As a local newscaster and on-air personality in this community, I have shared just about every up and down in my life. I’m very transparent. I live that way number one because it is easier. Number two because I believe when we share our ups and downs and our successes and failures it is a chance to teach not only ourselves but also those who may need a little inspiration or cultivation. There is one thing in my life that I do not mention often. I fought my way through and survived an abusive marriage. To this day I cannot tell you how I ended up in an abusive relationship or why I stayed for so long.
I took a vow to have and to hold, for better or worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health until death do us part. I did not imagine my death could be at the hands of my spouse. 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer during her lifetime. 1 in 4 women will experience intimate partner violence during her lifetime. The woman with breast cancer will have an army of aid around her while the woman facing possible death from domestic violence will more than likely hide her wounds and pain often from shame. Both women deserve to receive the care needed to overcome a possibly fatal foe. It was shame that almost killed me. I was so ashamed initially that I hid the fact I was being beaten from my family. I knew of no one in my family who had failed at marriage. All I could think is what was I doing wrong? What was wrong with me? What did I do to make him so mad? I decided I would work harder. Be a better wife.
He had never hit me during our courtship. I later learned after leaving my husband it’s rare that the first act of abuse is a violent one. Abuse can be emotional, psychological, verbal, and sexual, and often escalates. An abuser may initially be charismatic and caring before slowly starting to wear away at your self-esteem by criticizing you, implying you simply aren’t good enough, and isolating you from family and friends. Then, it’s less shocking and harder to leave when verbal abuse begins, or when it segues into physical abuse.
I’m not even sure I saw signs that physical violence was down the road but the punches came and they hurt. The bruises told the story I was trying to hide. My parents became aware of the problem one day after I felt I had no choice but to flee and hide at their home even if for just an afternoon. I arrived at my childhood home bruised not only on my face but in my heart, my spirit, my pride and every other facet of my being. My Dad was very calm. He held me just like he did when I was a little girl and life had been unkind. When my mother arrived, she called for answers or at least my husband’s head. My Dad reminded me that God calls for forgiveness. My Mother said as she grabbed her keys to confront my husband, “Well let’s send him to God and see if he’ll forgive him.” She warned him never to put his hands on me again or he would feel her hands on him. The abuse did not stop but his interaction with my family did.
Somehow, I always ended up beaten and pinned down to the floor. I remember screaming for help as loud as I could with all the air inside my lungs. No one ever came to help. Did anyone hear me? Did anyone even pick up the phone to call police? The beatings began after the news that I was pregnant. We had a healthy daughter. We had a son and in between more beatings than I can count.
The battle changed when one night the battleground became my daughter’s nursery. She would rock her crib and call out “Mama” until I would peek my head in to tell her to go to sleep. It usually ended with both of us falling asleep together as I rocked her in an oversized rocking chair given to me by my Grandfather. It was something she began to do almost every night. I looked forward to hearing her little voice call my name. One night she did it and he told me I was not allowed to answer her. He then peeked his head in the room. I listened and within minutes I heard a distressed little cry. He was pressing her body down on the crib mattress telling her not to move or get up. I ran to pull her out of the crib but ended up flat on my back on the floor after one big punch from him to my face. He then held me down pushing my face into the wooden floor boards. That was ok. He was not touching my daughter. It seemed to last forever until we were both physically and mentally worn out. My eyes were swollen this time from the gallons of non-stop tears I cried. The fight was now different. He could beat on me but he could not touch my children.
That was the day the plans in my life were no longer dedicated to figuring out how to make him happy. I had to figure out how to raise two children alone. The days came and went. It was finally Christmas. The gift I gave to myself that year was to quietly test the waters with my family and announce that I was getting a divorce. What would they think? How would I care for my kids alone? My husband decided not to go to our traditional Christmas Eve family dinner. I arrived at my Grandparents home with my kids and a dish to share with my family. As I entered, my grandmother asked where was my husband? I leaned in very close to her and whispered, “Grandma, he didn’t come. I think we are going to get a divorce?” She answered without missing a beat, “Isn’t that wonderful. We can really enjoy this Christmas dinner can’t we.”
