manifest. The verbal abuse becomes a normal occurrence. Thus, abnormal is normal for you. Unacceptable behavior becomes an every day way of life.
They hold in this pattern as long as they feel they need to. Generally, the longer they do, the more success they will have in gaining full control over their victim. Once they feel assured that they have worn you down enough, the physical element slips in. As with the first instances of verbal abuse, this, too, seems like a fluke. Usually people stop me here and interject with an emphatic It should be obvious the first time he puts his hands on you that it is NOT normal!
Yes and no. You have to bear in mind at this point that the abuser has now mentally worn their victim down and created self-doubts and a crisis of confidence. By now, they have begun to isolate the victim from their life. The victims are probably now at the point where they have begun to change behaviors to soothe the anger of their abuser, and they have begun to find that this relief from cruel and malicious words that stab them through to the core of who they are will never come. Slowly, they have resigned themselves to this being their life, thus moving from the abnormal to the normal, every day routine.
The first physical act is often seemingly small, but this is to test the waters. The abuser will continue to push the envelope further and further to verify that he can, in fact, get away with what he is doing. He is again seeking assurance that the victim has been indoctrinated enough to stay no matter what. The first instances generally seem to have what I refer to as the “blue screen” effect. This is to say your brain cannot reconcile what just happened. It was unexpected. It was unjustified. It was a surprise! You cannot think clearly, and you default into your training and rationalize his actions for him by forcing yourself from the shock into excuse mode. He had a bad day. He is under a lot of stress. He lost his job. I am sure it won’t happen again.
But it does, over and over, each time becoming more frequent and more violent. You want to believe the apologies (if you actually get them). After all, this is the man that loves you! This is the man that stays with you despite your faults and failures! He was there for you when no one else was. Nevermind the fact that this was all a lie perpetrated to get you exactly where he wanted you, exactly where you are right now: under his control and at his every whim.
You burn dinner, he throws the food in your face and slaps you. You missed a spot in the far corner of the shower when you were cleaning and he pushes you down onto the floor and forces your face into the corner to look at it. He asks you a question, and he accuses you of answering him with a “tone,” and he backs you into the corner and punches you in the mouth. He threatens you that if you ever do it again, he will send you to work with a black eye or a broken jaw the next time. He screams at you for talking too loud and punches you in the side of the head. He tells you to stop crying, because he didn’t really hit that hard. If he wanted to, he could do worse. Or in my case, he throws you against the wall and chokes you for putting on makeup before going to work and calls you a whore.
Through your fear and humiliation, you are moved to silence. His fists and open hands become common weapons, thus moving this stage from abnormal to normal. No matter what you do, it is never right, and you are always punished for doing wrong. He continually grows more violent, and this, too, becomes normal. He threatens to kill members of your family. He threatens to chop you up into pieces and leave you in the basement for your mother to find. He assaults you with weapons. He refuses you medical care. He throws you into a glass table. He beats you as though you are a man. He drags you out the house in the middle of the night and drives you to a remote area and makes you beg for your life. There is no one around to hear you if you scream. Your family will never find you. The animals will get you first.
This becomes normal. Walking on those eggshells becomes habit. Ducking the punches and slaps becomes rote. Mechanical. You start to tell him to hit you already and get it over with so you can go back to what you were doing before he dragged you away by your hair and kicked you in the side. Before he hovered over you menacingly with a butcher knife raised above his head, his arm beginning its rapid descent toward your chest. You kick the kitchen table and break everything on it to get the neighbors attention, but you live to get beat another day. All routine. All commonplace. All….. normal.
This abuse permeates into all aspects of your life. You learn to live with it, because you physically cannot overpower him and fight back. You learn to live with it because he has stacked friends in the right places and will use them at his whim. You learn to live with it because no one would believe you. Because you have no choice. Because it becomes all you know. Because you resign yourself to believing that it will never change. Because it becomes YOUR normality.
It’s hard for me to explain it any other way. Now when I go back and read over it, I cringe that this was my life not a mere 5 months ago. In eight days, it will be five months since I escaped the monster. It will be five months since I have been punched, slapped, kicked, thrown across the room, chased around the apartment, held at knifepoint, threatened with a 2 x 4 and a hammer. It will be five months since he repeatedly hit my head with the can. Since he terrorized me for ten hours straight, even continuing to do so after the neighbors called the police. It will be fve months since the last time he threatened my life and I knew I had to leave or die.
I marvel at how quick my life has shifted from that norm to the new one I have been blessed with now. I still find it shameful to admit that I lived this way for so long. I am puzzled and confused at how I made it through. What is the meaning of this? Was it necessary? Could it have been prevented? Did I really become so complacent about the suffering he subjected me to? Was it my fault? What could I have done differently? How could someone be so cruel to willfully cause another so much pain? Why did I left the silence fester for so long? And why do I continue to talk about it now? Why don’t I stop telling my story?
In the back of my mind, the thought nags at me: someone is being beaten right now. Somewhere, behind closed doors, another woman (man or child) is having their innocence, their safety, their peace, their dignity as a human being ripped away from them. Somewhere, in this stillness, a woman’s screams and cries for help go unheard or unanswered. Somewhere, down meandering corridors and endless hallways punctuated by closed doors, a woman lies in the hospital, unconscious and clinging to life. Somewhere, another victim of domestic violence has died. And they were not afforded the same opportunity I was to break the silence. To get out. To seek and find safety. To create and sustain a new norm free of this terror.
It is bittersweet to look back at the past five months and recount how far I have come. There are no burdens weighing me down. I am under no one’s control. The suffering has been replaced with peace, love, joy, an eager eye on the future. Jehovah, my spiritual mother and family, my congregation, and my Kerwyn have all given me this peace. However, it has been hard-won and is tainted with the thought constantly cycling in my head that I will never be able to forgive myself for being so naïve, so gullible, and blind to get sucked into the darkness.