October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month. All across the country marches, galas, and candle light vigils were held. Impassioned speeches were given, survivors were recognized, lost lives were mourned, and thousands donned a purple ribbon for the cause. However, it was a procession of news stories involving professional athletes that garnered the most attention. The video of Janay Rice being knocked unconscious and dragged from an elevator by her husband, brought the topic of Intimate Partner Violence into the spotlight and was the catalyst for a new campaign of awareness.
October was also a bit of a turning point for me, too. I realized I had gone 1 full year without speaking to my ex husband, our longest period without contact in 13 years. Having the space between us allowed me to finally go through the uninterrupted process of recovering from that relationship.
I stayed with Chris long after I should have left. Part of my resistance to leave was my fear that he would suddenly turn into a better man and another woman would reap the benefits of my suffering. I hear this reason a lot from my married friends, both on and offline. I can tell you one thing; if you’re with an abuser or philanderer, the best predictor of their future behavior, is their past behavior.
Last October, Chris put my fear to rest for good. It became clear that he had not, and would not ever, change.
Allowing him back in to my life, simply through texts and phone calls, began to take a toll. During the course of our month long dialog, I found myself reverting back to old habits and thought patterns. Even after cutting off contact with Chris, it was clear I still had some work to do regarding this part of my past.
When I started working at a center for victims of domestic violence, a lot of those old feelings of anger, helplessness, and shame resurfaced. I began remembering events that I had repressed for years. I was reading a hypothetical story in a training manual, when suddenly my mind slipped right back to 2006….
I am curled into the fetal position on the floor of one of our guest bathrooms. My head hurts from being slammed against the wall over and over. Chris begins to let fly with another string of drunken insults as I retreat into my thoughts. ‘Why can’t he see how scared I am? We’ve talked about this a million times. He is always sorry. It is always still my fault but, he does apologize. He’ll be sorry, tomorrow. We’ll have a good day, tomorrow. He’s going to feel awful for this and be extra nice all day, tomorrow. This will all be over, tomorrow…Until it happens again.’
Focusing back in on his ranting, I tearfully apologize for what I have done to upset him. This only causes him to sneer and wildly gesticulate, accentuating his point. His sudden movements frighten me. I curl closer to the wall, using my arms to protect my head and face from possible blows. I hear his voice change; he’s scoffing at me now, as I feel him closing the space between us. Kneeling down, Chris takes my face in his hand, like you would a child. But, this is far from gentle. His palm under my chin, he squeezes my cheeks together tightly and forces me to look at him. “WHY THE FUCK DO YOU DO THAT?! Act all scared, like I’m going to hit you?! God, you’re pathetic!” He spits, applying more pressure. My jaw is aching, but I do not dare pull away. I can feel his disgust with me as he yanks his hand back and walks out.
The yelling has stopped. Still, I can not move. I do not trust my shaky, unsteady legs to hold me. I hear his footsteps approaching heavy and fast. Being well versed in the nuances of his blow ups, their angry cadence is all the warning I need. From the floor, I throw my weight against door, attempting to slam and hold it shut. Just as it is about to connect with the frame, Chris kicks the door, whipping my head back against the wall with a sickening “thud”. Wincing in pain, I put my head in my hands, and curl back up, settling in for another tirade. With growing trepidation, I notice that his voice has changed once more, now going from angry, to icy. This is the scariest voice. I am used to the rage that corrodes over time. But, this tone? This tone means to do immediate damage. Panicking, I gather myself to stand.
And then I see the gun.
…There is not an adequate word to describe how it feels to know that the person you love – wants to KILL you. Not only do they WANT to, at this moment, they very possibly might. You feel your heart actually breaking, as if you’re being ripped open and gutted with shock, betrayal and fear. That pain is accompanied immediately by panic. Then, something you don’t expect; relief. The relief shakes you; you realize how weary of the abuse you’ve become and almost welcome the peace that bullet promises. It is sobering and surreal all at once.
I hear Chris ask me why he shouldn’t shoot me right then and there, why it would matter if I were gone, who would even miss me. Looking up at him, all I can see is the barrel of the gun and his finger on the trigger. The safety is off and the hammer is cocked. His blue eyes, the same eyes that looked into mine just 3 short years before, as he promised to love honor and cherish me; are wild, glossed over with an all consuming rage that belies his flat tone and demeanor. Through my sobbing I begin to beg, “Please, please don’t kill me, I don’t want to die! Please, baby, please I’ll be good! I won’t get mad at you anymore! Please, put the gun down …..”
The loud ringing of our office phone jolts me back to the present. I take the call, thankful for the distraction. I do not care to relive the rest of that night.
When I woke the next afternoon, the hole in the bathroom was already patched, like so many others in our home. He had coffee made and waiting for me on the night stand. Eager to impress me with his contrition, he was at my side immediately. The standard apologies out of the way, it was decided that I needed a new purse. The obligatory shopping trip followed.
