I am an intensely private person, even with my family. While many people know the bruises were there, only three people have seen this picture: the person who took it, one of the women who helped me get away from my abuser, and the domestic violence advocate who met me at court. I remember the shame I felt when the other pictures were taken in the days immediately following. At first I refused, because I could not subject myself to the embarrassment. If it was not at the insistence of the two women (who sacrificed a good part of their day helping me get someplace safe) continuously hounding me to take the pictures, it would not have gotten done. But they did have a point: if he fought the permanent order, I would need them as documentation. And so I relented, but very hesitantly.
I was humiliated to have these pictures taken, even by someone who knows me. Still today, today when I look these pictures, a part of me feels violated. I felt like everyone was trampling over me, all the while dragging these very private, painful things out of the shadows and into the light for everyone else to see, and this, too, was happening against my will. Maybe I wasn’t ready for everyone to know that the bruise in the picture above came from trying to protect my head and face as my abuser punched me in the head repeatedly and then decided to continue the job with a can he pulled from the kitchen cupboard. Maybe I didn’t want anyone to know the bruises on my side came from him hitting me as I cowered in a corner like a trapped animal.
Did you catch what I just said? It was too late for trying to keep what happened to me a secret. After all, had I not just blurted out these very things days earlier? Once you set them free, they cannot be brought back. The secret was already out, and here I was, trying my hardest to take it all back and hoard it away from the world as though doing so would make it disappear. After all, I didn’t really need pictures to remind me. The nightmares I had when actually did fall asleep for thirty minutes here and there were quite sufficient in this regard.
I have come a long way since those first few days after I left. I found some kind of balance and just began the process of moving on. There is no easy way to do it. For it to be effective, you have to give your suffering a voice. Let it out; you can’t make it like it never happened. You are forever changed, some things for the better. You learn things about yourself you could have never imagined to be true, not all of them good.
However, out of all this suffering, chaos, and subsequent upheaval of your life, you will learn your true value. The little things won’t seem so important, and the gratitude and appreciation you have toward those who helped you get on your way to healing will move you to speak out about what you have been through and help others do the same. As survivors of domestic violence, we all bear responsibility for helping each other. True, we find each other under horrific circumstances, but it’s what we choose to do with them going forward that defines us, not the victimization we endured.