Domestic Violence Awareness is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

I have been thinking about blogging about this topic for days. Upon stumbling across this amazing post from the Mary Byron Project, I knew I could not say anything better than what has already been said here.

It is my wish that someday men and women will understand the true devastation and the widespread effects of domestic violence.

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October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  It’s also Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Ask anyone the color of breast cancer awareness and they will tell you pink.  Pink is everywhere this month.  There are breast cancer walks in nearly every community with survivors, friends, family members all wearing pink.  The American Institute for Cancer Research has a website dedicated to getting “pink on purpose.”  There’s a pink store that sells pink items and even a collection of pink recipes. 

October is a month awash in pink, and, rightly so.  Everyone knows someone, a friend, relative, co-worker, or acquaintance, which has battled breast cancer.  That is why we care so much, why we walk to raise awareness and why we fund prevention and treatment.  Breast cancer is a horrific disease, affecting one in eight women.  Hopefully, awareness, funding, and research will eliminate this monster before the next generation suffers.

 Domestic violence affects…

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Physical Constraint

Merriam Webster gives three definitions for constraint:

  1. The checking on one’s true feelings and impulses when dealing with others.
  2. Something that limits one’s freedom of action or choice.
  3. The use of power to impose one’s will on another.

Any woman who has been in an abusive relationship knows firsthand at least one of these definitions if not all of them.

In the beginning when we would fight and things would start to get out of control, I would leave.  I would get in the car and just leave.  Having already moved 1000+ miles from home, I didn’t have anywhere to go.   I did not have anyone to turn to, so I would drive around for an hour, maybe two, before giving up and going back to the house.  I don’t remember what would push me over the edge to get in the car and leave, and I probably wasn’t always right in walking away when things got heated.  But I do remember being afraid of what he would do while I was gone, especially to my cat.  He would threaten to hurt her if I left her with him.  He would pick her up and throw her at me and yell at me to take her with me.  So I would pack her up in her carrier, and she and I would take refuge in the car.

Eventually, I wasn’t allowed to leave the house when things got too intense.  The days of driving around in the car with no place to go soon became a distance memory, a luxury of freedom I would long for.  If we were having an argument, no matter how heated it got, there was no walking away.  He considered my walking away to be extremely disrespectful, and it meant either I didn’t really love him, or that I was sleeping with someone else.  I remember the sheer frustration and anger it would generate, to be confined to a room when you wanted to leave.  I pushed, shoved, screamed; I didn’t go down without a fight.  The first time he restrained me in a doorway, when nothing else worked I pinched him when he wouldn’t let me through.  It was the first time he hit me.  He slapped me hard across the face and then just stepped aside.

In the rare event I actually made it out of the room before he could stop me, he would take the car keys or stand in front of the outside door so I couldn’t leave the house.  I would try and remove myself to the couch or the guest room.  But that was not permitted either.  If I didn’t return to the bedroom in a reasonable period of time, I would be physically brought back to the bedroom.  This meant being picked up and carried.

On one occasion, I managed to grab the car keys before he could stop me.  I barely made it outside and into the car before he bore down on me.  With the doors locked and him unable to get to me, he went berserk.  There was an old tire in the yard, and he used that to start attacking the car.  Terrified, I sat in the car too scared to even drive away, while he pounded and screamed and threw that tire at the car over and over.  Once he had worn himself out from throwing the tire or was sure I wouldn’t drive away, or both, he went inside and locked me out of the house.

Eventually my anger and frustration at being restrained started to fade, and as it faded, so did my attempts to fight back against the restraint.  The anger gave way to a feeling of defeat and worthlessness and ultimately to acceptance.  In the end, I quit trying to leave.  I’m not exactly sure of the point in which I crossed over from believing I couldn’t leave, to not even thinking about trying at all.  It was probably around the time I had my oldest son.  There was no way I was going to leave that house without him, and my husband made it clear there was no way I would leave the house WITH him.

By the time my youngest came, I honestly believed there was no option of my leaving.  It saw absolutely no way of being able to leave of my own accord.  Instead I would daydream of ways I would finally be free.  I would fantasize of my husband dying in a car crash.  I would dream of him having an affair and leaving me for another woman.  I would often tell him that some other woman would make him happier, that clearly I was the wrong woman for him.  Silently I prayed that he would somehow leave me.