We never spoke of the incident. I stayed with him for 3 more tumultuous years. Nights like that were not uncommon. In fact, a few years later, he would “accidentally” shoot one of our dogs.
When I met Chris, I was 22. Not naive by any means, but not nearly as worldly as I considered myself. He was 10 years older, a well known business man in our city and just so damn cool. After our first date I told my best friend, “I’m going to marry him.”
A year later we were living together. That is when I began to see the REAL Chris. I had fallen in love with a charismatic, energetic, go-getter. Sure, he could be abrasive at times. Yeah, he was a mean drunk and he put me down a lot, but I knew that I could love him enough to change all that. He had a hard life growing up. He just needed some TLC. The year we lived together I saw, and ignored, red flag after red flag. Life with Chris was hard, but it was exciting. I could forgive him for the constant disparaging remarks, the yelling, throwing things, punching walls. I loved him. When you love, you forgive, right? Besides, I was no peach to live with either. I didn’t know how to cook, I never cleaned, and I folded towels ALL wrong. I was also absent minded, self absorbed, and entitled. At the time, I thought that meant that I was responsible for the way he treated me.
Another year past and we were married. Every one of my friends disapproved of the marriage. They had seen the way Chris treated me, the way he treated everyone close to him. He was always angry, always yelling, always insulting. That is, unless he was in public, around my family, his business contacts, or anyone with whom he was newly acquainted. Just before I walked down the aisle, My Maid of Honor whispered “You don’t have to do this. We can leave, right now. Just say the word.” I had been convinced that marriage would change him, so down the aisle I went.
The first few months of our marriage were the best of our entire relationship. He was wonderfully loving and attentive. Gradually, though, old behaviors began to reemerge. There were some rough years, but nothing I couldn’t handle with the help of a little (read; 20 a day) Vicodin. Chris was a good provider, and while he WAS abusive, it was “only” verbally. And emotionally. And financially. And psychologically …. But, he had never hit me, so what did I have to complain about?
He was rarely home, he was either working or out with “friends”. I was not allowed to question his whereabouts or request his presence. On the other hand, if I went to the grocery store, a friend’s house, or church, he would call incessantly. The few friends I spent time with joked that my ring tone should be “It’s been 15 minutes!” I saw this as him loving me and giving me attention.
Our lifestyle became increasingly isolating. I was not allowed to have my friends or family in our home. The stress of his work intensified the abuse. I could do nothing right. Everything that went wrong in our lives was my fault. Anything I said was dismissed as nonsense. He dominated every conversation. My needs were not important. His money was his money and my money was his money. I could not spend more than a few dollars without his permission. Every Holiday, birthday, or special event ended in disaster and embarrassment. He would either get drunk and rage, or pick up other women right in front of me. I stopped voicing my discontent, as it only led to further blow ups. Everything had to be about him. Always. He treated me as a parasite, rarely acknowledging me in a positive light.
In the beginning, the tantrums, insults, and violent outbursts were always followed by an apology. With each “major” incident, came a period of love and gentleness. As the years went on, the apologies became less frequent. We tried counseling and marriage workshops, but we were both too set in our roles. I had completely shut down and become a shell of my former self. His behavior, both in and outside of our marriage, weighed on him. It seemed that he was taking all his anger at himself, out on me.
I stayed through every form of abuse that a man could inflict on his wife, except battery. I always said I would leave if he ever put his hands on me in anger. Just another of the many lies I told myself.
The first time Chris hit me, I actually felt it hurt my FEELINGS, more than my face. The physical pain diminished quickly. The apology came faster. The whole incident was over in less than 5 minutes. I found this to be a much more efficient, and actually LESS painful way for him to abuse me. From that point on, when he would begin to yell, name call, belittle, throw things, etc I would end up screaming back at him, “WILL YOU PLEASE JUST HIT ME AND GET IT OVER WITH!!?” Asking to be physically harmed to avoid the emotional drain of being verbally and mentally abused, sounds utterly insane to me now.
I blamed myself though, for the abuse. I thought that I was both difficult to love and impossible to live with. Also, I believed the prevailing attitude about domestic violence; that it was within my power to simply leave. If I did not want to be abused, why would I stay? By remaining in the situation, I am complicit in my own abuse, therefore it is my fault I am being abused. If it is my fault that I am being abused, it is my responsibility to stop it.
That is true only in that, while it is not the abuse victim’s fault they are being abused, it is their responsibility to get out, especially if there are children involved. However, people fail to realize, first how difficult it truly is to leave an abusive situation, and secondly the ramifications of fleeing that situation.
Part 2 will discuss those things in more detail. Thank you for reading this post. Writing editing and sharing it was a difficult process….I am ever grateful to my friends and family that helped me that strength.