As some of you who have been following my posts for a while now already know, today, December 14,2014 marks my second year of freedom from the man who was my abuser, my tormentor, and my own personal monster. I endured 1,551 days of verbal, emotional, physical, sexual, financial, spiritual, and digital abuse / stalking at the hands of a man, who like so many others, originally professed love for me when what he really loved was the prospects of control, domination, and subjection by force. During those days, I was tucked away in shadow, shrouded in secrecy, and experienced and saw things that no one alive should ever know is possible to commit against another human being. I was suffocated in darkness, slowly asphyxiated by the fear of the monster’s rage, just waiting in desperation for that day to come when he lost all semblance of control and finally took my life. That day almost became reality on December 14, 2012, but I was able to escape with nothing else but my life. I will never believe that giving up everything I owned in this life was anything less than the best decision I ever made.
Among my closest family and friends, December 14 is often referred to as “my best worst day ever.” When there was so much negative to dwell on, I still relished in what that one decision, blindly fleeing the belly of the beast, has afforded me. I understand that at that very moment I walked out the door for the last time, leaving behind both my prison and my torturer, was when I was facing the greatest risk ever. After all, as victims and survivors of abuse, we know the risk of death drastically increases when we attempt to escape. Swallowing this fear and jumping over the edge of the precipice into the unknown takes immeasurable amounts of courage. There was no guarantee of safety. I had no reassurance that I couldn’t get reeled back in. But I had to try. And then revealing what I felt was my secret shame, the failure that was my life with him, picking up the pieces of my shredded, shattered, and burned out vulnerability to another person and trusting that they would help me, that they would even believe me was even harder than walking out that door. Then the worst part was over. And in so many ways, despite the desolate wasteland of destruction that was my life, it was the best day ever. For this day, I, a shattered, low, distraught shadow of a human being with but no more self-worth than that of an ant, picked my heart and my dignity off the linoleum kitchen floor of our apartment, and I took everything I could away from him. I took away his control. I took back my life. I took back my voice that he had so brutally ripped from me in September 2008 when he threw me against the bathroom wall and choked me for the first time.
There is no greater gratitude on earth for a survivor of abuse than that of freedom. Than that of being able to live without being manipulated and brutalized. Even after all the changes I underwent during the years of abuse I suffered, in the days, weeks, months, and now years since the day I left, I am still not finished changing. Every day I live, I continue to learn something new about myself, and I find pieces of me strewn about, pieces of me that I thought had been destroyed during the worst days of my life, and I am able to make room for them and fit them back in where they belong. I can never be the same woman I was before I met him. I can never think, feel, or desire for the same things in entirely the same way, but I have no reason to lament this. Because in all the loss, in all the pain, and in the ruins of the devastation, I have life. I have freedom. I feel the amazing sensation of having friends with whom I can speak openly not only about who I am, but my experiences I thought at one time would be the end of me. I have the ability to choose on my own. But most importantly, I have gratitude and hope, and I have the ability and desire to share that with others. Because no one should have to live even one day without hope. Without hope, we die.
Many survivors choose to mark their anniversaries with experiences – both set-backs and accomplishments big and small – and words of heartfelt gratitude. Some may even still feel compelled to explain why they speak, and others still also touch on frustrations they deal with, whether it’s been a week, a month, a year, or longer. It was my intention to do much the same, because in doing all these things, we give each other hope and encouragement to keep fighting through the battles, and we give each other comfort in knowing we aren’t alone in this struggle to heal. And, while in a way I have done this in the opening paragraphs, I have decided against doing this in my two-year post. I openly post about all these things on a regular basis, and I decided the best way for me to mark this milestone is to instead mention some things I find to be imperative for victims, survivors, family and friends, and victim blamers to know.
For those of you who are trapped in an abusive relationship, please know that you are not alone. There are many of us out here who have been where you are now, and even though we may not know you and we may never meet, we still love you and want you to be able to be free. You did nothing to deserve what is happening to you, and you cannot change their behavior. There is no reward to come from chasing the possibility of one day finally getting something right so the abuse will stop. There is no day to come that you’ll be good enough, pretty / handsome enough, capable enough.
This is because the abuse has absolutely nothing to do with your behavior or outside stressors. It’s about the person who is abusing you, and they choose to make your life full of pain. The only way things will change is for you to leave. It will not be easy. It will probably be the single hardest thing you will ever do in your life. You may not believe me now, but the day will come where the threat of staying becomes greater than the fear of what can happen to you if you leave. In fact, you might leave several times before your escape is successful. Please remember that if you take that risk to tell someone you’re being hurt and you need help leaving, you will be believed and you will be helped.
And never forget that you are intelligent, strong, capable, talented, beautiful, and you deserve to be loved… Love is to treat another gently, with kindness, compassion, mercy, tenderness, respect, and value. Love provides the recipient with a feeling of being protected and appreciated, as they know they have someone in whom they can have implicit trust – mind, body, and spirit. Love does not hurt or belittle or torment or leave bruises on your body or your heart. It does not devalue, manipulate, control, or bully. Love does not destroy vulnerability and dehumanize. Love is not a thief. It is a gift. YOU are a gift and should be treated with love.
For those of you who have been able to escape the abuse and have embarked on the long, arduous road to healing, never forget the strength and courage you have proven yourself to possess. Remember all the things you were told you couldn’t do, recall the lies of things you were told you were, and keep an accounting in your mind of everything you have been able to accomplish that makes those lies untrue. When the darkness creeps in and those hateful, cruel words fill your head, reach for the light and ask someone in your support circle to be a listening ear. When the nightmares come and you feel the stinging against your flesh and heart palpitates, and you awake in a sweat flooded with fear, remind yourself you are safe, and talk about it with someone you trust.