They say the average woman in an abusive relationship tries to leave 10 times before she is successful.  After the first couple of years we were married, I never tried to physically leave, and I was so trapped mentally by his abuse that I never even imagined a scenario in which I left.  But I probably fantasized of him leaving me more than a 1000 times.

Years later, my now ex-husband still does not recognize his actions as abusive.  He even recounts events as humorous anecdotes to tell while with friends.   One particular story, of my cat sailing through the air and landing in a clothes basket continues to be a party favorite.  Once I even laughed along when he told this story, desensitized by his violent behavior.  But I am no longer in that dark place of acceptance.   The other night while laying in bed with my oldest son, he referenced a story daddy told him of throwing our cat.  I am grateful that I am now in a place where I can openly discuss this story with my son and demonstrate to him that violent behavior is not the way to solve his problems as he grows up.

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To the Next One

On my way home from being a Matthew West groupie this weekend, I found my ex-husband’s new fiancee on my heart.  Over the past year or so that they have been together, I have struggled with the desire to warn her.  But I have resigned myself to the fact that she needs to be the one to figure it out, as did I.  She may enlist my help or someone else’s at some point in time, and she may not.   I have done my best to let go of any responsibility I feel for her.  However, as I thought of her on my drive back to Chicago-land, I wondered what I would say to her if ever given the opportunity.  Never did I dream that the opportunity would come much closer to being reality as I learned of the events that transpired over the weekend while I was away.

It took less than 2 minutes in the car with the boys after picking them up from their father on Sunday to know that something was wrong.  I will not go in to details as they are not necessary, but I find myself with a stronger desire than ever to reach out to the fiancee.  This is my letter to her.


Dear <Fiancee>,

I know you do not want to hear anything I might have to say.  But this is not about me or you.  It is about those two beautiful boys, that I hope you have come to care about over the past year or so.  What they went through on Saturday night is not something any child should have to go through.  The worst part is it’s not the first time they have been subjected to such an event, and that is a burden I get to live with everyday.

Hearing the commotion and certainly seeing their father in that state was most certainly frightening  But what truly scared them was the thought that their father might be taken away that night.  They did not know what was happening; whether they would simply be left alone; or if they too would be taken by the police.  I cannot imagine how scary that was for them to go through.

The following day brought about all the uncertainty their father’s actions had created.  They didn’t know if daddy was still getting married.  They didn’t know if daddy still had a place to live.  Furthermore, they were asked to withhold the events of the prior night from their mother, a burden a child should not be expected to bear.

I have been through this.  I have been where you are standing.  I do not fault you for wanting to defend him or for choosing to stay with him.  I stayed for 13 years; 10 after the first time he hit me; 3 after he struck me in the head with a lamp and was arrested for battery.  Even though I was terrified enough to call for help, I didn’t press charges.  In fact, I begged the police not to take him.  I did not appear in court for the hearing, allowing the state filed charges to be dropped.

They see their therapist tomorrow.  If he recommends what I believe he will recommend, then I will file a motion to modify the custody agreement.  You don’t have to support my decision. But I am asking you to be stronger than I was.  I need you to be honest; to tell the truth when asked about what happened Saturday night; to be willing to tell that to whoever it may be when the time comes.  If you don’t, the boys will be forced to testify.

Most likely you do not think what happened was domestic violence, but it was.

Any person who physically assaults (which includes but is not limited to; hitting, choking, kicking, shoving, raping, destruction of personal property), threatens, harasses, exploits, neglects, deprives, intimidates dependents, stalks, or interferes with the personal liberty of another family or household member has broken Illinois Domestic Violence law.

Illinois also recognizes the impact to children who witness acts of domestic violence.

The witnessing of domestic violence can be auditory, visual, or inferred, including cases in which the child perceives the aftermath of violence, such as physical injuries to family members or damage to property. Children who witness domestic violence can suffer severe emotional and developmental difficulties that are similar to those of children who are direct victims of abuse.

I left <my ex> not for me, but for the boys.  I need you to do this for them.  They can not continue to be subjected to such trauma.  As easy as it might be to dismiss, it truly has a detrimental effect on them.  No child should live in fear of their father.

That is all I ask.

Sincerely,

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Your Wife is Abusive

To Anonymous,

Your wife is abusive.  There is not a doubt in my mind.   She might not deliver cuts or bruises (or maybe she does), but the injuries she inflicts do leave scars.