Everyone knew that this was not a healthy relationship but we never ever talked about it. It felt so good to breath and laugh without the tension and fear of hiding such a terrible secret but I had to go home at some point. When I arrived home after Christmas Eve dinner the tension in our apartment was thicker than the eggnog my Grandmother had served at dinner. I knew my husband was mad but I didn’t know why. Within minutes the argument started and so did the physical abuse. He decided to put me out of our home. He lifted me to throw me out the door. I could not allow that so I fought back harder than ever before. I could not leave the kids in the apartment with him alone. The twisting and turning of our bodies against each other was exhausting as he would attempt to pick me up and throw me out the door. At one point, he got me partially out the door and began to close the door on my fingers. I let him smash them. I just knew they were broken but they were not. Only the skin was broken and bleeding. I remember no pain. I just remember refusing to allow him to be alone with my children. My four-year-old daughter ran into the room and yelled, “Leave my Mommy alone.” With that small command, all the chaos stopped. He stepped back, looked at her and then left the room. I swooped her up in my arms and then ran to the kitchen to get a knife. I sat on the living room couch never closing my eyes that night. My daughter laid her head in my lap and she finally fell asleep. When morning came I called my mother to let her know I was leaving. She didn’t have much to say. I said I was leaving and she gave me no response. My heart was beating so fast because I imagined that she must be thinking the worst of me. When I called her name again there was no response. My Mom had hung up the phone only to arrive within the hour with a U-Haul truck and the rest of my family to move me out right then and there. There were a few words exchanged between my mother and husband but there were a lot of dirty looks. We took as much as we could shove in that truck. The rest I never saw again.
He threatened to take my life in the following weeks. He reminded me daily that I would not see him coming when he did decide to kill me. I was very careful to make sure my family knew where I was going every time I left the house and when I was coming home. I had survived. Not all of me was intact but I was alive and grateful. My family was there although my spirit was a bit broken but I had another chance.
5 people are murdered each day by an intimate partner. An estimated 12 million people are victims of stalking, rape, and/or physical violence by an intimate partner each year. Many of their stories differ from mine because they have no support system. They had nowhere to run. I left my marriage and returned home to my parents until I was ready and able to head out on my own again.
We need to have the resources out there to make it easier for women to leave an abusive relationship safely. I left for fear that the abuse would soon move to my children but what if I could not feed, cloth, or care for my children when I left. It’s like going from the frying pan to the fire. We can all question why she’s staying, what is she doing but let’s talk about the reality of it all. If you can’t afford child care, who’s going to take care of your children? If you have nowhere to go so that you can safely start your life again then what do you do? These become real economic life issues. Let’s talk about affordable, safe housing. Let’s put support behind the Center for Women and Families who is often the only haven for a woman who is running for her life and the lives of her children with only what she has in her pockets.
My children remember far more than I ever imagined. I learned as we began to talk in their adult lives they do remember abusive moments. My children were forever changed by the relationship I had with their father. An experience of violence can lead to lasting physical, mental, and emotional harm, whether the child is a direct victim or a witness. Children who are exposed to violence are more likely to suffer from attachment problems, regressive behavior, anxiety, and depression, and to have aggression and conduct problems. They suffer other health-related problems, as well as academic and cognitive problems, as well as delinquency.
Domestic violence is a public health problem. If we want a healthy community then we must strive to make it healthy in every way for us all.
The first step to creating a world without violence is simply letting people know that there is a problem that exists in our community – and that we care enough to do something to stop it! October is known to many as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. That awareness of breast cancer each month has not only changed lives but saved lives. We speak openly now about cancer when once we would only whisper the term, “The C Word.” We hope to remind supporters that violence is another public health issue affecting too many members of our community. We can no longer whisper about domestic violence.