When the victim blamers come wagging eager fingers at you in wanton recklessness, even if you have to dig down and search, pull out that voice and tell them to stop. Hand it back to them, smile, and tell them they are mistaken. You do not own the shame or stigma they are trying to give to you, and you can make the choice to refuse it. You do not have to justify their accusatory tone with a response, but if you are bold enough to remind them the truth about you, be sure to let them know it doesn’t matter how long you stayed or how many times it took to leave. It means everything in this world that you left. Ask them why they focus on you when the person who abused you is not being asked to justify why they hurt you, the person they claimed to love.
When you feel your confidence wane and you start to entertain the possibility that you could have done something to change what happened, remind yourself you could not. You didn’t see it coming, because the person who abused you skillfully manipulated you from day one. They lied and created a version of them that did not exist and they stole your choice from you. How? They deceived you into loving the fantasy of them, the fictional version of themselves, because they knew if you saw the monster, you wouldn’t stay. So while you came to love “them” honestly and gave of yourself freely, they lied and manipulated and deceived you until you were in a prime position to be destroyed.
Remember that paragraph from above? It applies to you, as well…. so never forget that you are intelligent, strong, capable, talented, beautiful, and you deserve to be loved… Love is to treat another gently, with kindness, compassion, mercy, tenderness, respect, and value. Love provides the recipient with a feeling of being protected and appreciated, as they know they have someone in whom they can have implicit trust – mind, body, and spirit. Love does not hurt or belittle or torment or leave bruises on your body or your heart. It does not devalue, manipulate, control, or bully. Love does not destroy vulnerability and dehumanize. Love is not a thief. It is a gift. YOU are a gift and should be treated with love.
For the family and friends of those who are being abused or have successfully escaped an abusive relationship, please remember that your response to them will either help them heal or cause them damage. There is no in between. Your language – both verbal and body – needs to show them that you support them and most importantly that you believe them. We do not expect you to know how to react or to have the perfect words to say to us. What we truly want from you is for you to listen, to let us know you care, and that you are there for us. Abuse is not an easy conversation to have with people you care about, especially since many of us grapple with destroyed trust and fear that is so overwhelming, you cannot understand.
As a general rule, avoid using language that puts any blame on us. We already have plenty of self-blame and criticism going on inside our own heads. Others adding to it can cause irreparable damage. Some things others did for me that I appreciated? Not being belittled or relegated to status of a child. I am capable of making choices on my own, and after so many years of being forced into everything and always been spoken for, having someone do this, even with best intentions, would have resulted in me pushing further into isolation. Not being pushed to talked and being allowed to set my own limits and restrictions for topics of discussions also helped. We will talk to you when we are ready and feel comfortable. Just let us know you are there and open to listen when that does happen. Also, bear in mind we suffered through an endured endless days of verbal and physical violence. Many of us are triggered by these things and find it difficult to handle you making statements about various violent acts you state you wish you could carry out against the abuser. Please try to keep your responses focused on our well-being and as positive as possible. We didn’t leave violence behind to hear more now.
And for those of you who feel that abuse is the fault of the victim, please pay very close attention to what I have to say. At no time ever, no matter what another person says or does, is it ever appropriate or justifiable to cause intentional, malicious harm to another human being. Victims of abuse no more cause what they endure than you control the weather. It doesn’t make them less worthy. It doesn’t make them stupid, naïve, ignorant, or blind. The very act of abuse is a deliberate choice of one person to harm another.
Why are you choosing to avoid holding the abuser responsible for their actions? Is it because it makes you uncomfortable, so the easiest way to handle it is to not acknowledge the fact that someone chooses to so brutally harm another who loves them? Maybe it’s denial. Because if you accept and admit it can happen and that it is the fault of the abuser alone, then you must also accept the fact that if it can happen to a stranger or someone you know, it can also happen to you. And if it can happen to you, then you aren’t much better off than the rest of us who trapped by our own individual monsters…
There is no “type” of abuse victim. It can happen to any one of us at any time, and all the money, status, and power in the world can’t save you. If you need clarification on this, please watch a video I posted once upon a time by Leslie Morgan Steiner. Instead of using your energy to justify all the ways you or someone you love couldn’t be victimized in such a devastating manner, accept it, and channel that energy into talking to your children about it. Give them an example to follow of a healthy relationship. Find stories of survivors you feel comfortable sharing with them and create a dialogue about it. Give them the tools to recognize the red flags of abusive behavior, so even if it doesn’t happen to them, if they see it happening to a friend, they will see it. And if you helped them find it, ways they can help.
We as survivors do not speak to garner pity for ourselves. We use it as a way to reclaim our voices and heal, yes, but we also speak because we want to help others. Who? Well, we want others being abused to get help to leave. We want other survivors to always have the support and encouragement they need to continue to heal and rebuild their lives. And we want all of you who have never had to endure it to never go through it. It’s a horribly painful way to live. So the next time you go to ask someone, “Well if it was so bad, why did you stay?” first ask yourself how you would feel if you endured this brutality and had people respond in the same uncaring and cruel way… ask yourself, “How would I feel if someone did this to me?” “How would I feel if someone did this to my daughter / son, and people blamed them or wouldn’t help?” “How would I feel?”
How would you feel, if this was you? (I had worse bruising on me, but they are in places I’m not willing to post pictures of)