I do not know what it is like to be a man living with an abusive wife.  But I do know what it is like to live with an abuser.  I do know the effect it can have on you and especially on your children.  I know the feelings of confusion, of hurt and despair.  I know what it is like to constantly have to walk on egg shells, afraid that something you might say or do or even not say or do could set them off.  I know what it’s like to question your own sanity; to question or even believe that you are truly at fault; to wish you could just do exactly what they expect of you so that you can make them happy.  I know the fear of what they might say or do to your children.  You hold your breath or even get angry with your children when they do something that you know might set your spouse off.

I know it goes against all social norms.  I can imagine how it might make you feel to admit that you are being abused by your wife.  I am an extremely successful independent woman who made twice as much as my husband, was raised in a Christian household with parents who are still together and have no history of domestic abuse… and I yet still allowed it to happen to me.  You are not alone.  Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you feel afraid of your wifes reaction so much so that you cannot discuss whatever is bothering you?
  2. Does she frequently humiliate you, criticize you or undermine your self- esteem?
  3. Does she try to isolate you from friends and family?
  4. Has she stolen from you (or your children) or run you into debt?
  5. Does your relationship swing from extremes of distance and closeness, as manipulated by her?  Such as walking out one day followed by weekends away the next?
  6. Has she damaged or destroyed anything that belongs to you (or other members or your family)?
  7. Do you feel that she controls your life?
  8. Does she act possessive and accuse you of being unfaithful and involved in affairs?
  9. Does she belittle your ideas, thoughts and feelings?
  10. Is any emotional response to her behavior unacceptable?
  11. Do you have to account to her every moment of your time?
  12. Do you have to account for every penny you spend?
  13. Does she threaten or intimidate you to win an argument?
  14. Does she blame you for every problem, even her behaviour towards you?
  15. Does she regularly threaten to leave you or the kids?
  16. Does she make you feel that you are alone and unwanted?
  17. Does she ridicule or insult your beliefs, gender, sexuality or ability?
  18. Does she withdraw approval, appreciation and affection to you or your children?
  19. Does she call you names and shout at you in public? Does she humiliate you in private or in public?
  20. Does she manipulate you with lies and high drama?
  21. Does she manipulate your sexual relationship based on her moods? Seeks sex to make up after an argument?
  22. In sum, she generally makes you feel that you are not good for anything, unwanted, and  a burden to everyone.

This list is the same list applied to help a woman realize she is being emotionally abused by a man.  I just changed all the he’s to she’s.  You don’t have to answer yes to every question either.

When most people think of domestic abuse, they picture a woman who has been physically assaulted. But not all abusive relationships involve violence. Just because you’re not battered and bruised doesn’t mean you’re not being abused.  You may think that physical abuse is far worse than emotional abuse, since physical violence can send you to the hospital and leave you with scars.  But, the scars of emotional abuse are very real, and they run deep.  In fact, emotional abuse can be just as damaging as physical abuse—sometimes even more so, especially on a child.  Verbal and psychological wounds leave a child forever changed.

  • Emotional abuse attacks a child’s self-concept. The child comes to see him or herself as unworthy of love and affection.
  • Children who witness abuse in relationships or emotional spousal abuse demonstrate higher rates of physical aggressiveness, delinquency and interpersonal problems than other children.
  • The consequences of emotional abuse on a child can be serious and long-term.
    • Emotionally abused children may experience a lifelong pattern of depression, estrangement, anxiety, low self-esteem, inappropriate or troubled relationships, or a lack of empathy.
    • As teenagers, they find it difficult to trust, participate in and achieve happiness in relationships, and resolve the complex feelings left over from their childhoods.
    • As adults, they may have trouble recognizing and appreciating the needs and feelings of their own children and emotionally abuse them as well.
  • Emotional abuse can result in serious psychological and/or behavioral problems. These include depression, lack of attachment or emotional bond to a parent or guardian, low cognitive ability and educational achievement and poor social skills.

You do not have to live this way.   No one should have to live this way.  You have absolutely nothing to be ashamed of.  Her behavior is not your fault.  Nothing you have done results in her abusive actions.  You can not fix her.  I know you have tried.  Only she can make the change, and it will take more than talking to a counselor a few times.

By staying in the relationship in its current state you are enabling her abusive behavior, while continuing to put yourself and your chidren at risk.

Love,

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Sleep Deprivation

While we were married, my husband wanted to live 100% by the rule “don’t let the sun go down on your anger”.  If I begged him for sleep, he would accuse me of loving sleep more than him.  He found it as an attack on him if I asked to stop arguing so I could sleep.

Night time was absolutely the worst time of day.  I was terrified to go to bed.  In the end I would do almost everything I could to avoid entering the bedroom.  It always started with some expectation of sex or some sexual favor.  If he was not “satisfied” and sometimes even if he was, the torment would continue throughout the night.  On average, 2 nights a week he would keep me awake until the wee hours of the morning.

On nights I would fall asleep before him, he would wake me up.  He would slam his hand down on the bed, jarring me awake.  Some times he would accuse me of doing things to myself (think touching myself).  Other times he would accuse me of cheating on him, because he’d just dreamt that I had.  I learned to not move.  I learned to barely breathe.  I could lie like that for hours waiting to be sure he was truly asleep.

 He came home late from hanging out at the bar with his friends and was disgusted that I was reading a book.  He had clearly drunk more than usual and lashed out immediately.  Upon entering the bedroom he blurted out a very profane comment towards me, which in turn set off a whole chain of unpleasant events.  He lay down to go to sleep, but was soon unsatisfied with the situation and got back up.  He picked up the humidifier and threw it across the room, smashing it against the wall.  He then stormed out, slamming the door.  I didn’t move.  I barely even took a breath.  I continued to lie frozen in fear.

A while later he came back into the room and ripped the covers off of me, proceeding to throw them onto the floor to soak up the water from the humidifier he had smashed.  He left again.  Terrified I remained frozen.  Another block of time elapsed before he once again returned.  He laid my wedding rings on the bed next to me.  His special way of letting me know I had forgotten to put them on before bed.  Then he was gone again.

I have no idea how long I remained frozen, afraid to move even a muscle.  Eventually I found my courage and quietly slipped out of bed to make sure he was asleep.  I hung up the drenched duvet, got towels to mop up the rest of the water, found a blanket, and finally settled in to try and get some sleep.

In the morning it was as if nothing had ever happened.

 I was not even aware I was being abused by being kept awake at night.  It took me months of counseling before I ever understood that sleep deprivation was a form of abuse.  An often easily dismissed form of abuse, I now clearly see it as a very effective form of torture.  In fact in most states consider purposeful, repeated, and unnecessary sleep deprivation to be a form of physical abuse.  The United Nations defines sleep deprivation as torture.  “The forced deprivation of someone’s necessary amount of sleep has been used in the interrogation of terrorist suspects to make them more amenable to providing information or confessions.”1

The effects of consistent loss of sleep are severe and can make it harder for someone to free themselves from the cycle of abuse.  WebMD reports that the lack of sleep has 10 surprising effects2:

  1. It causes accidents.
  2. It impairs attention, alertness, concentration, reasoning, and problem solving.
  3. It can lead to serious health problems, such as heart disease, heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes,
  4. It kills your sex drive.
  5. It can contribute to the symptoms of depression.
  6. It ages your skin.
  7. It makes you forgetful.
  8. It can make you gain weight.
  9. It may increase risk of death.
  10. It impairs judgment.

Yet as a society we find it much easier to protest the use of sleep deprivation as an interrogation tactic by the US military, than to acknowledge the abuse happening in our own neighborhoods.  It’s time we opened our eyes to the reality that the same tactics we so readily abhor, when brought to light by the main stream media, are in fact being carried out in bedrooms across the world.

Sources:

  1. http://terrorism.about.com/od/s/g/SleepDeprive.htm
  2. http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/excessive-sleepiness-10/10-surprising-results

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Transforming

The first time he hit me was one month after we were married.  He didn’t hit me again for a year, but he did hit again, and then it got worse.

He was always sorry and would promise to never do it again.  But the apologies always felt insincere and there was an obvious lack of remorse.  In time, the abusive behavior always returned.

I learned to walk on eggshells; a hand slammed on the table, a fist through the wall, the car wheel yanked out of my hands at 70 mph.  Life was unpredictable.  We never made plans.  I grew further and further away from my family and friends.

Imprisoned by all the things I was scared to say and scared to do, I was afforded none of the same respect.  I had no expectation of privacy.  A closed door was unacceptable and a locked door was knocked down.

I made excuses for him.  I felt sorry for myself.  I never left and never even seriously tried to leave.  Where would I go?  I remember the rage.  I would shake with anger and lash out.  I would fantasize of beating him back.  I remember the shame.  How had I let this happen to me?  Who would believe me?  He wasn’t like one of those monsters on TV, so what was I complaining about?

Then came the numbness.  Any love I had once felt for him had disappeared. But I had chosen my lot in life.  Instead I would encourage him to leave me.  I clearly was not the girl for him.  Another girl could obviously make him so much happier.  I daydreamed about life after he died.

In one moment, if someone would have just asked the right question, I would have spilled everything.  In the next, I would flat out lie to my mother that he had never hit me.  I became so beaten down I was diagnosed as severely depressed and put on medication.

I felt like a failure.  I knew there was no life for me aside from him.  I dreaded that I was as bad as he was.  If I could just be what he wanted everything would be ok.  Severely depressed and medicated, living with physical abuse, he convinced me they would take my children away.

But I found an amazing psychologist.  She never told me I was abused.  She never told me to leave.  She gave me articles to read; she suggested books.  She taught me coping skills and helped me create a safety plan.  I discovered he was out of my control.  I could not fix him.  No magic change in me, nothing I could do was ever going to make him stop.  He wasn’t mentally ill; he wasn’t sick.  He honestly believed he was entitled to act the way he did.

A tremendous weight was lifted.  Some semblance of the girl I had once been slowly came back to life.  I left work in the middle of the day, packed mine and the children’s bags, picked them up from school and drove to a women’s shelter.  It was probably the hardest night of my life.  Thinking about it can still bring a tightening in my throat.  But I didn’t turn around.  I kept driving through the rain and the fear and the guilt.

I have never looked back since that night.  The guilt and the feeling of loss lasted a week or two.  But then life became filled with endless possibilities.  I make plans; I lock the bathroom door; and there is dancing and horseback riding and camouflage.  I have an amazing network of friends.  My family is indispensable, and I am once again present.

The wounds are still deep and will take time to heal. But they will heal.  I am starting to open up to the idea of forgiveness.  It will take time, but I will forgive him.  In the meantime, I will continue to share my story.

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Letter to My Mother-in-Law

This is the letter I wrote to my now former mother-in-law, in the days immediately following my escape from my abusive marriage.


Dear <MIL>,

I’ve been slapped, punched, shoved, pushed to the ground, called every name in the book, spit on, restrained from even leaving a room, had things thrown at me and the children, had my children withheld from me and ripped out of my arms, deprived of sleep, and controlled to the point of no longer knowing my own thoughts. Simple things such as spending my time reading a book as opposed to watching TV could set him off.

Of course he is always sorry and promises to change. But with each promise of change the behavior always returns. It could be months or a even a year but the angry and abusive behavior always returned. As time went on I knew where the lines were, where the boundaries were and I stopped crossing over. All the while having no boundaries in my life. I could not even close the door to use the bathroom.

I have held all of this inside for years and I’ve lived in resentment as I watched <him> time and time again turn to his support system while I lived in isolation bottling everything in. Afraid and ashamed to tell anyone and most of all afraid that it would ruin eveyones feelings of <him> if they knew. While no one acknowledged my feelings or the pain I was going through.

After I became strong enough to finally turn to someone for help I was still unable to talk about the abuse. Instead I sought help for the fact that I was so depressed after years of emotional abuse that I couldn’t even walk without physical pain. All the while assuring <him> after each therapy session that it was not about him but was about me, just so he’d let me keep going. Still he ridiculed and tormented me, expecting me to recite word for word everything I talked about in my sessions and threatening me that if I talked they’d take the children away from us. And it worked. I didn’t open up about the abuse for months in therapy.

And even after gaining that support, I could not find the courage to end the abuse. It wasn’t until I watched <him> reduce <my son> to the point of hitting himself, wanting to kill himself and curling up in a fetal position, crying his eyes out, hiding in his classroom. All because <my son> forgot his backpack.

The wounds are deep and will take time to heal. But they will heal, and we are finally in a position to get the care and support we need.

The boys love their dad and need him as a strong presence in their life. But they need a dad who can truly love them unconditionally every minute of every day. And love them in a way that protects them and nurtures them, builds them up and inspires them to be good people who respect others and see those who are different from them as equals not inferiors. A dad that teaches them that you do not have to resort to violence or threats of violence in order to solve problems. <He> can be that dad, but he needs help and the courage to accept true responsibility for his actions. And that also will take time and a williness to change. We all pray that time will come.

I have no intention of hurting anyone. But it’s time I started no longer allowing anyone to hurt me.

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